Seoul – the capital of South Korea – is a beautiful and vibrant city, but it can also be costly to visit. In fact, Seoul is also known as one of the most expensive cities in Asia.
If you’re on a tight budget however, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy all that Seoul has to offer. Here are 7 tips to help you experience Seoul without breaking the bank.
1. Join a Seoul free walking tour
Seoul is a bustling metropolis with something to offer everyone, from history buffs to foodies to shopaholics. If you’re looking to explore the city on a budget, one great option is to join a Seoul free walking tour. These tours typically last around two hours and cover some of Seoul’s most popular attractions.
The most popular Seoul free walking tours are those organized by Seoul Tourism Board. There are around 40 such tours available, all led by knowledgeable tour guides who will share insights about the city’s history, architecture, and cuisine.
For visitors who are keen to discover off-the-beaten-track destinations in this city, booking a Seoul free walking tour with SeoulMate is another great option. This student-led organization takes tourists to lesser-known areas in Seoul where they can see the city and also learn about its history and culture from a local perspective. The tour guides, most of whom are young and enthusiastic students, are also very willing to suggest hidden gems in the city such as affordable eateries or discount shops to first-time visitors on a budget.
2. Shop for clothes, cosmetics, and souvenirs near Ewha Woman’s University
While most first-time visitors to Seoul flock to Myeong-dong for shopping, the same stuff can often be found in the shopping districts surrounding Ewha Woman’s University at much less expensive prices.
Myeong-dong is known as one of Seoul’s busiest shopping areas with hundreds of shops selling clothes, cosmetics, and souvenirs. However, due to Myeong-dong’s popularity, the products on offer here are also often more pricey.
Instead of overpaying at Myeong-dong, you can wander around Ewha Womans University to shop for a wide variety of more affordable fashion items and cosmetics. In addition to student-friendly prices, the shops in this neighborhood also allow bargaining, which gives you the chance to save even more.
3. Stay at a hostel or guesthouse far from the city center
Hostels and guesthouses are usually much cheaper than hotels and are also great places to meet other travelers. If you’re visiting Seoul on a budget, choosing a hotel or guesthouse a bit far from the city center is a good tip to keep your cost down.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for accommodations in the north of the city or around universities where you can also shop for daily essentials or eat at a cheaper price. Avoid booking a hotel in Gangnam or right downtown as they are often much more pricey.
Moreover, Seoul’s public transportation system is generally very efficient and affordable. Therefore, even if you don’t stay near the center, you can still get around the city and visit the most popular attractions quite fast and efficiently.
4. Street food in Seoul is the best
Seoul offers a wide variety of street foods that are both tasty and inexpensive. For the best street food options, head to the local markets such as Gwangjang, Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, and Namdaemun markets.
What are some most popular street foods in Seoul? At these local markets, you will find plenty of yummy dishes ranging from BBQ pork and beef to deep-fried vegetables, fruit skewers, gimbap rice rolls, fresh seafood, and traditional cakes. You’ll be spoiled for choice!
5. Visit free attractions in Seoul
Seoul has no shortage of things to see and do, and many of them are completely free! From historic palaces to lively markets, there’s something for everyone – and you don’t have to spend any money to enjoy it.
First of all, make sure to check out the many free museums in Seoul! The most notable ones are the National Museum of Korea, the Seoul Museum of Art, the Seoul Museum of History, and the National Hangeul Museum. Some of them even offer a Children’s Corner for kids and their families to participate in interactive activities together.
Second, don’t forget to take a walk around Seoul’s most famous hanok villages such as Bukchon, Insa-dong, and Seochon where you can have a unique glimpse into the past. Hanok are traditional Korean homes made of wood and stone and designed in a beautiful, minimalist style. In addition to admiring the architecture, visitors can also learn about the local culture as many hanok villages also offer traditional crafts experiences, performances, and exhibitions.
Third, if you’re looking for a cool spot to hang out right in the heart of Seoul, Cheong-gye-cheon stream is the place to be. While this manmade stream is a great place to take a stroll any time of year, it’s especially worth a visit during the Lantern Festival in November. During this time, Cheong-gye-cheon is illuminated with the help of colorful lanterns of different shapes and sizes, bringing about a magical and unforgettable atmosphere.
Finally, Seoul’s parks are also great places to explore while visiting the city on a budget. Despite the concrete jungle that surrounds it, Seoul is actually a very green city with numerous parks and gardens dotting the landscape. You can find everything from small neighborhood parks to large national parks in Seoul, all of which offer a chance to enjoy some fresh air and relax in nature. The most famous park is perhaps Seoullo 7017, which is a beautiful garden converted from a former highway overpass and offers a stunning view of the busy streets below.
6. Take advantage of the free travel guidebooks and souvenirs
Upon arriving in Seoul, don’t forget to grab some copies of free Seoul guidebooks and souvenirs offered at the airport. In addition to offering useful information about the city, these guidebooks also come with discount vouchers at different stores and restaurants in Seoul. If you miss them at the airport, they are also available at various Information Centers around town.
7. Check out Seoul’s flea markets for the best deals
If you’re looking for a bargain, be sure to check out Seoul’s flea markets which are renowned for their great deals and a wide variety of items on offer. Visiting these flea markets is also one of the most unique things to do in Seoul!
Some of the most popular ones include Seoul Folk Flea Market, Dongmyo Flea Market, Seocho Saturday Flea Market, and Hwanghak-dong Flea Market. You can find everything from secondhand goods, handmade products, street food, and electronic appliances while enjoying the bustling ambiance here. Don’t forget to bargain as well!
Summary: Visiting Seoul on a budget
Following the 7 tips above will help you enjoy all that Seoul has to offer without spending a fortune. With a little planning and flexibility, visiting Seoul on a budget is definitely possible!
Are you planning to visit Seoul in the near future? If you have been to Seoul before on a budget, what other tips can you suggest? Don’t hesitate to let us know by commenting below.
Fiona Mai is a 20-ish Vietnamese travel blogger who has been to 21 countries so far. She was lucky enough to call herself a past resident of Helsinki, Berlin, Brisbane, Hanoi, and Kingston upon Hull. Even more fortunate right now to be back to where she comes from: Saigon, Vietnam. Read more about her journeys on her blog.