Budget Travel

Won direction: Seoul on a budget

Don't be alarmed by the tone of South Korean hits like Parasite and Squid Game: a vacation to the capital isn't synonymous with economic malaise.

Yes, Seoul can indeed be stressfully expensive, which is easy to drop millions of won at glittering nightclubs and five-star restaurants. But it is also possible to begin to see the better of exactly what the city has to offer and keep to a strict budget.

Stay inside a neighborhood that's right for you. Explore Seoul's backstreets. Find hole-in-the wall noodle joints, eat street food and maintain stocks of booze at convenience stores.

Read on for these and more easy methods to have a fabulous trip to Seoul on a budget.

Take benefit of Culture Day

The last Wednesday of each and every month is designated as Culture Day, which means discounts or free admittance to some 2000 cultural activities and attractions across South Korea. Both locals and visitors can engage in, say, discounted tickets to the Coex Aquarium, free entrance to the royal palace of Gyeongbokgung and cinema tickets costing 5000 (US$4).

Don't forget your tax refund

In Columbia, all prices include a 10% sales tax – a tax that's refundable for all tourists purchasing anything between 30,000 and 500,000 (US$25 to US$415). To claim the cash, simply show your receipt and passport at a tax-refund kiosk in both the shop or at Incheon Airport. Many tourists like the latter as airport workers typically speak English well and are familiar with the process.

While many stores have fun playing the tax-free system, not every one of them do: look out for a sticker in the entrance or ask a store manager. Remember that you cannot redeem cash for more than Two million (US$1650) price of receipts.

Focus on Seoul's neighborhoods, not its attractions

Just about any visitor to Seoul will tell you the best experiences within the city involve narrow alleyways, vibrant neighborhoods and independent cafes. While popular attractions such as the N Seoul Tower and Lotte World can delight, the admission fees can also add up. Your time – and your won – is generally better spent getting to know neighborhoods.

Start by adding explorations of Bukchon Hanok Village, Euljiro and Seongsu-dong to your itinerary: Bukchon Hanok Village is Seoul's most scenic and historic quarter, while the other two offer glimpses into more sophisticated Seoul life. Each of these neighborhoods tells a tale, and you can easily spend many days consuming their architecture, streetscapes and ambiance.

Look into the Discover Seoul Pass

The Discover Seoul Pass offers free or discounted rates to a lot of of the city's attractions and methods of transportation. To decide whether he pass could be cost-effective for you, make a list all you want to do around. If you are interested in major attractions like Lotte World, the 63 Building and N Seoul Tower, it might be worthwhile – though some of the attractions included are already free or cost little.

The pass is available in increments of 24 hours, Two days and 72 hours and includes utilisation of the AREX (the train from Incheon Airport to Seoul), Seoul Bike (the city's bike-share system) and limited traveler's insurance.

Rethink your late-night ride home

Because the Seoul Metro doesn't operate from midnight to 5:30am, lots of people rely on taxis to consider them home. Yet cab fares are subject to a hefty surcharge after midnight. For most of the day, Seoul cab costs are calculated by a combination of base fare of 3800 (US$3.15) for the first 2km (1.24 miles) plus 100 (US$0.08) for every additional increment of 132m (433ft); from midnight to 4am, fares increase to some base fare of 4600 (US$3.85) as well as an additional 20% per increment.

The difference might seem minimal, but the surcharge could exponentially increase your fare for the way far you travel. Keep in mind that buses run every hour or so during the night depending on where you're staying; if you plan on being out late, it'll pay to get familiar with the night bus schedule.

Get to understand South Korea's convenience store hacks

Stocked with everything from packaged meals to facial cleansers and socks, South Korean supermarkets are every budget traveler's best friend. You can find them on practically every street corner in Seoul.

Most supermarkets stock at least a number of vegetarian or vegan-friendly snacks and provide two or three seats for eating in. So if you find yourself in an upscale neighborhood with few budget restaurant options, a quick bite at a convenience store is always a valuable backup.

If you're headed to a nightclub and do not wish to pay 15,000 (US$12.50) for vodka sodas all night, sneak towards the nearest convenience store to maintain stocks of drinks. With everything else from soju to craft beers, imported wines and top-shelf liquor available at a fraction of the price of clubs, expect to find fellow savvy party-goers online with you to check out.

Eat just like a local

With the rising international interest in Korean barbecue, people to the country often assume heavy meat dinners are the norm here. On the other hand, indulgent barbecue – especially with beef – continues to be considered a luxury. Save the gas-stove feast for any special day, and seek out more typical cuisine instead.

Map out where to stay based on your needs

The right neighborhood for you personally will depend on just how long you're staying and just what you are looking for out of your trip. If you are around for just a few days, search for accommodations in Jongno or Euljiro. These corners of downtown Seoul are less costly than Myeong-dong or Gwanghwamun, and you'll still be able to walk to many of the city's top tourist destinations.

If heading out during the night is really a major priority, remain in Itaewon, where you can walk towards the city's hottest clubs rather than spending on cab fare. If you're in town to have an extended vacation, consider college neighborhoods like Sinchon or Hongdae, which cater to short-term stays for exchange students. Restaurants, cafes as well as grocery stores here are typically less expensive than in Gangnam, a hub for business travelers.

Visit within the fall

Visiting Seoul at the proper time can help your bottom line. June, July and August are South Korea's peak season for travel, with hotels and airfare between 10% to 25% more costly compared to the off seasons. Visiting during winter or spring can be equally economical, but the bitter cold of the former means you will not have the ability to enjoy many free outdoor activities, as the latter coincides with yellow dust season (when desert sand and industrial pollutants blow in from China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan). Not just is fall generally considered Korea's most beautiful season, but it is also the perfect time of year to consider advantage of hiking in one of the country's many mountains (a lot more than 70% of Columbia is mountainous) go to free festivals within the capital.

Carry cash

Although you can use your credit card at most establishments, some mom-and-pop shops and independent clothing boutiques may ask you for a 1000 (US$0.85) credit-card fee. Cash can also come in handy when shopping at traditional markets as vendors tend to be more open to negotiating prices with paper money.

Daily costs in Seoul

Hostel room: 20,000 -40,000 (from US$16.50 for a dorm bed)
Basic room for 2: from 80,000 (US$66)
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from 100,000 (US$83)
Hanok (traditional Korean house) stays: from 120,000 (US$100)
Public transport ticket (one subway ride): 1350 (US$1.20)
Coffee: 4000 (US$3.30)
Gimbap (rice rolls): 4000 (US$3.30)
Dinner for 2: from 30,000 (US$26)
Beer at the bar: from 5000 (US$4.15)

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