Figuring out everything you need to know before visiting South Korea? This in-depth guide will teach you the 30 best South Korea travel tips to hit the ground running.

Planning a trip to South Korea may feel overwhelming if it’s your first visit. I admit I reached for my Korean phrasebook for pretty basic expressions my first time there.  But I encourage you to visit. Not only is South Korea a stunning country, it’s relatively easy to navigate –  you’ll just want to do your homework ahead of time.

I just got back from South Korea, where we travelled extensively throughout the country. The whole trip ran as smoothly as I could’ve hoped for, and it definitely can for you, too.

How? I took some time to lay out the most important details, like resources for learning basic expressions, how to get around, and what to expect when dining in restaurants.

Ready to embark on your own discoveries in South Korea? Here’s a list of the best travel tips for your visit.

South Korea Travel Tips 

Convert Your Cash to the Local Currency

South Korea uses the Korean Won ( ₩ or KRW), and you’ll want to carry some cash when you travel (especially when you take day trips to smaller cities and villages). 

You can swap your currency in most major cities, though I think the best exchange rates are in Seoul, particularly in Myeongdong, at a local bank.

When you take out your cash, see if they’ll give you some different size bills. They come in 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 50,000 notes. Having smaller bills is often appreciated by business and restaurant owners whenever possible.

Top Tip

You’ll spend about ₩65,000  to ₩130,000 (£40 to £80) cash per day, so having a mix of large and small bills will come in handy. 

Most Travellers From the USA and Europe Don’t Need a Visa


One of my favourite things about travelling to South Korea is that you can take a last-minute trip without worrying about pesky paperwork (if you live in the USA or most of Western Europe).

You won’t need to file for the K-ETA or a visa, as long as you’re staying for under 90 days, have citizenship, and have a valid passport from a country exempt from the programs.

Still not sure if you need to apply? You can learn more about documentation requirements here.

You’ll Want to Practise Reading and Speaking Korean

Language Learning Apps

When you visit places like Seoul, you may find people speaking English at hotels and some restaurants and bars. But as you get out of the more touristy areas within the city (and outside of it), it’s best to know at least some basic Korean expressions. 

If you don’t have much time to prepare, a pocket guide to Korean is a great way to learn on the fly. But if you have more time, I suggest downloading a language learning app like Duolingo to practise while preparing for your holiday (or on the long flight over).

Familiarise yourself with the usual suspects of basic phrases like asking for directions or finding a loo (even the one with a view at N Seoul Tower). You should also study restaurant menus beforehand to know how to order the best dishes.

It’s actually easier than you may think to grasp, and there are plenty of videos online that you can watch to learn the Korean alphabet basics in around 60-90 minutes.

Best Time to Visit South Korea

Hanuel Maru Observation Deck Gamcheon Village Busan South Korea

Looking for one of the best tips for visiting South Korea? Plan your visit for the Spring or Autumn/Fall.

The high temperatures are usually around 18.3°C (65°F). You’ll also benefit from shoulder season when the hotel and airfare drop into surprisingly low territory. 

But you can also lock into specific months, depending on what you’re visiting for. Here are a couple of suggestions.

Seoul: December is a special time in Seoul when a light dusting of snow covers the trees, palaces, and pavilions at Changdeokgung Palace, and you won’t wait as long at museums or restaurants.

Jeonju International Film Festival: Plan your trip for May 1-10  if you’re visiting Jeonju in 2024. Jeonju Hanok Village is already rich in tradition, and this film festival only adds to the festive charm with locals and tourists strolling the area in their best hanbok dress.

Safety in South Korea 

South Korea 

Is it safe to travel to South Korea? That’s a resounding yes.

One thing I noticed while travelling in South Korea is how safe of a country it really is. Even when I was exploring restaurants and bars late at night (Seoul really never sleeps), I never felt unsafe.

That said, make sure to practise basic safety measures, like walking with friends at night whenever possible, keeping your personal belongings in a safe place, and staying in well-lit areas on the tourist track, especially when travelling solo.

Tipping is Not Customary in South Korea

Gangnamchon KBBQ Gangneung South Korea-2

If you’re visiting from a country where tipping is expected, this might be a hard one to get used to. But trust me, you’re not winning over any bartenders or making friends with your masseuse by leaving extra cash; in fact, it’s often the opposite.

Tipping in South Korea is not something locals do and not something you should do while visiting. Many locals may feel confused, or even insulted if you get pushy trying to leave a tip.

Top Tip

How do you show them you appreciate the service? Easy. Express your gratitude when you sit down for a meal and leave as locals do with a smile, and a thank you (감사합니다 or gamsahabnida).

How Long Should I Visit South Korea?

I think a 10-day itinerary allows you to see the best of South Korea while giving you enough time to really explore the cities and everything they offer.

But if you only have one week, I’d still recommend going to Seoul, Busan, and Jeonju so you can see a few different areas of the beautiful country.

Fly Into Seoul

N Seoul Tower

Almost any trip to South Korea will begin and end in Seoul. While there are 15 airports in the country, you will find the best flight deals if you book a flight to Seoul’s Incheon International Airport (ICN).

Not sure when to book your flight? Like always, if you want to score a great deal on a flight, look early and often and try to plan at least 3-5 months out when travelling internationally.

Getting Around South Korea

Insadong Seoul

Once you land in South Korea, you’ll love how convenient public transportation is.

Larger cities have wonderful local subways and buses, which make it easy to zip around town from place to place (although “zipping” around can take up to an hour in the sprawling city of Seoul).

And when you’re planning a longer journey from one city to another on your South Korea itinerary, the bullet train (KTX) is affordable and v. fast. We used it on my most recent trip between Jeonju and Seoul, and it was super comfy, with great views for most of the ride.

Charge Your T Money Card at a Local Store

Riding the local buses and trains is easy, but you’ll want to have your card charged up so you’re ready to tap in and out at the relevant locations around town.

While you can add money at the train stations, this can be a bit stressful if you’re rushing to catch a train or bus. I found it easiest to charge up at convenience stores to carry me over for a day or 2.

I got around town for less than £4 ($5) per day and was happy to have a full card when I got into the busy train stations during commuter hours.

Ditch Google Maps

Google Maps 

All apologies to the company that seems to be everywhere, all the time – but Google Maps just doesn’t work in South Korea. Facts.

Naver or Kakao are 2 local options you can choose from that are free, easy to use, and far more reliable when walking or using public transportation from place to place.

What Part of South Korea Should I Visit

You’re likely going to Seoul (you definitely should, but where else should you plan a visit? 

I just planned a 10-day itinerary that covers many of the best spots in the city.

My favourites? You need to see Jeonju for its insane food scene and traditional Hanok Village, Busan for historical Korean War sites like the UN Memorial Cemetery, and Andong to explore a traditional Confucian school at Dosan Seowon Confucian Academy.

But there are brilliant things to do all over the country, and you can read more about them here.

Get a SIM Card Ahead of Time

Ever landed in a country and frantically scrambled to set up international roaming in the terminal, wishing you could find directions to your accommodations? Reserve a SIM Card ahead of time, and you won’t have this problem.

Having your SIM card ready to go means you can check texts, call your hotel, and look up where to get on a subway train near you without incurring staggering charges the minute you get off the plane.

Top Tip

LG U+ is considered one of the fastest, and you can get a 7-day pass for around £20 ($25). 

Take Off Your Shoes in Someone’s Home

Bukchon Hanok Village Seoul South Korea-3

If you’re lucky enough to tour a traditional hanok (or any Korean local’s home), you’ll want to take your shoes off immediately when you arrive.

This same rule may apply at some traditional restaurants and tea houses with floor seating.

Don’t Rely on Rideshare

You won’t find Uber or Lyft easily in South Korea, so while you can try to book a ride, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t find anything in your area.

You can find local companies like Kakao T that offer rideshares, but generally, public transportation is a much faster option and extremely cheap at around £1 per ride (give or take).

Use Travel Resources Wisely

Gwangjang Market Seoul South Korea-

I understand it can be intimidating to visit a country where you don’t know the language or culture. Luckily, there are some brilliant travel apps, and tools you can use that will make your South Korea trip run as smoothly as possible.

If you don’t feel comfortable travelling solo, group tours are a great way to go. Which one to choose? G Adventures offers a popular 8-day tour from Seoul to Busan and back.

Or, you can use a travel app like Nomadher to make friends with resident

online and maybe see South Korea with a local. 

Pack for the Different Seasons

Julianna Barnaby N Seoul Tower South Korea

South Korea travel tips are generally pretty straightforward, but this one requires a bit more narrowing in on when exactly you plan to visit. 

Average highs range from -6.6°C (20°F) in the winter to 26.6°C (80°F) in the summer, and Spring and Fall can fluctuate a bit from warm to cool and damp. Needless to say, what you bring along can vary dramatically from one season to the next.

Your best bet is to use PackPoint and fill in the dates and activities you plan to do.

Upgrade to First Class on the KTX

Taking a bullet train is a must when you’re travelling cross-country in South Korea. Do yourself a favour and upgrade to first class when you book a ticket.

It’s extremely reasonable for a standard ticket at £28 ($35). But for only £8 ($10) extra, I thought the journey from Jeonju to Seoul was particularly comfortable, and you get more legroom and a better chance at a window seat with a stunning view.

There’s an Alternative for a Traditional DMZ Tour

Aegibong Peace Park South Korea

The DMZ is a 4 km (2.5 mi) x 250 km (160 mi) region that has been neutral territory ever since the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953 – at the end of the Korean War.

Contrary to some South Korea travel tips I’ve read elsewhere, booking a guided tour isn’t the only way to see the area.

Aegibong Peace Ecopark is a relatively new spot and an alternative way of seeing the DMZ, and it only takes about 1.5 hours from Seoul. On a clear day, the views of Pyongyang are beautiful; just be sure to reserve a ticket here.

Learn More About Local Culture Before Your Visit

Mokpo South Korea-15

Learning more about Korean culture goes a long way when you’re planning a trip to South Korea. You can split this up into 2 different lessons.

First, hit the history books and learn about the Joseon Dynasty era, which will help you understand the wood, stone, and tile hanok houses, beautiful patterns and pieces of traditional hanbok dress, and which royal palaces to visit during your stay.

But researching popular culture is just as important, as it will help you make the most of visiting K-culture pop-ups at The Hyundai Seoul, where you can load up on gifts from your new favourite K-drama and K-pop stars to bring back to your friends.

Try Local Coffee

Want to discover the best coffee scene you haven’t heard of? Visit a local cafe for a coffee (try one on ice, like the locals) when you visit South Korea.

My favourite city to cafe hop was Gangneung, with almost all coffee shops in the area roasting their own beans – it is well-recognized as the “city of coffee.”

But if you don’t make it that far, you can find plenty of exciting options in Seoul, like KOTTON.SEOUL in Insadong. 

Locals Dress Conservatively… Even at the Beach


If you don’t want to be the subject of bombastic side-eyes from locals, I’d recommend dressing relatively conservatively on your trip.

Most locals cover their upper bodies, even on the beach.

So instead of wearing your favourite bikini, pack a one-piece, some shorts, and a cover-up for your shoulders – especially if you plan to go to a restaurant or bar afterward. 

Stay in a Hanok Village

You’ll find traditional hanok villages throughout South Korea, including some of my favourite areas like Andong, Seoul, and (of course) Jeonju.

The best part is you can actually stay in the traditional Joseon-era houses with their charming courtyards and unique Ondol heating system (which uses fire and a large stone beneath the home’s structure to heat the floor).

I found Andong Gurume Resort to be a beautiful place that’s distinctly Korean, as it gives you a chance to stay in a traditional hanok village on the outskirts of town.

Bring Your Universal Travel Adaptor

Yes, you’re going to need that always-handy universal travel adaptor when you visit South Korea. You’ll find both Type C and Type F plugs in major cities and smaller towns throughout the country.

But if you forget one, you should be able to find a convenience store that carries a travel adapter in most major cities. 

Avoid Travelling During Lunar New Year

While travelling in January is generally an excellent time to book local and international holidays, you may want to skip a trip to South Korea during Korean New Year.

The exact dates change every year but are typically in late January or early February (February 10 in 2024).

Top Tip

It’s a very popular time for locals to take holidays themselves, so you’ll likely compete for hotel rooms and transportation to the most popular locations on the days before and after the new year. This is also a time when tourist attractions are among their busiest, due to local residents being off work for holiday. 

Plan to Bring Home K-Beauty Products

K Beauty has taken the world by storm – there’s nowhere better to stock up on products than in South Korea itself! 

The sunscreen, makeup, and other skincare products aren’t just affordable, they’re often made with all-natural ingredients that tend to work very well.

Top Tip

Olive Young’s flagship in Myeongdong is hands-down my favourite spot for its wide selection and great deals.

Pollution is a Problem in Major Cities

Views from Busan X the Sky Busan South Korea

If you have allergies, pre-existing medical conditions, or are generally sensitive to air pollution, you may need to mask up when you visit South Korea.

Rural areas are far better than cities, but I was surprised by the air quality on my last visit to Seoul.

Winter is typically the worst time for pollution, so you may want to rethink a visit late (or early) in the year if you’re affected by poor air quality or plan indoor activities.

Restaurants Won’t Automatically Give You a Bill

Unlike many places in Western culture, you may find that your server isn’t waiting around for you to drop the check after your meal.

Why not? Generally, you just pay at the counter for your meals.

But at some restaurants, you may need to call for help. While I admit it wasn’t a natural response, I quickly learned to wave my hand and say “저기요” (jeogiyo) in a loud voice when I needed my check. 

Don’t Forget to Pack Your Hiking Boots

Drone Aerial Photos from Near Buyondae Cliff South Korea-6

No matter when you visit South Korea, packing your hiking gear is a great idea. Locals love to hike, so it’s a fun way to get out and see areas and maybe make a friend or 2 on the trails.

Even in larger cities like Seoul, you can climb 550 feet at Inwangsan for some epic views.

Expect to Share Food and Eat A Lot

Korean food is absolutely delicious. From Korean BBQ spots that sizzle up freshly cut meats at your table to large bowls of traditional seafood soups, many of the best dishes aren’t only tasty but also come with more bonchon than you’ll know how to handle in one sitting.

No joke, some restaurants will give you over a dozen small plates of grilled fish, kimchi, fresh veg and rice to eat with your meal (usually at a really affordable price).

If you can travel with a group, you’ll be able to get the most value for your money, as 1-2 dishes can easily feed a few people at the table.

Read More Guides for Travelling in South Korea 

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