Shannon McGee’s Guide to Seoul, South Korea
Top Places to Visit in Seoul, South Korea (Within a Student Budget)!
Let’s face it; as a college student one of the main issues of travelling is the cost of the trip and its excursions. Over the summer, I was able to travel to South Korea’s capital for a month long study abroad program; and I’m here to give you tips on where to go, and how to get there within your budget!
First and Foremost: Transportation!
As most of us are already aware, plane tickets are probably going to be your biggest cost on this trip. Websites like Kayak, Justfly.com, etc. are good resources for finding cheap, but comfortable, flights! You can customize if you want round trip tickets (which I personally recommend for a less stressful time), if it’s a direct flight, and what class you want to sit in! Obviously, for the budget conscious students, economy class is the best and cheapest choice. Also, taking flights with layovers instead of flying direct to your destination is usually much cheaper! I was able to book a round trip flight to Incheon Airport, South Korea with a short layover in China both ways, as well as picking my preferred seat for around a thousand dollars. For a flight to an Asian country, this is not a bad price at all.
Public Transport System
In Seoul, the cheapest and best way to get around is using their public transport, specifically their subway system. To go on an hour subway ride and come back is around 3 USD. Much more economical than a 40-60 USD taxi ride! I spent around 70 USD for a month of transportation (that included sharing a taxi to reach the airport at the end of my trip). For a two week trip, I would recommend buying a T-Money card (for ease of using their technology paying system for transportation) and load it with 30 USD and that should be more than enough to get where you need to go!
Now that we’ve established how you can get around, let’s visit some tourist destinations!
The cheapest tourist destinations will actually be all the palaces and temples! Most admission costs for a palace or temple are around 2 USD, and you can easily spend a couple hours exploring the grounds and beautiful architecture! Also, I recommend trying to go at a time with a changing of the guard ceremony. Soldiers dressed in traditional Korean garb with traditional weapons go through a ritualistic ceremony of switching out with other guards. This happens outside the palace so you don’t even need to buy a ticket! The best palace to visit would be Geongbokgung Palace, the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty! Located past the great Gwanghwamun Gate, and near Gwanghwamun Square with other magnificent monuments to see (for free might I add), I easily spent three hours walking around and taking pictures of the huge grounds.
You might see lots of people wearing hanbok, traditional Korean dress. If you are tempted, good news! You can actually rent these clothes by the hour, for 10-20 USD! If you want to wear hanbok and take pictures, don’t go to the shops on the main street. By travelling a couple streets over, you can still find rental shops for a much cheaper price! Also, for most of the palaces, wearing hanbok allows you inside the grounds for free.
The good thing about parks is that they’re free to the public! Places to visit are Namsan Tower/ Park, the highest point in Seoul. They hold occasional afternoon traditional weapons and dance demonstrations that are free to watch and participate in! With a lovely view, it’s the ideal spot for taking pictures!
Also, visit the Mural Village where graffiti artists were commissioned to paint houses and streets for a town’s beautification project! Take pictures of the cool murals and visit the park at the top of the hill which features picturesque views and, if you know where to look, the old historic city wall!
The Han River is also a must visit tourist destination! With occasion concerts and a perfect picnic spot, it’s a favorite hangout for locals and tourists alike! Enjoy the breeze from the water and the river lights as the day turns to night.
While not a park, the Hanok Village in Insadong is a great look into Seoul’s past where old traditional Korean houses line the streets! By walking to the top of the hill, a great view can also be achieved; just make sure the noise level is at a minimum as the village is a residential area!
Museum and Art
For those students that like touring around museums, there are plenty of affordable options as well! I highly recommend the double ticket for the Trickeye and Ice Museum in Hongdae! Spend a couple hours taking cool optical illusion pictures with yourself as the star, and keep cool enjoying the ice sculptures. The ticket for entrance into both museums is 12 USD.
For people who enjoy art, the Hangaram Art Museum is free admission and features endless hours of exhibitions and galleries to walk through!
Malls and Stores
Okay, I know I said these would be places to travel within budget and going on a shopping spree doesn’t exactly seem to fit the bill. But, even if you don’t buy anything, these places are absolute musts on a trip to Seoul!
The first is the Kakao Friends store in Gangnam. KakaoTalk is the popular free messaging and calling app that most people in Korea use for communication. Walk into the store and see all the different Kakao mascot merchandise and statues. It’s tradition that visitors should take a picture with the huge Ryan the lion statue!
Visit Ssamzigil in Insadong for more traditional souvenirs and taking a picture with the hanging umbrella installation or the locks on the rooftop! Namdaemun market is another cool place to visit for cheaper outdoor shopping and food vendors! Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is the place to go at night to see the electric rose garden. Climb the DDP to see the multitude of lit up department stores and people watch!