Annyeonghasseyo! I’m guessing you can’t wait to know more about the places to see, food to eat and how much it will cost you to explore South Korea. That’s why you clicked on that link and poof! Now you’re reading this. I bet you’ve read too many blogs already or if not yet, you’re on the right page. Keep reading if you want to experience South Korea without spending too much. Here’s my cheap travel guide based from our recent trip to the country I fell in love with.
WHAT TO SEE
Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first and largest palace built in the Joseon Dynasty. Its name means “The Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven”. Strategically located in the heart of Seoul, it once served as the main government ministry district back then.
During the Japanese occupation, the palace was largely torn down and since 1990 up to the present, restoration of the palace to its original state is still on going.
The ceremony of the changing of the royal guards takes place 6 times a day starting from 10 o’clock in the morning up to 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
Tip: Free guided tours are available in English, Chinese and Japanese. Please check their website for details.
Also, tourists can purchase a combination ticket for all the royal palaces. The price is KRW 10,000 (making it cheaper than buying 5 tickets for KRW 3,000). It may be used for up to one month entry to Gyeongbokgung, Gyeonghuigung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung royal palaces.
The palace vicinity is large enough that we find it time-consuming to visit all the royal palaces. So we just visited 2 out of 5 but it’s up to you if you want to visit all of them.
Operating Hours: 9AM-6PM (Closing hours vary by month. Closed on Tuesdays.)
How to get there: Subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung, Exit 5
Located in the east of Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung is also being referred to as “Donggwol” which means “The East Palace”.
Just like in Gyeongbokgung, most of its halls were destroyed during the Japanese occupation. Due to restoration efforts of the government after the invasion, the Palace was rebuilt according to its original structure, retaining the remains of the zoo developed within the palace vicinity by the Japanese which later on became one of the spots in Seoul ~ Changgyeongwon Garden or the Secret Garden.
Tip: They won’t allow tourists in the Secret Garden without a tour guide. The last english tour is at 3:30 PM so make sure you meet that if you plan to explore Changgyeongwon as well.
We went there at 4PM so we missed the english tour to the Secret Garden. So we just spent our time for photo ops! Tee-hee!
KRW 5,000 ~ Php 225 – Palace + Secret Garden English Tour
KRW 3,000 ~ Php 135 – Palace Only
9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – February, November-December
9:00 AM – 6:00 PM – March-May, September-October
9:00 AM -6:30 PM – June-August
Closed on Tuesdays
How to get there: 20-30 mins walk from Gyeongbokgung Palace. So later in the itinerary, I suggest for you to make it your fourth destination from Gyeongbokgung, after Bukchon Village (10-15 mins walk from Bukchon Village)
National Folk Museum of Korea
Museums around Seoul are too many to mention. One of them is just within the vicinity of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
It has a separate gate from the outside but since it’s just nearby, we decided to take a look.
National Folk Museum of Korea caters the culture of the Korean people from the historical times until the end of Joseon Dynasty.
And guess what, there’s no entrance fee! Hurray!
Operating Hours: 9AM – 7PM
How to get there: 5 mins walk from Gyeongbokgung Palace
Bukchon Hanok Village
With over 900 Hanoks, traditional Korean houses, this village was once home to members of royal families and aristocrats during the Joseon Period. It still retains its old city appearance making it a popular filming location for movies and TV dramas.
As it is still a residential area at present, visitors are requested to be respectful and observe silence.
Tip: There are a lot of restaurants as you make your way to Bukchon. From traditional Korean food to Italian cuisine, tourists can savor the moment to eat a delish lunch.
No Entrance Fee
How to get there: 10-15 mins walk from Gyeongbokgung Palace
Popularly known as Nami Island, one can fall in love in this micronation where the famous Winter Sonata was filmed.
Yes, you’ve read that right! It declared itself as a micronation and was named as Naminara Republic.
It is a man-made island which was formed to help cease the overflow of the Cheongpyong Dam.
Visitors may need to pay for a tourist visa which will cost you KRW 8,000.
Don’t worry, it’s just like any other tourist spots that you have to fall in line and buy tickets. No interviews!
Upon entering the wharf, you get to line up with many foreigners.
And of course, you’re one of them! (That is if you’re not a local of Korea)
But in Nami Island, we were all Naminarians. This is a world where there are no strangers.
It was also named after General Nami for it was believed to be his burial site. G. Nami was executed due to false accusations of treason which was later on lifted as people started to know the truth of his greatness.
I love Nami! Just like how I love this frozen lake and everything in Nami Island. By the way, you can also try out their island train to tour you around Nami Island.
Entrance Fee: KRW 8,000 ~ Php 360
Operating Hours: 7:30 AM – 9:45 PM
07:30 AM – 09:00 AM (30 min intervals)
09:00 AM – 6:00 PM (10-20 min intervals)
6:00 PM – 9:40 PM (30 min intervals)
How to get there: From Subway Line 1 Cheongnyangni Station, transfer to ITX rail and alight train going to Gapyeong Station (which will cost you KRW 6,000). From Gapyeong Terminal, ride the Gapyeong tourist shuttle bus (purchase ticket for KRW 6,000 which you can use around the tourist destinations in Gapyeong for the whole day) and in Nami Island Wharf, a ferry will take you to the island (5 mins ferry ride). Or if you choose to be adventurous, you can get to Nami Island by zipline from the wharf!
Petite France is a french-themed village popular for visitors and fans of the koreanovela, “My Love from the Star”. The said tv show filmed their scenes here.
The french-style buildings are the main attraction of the place as visitors can feel the Parisian ambiance even in S.Korea.
Developed after Saint-Exupery, the author of Little Prince (hence named as Petite France), it should be one of the places you’ll include in your itinerary as you get to experience France while you’re in Korea!
Entrance Fee: KRW 8,000 ~ Php 360
Operating Hours: 9:00 AM – 7:00 PM
How to get there: Via Gapyeong Tourist Shuttle Bus
The Garden of Morning Calm
This 330,000 sqm arboretum consists of about 20 gardens. From December to March, when the flowers are not in bloom, the garden holds a Lighting Festival that decorates the entire site with bright and colorful lights.
But take note that they start to lit the area up by 6PM. If you plan to go in the morning or midway afternoon, you’ll probably see a faded garden, but still awesome!
Perfect for examining how you’ve been in your life.
Entrance Fee: KRW 9,000 ~ Php 405
9AM – Sunset – Summer
11AM – 9PM – Winter
How to get there: Via Gapyeong Tourist Shuttle Bus
Located in the middle of the city, Namsan Park provides visitors with a vast space perfect for morning stroll.
It can be reached by either a cable car (KRW 6,000 – round trip) or by foot.
Atop, visitors have the option to purchase an entrance ticket to N Seoul Tower (about KRW 16,000 min.), an observatory from which one can see a 360-degree panorama of Seoul.
N Seoul Tower
But since it’s a bit pricey, we opt to just have our third day in S.Korea enjoying ourselves, embracing the vibes around this peaceful park and locked our love in Seoul.
No Entrance Fee
How to get there: From Myeongdong Subway Station Line 4 Exit 3, walk your way to Namsan Cable Car and purchase ticket to bring you to the top of Namsan Park. If you decided to go by foot, just walk a little more from the Cable Car station and you can see the jump off point.
Myeongdong is one of Seoul’s shopping district. There are a lot of clothing lines, make-up brands, restaurants and as well as streetfoods that line up in the alley as you walk up from Myeongdong subway station.
How to get there: Myeongdong Subway Station
Tip: You can choose from the different cosmetics, clothes, cute socks, chopsticks and keychains for souvenirs.
Street foods in Myeongdong alley costs roughly around KRW 2,000-5,000. But there’s this one stall just in front of Myeongdong station Exit that sells egg buns for only KRW 1,000.
So that’s it for the places to see. Since I’ve started talking about foods, I can’t wait to share with you what we ate.
WHERE TO EAT
There are a lot of food choices in Korea. From kimchi to bulgogi, a wide range of dishes can be tried out to complete your Korean experience. But as for my boyfriend and I, we went for the usual food we eat ~ chicken, and steak. I love Korea but I don’t know why my taste buds just don’t get to explore their food. So to say and fulfill our Korean experience, we just tried out a few of their unique streetfoods which made me miss it now as of writing this sentence! *cries*
This is what I miss the most when talking about Korean food experience. It only costs KRW 1,000 (~Php 45) if you buy it in front of Myeongdong station.
Steamed Red Bean Bun
In Nami Island, we tried this siopao-like bun for only KRW 1,000 (~Php 45).
Korea’s version of corn dog covered with french fries, sugar, ketchup and mustard is also a must try! Cost: KRW 1,000 (~Php 45)
Honey pretzel tastes good but it’s a bit pricey for a bread ~ KRW 2,000 (Php 90). Good thing you get to have a free freshly brewed coffee when you buy it in an alley in Bukchon.
Coffee & Hotteok
Hotteok should also be in your street food bucket list. It’s a waffle and pancake combined and filled with caramel. In some stalls, it’s filled with red bean or chocolate but in one store we passed by, “Coffee & Hotteok”, it’s filled with caramel and I can assure you, it’s worth the price ~ KRW 1,000 (~Php 45)!
Home Made Hamburg Steak and Pasta
In Bukchon, we found this hidden alley restaurant that serves hamburg steak and rice.
Add a thousand won and it’s served with melted cheese. Yum!
Asian Family Restaurant
In Nami Island, we ate our lunch here in Asian Family Restaurant.
I ordered this chicken dish (I forgot how it’s called) for KRW 10,000 (Php 450). Mas-issneun!
Two Two Chicken
Near Myeongdong station, you can find Two Two Chicken.
Their 16 pieces chicken (no rice) only costs KRW 16,000 (Php 720) which is already good for 2-3 people. In all fairness, it tastes good! Try it!
This travel guide is perfect for first timers in South Korea as you get to explore the cultural sites, experience city life in Seoul, eat your heart out and appreciate the beauty of S.Korea’s finest spots outside the city without spending too much. There are a lot of sites not mentioned here yet which gives me the reason to come back! So don’t limit yourself to the ones on this list. Meanwhile, here is my suggested itinerary and budget breakdown.
1500 ETD from Manila, Philippines
1900 ETA in Incheon International Airport, South Korea
2100 Late check-in + Dinner
0900 Explore Gyeongbokgung Palace
1000 Watch The Changing of the Royal Guard Ritual in Gyeongbokgung Palace
1030 Explore National Folk Museum of Korea
1300 Explore Bukchon Hanok Village
1500 Explore Changgyeonggung Palace + Secret Garden
1700 Early Dinner + Rest
1830 Stride by Cheonggyecheon Stream
0800 Travel from Seoul to Gapyeong Terminal
0900 Travel from Gapyeong Terminal to Nami Island
0915 Explore Nami Island
1300 Travel from Nami Island to Petite France
1330 Explore Petite France
1500 Travel from Petite France to The Garden of Morning Calm
1600 Explore The Garden of Morning Calm
1800 Travel back to Seoul
1000 Explore Namsan Park and N Seoul Tower
1300 Shopping in Myeongdong
1600 Shopping in Insadong
1800 Early Dinner + Rest
0700 Breakfast + Pack-up
1000 Travel from Seoul to Incheon International Airport
1200 ETD from Incheon, South Korea
1600 ETA in Manila, Philippines
ESTIMATED BUDGET BREAKDOWN
KRW 36,000 ~ Php 1,620 – Entrance Fees
KRW 25,000 ~ Php 1,125 – Transportation
KRW 50,000 ~ Php 2,250 – Food
KRW 50,000 ~ Php 2,250 – Souvenirs
KRW 110,000 ~ Php 4,950 – Accomodation/Room
*KRW 55,000 ~ Php 2,475 – Individual/Room
KRW 145,000 ~ Php 6,525 – Airfare (Promo)
KRW 36,000 ~ Php 1,620 – Travel Tax (Philippines)
Estimated Budget per Individual: KRW 397,000 ~ Php 17, 865
Note: I’ve excluded the taxi cost we’ve spent from Incheon to Seoul. That’s roughly KRW 70,000 which is approximately Php 3,000. Expensive! So better time your arrival in Incheon and research for the last trip of the bus you’ll ride to bring you to your hostel.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
- Entering South Korea as a foreigner requires you to have a visa. For travel purposes, one needs to have a tourist visa. In the Philippines, we have a Korean Embassy in Taguig. For more information about visa application, visit their site here.
- Research about the weather on the month you wish to visit South Korea and plan your outfits. If you’re planning to visit from December to the end of March, make sure you bring layers of clothes, thermal wear/jackets, socks, gloves and bonnets. Believe me when I say, it’s freezing cold!
- I would suggest that you book an accomodation in Myeongdong or Insadong so you can save subway costs for you can reach most destinations in Seoul by foot (your call tee-hee!).
- South Korea’s subway system uses T-money card. You can purchase the card in convenience stores for KRW 2,500 and load it up to KRW 15,000 at most. Subway’s minimum cost is around KRW 1,250. So most probably, you won’t be able to use it all up as most of the tourist spots in Seoul can be reached by foot. If you happen to have a balance below KRW 10,000, you can have it refunded in convenience stores. Or you can use it to buy coffee, noodles etc in convenience stores as well. Though, you can no longer return the card but it will be a good souvenir. 🙂
- Exchange your philippine peso to KRW here in Manila (Czarina Foreign Exchange in Ayala Head Office – call 09178318636/09088920119 for inquiries) to avoid delays. But you can also exchange PHP to KRW in NAIA and in Incheon Int’l Airport but as you all know, airports have a lower rate so just exchange enough amount you can use for your arrival and first day expenses. Then you can exchange the balance in the city proper. We exchanged our money in KEB and the rate is good.
- You can get free tourist travel guides in Korea Tourism Organization to further help you with your planning. Address: 26th Floor, Tower 2, The Enterprise Center, 6766 Ayala Ave., corner Paseo De Roxas, Makati City, 1200 Philippines
- Research about the bus or subway path you plan to ride on your way to your destination especially upon arriving in Incheon Int’l Airport. You might not want to experience paying KRW 70,000 for a taxi ride.
- Download an offline map and subway app from App Store and Google Play. I’ve used “Korea Tour” app from App Store.
- Wait for a promotional airfare. It is always wise to purchase ticket at a lower cost.
- Book an accomodation with hostels or guesthouses if you’re really on a budget.
There is always a cheaper way to travel without compromising the quality of your experience. I hope this has been informative and helpful for your journey to South Korea.
Thank you for reading and enjoy your adventure!
Danica (다니카) ★