There’s nothing not to love about Seoul. The city of five palaces surrounded by “guardian” hills and bisected by the Han River combines the old world charm of traditional hanok (Korean homes) with glittering modern skyscrapers. With just as much to do for city-loving urbanites as for nature lovers, you’ll never run out of things to do in Seoul on a budget!
1. Shopping in Myeongdong
Notorious as a touristic and shopping area, this is the perfect place to dive right into Korean culture. Visit the Myeongdong Market with its sizzling street food and clothing and jewellery vendors, and shop for the famous Korean cosmetics. Stop for a relaxing tea at a cat café for an experience the locals love.
2. Han River cruise
A unique way to see Seoul is by boat, on a leisurely cruise down the river. The tried and true company, Eland Cruises, offers tours departing from Hangang Park next to Wonhyo Bridge. A basic cruise will set you back ₩15000 (approx. €12.50), but you can also splash out on dinner or musical cruises.
3. Bukchon Hanok village
Wandering through this traditional village of charming Korean homes is a fantastic free way to enjoy Seoul on a budget. While many are still inhabited by locals, others now house tearooms and restaurants. Neighbouring Samcheongdong-gil Road also boasts many traditional hanok, and finalises at the Samcheongdong Park, full of towering trees and pagodas.
Seoul is positively full of famous markets, from the traditional Noryangjin fish market – where you can bring your freshly purchased fish to the market’s restaurants to be prepared – to the Gwangjang market, with the city’s most popular street food alley. The Namdaemun market is the largest, with plenty of food stalls and souvenirs. If you’re looking for a cheap meal, street food is the way to go!
5. The Dragon Hill Spa
This fabulous Korean spa is open 24 hours a day and is beloved by tourists and locals alike. For the cheapest fare, visit between 5am and 8pm, when admission will only cost you ₩12000 (approx. €10).
6. The National Museum of Korea
With free admission, this fabulous museum perches on the edge of a giant reflecting pool and features exhibitions on ancient, medieval and early modern history, calligraphy and Asian art, not to mention its temporary exhibits (extra charge). In the museum’s surroundings, you’ll also find the War Memorial of Korea and the National Hangeul Museum on the Korean language (both free).
7. Shrines and temples
Surrounded by a breathtaking forest, the crimson pillars of the Jongmyo Shrine are sure to wow you. Plus, the entrance fee for this Confucian shrine is included in the integrated 5-palace ticket, so it’s a great deal to boot. Also not to be missed is the Buddhist Jogyesa temple, bedecked in colourful lights (free admission), and best appreciated during the Lotus Lantern Festival in late April.
8. Olympic Park
Seoul’s beautifully preserved Olympic Park was constructed for the 1988 games, and is today a tranquil oasis of green rolling hills, ponds, outdoor sculptures and museums. This is a wonderful place to go on a sunny day and one of the locals’ favourite things to do in Seoul!
9. Seoul Global Cultural Centre
This incredible organisation might just become your home away from home. The centre offers all types of free, traditional Korean activities for foreigners to better appreciate the culture. Examples include K-pop dance classes, trying on traditional hanbok dress, Korean cinema nights with English subtitles and classes on Korean crafts, painting and ceramics. A visit to the cultural centre is an absolute must!
10. Hiking in Bukhansan National Park
To the north of the bustling city centre, beautiful Bukhansan National Park is full of gorgeous hiking trails for all ability levels. Budget about a day to hike up to the summit and back down, and be prepared for spectacular mountain and city views.
What are you most looking forward to out of our list of things to do in Seoul? Let us know in the comments below, or add your own suggestions!