Asia,  Country Guides,  During the World Tour,  Seoul,  South Korea,  TDM,  Tips

Practical Travel Guide for Seoul (South Korea): Budget, Tips, Addresses, What to Visit, Advice, Digital Nomad

We have just spent a month and a half in Seoul and as we had a bit of difficulty at the beginning to enjoy the city, we will give you our best addresses and advices, so you won’t waste time like us

This guide is in Question/Answer format, I find it is the most suitable format to cover the most topics (which have nothing to do with each other)

Two important documents to have

Just make sure you have

(1) your passport with you
(2) a return ticket or ticket to leave the territory

For French people, you are exempt from visa requirements and can stay here up to 3 months
Your return or outbound ticket must therefore justify your departure from South Korea within 3 months of your arrival (this is logical)
Immigration didn’t ask JB for this ticket, but they asked me (maybe I have a head for wanting to stay here forever?). In any case, the airline company asked us for this ticket, otherwise we can’t get on the plane

What to bring?

If you ask me, who loves shopping, I would say “an empty suitcase”

Because the Korean society is so consumerist that you will find everything here, not too expensive, and super nice

But if you are thrifty and don’t like shopping, come with

(1) a small jacket and scarf, even in summer, because the air conditioning is on full blast here, it’s a pain to wear
(2) big winter clothes because the winter in Seoul is really horrible
(3) Moisturizing cream because all year round the air is very dry – my skin turned into crocodile skin in a few hours. Drink lots of water!
(4) shoes that are comfortable but can be easily removed because you will be walking a lot, and take your shoes off very often
(5) sunglasses because the light is particularly intense here, I don’t know why

Where to book your hotel?

Forget about Gangnam which is great for K-pop fans but is far from all the city’s top attractions
I recommend you to be in the area near

  • Myeong-dong (restaurants close later) – type Myeongdong Station on Naver Map to see where it is
  • Insadong (best traditional cuisine) – next to Anguk Station, or Jonggak Station or Jongno 3(sam)ga (tap on Naver Map to see where it is)
  • Hongdae (cheap, lots of street artists, restaurants close later) can be a good plan (especially if you like to eat) but you will have some transportation to get to Seoul’s points of interest – type Hongik University exit 9 on Naver Map to see where it is

A detail about your hotel: make sure you have a room with a window. Yes, it happens that hotels that are too economical sometimes have rooms without windows

What about a long stay?

We chose Airbnb but in the end it wasn’t such a good option

Admittedly, the check-in and check-out were very smooth (we had a code to open the door), but the airbnb in Seoul are small, extremely expensive and only offer a small discount of 10% for a stay of a month and a half. We discovered, but only on the spot, that it is better to go through the real estate agencies for foreigners. Even for a one month rental. The apartments are furnished and it’s just as efficient as Airbnb. Be careful, we have not yet tested these agencies, but a friend went through one of these agencies (whose name he forgot) and it was very convenient, according to him: http: //

Coworking space in Seoul

There are some, but why pay when you can sit in many cafes (with broadband connection), very nice and nice (no pressure to consume every hour). You can also go to any bookstore, there are plenty of tables, sockets and free wifi where you can sit, work for hours and read books that are for sale there (without paying), because bookstores let people consult them freely – as a means of education

ATM & ATM Withdrawal

I found the money withdrawal here a bit complicated. There are ATMs that only accept local cards, and ATMs that say they accept foreign cards, but that’s not quite the case

  • Rule 1: You must inform your bank before going to South Korea. It isn’t yet a popular destination, your bank might freak out on its own and block your transactions “just in case”. You should also find out about the fees for withdrawals “outside the euro zone”.
  • Rule #2: Always remove in ATMs where it is marked “Global ATM”. Locate the logo of your card (Mastercard, Visa) – there are some that only accept VISA for example (chelou). American Express and UnionPay are accepted from time to time
  • Rule #3: Fees aren’t the same from one bank to another. I have the international option i.e. my French bank does not charge me any cgange fees, but for each withdrawal here, you are obliged to pay fees to the KOREAN BANK. The only ATM that worked for my card at the airport took me 7800won out of 300,000won withdrawn (scam! – it’s the one on the left in the picture). I found Woori Bank that only took me 3,600won for 500,000won withdrawal
  • Rule #4: You can’t withdraw more than 1,000,000won at a time (about 768€). Anyway, since credit card payment is accepted almost everywhere, you won’t need to withdraw that much. You will only need the cash for street food, local markets and topping up your T-money.

Payment by credit card

  • Rule 1: You must inform your bank before going to South Korea. It isn’t yet a popular destination, your bank might freak out on its own and block your transactions “just in case”. You should also find out about the fees for withdrawals “outside the euro zone”.
  • Rule n°2: Payment by credit card is accepted almost everywhere. Even in the bui-bui. And even for a small amount. So don’t hesitate, especially if you don’t have any fees to pay at your bank (like me with my international option), to extend your card.
  • Rule #3: Here you don’t need to enter the PIN code. For small amounts, there isn’thing to do. For larger amounts, you may be asked to sign on a number pad. It doesn’t seem to be of much use, sometimes the salesman signs for you ^^.
  • Rule #4: At the moment the salesperson inserts your card into her machine, the amount is never indicated. So ALWAYS check the amount you have to pay, on the bill you will be given. If you don’t get a bill, ask for a receipt

Money exchange

Rates are catastrophic at the airport. If you are desperate, do some currency exchange at the airport to pay for your bus to the hotel
Then, go to Myeongdong where the rates of money exchanges there are more advantageous (also ask if there are commissions added)

Note: We had Japanese yen and wherever we were, the exchange rate made us lose between 5% and 10%. I didn’t note the euro rates though (sorry)

Get Credit & 3G

Even if free Wifi is available everywhere in Seoul, you still need an Internet connection (in the cab for example)

At any time (24/7), you can call the number 1330 (price of a local call) to speak to an English speaking person who will translate for you into Korean and/or assist you

JB has already written a long article about SIM cards and 3G in South Korea here

Which applications should I download before going to South Korea?

  • Naver Map (free): Google Maps isn’t working very well in Korea (I hear the government doesn’t want it to be used). Naver Map will be your friend. Names will be displayed phonetically so don’t be afraid, you will be able to type the names of tourist attractions in Latin alphabet. The app is free.
  • Kakao Talk (free): this is the preferred messaging application for Koreans. It’s very convenient! Having a Kakao Talk account (you just have to register thanks to your phone number, the French number is accepted), it’s a 1st step to have Korean friends 😀 Moreover, there are many concierge services available directly on Kakao Talk (I’ll talk about it later)
  • iTourSeoul (free): it’s your best travel guide for Seoul. Other than the known tourist attractions, the app highlights several articles that speak about the less known addresses, off the beaten track. The app is linked with Tripadvisor, so you can see the ratings of restaurants/attractions at a glance.
  • Google Translate (free): Download the Korean dictionary before playing offline so you can translate menus written only in Korean (just point your camera at the menu for instant translation). The weak point is that it doesn’t work when it’s handwritten 😀
  • Learn Korean (free): there are some basic phrases, written in English and Korean (with phonetic pronunciation & writing). Very useful when you forget for the nth time how to say annyeonghaseyo (hello)
  • VoiceTra (free) – screenshot below: the voice recognition of this app (super powerful and accurate) allows to translate from Korean to English, from English to Korean. Super handy since Koreans are really bad in English and like to talk to us only in Korean. You need a connection (wifi,3G) for the app to work.

What is your advice for Korean food?

I think everyone loves Korean food and your trip to Seoul will satisfy your dream of eating bibimbap and bulgogi


Rule n°1: avoid overly spicy dishes for the first few days

Be aware that Korean restaurants abroad offer a version adapted to your taste as a foreigner. Whereas in South Korea, they meet the local need: lots and lots of chilli pepper. So my advice is to avoid, at least for the first few days, dishes with “spicy” in the name. You can therefore eat without too much problem: bibimbap, bulgogi which do not contain too much

Then, during all these meals, taste the kimchi, the real Korean kimchi, to see if you and your stomach can handle the Korean chilli pepper. If so, you can test a chilli dish. Note: you will know right away if your stomach doesn’t like chilli (i.e. bcp of time spent in the toilet) 🙂

Rule n°2 : Don’t choose a restaurant at the drop of a hat

Seoul isn’t known for its gastronomy. And just because a restaurant is frequented by locals doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good
I have the impression that in the evening, the dishes are only there to mop up the alcohol. Their streetfood isn’t good at all but the locals seem to appreciate them a lot

So, if you have any doubts, it’s better to open Tripadvisor, or iTourSeoul to find the well-rated restaurants nearby

Rule #3: Be open-minded

The menus here are very very different from the menus you can find in France. For example, don’t expect to find chapchae here (we didn’t find any anyway). Restaurants tend to sell 1 to 3 dishes only. You’ll see a lot of dishes that don’t make you feel like it, but that deserve to be tested (like pork feet, or raw crabs…). Otherwise, you might eat 3 dishes during your stay: bibimbap, bulgogi and Korean barbecue

They also sell raw octopus, spicy chicken legs… you can test it all 😀

How to behave in a restaurant?

  • If you pay attention, there is often a button on or under the table. You will have to press it to call the server.
  • Then, chopsticks and spoons are often hidden in a drawer on the table, or in a box on the table. Koreans eat with chopsticks and spoons.
  • In some restaurants, you can sometimes help yourself to water at a fountain, and get side-dishes (kimchi….) in self-service. Side dishes are usually all you can eat, if you like something in particular, you can ask for a free refill.
  • Water (or tea) decanters are free of charge. If you drink soju, serve it in small glasses, the older one must pour soju for the others 😀
  • Tipping isn’t popular in Korea, don’t feel guilty if you don’t leave anything to the server.

What to visit?

I sincerely find that temples and palaces all look alike. Once you’ve visited one, it’s not necessarily useful to visit another. Historians are going to hit me, but you know me, I don’t lie on my own blog, I say what I think #samepashonte

Here is what I suggest you visit (in order of priority)

  • One of the royal palaces: my favorite is Gyeongbokgung PalaceBecause it is bigger, there is more greenery and because the traditional tea house there (Oe Sojubang) served me a tea with 5 unforgettable tastes. Entrance fee is 3,000won
  • One of the temples Jogyesa TempleSmall, cute, near Insadong, what more could you ask for?
  • The unavoidable DMZ which separates South Korea from North Korea.
  • Take a hot bath and pay for an exfoliation in a jjimjilbang (we talked about it here)
  • A traditional district: The whole district ofInsadong, too cute, too traditional, with lots of stores and traditional restaurants. Take the opportunity to walk to the Bukchon Hanok Village. Type Insadong Maru on Naver Maps and walk around.
  • A local market: the Noryangjin Fish Market is in the top rankings. I explain you how to buy and eat fish here I didn’t like Dongdaemun or Namdaemun.
  • Coffee growing in Seoul: a must. There are cafés for cats, puppies, sheep… themed cafés (Hello Kitty, Line Friends), cafés where you can play with logos, make your own jewelry. I highly recommend you to watch this video which presents very well the coffee culture in Seoul. Unfortunately I can’t give you any addresses because everything changes at a speed! Before coming to Seoul, type “best cafes in Seoul 2018” to get an updated list

  • A university: Korean universities, like American universities, are huge and well-equipped. Take a tour of the campus of Korea University (one of Korea’s top universities), or Ewha University (university for women, which has an exceptional entrance and a 2pm guided tour in English – to be booked 3 days in advance).
  • Gangnam to see the huge buildings of the entertainment companies, for which your favorite K-pop stars work
  • Lotte World to discover a Korean-style amusement park
  • A Royal Tomb: Type Seoul Seolleung Royal Tomb. There are 3 of them on the same place but my favorite one is Seolleung because you can get close to it (don’t forget to watch the small video in the information center). The corresponding travel notebook is here
  • Zappez Garosu-gil, which no longer has small designer stores, and replaced by the big international brands . It has lost all its charm

How do I get around Seoul?

  • The subway: relatively cheap and fast. Not very busy (especially for lines 2 and 4). Buy a prepaid T-money card in one of the many convenience stores (such as 7 eleven, CVS, GS25…) or directly in the metro. The card costs 2,500won, you add money (top-up) thanks to the machines or in the convenience stores. Before returning to France, you can get the balance of the account + the 2,500won via a machine in the metro. Paying via the T-money allows you to pay 50won less than a single ticket. Moreover, the exits are clearly indicated on Naver Map, so find the exit closest to your destination. Naver Map is your friend for using public transportation. The T-money card also allows you to pay for small expenses in convenience stores, vending machines, cabs, …
  • The bus: I use the bus less because I don’t like to wait for the bus in the street, and breathe deeply the exhaust pipes. But ditto, Naver Map is your friend for using public transportation, use the T-money to pay less (you have to badge when getting on AND off the bus).
  • The cab: really cheap in Seoul. Moreover Naver Map gives you an estimate of the cost of a cab, sometimes, when there are 3 or 4 of us, it’s cheaper to take a cab than to take the subway. You can pay the cab with the T-money card too, it’s very convenient! I recommend you to pay with T-money because in case you forget something on the cab, you can easily find your driver
    Beware, FREE cabs have a RED light, and reserved cabs have a green light (not logical at all). The drivers don’t speak English and don’t know the way very well, it’s better to either give them the address written in Korean or give a known place close to your destination (e.g. if you aren’t very far from Myeongdong, ask to be dropped off in Myeong-dong, then walk a little).
  • By car: I would advise against it, because there are a lot of traffic jams and Koreans are very aggressive at the wheel. Besides, the car has priority in Seoul, not the pedestrians. Pedestrians should run before the light turns red.

Our favorite addresses

  • Raw crab marinated in soy sauce: my greatest discovery in South Korea. If you like sashimi, you’ll love it. Address: Jinmi Sikdang, 186-6 Mapo-daero Mapo-gu Seoul (I mentioned it here). It is necessary to book in advance, even during the week, even at noon
  • Korean Barbecue: Hwangto Charcoal Grilled Meat, 15 Hoenamu-ro Yongsan-gu Seoul, cheap and foreigner-friendly (more info on Korean barbecues)
  • Ginseng Chicken: Local Food Ginseng Chicken Soup 5 Jahamum-ro 5-gil Jongno-gu Seoul (no need to reserve, we’ve talked about it here)
  • Gong Cha: it’s a bubble tea chain from Taiwan, I love it! My favorite is Green Milk Tea with pearl. 5,000won
  • If you are fed up with Korean food, go to Sky Kingdom at Seoul Dragon City (on the 31st floor), on the one hand to have a nice view of the whole city, and on the other hand to taste a real Korean chicken (small but muscular), roasted European style. We talked about it here
  • For a snack, go to one of the many convenience stores (7eleven, GS25…). On the other hand, to really buy something to cook, you have to go to the hypermarkets (Emart). Beware, there are Emart 24 (convenience stores) and Emart (hypermarket), don’t be mistaken! The hypermarket is generally located in shopping malls.
  • The traditional Korean restaurants in Insadong look great because they offer traditional dishes, which are more like what we eat in France. Moreover, they are careful to put less chilli pepper than usual. Type Insadong Maru on Naver Map and go around the neighborhood (you should especially go in the alleys, to discover the small nice traditional houses). That’s where I ate Korean beef tartare, a delight! Unfortunately, the restaurant isn’t listed on Naver Map 🙁


  • Hotel : 70€/night for a pleasant hotel, not too small, well located
  • Communication: 35,000won SIM card for 7 days, up to 10Gb
  • Restaurant

    • Lunch at noon, there are sets for noon, not too expensive: 5000won to 7000won/person
    • Evening meal

      • barbecue between 15,000won and 20,000won/person. If you eat beef, count 40,000won/person (beef is very expensive in Korea but the quality is top quality!!)
      • bulgogi or other traditional dishes: between 10,000won and 12,000won
      • bibimbap : between 6,000won and 9,000won (it depends if there is a lot of beef or not)

  • Transportation

    • Metro/bus 1,250won/route if you pay with T-money, 1,300won if you buy the ticket individually
    • Cab: minimum 3,500won/route. Downtown – Incheon: 45,000won approximately. Downtown – Gimpo Airpot : 15,000won
    • Airport Bus => Myeongdong: 16,000won/person. Take a cab instead if you are 3 or more.

  • Visit

    • Visit of the royal palace: 3,000won/person
    • Ticket to visit 5 palaces + a paying temple: 10,000won/person usable 3 (?) months I think
    • Tour DMZ: 65,000won/person just the DMZ, 95,000won/person if you visit JSA (to be booked as much as possible in advance) We went through the VIP Travel agency, booked the tour on the Internet and paid directly to the guide – by credit card.
    • Lotte World: 44,000won/person after discount (go to any information center to ask for a -20% coupon for Lotte World)

  • Shopping

    • Cosmetics: between 5,000won and 15,000won it isn’t very expensive, in addition it is of good quality
    • Clothes: trendy and cheap (but not durable) 10,000won to 15,000won a piece
    • Trendy and durable clothing: between 25,000won and 50,000won each
    • Korean socks (super cute and durable): 1,000won a pair

The label in South Korea

  • If the subway isn’t too busy, avoid sitting in seats reserved for seniors or pregnant women. Koreans prefer to stand rather than occupy these seats (unless the subway is really crowded)
  • Smoking is only permitted in authorized areas. It is forbidden to smoke in restaurants, even at home, in the street … there are very few authorized places, open your eyes wide (or stop smoking altogether, it’s time to try!)
  • We cover our neckline and shoulders. On the other hand, we can wear short shorts up to the buttocks (that’s how it is)
  • The elderly are respected. Even if the space in the metro isn’t reserved only for seniors, it is advisable to give them your place. Older people are very quick to spot: in general, ladies have short curly hair, and men don’t have their eyes glued to their smartphone 😀
  • At the restaurant, frequently, there are places where you get rid of your tray yourself. There are different garbage cans for recycling, throwing away leftovers… be careful with that
  • There are few garbage cans on the street, you should keep the garbage with you and throw it away, either in the subway (there are always one or two garbage cans at the entrance of the subway), or at your house/hotel.

Concierge Services, Face Care & Cosmetic Surgery

If you want to take advantage of your stay in Seoul to inject a little botox, get a facelift… know that there are concierge services that will take care of everything for you

(1) the choice of the surgeon/esthetician
(2) making an appointment
(3) a translator who accompanies you and stays with you from beginning to end

In general, this service is already included in the surgeon’s fees, you will not have to pay anything extra. The appointment and the discussion with this service is easily done, in English, via the Kakao Talk app. I have not used this service, but I have been told about:

This service is also available for facials (without surgery) but a little more expensive than a basic facial (within 100,000won), you can go through them too (I would appreciate feedback if you liked it)


There, I have finally finished my big paving stone. If you have any questions, or if you have things to add, feel free to comment below. Have a nice trip to Seoul!


Did you like this article? Discover all our Seoul & Jeju travel diaries:

Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #1 : Discovery of Myeongdong & Lotus Lantern Festival
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #2: Namdaemun Market, Namsangol Hanok Village and Gangnam
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #3: Changdeokgung Palace, Insadong, Noryangjin Fish Market, Hongdae, Namsan Tower, Seoul City Tour Bus
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #4: Seoul with friends
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #5 : Lotte World, tickets, flagship attractions, magic pass
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #6: War Memorial Hall of Korea, Barbecue, Lenses and Shopping
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #7: Marinated raw crab, Gilsangsa Temple, Suyeonsanbang, shopping in Myeong-dong
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #8: B2B Market, Palais Royal, Notre-Dame de Paris, Barbecues

Travel Diary Jeju Island (South Korea) #1
Travel Diary Jeju Island (South Korea) #2
Travel Diary Jeju Island (South Korea) #3

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