Walking through the streets of Seoul, South Korea, I came across a graffiti that said: “The best things in life are free; the second ones are very expensive. I do not agree at all with the second part of the sentence; but I believe that the first part is totally true: the best things in life are free, especially if we talk about travel; especially if we want to discover the most authentic part of a city.
Beyond the fact that my way of travelling is characterized by spending the minimum indispensable (legend has it that I have been seen climbing in garbage cans in Australia; Dump diving is ideal for the care of the environment!). In my opinion, most high-priced attractions are justly prepared for tourism and therefore the only real thing they have is the person in charge of checking the entrance ticket to that attraction. And sometimes not even that.
Each city has special spots that speak more of the country’s native beauty than any tourist attraction, and Seoul is no exception. Moreover, I would say that Seoul (and much of South Korea) is ideal for this type of tourism as Koreans love foreigners and have several alternatives completely free. I promise you that finding things to do for free in Seoul is a simple task, especially if you have in your hand this precious and useful guide that I have prepared for you.
Seoul has something special that doesn’t usually happen in every city: sometimes it happens to me that I’ve visited places and feel that I know them perfectly without even having set foot in the places where you’re supposed to go. You can get to know a lot about Australia and its culture without having to visit the Opera House. But in Korea there are tourist places that reflect the culture of the city and the country and that are a must. The good news is that many of these places are free (or at least visit them from the outside). Without further ado, below you’ll find things to do for free in Seoul. If you plan to visit the country, write them down, and you can thank me later.
1. Lose yourself in the streets of Insadong
This neighborhood is one of Seoul’s prettiest (and my favorite) neighborhoods, and is the most interesting gateway to the Bukcheon Village.
One of Insadong’s biggest attractions is Tapgol Park. It has several historical monuments and a pagoda dating from 1400.
Walking through the streets of Insadong is more than enough to soak up Korean culture; but if you’re on a budget, dining or lunch at Insadong is a great idea, as it’s said for those payments, you’ll find the best food in the city. Try not to get into the restaurants that have the menu in English as they are aimed at tourism and therefore the price is set especially for foreigners.
Finally, don’t be afraid of the alleys; the main street has as many shops as you can, but I promise you that the corridors that come off the main avenue have the best of the neighborhood; alternative shops and, as if that weren’t enough, food options that are ideal for the backpacker’s pocket.
2. Visit the Bukcheon Village
Are you done with your walk around Insadong? Then it’s time for you to follow your tour of Bukcheon Village. Also known as Hanok Village, it is one of the most picturesque places in the city. Beyond the Hanok (traditional houses), what gives a special touch to the neighborhood are the couples dressed in traditional costumes taking a thousand photos, but adorning the streets with their clothes.
The entrance to the village is completely free and you can visit it at any time. If you can plan ahead, I recommend that you arrive by sunset so that you can see the houses with natural light and the sun falling on their roofs. Keep in mind that Bukcheon Village is still a residential area, so if you want to visit it at night, try to do it quietly so as not to disturb the locals.
3. Walking in Hongdae
Hongdae is the youngest and most artistic neighborhood in Seoul. It depends on how tolerant you are of crowded crowds of people, you may have an excellent pass or you may end up suffocating from the crowd. Anyway, you have to go.
Koreans are artistic by nature and above all love to sing and dance. Walking around Hongdae is going to be a delight to your ears and your eyes. The neighborhood is populated by dance groups, bands and lonely artists, each demonstrating what they do best. And they don’t go around with minors, because they are equipped with the best amplifiers and microphones so that you don’t lose even the slightest chord.
Spending a night of dancing and booze may not quite fit into the category of free things to do in Seoul, but I promise you I have the formula to make it super affordable for you.
There are two neighborhoods you can’t miss in Seoul if you’re a crazy (and budget-affordable) night out. This is Hongdae and Itaewon. Both neighborhoods have bars and nightclubs that open their doors until 6 in the morning. From electronic music to the most Latin reggaeton you can imagine, going out in Seoul is an experience you have to live.
Buying drinks in a bar can affect your budget, especially if you are one of those who after a couple of drinks begins to invite drinks to how many people you cross. But I have the solution for you: Seoul is populated with Convinience Stores (something like pantries that sell fast food such as noodles, cookies, chocolates and, in addition, alcohol). Drinking on the street in Korea is legal, so something that will save your pocket is to meet in a park or square with your new Korean friends or people you’ve met in hostels and make your preview there.
If you decide to go to Hongdae, I recommend you do your preview at Playground, a space commonly used as a meeting point for friends and drinks (with two Convinience Stores strategically located in front of it). It is also a few blocks away from the most popular nightclubs. I visited this park several times when I lived in Seoul and I don’t remember it exactly, but according to what they tell me, I had a wonderful time.
5. Namsan Tower
If you don’t have a partner and your self-esteem isn’t so strong, maybe it’s not a good idea: Namsan Park is the obligatory rendezvous of adorable couples who climb the mountain with the purpose of leaving a lock promising eternal love. But seriously, the view from the top of the mountain is worth it (regardless of your loneliness). Keep in mind that on weekends the park overflows with couples and families so if you want to get good photos, try to go from Monday to Thursday.
6. Bukhansan National Park
While it may seem like national parks are something you can do in several countries, visiting Bukhansan National Park is a must-see, especially if you’re looking for free things to do in Seoul. In addition, mountains with peaks of up to 840 meters are not always found just a few metro stops from the center of the capital city. Bukhansan has several peaks and trails of various difficulties. Even if you are not a hiker, Seoul is a city that after a couple of days will ask you for a breath of fresh air. The views from any of the peaks are worth it; you don’t have to climb the highest of all to appreciate such a piece of nature in the midst of so much technology.
7. Walk through Gangnam
Gangnam Style, or worldwide known as “the horse dance,” was the song that put South Korea on everyone’s map. For those who still believe that “Oppa Gangnam style” is simply a combination of sounds difficult to pronounce, it should be noted that Gangnam is one of Seoul’s top neighborhoods, where the prettiest women (and with the most cosmetic surgeries) and the wealthiest men abound. On the other hand, “oppa” is what women call single men older than themselves. So the song talks about Gangnam’s men and how girls die for them.
Setting foot in this neighborhood is a slap in the face to modern glamour and ostentatiousness. However, even if it’s not your style (it probably isn’t if you’re mocking around the world!) it’s advisable to go because it’s part of Korean culture. I don’t advise you to go into a bar since drinks are going to cost you half your budget for the whole month. However, strolling through the streets and observing Koreans in the area is enough for you to appreciate what it’s all about. Enough and absolutely necessary. Especially because in the main avenue of the neighborhood there is a monument to the song: it is two giant hands in the position of the famous step of the dance of the horse, I swear! It’s the obligatory selfie.
8. Visit the National Museum of South Korea
Free entrance! A must to understand a little more about the history of the country. Even if you are not one of the people who visit museums on their travels this particular museum is a great gateway to Korean culture in general. You don’t have to spend hours pretending to be an educated person, but there are some very interesting pieces that are worth knowing when you are in the country and I told you it’s free? Take advantage of it!
9. Visit the different markets of the city
This is free as long as you leave your wallet at the hostel; otherwise you’ll end up spending more than you think because everything is absolutely catchy. From food to clothing to typical Korean items, markets are the best test of self-control. Something that helps me not to buy is to think about the weight I will have to carry in my backpack if I decide to buy that Korean suit so cool but that I will never wear in my life.
Seoul has several markets spread throughout the city. The best known are: Gwangjang (has everything, but specializes in nuts, traditional food and typical Korean items; Nandaemun (specializing in clothing and appliances), Dongdaemun (one of the most complete, from clothing, accessories, jewelry and electronics to street food with the most affordable prices and very popular among the locals, so eating there will be an experience), Gyeongdong (located near Dongdaemun and full of spices, nuts and food in general) and Noryangjin (specializing in seafood). In the latter, the traditional thing is to buy fresh fish and take it to the food shops that are stationed at the exit of the market and ask them to cook for you what you have just bought.
10. Taste (and fill up with) street food
Eating in South Korea is going to hurt your pocket more than eating in Southeast Asia; however, one way to lower this cost is to enjoy street food. The stalls with different varieties of snacks and meals at the pace are located throughout the city. Prices rise in tourist areas, but you only have to go a little further to find rich and abundant food for only 2 dollars.
11. Visit the 5 palaces of the Joseon Dynasty
Entrance to the 3 most important palaces is not free, but it costs 3USD for the two most impressive, Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung and 1USD for the other two Changgeonggung and Deoksugung. Admission to Gyeonghuigung is free.
If you have just enough time to cover one, I would definitely recommend Gyeongbokgung Palace. Although it is mostly reconstructed after it was destroyed during the Japanese invasion, you can still appreciate the aesthetics and beauty that characterized it.
12. Mountain Trekkings within the city
Seoul is overflowing with technology, fashion, avant-garde design, hipsters and all the aspects that characterize cosmopolitan cities. But fortunately, for nature lovers and for those who need a break in the midst of so much encouragement, beyond Bukhansan National Park, Seoul is surrounded by several parks and mountains easily accessible by public transportation (and even walking!) that will allow you to rest your eyes, ears and spirit in general.
Achasan Mountain, Gwanaksan Mountain, Bugaksan Mountain, Dobongsan Mountain among others border the city to the delight of the locals. Once you get into Korean culture, one of the first things you’ll notice is how the spirit of trekking is so embedded in society, especially older people.
Of all the trekkings, Ingwansan Mountain is my favorite. The steep steps may be endless, but the view from the top is unparalleled. You can also go up and down different trails so you can enjoy different views along the way.
13. Walk the Han River (and picnic with fried chicken and beer)
Yes, you’re going to have to pay for the food, but hey, with all the money I’m helping you save on the rest of the attractions, you’d do well to invest it in a little food.
Pic-nic with chicken and beer (known as chimeak by the Koreans) is something so everyday and cultural, that if you think of walking along the Han River on a weekend and especially in summer, you will find it difficult to find a space that is not occupied by locals enjoying that delicious combination. Especially near sunset.
If you decide to listen to me and go along the river, I recommend that you go to the Banpodaegyeo Bridge, where the world’s largest fountain of water and lights is located.
From April to October, the light and water show runs daily and lasts about 20 minutes.
14. Walking in Ihwa
This neighborhood is one of my favorites. (Oh Angie, you say that about all neighborhoods! Well, I can’t help it, Seoul has half my heart.) It can be said that it is the perfect mixture between modern and traditional. Ihwa is full of murals brimming with art, color, tradition and Asian tenderness, all in 10 blocks around and as if that weren’t enough, with Naksan Park a few blocks away. Both places are worth a visit. And you can’t leave without the photo with the wing mural. Yeah, it’s everyone’s picture, but it’s super cute!
Staying in a hostel is the best way to save anywhere in the world, and Seoul is no exception. In this city there are hostels for about 10 or 15€ that have breakfast included, common areas and family dinners.
✨ Find your hostel in Seoul
If you get careless, Seoul may be one of the most expensive cities in Asia, but if you pay attention to this guide and sign up for all the free things to do in Seoul, you’ll end up spending only on food and drink, while enjoying the culture and learning about the country’s history. Cheer up!
About the author
I’m Angie, I travel alone, I travel slowly and I return to my country every two years just so my parents don’t disinherit me. I work and I live in as much country as I can because I consider it to be the only way to know a culture, to live it from within!
Follow my adventures on my blog, Instagram and Facebook.
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