Culture on a budget – free trips, museum admissions and discounts

Fish shaped lanterns on the lantern festival in Seoul

The Culture Day in Korea offers free museum visits and discounts, the government invites foreigners to free trips, and national holidays await you with many activities and festivities. Sounds good? Then you should read the following blog post.

Korea has a lot of cultural sides to offer with its own traditions and modern pop culture – even though the country was influenced by many different Asian countries, especially China but also the USA. Particular Seoul offers a lot of museums, palaces, festivities, and events you should not miss. I have been on two free trips for foreigners and visited a bunch of museums for free. Let me tell you how.

Culture Day and free entrance to museums

Since 2014, every last Wednesday of the month is Culture Day. This particular day offers discounts or sometimes even free entrance and extended opening hours for all kinds of museums, galleries, and other cultural facilities. Usually, on Culture Day, most museums including the king’s palaces have free admission and cinemas offer a discount. I really love the idea behind it and I think it is such a good experience to explore a lot of Korea’s culture on a budget. I have used Culture Day to visit a bunch of museums in Seoul including the Seoul Museum of History and the National Museum of Korea.

Riders on horses on the lantern festival 2016
Free events, festivals and attractions
Peacock at the Lantern Festival 2016

Besides Culture Day you should also take a look for free events, festivals and attractions. Especially South Korea’s capital Seoul has a lot to offer. One of my favourite ones was the Lantern Festival at Cheonggyecheon, the little river starting at the city hall. The festival returns every winter with free admission. Another big festival is the Seoul International Fireworks Festival at the Han River at the beginning of October. Every year, two to three changing countries plus Korea create a show of fireworks. During the day, there is a programme, in 2016 there was a K-pop concert as well (with B1A4, I.O.I., 24K, and Mamamoo), and in the evening there was an after-party with a DJ. The festival was very well organised and even with traffic control on the subway to make sure that the subway is not getting too full and everyone gets home safe.

Public holidays for discounts

You should also take a look at the public holidays in Korea because they also bring free entrance, festivities or discounts. The biggest holidays are Seollal (설날) – the Korean New Year on the first day of the Korean calendar, and Chueseok (추석) – the Korean harvest festival in autumn. When I was in Korea we got a 50% discount as foreigners on Chuseok to visit famous amusement and water parks in Seoul (the downside, it was pretty full because of the holidays). Another holiday you should watch out for is Buddhas birthday in late spring. It is the perfect day to visit one of the Buddhist temples because they celebrate the day with different festivities and beautiful lanterns.

Tips for the king’s palaces

If you visit the Gyeongbokgung and Deoksugung Palace in Seoul make sure to attend the changing ceremonies of the royal guards. The shows are for free and right in front of the king’s palaces (before you enter). If you visit the king’s palaces wearing a Hanbok (Korean traditional clothing) you also get free admission. Otherwise, you can save money by buying the Integrated Palace Ticket to visit more than one sight. For more information read my post about Traditional Korea.

Free trips for foreigners

When I visited South Korea back in 2016, I was lucky enough to attend two free trips in the South of the country. The idea behind the trips is to bring foreigners closer to the Korean culture and improve tourism by offering them free tours and cultural events, which are sponsored by the government. On my first trip, we went to the Great Battle of Myeongnyang Festival, the Korean Minhwa Museum with traditional Korean paintings, and the little island 가우도 (Ga-u-do). The second trip included the visit of the Naeso Temple in Buan, the Gomso Salted Sea Food Festival, the International Integrative Medicine Expo and Woodland in Jangheung. The latter is a cypress forest and offers a bunch of activities and facilities. Apparently, it is also a known spot for TV productions as the K-drama Faith.

Free tours and silkworm pupas
Beondegi (Korean silkworm pupa)

Just a little story from one of the trips: at the Sea Food Festival, my roommate Jazz convinced me (plus two other US-Americans and two Koreans who apparently never tried it before) to eat our first (and for me at least also last) Beondegi. This is a silkworm pupa, a Korean snack. What can I say, I thought it would be crusty – well it was not. I guess the worst part was the juicy consistency and the knowing of what I actually ate. Probably I would not recommend it (little fun fact: in 2019 I became a Vegetarian).

❗️ I did the free trips with Kim’s Community Travel. As far as I know, nowadays it is a combination of free tours and really cheap trips overnight. Another fun fact: The organiser of Kim’s travels Dongryeong also founded a community house. It was a shared flat with foreigners from around the world. Given that sharing flats are not a thing in Korea the shared flat got national attention when the TV channel KBS made a reality series out of it. You can find Kim’s Community House on Facebook as well.

First written on Friday, September 16th, 2016, you have read the blog post Culture on a budget – free trips, museum admissions and discounts on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Daily Life in South Korea Pt.I

High-Tech toilets, smileys which look like a butt, life jackets in water parks, funny holidays with black noodles and teaching videos in the metro which show you how to use the escalator in the right way – that’s South Korea.

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I had the chance to live for four months in Korea when I studied abroad. I already learned a lot about the huge differences between the Asian and Western cultures in my first week, or to be more specific between South Korea and my home country Germany. Here I want to share my experiences with you. Maybe you already went to Korea and find yourself in the stories. Maybe you are just curious, or you want to go and find one or another tip for your travels. If you’re Korean – you will see how I saw your country and what seemed funny to me (so funny I wrote a blog entry about it). Don’t take it too seriously because I love your country a lot.

Koreans love endings

Gu, Dong, Si, Gil, Do – Koreans use endings to describe places. First of all, it seems really complicated if you are not aware of the meanings. But if you know them, it is actually quite useful since it describes which places are “what”. The ending “do” markers the province you are in. South Korea has eight provinces and one special autonomous province. The ending “si” describes a city in this province. For example, the capital of the island Jeju has the same name as its island. In this case, Jeju-do describes the whole island as one province, Jeju-si is only the capital of the island.

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Jeju-do

Bigger cities have different boroughs with the ending “gu” (towns and the countryside have the endings “eup” and “myeon”) or rural districts “gun”. One level below is the district marked with “dong”. Villages are labelled with “ri”. Last but not least, is “gil” which tagged streets.

Special holidays

Koreans love to celebrate and give each other gifts. The biggest holiday is Chuseok (추석) which is equivalent to Thanksgiving and is a celebration with the whole family. The holiday is for three days and around autumn. Furthermore, Koreans celebrate a special New Year called Seollal (설날) after the Chinese calendar. This holiday is at the beginning of the year. Valentine’s Day is always on the 14th of February and a famous day in the whole world. In Korea, it is the day where women have to bring presents for their lovers. But Korea also has the “White Day” which is the equivalent of Valentine’s Day. It’s exactly one month later and at these days women get the presents from their partners. But Korea also has a special day for singles.

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Jajangmyeon

On the 14th of April, it is “Black Day”. All single persons wear black clothes and meet each other in restaurants to eat Jajangmyeon, Black bean noodles. Another commercial and unofficial holiday is “Pepero Day”. Pepero (빼빼로) are little sticks with different flavours like chocolate, berries or green tea. It is supported by the big company Lotte and celebrated on the 11th of November since 11/11 reminds to pepero sticks.

Overnight in libraries

Since I studied in Seoul I already know Koreans are really diligent and have to learn a lot. Especially before midterm and final exams, the libraries are full of students. Some of them are so into their learning period they even sleep in the library. My friend accidentally stayed overnight in our library at my university. She didn’t know the doors close at midnight, and since a lot of other students also stayed beside here, she didn’t think of the closing hours. When she wanted to leave the doors were closed and she was forced to stay until 5 o’clock in the morning to get out of the library. The students told her that they stay by their own choices in the library to concentrate fully on their exams. If necessary, they take some naps or bring blankets to sleep overnight in the library to start learning early in the morning.

Free time in Seoul

If Koreans don’t study all night and stay in libraries they of course also enjoy some free time in Seoul. One of my favourite stories is my day in a water park in Seoul because I felt like I learned a lot about small differences that day. I went with three other friends to a water park in Seoul. We are all from Western countries, so for us, it was pretty in common to wear a bikini. The thing is wearing a bikini seems not so famous in Asia. In general, I also felt Koreans don’t wear low-cut tops (miniskirts are no problem). This is the reason why I felt a bit uncomfortable in my bikini. Most Koreans wore swimsuits made out of neoprene or long shirts. In general, I was really surprised how many people wore just normal clothes as jeans, shoes, sunglasses or shirts for riding a slide. I am pretty sure in Germany they wouldn’t be allowed to wear street clothes in a water park.
Another fact is that many Koreans (but also in other countries) can’t swim or aren’t the best swimmers. That is why many people also were lifejackets. Actually, that was another fact, why we attract attention. I wondered about the girls in the water park who wore nice makeup and lipstick. Because for me a water park wouldn’t be the spot where I would wear any makeup. But my Korean friend told me the water park is also a possible flirting spot so it is important to look beautiful even there. Furthermore, people had little transparent and waterproof pockets where they carried really expensive cell phones, makeup or credit cards. More stuff I wouldn’t bring in a water park so I really had to think about the difference. Another interesting fact is that in Korea, it is completely fine to be naked in front of the same gender. In Germany, we have single changing rooms and most people would not show themselves naked not even under the public showers. On the other side, German television is more open showing naked people in movies or series. Whereas in Korea naked parts in movies and series are rare.

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A game place in Seoul

One other thing I really loved for our free time is the game places. There you find a lot of nice games you can play by yourself or with friends. Really famous is the Baseball game where the player plays the role of the Batter and hopefully hits a home run. Also famous are the machines with soft toys you have to grab in one shot with a crane to get the toy.

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Noraebang (노래방)

The most important free time activity is Noraebang (노래방) – Korean Karaoke. It is a good opportunity to meet with friends and sing favourite Kpop music, but also hits from Japan and China and of course, world hits in English. Every group gets its own room with a big screen, microphones and party lights. Noraebangs are sometimes also a good opportunity to bypass the time until the first metro is running again.

Click here to read part II:
Daily life in South Korea Pt.II