Seoul Vs Tokyo: Must Read Guide For First Time Visitors

We live on a planet that is truly fascinating and full of wonders that most of us will probably never experience.

There is one particular area of our captivating planet that should pique your interest when it comes to genuinely authentic traditions and cultures.

asia pacific map

The Far East, which historically refers to the countries of East Asia is considered somewhat an outdated term. These days this part of the world is more commonly referred to as East Asia or Asia Pacific.

Nevertheless, the term ‘Far East’ still stirs the imagination and conjures up visions of a magical faraway place, steeped in unique history and culture.

Japan is an archipelago (cluster of islands) nation that is a world leader in advanced technology with big cities that blend traditional culture with unique historical sites and ancient traditions.

aerial view of japan

South Korea also boasts a rich cultural heritage where cities that proudly show off their modern cutting-edge architecture, have spawned and grown into sprawling metropolises. Officially the country is still at war with its neighbor North Korea after a truce was signed in 1953, but an official peace treaty was never established.

Seoul Vs Tokyo: Which One Should You Visit

Seoul is the capital city of South Korea and Tokyo is the capital city of Japan. These two cities both share many similarities as they each offer incredibly diverse experiences, with a mix of modern civilization and cultural identity.

Seoul and Tokyo are both economic powerhouses with significant global standing and both cities have played a significant role in the history and development of our planet and continue to be key players in the world economy.

seoul vs tokyo

Yes, both cities are very similar in terms of sprawling skylines and modern infrastructure, but they each have distinct individual characteristics. Let’s have a look at some factors to consider when considering Seoul vs Tokyo.

5 Days In Tokyo Vs 5 Days In Seoul

Let us assume we have a five-day itinerary and we want to see as many sites and attractions in each city as possible.

Your interests and preferences would ultimately determine where you choose to visit, but we can consider what Seoul attractions and Tokyo sights there are to explore in a general breakdown of a five-day timeframe.

Gyeongbokgung Palace Seoul

Seoul: 5 Day Itinerary

Day One

On Day 1, consider Historical Seoul and Namsan Mountain Park. In the morning you can explore Gyeongbokgung Palace and watch the changing of the guard ceremony. A visit to the nearby National Folk Museum will educate you on Korean history and culture.

In the afternoon, browse the antique shops and galleries of Insadong and take time to relax in one of the traditional tea houses.

insadong tea house

The evening should be reserved for a visit to N Seoul Tower for breathtaking views of Seoul by night. Afterward, enjoy an evening meal in the Myeongdong district, with its diverse food options and lively, energetic atmosphere.

Day Two

Day 2, by contrast, would take in a day trip around modern Seoul and Lotte World Tower. In the morning, at the nearby Dongdaemun History and Culture Park, you will see the futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a major urban development landmark.

When it is time for a bite to eat and a spot of retail therapy, you can spend the afternoon in Gangman for shopping and unique dining experiences. The COEX Mall is one of the largest shopping malls in Asia.

For a completely different nighttime dining experience. the Lotte World Tower is one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world with dinner in the Lotte World Mall a perfect way to end the day.

Lotte World Tower Seoul

Day Three

Day 3. Day trips are a popular Korean pastime and a full day on Nami Island will let you explore picturesque landscapes and cultural attractions. Rent a bicycle or walk the island’s famous tree-lined paths. For the not-so-faint-hearted, zip lining is one activity to try.

When you are back at base, why not head out for a taste of authentic Korean food or some of Seoul’s famous Korean fried chicken?

korean fried chicken

Day Four

Day 4. By now you may well want to slow the pace down a little and take in some local experiences and shopping. There are traditional markets to explore like Gwangjang Market or Namdaemun Market. The Jogyesa Temple is a center of Korean Buddhism and well worth a look when visiting Seoul.

The trendy district of Hongdae is known for its youthful and artistic energy and during the afternoon you can explore local cafes and boutiques and experience traditional Korean street food.

If it is about time you sampled some of the wonderful international cuisine that Seoul offers, so head to the vibrant district of Itaewon and then attend an entertaining non-verbal performance Nanta show.

vibrant district of Itaewon

Day Five

Day 5. This is a chance to relax and take time to fully absorb your visit to Seoul. This dynamic Korean city offers a plethora of beautiful parks such as Seoul Forest or Olympic Park. A visit to the Bongeunsa temple will provide one last peaceful experience and keep the spirit of Seoul alive, long after you return home.

Additional Tips

This itinerary provides a mix of historical and modern sights and attractions and there are some tips and tricks to be aware of when maximizing your time in Seoul.

Learning some basic Korean phrases will enhance your experience with the locals. A T-Money card allows easy access to public transport and can be used in convenience stores too. Stay connected with a portable Wi-Fi device or local sim card, it will make navigating Seoul much easier.

Seoul also provides a vibrant street food scene. Be brave and try local favorites like Korean BBQ, Tteokbokki and Odeng.

Tokyo: 5 Day Itinerary

Day One

It’s Day 1, so you might as well start the way you mean to continue and jump straight into Tokyo! Spend the whole day at Tokyo Disneyland and enjoy the magic of the parades, shows and attractions.

In the evening the Ikspiari shopping and entertainment complex is the perfect place for an evening meal and is located not far from Tokyo Disneyland.

tokyo theme park

If you’re not sold on Tokyo, read this Tokyo vs Osaka article!

Day Two

Day 2. After the thrills and spills of the previous day, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d prefer a day to restenable. Well not yet, because the morning is taken up by a visit to the Tokyo Skytree for panoramic views of the city, before exploring the Tokyo Solamachi shopping complex at the base of the Skytree.

For an afternoon of exploration, head to Asakusa to visit the famous Asakusa shrine and the iconic Senso-ji temple with its awe-inspiring Thunder Gate (Kaminarimon). Then take a stroll through Nakamise Street where you can browse and shop for traditional souvenirs.

Asakusa shrine Tokyo

Now you have time to relax with a stroll along the Sumida River and take in the serene evening views, before enjoying dinner at a traditional Izakaya in Asakusa.

Day Three

Day 3 is one where you can enjoy a mix of culture and modern-day fashion. A morning visit to Roppongi Hills will allow you to explore art galleries, the Mori Art Museum and Tokyo City View.

In the afternoon, take a guided tour of one of the many cultural and historical sites Tokyo City offers. there are options for themed tours based on your interests and guided walking tours of the city’s vibrant districts.

Spend your evening at Roppongi with its diverse dining options and proximity to the vibrant nightlife of nearby Harajuku and Shibuya.

dining at Roppongi Tokyo

Day Four

Day 4 is finally a chance to take it easy and relax with a visit to a cafe or bakery where you can sample local dishes. Explore the neighborhood and take in a spot of shopping.

Tokyo is famous for Karaoke, so why not spend the afternoon letting it all out in a private karaoke room in one of Tokyo’s countless Karaoke bars?

After enjoying an evening meal of authentic Japanese food, such as sushi or Ramen Place, your evening destination of Golden Gai in Shinjuku will provide all the nightnightlife life you need as toy wind your way through tight streets and tiny Japanese bars.

Day Five

Day 5, and after the night before you may feel like you need to cleanse your soul. Nikko is perfect for a morning visit and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its ancient shrines and natural beauty.

If you have time in the afternoon, head back to Tokyo to explore places you may have missed and enjoy a farewell dinner in one of the many rooftop bars, where stunning views over the Tokyo skyline will live long in the memory.

Additional Tips

Once again, this itinerary aims to provide a mix of Japanese cuisine, entertainment options and cultural experiences. You may want to amend and adjust these suggestions depending on individual tastes and the length of time you are visiting Tokyo.

tokyo transportation bus

It’s well worth noting the Tokyo public transportation system is an extensive network and highly efficient, including buses, trains and the Tokyo subway. Consider purchasing a Tokyo Metro Pass for convenient and cost-effective travel around the city.

Other Information To Consider When It Comes To Seoul Vs Tokyo

useful information traveling to Seoul or Tokyo

Public Transport

Generally speaking, both Seoul and Tokyo have highly efficient and extensive public transportation systems, which enable residents, workers and visitors to travel around either Tokyo or Seoul with relative ease.

tokyo subway

The Tokyo subway system is one of the most complex in the world, consisting of multiple lines. However, stations and signs are clearly marked in both Japanese and English.

Seoul’s subway system is well organized and announcements are usually made in Korean and English.

The subway is probably the most efficient way to travel around both of these great cities. Especially during rush hours as traffic above ground can become hazardous and air quality can become poorer.

Japan railway station

Japan Railways (JR)operates a network of train lines that connect various parts of Tokyo along with other regions of Japan. The Yanamoto Line is a major loop that connects many of Tokyo’s central districts.

Seoul has an extensive bus network which includes blue buses for long-distance journeys, green buses for shorter distances and yellow buses that circle the neighborhoods around the city.

Walkability

Although Seoul and Tokyo are huge bustling metropolises with clean and efficient public transportation, they both cities offer many walkable areas. The walkability of both Tokyo and Seoul very much depends on the neighborhood and district.

walking in seoul or tokyo

Seoul has a well-designed street layout and some impressive pedestrian-friendly areas. Examples of this include Insadong, Myeondong and Gangnam.

Tokyo is known for its distinctly individual neighborhoods and if it is a creative youth culture vibe you’re looking for then areas like Shinjuku, Shibuya and Harajuku provide many opportunities for exploring on foot.

Shopping

Some people would argue that what makes a good city a great city is the shopping. It is no coincidence that the best cities in the world offer some of the best shopping.

When it comes to Seoul vs Tokyo, both these cities are not short on offerings of quality retail therapy.

Seoul is a global fashion hub, known for its trendy stores and eclectic street fashions, where you’ll find an array of exquisite local and international brands and beauty shops. Seoul’s famous street markets are where you’ll find a variety of items from clothing to traditional Korean goods.

shopping in Seoul

Seoul is also the birthplace of the fashion phenomenon that is K-Beauty. Shops in districts like Myeondong and Garosugil showcase the latest skincare and skincare beauty products.

Neighborhoods like Insadong and Samcheong-dong feature unique boutiques that sell handmade items, traditional crafts and provide a different shopping experience.

Make no mistake, Tokyo is a global fashion capital where districts like Harajuku, Shibuya and Ginza offer an eclectic mix of high-end fashion, streetwear and Avant-garde style. Tokyo boasts iconic department stores like Tokyu Hands, Mitsukoshi and Shibuya 109, where the isles are adorned with luxury brands by local and international designers.

shopping in Tokyo

Tokyo is also considered by many as the tech capital of the world and Akihabara is a paradise for electronics enthusiasts. This is where you will find the latest gadgets, video games and Anime merchandise.

By contrast, areas like Asakusa have shops that specialize in traditional Japanese crafts, including hand-made pottery and kimonos.

Day Trips

If you are looking for something a bit further afield during your stay in either of these cities, there are plenty of popular attractions within easy reach should you choose to explore the beauty that both these cities offer in surrounding areas.

But, how does Seoul compare to Tokyo?

Nami island South Korea

As we know, public transport is quick, clean and efficient. To start your day trip the Seoul Metro for easy access to the temples, shrines and amusement parks, for those who would like a more familiar sense of Western adventure.

Noteworthy places to visit are Nami Island, arguably one of the most popular day trip destinations, Seoraksan National Park is a bit further away but offers stunning views of majestic mountains and hiking trails around this beautiful national park.

Changdeokgung Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village both offer chances to explore stories of Seoul past.

Several amusement parks near Seoul cater to different ages and tastes. Everland is a fun place and one of the largest, Seoul Land is suitable for families and all ages and at Aiins World visitors can explore the world attractions in miniature.

Everland Seoul

Away from the sprawling skylines, the surrounding areas of Tokyo are just as intriguing. If you are planning to depart during the morning rush hour, you will need to be aware of how busy the public transportation system can be. Both these major cities have one thing in common though, you don’t have to travel far to find where you want to go.

The Sensoji Temple is one of the oldest in Tokyo, Kawagoe (little Edo) is around an hour away where you can visit Karazukuri Street and try the local sweet potatoes. The Izu Peninsula offers highlights that include coastal scenery and hot springs.

Sensoji Temple Tokyo

Tokyo also has a rich and diverse textile culture which encompasses contemporary fashion and traditional crafts with many cultural centers and craft studios that are well worth a short journey to spend the day out.

Food Scene

Seoul vs Tokyo is a fair matchup when it comes to a diverse and vibrant food scene that reflects rich culinary traditions, innovative trends and global influences.

Seoul is renowned for its delicious Korean BBQ (Samgyespsal) culture, where you can find countless restaurants where you can grill your own meat at the table. Kimchi, which are fermented vegetables and an array of Banchan (side dishes) are a staple of Korean cuisine.

korean barbecue

The street food scene in Seoul is vibrant, offering tasty treats like Hotteok (sweet pancakes) and Odeng (fish cake skewers). Korean fried chicken is also popular and addictive with numerous great restaurants that the city offers.

ramen in tokyo

Tokyo is a paradise for foodies with its plethora of street food and Michelin Star Restaurants to tickle your taste buds.

Ramen dishes have their own unique broths and toppings. Tempura is also popular, with street stalls and restaurants each offering unique versions.

Yakitori are grilled chicken skewers that are a favorite among locals and a dining experience that you must be part of is Kaiseki, a multi-course meal that showcases seasonal ingredients and precise preparation.

Is Seoul Or Tokyo Better For Night life?

When you are considering Seoul vs Tokyo, then you can’t ignore the night life. Both cities are well-known for their energetic and diverse nightlife venues.

Seoul is characterized by its live music venues and modern youth cultures. Tokyo has more of a varied landscape with districts that cater to different tastes.

seoul vs tokyo nightlife

Although often thought of as a mainly Japanese past time, Karaoke is popular in Seoul and you’ll find countless Noraebang (karaoke bars) where you can sing into the early hours. The night markets of Seoul are alive and buzzing with activity, offering a mix of street food, entertainment and after-dark shopping.

Hongdae is known for its youthful culture and energetic atmosphere with hundreds of bars, clubs and live music venues. Itewon has a more international feel to it with a good mix of Korean and foreign-friendly establishments.

Rooftop bars are also becoming ever more popular in Seoul, where you can take in stunning panoramic views of the neon lights across the Seoul skyline.

rooftop bar seoul

Tokyo is famous for its districts that each offer something different for all tastes ages and nationalities.

Roppongi is known for its upscale after-hours scene. Golden Gai is a small area of Shinjuku with narrow streets and traditional tiny bars.

A great atmosphere and a great place for bar-hopping. Izakayas are Japanese pubs popular with after-work drinkers and unique themed bars, such as robot restaurants and owl cafes offer a slightly ‘different’ experience.

Shinjuku tiny bars

Tokyo is also world-renowned for its EDM (Electronic Dance Music) scene. Clubs host huge party nights with International DJs and celebrities in attendance.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Seoul Or Tokyo?

Something that is worth a good portion of your consideration when deciding between Seoul vs Tokyo your preference for the weather.

Summer temperatures can soar in both Seoul and Tokyo and winter, in contrast, can see temperatures regularly drop below freezing in both cities.

April to June is a popular time for visitors to South Korea and in Seoul, the mild temperatures and cherry blossoms are particularly pleasant. Summers in Seoul are hot and humid where temperatures can range between 68 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 35 Celsius.

Autumn is another popular time to visit with cooler weather and stunning fall foliage providing an ideal time for outdoor activities. Winter in Seoul is cold, especially December and January so go prepared for chilly temperatures and snow.

autumn in Seoul

March to May in Tokyo is known as cherry blossom season where the streets are transformed into a sea of pink and white.

The weather is mild in Tokyo at this time of year with temperatures ranging from 50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 20 Celsius). Summers in Tokyo, like in Seoul are also hot and humid. June is the rainy season and July and August are very warm.

Tokyo autumn

Autumn in Tokyo is similar to Seoul and is a pleasant time to visit. The beautiful fall foliage provides a dazzling backdrop for outdoor activities. Winter in Tokyo is considered relatively mild compared to other parts of Japan and although snowfall is rare, it can get cold.

Seoul Vs Tokyo: To Summarize

I hope that this article has served to help you choose which city is best for you when choosing between either Seoul vs Tokyo.

If you’re interested in a mix of traditional culture, dynamic nightlife and delicious street food, Seoul would be a great choice.

choosing between seoul and tokyo

On the other hand, if you are drawn to a bustling modern metropolis with diverse culinary experiences and unique neighborhoods with a blend of tradition and innovation, Tokyo would be more suitable.

It might not come down to which city you should visit first, personal preference will help you decide. but, by visiting both of these awe-inspiring places you can guarantee your visit to South Korea and Japan will not be forgotten for years to come.

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