Ever found yourself stuck in a classic traveller’s dilemma—Seoul or Tokyo? I get it; choosing between these two vibrant cities is like trying to pick whether to eat pasta or pizza for dinner! But don’t worry, I’ve got your back in this friendly showdown of Seoul and Tokyo.
In this blog post, we’re diving deep into the heart of the matter: Seoul vs. Tokyo. I’ll break down the nitty-gritty details—from costs and accommodations to the mouthwatering world of local cuisine, and everything in between.
So, grab your virtual passports, kick back, and let’s figure out which city deserves a spot at the top of your travel bucket list.
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Should I visit Seoul or Tokyo?
Deciding between Seoul and Tokyo for your next adventure?
Let’s take a sneak peek into these two cities to help you make an informed choice.
Seoul, the bustling capital of South Korea, is a beautiful blend of ancient traditions and modern innovation, housing over 9 million people. Located amidst mountains and the Han River, Seoul’s landscape is a captivating mix of sleek skyscrapers and historic palaces.
On the flip side, Tokyo, the capital of Japan, boasts a staggering population of over 14 million. Sprawling across the Kanto region, Tokyo seamlessly intertwines the ultra-modern with pockets of serenity, offering a glimpse into the heart of Japanese culture.
From the cherry blossom-lined streets of Tokyo to the dynamic energy of Seoul’s sprawling city, these places are full of culture just waiting to be explored.
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Seoul vs Tokyo
Let’s now dive into the nitty gritty of the key differences and similarities between Seoul and Tokyo. But before we do, here is a summary I created with my ratings of each city.
|Things To Do||8/10||9/10|
Things To Do: Seoul vs. Tokyo
Starting off with what I consider one of the most important factors when choosing a destination, the attractions and things to do.
From street food markets to skyline views and late-night bar-hopping, these are the top three things you’ve gotta do in each city.
Top 3 things to do in Seoul:
- DMZ Tour
Buckle up for the DMZ tour, where you can practically high-five North Korea (okay, not really, but you get it).
It’s a wild ride exploring the demilitarized zone, checking out secret tunnels, peering into North Korea, and getting a front-row seat to some serious Korean history drama.
2. Street Food Markets
Calling all foodies! Seoul’s street food game is one of the best. Hit up places like Myeongdong or Gwangjang Market (my personal favourite) for a culinary adventure.
Kimchi dumplings, mung bean pancakes, noodles and a bunch of other traditional bites.
Pro tip: Come hungry.
3. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Feel like a royal at Gyeongbokgung Palace. Catch the changing of the guard ceremony at 10 am or 2 pm (except Tuesdays when it’s closed) for some historical drama and an Insta-worthy moment. It’s a pretty cool experience.
For the ultimate experience, rent a traditional hanbok dress, trust me you won’t be the only one!
Top 3 things to do in Tokyo:
- Shibuya Sky
Take your Tokyo game to new heights at Shibuya Sky. It’s basically a giant elevator to awesome views. Get ready for skyscrapers, neon lights, and the city spread out like a techno-coloured dream.
It’s especially breathtaking at sunset. And don’t forget to spot the famous Shibuya crossing sitting right below the rooftop.
2. Golden Gai Bars
Dive into Tokyo’s nightlife scene at Golden Gai. Tiny bars, snacks, and loads of character.
It’s like a pub crawl, but Tokyo style.
Each bar has its own vibe, making it a must for anyone up for a unique drinking adventure.
Speaking of a pub crawl, I highly recommend you join a guided tour for a memorable night out. This is what I did and had an absolute blast! I met so many incredible people and got a real taste of Japanese nightlife.
Fashionistas, listen up! Harajuku is your jam. Takeshita Street is a wild ride of fashion, accessories, and snacks.
Check out Yoyogi Park for some people-watching and soak in the crazy cool styles that make Harajuku, well, Harajuku.
And grab one of the crepes from one of the many stalls, they are everywhere and for good reason, they are delicious!
Things to Do Scores:
Seoul – 7/10
⭐ Tokyo – 8/10
Transport: Seoul Vs Tokyo
Let’s talk about getting around because nobody wants to waste precious travel time figuring out how to catch a ride. In Seoul, the metro system is fantastic– efficient, clean, and the real MVP for zipping around the city.
Plus most signs have English so you don’t need to worry about the hassle of having to translate. Buses are another solid option, connecting you to every nook and cranny. Taxis (cause there is no Uber)? Easy to book on the Kakao app and very well-priced for a major city.
Now, Tokyo’s transport game is also top-notch. The iconic Tokyo Metro is a lifesaver, weaving through the city. JR trains and the Shinkansen connect the city and beyond, making day trips a breeze.
Once again, I found most signs to have English. Oh, and taxis? Abundant and super reliable. No need to worry about getting ripped off!
In the end, whether you’re cruising the streets of Seoul in a Hanbok or zipping through Tokyo in a Mario Kart (hey, it happens), both cities have world-class transport options.
Seoul – 7/10
⭐ Tokyo- 8/10
Food: Seoul Vs Tokyo
Alright, let’s get down to the good stuff – food! In Seoul, it’s like a flavour explosion in your mouth. Street food markets are the holy grail. Think tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), hotteok (sweet pancakes), and odeng (fish cake skewers).
Korean BBQ is an excellent choice, where you grill your own meat at the table. And let’s not forget about Korean Fried Chicken and beer, my go-to in Seoul!
Now, Tokyo’s food scene is also fantastic but offers totally different dishes. Ramen joints are abundant here, with every slurp full of deliciousness. Sushi? Oh boy, the freshest fish you’ve ever tasted.
And if you’re feeling adventurous, izakayas serve up a mix of small bites and drinks, perfect for a night out.
One thing to note. In both cities, I found fresh produce to be pretty expensive and not very abundant.
I love my fruit and this was something I missed on my trip to Korea and Japan. On your trip, if you’re constantly indulging in Korean BBQ, dumplings and katsu curries just be mindful of your fibre intake! You don’t want to get a sore belly like I did!
Ultimately, both cities are foodie paradises, it all just depends on what your taste buds prefer!
⭐ Seoul – 9/10
Tokyo – 8/10
Cost: Seoul Vs Tokyo
Let’s talk about the dollars and cents, because budgeting matters when you’re out there exploring.
Seoul offers a mix of affordable eats and budget-friendly activities. Street food stalls won’t break the bank, and even dining in local restaurants won’t dent your wallet too much.
Accommodations vary but include budget-friendly options without sacrificing comfort.
Now, Tokyo is a bit more on the pricey side. The city’s vibrant energy comes at a cost, especially when dining in high-end restaurants or staying in upscale accommodations.
However, Tokyo’s street food and ramen joints are a saving grace. Accommodations range from capsule hotels for a unique, budget-friendly experience to mid-range options that are reasonably priced.
In the end, both cities cater to different budget levels. Seoul gives you more wiggle room to stretch your won, while Tokyo might make you do a bit of budget Tetris.
⭐ Seoul – 8/10
Tokyo – 7/10
In Seoul, accommodation options are diverse. From stylish guesthouses to modern hotels and even traditional Hanok stays, you’ve got choices. If you’re looking to meet other travellers, hostels and guesthouses in areas like Hongdae are a great pick.
At least that’s what I did! For a touch of luxury, Gangnam serves up chic hotels with all the amenities.
Now, in Tokyo, you’ll find Capsule hotels that offer a futuristic, budget-friendly experience, perfect for solo travellers. Trendy neighbourhoods like Shibuya and Shinjuku boast a range of hotels, from affordable to swanky. Traditional ryokans are another option for a taste of Japanese hospitality.
To help you find your perfect stay in Seoul and Tokyo I have listed my top 3 picks in both cities.
Accommodation in Seoul
I recommend you stay in Hongdae which is a melting pot of university students and other travellers making it a safe and lively spot.
Wander through the streets, and you’ll stumble upon unique cafes, eclectic shops, market stalls, and indie boutiques, turning a simple stroll into a full-fledged adventure.
And when it gets dark, Hongdae turns into a lively hub buzzing with live music, street performances, and options for late-night dining and shopping.
Now, let’s talk nightlife – Hongdae doesn’t disappoint. There are countless bars, clubs, and karaoke rooms.
As if that’s not enough, Hongdae’s central location is a major plus, making it super easy to hop on public transport and explore the rest of Seoul.
Here are my top picks for where to stay in Hongdae.
⭐ 9.1/10 (821 reviews)
I had the pleasure of calling Bunk Guesthouse my home during my time in Hongdae. This cozy guesthouse is the very essence of Hongdae – a neighbourhood known for its youthful energy, artistic flair, and bustling nightlife.
Staying at Bunk Guesthouse, you’ll find yourself right in the midst of the action. There are cozy common areas and a welcoming atmosphere that makes it easy to connect with other travellers. But they also offer free breakfast, an equipped kitchen and tours that you can book as an add-on.
Although the guesthouse was quite old (and had some weird smells) you can’t beat the location. Plus there are a few private rooms (which I opted for) perfect for those who like their own space but still want to socialise with others.
⭐ 8.6/10 (606 reviews)
Now, let’s dive into why 9 Brick Hotel is the cream of the crop for a fantastic mid-range stay in the heart of Hongdae.
Conveniently located a mere 6-minute walk away from Hongik University Subway Station, 9 Brick Hotel raises the bar with a restaurant and a stylish bar.
Step into your room, and you’re greeted with views of the city that can rival any postcard. Each room is all about comfort with a flat-screen TV, a desk, a cozy sofa, a fridge, and air conditioning. The private bathroom? It’s spa-like complete with a bathrobe, slippers, free toiletries, and a hairdryer.
Now, let’s talk service. The 24-hour front desk at 9 Brick Hotel goes above and beyond, offering free baggage storage, valet parking that won’t cost you a dime, and concierge services to make your stay seamless.
⭐ 8.9/10 (1238 reviews)
RYSE stands as the epitome of luxurious indulgence in Hongdae
Located within walking distance from Hongik University Subway Station RYSE sets the stage for opulence. Complimentary WiFi and valet parking elevate the guest experience from the get-go.
Step into your room, and you’ll find a flat-screen TV, Bluetooth speakers for a personalized audio experience, and a safety deposit box for added security. The private bathroom is a sanctuary in itself, featuring a walk-in rain shower and plush bathrobes.
Luxury extends beyond the rooms at RYSE. Staying guests have unrestricted access to the on-site fitness centre, business centre, and library.
As the sun sets, head up to Side Note Club. This rooftop bar, stands as one of the best in Hongdae, providing unbeatable views of the city. Trust me I’ve been, the views and the cocktails at sunset are nothing short of spectacular.
Accommodation in Tokyo
If you’re on the hunt for a lively and downright convenient hub to kick off your Tokyo adventures, I highly recommend staying in Shinjuku.
This neighbourhood is Tokyo’s beating heart, embodying the city’s dynamic spirit with its lively streets, nightlife, and range of accommodations catering to every kind of traveller.
From the picturesque Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden to the Kabukicho entertainment district, there’s so much to dive into right at your doorstep.
Plus, getting around is super convenient with multiple subway stations in walking distance.
Now onto my top 3 stays in Tokyo.
⭐ 7.9/10 (2,254 reviews)
If you’re counting the pennies, Unplan Shinjuku is your go-to in Tokyo.
This spot hooks you up with a budget-friendly and seriously fun stay, smack in the beating heart of Shinjuku.
Rocking a clean, modern design, it’s a fantastic choice for those who’d rather spend their funds on making memories than splurging on a fancy stay. Plus it’s an excellent place to meet other travellers if you’re on a solo trip.
⭐ 8.4/10 (615 reviews)
I stayed at Hotel Matsunoi on my trip to Tokyo as it offers comfort and convenience for a very reasonable price.
If you are looking for privacy, comfort, style, and keeping things wallet-friendly, this place is for you.
Enjoy a single or double room with a private bathroom right in the heart of Shin Okubo, the vibrant Koreantown on the fringes of Shinjuku.
The subway is steps away and there are loads of places to eat from Korean street food to Japanese restaurants in your neighbourhood.
⭐ 9.2/10 (266 reviews)
Looking for the ultimate luxury experience in an excellent location? You simply can’t beat the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
With its iconic skyline views, impeccable service, and lavish amenities, it’s a stay filled with sophistication and relaxation.
The rooftop offers some of the best views of the city, making it my top choice for those seeking the crème de la crème of accommodations in Shinjuku.
⭐ Seoul – 8/10
Tokyo – 7/10
When it comes to safety, both Tokyo and Seoul are incredibly safe destinations including for solo female travellers like myself.
Tokyo, often touted as one of the safest cities globally, boasts low crime rates, making nighttime strolls through neon-lit streets very doable.
The Japanese culture emphasizes respect and following the law, contributing to an environment where safety is a top priority.
Seoul, too, embraces a safety-first ethos. South Korea’s capital city is known for its low crime rates and well-policed streets.
The warmth of the locals adds an extra layer of comfort, making Seoul a welcoming destination for solo and group travellers alike.
Whether you’re exploring historic palaces or street markets, both cities prioritize the safety and well-being of their visitors.
I felt extremely safe in both Seoul and Tokyo as a young solo female traveller, top marks for both cities!
⭐ Seoul Safety – 9/10
Tokyo Safety – 8/10
When it comes to cleanliness, Tokyo and Seoul are both shining stars of city tidiness, each maintaining a high standard of hygiene.
Tokyo takes cleanliness seriously, and the result is evident in spotless streets, well-maintained public spaces, clean subways, and an overall commitment to tidiness.
The city’s residents actively participate in keeping their surroundings clean, contributing to Tokyo’s pristine image. Littering is really not an issue in Japan.
Similarly, Seoul places a strong emphasis on cleanliness, ensuring that streets, parks, and public facilities remain well-kept.
Efforts to maintain a clean and inviting environment are visible throughout the city. From the bustling markets to the serene palaces, Seoul’s commitment to cleanliness enhances the overall experience.
But don’t expect to find public bins on the streets, for a clean city it is so surprising that it’s nearly impossible to find a bin for your takeaway iced Americano.
So, whether you’re strolling through the meticulous streets of Tokyo or wandering the clean, vibrant districts of Seoul, cleanliness is a top priority. Just make sure to do your bit and respect their cleaning practices!
Seoul Cleanliness – 8/10
⭐ Tokyo Cleanliness – 9/10
Best Day Trips
Time to break free from the city limits and explore the wonders that lie just beyond.
In Seoul, the DMZ steals the day trip spotlight. A journey to the Demilitarized Zone offers a truly incredible experience, standing at the border of North and South Korea.
Witnessing historical sites like the Third Infiltration Tunnel and the Joint Security Area provides a profound understanding of the country’s complex past. Plus you get to peer into one of the world’s most isolated countries.
Or head to Nami Island, a spot known for its tree-lined paths and scenic landscapes or a little further is Busan, my favourite coastal town!
Check out my Day Trip From Seoul to Busan – 1 Day Itinerary
Tokyo, on the other hand, offers day-trippers a ticket to escape the city’s hustle and bustle with Nikko National Park. Just a train ride away, Nikko allows you to explore the world of ancient shrines, gorgeous landscapes, and the iconic Toshogu Shrine.
Alternatively, combine Hakone’s hot springs and a picturesque Lake Ashi cruise with breathtaking views of Mount Fuji. Take a cable car or ropeway for panoramic views, and, weather permitting, witness the iconic peak reflected in the clear waters of Lake Ashi.
Day Trips Scores:
Seoul Best Day Trips – 7/10
⭐ Tokyo Day Trips- 8/10
Most Comfortable Weather
When it comes to the weather, both Seoul and Tokyo have seasons for everyone’s personal preferences. Seoul experiences distinct seasons, with spring and fall stealing the show for the most comfortable weather.
Spring (April to June) brings mild temperatures, blooming cherry blossoms (yes South Korea also has cherry blossoms), and a cool breeze.
Fall (September to November) follows suit with pleasant temperatures, vibrant foliage, and clear skies.
Tokyo mirrors this pattern with spring (March to May) offering mild temperatures and the iconic cherry blossoms blanketing the city. Fall (September to November) brings a similar comfortable climate, accompanied by stunning orange and red foliage, turning Tokyo into a picturesque canvas.
Tokyo tends to have higher humidity than Seoul, especially during the summer months, which can make the heat feel more intense.
And while both cities experience snowfall in winter, Seoul has a more consistent downpour compared to Tokyo.
Seoul Weather – 7/10
⭐ Tokyo Weather – 8/10
FAQ’s: Seoul vs Tokyo
Moving onto some commonly asked questions that will further help you decide on Seoul or Tokyo for your next trip.
Is it better to go to Seoul or Tokyo?
I fell in love with both Seoul and Tokyo and choosing between the two ultimately comes down to your preferences.
Seoul offers a blend of traditional and modern experiences, with a rich history, vibrant street markets, a K-pop scene, and a dynamic cultural scene.
Tokyo, on the other hand, dazzles with its futuristic cityscape, diverse neighbourhoods, delicious food, and a mix of ancient and contemporary attractions.
Consider what aspects of each city align with your travel desires, whether it’s exploring palaces in Seoul or diving into the high-tech ambience of Tokyo.
Is Seoul or Tokyo more modern?
Both Seoul and Tokyo stand as pillars of modernity, showcasing cutting-edge technology, efficient public transport, and contemporary architecture.
Tokyo, being one of the world’s most advanced cities, is renowned for its futuristic skyline, while Seoul impresses with its technological innovations and sleek urban design.
The difference in modernity is subtle, and both cities seamlessly balance tradition and innovation.
But if I had to choose, Tokyo takes the crown for being the most modern and technologically advanced.
Is Seoul more expensive than Tokyo?
Generally, Tokyo is considered more expensive than Seoul.
While both cities can be travelled on a tight budget, Tokyo’s higher cost of living can be reflected in accommodation prices, dining, and certain activities.
Seoul offers a more budget-friendly experience, with affordable street food, diverse accommodation options, and cost-effective transport.
The Verdict on Seoul or Tokyo
The total scores: Seoul Vs Tokyo
⭐ Tokyo: 72/100
And there you have it– the lowdown on two of Asia’s gems, Seoul and Tokyo.
Each city boasts a distinct personality, inviting you to immerse yourself in a fusion of tradition and innovation, history and modernity.
Whether you’re captivated by Seoul’s historical landmarks, mouthwatering street food, and vibrant markets or Tokyo’s futuristic skyline, mouthwatering food, and dynamic neighbourhoods, the choice between these two remarkable cities ultimately hinges on your travel dreams.
Seoul and Tokyo, while unique in their own ways, both have a similar warmth, safety reputation, and a commitment to providing travellers with unforgettable experiences.
According to my tallies in the above table, Tokyo beats Seoul by only 1 teeny point!
That’s right both cities are basically neck and neck but Japan’s world world-class transport and wide range of things to do just tip it over the edge to claim the prize!
So, whether you’re bowing beneath cherry blossoms in Tokyo or strolling through the palaces of Seoul, the verdict is clear – both cities offer a journey filled with discovery, wonder, and memories to last a lifetime.
So, pack your bags, choose your city, and get ready for an extraordinary adventure in either the heart of South Korea or the bustling city of Japan.