Seoul, the city where the glaring contrasts of K-Pop, concrete towers, street stalls, heritage complexes and opulent palaces blend together to create a worthy sensory experience, is slowly but surely emerging as a favorite on the wish lists of travelers in search of cultural experiences that shake them out of their comfort zones. Seoul offers this and much more but visiting the South Korean capital doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’re on a budget, here’s how to get the most out of Seoul on a budget.
When it comes to affordable accommodation, you have a couple of options depending on your budget and preferred style of accommodation. There are many cheap hotels in Seoul that are clean, well maintained and provide all basic modern amenities. AirBnB offers a number of apartments in the city, so it’s worth spending some time looking into those. If you’re traveling solo, then it might be a good idea to stay in a hostel where you can meet other travelers. Here’s a guide to where to stay in Seoul.
If you’re a tad bit adventurous and up for a unique local experience, it’s worthwhile to stay in a goshiwon, where you’ll get your own room with a bed, desk and bathroom, and in most cases will be able to share a common kitchen. You’ll meet more locals here than tourists, including university students and people working in Seoul. Detailed information about how to go about finding a goshiwon and what to expect when you’re staying at one is available in this great article. This probably isn’t a good idea if you’re looking to meet other foreign travelers or Westerners like yourself but great if you want a more locally immersive experience.
Eat Like A Local
Photo by huellas via Trover.com
Food is an integral part of travel and I don’t ever recommend skimping on the culinary experience when in a city whose food culture has the capability to blow your mind. Seoul fits that description but luckily for the budget traveler, there’s nothing to worry about. Just follow the locals.
Like in other Asian cities, the street food in Seoul is delicious with dishes such as Kimbap (seaweed rice rolls), Eomuk (fish cakes) and Hotteok (pancakes) and meals come as low as $1-2. At local restaurants, expect to spend $5-7 for a meal complete with side dishes. Here’s a good resource for familiarizing yourself with South Korean street food.
Of course, if you’re staying in Seoul for a long time and in an apartment or goshiwon, you could cook your own food a few times a week. As is usually the case in Asian cities, Western food can be expensive so you’re better off eating like a local.
Explore on a Budget
Photo by Bobo and Chichi
Sightseeing in Seoul is not as expensive as it is in some other countries of the world. A visit to the grand Gyeongbokgung Palace, the city’s oldest palace will set you back by just under $3 and is an excellent chance to learn about the history. Other sights are the Changdeokgung Palace ($3), Jongmyo religious shrines, N Seoul Tower and green spaces such as the Olympic Park and surrounding areas.
Get to know Seoul’s interesting neighborhoods like Bukchon Village, Insadong, Namdaemun, Itaewon and Hongik by taking a self-guided walking tour and you’ll find that like most big cities, Seoul has many vastly different sides to it.
For another unique local experience, spend some time relaxing in a communal spa or jjimjilbang. Scrubs, manicures, pedicures, facials, baths and saunas are on the menu and these are open 24 hours. At admission as low as $11 for a reputed luxury spa, it’s an experience that can be enjoyed even by the most budget focused travelers.
Have you been to Seoul? What are your tips for budget travel in the city?