When asked about their favorite things about living in Seoul, both expats and Koreans frequently cite the subway system as one of the best parts of the city. Which sounds a little like damning with faint praise, but the subway is truly remarkable. It’s cheap (about a dollar to tap in and then an increasing amount based on how far you go, but never more than 2 dollars), covers a vast area (over 350 kilometers of track), and oh-so frequent (on most lines it takes some bad luck to have to wait more than 3 or 4 minutes for the train.)
There are more than 10 lines and over 350 stations, connecting 25.6 million people. The stations are always announced in English and Korean (and many popular stations in Japanese and Chinese too) and there are maps in each subway car (and free ones for your phone) so it’s easy to get around. One of the lines, the Sinbundang, is driven robotically. And they play jingles and songs at transfer stations, which pleases foreigners so much they make songs like this.
That’s not all. In the winter, the seats are heated so you no longer have to worry about contracting a case of cold bum. And many of the subway stations—Wangsimi, Jamsil, Gangnam, Express Bus Terminal, and others—are veritable malls, with shops, restaurants, aquariums, movie theaters, even theme parks. You can recharge your subway card at any station or in any convenience store. And if you need help in the station, you press a button that plays Fur Elise until a subway worker will come help you.
Now that’s not to say that it’s perfect. Rush Hour is VERY busy. Connecting between 2 lines can sometimes take a 25 minute hike. You will almost certainly be shoved by adjumas , people crowd in as soon as the doors open without letting other passengers disembark first, and the trains stop running surprisingly early, especially on weekends (By 11pm-12am).
However, my favorite part of the subway is one that isn’t much mentioned. Each line has a sort of advertisement about the stops on that line. You get to see a few words and an image, ranging from as-cool-as-a-mountain to as-boring-as-picture-of-ginseng. Like little teaser trailers about the areas, this photos give a tiny glimpse into that subway stop and the area around it. Here are a few examples, taken from lines 6 and 7.