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South Korea Travel: Explore Seoul on a Budget for 7 Days

Make Seoul your first stop in your South Korea travel plans.
IMAGE Joshua Berida
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Make Seoul your first stop in your South Korea travel plans. The capital of South Korea is the most cosmopolitan city of the country. It's characterized by neon-lit entertainment and dining districts, K-pop, skyscrapers, markets and shopping malls, and a frenetic pace. It was my second time in this bustling metropolis, but it felt like I haven’t seen all of it yet. Compared with Busan, Seoul is more expensive but it is possible to save money and still enjoy your stay. 

How to Go to Seoul, South Korea

There are direct flights from either Clark or Manila to Seoul. Airlines such as Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and Air Asia operate both routes regularly. Avail of airline promotions or book your tickets months before your planned trip to get the lowest possible fares.  

Before you make your South Korea travel plans, make sure that your visa is approved first. Luckily, the South Korean government has updated its visa requirements to make it easier for Filipinos to enter the country. You can enter the country without a visa, but if you need one, send your application 40 days before your trip to make sure you get it.

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How to Get In and Out of the Airport

It is easy and convenient to get into and out of Incheon International Airport Terminals 1 or 2. AREX is your fast but expensive option. The fare is W9,000 for adults and W7,000 for kids. It can take you to Seoul Station or Hongik University. You also have the option to take the all-stop, train which costs W4,150 to W4,750 depending if you alight at either Terminal 1 or 2. The airport bus is another way to reach Seoul. The bus fare is around W9,000 to W16,000 depending on route and bus type. You can find these buses and their ticket booths at Terminal 1’s Arrival Hall and the Transportation Center at Terminal 2.

Getting Around  the City

Like many other first-world cities, Seoul has a web-like network of metro stations and buses that can get you from point A to point B easily. Use a Cash Bee or T-Money card for convenient travel around the city. Reload it through convenience stores or at stations. Most attractions are within walking distance from a bus or metro stop. All you need to do is follow the signs to know which exits to take and which way to go.

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Seoul is a mix of old and new. You’ll find temples, palaces, and markets mingling with skyscrapers and glitzy entertainment districts. The following are some of the places you should visit. 

1| Gyeongbokgung Palace

Photo by Joshua Berida.
Photo by Joshua Berida.
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This huge palace complex is the largest in the city. Gyeongbokgung dates back to the mid-1390s and used to be the Joseon family’s main royal palace. The palace has different sections you can explore. Watch the changing of the guards during different times of the day.

How to get there: The nearest metro stations are Anguk and Gyeongbokgung. Just follow the signs that will lead you to the palace grounds.

Entrance fee: You can buy a combo ticket for W10,000, which includes Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung, Jongmyo Shrine, Deoksugung, Huwon Secret Garden, and Changdeokgung.

2| Changgyeonggung Palace

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King Seongjong had this palace constructed in 1483. Changgyeonggung is smaller than Gyeongbokgung, but still has a majestic atmosphere. The complex showcases the architectural aesthetic of the Joseon period of Korea.

How to get there: The nearest metro stations are Anguk and Hyehwa. Follow the signs that will lead you to the palace grounds.

Entrance fee: You can buy a combo ticket for W10,000, which includes Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung, Jongmyo Shrine, Deoksugung, Huwon Secret Garden, and Changdeokgung.

3| Changdeokgung Palace

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This UNESCO-listed attraction has a long and storied past dating to the time of the Joseon Dynasty. Changdeokgung was the primary palace of the Joseon kings since its construction in 1405. The ideal season to visit is autumn when the colors of the leaves change.

How to get there: Get off at Anguk station, then follow the signs that will lead you to the palace grounds.

Entrance Fee: You can buy a combo ticket for W10,000, which includes Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung, Jongmyo Shrine, Deoksugung, Huwon Secret Garden, and Changdeokgung.

4| Jongmyo Shrine

This UNESCO-listed destination provides visitors with a glimpse of the city’s ancient history. You can only enter the premises on a guided tour except on Saturdays. The guide will provide insights about old customs and other details about the shrine.

How to get there: The nearest metro station is Jongno 3-ga. When you get off the train, there are signs that will lead you toward the shrine. 

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Entrance fee: You can buy a combo ticket for W10,000, which includes Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung, Jongmyo Shrine, Deoksugung, Huwon Secret Garden, and Changdeokgung.

5| Bukchon Traditional Village

Photo by Joshua Berida.

This traditional village stands out amid the urban and modern sprawl of Seoul. The village provides you with a glimpse of old Korean architecture. Many visitors wear traditional clothes and take photos within the neighborhood.

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How to get there: The nearest metro station is Anguk. Follow the signs that will lead you to the palace grounds.

Entrance Fee: Free

6| Insadong

Insadong is a quaint neighborhood where you can shop, dine, or just walk around in. Go to the teahouses and restaurants in the area for a local experience. You’ll also find many galleries here with exhibits by local artists.

How to get there: The nearest metro station is Anguk. Follow the signs that will lead you to the pedestrian area.

Entrance fee: Free

7| Jogyesa Temple

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Jogyesa Temple is the Jogye Order’s main temple. This is where many rituals, lectures, ceremonies, and other events take place. The initial structure was constructed in the 14th century and has undergone reconstructions, renovations, and renaming throughout its lifetime.

How to get there: The nearest metro station is Anguk. Just follow the signs that will lead you to the temple.

Entrance fee: Free

8| Bukhansan National Park

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Nature lovers will enjoy a hike up Bukhansan National Park. This park is easily accessible from Seoul, which makes it a popular destination for local and foreign hikers. Baegundae Peak provides awesome views of the rock formations and the surroundings. The ideal time to visit is in the summer or autumn.

How to go: Alight at Gupabal Station, go through Exit 1, and head to the bus station. Board bus 704 or 34 to Bukhansanseong Fortress. Ask the park personnel which trail leads to Baegundae Peak, if you want to reach the highest peak of the park.

Entrance Fee: Free

9| Suwon

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This fortress is a remnant of an ancient past. It was built in the 1790s and served as a symbol of influence and power. It was also used to fend off potential invaders. The wall’s trails provide overlooking views of the fort and the surroundings.

How to get there: Alight at Suwon Station of the metro (you’ll need to make changes along the way). Follow the signs that lead to the Suwon tourist info center and then look for bus 11, 36, or 13. Any of these will go to the fort.

Entrance fee: W1,000

10| DMZ

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Photo by Joshua Berida.

Korea’s demilitarized zone provides an interesting look at the South and North’s history. A visit here will help you understand the context of the Korean War, attempted infiltrations and assassinations, and the planned steps for a possible unification in the future.

How to get there: The most convenient way to see the DMZ is by booking a tour. Packages start at approximately W50,000. The trip will cost more depending on the itinerary. A trip at the starting rate often includes the Bridge of Freedom, 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, DMZ Theater, Dora Observatory, and Dorasan Station. Book a trip more than a month in advance to get a slot. You can book a tour via this site

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11| Namhansanseong Fortress

This UNESCO-listed destination offers scenic and easy trails and stunning views of the surrounding hills. Follow different paths that lead to the old gates and ancient structures.

How to get there: Alight at Sanseong Station and follow the signs toward the right exit. Once outside, look for the bus stop. Take bus 9-1 to the fortress.

Entrance Fee: W2,000

12| Nami Island and Garden of the Morning Calm

Nami Island rose to fame because a K-drama series used it as one of its locations. The island is beautiful with many tree-lined walkways that are Instagram-worthy. The ideal season to visit is autumn when the leaves are at their most colorful. The Garden of the Morning Calm is another destination people visit along with Nami Island. The garden has scenic views and a relaxing ambiance.

How to get there: The most convenient way to see both Nami Island and Garden of the Morning Calm is by getting a tour package. This option costs around W55,000 and includes round-trip transfers and entrance tickets. 

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13| Dongdaemun

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Dongdaemun is full of shops that sell all kinds of items. Visit the stunning Dongdaemun Plaza, one of the city’s architectural gems, here, as well.

How to go: The nearest metro station is Dongdaemun. Just follow the signs that will lead you to the design plaza or shopping areas.

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14| Hongdae

Hongdae is a favorite hangout spot for both locals and tourists. The area is home to many coffeehouses, restaurants, and bars for a good night out. You can also shop at its many stores.

How to get there: The nearest metro station is Hongik University. Follow the signs that will lead you to the shopping, entertainment, and dining districts.

15| Sinchon

Sinchon is another district where you can eat, drink, and be merry. You’ll find many establishments lit by neon lights from night until early morning.

How to get there: The nearest metro station is Sinchon. Follow the signs that will lead you to the shopping, dining, and entertainment districts.

16| Myeongdong

If you’re looking for cosmetics, Myeongdong is the place to go. There are shops dedicated to make-up for all skin tones and types.

How to get there: The nearest metro station is Myeongdong. Follow the signs that will lead you to the different districts.

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17| Gwangjang Market

This market is a famous food destination; here you’ll find many local dishes and treats such as tteokbokki, eomukguk, boribap, and kimbap just to name a few.

How to get there: Alight at Jongno 5-ga station and follow the signs to the market.

18| Namdaemun Market

This huge market is the place to bargain hunt for souvenirs, clothes, and other items you might want to take home after your trip.

How to get there: The nearest metro station is Hoehyeon. Follow the signs that will lead you to the market.

19| N Seoul Tower

The tower is one of the most recognizable structures in the city. N Seoul Tower has its own observation deck where visitors can get overlooking views of the city.

How to get there: The nearest metro station is Myeongdong. From the station, go through Exit 3 and walk to the cable car station.

Entrance fee: Entry to the observatory costs W11,000 for adults and W8,000 for kids. The Namsan Cable Car round trip costs W9,500 for adults and W6,500 for kids.

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South Korea Travel Tip: Where to Stay in Seoul

Seoul is a big sprawling city that offers all sorts of accommodations across at every budget. You can find hostels and guesthouses with dorm rooms and high-end hotels. If you want to save money and have more to spend on attractions and food, hostel dorms are an ideal option.

The Sinchon, Hongdae, and Honggik University areas have plenty of budget options. These areas are places where students and young people hang out. Myeondong, Insadong, and Gangnam also have budget to mid-priced accommodations for travelers. A dorm bed starts at around W10,700 a night, a private room costs approximately double or more depending on which area you’re staying in. Book online to get lower prices and weekdays are often cheaper than weekends.

Budget

Here’s a sample budget for seven days and six nights in Seoul. 

W80,000: Dorm-type accommodation fo six nights

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W110,000Food and drinks

W4,750All stop train to Seoul

W4,750All stop train to Incheon Airport

W2,000T-Money or Cash Bee Card

W40,000Transportation

W55,000Nami Island and Garden of the Morning Calm Tour

W50,000DMZ tour

W10,000Combo ticket for palaces and Jongmyo Shrine

W1,000Suwon entrance fee

W2,000Namhansanseong Fortress entrance fee

W11,000N Seoul Tower observatory entrance fee

W9,500Namsan Cable Car round trip ticket

The total is around W380,000 or roughly P17,000. You’ll be spending roughly P2,300 a day excluding airfare. You can spend more or less depending on where you stay, what you eat, and whether you go to all the attractions on this list or add new ones.

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About The Author
Joshua Berida
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Joshua is a thrifty traveller.
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