Traveling in Korea can be expensive with the accommodation, transportation, and food costs, but there are plenty of free things to do in Seoul to stretch your budget.
Make room for these free activities that are perfect for each kind of traveler:
1. For the War History Buff: War Memorial of Korea
You can see tons of relics from the Prehistoric Age to the past wars—from the battles of the Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. to A.D. 668), the Goryeo Dynasty, and Joseon Dynasty to the Korean and Vietnam Wars. There are even military vessels from past wars (and you can get inside a few of them!)
Also, there are various films (in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese) and a couple of 4D features you can watch for free. Be sure to come as a group or find a way to watch with the tour groups or students there since the 4D movies would only be played if a minimum of 5 people watch together (the theaters have a maximum capacity, too).
2. For the Youth Culture Nut: Performances in Hongdae
Tourists and locals flock to this university neighborhood to see young artists and aspiring K-Pop Idols perform original songs and covers. You’ll frequently see all-male groups rapping or dancing to tunes by female K-Pop groups. You might even get pulled into a dance battle if you’re in front of the crowd. If you do, don’t be shy! You’ll certainly get cheered by the crowd, whatever dance moves you come up with.
You might even get pulled into a dance battle if you’re in front of the crowd. If you do, don’t be shy! You’ll certainly get cheered by the crowd, whatever dance moves you come up with.
3. For the Mountain Climber: Hiking in Mt. Bukhansan
Bukhansan is within the city, and it doesn’t require an admission fee (so it’s free to go there, except for your transportation fare and money for food and drinks). Formerly called Samgaksan, which literally means three-horned mountain, Mt. Bukhansan has three peaks you can choose from—each offering a different challenge and a breathtaking view from the top.
Fair warning: Don’t think that the large hoards of older Koreans hiking here make it an effortless hike. To get to the highest peak called Baegundae (836 meters high), it takes about 2-3 hours (okay, it would take less if you don’t require a lot of breaks to catch your breath).
There are various courses to choose from, but even the ones marked “easy” or “intermediate” can be challenging for newbies. But for outdoor enthusiasts and pro-level mountain climbers, Mt. Bukhansan will be a treat, especially once you get to the top and take in that amazing 360-degree view.
4. For the Instagrammer: Ihwa Mural Village
Aside from being perfect for a K-Drama fan (a lot of series have been shot there), the Ihwa Mural Village attracts people who are always on the lookout for Instagram-worthy venues. Take your pick among the countless murals in this little colorful neighborhood, and continue hiking toward Mt. Naksan, where more double tap-worthy views await.
Alternatively, you can check out the Hongdae Mural Street (Eoulmadang-ro, Mapo-gu) and the HBC Art Village (Haebangchon, Yongsan). No need to pay for that overpriced cute coffee or dessert just for the ‘gram!
5. For the Cultural Heritage Geek: Hanok Villages and Palaces
There are remnants of the Joseon Dynasty in various points of the Seoul. If you are interested in the country’s cultural heritage, walking around the traditional hanok villages is a great way to pass the time.
You can go to the Bukchon Hanok Village in Jongno-gu and the Namsangol Hanok Village in Jung-gu for free. Most of the museums scattered around these areas have admission fees, but there are a couple that is free, too.
Trivia: Did you know that you can also visit the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul for free? Entrance to the Gyeonghuigung is free year-round, but the other four royal sites require fees ranging from 1,000-3,000 KRW each (and 5,000 KRW for the Secret Garden in Changdeokgung). However, you can enter the palaces for free if you happen to be in Seoul during one special day.
South Korea designated the last Wednesday of every month as “Culture Day,” so entrance fees to all the sites are waived. That’s a value of 14,000 KRW (or 10,000 KRW for the integrated palace ticket).
6. For the Hallyu Fan: K-Star Road and KBS Exhibition Hall
See where all the major K-Pop agencies are in Gangnam by visiting the K-Star Road. Who knows? You might even spot a celebrity if you’re very lucky!
You can also drop by the KBS Exhibition Hall in Yeouido, where you’ll see life-size cutouts, large posters, and some props from your favorite dramas and programs of that broadcasting network.
Take it to the next level with K-Pop dance and singing classes or a tour of MBC World Broadcasting Theme Park! That’s if you’re really, REALLY lucky, of course. These Seoul Tourism Organization-initiated programs (or lotteries, really) that run until February 2017 have very limited slots (10-15 people max.), so you really need to keep your fingers crossed.
7. For the Book Lover: Public Libraries
Want to find a nice, quiet, and warm place to write or read your books? There are plenty of public libraries you can hang out in! You can check out the Yongsan Municipal Library and the public libraries in Namsan, Jeondok, and Seodaemun.
There’s also the Seoul Metropolitan Library beside City Hall, the National Assembly Library in Yeouido, and the National Library of Korea near Express Bus Terminal in Banpo-dong.
There aren’t a lot of English books in several of the libraries, but you can get help from the staff or browse the selections in Hangul, which would be especially helpful if you’re studying the Korean language. Some libraries also allow you to borrow books if you have an Alien Registration Card and sign up for a library card.
8. For the Dress-Up Queen: Hanbok Fitting
Renting a hanbok for a few hours and strutting around the hanok villages or palaces can be super fun (and it entitles you to free admission to the palaces). However, there is a way to save the rental money if you just want to experience wearing a hanbok (it usually costs 3,000-8,000 KRW for a few minutes and around 13,000 KRW for a 4-hour rental.)
Visit the Seoul Global Cultural Center and get your photos taken on the photo walls. You can also visit the rental booth outside the Deoksugung Palace for hanbok fitting (they set up around 10:30am) and the one in Gyeongbokgung Palace for a sumungun (gatekeeper) costume experience.
You wouldn’t be able to go beyond the cultural center or the palace gates, and you’ll just be allowed a few minutes for the photo op. But again, this is just a great option if you just want to try on the traditional costume and save money.
9. For the Art Enthusiast: National Museums and Galleries
ONLY During Every Last Wednesday of the Month
The entrance to some government-run museums and galleries would also be free on Culture Day. Aside from relics, you can see the works of great Korean artists, designers, and design groups or firms.
The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, for instance, has four branches around the city, and each one has different exhibitions. The Seoul Museum of Art also has various locations. You can also check out the National Maritime Museum and the Korea National Arboretum and Forest Museum (Gwangneung Forest).
10. For the Nature-Lover: Parks and Forests
When it comes to foliage and naturally pleasant views, Seoul will not disappoint. Staying a few days or weeks in the city might not even be enough to tick off all the nice parks and small forests you can explore—all totally free.
The walking trail leading up to the peak of Mt. Namsan and N Seoul Tower is a great option (and you’d save the cable car fee going there!). If you want a quieter, less-crowded option, try Naksan Park near Hyehwa Station (Line 4), which is connected to the Ihwa Mural Village, so you can make it a two-for-one trip. Also, don’t miss the Yeouido Hangang Park and the Seoul Forest.
Other Things That Are Free in Seoul
- City walking tours (reservations required)
- Taste-testing in grocery stores and markets
- Banchan/side dish refills (most restaurants offer free refills of kimchi, ssam, danmuji, etc.)
- Drinking water
- Some shuttle buses (e.g. The shuttle bus from Exit No. 3 of Jeondae•Everland Station to the Main Gate of Everland/Caribbean Bay runs every 10 mins; Vivaldi Park also offers a free shuttle bus service for foreigners going to the ski resort.)
- Tickets to tourism events (IF you win the promo)