Is solo female travel in Korea safe? That is probably one of the main questions that you are asking yourself if you are considering traveling to the land of k-pop and kimchi by yourself.
That isn’t for any negative reason, but because Korea is still a somewhat off-the-beaten-path travel destination. There are not as many resources available for a female solo traveler in Korea as there are for more popular backpacking routes like Southeast Asia.
I lived in Seoul for two years and traveled all over Korea during my time in the country. This guide contains everything you need to ensure that your trip is fun and trouble-free. This guide is pretty wordy so feel free to use the table of contents to navigate to the relevant sections.
Why Korea is Perfect for Women Traveling Alone
South Korea is a fascinating, culturally rich place. There are no parts of the country that you should feel deterred from going to just because you are a woman traveling alone in Korea.
Koreans are very friendly and even when you find yourself in rural areas where English is not widely spoken, locals will do their best to help you.
Korea is an Incredibly Safe Place
South Korea is an incredibly safe country and I don’t just mean that in terms of the country’s crime rate statistics. There is a genuine sense of community and respect towards other people and their belongings in Korea which I’ve never seen anywhere else. This may sound like an impossible concept to grasp for those who haven’t visited Korea so let me provide you with a few examples:
For instance, leaving your laptop and purse on the table in Starbucks while you go off to the bathroom and wait in line to order another drink is just asking to be robbed in most places but in Korea, I’ve done this multiple times (and then have to remind myself that I need to stop doing it when I’m traveling elsewhere!)
I have also seen shop owners leave their tills unattended while they popped out to get something from the coffee store down the road and then coming back to be met with Korean teenagers patiently waiting at the till with their cash in hand to pay.
Would that happen in London? I don’t think so. Because respect is so deeply ingrained in Korean culture, people apply it to everything that they do.
Public Transport is Cheap and Efficient
The subway networks in Seoul and Busan are incredibly efficient and expansive. The Seoul subway extends far past the city limits into the neighboring cities of Suwon, Incheon, and Bucheon.
Seoul is huge, but you can get a train from one side of the city to another for as little as $3! The Seoul subway also has express trains that make longer journeys more bearable.
Pick up a T-Money subway card from one of the subway ticket machines for ticket discounts. This card can be used on subways and city buses all over Korea. This is also far easier than fumbling around for cash.
Download the ‘Subway Korea’ app for your phone. This will tell you the best route to get from A to B along with providing you with the train times and schedules.
Traveling alone from one city to another may seem daunting in a country that doesn’t even share the same alphabet as what we are used to, but traveling by bus or train in Korea is also very cheap and easy.
Korea is Generally Very Affordable
Korea is a very affordable country in general. The prices here may not be as cheap as Southeast Asia, but they are a world away from neighbouring Japan where the prices will make you cry more than chopping an onion!
Dining out in Korea will rarely cost you more than around 7,000 – 8,000 won. That is $7-8 and keep in mind, that is for a sumptuous Korean meal including a whole bunch of side dishes (banchan)!
If you go to a trendy bar or coffee shop in upscale neighbourhoods like Sinsa or Gangnam, the bill will never come to more than 7,000 won. This is pretty good for a capital city! I can only dream of such prices back in London!
Crime Rates in Korea are Low
South Korea has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. According to a 2019 World Safety Index report, South Korea is documented as being the 14th safest country in the world. This is compared to the United Kingdom at #35, and the United States at #49.
Violent crime is rare in Korea. Petty crime and theft are uncommon. That said, nowhere is ever completely risk-free so take care of your belongings, and try not to leave your luggage unattended just like you would when traveling anywhere else.
Security Cameras are Everywhere
Women traveling alone in Korea can feel rest-assured that big brother is always watching. Not in a creepy way of course, but security cameras are everywhere in South Korea. This provides an additional level of reassurance about your safety.
When you find yourself in a coffee shop, a bar, a mall, whatever, just look up and note the surveillance that offers you an extra level of security. When I worked in Korea, we even had these in our office!
Free Wifi is Everywhere!
You don’t have to worry about internet connectivity in Korea. There are open, non-password protected wifi networks literally everywhere.
You will find free wifi in the street, in the malls, and so on. You will be constantly connected to the internet, and never have to worry about finding wifi if you need it.
Solo Female Travelers are a Common Sight
South Korea is not one of those places where solo female travelers are considered an oddity. Rest assured, if you are meandering around hanok villages and green tea fields by yourself, people are not going to look at you as if you’ve got three heads.
There are many ex-pat English teachers in Korea. Many of them will often take trips around the country by themselves at weekends (I was one of them!) You don’t have to worry about unwanted attention.
Tourist Helpers Are Always on Hand to Advise
Tourist information helpers can be found across Seoul and wider Korea. You will find them wearing red shirts that have “information” written on them.
These friendly folk are usually standing outside of touristic sites such as Gyeongbokgung or the mural villages in lovely Busan. If you get lost or need details about local attractions, they are on hand to help!
English is Widely Spoken & People Want to Speak to You
Although not every individual speaks English to a fluent degree, you will find that far more people do have a good grasp of the language than you would expect (far more than in Japan!).
Koreans know the value of learning English in order to help them with their careers so many people strive to improve their English ability as much as they can. It’s not uncommon to find people striking up conversations with you, excited to have the opportunity to practice their English with a native speaker, and taking a genuine interest in your background and home country.
Solo Female Travel in Korea:
Where to Go
Seoul is a bustling megalopolis and one of the largest cities in the world. Each of Seoul’s neighbourhoods have their own distinct personalities. To be honest, you could spend the entirety of your time in Korea in Seoul and still barely scratch the surface of the city. That said, you should certainly venture further afield to the more traditional Korean settlements.
Outside of the urban sprawl, South Korea is 70% mountainous. Miles upon miles of pristine countryside, craggy mountains, and idyllic coastlines await the adventurous traveler.
Whether you are the outdoorsy type that seeks off-the-beaten-path hiking adventures, or a culture vulture that dreams of nights spent in the cosy hanok guest houses of quaint mountain villages, Korea has something for everyone.
Some of the best destinations that female solo travelers in Korea may want to incorporate into their itinerary are detailed below.
- Boseong Green Tea Fields
Since Seoul’s Incheon International Airport is the main point of entry for flights into Korea, it makes sense to start your solo female travel in Korea trip in the country’s capital.
Navigate your way through the narrow labyrinth-like streets of Insadong, slurp noodles beneath a pojangmacha tent in Gwangjang market, and party the night away at the glitzy cocktail bars of upscale Gangnam and Cheongdam-dong.
Approximately an hour south of Seoul, Jeonju is Korea’s foodie capital and the birthplace of bibimbap (Korean beef with rice and veggies). Jeonju has escaped the eyes of many international tourists but is a popular weekend break destination for foodie Koreans.
Some of the best Korean street foods can be found at Jeonju’s Nambu Night Market. Visit one of the many local tea houses serving Moju – a spiced low alcohol drink that is served warm.
For each pot of Moju that you order, you are served with an array of different side dishes each time. Jeonju is a nice place to spend a day or two, and you can stay in a traditional hanok.
What Hawaii is to the United States is what Jeju is to South Korea – a little slice of tropical paradise. Jeju has gained a reputation as being a romantic travel destination; however, don’t let that put you off traveling there as part of your solo female travel in Korea.
Jeju provides plenty of rewarding adventures besides romance. Tread along scenic hiking trails that lead past waterfalls and ascend active volcanoes, and enjoy a unique cultural experience by meeting the Korean Haenyeo – a group of deep-sea diving Korean fisherwomen that jump into the sea to retrieve sea creatures with their hands.
Boseong Green Tea Fields
Boseong green tea fields are South Korea’s oldest and largest tea plantation. Established back in 1937, the fields are well worth visiting if you find yourself in the southwestern part of the country. Here, beautiful fragrant landscaped tea hedges cascade down rolling green hills.
This is far more than just a farming spot. Boseong fields are widely regarded as being one of the most beautiful places in South Korea. Sample the exquisite yubi-cha tea, take photographs amid the incredible backdrop, and fall in love with the nearby rural villages.
If you are dreaming of soaking up the sun on pristine sandy beaches, swimming in cerulean waters, and enjoying some R&R, add Gangneung to your Korea travel bucket list.
Gangneung offers a beach getaway and a little respite from the hustle and bustle of Seoul without venturing all the way down to Jeju.
The promenades of Gangneung boast delectable eateries, quirky coffee shops, and fun bars. Gangneung is the perfect blend of beach life and cosmopolitan Korean culture.
Looking for more beach destinations to add to your trip? If you venture south of Gangneung, you will find Samcheok and Jangho beach. This spot is perfect for those who like to travel off-the-beaten-path, and want to enjoy Korea’s beaches without the company of hundreds of other tourists.
With bustling street markets, idyllic beaches, and vibrantly coloured Buddhist temples perched precariously on the edge of cliff faces, Busan is one of the most beautiful places in South Korea. Base yourself in Haeundae to be in the heart of the action and easily meet other travelers.
The ancient city of Gyeongju sits in the southwestern part of Korea. It can be easily reached via train or bus from Seoul, Busan, Daegu, and other major Korean cities. Gyeongju is often referred to as “the museum without walls” on account of all of the historical sites that are situated here.
During the Silla dynasty, Gyeongju was the capital of Korea. The city’s “Bulguksa temple” is the head temple of Jogye Buddhism, while the nearby Seokgurum grotto is home to an impressive giant Buddha statue that dates back to 751. The Donggung Palace and its Wolji pond were once summer retreats for Korean royals, and the Daereungwon Tombs are their final resting place.
Gapyeong county provides a perfect escape into nature just thirty minutes away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Seoul. The beautiful garden of morning calm can be found here – the largest private garden of Korea. The grounds of the garden are filled with hundreds of species of beautiful flowers and trees and divided into different themed sections – a Japanese bonsai garden, a Chinese water garden, etc.
Nami Island is also set in Gapyeong – this lovely woodland area is a perfect place for hiking and cycling. It was also the filming location for several K-dramas, including Winter Sonata. Gapyeong county is famous for its unique pensions – the accommodations here follow lots of weird and wonderful themes – from hotels built in the shape of a pirate ship, to hotels where you sleep in a noodle box.
Solo Female Travel in Korea:
What to Do
Seoul (and South Korea in general) is a girl’s paradise! Some great activity ideas that you can incorporate into your trip are detailed below.
- Treat yourself to a pamper session in Seoul
- Take a tour of the DMZ and the Korean border
- Shop for cosmetics and cute K-fashions
- Take a Korean cooking class and learn how to make kimchi!
- Do a Korean Temple Stay and become a Buddhist monk for the weekend
- Rent a hanbok and become a Korean princess for the day
- Sip sweet lattes at Seoul’s eclectic coffee shops
- Rent bikes and cycle around the Han River
- Explore royal palaces and fascinating museums with the Discover Seoul pass
Treat Yourself to a Pamper Session in Seoul
Seoul is often referred to as being the beauty capital of the world. This is not without good reason. Practically every street in Seoul is lined with stores selling excellent Korean cosmetics and skincare products.
There are dozens of great (and affordable) spas, beauty salons, nail parlors, dermatologists and saunas here. For an “only in Korea” type experience, book yourself in for a Korean body scrub at a jimjilbang (traditional Korean bathhouse). For the best facial in town, head to Shangpree!
Shop for Cosmetics and Cute K-Fashions
Seoul is a wonderful place to go shopping. A shopaholic’s paradise if you will. Korean fashion is fun and feminine – think cutesy dresses, short skirts, colourful heels, etc. If you are a girly girl, shopping here will be right up your street. The best part? The clothing here is usually very affordable. You can buy clothes and accessories for high street prices or cheaper.
For the latest styles, head to Ewha Women’s University shopping street, or to the malls at Dongdaemun. For cosmetics and beauty products go to Myeongdong.
Take a Korean Cooking Class
Learning about the local food, and learning how to recreate traditional recipes is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of the places that you travel. South Korea is no different.
I did a cooking class in Seoul and it remains to be one of my favourite experiences as a solo female traveler in Korea. Browse for cooking schools in Korea here.
Participate in a Korean Temple Stay
The Korean Temple Stay program provides travelers with the unique opportunity to live the life of a Buddhist monk for a few days. Temples across the country participate in this program. You will be provided with a schedule that includes spiritual activities such as daily meditation, chanting, and tea ceremonies.
My temple stay at Beopjusa Temple is something that will stay with me for a lifetime. Not only was it fascinating to gain a close-up look at Monastic life, but temple stays are also a valuable way to escape the stress and pressure of everyday life. You can choose to do a temple stay for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Rent a Hanbok and be a Korean Princess for the Day
A hanbok is a type of princessy, traditional Korean dress. There are plenty of hanbok rental places throughout the various towns and cities of Korea where you can rent a hanbok for the day. Why? To take incredible photos at all of the Joseon palaces and fortresses that you will find throughout the country.
If you are traveling alone, definitely don’t be embarrassed to ask people to take your photos. Koreans will often rent hanboks for the day too. Solo travelers taking photos with the aid of selfie-sticks or tripods is a common sight.
Discover the Quirky Coffee Shops of Seoul
Coffee culture is huge in Seoul and there are eclectic and quirky places on every corner. Sure we have chain places like Starbucks and Gloria Jean’s coffee, but the best spots are independently-owned.
If you like cutesy things, go to the Hello Kitty House Cafe in Myeongdong. This coffee shop is literally set inside a faux Hello Kitty house that is bright pink. You can have coffee and cake in her living room, then nosy around her bedrooms and bathroom!
Those who like their coffee strong should go to Coffee Hanyakbang – a hidden coffee shop that is tucked away down an alley near Euljiro 3-ga.
Book a Tour of the Korean DMZ
The DMZ is the heavily fortified border that separates North and South Korea. Taking a DMZ tour provides a fascinating glimpse into the sad history of South Korea and the turbulent relationship that the two halves of the country have.
Both half-day and full-day tours are available. I would advise booking a DMZ tour that includes a stop at the JSA – the eerie section of the border where North and South Korean guards stand face to face, watching each other in an eerie silence.
10 Things to Consider & Prepare Before Your Trip
A few things to consider before you travel are detailed below. These things are good practice wherever you go.
Purchase Comprehensive Travel Insurance
You should always purchase travel insurance when you travel. South Korea is no exception! Medical and dental treatment in Korea is excellent – standards are just as good as in the USA and the UK. In fact, many Korean Doctors and Dentists study in the USA. That said, if you need to have medical treatment, it becomes very expensive. Don’t travel without insurance!
Try to opt for a travel insurance plan that has a minimum medical coverage of at least $1million. The best policies also cover things such as repatriation and cancellation. I always use World Nomads, as they offer one of the most comprehensive plans in the marketplace. You can obtain a no-obligation quote from them here.
Make a Note of Important Contacts
A few useful phone numbers to store in your phone for your trip to Korea are detailed below.
- 119 – Fire, Emergency, and Ambulance
- 112 – Police
- 122 – Coast Guard
- +82 2-397-4114 – The American Embassy in Seoul
- +82 2-3210-5500 – The British Embassy in Seoul
- 120 – The Happy Call Service (Info for foreign residents in Korea)
- 02 3482 0132 – Legal Services Helpline
- 1366 – Women’s Helpline
Write Down these Useful Groups for Solo Female Travellers
There are many tour companies and Facebook groups that organise tours and hikes around Seoul and wider Korea. Some of these are free and organised by local ex-pats and enthusiasts, others are paid. A few groups to consider are detailed below.
- Seoul Hiking Group – A very popular (and free!) group for hiking enthusiasts
- SHITY (Sunday Hikers Interested in Trekking Yet Again) – Another free hiking group
- Eat Local – A Meetup Group that organises food and farm tours around Korea
- Sool Gallery – A Gangnam gallery that hosts free Korean wine tastings for foreigners in Seoul.
- Get Your Guide – A handy travel website that offers tons of tours and cooking classes in Korea.
- Couchsurfing – Attend free events in Korea organised by ex-pats and travelers
- Meetup – Attend free weekly meet-ups, dinners, and social meetings
Korea-specific tour groups aside, there are also a lot of useful travel forums and Facebook groups that are tailored towards solo female travelers. You can use these groups to find female travel buddies or to exchange tips and advice.
Some notable Facebook groups that are tailored towards independent traveling females are:
- Girls Love Travel
- The Solo Female Traveler Network
- We Are Travel Girls
- Female Expats in Korea
Invest in a Discover Seoul Pass
The Discover Seoul pass is a great way to save money while you are in Korea. Even if you just spend a couple of days in Seoul, there are several attractions that you must see. The palaces of Gyeongbokgung Changdeokgung and the Namsan tower are essentials for any Korea itinerary. Unfortunately, all of the separate admission tickets quickly add up.
The Discover Seoul pass is available from just $26. You can pre-book it so that you can pick it up upon landing at the airport in Korea. This is a sure-fire way to save money on your trip. You can read more about the pass here.
Try to Learn a Few Basic Phrases in Korean
Most Koreans do speak a good level of English. However, at the same time, it is polite to learn a few basic phrases of Korean. Korean is a beautiful language that is actually much easier than you think!
Even basic words and phrases like “annyeonghaseyo” (hello), and “kamsahamnida” (thank you) will go a long way and locals will appreciate your efforts. There are lots of free Korean language apps that you can download on your phone too. Learn Korean, TenguGo Hangul, and Memrise are popular choices.
Feminine Hygiene Products in Korea
If your trip to Korea coincides with your time of the month, pack your preferred feminine hygiene products to take with you. Sanitary pads are widely available.
You can purchase tampons in Korea but they are less common and more difficult to find. Most types of contraceptive pills are available over the counter in Korean pharmacies.
Make Copies of Important Documents
Take a photocopy of your passport before you travel just in case you should be super unlucky and lose the original. (It’s better to be safe than sorry!) Keep a note of your bank card information, and your bank’s contact details just in case anything should happen to your cards.
Find Female-Friendly Accommodation
There are lots of wonderful accommodation options in South Korea. Whether you prefer hotels, traditional guesthouses, and hanoks, homestays or hostels, you will certainly find something that suits you.
Several hotels in Seoul offer female-only floors for your added comfort and security. Many hostels and capsule hotels will have women’s only rooms. Always read the reviews of the hotels that you are considering before you book. You should avoid cheap “love motels” as these are places that young Koreans come with their partners to get privacy from their parents.
Be Careful Where Alcohol is Concerned
Drinking is a huge part of Korean culture. Itaewon, Hongdae, HBC, and Gangnam are Seoul’s biggest nightlife spots.
While going out and socialising with other travelers and locals can be fun, always be extra careful where alcohol is concerned. Don’t accept drinks from strangers, watch how much you consume, and never leave your drink unattended.
Always Carry a Business Card from Your Hotel
I always advise solo female travelers to take a business card from their hotel reception. This will have the hotel’s address and a contact number in both English and Korean Hangul. This way, if you wind up getting lost, you can simply show the business card to a taxi driver, rather than having to explain and translate!
Additional Things to Keep in Mind
Korea is a wonderful, wonderful country. I do think that it is one of the safest, and best choices for ladies who want to travel independently – even those who are traveling alone for the first time. That said, there are a few things to be aware of. This is not to deter you from traveling to Korea in any way, but to make sure that you are informed about the country.
Korea is a Patriarchal Country
Korea is still a very patriarchal country. There is a lot of progress that needs to be made in the battle for gender equality here.
A study conducted by the OECD found that South Korea was one of the lowest-rated countries for gender equality in the developed world. This does not affect you as much as a tourist, as it would if you were an ex-pat, but it is worth keeping in mind.
Views of Western Women
Western women are often viewed as being more promiscuous than Korean women. White women, in particular, are fetishized. There is a disgusting expression in Korea called “riding the white horse” which says all that you need to know about a fetish for experimenting.
This is not to say that all Korean men are the same. Koreans in general are very respectful. The younger generations especially are very well-educated and open-minded towards people of foreign cultures and I have some very good male Korean friends.
It is just worth knowing that this mindset does exist. If you plan on dating local men during your travels in South Korea, just note that some will happily experiment with foreigners, yet they believe that they can only consider other Koreans for a serious relationship.
Korea’s Hidden Camera Problem
I often roll my eyes at people’s paranoia when they say that they are worried about hidden cameras in Airbnbs and hotels. Unfortunately in Korea, hidden cameras have become something of an issue in recent years. There is an expression for this: molka.
Molka is more of an issue in love motels than in upscale accommodation or hanok guesthouses. Don’t worry yourself silly about it, but know that this exists. The problem is that technology has advanced so much, that hidden cameras can be made incredibly tiny. They are then tucked away into light fittings and smoke detectors.
There are a few ways that you can check for hidden cameras in your hotel room. Try to avoid Love Motels if you can.
- When you connect to the hotel’s wifi, see if you see a really long and crazy name in the connection options. This may be a camera.
- Have a brief look at the electronics in your hotel room to see if there is anything out of the ordinary.
- Listen out for strange buzzing sounds in your room
Is Korea Safe for Solo Female Travellers?
Is solo female travel in Korea safe? Yes! As with traveling anywhere else in the world, you should always exert regular common sense (don’t walk alone at night, be cautious of overly friendly strangers, etc) when traveling in Korea. I really hope that if you are on the fence about going then you’ve found this article useful.
If you have any additional questions about solo female travel in Korea, don’t hesitate to contact me via the comments below. I lived in Seoul for two years and know a thing or two about the country.
I also wrote this comprehensive Korea Travel Guide to help you plan your first trip. Safe travels! Annyeonghaseyo! Melissa xo