50 South Korea Travel Tips
This post will cover all the Korea travel tips I can think of, from what to do before you come to accommodation tips to safety concerns and more.
I’ve been meaning to write some sort of practical guide with tips for visiting South Korea for ages now, but I just never got around to it! I think when you live in a country vs. visiting for a short time, you just don’t think about certain things.
Anyhow, since ending my last teaching contract in 2018, I’ve been back a handful of times as a tourist and had to think about things I didn’t have to consider when I had an E-2 visa and a residency card (ARC). If you’re traveling to South Korea for the first time, here are 50 tips you may want to keep handy!
50 South Korea Travel Tips
I’ve divided it up by:
- What to Do Before Traveling to South Korea
- Korea Itinerary + Things to Do
- Where to Stay in Korea + Tour Options
- Korea Transportation Guide
- What to Eat
- Safety + Sanitary Concerns
- Little Things to Know About Korean Culture
- What to Buy in Korea
- Final Notes
Feel free to click the link to jump to each section if you don’t want to scroll.
What to Do Before Traveling to South Korea
Once you’ve decided to visit South Korea, there are a few things I suggest doing so you can get from Point A to Point B with little to no issue.
1. Learn Hangul + some key phrases.
I cannot emphasize enough how much easier it will be if you just learn Hangul, the Korean alphabet. It was literally created to be easy enough for commoners to learn to read under King Sejong, so trust me you can learn it.
It took me an afternoon of watching a Youtube video on loop and copying the sounds and letters down. I even have a handy guide to start learning.
2. Try to book with Asiana or Korean.
It’s a long journey to get from most places in the U.S. to Seoul, which is where you’ll most likely fly into. I’ve made the journey multiple times now and used a different airline each time: American, United, Asiana, and Japan Airlines.
I honestly don’t remember Japan because I was so tired that I think I just fell asleep for most of it. American and United were hellish to put it lightly, but Asiana has always been my favorite. I flew it to and fro my first time in 2011 and then again coming from Denver.
Book with Asiana or Korean as much as you can. It’s SO worth it. Usually, this means flying from San Francisco or Los Angeles (not sure of their other main US hubs), so if you want a little California side trip before you go, it’s the perfect excuse!
3. Read up a bit on Korean history
I think to really enjoy a new country, you should do at least a little research into the country’s history and culture. Even if you just pop on a Crash Course video to get the gist, it gives you more of a connection with a place than not.
If you really want to get in depth, feel free to again browse Amazon’s Korean history section. Look for things about the Joseon dynasty and the Korean War if you want something specific to focus on.
3. Watch some Korean dramas, movies, or K-pop music videos.
This is totally NOT necessary, but, hey, I love both of these things, so I’m biased. While Korean dramas are incredibly glossy versions of this country, they do still give you a general idea of the modern culture, beautiful scenery, and some of the quirks. I recommend:
- Reply 1997 or 1988 to learn more about Korea’s own nostalgia period
- Taegugki– a SUPER good movie about the Korean War
- Boys Over Flowers, Secret Garden, or My Love from the Star are some more recent insanely popular shows
- She Was Pretty is a personal favorite, and I think the message of it is so lovely
- Two newer movies: 1987 and I Can Speak
4. Do you need a SIM Card?
This honestly depends! If you’re a good planner and can speak decent Korean, then you can get by without needing one.
In general, I’d probably recommend it, especially if this is your first time. Whether it’s translating something on the fly, trying to pull up KakaoMap, or fiddling on your phone for the duration of a long bus ride, it’s worth it. Korea’s data plans and wifi are insane, and you might get a little spoiled.
The fun thing is NOW Korea has a thing called an eSIM! This means you don’t even have to physically buy one at a kiosk, but can sign up online and just snap a picture of the QR code (or manually input the info, which is a pain). I JUST did this on my most recent trip and it makes life so much easier not having to worry about my US SIM card.
Get one online here. It’s much cheaper than waiting until you’re in the airport and buying one off your phone or at the kiosk.
5. Best Time to Go to Korea
Fall or spring.
The weather is the best during these seasons, and the country is absolutely beautiful. Early spring has the cherry blossoms while autumn has the gorgeous foliage. Winter and summer aren’t bad but if you have the freedom, don’t come during those seasons. Summer is so humid, you’ll never want to leave your hotel room, and winter is, well, winter.
6. Exchange + Money Matters
Korea uses the won, and 1,000 KRW is roughly $1 USD. There are 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 50,000 notes and 500, 100, 50, and 10 coins.
You can use a card mostly anywhere in the country, though smaller places may prefer cash. Every convenience store should have an ATM that works with a foreign card.
7. Is Korea expensive?
I’m not the best person to dole out budget advice because I suck at budgeting, but I’d say Korea falls in the middle for Asian countries. It’s a lot cheaper than traveling Japan, but you’ll be in for a bit of a shock if you’re used to Cambodia or Vietnam prices. In general:
- A Korean meal can be anywhere from 5,000 KRW to 20,000 KRW depending on where you go, but typically 5,000-10,000. Korean BBQ usually costs between 10,000-15,000 KRW per person, but they often want you to buy more than one serving.
- Drinks in bars can be pricey, sometimes up to 7,000 KRW, so what some people do is pregame at one of the convenience stores and then buy one drink there.
- Club cover fees are around 10-15,000 KRW
- A regular hostel can range from 15,000-20,000 KRW/night while a franchise hotel can be 150,000 KRW+.
- Street food can be 1,000 – 5,000 KRW
- Entrance fees are 1,000-3,000 KRW, sometimes 8,000-10,000 KRW for bigger nature areas like Suncheon Bay or the Camelia Hill in Jeju.
- A subway or local bus ride is usually between 1,000-2,000 depending on how far you go.
Korea Itinerary Tips + Things to Do
Before I get into this section, if you want some inspiration on where to go exactly, I have a massive post outlining 102 beautiful places in Korea, and I re-organized them so they were grouped by similar location.
8. Where to go if you have…
If you only have one week, then I recommend basing yourself out of Seoul or Busan. If it’s your first visit, then definitely choose Seoul. There’s plenty in the city to keep you occupied, and even after studying there and spending too many weekends to count, I still haven’t scratched the surface of things to do.
You’ll have time for a day trip or two and not feel too rushed. I’ve heard of some people opting to do an overnight trip to Busan, but honestly, that’s just a lot. Check here for my Korea itinerary for 7 days.
If you have 2 weeks, then you have a little more wiggle room! I’d choose to either spend the 2nd week in Busan, Gwangju, or Jeju depending on what you want to see. If you want a full breakdown, I have a post with four sample 2-week itineraries.
Busan is a beautiful city, and you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied. It’s also more laid back, so if you want to go enjoy the beach or relax, then save your rest days for here. Gwangju is great if you want to see more of the Korean countryside. It’s a huge city itself, but it’s a good hub for day trips like Suncheon, Yeosu, Namwon, Boseong, and more. Jeju is great if you want Korea’s version of an island experience. It’s personally one of my favorite places in the country, but you definitely need to rent a car and not stay in Jeju City.
4 Weeks/ 1 Month
This is honestly the best option if you really want to get a full idea of Korea, but I get that most people don’t just have 4 weeks of vacation! I would split my time up so I have 1 week in Seoul, Busan, Gwangju, and Jeju. Bookend your trip with Seoul and Busan (or reverse) depending on where you’re flying to next. For a more detailed guide, check this 1-month itinerary guide.
9. Major things to do in Seoul
Okay, Seoul is overwhelming. Once you get used to it, though, it’s an awesome city to explore. And the subway system is one of the best in the world. I actually have been working on a crazy long “Things to Do in Seoul” post but I just keep adding to it! Here are some things to get you started:
- Traditional Culture – Check out the palaces, Bukchon Hanok Village, and Jongmyo Shrine, do a temple stay
- Trendy Things to Do – Look up all the random cafés, visit the filming locations of your favorite dramas, go to a K-pop show (hey, no judgment, I almost cried when I couldn’t get tickets to Kyuhyun’s solo concert), visit the many funky museums or outdoor parks… The sky is really the limit in a city where the poop cafe isn’t even the most random cafe!
- Scenic views – Head up to Namsan tower, hang out the manmade stream, Cheonggyecheon, hike Bukhansan, stroll near the city walls, go to Pocheon Herb Island, take a day trip out to Gapyeong or Suwon… the list goes on!
- Things related to the Korean War – Visit the DMZ/JSA and spend the afternoon at the War Memorial Museum of Korea
For more on Seoul, check these guides:
10. Some other good hubs to base yourself out of:
- Sokcho – Good if you want to hike Seoraksan and travel Gangwondo.
- Jeonju – Good for Jeollabukdo and a lot of big outdoorsy/hiking spots
- Gwangju – Good for Jeollanamdo and popular countryside spots — Boseong Green Tea Fields, Suncheon Bay, Damyang Bamboo Forest, Yeosu, Gokseong Rose Festival, Namwon + Jirisan, Hwagae Cherry Blossom Festival, and more.
- Busan – other fairly close by spots include Tongyeong, Gyeongju, and Ulsan, also a good place for the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.
- Seogwipo – Good place to stay in Jeju that isn’t Jeju City! Check here for where else to stay in Jeju if you don’t want to be in a city.
11. Go hiking!
No, seriously. It always irks me how underplayed Korea’s hiking culture is to those visiting from the outside. This peninsula is mostly mountainous! There are tons of beautiful hikes no matter where you’re staying, so bring your sneakers and dedicate a few days to the mountains. Most of the popular mountains have trails to follow, and you really don’t even need special hiking boots.
Here are some of my posts on hiking:
- Daedunsan near Jeonju
- Jirisan’s Baemsagol Course near Namwon
- Wolchulsan near Mokpo
- Jogyesan near Suncheon
12. Check out the big festivals for when you visit.
If there’s a statistic out there for the countries with the most festivals, I’m going to bet Korea is on there somewhere. You name it, there’s probably some sort of festival for it. I would look up any big festivals for when you visit because they can be a lot of fun, and many are the biggest events of the year for the smaller town.
Namwon’s big event, for example, is the Chunhyang Festival sometime in May. From the beauty pageant to the Gwanghallu performances and more, it’s a huge deal!
13. Is the cafe culture really a thing?
It is, and it’s amazing. I really don’t think you could walk too far without stumbling across at least one cafe, and with Korea’s wifi availability, this is actually a great country for digital nomads.
If you want quirkier cafes, just imagine any kind and look it up.
Here are some cafes I’ve specifically covered:
- Zapangi: The Pink Vending Cafe in Seoul
- Stylenanda Pink Pool Cafes in Seoul
- Dreamy Camera Cafe near Seoul
- Enrogel Teapot Cafe
- Grand Garden near Mokpo (sadly no longer exists)
Where to Stay in Korea + Tour Options
14. Is a love motel what I think it is?
It is, and they’re probably more plentiful than actual hotels or hostels!
Love motels are exactly what the sound like — hotels for couples to have some private time. I’ve heard of them even being rented by the hour.
While some can be on the grungier side, there are actually a lot of nice love motels, and they’re a good middle ground if you want something more private than a hostel but don’t want to pay the hotel prices.
15. How is the hostel culture in Korea?
It’s a lot better than the U.S! There’s at least one hostel in most towns, and they usually come to around $20/night. Chances are you will have to share a room and a bathroom.
Keep in mind, the “whole bathroom is the shower” will be the case in most places. I’ve gotten used to it with my two apartments here, but it can be a bit of a shock for a foreign traveler! Yes, the whole bathroom gets soaked, and there’s usually a small window that’s always cracked to let the place dry out.
It’s fine, though I will say my hostel bathroom in Hyeopjae was a little gross. It was perpetually wet because 6 girls shared one normal bathroom and there wasn’t a window to air it out…
16. Can I get an Airbnb in Korea?
You can! Airbnb is on the rise here, so you’ll find plenty of options! I’ve written about my little apartment stay in Seoul ages ago (unfortunately that apartment is no longer listed), and I’ve stayed at this studio one weekend in Seoul, this cute home in Jeju, and this apartment in Ulsan.
17. How are the hotels?
The hotels are really nice but the price gap between hostels and hotels is a lot higher than you’d expect. I did a sponsored stay at Holiday Inn in Gwangju, and the price for our room would be at least $300+. I can’t imagine a Holiday Inn in the US costing that much or being quite that fancy.
There are guesthouses that have decent prices, but they’re more concentrated in bigger cities.
18. Do you recommend taking a tour or is it easy to DIY?
It depends on where you’re going and who you’re with. For some of the hikes, I’d definitely recommend a tour if you’re solo traveling just because you’ll be with other people and someone who can translate if anything happens.
Also, some places like Naejangsan are much easier to get to if you go on a tour than alone, especially if you’re coming from Seoul.
A lot, though, is easy to do on your own. For example, it’s super easy to organize your own itinerary for Seoul and any of the bigger cities.
I’d figure out what you want to do and look at the different tour packages to see for yourself.
19. What are the best websites for tours?
If you want to take a tour, I’m affiliated with:
- Trazy – mainly for Korea with some Thailand options
- Klook – mainly for Asia, and I also compare prices for Korea options
- And I went on a tour in Jeju with Indieway.
I’d check all three sites to compare tours for what you want to do. Sometimes one is slightly cheaper than the other!
Korea Transportation Guide
20. Don’t rely on Google Maps.
Korea’s not a huge fan of outside companies, so they block them as much as feasible in this day and age. While I won’t get into how that can be both good and annoying here, let’s just say this mindset manifests itself the most in Google Maps.
Google isn’t allowed access to Korean information in order to update their maps, and I heard 2009 was the last update. I just checked to see for any updates in 2018, and it’s still pretty bad.
On the plus side, my favorite app is KakaoMap and it even has an English interface! Another option is Naver Maps, but I discovered in one of my classes that it’s not nearly as detailed as Kakao.
Check my post on which apps to download for travel in Korea
21. Using KTX
There are a few different train options in Korea, but the KTX is the nicest and fastest. For example, the KTX takes me about 2 1/2 hours from Seoul’s Yongsan Station to Suncheon Station. Another train would take 4 1/2 hours. The one downside, of course, is how much more expensive it is.
The website is a little tricky to use if it’s your first time, so here’s a super quick guide:
- Go to www.letskorail.com
- Choose “ENGLISH” in the top right corner
- In the center tabs, hover over “RAIL TICKETS”
- Then click “TICKET RESERVATION”
- I usually just pick: Normal Type, Direct, “All” for Type of Train
- Hit Inquiry.
- You can see all the train times so you know when you need to be at the station, and if you want, you can book online. I usually just book in person at the station, but if I’m going somewhere at a busier time or I just want to do it then, I book online with my US credit card. You also have to input your Passport Number to buy and will need some form of ID to get your ticket (which is just a piece of paper).
Below I have a screenshot of what it looks like if I’m traveling from Suncheon to Seoul. There are two stations in Seoul (Yongsan station and Seoul station), so if nothing comes up when you search “Seoul,” try looking up “Yongsan. The site will show you all the different train options, not only the KTX.
21. Intercity buses
Another option that I typically use is the intercity buses. I use them because the KTX is twice as expensive, they take as much time to get to Seoul as the slow trains, and they actually stop in between for a 15-minute break.
I’d also much rather kill time in Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal, which is connected to a Shinsegae Department Store and has a million things to do, while Yongsan is much more limited. Also if you miss a bus, it’s cheaper to get a refund and a new ticket than with a train. Learned that one from experience…
I buy mine at the kiosks in the terminals, but you can get them online too at www.kobus.co.kr and www.bustago.co.kr.
22. Tips for booking flights
And yet another option is flying! There are a few smaller airports around Korea, but the main ones you’ll probably want to use are Incheon and Gimpo in Seoul, Gimhae in Busan, and Jeju International Airport. I usually just book on Expedia or Kiwi, but if you want specific Korean airlines, they are:
- Korean Air
- Asiana Airlines
- Air Busan
- Eastar Jet
- Jeju Air
- Jin air
- T’Way Air
I’ve flown Korean, T’Way, Asiana, Air Busan, Eastar Jet, and Jeju personally. They’re all fine, some obviously nicer than the more budget-friendly ones, but the longest flights around the country are only an hour or less, so save your money and get the cheapest one with the best luggage policy.
23. Using Seoul’s subway
Seriously, this subway is the best, and I’ve ridden many a subway in my travels. It’s clean, fairly cheap, and will get you everywhere in Seoul and nearby.
You can get a T-Money card from any convenience store and fill it up as you need. The machines are in English too, so don’t worry about making a mistake. You can also use the same card for local buses both in Seoul and the rest of the city.
They’re also clean! Like super clean! Download the Subway Korea app before you go, and it’ll help you plan your route out.
24. Using local taxis and buses
Everywhere in Korea pretty much has a local bus system, but some cities are way more reliable than others. Another nice thing is that there are taxis everywhere, and there’s usually a stand at every train station and bus terminal.
Taxi drivers are generally fine and some are even lovely and friendly, but it’s the same thing as any city you’d take a taxi in. Sometimes it can be a frustrating experience! I’d just screenshot the Korean address and name of where you want to go and show them that.
Most I’ve seen start at 2,800 KRW ($2.80 USD) with that number being a little higher in the countryside areas.
Tips on What to Eat in Korea
26. So…. the dog thing.
Dog soup does exist here. No, I haven’t tried it nor do I have any desire to, but I won’t judge someone who chooses to try it. Here’s the thing: Yes, the story behind how dog soup is made here is pretty horrifying, but so are the stories we hear about farms in the U.S. and around the world.
I choose not to eat dog soup, but I’m still not able to say no to Korean BBQ or lamb skewers. How can I judge someone who wants to eat dog soup just because culturally I was brought up loving them as extended family members?
For the record, though, dog soup is quickly dwindling in popularity and if my elementary students are anything to go by, it’ll be out of fashion in one or two generations. It’s already quite rare to see them in bigger cities, and the only 보신탕 restaurants I’ve seen are in the countryside.
26. What food should I eat while I’m here?
Korean food is one of my favorite styles along with Vietnamese and Italian. Here’s a quick list of food to try:
- Naengmyun in the summer
- Gamjatang in the fall and winter
- A Buddhist temple meal (great for vegetarians)
- Korean BBQ
- Korean street food! There are so many, and I don’t even know the names of all of them
- Pajeon, especially after a hike
Pro and also slightly biased tip: Korean food outside of Seoul is 10000x better than in it!
If you want, while you’re here, try a Korean cooking class in Seoul or even a food tour if you just want to eat and not cook.
27. How is vegetarian and vegan-friendly Korea?
Um… It’s not. Korean food by nature relies heavily on meat or fish. While Seoul may have a lot of options, you’re going to struggle. I’d always look at Happy Cow for restaurant ideas.
28. Any unique drinks to try?
Ha! Yes! I’ve tried these at least once even if I don’t drink:
- Soju – Korea’s alcohol of choice. You can get different mixes of it too, from yogurt soju to fruit soju. I’ve heard that Hallasan soju is the best tasting on it sown
- Makgeolli – Especially with pajeon, it’s a sweet rice wine type alcohol and you drink it from little bowls
- Cider – This is my favorite soda, and you can get it at any restaurant or grocery store. I don’t know what it is, but I always get addicted
- Omijacha – This is a really yummy tea you can get at cafes. It’s supposed to have five different flavors in it, so it tastes a bit tart and sweet at once.
- Hallabong drinks – Hallabong are the orange fruits from Jeju, and they’re delicious in drink form.
29. What’s the deal with the takeout culture?
Korea loves takeout. It’s amazing. In bigger cities, you can order to the exact place you’re at, even if you’re not in a building or home! The most popular things to order are fried chicken, pizza, pig’s feet, and random Korean dishes that are easy to transport.
If you can use Hangul, then download the 배달요기요 app.
Safety and Sanitary Concerns
31. Is it safe to travel to South Korea now?
Short answer: YES!
I wrote about it in a post on the Department of Wandering with more details. You can read it in full here.
32. Sooo… North Korea…
The North Korean threat is kind of blown out of proportion by the Western media. At this point, I’d be more concerned about living in NYC or LA.
Now…if you’re asking about visiting North Korea while you’re here, well, I have some strong opinions on that.
33. How safe is public transportation?
Super safe. I can’t tell you how many subways, buses, and trains I’ve taken here, and I’ve never felt uncomfortable.
34. How safe is Korea for a solo female traveler?
One of the safest places. Korea is honestly one of the safest countries in the world.
Of course, be as cautious as you’d be anywhere. Watch your drink, don’t get too inebriated if you’re on your own, and, you know, keep an eye out for your fellow female! I feel like there’s a silent solidarity of women around the world against creepy, drunk men, so if you ever feel uncomfortable, just go towards a woman and quietly let her know your situation.
35. How clean is Korea?
Overall, it’s clean. There are some areas that are kind of gross, but it’s no different than any other super industrialized country.
36. What’s the deal with this squat potty? Am I going to have to squat?
Ahhh, the squat potty. If you don’t know what it is, you’re blessed. I know it’s actually more hygienic than regular toilets, but I just can’t get used to the idea.
Fun fact, in the 3 years I lived there, I never once needed to use one. Regular toilets are far more common, especially for most of the places you’re visiting.
Some more rural areas may only have a squat potty, such as hiking trails or campgrounds, but major places will have normal ones. And hey, the fancier buildings even have the seat bidets, which are truly the greatest toilet invention since indoor plumbing.
Little Things to Know About Korean Culture
These are just some things I and other friends have noticed, and that I think you might be surprised by if you’ve never been here. I should preface this section with this: Of course, not ALL Koreans are like this, and many of these things you may not even experience. This is from my personal point of view and some trends I’ve seen with other foreign friends who live here.
37. You will get stared at.
Maybe not in Seoul, but in the rest of the country, just be prepared. There’s the episode of Conan when he goes to Korea and all the kids are craning their necks and just staring. That’s pretty common even if you’re not a tall ginger with a camera crew.
If you hear “wayguk,” they’re just pointing out that you’re a foreigner. I had a friend who would reply in the same awed tone, “hanguk saram,” or Korean!
38. Here’s a typical line of questioning:
- Korean: Where are you from?
- Me: America.
- Korean: Are you Korean?
- Me: No, I’m Chinese-American.
- Korean: Ahhh you speak Korean well.
- Me: Thank you.
- Korean: Are you married?
- Korean: Ahhh.
Couple culture is also very real here, and you’ll probably see plenty of couples out and about enjoying their day in matching gear. Elissa and I always joked that if you’re not sure where exactly to go on your way to a major site, just follow the couples! Works like a charm.
39. Are Koreans actually racist?
Ummmm, for the most part, no. And the more they see of foreign visitors and travel, the less likely they are. There are a few, especially from the older generation, who might be racist. Once in a blue moon, you might come across a bar that bans foreigners, but that’s super rare.
I will say, MANY of my friends have pointed out that the xenophobia in Korea really, really jumped out during COVID. However, this is not something I think you’d have to deal with as a visitor, but it maybe be something you start to get frustrated by if you’re here long term.
40. A note on the introverted nature of many Koreans.
A lot of Koreans keep to themselves. Don’t get me wrong, they can be insanely nice and kind, and I’ve had complete strangers stop to lead me to my next destination. But you have to ask for that to happen.
Also if you’re in trouble, such as feeling harassed by a drunk old man, they won’t help on their own. They’ll kind of stare and avoid the general area.
41. What the heck is an ahjumma and ahjussi?
Okay, so technically:
- Ahjumma – married woman
- Ahjussi – married man
However, that’s not quite accurate. If you called a 22-year-old married woman an ahjumma, she’d be pretty offended!
Ahjummas are considered tough as nails mothers with cropped perms, comfy pants, and a brusque attitude that can be helpful or frustrating depending on the situation. If you ever need to get through a crowd, follow the ahjumma openly just pushing her way through.
Ahjussis are middle-aged men, and the connotation is that they’re soju drinking, sometimes grumpy, sometimes nice men. A lot of times they drive taxis. Now, gaejeossis are something else entirely.
42. Do you Koreans really get drunk all the time?
No, though you’d think that, wouldn’t you? While the drinking culture is huge in Korea, the country is not a giant group of alcoholics.
However, some of my friendliest interactions with Koreans have been while they were drunk singing norebang. I guess I could say the same for America too.
43. Treatment of animals in Korea.
Animal treatment is getting so much better, even in the time I’ve been here. However, I do think I should warn any diehard animal lovers that you’re not going to love what you see, especially out of the cities.
It’s very common to see bigger dogs chained up outside their homes all year round, and one of my adult students told me that near her apartment building, people were feeding the stray cats poisoned food to kill them.
Again, things are seriously improving, and there are so many great groups around the country that help strays. In Suncheon, there’s a cate cafe that’s strictly for helping stray cats!
44. What should I know about the suicide culture?
The suicide culture is a really unfortunate part of Korean culture, but it’s not something you’re really going to encounter unless you’ve been living here, and even then it’s fairly rare.
I wanted to make note of it, especially with SHINee’s Jonghyun passing and because it’s just something to be aware of, but I feel like to really discuss it, I’d have to dedicate a whole post which I’m not ready to delve into researching.
What to Buy for Souvenirs
On a much lighter note, here’s a fun section of what to buy in Korea for souvenirs!
45. The deal with Korean skincare products
Korean skincare is top notch, and it’s all I really use. There are so many brands compared to the U.S., and they all have their own marketing and store locations. I personally love Innisfree the most, so I buy from there for classic products. I like Etude House for make-up, and I just pop around to the different brands if I want something trendy or quirky to give as gifts. Some other brands are:
- Nature Republic
- Skin Food
- Tony Moly
- The Face Shop
- Dr. Jart (check Olive Young)
- Peripera (check Olive Young)
- Banila Co.
If you have time, do research on what kind of products you want for your skin type, but as gifts, my go-to buy is face masks.
46. Clothes + Accessories
There are a ton of clothing stores in Korea, and the two big areas are Myeongdong and Dongdaemun in Seoul. I’m not really that big into clothes shopping here because everything is free size, so it’s either too small or a sack, but it’s worth looking around if you’re on the slim, petite side.
If you want something quirky, then I recommend getting either something with Hangul on it or, for fun, get one of the super bad English motto shirts!
Another clothing item that could be really lovely is a modern hanbok. Instead of buying a regular hanbok, which is crazy expensive, you can buy a modern looking one. Sometimes they’re really subtle details, so you can wear them in normal life without it feeling like a costume.
47. Food and drinks to buy for home
Soju bottles, Korean snacks found in any convenience store or grocery store, specialty teas… The only two specific things I can think of are Pepero and brown rice green tea packets.
48. Any other unique souvenirs to know about?
Hmm, there are quite a lot! Most souvenir shops have similar items that are supposed to be more for traditional Korea. If you have friends getting married, you could get them cute wedding ducks.
The cute culture is very real, so you could always get cute versions of everyday items like stationary or pens. If you’re a fan, go to the Naver Friends or Kakao friends stores and pick up one of their mascots.
There are a lot of adult coloring books too, so if you can find ones for Korean places, then I think those would make super cute gifts.
Other souvenirs would be, of course, K-pop related things if you have friends who love specific groups. I bought the physical CDs of a few groups and singers I like.
Final Notes on Traveling Korea
49. Koreans are actually really lovely and kind.
As a whole, Koreans are the bomb. They’re so kind, and even if some things can feel frustrating, they’re always polite and try to be as helpful as they can. I’ve had frustrating moments here, but, in all honesty, my overall frustration levels living in Korea are less after 3 years than the semester I spent living in Madrid, so that should say something.
50. Ultimately, traveling this country is what you make of it.
If you come in thinking you’re going to have a meet-cute with some perfect-skinned chaebol oppa, you’re probably going to leave pretty displeased.
My best advice is to take Korea for Korea and not compare it to other places. It’s pretty unique, for better or worse, and it so wants to be better known for welcoming foreign travelers! I’ve been here, cumulatively, for 3+ years, and I wouldn’t keep coming back if I disliked my time.
And there you have it! Fifty things to know about traveling to South Korea. Let me know if I’m missing anything or if you’re planning your own trip here this year!
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Rock on. This is a really great blog with so many useful tips, thank you so much for all the details! I’m looking forward to visiting Korea and this has helped a lot!
Thank you for all the awesome tips and helpful information. We’ll be going in April, 2023 and will be visiting Jeju Island. In Seoul we’re planning use subway and train, but while in Jeju Island we are thinking renting a car. Is it expensive and easy to rent a car there? How are the road there? Do you have a car rental place you recommend in Jeju? :)
Hi! Fun! I might be in Korea around that time too depending :)
For Jeju I definitely recommend a car, though the bus system is pretty robust (way better than when I first went). I rented one the last time I went and it wasn’t too bad! I used Trazy – https://thereshegoesagain.org/korea/jeju/car-rental and while April is too far in the future, it looks like it’s around $40 a day.
Hi Samantha! Thank you for your helpful articles. My question is when at Incheon airport the priorities are to get just enough KRW till you get to myundeong (i hope im right T T) but to get there using public transportation, you do need cards for subway/train/bus? Or not necessary? Do you buy them at kiosks or machines near the terminals? Do you just buy an adequate plan card according to your stay (3 weeks in seoul)
Hi Maha! I promise the subway system is really, really easy to use and tourist-friendly in Incheon! (Like easily the best I’ve ever seen). Honestly, when you take out cash, I’d do like 100,000 KRW max. Korea is really card-friendly, so you really only need cash for subway/bus tickets and food stands! Everywhere else takes CC even if it’s only buying a water bottle.
When you arrive, follow signs for the metro. It’ll take you down a level or two and then you’ll see the entrance to the subway. There are literally arrows on the floor! In front are kiosks to buy tickets – you’ll need cash for them. If you just buy a single journey, you can get it there and it’ll pop you out a little ticket. If you want to get a subway card, you can buy one in one of the convenience stores like GS25. Ask for a TMoney card, and then you can just recharge that at any kiosk. Subway cards are super cheap and so easy to use and have on hand; I’d recommend getting one if you’re visiting for 3 weeks.
There’s also at least one or two stands/travel centers to help you if you get truly lost!
I love buying at stores in Korea and getting lots of free samples
Agree, the free samples are so fun!
We are taking our daughter to Seoul for the fall semester as an exchange student to Yonsei University. We are equally excited for her and also fearful at the same time. She has severe food allergies to fish and all tree nuts and peanuts. She already had a few anaphylactic reactions here at home while on college campus so when she said she applied to study abroad, my worry meter just shoot up!!! Anyways, we are set to fly with her and plan to spend a week in Seoul. Your blog and tips are extremely helpful. Thank you!
Ahh enjoy your week in Seoul! I think as long as she has everything she needs on her and explicitly avoids any restaurants using fish/tree nuts/peanuts she should be ok. Luckily most Korean cuisine doesn’t use anything peanuts or tree nuts.
i’m going to south korea next september and you blog has been so useful! thanks a lot <3
Aw yay, I’m glad it’s been helpful!!
So happy I came across your site. So many great articles.
My partner and I will be travelling to South Korea (3 weeks) with our 6-month old. We are still struggling on the logistics: rental car or train/bus. I think it all comes down to the question what can we carry comfortably.
Q / Is a infant car seat required for taxis and distance buses? I struggle to find reliable and up to date information.
Q / Feom your travelling experience in South Korea what would you recommend?
So the only time I’ve driven in South Korea is on Jeju because I’m too scared to drive otherwise haha. BUT I highly recommend reaching out to my friend, Hallie – https://thesoulofseoul.net/! She has a daughter in Korea, and she’ll know all the ins and outs of carseats, etc. I think your best bet is DMing her on Instagram or joining our FB group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/108958789789483) and asking there!
Great information! My husband and I are planning to spend a week in Seoul next year. I’m Black and he is Filipino American. Do you think we will encounter any racial issues?
Hi Stephanie! Good question. Racism in Korea is a pretty loaded topic. Essentially everyone who doesn’t look Korean or East Asian has a good chance of experiencing some sort of micoaggression at least. However, because you’re in Seoul for only a week (aka a short time and in the most progressive part of the country used to seeing international visitors), you’ll most likely be fine.
Thank you for this info. Love the content! This is very helpful for those people like me who’s planning to go to Korea. Hopefully I can visit there next year! May I ask what are the requirements to get Korean Visa?
Hi Juliet! Depends on the visas. I recommend checking out the Korean embassy website in your country for specific details. The E-2 visa for teachers is a whole process!
Hi thank you so much for a detailed outline for tips on traveling to south korea, this helped a lot!
Traveling soon there, do I need to know someone in South Korea as a list of contact or do they ask that when first time travelers arrive there? What if i do not know anyone?
Thank you! I don’t think so, but I’m not sure how things have changed with COVID!
Thank you for this! I am planning my 40th birthday for 2022 and this came up in my search!
Ooh so exciting!! I hope you have fun planning!
I loved this so much! I’m hoping to go to korea next year on my own and i’m so excited but very nervous.
and this has been so helpful! I’m not sure if you have already but do you have an article or any advise on getting visas or how it works depending on how long you plan on staying.
Thank you x:)
Aw you’ll love it!! I have one on getting the E-2 visa but I’m not familiar with the rest. You’ll want to check out some of the Facebook groups for Korea for that :)
So detailed and so impressive!
There are lots of articles of Korean travel tips, but I haven’t seen like this one :)
Thanks for your post!
Hi! Thank you :) This means so much to me!
This is so helpful, I’ll be going next year and I can’t wait! When you first traveled to South Korea; did you have to book a hotel and give them the hotel information?
Hi! That’s so exciting; I hope you have the best time!!
Yes! So when you go through immigration, they’ll have you fill out the typical form and it’ll ask for an address and phone number. If I’m not staying with friends, I’ll book an Airbnb in Hongdae or hotel and use their address and phone number on the form.
Hi! I’m going to South Korea this year with 4 other girls (2 of whom are my sisters). I came across your post and it gave a very usueful insight to visiting South Korea for the first time. Thank you!
I cannot wait for my trip in 3 weeks!
Thank you so much :). I hope you ladies have such a fun trip! If your timing is just right, I think you should see the cherry blossoms!
Hi, I’m a Korean preparing to be a tour guide for foreign travelers.
I’m impressed by this post full of affection for Korea. I love it!
I think most of, no, all of tips you wrote in this post are super helpful to travelers considering trip to Korea. And actually this post is a good text for me to take a foreigners’ perspective, too.
I’m keeping to see your other posts that is so worth to study(!). Nice to meet your posts. :)
Hi Narae, thanks so much for your kind words :) Good luck with your tour guide prep!
I’m a Korean
In this post, I think that you got realistic Korean knowledges and useful tips.
I didn’t think about foreigner’s perspacetive. And I am amazed by your tips that is most right thing.
Thx for your post :)
Thank you, Jae Youl! I’m glad you like the post :)