Here’s a fact you might know already: You can get free samples like sheet masks at beauty stores along Myeongdong, South Korea. But here’s the catch: The staff handing them out won’t give you one freely without being asked to look inside that boutique. You might even be pressured (by sheer sales talk) into buying something.
Yes, there are many things in Korea that you can get or do for free, and some aren’t necessarily offered with no strings attached. However, incorporating them into your itinerary in favor of other touristy activities will surely help stretch your budget—and some are just too great to pass up! Here are a few you can consider:
1. Watch street performances in Hongdae.
It’s a can’t-miss activity for anyone who loves spontaneous music shows or dance performances. You’ll hear ~the youth~ of Seoul singing (or rapping) their hearts out, chilling with their band, nailing the most difficult K-Pop choreographies, and just having a ton of fun with their chingudeul (friends).
2. Reach the top of Namsan, Naksan, or Bukhansan.
All these mountains are in the heart of Seoul. If you don’t want to pay the cable car fee up to N Seoul Tower, you can definitely go there without paying anything. There are plenty of Namsan Trails to choose from, so you can take a very simple hike (all paved roads and mild slopes) up to the iconic landmark. Same goes for Naksan—and the easy hike will reward you with a view of some remaining ancient parts of the city.
But if you want a hike that’s more challenging (and a view that’s *LOADS* more rewarding), then climbing up the peak of Bukhansan—the highest point overlooking the city—is for you. (Disclaimer: Maybe save this for non-wintertime trips because the cold WILL bother you.)
Recreating this photo will be pretty effing scary because there isn’t any railing on that giant rock and the path is quite slippery. Be very, VERY careful if you do so, or just amuse yourself with the daredevils you see doing it.
3. Take #OOTDs in a hanbok.
If you don’t really want to run around Seoul in the Korean traditional costume, you can just take a few photos in one for free in various sites in the city. Try the Seoul Global Cultural Center in Myeongdong, the Korea Tourism Office in Cheonggyecheon-ro, or the booth in front of the Deoksugung Palace. You can also try on a royal gatekeeper costume for free near the front gate of the Gyeongbokgung Palace.
4. Appreciate architecture at the hanok villages.
Are you fascinated with quaint buildings and vintage houses? The Bukchon and Seochon Hanok Village in Jongno-gu and the Namsangol Hanok Village in Jung-gu may be your cup of tea. Go there extra early to avoid the tourist hoards, or patiently look for secluded (read: Instagram backdrop-worthy) spots!
5. Take IG-worthy photos at the mural villages.
Speaking of things that ring in the double taps, you might be interested in the wall murals of Ihwa-dong. If, by any chance, you’re staying in or going to the provinces of South Korea like Incheon, Jeonju, or Gyeonggi-do, make sure you check out their own mural villages, too.
6. Walk the K-Star Road.
Here’s a place K-Pop fans can’t miss: K-Star Road, Gangnam. It’s located between Apgujeong Rodeo Station and Cheongdam Station and lined with super cute GangnamDols autographed by the hottest groups (think EXO, BTS, Super Junior, and Girls Generation). The HQs of the top entertainment companies like SM and JYP are also along the way or nearby, so if you’re *really* lucky, you can spot a Hallyu idol there. (P.S., you can also go window shopping here,and see brands like Chanel, Cartier Maison, Louis Vuitton, and Jimmy Choo!)
7. Take photos at the KBS Exhibition Hall.
For K-Drama and Korean variety show lovers, you might want to drop by KBS, and check out the life-size cutouts, photo walls, and other displays at their public exhibition hall. Fans of shows like 2 Days, 1 Night, Love in the Moonlight, and Descendants of the Sun are in for a treat.
8. Check out the royal sites.
Sure, you can get a sneak peek of the famous palaces in Seoul like Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung from the gates, but if you want to go inside a royal site for free, those aren’t your only options. Visit the Gyeonghuigung Palace or the Unhyeongung Royal Residence (both in Jongno-gu).
You can also watch the guard changing ceremonies at the Gyeongbokgung Palace and Deoksugung Palace on certain dates and times. It’ll be the best time to record a video for Snapchat or IG Stories and maybe pose with the guards, too!
Bonus Tip: The last Wednesday of every month is designated “Culture Day” in Seoul, and admission fees for the grand palaces, the National Museums, and a handful of galleries are waived during this day. So if you can still pick travel dates with the last Wednesday of the month included, go ahead and take advantage of the hundreds of pesos worth of savings you can enjoy!
9. Get some peace and quiet at public libraries.
If you need a break from the busy, noisy streets of Seoul, head to one of its public libraries. There’s one in major neighborhoods like Namsan and Jeongdok, but the most noteworthy one you can explore is the Seoul Metropolitan Library located beside City Hall. It has been used as a filming location for various projects including an epic episode of Running Man and the music video of "Gentleman" by PSY.
10. Explore the parks.
In the city of Seoul, you’ll feel how much people are encouraged to be outdoors with just the number of parks (it feels like there are more parks than fast food chains, TBH!) The ones with the best views are located along the Han River or those built on top of hills, while the quietest ones are those in the unpopular areas (like Nodeul or Pungnap-dong). There’s also the Seoul Forest—a seemingly endless expanse of land with some spots looking like they were plucked right out of a story book. Sooo ~beautiful~!
11. Book a city walking tour.
Instead of joining the large crowds at the scheduled guided tours in the Royal Sites, book a free walking tour, where a guide handles intimate crowds only. This is a government-funded program that provides extra income for volunteer locals. You or your group might even get a private tour guide if no one else reserves on the same day and time as you. You can also explore various markets and other attractions in the city if you please, and the guides are kind enough to take your photos. Sounds like a good deal, huh?
A kind woman named Seo Young Wha, who gave city walking tours by day and learned English pop songs on the piano at night, took this photo and passionately told the heartbreaking history of Gyeongbokgung.
12. Enjoy snow in a ski park.
If it isn’t snowing in the city, but you’re there during the start or peak of wintertime (December to February, usually), you can take a trip to one of South Korea’s ski parks. One of them—Vivaldi (Daemyung) Ski Resort—even offers a free shuttle bus for foreigners from Hongdae, Myeongdong, or CALT.
Note: You need to make a reservation online to get the offer. It comes at absolutely no strings attached, meaning you might be offered a ski package that you can ignore, take as much photos as you want, and just enjoy the snow all day. Of course, you’ll need to pay for your meals in the resort, and you may not be able to resist the excitement of skiing or snow sledding.
13. Try food at grocery stores.
Food in Korea can seem really expensive if you compare them to everyday Pinoy meals or merienda (a proper lunch and most street food there normally cost at least 5,000 KRW, which is around P220). So how do you make the ultimate tipid? Try free samples at the Korean grocery stores! Try a forkful of spaghetti or ramen, a tiny cup of roasted laver, a dumpling, some kimchi or various types of banchan (side dish), and even a bite of galbi (grilled beef!!!). End the mini meal with some tea, yogurt, or chocolate—or all three. Busog ka na, ‘di ba?
14. Use free Wi-Fi almost everywhere!
The writer of this article survived six whole weeks in Korea without renting a Wi-Fi egg or using the data roaming services of her postpaid line. The areas near subway stations (aboveground), government buildings, malls, cafes, and hotels were the best Wi-Fi hotspots. Needless to say, Koreans are pretty generous when it comes to sharing their internet connection, and it’s just one of the many, many things that you, as a budget-conscious traveler, will definitely love them for.
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