At a glance, Seoul is the heart of South Korea lined full of skyscrapers, department stores, shopping malls, with fancy restaurants and cafes almost everywhere. Usually when we think of Seoul, common touristy places like Myeongdong, Namsan Tower, Dongdaemun, Gangnam, the Palaces and more will come uppermost to our minds as the representative places of the city.
Even so, we still visit some of these places more than once (such as Myeongdong and Gangnam) to stock up on our cosmetic products and shopping loots on almost every trip to Seoul. In fact, there are many more places to explore and enjoy in this city without having to spend much or maybe even for free!
Check out our take on the Top 7 Things To Experience In Seoul At A Low Cost or For Free, which do not include the most touristy places we have mentioned above! If you’re a K-Pop or K-Drama fan, this article may serve as a helpful guide for you to plan your next trip to Seoul!
1. Visit a Traditional Market (And pamper your five senses!)
Get a glimpse into the life of locals as you explore the popular traditional markets in Seoul, the largest and more renowned ones being Namdaemun Market (남대문시장), Gwangjang Market (광장시장), and Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market (노량진수산물도매시장).
Namdaemun Market, the city’s biggest traditional market, is full of shopping opportunities be it fashion apparels, kitchenware, home appliances, and many more. You can find a variety of wholesale and imported goods being sold at affordable prices, and not to forget to taste what the market is famous for – Kalguksu (칼국수), a type of knife-cut noodles greatly loved by the locals and visitors.
Generally, the ahjummas are super generous with the serving portions and that’s literally one of the best things we love about eating in South Korea (and have to forget about our diet for the time being).
Food therapy is a must at Gwangjang Market, where market-goers can experience different kinds of local food and snacks all at one place. Hear what the locals recommend and delight your taste buds as you walk around the nation’s first traditional market to try out a bit of everything here.
Our favourite snack goes to Bindaetteok (빈대떡), a Korean style pancake more commonly known as Mung Bean Pancake, which goes down really well with Makgeolli (막걸리), the traditional Korean rice wine.
If you’re a seafood lover, make sure to visit Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market to feast on the freshest catches of the day without burning a hole in your pocket! Noryangjin Market needs no further introduction though it recently just shifted to a new space this year.
Simply choose the seafood item you want, negotiate the price with the vendor, and they will bring it to one of the restaurants on the second level where you can dine at.
Be mindful that you’ll still need to pay an additional fee to the restaurant that’s going to whip up the dishes for you, though you can also choose to skip the entire process of negotiations simply by just visiting any restaurant and ordering directly from their menu.
If you’re adventurous enough, be sure to try some fresh and chewy raw octopus “Nakji”, marinated with sesame oil dressing which brings out the sweet and flavourful taste of the octopus. By the way, octopus is regarded as one of the best stamina foods as well as one of the most effective foods to cure hangover reliefs!
2. Visit Animal Themed Cafes (Like a RACCOON cafe!)
Think dog and cat cafes are too common? How about a sheep cafe like the famous one located at Hongdae? Or maybe a more special one, like a RACCOON cafe? We visited the Kkukkune Raccoon Cafe located at Hyehwa and were completely swooned over by the adorable animals! The cafe is pretty known among the locals and in fact, there are a couple of such raccoon cafes in other parts of Seoul too.
Getting to the cafe is really easy. It’s located on the fifth level at the building right next to the CGV cinema in Hyehwa, where Etude House is on the ground floor. The entrance fee costs 6,000 KRW (~SGD7) and on busy days (closed on Mondays), you may be required to purchase one drink on top of the entrance fee, which does not cost anything more than 3,000 KRW (~SGD3.50).
Definitely an eye-opening experience since we don’t come across raccoon cafes often. Ain’t nobody can resist the cuteness of these fluffy raccoons!
3. Attend Weekly K-Pop Music Program Recordings (And catch your favourite idol groups!)
This is a MUST-try experience in Seoul especially for all K-Pop fans, even if it means that you have to sacrifice some sleep time to queue early for the admission (it’s free by the way!). Not only do you get to watch your favourite idol groups performing their latest comeback tracks in front of the cameras, you’ll also get to see how pre- and live recordings are done to complete the broadcast of the music show. Trust us, it will be absolutely worth the wait.
Some of the popular music programs are SBS Inkigayo, MBC Music Core, Mnet M!Countdown, KBS Music Bank, and several more. (Stay tuned to this space for the detailed guide on the application process separately!)
4. Feast Your Eyes on All-Things-SMTOWN
K-Pop fans alert, especially SMTOWN fans! SMTOWN at COEX Artium is probably of no stranger to any K-Pop fan but still, we have to give our review of this massive six-storey building that has basically everything that would make a fan more than satisfied.
SMTOWN at COEX Artium is an amazing place to be at, regardless whether you’re spending any money on collectible merchandise or others. Feast your eyes on ongoing SMTOWN artist exhibitions as well as the impressive displays of all the awards and trophies won and accumulated by your favourite SMTOWN artists over the years, not to forget to also truly experience the realistic vibes of the hologram theatre shows, just like actual concerts!
Got what it takes to become a K-Pop star? Join the SMTOWN Studio to pick up actual dance training and vocal lessons that the SMTOWN artists had to go through before they make their debut!
For people like us who have NEVER danced a proper dance before in our entire life, we were able to pull off the chorus of EXO X Yoo Jae Suk’s collaboration track “Dancing King” in just a short span of an hour’s dance lesson, thanks to the super patient and professional dance instructor! Kamsa Hamnida for not giving up on us!!! 🙂
5. Visit Actual Drama Filming Locations (OR experience a mock-up version of it!)
As avid K-Drama/K-Variety fans, we cannot miss out on visiting the actual drama/variety program filming locations, especially if we knew the particular show we loved was filmed in Seoul itself.
Besides visiting these places, you should definitely include the MBC World Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. Theme Park in your itinerary as well.
Located within the MBC building in Seoul, MBC World is the first broadcasting theme park in South Korea where you can enjoy MBC masterpiece dramas and popular entertainment programs all in one place. There’s also a hologram theatre situated within MBC World, where you can catch a 13-minute hologram show featuring BIGBANG/PSY/2NE1 & more (different time slots available) without paying an additional fee. Lots of photo opportunities available at this theme park too!
We recommend you to visit on weekdays where there’re lesser crowds, hence shortening the overall waiting time. Admission tickets start from 13,000 KRW (~SGD15) for youths below 18 and 18,000 KRW (~SGD22) for adults.
6. Go Museum or Exhibition Hopping
A search on internet will give you a list of art museums and exhibitions available in Seoul, and many of these eye-opening exhibitions are usually for free, like the ones we came across at Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
Some of these exhibitions are really interesting and famous (and some may include a small admission fee), like the photo exhibition by Nick Knight, one of the world’s most influential and visionary photographers, whose limited-time only exhibit is currently displaying at the Daelim Museum till 26th March 2017.
If you love the arts scene, be sure to hit up the internet to find out what are some of the ongoing or upcoming exhibitions before your trip to Seoul!
7. Catch a Live Busking Performance in Hongdae (And maybe Celebrities too!)
Hongdae‘s the hipster hood. No matter how many times we have visited Seoul, Hongdae is still one of the best spots to go, where the street gets livelier and more vibrant as evening comes.
A perfect place to feel the youthful ambience and experience the underground culture, Hongdae is well known for its urban arts and indie music culture, where youths and indie bands often gather for live busking performances.
On every Saturday, the Hongik Children’s Park in Hongdae also gets transformed into a marketplace for young and aspiring artists to showcase their own creations and handicrafts that are available for sale.
If you’re lucky enough, you might just bump into celebrities or idol groups walking on the streets of Hongdae promoting their comeback music, holding guerilla concerts, or even giving away free tickets to attend their concert! We counted ourselves really lucky last week when we actually spotted a large crowd in the middle of the street – turned out to be B1A4’s Jinyoung and CNU who were inviting fans to their mini concert (held in Hongdae itself) that evening! (Thank you for the tickets!!)
And we also happened to bump into gagman Yoon Hyung Bin the following day at Hongdae too. So you see, it’s not uncommon to cross paths with celebrities here!
Is South Korea on your bucket list? Seoul at a glance may seem touristy and packed, but the vibrant city definitely offers much more than it seems. Stay tuned to this space for more upcoming guides on your trip to South Korea, as we’re going to uncover places out of Seoul which are less crowded with foreigners but double the fun and excitement!
Special thanks to the Korea Press Foundation Global Exchange Team for hosting us on this trip to South Korea under the ‘Power Blogger Invitation Program’, organised by Hyundai Asan.
(Photos by: Nicole)