As the birthplace of LG and Samsung, South Korea is embracing smartphone technology in almost every aspect of everyday life. Luckily for travelers, this means that traveling within Korea is made accessible and easy through the use of mobile apps, despite the language and cultural differences. However, Korea has its own apps that you likely have not heard of before your trip to Korea. When you land at Incheon International Airport, you’ll want to have these apps already downloaded so they can make your travels easier from the get-go. Luckily for you, I’ve lived in Korea for over 2 years, so I know exactly what apps are worth the download. So, grab your phone and download these free and English-friendly essential apps for Korea travel!
Need help planning your South Korea trip? Head over to my ultimate South Korea travel guide and itinerary for a local’s best tips, resources, and advice for traveling Korea.
Apps for Korea Travel: Navigation
1. Naver Map
An important thing to know when traveling to Korea is that Google Maps does not work in Korea. It’s censored due to the country’s laws, so looking up directions on Google Maps will do you no good. That’s where Naver Map comes in. Naver Map is a Korean app that is accurate and reliable for getting you to your destination. Not only will it show you your subway, bus, and/or walking route, but it will provide accurate arrival times for buses and trains.
Although Naver Map supports English, it isn’t perfect and might take some getting used to. For example, Naver Map does not like when you use spaces in your search, such as “National Museum of Korea”. Instead, try the search without the spaces: “NationalMuseumofKorea”. You will see that some aspects of the app are in Korean even in the English version, but you can ignore those. Just get the directions that you need, and you can look up all other information (such as business hours) on Google.
KakaoMap is the other popular Korean map app besides Naver Map. People tend to have their preferences about which interface they prefer (I’m a Naver Map girl), but both apps achieve the same goal by being reliable, accurate, and English-friendly (although both aren’t 100% in English). It’s wise to download both apps before you go to Korea so you can experiment with which interface works best for you. I’ve found KakaoMap to be more English-friendly, so it’s always good to have both options in your back pocket. It’s less picky about how you search for destinations and has more English overall.
3. Subway Korea
Although both Naver Map and KakaoMap show accurate subway directions and train arrival times, Subway Korea is a good app to have in your arsenal when taking the subway. Unlike Naver and Kakao, it’s 100% in English and has a simple, easy-to-use interface. You can simply search for or find your start and end subway stations on the map, and it will give directions that are accurate and easy to follow.
4. Kakao T
Even though public transportation in Korea is fantastic, there might come a time when taking a taxi is the best option. If you’re enjoying nightlife past midnight or venturing into less populated areas in Korea, there’s a good chance that taking a subway or bus is either inaccessible or impractical. Kakao T is Korea’s version of Uber, allowing you to easily call a taxi to your current location directly from the app. Please note that Uber doesn’t exist in Korea at all.
Apps for Korea Travel: Translation
I was surprised by how many Koreans speak basic English, but you will undoubtedly encounter many who don’t, especially if you’re spending time outside of Seoul. Although Google Translate can suffice, Papago is the best translation app to have on hand. It’s much more accurate than Google Translate when it comes to the Korean language. The app is fully in English and very easy to use, with special features that enhance its usefulness. Not only can you type in translations, but you can get translations directly from someone speaking, or you can have a back-and-forth conversation that will translate as it unfolds. My favorite feature is the “image” feature, which allows you to translate all the text in a picture. This is especially useful in a country with a completely different alphabet. Whether it’s signs or restaurant menus, just snap a picture and Papago will do the hard work.
Papago is great for translating sentences, conversations, and entire images, but if you need to translate a single word, Naver Dictionary is your best bet. When you type a single word, such as “restaurant”, into Papago, it often tries to make it into a sentence, which can result in a confusing and inaccurate translation. Naver Dictionary will help avoid confusion in these situations. It often provides multiple translations, but go with the first one listed.
Apps for Korea Travel: Hotels & Activities
My favorite website for booking hotels in Korea is Agoda. The prices are competitive, I’ve found the reviews to be accurate, you can search by proximity to tourist areas, and the cancellation policies tend to be the most flexible out of any booking service. Having the app is useful so you can easily pull up your booking information upon arriving to the hotel.
While you’re in Korea, you’ll want to be able to easily book day trips, tickets, excursions, or activities. Klook is my favorite app for doing this, as it’s easy to use and has some of the best prices around. For deals on tours and tickets, Klook is the best travel guide app.
Trazy is another travel guide app that is useful to know about when booking tickets and activities in Korea. Unlike Klook, which is useful in many countries, Trazy is specifically a Korean travel guide website. You can explore destinations in Korea to see experiences, tours, tickets, and more at competitive prices.
Apps for Korea Travel: Food & Restaurants
For finding the best Korean food recommended by locals, MangoPlate has your back. From the hottest new restaurants to local gems, you’ll be able to quickly and easily find the best Korean restaurants. You can read honest reviews from fellow travelers and save restaurants on your “wanna go” list, which then helps the app personalize your restaurant recommendations. Finding a great restaurant can be daunting when there are Korean restaurants on every block, so MangoPlate will help take the stress and indecisiveness off the table.
11. For vegetarian & vegan travelers: HappyCow ($3.99)
This is the only paid app on this list but for a good reason! If you’re vegetarian or vegan, HappyCow is a must-have app for traveling in Korea. Korea is not very vegetarian and vegan-friendly, since the cuisine is so heavily based in meats and fish. You will have to intentionally search out your options beforehand, which can turn eating into a difficult and stressful part of your day. HappyCow makes this process easy by showing you, on a map, a list of nearby vegan and vegetarian food, along with photos and reviews from fellow travelers. If you come prepared with HappyCow, you’ll be able to enjoy eating your way through Korea as much as any other traveler.
I’ve spent over 2 years eating my way through Korea as a vegetarian, so if you want help deciding on the best options, check out my favorite vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Seoul.
Apps for Korea Travel: Other
In order to use all these apps on the go, you’re going to need a data plan! South Korea is known for its wide-spread fast wifi, but you won’t always be able to be connected. The subway and bus wifi is notoriously unreliable. You won’t want to risk being stuck without wifi or data at any given time.
My favorite option for accessing the Internet across the world is the Airalo eSIM. An eSIM doesn’t need to be physically put in and taken out; it’s simply installed onto your phone and connects to the Internet anywhere in the world as soon as you land. Instead of wasting time looking for a local plastic SIM, you can activate the eSIM immediately after installation or upon arrival in Korea. This is the easiest and most convenient option, and it’s reliable. I’ve used Airalo all over the world and I’m always a happy customer. Plus, if you are continuing your travels after Korea, you can get a regional Asia eSIM that works in 14 countries.
Keep in mind that eSIMs only provide data service for connecting to the Internet, not calling and texting plans. If you need to make calls or send texts abroad, then you can order a physical SIM card to your house before you depart here, or you can pick up a physical SIM card at the airport upon arrival by pre-ordering here.
Now that you’ve downloaded my top 12 apps for Korea travel, you’re ready to travel around Korea efficiently and easily!
Have more questions about Korea travel or need help with your itinerary? Head over to my ultimate South Korea travel guide and itinerary now.