50 things to know before traveling to South Korea

With remarkable growth and development, South Korea has gone from being one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the most powerful economies and a country with a vibrant and unique culture that many want to visit.

Known for its unique style of K-Pop and K-Dramas, South Korea presents us with a unique and unparalleled culture. This phrase is often said but rarely as valid as when discussing Korea. Perhaps only Japan is so strangely unique, eccentric, exotic, and attractive.

So, it’s perfectly natural that South Korea has become one of the most popular destinations to visit and try new things. In this guide, we will help you plan an unforgettable trip to South Korea by providing travel tips that allow you to travel freely, without stress, and make the most of what Korea offers. And believe me, it’s a lot.

So, to make this information easy to understand, we created the 50 things you need to know before traveling to South Korea, looking at the best destinations, interaction with people, the best ways to travel, costs, ways to save, and much more…

If you are also going to visit South Korea, it is very possible that you will also go to Jeju. See here the guide to 50 things to know before visiting Jeju.

Everything you need to know before traveling to Korea
Changgyeonggung Palace is in the middle of the capital of Seoul in South Korea

About South Korea and Koreans

#1 With 100,363 km2 (707.8 sq mi), South Korea is a relatively small country in terms of area, especially taking into account its enormous importance and media exposure worldwide.

The country’s official name is the Republic of Korea.

Jeju and the surrounding islands are also part of South Korea and are one of its biggest tourist attractions. Let’s talk more about this below.

Statue in the Han River bank park
Han River bank is a very beautiful place to walk and enjoy the various statues in Seoul

#2 Located in the Korea Strait, South Korea has only one neighbor with whom it shares a land border, North Korea. The rest of the country is surrounded by sea – to the west, the Yellow Sea, to the east the Sea of Japan and the south the Korean Strait.

Officially, North Korea and South Korea are still at war. The border between the two countries is extremely guarded and has a demilitarized zone that is 250 km long and 4 km wide.

#3 Despite its small area, South Korea is quite mountainous and has several national parks and very popular hiking areas. Interestingly, the highest point in Korea is the Hallasan volcano, which is 1,950 meters (6,400 feet) high and is located on Jeju Island.

You can see North Korea from South Korea with binoculars - traveling to Korea tips
North Korea seen from the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea

The Korean

#4 South Korea has a very high population density due to its small area and large population. In total, 52 million people live in South Korea, mainly in large cities.

With around half of the population living in the Seoul region, Korea’s capital is the largest city and the economic and cultural heart of the country. Other relevant cities are Incheon, Busan, and Daegu.

Seoul the Capital of Korea seen from N Seoul Tower
View of Seoul from the N Seoul Tower – one of the most populated capitals in the world

#5 Koreans are not very religious people. In fact, it is estimated that more than half of the population has no religion. Still, the religion with the most devotees is Christianity with 29%, followed by Buddhism with 13%.

#6 Korea’s growing popularity worldwide is known as the Korean Wave or Hallyu. This phenomenon has greatly increased interest in Korean culture, particularly through K-pop, K-dramas, and cinema.

Some of the most famous K-pop bands are BTS, Blackpink, and Psy, with his unparalleled Gangnam Style. The success has also been enormous on television with series such as Winter Sonata, Squid Game, and Crash Landing On You. In the cinema, we have to highlight Parasite and Train to Busan.

The Korean wave is recognized as a form of soft power, and an important economic asset for Korea generating huge income through cultural exports and tourist attraction.

Gagnam style Square in Seoul
Gangnam Style in Seoul

#7 One of the most evident things in Korea is the aesthetic sense and Korean fashion. In fact, Korean fashion is gaining followers and fans all over the world.

Both men and women give great importance to appearance and beauty care. For this reason, beauty products have been one of Korea’s biggest exports in recent years.

Therefore, it is not difficult to find people dressed with refinement and sophistication on the streets of the main cities. It’s also easy to notice how thin Korean women are, even compared to other Asian women, who in general are notoriously thin.

#8 Another cultural trait of Koreans is that they love taking photographs. They know all the techniques, all the angles, all the poses, and the best spots. Simply watching them take photos is fun, and you learn a few things…

One of Koreans’ favorite activities (which extends to tourists) is dressing in traditional clothes and having photo shoots in historic or simply beautiful places like Seoul’s palaces, Hanok villages, or gardens.

This is a different and fun activity that many tourists also embrace. Therefore, next to the best spots are several stores where you can rent clothes for a few hours and have unforgettable photo sessions.

How to travel in South Korea - Gyongiu
The queue to take a photo in front of Sila’s tombs in Gyeongju, South Korea

What language to speak in Korea

#9 The official language of Korea is Korean.

Together with North Korea, they are the only countries that speak Korean, so most visitors do not speak more than two or three words. In addition to not being similar to any other, it has its own alphabet, making it a really difficult language to learn from scratch.

So you will need to speak English or use an automatic translator. Any other language is unlikely to get you far. Friendliness and a smile, on the other hand, will help a lot when interacting with locals.

There is also Jejuan, a Koreanic language (some people consider it a dialect) only spoken on the island. This is just a curiosity, as no one expects you to know how to speak Jejuan.

Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan, one of the most famous landmarks in Korea
Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan is one of the most tourist places in South Korea

#10 One of the most peculiar things about Korea was how few people speak English and even those who do have a very peculiar pronunciation. Even compared to other Asian countries, Korean English is very difficult to understand.

In reality, Korean and English (or any European language) are very different languages. In addition to the obvious difference in alphabets, the intonations, sounds and way of expressing oneself are also very different. For example, Koreans have great difficulty saying the letter “f”, often replacing it with a “p”.

The opposite is equally difficult, and even after weeks in Korea we still have great difficulty saying more than “Thank you” and “Hello”. And even those… I have doubts that I said it correctly! Even in the names of cities, sometimes we need to show them in writing to make sure they understand what we are talking about!

So, one of the main things to know before going to Korea is that you will need a translator! If you want a physical translator, we tried this FluenTalk.

You can see our experience with Fluentalk here.

Otherwise, we suggest the Papago app, as in addition to translating text, it also automatically translates sound and images. Google translate has similar features, but in our experience Papago works better with Korean.

Typical Hanok houses in Seoul, South Korea
Typical Hanok houses in Seoul, South Korea

#11 Unfortunately, communication difficulty makes it very difficult to achieve conversations between tourists and locals that go beyond the very basics.

Despite some exceptions, in our experience, Koreans are extremely friendly and even helpful people, but they are also very shy. Several times, they took the initiative to try to help us because we seemed lost, sometimes even speaking very little or no English.

This attentive way of being makes the entire travel experience even more pleasant, especially because the cultural experience of dealing with lots of new and different things ends up being one of the great advantages of visiting South Korea.

Starfield's impressive library in Seoul is one of the reasons to travel to South Korea
Starfield’s impressive library in Seoul, South Korea

What not to do in Korea?

#12 Korea is very different from the Western world, and despite the enormous rapprochement in recent years, there is still a huge cultural difference, so it is natural to pay attention to some things so as not to offend or simply to avoid becoming the center of attention.

Some cultural norms and consequent faux pas to be aware of when traveling to Korea are:

  • Do not wear shoes inside. Slippers are usually given to wear inside.
  • Korea is still a very conservative country.
  • Dress conservatively, particularly when it comes to showing cleavage and shoulders. Miniskirts are not a problem, as you will soon realize in the first few days.
  • Receive and give things with both hands when possible.
  • Koreans have a habit of bowing when greeting, so it’s appreciated when foreigners adopt it, too.

But the most important thing is to be respectful, have good manners, and be friendly. Koreans know perfectly well that we are not locals, and they don’t expect us to know everything about their culture.

three girls in Hanboks in Seoul - Typical costume in South Korea
Typical costume in South Korea – Hanbok

Climate in South Korea

#13 The climate in South Korea is considered continental, with cold but sunny winters and humid, hot summers with plenty of rain. There are four clear seasons, but autumn and spring are usually quite short, although pleasant.

The southern tip of Korea is milder than the North. Despite not being a very northern country, winters are much colder than expected due to the cold, northerly winds that come from Siberia.

The coldest month of the year is January when the average minimum temperatures in Seoul are -6ºC and the maximum temperatures are just 2ºC. August is the hottest month, with minimums of 22ºC and maximums of almost 30ºC. July and August are the rainiest months, while December and January are the least.

It is important to note that South Korea receives some typhoons. The season for these is between July and the beginning of October, with the high season being at the beginning of September.

Best time to travel to Korea
Seoul Cathedral during winter illuminated with Christmas decorations, South Korea

When to travel to South Korea?

#14 Given that the winters are really cold and the summers are very rainy, we think the ideal time to go to the Republic of Korea is in Spring and Autumn, especially in May and October.

In addition to the ideal climate, spring is also the time for cherry blossoms (April especially), and autumn is the time for fall foliage.

If you want to go to the beach, you should visit South Korea between July and September, as this is when the seawater temperatures are most pleasant. In the South (especially in Jeju), the sea is warmer than in the North.

Despite being the rainy season, the peak season for tourism in South Korea is between June and August for both foreigners and locals. At this time, also expect slightly higher prices, particularly on flights and hotels.

Thus, Korea is an ideal destination for those who like (and can) travel outside of summer, as spring and autumn bring the ideal time to travel.

Lake in front of Cheongjajeong National Museum in Seoul - South Korea in autumn
Lake in front of Cheongjajeong National Museum in Seoul – South Korea in autumn

Is it safe to travel to South Korea?

#15 In a word, YES! In many… there must be few countries safer to travel to than South Korea. We never felt in any situation in the slightest danger in any of the cities and rural areas we visited, whether day or night.

We are not saying that there is no crime in Korea, of course there is, but criminality is very low and violent crime even lower. Therefore, you will need to be very unlucky or careless for something to happen to you.

As always, we suggest that you pay attention in markets and other crowded places, but even in these situations, we have never witnessed anything problematic.

If you want more information, we typically use this site to check the security levels of the countries we visit. Alternatively, you can check the information updated by your government.

Haeundae Beach in Busan, South Korea
Haeundae Beach in Busan, South Korea

Relationship with North Korea

#16 Despite what we have just said about internal security, South Korea is a country at war.

Technically, the two Koreas are still at war despite the conflict being suspended. Still, tensions between the two countries have been rising, and North Korea is constantly provoking South Korea.

Since 1953, a demilitarized zone (DMZ) was established and Korea was separated into North Korea and South Korea. Currently, the difference in development and freedom between the two countries is brutal as North Korea (Communist) is one of the poorest countries of the world.

The border is highly controlled, and North Korea does not allow its citizens to flee south. In turn, South Korea welcomes all citizens of the North as its own.

We will not delve into the topic of North Korea in depth in this article, but if you like history and are curious to know more about this issue, we recommend that you take a tour of the demilitarized zone, where a guide will explain the history of the war, the DMZ and many other curiosities about the topic. We did, and we really liked it.

If you are interested in a tour of the demilitarized zone, try this tour from GetYourGuide.

Monument in the Demilitarized Zone in Korea of the separation of South Korea and North Korea.
Monument in the Demilitarized Zone in Korea of the separation of South Korea and North Korea.

History with Japan

#17 In addition to the issue of Korea’s division, the violent history between Japan and Korea is crucial to Korean culture, identity, and society.

Between the end of the 19th century and the Second World War, Japan invaded and colonized Korea, ending the Joseon dynasty in 1910 through the annexation treaty.

This has given rise to various forms of violent oppression, including the repression of Korean cultural identity and language, economic exploitation, forced labor, and “comfort women.”

Despite relations between the countries being normalized, Japan has never apologized for its actions, and this is a very sensitive issue for Koreans.

Monument dedicated to the victims of Korean "comfort women"
Monument dedicated to the victims of Korean “comfort women” subjected to sexual slavery by Japanese military forces during the Asia-Pacific War

Traveling in South Korea

Tourists in Korea

#18 The Korean wave has been increasing the country’s popularity worldwide. Initially in China, then the rest of Asia, but it quickly spread to the Western world, as mentioned above.

This popularity also brought tremendous economic and tourism opportunities, and therefore the number of visitors to Korea increased substantially, until the pandemic. Between 2020 and 2022, the values were very, very low as the country was almost closed. In 2019, Korea had a record number of tourists, with around 17.5 million.

Naturally, the majority of tourists in Korea are Asian (more than 60%) and come mainly from China, Japan, Taiwan, etc. Americans are about 20% and Europeans are only 12%.

When we visited in 2023, the number of tourists was increasing again, but we rarely felt the places were too crowded. In fact, we saw many more Koreans than foreigners in practically every destination we went to, which is always pleasant.

Beomeosa Temple, one of the most tourist attractions in Busan, South Korea
Beomeosa Temple, one of the most tourist attractions in Busan, South Korea

UNESCO Sites

#19 Korea has 16 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, of which 14 are cultural, and 2 are natural heritage, spread throughout the country.

Jeju Island is one of the natural heritage sites offering incredible volcanic landscapes. You can see the complete list on the UNESCO website, which in addition to including the sites also mentions the Biosphera and cultural and intangible heritage.

Seongsan Ilchulbong in Jeju –one of the most popular atractions in Jeju
Seongsan Ilchulbong in Jeju – volcanic caldera that rises 180 meters above sea level

Top Attractions in Korea

#20 In addition to being the capital and largest city, Seoul is Korea’s leading tourist destination. It is the city where almost everyone arrives in Korea and where the majority of people spend the most time.

Seoul is a huge city, its metropolitan area has around 25 million inhabitants. As the economic and cultural heart of the country, it also has a lot to offer for almost all types of tourists. This is a city we love and feel at home despite everything being very different from our world.

Seoul is much more than the main attractions but is also what people look for in Korea. Some of the must-see places in Seoul include:

  • Seoul’s five imperial palaces – Each one has its own peculiarities, but unless you love history and this type of architecture, just visit 2 or 3. Otherwise, it can become too tiring. Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest, most important, and most visited.
  • Jongmyo Shrine – the oldest and most authentic of the Confucian royal shrines in Seoul.
  • Bukchon Hanok Village – A traditional neighborhood in Seoul, made up mainly of houses made in the traditional Korean style ( the hanoks).
  • N Seoul Tower – You don’t actually need to climb the tower, the view from the Gardens is spectacular enough.
  • Lotte Tower – one of the tallest buildings in the world. There’s an amusement park inside.
  • Meyeongdong – The most popular tourist street in Seoul. It’s full of street food and shops where you can buy anything and everything, including famous Korean cosmetics.
  • Insadong – a popular street for shopping and arts.
  • Hondae – is a very popular street/neighborhood among young Koreans and has its own culture. There is also some street food.
  • Several local markets such as Gwangjang and Namdaemun – They also have lots of street food, or traditional fast food.
  • Riverfront, the various parks along the Han River – one of our favorite activities is cycling along the river. There are lots of paths, and bike rental is quite cheap.

If you are planning to visit Seoul in winter, see our article dedicated to that.

Things to know before visiting Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace, one of the five palaces in Seoul

#21 In addition to everything the city has to offer, Seoul also has various tourist attractions nearby so there are many things you can do from Seoul, whether by public transport, with tours or your own car.

Some of the most popular tours and day trips include:

  • Visit the DMZ – an activity not to be missed for those who love history and want to know more about Korea. We recommend that you take a tour.
  • Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon – You can do it on an organized tour or independently. Included as a UNESCO heritage site, it is Korea’s largest fortress, with walls stretching for 6 km.
  • Nami Island – Known for its beauty, it is a very popular island among K-Drama fans, as several soap operas were filmed there.
  • Everland – the largest amusement park in Korea, located on Seoul’s outskirts.
  • Bhukansan National Park – the only national park within the Seoul metropolitan area. Very popular for hiking.
South Korea points of interest
Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon – One of the attractions not to be missed in South Korea

#22 Busan is the largest city in southern Korea and without a doubt a destination to include in any Korean itinerary, as it has a more relaxed and less frenetic atmosphere than Seoul.

Busan is known for its beaches, namely Haeundae Beach and Gwangalli Beach, but note that the way Koreans go to the beach is very different from ours, as they do not enjoy sunbathing. On the contrary, they avoid it. They are also much more conservative (especially women) regarding beachwear.

In addition to beaches, Busan also has several historical and cultural attractions such as Beomeosa Temple, Gamcheon cultural village, Jagalchi fish market and BIFF Square.

Where to go in Korea? Busan is a good alternative to Seoul
Beautiful Gwangalli Beach in Busan, South Korea

#23 Very close to Busan, we also have the city of Gyeongju, famous for being the historical capital of the Silla Kingdom for around 1000 years.

Gyeongju is often called the “museum without walls” due to all its cultural and historical heritage. There you will find many historical and religious sites, including:

  • Gyeongju Historical Park and the tombs of the Silla kings.
  • Gyonchon traditional village
  • Dongung Palace and Wolji Lake
  • Bulguksa Buddhist Temple
  • Seokguram Temple and its Buddha statue.
Gyeongju Historical Park and the tombs of the Silla Kings, a place of historical interest in South Korea
Gyeongju Historical Park and the tombs of the Silla Kings, a place of historical interest in South Korea

#24 Jeju Island is another of the main destinations in Korea, very popular among both Koreans and other Asians. Jeju is a volcanic island and is full of points of interest and tourist attractions such as:

  • Hallasan Volcano – is the island’s main point of interest for adventurous travelers, hikers, and mountain lovers. The climb to the highest point in Korea is undoubtedly an adventure not to be forgotten.
  • Udo – a small island off Jeju, is spectacular for cycling and has fabulous views.
  • Seongsan Ilchulbong – is a volcanic caldera that rises 180 meters above sea level. Walkways allow us to go to the top and enjoy the landscape.
  • Haenyeo – Women divers from Jeju known for their incredible freediving ability.
  • Manjanggul – lava caves over 7 km long. It is possible to visit them partially – about 2 km.
  • Waterfalls – Jeju has several waterfalls in the south that are worth visiting, including Jeongbang, Cheonjiyeon, and Cheonjeyeon

If you are considering visiting Jeju, see our article dedicated to everything you need to know before going there.

South Korea travel guide, with all the best things to do and to know about Korea
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Jeju – Jeongbang Waterfall

#25 The Jeolla region is less known internationally but is very popular among Koreans due to its beautiful landscapes and excellent food. This region is also where the best green tea in Korea is produced.

In addition to the excellent tea itself, the fields where it is produced, the Boseong Green Tea Field Daehan Dawon, is beautiful and an excellent attraction.

In Suncheon, one of the main cities in this region, you can find the Suncheon Bay National Garden, a place that combines natural beauty, environmental preservation, and cultural activities, providing a unique experience for visitors. It’s almost a theme park about nature and the environment.

Finally, the Nagan Eupseong cultural village is also worth a visit, as you can learn more about what Korea was like in the past. Despite being almost purely touristic, it is also very beautiful and full of points of interest.

where to travel in Korea? Suncheon Bay National Gardens
Beautiful gardens at Suncheon Bay National Garden in South Korea

#26 Jeonju was one of our favorite destinations in South Korea; in our opinion, it has the most beautiful historic center in the country. You can explore a city with a rich historical heritage and see traditional Korean culture and cuisine in person.

The traditional Hanok Village is the area that preserves traditional Korean architecture with well-preserved Hanok houses. This is considered the largest cluster of Hanok houses in all of Korea, and its excellent condition makes it an irresistible attraction.

If you want to experience what it was like to live in one of these houses, multiple have been converted into accommodation, while others are museums or galleries. Another very popular activity is renting or buying hanboks and using them to explore the center and the main monuments.

Jeonju is also known for its excellent food, namely Bibimbap. The traditional village also has lots of street food to try.

The traditional Hanok village Jeonju in South Korea
The traditional Hanok village Jeonju in South Korea

#27 One of the experiences not to be missed in South Korea is to try the traditional baths, the Jjimjilbang, also known as Korean Saunas.

Jjimjilbang are relaxing places where Koreans go to wash and relax. They usually have a section segregated by sex, where we have hot pools and where people are completely naked. Before entering these pools, it is mandatory to take a shower.

There is also another section where you are dressed, with clothes provided by the SPA. This is where we have dry saunas, massage chairs, manual massages, and a restaurant, among many other things.

Jjimjilbangs are a fundamental part of Korean culture and an unforgettable tourist experience. Furthermore, they are very relaxing and liberating. We love it and highly recommend it.

Jjimjilbang in Busan - traditional bathing in South Korea is one of the most fun experiences to do in South Korea
Jjimjilbang in Busan – traditional bathing in South Korea is one of the most fun experiences to do in South Korea

#28 Koreans love hiking and exploring nature and their national parks.

Although most tourists forget this facet of South Korea, it is one of our favorites as we love hiking outdoors and in national parks.

Some of the most popular places are:

  • Seoraksan National Park in the Gangwon-do region – known for its majestic mountains, impressive rock formations, lush forests and tranquil atmosphere.
  • Bukhansan National Park in Seoul – offers challenging trails, panoramic city views, and historic temples.
  • Hallasan National Park in Jeju – is home to Hallasan Mountain, a volcanic crater with a unique diversity of flora and fauna. It is the highest point in the country and perhaps the most famous hike.
Hallasan volcano trek
Hike to Hallasan volcano in Jeju – the highest point in Korea

What to Eat in South Korea

#29 South Korea is a destination for foodies, too. The food is delicious, cheap and mostly different from what we are used to, including many dishes with fermented, acidic and spicy ingredients.

One of the fundamental characteristics of Korean cuisine is the use of spice, so be prepared because many dishes are very spicy. Sometimes, the dishes were at our spiciness limit, even if we requested little or no spicy food.

Considered the foundation of Korean food, Kimchi is spicy and acidic, but it is more than that. Generally made with fermented vegetables (cabbage, radishes), it is seasoned with pepper, garlic, ginger and other seasonings. Ultimately, we have an extremely complex and unique flavor, which not everyone appreciates.

What to eat in Korea
Different types of Kimchi to be sold in South Korea

Another elemental flavor of South Korea is sweet. Many dishes and sauces contain a lot of sugar, which can be noticed in the final flavor. For those who like sweet food, there are many options in Korea. On the other hand, the food contains very little or no salt, and many use soy, fish, or oyster sauce to achieve the salty flavor.

As in practically all Asian countries, one of the experiences not to be missed in South Korea is going to its street markets and trying the food. Some of Korea’s best food can be enjoyed on the city’s streets and markets.

A street in Seoul full of street food vendors, and everyone eats on the street at plastic tables
A street in Seoul full of street food vendors, and everyone eats on the street at plastic tables

#30 Some of our favorite dishes in South Korea that you must try include:

  • Bibimbap is rice topped with assorted vegetables (depending on the season), beef, egg and gochujang (red pepper paste). There are lots of variations, but it’s delicious. We love it with bulgogi.
  • Bulgogi – meat marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic and pepper. It is usually grilled.
  • Tteokbokki – one of Korea’s most typical street foods made with rice cakes and fish cakes smothered in a tasty sauce. Be careful, it is very spicy.
  • Gimbap – rice and other ingredients wrapped in seaweed. It may contain vegetables, meat, eggs, and sometimes kimchi. It reminds me of maki sushi from Japan.
  • Kimchi Jjigae is a type of soup or stew made with kimchi boiled with meat, tofu, vegetables, and noodles.
  • Dakgalbi is chicken pieces marinated in a spicy gochujang (red pepper paste) sauce, which are grilled with vegetables such as cabbage, sweet potatoes, onions, and other vegetables. It can be accompanied by cheese, which makes everything even better.
  • Chimaek – Korean grilled chicken served with beer.
Dicas sobre a Coreia do Sul - prato típico de comida da rua Tteokbokki
Tteokbokki – one of Korea’s most typical street foods

In addition to the above, we also have to highlight Korean barbecue as it is a social and interactive experience that usually involves cooking meat on grills built into the table so that the meat can be grilled immediately. It usually comes with lots of little side dishes.

The meat used varies greatly, being pork, beef or chicken and marinated in many different ways, including the aforementioned galbi or bulgogi.

To eat, assemble your own “wrap” using lettuce or perilla leaves, rice, grilled meat, and condiments. The whole experience of going to a Korean barbecue is curious and is undoubtedly one of the priorities for those who like to immerse themselves in local culture and try new foods.

what to know before going to Korea
Korean Barbecue – different side dishes to eat with the meat and a grill to cook the meat.

#31 In Korea, there are also many sweet dishes and typical desserts to try. In fact, in addition to the more traditional Korean ones shared with neighboring countries, Koreans also really like European and especially French sweets and pastries. So, we suggest you try:

  • Hotteok – Rice flour pancakes, filled with a mixture of brown sugar, honey, dried fruits and cinnamon. They are generally grilled until golden and crispy.
  • Yakgwa – Honey and ginger cookies. They have a unique but very good flavor.
  • Bingsu – dessert made with shaved ice, condensed milk, syrup of various flavors, and various toppings such as fruit, beans and green tea.
  • Bungeoppang – a sweet-shaped pastry filled with bean paste.
  • Dalgona – the famous candy from the Squid Games series, made with caramelized sugar and baking soda.
  • Kkwabaegi – these are very similar to churros, a Portuguese and Spanish specialty. Very good, but not really a novelty for us.
  • Songpyeon – rice cakes
guia de o que comer na Coreia do Sul - vários tipos de Dalgona
Dalgona – the famous candy from the Squid Games series.

#32 Convenience stores are another experience not to be missed in South Korea. Firstly because they offer the possibility of eating quickly and cheaply, but also because they sell a range of things you can’t find in Europe, like Kimbap ( rice triangles) or local snacks.

The most common convenience stores are 7-11, CU, and GS25. They all offer similar things and are a good place to buy coffee, noodles, pastries and even salads. We often buy breakfast or dinner there when we don’t want to go out again.

In addition to convenience stores, we must mention Paris Baquette, a famous Korean chain of pastries that sells spectacular sweets and bread. Most of them are European and especially French, but it’s all delicious. It also sells very complete and delicious salads. We ended up going to Paris Baguette almost every day.

Finally, the cafes in South Korea. There are thousands of cafes in Korea, but they differ completely from ours. With some exceptions, they are not places to have breakfast. In fact, most of them even open relatively late, 11 am to 12 pm, and are places to hang out or have coffee and dessert.

There are cafes for every type of taste and with all the imaginary themes. Visiting the cafes is an experience in itself, and they serve quite creative coffees (and tea), but in most cases, not much to our taste. The coffee is not strong enough for us. We love our Portuguese coffee.

Paris Baguette Store - where you can find all types of pastries and sweets
Paris Baguette Store – where you can find all types of pastries and sweets

Currency and Costs of Traveling to the Republic of Korea

Currency and payments

#33 One of the things you need to know before traveling to the Republic of Korea is that the official currency is the South Korean won. In 2023, the USD Won exchange rate is 1300-1350 Won for one dollar.

Our suggestion is not to bring wons with you. The ATM network is good, and you can withdraw money anytime. In our experience, withdrawal costs are acceptable and practically always lower than exchanging before arriving in Korea.

Most stores and restaurants accept card payments (credit, debit or T-Money), however some smaller stores or for transactions of low value may require payment in cash.

Take the opportunity to make as many payments as possible with a card as it is safer and avoids withdrawing money frequently/carrying a lot of cash.

Spotless fishmarket in Busan
Fish market in Busan, South Korea – Everything is spotlessly clean

What is T-money

#34 T-Money is Korea’s public transport card, a digital wallet, and your best friend if you want to use public transport in Korea.

One of the first things to do when you arrive in South Korea is to buy one T-Money (it should cost between 3000-5000 won, depending on the design) per person. This card allows you to use any urban transport (metro, bus, and even most taxis) in any city in South Korea, including Jeju.

To top up the T-Money just go to a convenience store (7-11, GS25 or any other) and ask to top up. In metro stations, there are also charging machines. Charging must be done in cash.

Now, you only have to swipe your card to use it when entering and exiting the transport. It is essential to validate your card upon entry and exit, as the transport system allows you to make free transfers between lines and even means of transport.

It is also possible to make other types of payments with T-Money, but this ends up being more useful for locals than tourists, as T-Money top-ups have to be made in cash.

tourist trains are very popular in Korea
Tourist train at Haeundae Park in Busan, South Korea

Costs of Traveling to Korea

#35 Considering that South Korea is a developed, modern and wealthy country, traveling in Korea is surprisingly cheap, especially compared to Europe, the United States or Australia.

Leaving out flights to Korea, as they depend a lot on where we depart from, we spend an average of 100 Euros per day traveling as a couple, which gives an average of 50 Euros per person. We currently consider this to be a very low value, making Korea a super cheap destination with a lot to offer.

Compared to recent trips, it’s slightly more than what we spent in Mexico, similar to what we spent in Japan (even more surprising), and more expensive than Taiwan and Vietnam, which are cheap destinations!

It is important to note that we are backpackers and always try to control our travel costs reasonably. Travel costs also depend on the time of year and very much on the type of traveler you are. If you stay in hotels, take a lot of tours, shop, and go to amusement parks, these values will increase exponentially.

Staying in a Hanok, a traditional South Korean house, is one of the most exciting activities to do
Staying in a Hanok, a traditional South Korean house, is one of the most exciting activities to do

#36 In Korea food is quite cheap, two people can eat for 15-20 Euros. A little more if it’s non-Korean food or seafood and meat-heavy dishes. We like to try all the local specialties, so we mostly eat local food in local restaurants. On the other hand, we enjoy street and market food, which further reduces costs.

There are options for all tastes and costs in accommodation, starting at around 20-30 Euros per night in double rooms in cheap hostels. It will be a little more expensive in Seoul and Jeju, starting at 30-40 Euros, depending on the season.

If you decide to travel by public transport, the transport costs are perfectly acceptable. A subway ticket in Seoul costs around one Euro (depending on the distance). In other cities, the cost is even lower, and both buses and trains are affordable and work extraordinarily well. If you are considering going to Jeju, note that flights are very cheap, both from Seoul and Busan, as several low-cost flights offer the service.

Tourist attractions are another source of costs that sometimes weigh heavily on the travel budget, but in Korea, most attractions are free or extremely cheap (1-3 Euros). Seoul’s palaces are incredibly cheap, and natural attractions rarely cost more than 2-3 Euros.

Even the Jjimjilbangs are quite cheap and rarely cost more than 20 Euros for 4-6 hours.

Things to know when traveling to Sout Korea
Visiting Changgyeonggung Palace in Seoul is a must on a trip to South Korea.

Should you tip in Korea?

#37 Tipping is not expected throughout Korea. In fact, we didn’t feel the need to give any type of tip, nor did we see anyone doing so, whether foreigners or Koreans, whether in restaurants or any other type of situation.

Even on the tours we took, the guide never asked or said that it would be expected or “normal.” There may be exceptions, but we haven’t experienced them, and of course if you want to reward spectacular service you can always do so.

One of the things to know when traveling to South Korea is that street markets are amazing
Busan Street Market in Busan, South Korea, is a great place to eat Korean food

How to Travel in South Korea

#38 One of the things we like most about traveling in Korea is that it is so simple and easy to visit by public transport, whether in big cities, small cities, and even in Jeju or more rural areas.

During our travels we used a combination of train, bus, plane (to Jeju) and even boat (to Udo) and it always worked extraordinarily well. Furthermore, the costs of this option are not high, especially if we compare it with neighboring Japan or any other country with a similar level of development.

If you are considering going to Jeju, the best option is to travel by plane, which is faster and cheaper than the ferry. Furthermore, there are many daily flights from Seoul and Busan, and if you want a more complete itinerary, you can always fly from Seoul to Jeju and then, when you return, go directly to Busan.

Our article about Jeju explains everything you need to know about traveling to Jeju in more detail.

Beautiful Hongjodangoe Beach in Udo, South Korea
Hongjodangoe Beach in Udo, near Jeju Island in South Korea

Rent a car in South Korea

#39 Naturally, traveling by car brings greater speed and flexibility, especially if you want to do a lot of hiking or go to rarely visited places. But for most visitors, you will not need a car, despite the greater flexibility and being able to visit more attractions more quickly. Managing logistics when traveling with large groups and families is also easier with a car.

However, it also has some disadvantages. We must have an international driving license to rent a car in Korea, so don’t forget to get it before traveling. Traveling by car in Seoul and Busan can be problematic, time-consuming, and even expensive. There is a lot of traffic and very few places to park, even at night.

From what we analyzed, renting a car is not very cheap, but it may be worth it if you are a group. From what we saw, it costs around 400 to 500 Euros per week for a car, plus insurance costs. In high season, it could be much more.

#40 We chose not to rent a car, as we wanted a completely relaxed trip, without worries about driving, parking or renting a car. If there’s one thing we don’t like, it’s dealing with rent-a-cars.

Therefore, we cannot give many tips when it comes to renting a car or driving, but from what we have seen, if you are used to driving in a different country, you shouldn’t have any major problems. As we mentioned, Seoul and Busan can be problematic, and we strongly recommend that you do not rent a car while you are there as they are large cities with a lot of traffic.

The roads are quite good, so it should be peaceful and simple outside the big cities. On the other hand, Koreans are a little nervous and anxious when driving, even bus drivers, for example.

It is not possible to cross the bridge that connects South Korea to North Korea
Bridge that connects South Korea to North Korea, it is not possible to cross

Public transport

#41 As we said, traveling by car gives flexibility and can be faster, but in Korea, you can travel to practically any attraction by bus or train/subway. At least we went everywhere we wanted without any problems. And it’s very easy!

The secret to navigating Korea’s transport system is the Naver maps app. This app works excellently and in real time, giving us all the transport options between the destinations we want, including alternatives with more or less transfers, walking, etc.

Naver Maps is our number one tip for using public transport, so “waste” some time understanding how it works and its features as it has all the information there.

#42 The second fundamental tip is buying and loading the T-Money card we discussed above. Armed with these two instruments, just choose your destination, wait for the bus, swipe your card when getting on and off and it will take the value of the ticket from your balance and you’re done.

Tip: If you need to transfer in the next 30 minutes, you will not pay for the second ticket.

It’s incredibly simple and functional, and the fact that T-Money works on all public transport in Korea makes everything so easy for the traveler that it makes us wonder why it’s not like this in all countries.

Urban bus trips have different prices depending on the type of bus and distances, but they rarely cost much more than 1 Euro. Prices are usually indicated on Naver Maps, but not always.

Another thing to know when traveling in south Korea is that high-speed trains are amazing
High-speed train in South Korea

#43 Naver Maps provides good options for longer trips too, but you must reserve seats on trains and buses. Tickets are usually purchased at the stations, and we had no problems with them being full, but it was not high season either.

In our experience, buses are slightly cheaper than trains, but the difference is not significant and vastly depends on the journey. Either way, it’s never too expensive. Moreover, Korea’s train network works very well; it even has its own bullet train, the KTX.

We only traveled on the KTX once, which was very simple and comfortable. The price is also surprisingly low, especially when compared to the Shinkansen costs in Japan, which are… pornographic!

Other South Korea Travel Tips

South Korea souvenirs

#44 Korea is a unique destination and one that will make you want to bring back memories and souvenirs. Fortunately, there are many things to bring from Korea, and your biggest problem will probably be finding the space and weight in your suitcase to fit everything!

Some of our suggestions are:

  • Beauty Products – Korean beauty products are extremely popular and famous worldwide. The most popular store is Olive Young, and there are hundreds of these stores spread across the country.
  • Red ginseng – one of the most typical products from South Korea. Used in some recipes and Koreans believe in its medicinal powers.
  • Hanbok – the traditional Korean costume. It can be a great souvenir, whether it’s a miniature for decoration or a complete version.
  • Socks – Koreans love socks and have the most fun, colorful ones imaginable. It may initially seem like a strange gift, but it is very typical.
  • Korean Snacks – Korean snacks are delicious and known all over the world.
  • Ingredient kits for typical Korean dishes
  • Kimchi is the most famous Korean ingredient or dish.
  • Handicrafts and typical local products – they exist everywhere. Pay attention, and buy something you like when you see it. You may not find it anywhere else. In Insadong, there are lots of stores that sell the most diverse things.
South Korea souvenirs
One of the most curious souvenirs in South Korea are socks, you can find them everywhere and they are cute

Internet in South Korea

#45 South Korea is generally known for having some of the fastest internet connections in the world, so no major problems getting Internet are expected.

As in any developed country, any accommodation is expected to have free WIFI, so this should not be a major concern. Confirming the signal quality in the comments is always a good idea.

If you want to use mobile data, you must buy a local data card or an eSim. However, we must note that South Korean data cards are among the most expensive in the world, so purchasing an eSim is a good alternative.

For this reason, we used an e-sim card, which worked quite well for us. You can buy it here. If you decide to buy a data card in Korea, prices can go up to 50 Euros. The good news is that data plans of these sim cards are usually unlimited or almost unlimited.

Viajar na Coreia do Sul - rua de transito no distrito de Gangnam em Seoul
A busy street in the Gangnam district of Seoul

Cleaning, pollution, and recycling

#46 The issue of cleanliness and trash in Korea is a bit complex. If, on the one hand, the more rural areas, parks, and tourist areas are quite clean, some areas of the cities, particularly the market areas, street food, and restaurants, can be quite dirty.

In other words, Korea is much cleaner than most Asian countries (with the exception of Japan), but there is still a lot of work to be done, and some areas are not very clean.

A curious note is the absence of rubbish bins on the street, even in cities. It’s very difficult to find rubbish or recycling bins, which ends up being annoying for those who travel because we end up buying a lot of single-use and plastic-based things.

It is therefore essential to always have a bag to store the rubbish until we find a bin or recycling point.

#47 Regarding recycling, we have the same problem with rubbish bins. They are quite difficult to find, and when you do, it is a little difficult to understand what is supposed to go in each crate. Apparently, it differs, as we never conclude what it is supposed to do.

Our solution ended up being to look at the bins and try to place our rubbish where there was similar rubbish.

A situation where we would like there to be a change in South Korea in the use of plastics and single-use products. There is still a lot of unnecessary plastic use, especially using cups, cutlery, and other disposable products. We often wanted to avoid it but couldn’t because there was no other option.

Attention! It is a world of difference from Korea to Southeast Asia and even Mexico, but much can still be done.

tudo sobre a Coreia do Sul - Changgyeonggung-
Changgyeonggung Palace is the ideal place to learn about the history of South Korea

Electrical outlets

#48 Electrical sockets in South Korea are type C (Europlug) and F, with a voltage of 220V and a frequency of 60 Hz.

In other words, you do not need an adapter if you come from Continental Europe or other countries with the same type of sockets. Note, however, that the voltage and frequency are different. This means that computers, cell phones, and the like work normally, but household appliances and hairdryers will need a transformer.

If you come from countries with other types of sockets, we suggest this adapter, and if you need a frequency converter, we suggest this one.

Documentation to enter South Korea

#49 Most nationalities do not need a visa to enter South Korea, but they need to request the K-ETA, that is, electronic travel authorization, on the official website.

Filling it out is quite simple, but ensure you have entered your details correctly and in accordance with your passport. It costs 9-10 USD, depending on the exchange rate. K-ETA allows stays of up to 90 days and is valid for three years.

There may be some countries that are exempted from visa and K-Eta. Have a look at the official K-ETA site because it may change regularly.

South Korea Travel Guide

#50 Finally, if you want to buy a travel guide, we suggest this Lonely Planet guide. It has a lot of helpful information and excellent reviews.

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