A 24-7 city with something to do every hour, Seoul can be surprisingly expensive. Visiting famous observation decks, getting premium cuts of Korean barbecue and partying until dawn can definitely do some damage to your credit card. But veer off the typical to-do list and you’ll find that the best things in life might actually be free.
Fill your hours with these scenic walks, visit the city’s most poetic sites and experience views money can’t buy with these 30 free things to do in Seoul.
Freeview: vistas of Seoul can be had via a free and gentle hike up Inwangsan © Mongkol_Chuewong / Shutterstock
Be moved at the Yun Dong-ju Literature Museum
Built in honour of beloved Korean poet Yun Dong-ju, this three-room museum (119, Changuimun-ro Jongno-gu) was converted from a former pressurisation facility in 2012. Visitors can browse through old photos and first editions of his poems, but the design of the indoor space (and the moods it imbues) is the museum’s real highlight. Take a stroll behind the museum on Poet’s Hill and admire N Seoul Tower from a distance – the view could inspire Shakespearean musings from a hack.
Enjoy a quiet moment at the Jeoldusan Martyrs' Shrine
Built on the site of the Byeonin Persecution of 1866, the hauntingly beautiful Jeoldusan Martyrs' Shrine remembers the many Roman Catholics that were murdered here. The Shrine houses a gallery and a museum displaying implements of torture where you can learn about the site’s history. It’s best to visit at dusk when the glow of votive candles gives an otherworldly dimension to the space.
See Chun Kyung-ja’s soul at the Seoul Museum of Art
One of the few free art museums in Seoul, SeMA is a modern art museum housed in a historic building. While special exhibitions at the museum can be quite crowded and pricey, the permanent exhibition is free and often overlooked. Entitled The Soul of Chun Kyung-ja, it chronicles the Korean artist and highlights her African influences.
Check out a free art exhibition or concert at Culture Tank © Hahna Yoon / Lonely Planet
Explore the Oil Tank Culture Park
A cultural centre made out of five transformed oil tanks from the 1970s, the Culture Tank hosts free concerts, exhibitions and lectures. Even when there’s nothing in particular happening, you could spend a few hours exploring the space’s hidden nooks or watching musicians practising in the outdoor Greek amphitheatre. The venue’s unique curves make it a favourite among photographers.
Stroll through the Bukchon Hanok Village
Hundreds of traditional Korean homes (hanoks) make up Bukchon Hanok Village, a neighbourhood that recaptures the atmosphere of Joseon-dynasty Korea. Although the authenticity of the houses is often debated, the verdict on the charm of the small alleyways and incredible views are unanimous. Check out Seoul Hanok for a great guide on the village’s highlights.
Read your socks off at the Cheongun Literature Library
Located on the foot of Mt. Inwang, the Cheongun Literature Library is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful museums in Korea. The lower level is home to an average collection of books, but the library’s reading rooms are housed in a striking traditional Korean house on the second floor. Spacious and sunny – it’s any bibliophile’s dream come true.
People-watching on a century-old disused railway line to North Korea in Gyeongui Line Forest Park © Hahna Yoon / Lonely Planet
People-watch at the Gyeongui Line Forest Park
A park built on 100-year old train tracks that once led to North Korea, the Gyeongui Line Forest Park is one of the highlights of Seoul’s northwest region. The park runs through several trendy neighbourhoods and on summer nights, you’ll see plenty of picnickers having drinks or buskers with their guitars in the Yeonnam-dong portion of the park. In good weather, pianos are also set up outside for those musically-inclined to put on a performance.
Get a free gift at the Blue House
Book a few months in advance and you can get a sneak peek inside South Korea’s presidential office. Although the tours are led in Korean, English-speakers are given an audio guide and everyone is walked through the house’s famous sites. Nokjiwon, the Blue House’s garden of trees, is listed as the tour’s highlight but frankly, it’s all about the free gift at the end. In the past, silk purses and watches have been gifted. Tours can be booked on the office's official website.
Spend a whole day at the National Museum of Korea
Housing 15,000 artefacts that range from pre-history to modern times, as well as a children’s museum, the National Museum of Korea is South Korea's largest museum. Seasonal exhibitions have an entrance fee, but you won’t be left wanting after browsing through the free permanent collection. Make sure to see the photo-worthy ten-story Pagoda from Gyeongcheon-sa Temple at the museum’s centre.
Hangang Park is a great riverside hangout with lots of free fun, including some summertime festivals and films © Maremagnum / Getty Images
Watch a movie at Hangang Park
Seoul’s most famous free site is this park along the Han River, which zigzags through the city. Beautiful lookouts and pleasant walks can be found at any point in the park, but the viewpoint from Mangwon-dong is arguably one of the best and a locals' favourite. If you're here during the summer, catch one of the park’s many free events that take place as part of the Hangang Summer Festival. The park’s outdoor film screenings are terrific!
Go back in time at the Seoul Museum of History
Even special exhibitions are almost always free at the popular Seoul Museum of History, near Gyeonghuigung Palace. While the museum boasts relics from the Joseon dynasty, the Exhibition Hall of Donated Items on the first floor makes the strongest impression, with everything from old computers, cassette tapes, t-shirts from the '60s and other household goods used by ordinary citizens. Free events showcasing Korean culture often take place during local holidays.
Take a selfie at the Ihwa Mural Village
Located near Seoul’s independent theatre district, the Ihwa Mural Village is the place to go for those seeking out the perfect selfie. Created by more than 70 locals artists in an attempt to revitalise the neighbourhood, the alleyways are covered in vivid, colourful murals. Popular murals include Angel Wings and Fish Swimming Upstream.
Fabulous sunset views for free make the tough hike up Bukhansan worthwhile © Guitar photographer / Shutterstock
Hiking for pros: Bukhansan
With 37 peaks, there’s no shortage of mountains to climb in Seoul. Ask an avid hiker for the best climb in the area and you’ll likely be sent packing up Bukhansan. Those willing to reach the mountain’s tallest peak (836m) are handsomely rewarded with heavenly views – and perhaps even some makgeolli (traditional Korean rice wine) from a friendly fellow climber. Local hikers are known to share their mountaintop drinks with tourists at the top!
Hiking for amateurs: Inwangsan
Less demanding than Bukhansan, 338m Ingwangsan still offers hikers breathtaking views of Seoul, as well as a history lesson. A series of ancient fortress walls are preserved here, and from the trail you can spot Gyeongbukgung Palace off in the distance. There are plenty of benches and stairs to pause on along the way!
Go on a free tour with Seoul City Walking Tours
Make a reservation three days in advance to take advantage of Seoul Tourism’s free walking tour program. The tours are run by volunteer guides, and this does mean the quality of the tours vary. But they are free and there are a huge range of themes, from exploring local markets or historic sites to seeing a street themed around Korea's unique hangeul alphabet. Offered in Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese, you can reserve a place on the Visit Seoul website.
Free dinner? Opt for samples at the Lotte Mart in Seoul Station © Hahna Yoon / Lonely Planet
Try free samples at Seoul Station’s Lotte Mart
Large grocery stores in South Korea tend to offer incredibly generous samples, but few get as benevolent as the Lotte Mart inside Seoul Station. Sample-givers can usually speak basic English, Japanese and Chinese and aren’t afraid to give you seconds. Try the instant noodle aisle at 6pm on a weekday and you might be able to skip dinner.
See the city’s most beautiful temple in Northern Seoul
Although Jogye-sa in the heart of downtown is Seoul's best known temple, perhaps its most beautiful is Gilsang-sa, located off-the-beaten path in Seongbuk-dong. Gilsang-sa is actually a restaurant-turned-temple opened in 1997, but its idyllic natural surroundings and wealth of (English-language) programs makes it a must-visit for anyone interested in Buddhism or just seeking a place to get away.
See the city’s most beautiful temple in Southern Seoul
Anyone staying south of the Han River or looking for some culture after shopping-till-they-drop at COEX Mall should check out Bongeun-sa – a temple that traces its history to the 10th year of the Silla kingdom (57 BC – 935 AD). Much of the original site was destroyed by a fire in 1939, but the temple's air of serenity, woodblock carvings of the Avatamsaka Sutra and 3479 Buddhist scriptures make it worth a visit.
A random assortment of antiques can be browsed at Dongmyo Flea Market © Hahna Yoon / Lonely Planet
Browse, don’t buy, at the Dongmyo Flea Market
Many of Seoul’s markets are worth exploring and free to check out, but the Dongmyo Flea Market’s collection of used goods is more about browsing and less about buying. The random assortment of everything from electronic massagers to old Korean coins and hills of $1 t-shirts is most active on pleasant-weather weekends. It's located near Dongmyo Park near 84, Nangye-ro 27-gil, Jongno-gu.
Walk on Seoul’s High Line
Often compared to the Big Apple’s hit urban regeneration project, Seoullo 7017 is a 'sky garden' that runs from Seoul Station to Namdaemun Market. Converted from a former highway overpass and opened in 2017, the 1024m park boasts more than 20,000 plants and fine city views, and hosts a plethora of events. Those who dare may stand on the overpass’ large glass holes and look down at cars whizzing by below.
Visit one of Seoul’s most underrated beautiful churches
Although Myeongdong Cathedral is Seoul’s most famous and perhaps most historically significant churches, it could certainly be argued that Seoul Anglican Cathedral is the capital’s most beautiful. Designed by English architect Arthur Dixon and built in the Romanesque Revival style, this distinctly European edifice is a sight inside and out. You can visit the church for free, and regular services are held on Sundays at 9.30am in the crypt chapel.
Seoul boasts a number of clubs where you can dance the night away © Kim Lo / EyeEm / Getty Images
Dance the night away at Venue/
As long as you can party without booze, popular Itaewon club Venue/ has no cover charge and will definitely show you a good (free) time. Many smaller dance clubs in Hongdae also have free entrance, and a few clubs in Gangnam are free before a certain time of night, but Venue/ is the best combination of danceable music, nice-looking crowds and no cost.
Marvel at the Cheong-gye-cheon Stream
One of the city’s ecological marvels, Cheong-gye-cheon is a man-made stream that runs through downtown Seoul. Walking its pleasant pathways lined by greenery along the water is a great way to unwind of an evening, and the stream is even more dazzling during the famous Lantern Festival in early November. The Cheong-gye-cheon Museum is also free if you'd like to learn about the site’s complex history.
Daewang Tonkatsu: eat fast and eat free
This Korean-style pork cutlet restaurant (57 Eoulmadang-ro, Mapo-gu) is famous for its tonkatsu eating challenge. Although it starts by putting down ₩15,000, you'll be refunded if you 'get your name on the top 30 board'. The board consists of previous challenge-winners who’ve been able to finish the 15cm dish in less than ten minutes. Gulp down the giant pork cutlet, a mini-salad, side soup and small bowl of rice quickly enough and the meal is free. Indigestion is free, win or lose.
Get sprayed: free fun at Sinchon Water Gun Festival © Sinchon Water Gun Festival
Be a kid again at this water fight!
Visit Seoul during one of its hot and humid summers and the idea of getting soaked at the Sinchon Water Gun Festival will sound pretty attractive. The festival, now in its sixth run, has zones for battling, zones for kids, celebrity visits and concerts. Water guns are available for purchase but entrance is free.
All aboard Seoul’s iconic extraterrestrial craft
Often talked about for its futuristic architecture, multi-functional Dongdaemun Design Plaza is said to be one of architect Zaha Hadid’s greatest works. Exhibitions, fashion shows and other events are held on a regular basis and not all of them are free, but the edifice itself is free to walk around and in, and definitely worth a look!
Have a green day at Seonyudo Park
Touted as Korea’s first ecological water park, this green island in the middle of the city is the perfect mini-escape for anyone needing a break from the chaos that can be Seoul. There are several botanical gardens as well as green spaces for picnicking and sunbathing.
Seoul City Wall is a great place for a free (and romantic!) evening stroll © PKphotograph / Shutterstock
Go on a romantic hike along Seoul City Wall
Originally built in 1396, Seoul City Wall is a national treasure and a wonderful place to hike. For locals, it's also an exciting date spot. Try an evening stroll along the portion of the wall out of Hyehwa Station in Naksan Park and it’s hard not to be seduced as the warm glow of the Ancient Fortress lights and panoramic city views sparkle in your lover's eyes.
Check out the world's largest bridge fountain
Banpo Bridge added Moonlight Rainbow Fountain to its many functions in 2009 and from April to October, crowds of people line up at the nearby Han River Park to see this water show choreographed with lights and music. Using 380 water jets and 200 lights, the fountain puts on a show soundtracked by everything from classical to pop and rock. Call the Korea Travel Hotline (+82-2-1330) if you want to check the fountain’s schedule on the day of your visit.
Pick and choose your free destination on Culture Day
On the last Wednesday of every month, performance centres, museums and cultural sites across Seoul open for free. The city government has worked in collaboration with many venues to create quite an extensive list of freebies that includes everything from the five grand palaces to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and Seoul Performing Arts Company. Discounts for most major cinemas are also available on Culture Day.
This article was first published in June 2018 and updated in May 2019.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.