People don’t think of Seoul as a city in which they’re able to budget. But let me tell you how to make the most of it without breaking the bank!
The South Korean capital of Seoul is a great city to explore, and an even better city in which to backpack. I have done so myself on a few occasions, and have made good use of hostels in the city, especially in the Hongdae area, which is known as a student and backpacker hotspot. While South Korea is more expensive than Thailand or Cambodia, it still is nowhere near as expensive as Hong Kong or Japan or even Taiwan – as long as you know how to budget accordingly, and as long as you know where the deals are! Check out this article from Seoulistic where you can see 10 things to get for free in Seoul! It includes some surprise additions! Alternatively, this article from Melted Stories chronicles how you can spend $25 per day in Seoul and still get EVERYTHING!
First off, hostels. Find yourself a great place to sleep, and make sure that you take advantage of the offers that many Korean hostels and guesthouses have, in which they have nightly rates and weekly rates. Usually, the price for the week involves one free day, so you basically stay 7, pay 6! One such hostel was Banana Backpackers, which is a great place to meet new people – and their rates are very cheap anyway! However, for me, the ultimate hostel in Seoul would have to be KPOPSTAY. This hostel is located in Hongdae, near Hongik University (sort of), and while it is not the cheapest around, it is still a pod hostel, which means that you get your own private pods in rooms of 5 or 6, like in the photo above. The owners and staff at KPOPSTAY are also very helpful, and even gave me a complimentary lift to Seoul Station before sunrise one morning on my day of departure, as I had pretty much run out of Won. Great customer service!
As far as accommodation is concerned, some can be pretty pricey in Seoul, although if you know where to look then you can get some great value places to stay. If hostels are really not your thing, then why not try some budget hotel chains, and my favourite across Asia would have to be Ibis. Ibis hotels are popping up all over Seoul at a fast rate at the moment, with three different brands: Ibis Budget, Ibis Styles, and the regular Ibis brand.
As you can imagine, the Ibis Budget hotels (one located in Dongdaemun) are simple and no frills but still have international standards and free wifi. Ibis Styles is a more funky and chic brand, although still cheap enough not to do too much damage to your wallet. There is an amazing new Ibis Styles hotel just opened in Myeongdong, which is an amazing location; right in the thick of the action! The original Ibis brand of hotel, which is pretty much the middle-standard of the hotel portfolio has hotels in the Myeongdong, Insadong, and Gangnam districts, and I have stayed at the Ibis Myeongdong Hotel before, and it was a great experience! Apart from an amazing bar and public hot bath, they even offer cheap day tours to the DMZ!
What exactly can you do in Seoul that won’t break the bank? Well, even trips to the famous grand palaces such as Gyeongbokgung or Deoksugung are very cheap by western standards, but there’s so much to do without paying for anything in this beautiful city! If you plan your trip accordingly, you may very well be exploring Seoul in amazing greenery and bright sunlight. This will open up a whole range of opportunities!
Check out my list of the top 10 attractions in Seoul.
One thing I like to muse over is the sheer amount of walking and hiking opportunities in Seoul. Whether you’re climbing Mount Namsan, hiking Bukhansan or Seoraksan, or taking a leisurely stroll along the Cheonggyecheon Stream, you can certainly spend hours and hours admiring the scenery – and keeping fit – without paying much (if anything) at all! One thought, though: the weather! When it gets cold in Seoul, it gets very, very cold, so hiking outdoors may not always be an option – regardless of how pretty the area looks under all that snow!
Oh, and one last thing: forget western fast food. You cannot come to Seoul and not live on Korean food! Seoul is one of the capitals of the world for street food, so whether it is ice cream corns, potato hot dogs, kimbap, ppeontwegi, or tteokbokki that you’re after, you can rest assured that you will find it cheaply in Seoul. Try the night markets of Myeongdong and the pojangmacha of Insadong for the cheapest street food!