For any traveler exploring South Korea over the course of several days or weeks, the KTX bullet train will become their new best friend. But the average traveler may have several questions about how to ride the KTX bullet train, where the train goes, and even what the KTX service is and how it is different from conventional trains.
I’m writing this guide to share the information I learned first-hand as I crisscrossed my way around the country. It is my hope that I’ll be able to help fellow travelers navigate this type of Korean transportation. And hopefully, the information here will help you get around the country easily and efficiently! This is my guide on how to ride the KTX bullet train in South Korea.
The KTX is short for “Korea Train Express.” It’s South Korea’s high speed trains system, which has been operational since April 1, 2004. The KTX railway system consists of fourteen lines that serve multiple parts of the country. All of the country’s largest cities are linked together by the KTX railway system, which makes traveling between them extremely convenient.
In addition to its convenience, the KTX bullet train is also an extremely fast, technologically-advanced mode of transportation. In this way, it’s quite similar to its counterparts in China and Japan, both of which I rode in 2019.
KTX bullet trains travel at speeds up to 190 miles per hour. Because of the high rate of speed at which they travel, utilizing them dramatically cuts down travel times between Korean cities. A drive from Busan on the country’s southeast coast to Seoul in the northwest takes 4-5 hours minimum but often takes much longer due to traffic. Alternatively, the KTX cuts the transportation time between the two to as little as 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Four KTX train lines extend out from Seoul alone: the Gyeongbu, Honam, Gyeonjeon, and Jeolla lines. If you’re planning on traveling between Seoul and Busan, the Gyeongbu line is the one for you. Once you learn how to ride the KTX bullet train, it’s easily the best option to get around the country.
Thankfully, in addition to the KTX bullet train being fast and convenient, it’s also extremely affordable. Travelers who book their tickets in advance or travel as part of a group will enjoy further discounts.
You can check KTX bullet train schedules on the KTX website up to one month in advance. Tickets can also be purchased up to a month in advance there. I personally recommend booking your KTX bullet train tickets 4-5 days in advance if you’re planning on traveling on weekends. And even though the trains are fast, I suggest booking your tickets for as early in the day as possible, especially if you have limited time. That way, you’ll to spend more time at your destination.
Those traveling on a budget will be happy to learn that a wide range of discounts may be available. For example, you can get a discount of up to 20% off your ticket price on the day of your reservation, depending on which type of ticket you buy. Those traveling in a group of 10 or more people are eligible for a 10% discount, and adults accompanying a child get a whopping 75% off the price of the adult ticket.
After you book your ticket online, I highly recommend printing out your reservation details. Take it to a ticket counter, along with your passport, and you should receive your tickets with no problem. If you can’t print out your reservation, have your reservation number ready to make the process of getting your ticket go smoothly.
In addition to the KTX bullet train official website, tickets can also be purchased at ticket counters around the country, as well as at ticket machines in the train stations.
When I traveled from Seoul to Busan, I began my journey at Seoul train station, the largest station in South Korea. This is where I learned how to ride the KTX bullet train. It’s big and busy but is still quite small when compared to the stations in Japan and China. The station has 15 tracks.
I suggest getting to the station at least 20 or 30 minutes before your departure time. This will give you time to get your tickets, grab some food if you want it, and get down to the platform. To ensure that you’re on time for your train, I suggest going down to the track to wait beforehand, which is something you can’t do in China.
KTX bullet trains are always punctual and leave just five minutes after they arrive. In other words, they won’t wait for you. You’ll head down to the tracks from the main hall.
I traveled from Seoul to Busan twice during my time in South Korea. My first journey was a First Class trip with my group of fellow travel bloggers with the Korea Tourism Organization.
After grabbing a rice cake stick and a green tea latte from Seoul Station’s Dunkin Donuts, we boarded the first-class train cars on the train. It is very nice and has lots of legroom. The seats are very comfortable and arranged in a 2-1 configuration. There is free WiFi as well as a station where you can charge your electronics.
First Class riders on the KTX bullet train receive a welcome kit that contains some snacks (a cookie and some nuts) and a hand wipe. Take advantage of the hand wipes in South Korea, which are provided almost everywhere. They’re a great way to keep your hands clean! There are also free water vending machines available.
The 325-kilometer, 2.5-hour trip to Busan breezes by. It’s quiet and smooth, and the train glides through the country as if it’s floating on air. Just remember to stay quiet on them so you don’t disturb other passengers.
My Economy Class KTX bullet train ticket cost 59,800 won, which is just under $50 USD. Inside the car is an area for luggage. South Korea is completely safe, so you don’t have to worry about someone stealing it or going through your things.
Economy class is extremely comfortable. The seats recline and provide lots of legroom, which is perfect if you’re a six-foot-tall traveler like me. There is also free WiFi onboard, so you’ll be able to get some work done, scroll through Instagram, and send text messages.
The ride to Busan is quiet and smooth, even when the car is filled to capacity. During the 2-hour-and-15-minute KTX bullet train ride, you’ll pass through lots of tunnels, farming and rice communities, and hills. The Korean countryside is quite beautiful, so take some time to enjoy it. Or you can do like I did and sleep most of the way!
Like Seoul Station, Busan Station in Busan has lots of restaurants that are open early in the morning, so if you’re traveling early, there are several food options available. I recommend getting some bibimbap and sundubu jjigae, which costs just $8.22 USD.
An Economy Class ticket from Busan to Daegu costs just 17,100 won, or roughly $14 USD. Like all KTX bullet train rides, the journey is very comfortable. Best of all, it takes only 50 minutes to get to Daegu, so you’ll get there in a flash!
On my return trip to Busan that night, I caught my 50-minute KTX bullet train ride back at Dongdaegu Station. I suggest riding Economy!
As I mentioned earlier, Busan Station is filled with restaurants, as well as convenience stores, so I suggest arriving well in advance before your train departs if you want to eat. Another great Korean food option on the second level is the spicy kimchi stew, which comes with odeng fish cakes, mushrooms, kimchi, and rice.
I rode First Class back to Seoul, which was a fantastic experience. My ticket cost 83,700 won, or about $69 USD. It’s a great value for a 2.5-hour ride that crosses the entire country!
The seats are made of a nice material and come with an attached table. The seats recline for maximum comfort and have an outlet where you can charge your batteries. You can also peruse the provided KTX Magazine and enjoy the chocolate chip cookie and mixed nuts in the welcome kit. Just remember to use your hand wipe first!
If you get thirsty, grab a free bottle of ice-cold water from the on-board vending machine. There’s also a nice, clean bathroom with a toilet and a sink on board if you need to relieve yourself. An important aspect of how to ride the KTX bullet train is buying food beforehand because, besides the welcome kit, no food is served on Korean trains.
Now that you know how to ride the KTX bullet train in South Korea, you’ll see that it is a quick, easy, and efficient experience. Booking your tickets and navigating the stations couldn’t be easier and the rides are smooth, quiet, and comfortable no matter which class you choose. I had no issues at all at the stations and found the rides extremely relaxing. They are the perfect way to travel between cities in South Korea. Book a trip to South Korea today to have your own KTX bullet train experience!
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