The Discover Seoul Pass: How To Save Money On Travel In Korea

The Discover Seoul Pass was introduced last year by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Seoul Tourism Organization in an effort to provide tourists that aren’t traveling in groups access to sites and better address their needs.

I’ll be honest, when I first took a look at the information for the cards, my immediate response was to find them unnecessary and costly, more costly than if you just enter the sites and pay. I thought I might be missing something. One problem I immediately saw was that while the cards are good for 24 hours or 48 hours, you can’t actually visit many places after dusk and if you’re trying to see everything in one day… would you even be able to enjoy it? I wondered how they would really work out.

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Discover Seoul Pass

Photo: http://discoverseoulpass.com/

The cards allow access to some of Seoul’s biggest landmarks and a selection of historical, cultural and Hallyu attractions, but is it really worth it? The site claims that if you purchase the 24 hour pass for W39,900 (~$40) or 48 hours for W50,000 (~$50), you can have access to sites that usually cost more than W150,000 (~$150). The thing is, there is NO WAY you can see all of the sites in one day so while there is “access”, it’s not feasible. And some of the sites are far enough away from the rest on the subway that you’d be traveling more than you’d be sightseeing and that’s if you don’t get lost if you’re a first time visitor to Seoul. With that in mind, I’m going to break it down and explain what the best use of the cards would be. Let’s be honest, would you want to visit an already free site with a card that just cost you $40.00? I don’t think so.

 In order to make it the most effective, it does take some planning, some idea of how navigation in Seoul works and an idea of how much time you’d want to spend at each site and I’m here to help with that.

The Discover Seoul Pass website simply doesn’t state how much a normal rate to get into each site is, so most tourists looking at it would have no idea how much they are or are NOT saving. I do, however. Remember that this card can also work as a T-Money (transportation card for subways/buses/taxis) card even after the 24 hours of access to sites has expired. This is important and should be factored in to costs because a simple T-money card can also cost anywhere from W2,500 to W8,000 depending on the style. I’ve made two itineraries after perusing the options. I’m usually interested in cultural, traditional and historical sites myself. As that’s the case, I first wanted to make an itinerary that I would actually use. The second itinerary I came up with was the best and most cost effective use of the card which would end up saving you the most money. You can see them below in visual format.

Let’s break it down in good old numbers:

THE COST EFFECTIVE CULTURE ITINERARY:
T-money card: W2,500
Hanboknam: W10,000 (average but ranges from W5,000 to W20,000 depending on what kind of Hanbok you choose)
National Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art: W4,000
Museum Kimchikan: W5,000
N Seoul Tower: W10,000
Jeongdong Theater: W12,000
Total: W49,500
Spent on Card: W39,900
Total Savings: W9,600
For me, this itinerary cuts it too close. While there is some savings, it’s also a packed day and leaves little time to just sit, rest and enjoy some of the surroundings. You need to start right when Gyeongbokgung Palace opens at 9:00am and you’d also want to make reservations at Kum Bak Yeon and Jeongdong Theater to ensure a spot. Also, due to site closures, this itinerary would NOT work on Mondays. You wouldn’t need much transportation with this itinerary which would be nice, but you’d want to diligently follow your map around the Bukchon area.
THE MOST COST EFFECTIVE ITINERARY:
T-money card: W2,500
Hanboknam: W10,000 (average but ranges from W5,000 to W20,000 depending on what kind of Hanbok you choose)
Grevin Museum: W18,000
K-live K-pop Hologram Concert: W20,000
N Seoul Tower: W10,000
Alive Museum: W12,000
Jeongdong Theater: W12,000
Total: W87,500
Spent on Card: W39,900
Total Savings: W47,600

This itinerary is clearly the best for savings. Jeongdong Theater could be switched out for the Fanta-Stick Musical, Jump or The Painter’s Hero and still rack up the same savings. It would still be highly suggested to start off bright and early to ensure maximum time to use the card as after 11:00pm, you pretty much wouldn’t have anywhere to use it. Again, this itinerary would not be suitable for a Monday due to palace closures. This itinerary requires a bit more public transport, but nothing terribly far.Will you be traveling to Seoul, Korea soon? Make sure you know where to stay. Agoda offers the best prices on the best places to stay in Asia.

If you want to stay in an updated but traditional Korean home near the sites mentioned in these itineraries, check out Gongsimga Hanok Guesthouse. Or stay in something more updated like the Royal Hotel Seoul. There are so many great places to stay, just make sure you’re where you want to be.

SUGGESTIONS & TIPS FOR THE DISCOVER SEOUL PASS:

  • If you didn’t want ONE packed day, you could START using the card at noon one day and then it would expire at noon the next day which means you could visit something the next morning in a different area of Seoul as well. This would be one way to also maximize the entrance fees. You could enter something at 11:45am for the savings the next day and then stay there after noon just fine. This means that you could even add something extra onto the itinerary for more savings. It would actually be more advisable to start at noon one day and go until noon the next day. Again, it’s about the planning though and maximizing the use of the card.
  • Make sure to check for site closures and concert/musical times. Palaces have specific days they are closed and performances are all scheduled.
  • The card can also be used as a transportation card on subways, buses or in taxis BUT you need to top it off for it to work as one.
  • The card is activated as soon as you use it at the first site and is good for either 24 hours or 48 hours.
  • The sites can also be visited once within the time frame so you can’t go back in to the same site twice during the 24 or 48 hours.

The 48 hour pass is only W15,000 more than the 24 hours and would make the card much more cost effective. If you used it over the course of a weekend in Seoul or just for two to three days (depending on what time you started with it), it could work out that you’d see much more than you thought you could.

However, take a look at the site and check out the sites available to see before you purchase the card. There are a lot of Hallyu sites and quirky but fun museums. If these aren’t your jive and you are interested in more traditional and historical sites, this might not be the card for you.

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5 Responses

  1. Discover Seoul Pass is perfect for people who want to save money. Millennials can enjoy using the card but I think it’s not suitable for people who brought their small kids or old parents with them. Anyway, I love the infographic! ^^

  2. Hallie says:

    Yes, the ticket admissions are all based on adult prices. If it’s for a child or elderly person, it’s definitely not worth it because so many places they get in for free or for a very minimal cost. That’s true.

  3. I’ve bought a few of these types of passes in various cities around the world, and found them to overall be a complete waste of money. It’s like the promise of all these things you can do without worrying about separate admissions, but in reality there’s no way you can do even a fraction of them. Still, your post offers a way to get the absolute best out of the card if you do decide to purchase it. 🙂

  4. I love that you’ve made a cost effective itinerary. I’ve had these cards in cities before and thought it offered great value for money in typically expensive cities like Stockholm. However, in Seoul, I rarely spend very much on paid attractions. I’d much rather just walk around the free art villages and look around shops and do maybe one or two paid activities (Gyongbokgung and Namsan Tower are always a good shout!) I’m sure this post will help anyone who wants to use the pass, though!

    • Hallie says:

      Yes, I don’t spend much either but if you were interested or had a friend coming to tour, it could be useful to see some of the more expensive places all in one day and save some money that way.

What do you think?