Planning a wallet-friendly trip to Seoul? This 4D3N itinerary is your trick to exploring the city on a budget. All you need is RM1,700 – and this is inclusive of flights, meals, accommodation, attraction fees, and transport costs! View the budget breakdown below, or jump right into the itinerary which will introduce you to the regal beauty of Gyeongbokgung Palace, the shopping delights of Dongdaemun Market, and the hanbok experience you can have in K-Style Hub.
Getting into Seoul from Incheon International Airport
Though Incheon International Airport is about 50 kilometres from Seoul, getting to and from the airport is easy. Hop on the AREX Express train (40 minutes, RM30/KRW8,000) for an affordable ride to Seoul Station, where you can transfer to the subway. Alternatively, if you have heavy luggage with you, board one of the many airport limousine buses available outside the passenger terminal. These buses will take you straight to downtown Seoul within an hour, for a fare of about RM56 (KRW15,000).
We have two recommended places to stay in Seoul. If you’re travelling with a partner, opt for the double room with private bathroom at Seoul Station R Guesthouse, which would cost under RM180 per night. This guesthouse is within walking distance from Seoul Station. If you’re travelling alone, opt for a dorm bed for under RM70 each night in Seoul Dalbit Dongdaemun Guesthouse which is located in the popular shopping area of Dongdaemun. It comes with complimentary breakfast, which is a plus. For more options, view other hotels in Seoul.
Getting around Seoul is extremely easy with the city’s well-developed subway system. Trains are fast, clean and efficient, and head to every corner of the city.
Based on your itinerary, you’re advised to purchase a T-Money card, which is a rechargeable transportation card that can be used on public buses and subways. The card costs KRW2,500 (RM9) and can be bought in convenience stores such as CU, GS25, and 7-Eleven. You can charge your card through these convenience stores, or at ticket vending machines outside subway stations. Each ride on the subway will cost KRW 1,250 (RM4.50).
Day 1: The must-see sights in Seoul
Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace
Even if you’re not a big history buff, Seoul’s magnificent Gyeongbokgung Palace is most definitely worth a visit. Constructed more than 500 years ago, it was the largest and most prominent royal residence of the Joseon Dynasty, housing notable Kings and their families within its 7,700 rooms. Though much of the structure was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of Korea, it has since been restored and is today home to both the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea. Note that the Gyeongbokgung Palace is closed on Tuesdays.
Wander around Bukchon Hanok Village
After your dose of culture in Gyeongbokgung Palace, walk over to the picturesque Bukchon Hanok Village, a quaint neighbourhood with narrow alleys lined by traditional hanok homes. Entrance to the village is free, and there are cultural centres and tea houses you can pop into during your meanderings. This is certainly an Instagram-worthy site, but bear in mind that you’ll need to be respectful to the privacy of locals as you’re within a residential area.
Take in the sights at Insadong
Tucked in the heart of Seoul, near the Bukchon Hanok Village, Insadong is a neighbourhood that’s brimming with art and culture. You’ll find cosy cafes, restaurants, art galleries, and shops selling handicrafts, paintings, or traditional items like pottery and hanji paper. This is a good place to pick up a uniquely-Korean souvenir. If you didn’t have the chance to enjoy a cup of tea in Bukchon Hanok Village, now’s your chance because Insadong is dotted with charming tea houses that are often found hidden in the backstreets.
Stroll along Cheonggyecheon Stream
From Insadong, make your way to Cheonggyecheon Stream by foot. Stretching 11 kilometres through downtown Seoul, Cheonggyecheon Stream makes a calm respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are pathways and sitting areas flanking the stream. You might even come across stepping stones that allow you to cross the river!
Put on a hanbok at K-Style Hub
Heading west along Cheonggyecheon Stream, you’ll approach K-Style Hub in the office of Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO). A hidden gem that not many tourists know about, the K-Style Hub offers a free hanbok experience where can take your pick from a variety of hanbok and then pose at the photo zone. There’s also a Hallyu Experience Zone and other cool features for you to discover, so make this a mandatory stop!
Join in the crowds at Myeongdong
What’s a trip to Seoul without stepping foot into Myeongdong? The district of Myeongdong is well-loved among shopaholics and foodies. You’ll rub shoulders with locals and tourists alike as you walk down the streets, passing by all kinds of shops from the all-familiar Forever 21 and The Body Shop to Korean cosmetic and skincare labels like Etude House, Laneige, Innisfree and Skinfood. In the midst of your shopping, treat your taste buds to Korean street foods like tteokbokki (stir-fry rice cakes), kimbap (rice rolls) and mandoo (Korean dumplings). You may not even need a proper sit-down dinner at a restaurant tonight!
Day 2: Trendy neighbourhoods
Explore the hipster area of Garosugil
The up-and-coming neighbourhood of Garosugil is fast turning into a tourist hotspot – and for good reasons. With streets lined by trees and dotted with countless cafes and shops boasting the latest in K-fashion and K-beauty, one can spend a whole day here without getting bored. On top of that, fashionistas would enjoy the Simone Handbag Museum, while art lovers will appreciate the public art work in Gallery YEH.
Discover the cool attractions at COEX
COEX is the largest underground mall not just in Korea but all of Asia. Don’t let its name deceive you – COEX is much more than a mall. It houses the Kimchi Museum, the COEX Aquarium, and a Megabox Cineplex with 17 screens and 4,000 seats. Visit the Starfield Library to be surrounded by lofty bookshelves that stretch from the ground to the high ceiling. If you’re a fan of K-pop, enter paradise at SMTOWN Coex Artium. Before leaving, go to the east gate of COEX to take a photo of the Gangnam Style statue while dancing along to the catchy dance song.
Drop by Bongeunsa Temple
Near the north end of COEX is Bongeunsa Temple. It offers a bubble of serenity that feels uncanny upon emergence from the bustling mega-mall. Bongeunsa Temple dates back to 794, during the Silla Dynasty, which means that it has over 1,000 years of history! It houses Buddhist scriptures, woodblock carvings, and a big statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Admission is free.
Go people-watching in Gangnam
Like Parisians, South Koreans are known for their impeccable sense of style, the best of which can be observed in the prosperous Gangnam district. Home to sparkling skyscrapers, high-end malls and the headquarters of some of the most prolific K-wave entertainment companies, Gangnam is populated by the young, beautiful and stylish, making it a fantastic place to sit down with a cup of coffee and thick toast piled high with calorific delights. If you’re not up for a break, then stroll around the Gangnam area for a bout of shopping as night descends.
Belt out a few songs at the coin karaoke
Coin-operated karaoke booths, also known as noraebang, have popped up across the city over the past few years. These booths can fit just one or two persons, and customers pay on a per-song rather than a per-hour basis. They cater to young Koreans who delight in their own company, as well as to couples looking for new leisure activities. You’ll find a handful of noraebang in the Gangnam area, including Super Star and Su Noraebang. Prices depend on the store, but in general, it costs KRW500 (RM1.80) for a song, or KRW1,000 (RM3.60) for three songs.
Watch the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain Show at Banpo Bridge
Getting tired? Scoot over to the nearest Kyochon outlet (there are three in Gangnam), order fried chicken for takeaway, and bring your dinner to the Banpo Bridge. Spanning the Han River, this bridge in downtown Seoul has been installed with nozzles that can shoot out water. Combine that with well-synchronised lights and sounds, and what do you get? A full-fledged fountain show! The Rainbow Fountain Show at Banpo Bridge happens five to eight times daily, and you’re likely to catch it as you chomp away on succulent chicken flesh.
Day 3: Markets and a hike
Pick up some souvenirs at Namdaemun Market
Start your morning at Namdaemun Market, a massive traditional market that has been around since 1694. It starts buzzing early in the morning, so you don’t have to waste any time before diving into the labyrinthine alleys and perusing through all sorts of items from household good, apparels and cheap souvenirs to street food. While you’re there, pack some extra munchies, be it hotteok (pancakes with filling) or eomuk (fishcakes) and save it for your hike later.
Hike up Mount Namsan
Once you’re all fuelled up, you’re ready to ascend 262 metres to the peak of Mount Namsan. Sitting in the heart of the city, near Namdaemun Market, Mount Namsan is surrounded by Namsan Park and topped by the N Seoul Tower. There are a few hiking trails that lead to the summit, and once you reach your destination, you’ll be rewarded by panoramic views of the city below. It takes just 20 to 30 minutes to reach the peak, but if you prefer not to break out in a sweat, the Namsan Cable Car is always an option.
Marvel at the architecture of Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Designed in a neo-futuristic style, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) hosts exhibitions, conferences, shows and events. Though you might not be attending anything special in DDP, you should still come by to marvel at its facade. Walking through the complex, under its smooth, strong and oddly-shaped curves, you are likely to feel tiny – and somewhat inspired. If the sun is setting at the time of your visit, make your way to the LED Rose Garden beside the Yigansumun Exhibition Hall for a spectacular sight.
Go shopping at Dongdaemun Market
If Seoul is a shopper’s paradise, then Dongdaemun Market is Nirvana itself. The largest wholesale and retail clothing market in the city, Dongdaemun contains everything you could possibly dream of at jaw-dropping prices – from the latest in Korean fashion to fabrics, accessories, jewellery and more. Adding to the fun vibes, live shows by local bands and entertainers are common at this market. Seoul is, after all, the factory behind the K-pop phenomenon, so don’t be surprised if performances suddenly materialise in front of you as you indulge in a spot of retail therapy.
Day 4: Youth culture and colours (Option 1)
If you want to immerse yourself in the youth culture of Korea, then you simply have to wander around the streets of Daehangno. This area used to be the site of the Seoul National University. Walking around, you’ll spot art centres, small theatres, and concert halls. During the weekend, people gather around Marronnier Park to catch performances by talented youths and to bask in the electric atmosphere.
Feast your eyes at Ihwa Mural Village
From Daehangno, you are a short walk to Ihwa Mural Village. This village has an interesting history; more than a decade ago, it was an unsightly slum that was scheduled for demolition. What saved it was a cultural project in 2006 that transformed the village into a colourful masterpiece adorned with paintings, mosaics and sculptures. You’ll come across these art displays as you take a self-guided walking tour of the village. Needless to say, many corners of Ihwa Mural Village make a gorgeous backdrop for your photos!
Day 4: History and relaxation (Option 2)
Understand the country’s history at the National Museum of Korea
Now that you’ve had three days to sample the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Korea, it’s time to give yourself a dose of knowledge at the largest museum in the country: the National Museum of Korea. With six permanent exhibitions, you could spend a good two to three hours looking through thousands of historically significant objects. This is where you can piece together the bits and pieces of what you know so far – at no cost at all.
Conclude your trip at the War Memorial of Korea
The Korean War may be long over, but the effects of it continue to resonate in the modern world. The War Memorial of Korea aims to honour the lives that were taken, as well as to educate the masses on the subject. With over 10,000 artifacts on display at the exhibition halls, as well as ongoing educational programs, you’ll walk away an advocate of peace.
Budget breakdown for the 4D3N Seoul budget itinerary
From RM705 for a return trip. Check Skyscanner to find cheap flights.
KRW16,000 (RM57) for a two-way airport transfer by express trains
KRW20,000 (RM71) for T-money card and recharge
KRW155,000 (RM550) for meals in a mix of inexpensive and mid-range restaurants over four days, including some cafe breaks
KRW3,000 (RM11) for entrance fee to Gyeongbokgung Palace
KRW2,000 (RM7) for six karaoke songs at a noraebang
KRW9,500 (RM34) for adult return tickets on the Namsan Cable Car (optional)
Estimated total cost: RM1,700
Note that this estimated cost is exclusive of shopping. You can spend as much – or as little – as you’d like for shopping. Don’t feel too guilty to spend your extra cash – after all, this 4D3N itinerary has brought you to tons of free attractions in Seoul.
Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.