Top 10 Places to Visit in South Korea
When You Travel in South Korea, Don't Waste Your Time
Are you planning to visit South Korea for vacation, holidays or work? Maybe you're a big fan of K-pop and want to get in on the Korean wave. Or, maybe you're teaching English in South Korea, or coming to work as an engineer.
You've come to the right place! This site has all the information you need for traveling to South Korea. From Jeju Island to the DMZ tour, find out where to travel in amazing South Korea. I've lived in Korea for 10 years, working as an English teacher at a couple of universities and I've spent many weekends and holidays being a tourist in Korea and traveling around this off-the-beaten track tourist destination.
South Korea is a beautiful place, filled with mountains, temples, amazing food and kind people. You can shop till you drop in ultra-luxury stores, take a high-speed bullet train, or eat and drink all night at one of the many restaurants and clubs.
I've listed only the best places to visit in South Korea so you won't waste your time with mediocre stuff. And I have lots of tips that will help you get around South Korea, seeing all the best places in style. Here are the travel tips and top places to see that will help you get off the beaten track when traveling in South Korea. It will be a trip to remember!
Seoul: An Amazing Mix of Ancient and Ultra-Modern
If you want to know what to do or where to go in Seoul, you've come to the right place!
Seoul is one of the most dynamic cities in the world. South Korea's capital city is a sprawling metropolis of 20 million people, with one of the most massive subway systems in the world. It's a fascinating mix of old and new, with ultra-modern apartment complexes mixed in with 1000-year-old temples and palaces. Koreans love to eat and drink, and tucked away in every corner are delicious, cheap restaurants and Hofs (beer-and-chicken pubs) that stay open to the wee hours of the morning. People here love to sing and to finish a night, they'll often head to a Norae-bang (singing room). After a few nights out in Korea, you'll understand why it's called the "Land of the Morning Calm": the streets are eerily silent until mid-morning.
If shopping is your thing, you can get it all here: from the most luxurious name brands in Apgujeong, Myeongdong, and Gangnam to some excellent deals at Namdaemum or Dongdaemum Markets. For a bit of culture, head over to Insadong for some nice restaurants, tea-shops and souvenir shopping. To check out the nightlife, head over to Hongdae and explore Korea's Youth Culture.
My Seoul travel tips:
1. Get a subway card. You can buy them at convenience stores such as Family Mart or at the ticket windows in subway stations. You can just charge it up and then swipe it to get on the subway and buses, instead of counting your change and waiting in line at the ticket machine. Plus, you can save money on transfers between subways and buses.
2. There is much more to Korea than just Seoul, so enjoy it for a while but make an effort to get out into the Korean countryside. It's a beautiful place!
3. If you want cheap souvenirs, stay away from Insadong. Although it's a nice place to have a cup of tea and walk around, it's really expensive. For the same stuff, just cheaper, check out Namdaemun or Dongdaemun Markets.
4. For an authentic, cheap, and delicious experience, check out some street food. There are some good treats around the big markets and in Insadong/Jongno in central Seoul. My favorite is Deokbeokki (spicy rice cake), to which you can add various things (boiled egg, deep-fried things, fish-cake).
5. For hotels in Seoul, I recommend using Agoda.com and looking carefully at the reviews in order to find what you want.
Lonely Planet Seoul
My top choice for Seoul guidebook. Includes a Seoul map.
Up-to-Date Tourist Information for Seoul
Jeju Island: The Hawaii of Korea!
The Top Travel Destination in South Korea
A semi-tropical island south of the mainland, Jeju is indeed a beautiful paradise. Hallasan, the highest mountain in South Korea, is a challenging one-day hike. Awaiting you at the top are spectacular views and an extinct volcano crater. White sandy beaches abound at every corner, and there is spectacular scuba diving down south, near Seogwipo. Be sure to check out some of the Crater Tubes, which are massive caves created by receding lava from Hallasan's volcanic eruptions.
My Jeju Island Travel Tips:
1. Don't worry about booking a hotel ahead of time, unless you want to stay in one of the luxurious ones such as the Hyatt. There are plenty of rooms available, even during the high season. I like to stay in "Yeogwan" or "Minbaks," which are family-run small motels. They are very cheap at around $30 US per night, and are quite comfortable.
2. Make sure to pick up a map from Tourist Information at the airport. It will prove itself invaluable during your trip to Jeju Island!
3. It's not that easy or convenient to get around the island via public transport, so if possible, rent a bicycle, scooter or car and use the "coastal road." It's beautiful!
4. Be sure to try some "Jung-Shik" which means the "daily special" or daily plate. It's usually cheap (around 5000 Won), filling and delicious. You'll always get some rice, soup, and then various side dishes. Just look for the place with all the taxis outside and you'll know it's a good one!
Visiting Jeju Island Information and Travel Tips
Martina's Trip to Jeju Island
Songnisan National Park: Spectacular Hiking in Central Korea
The Most Beautiful Hiking Spot on the Peninsula
There are mountains all over Korea, and hiking is the most popular weekend activity. One of the most spectacular mountains is Songnisan National Park in central Korea. Beopjusa Temple, with its huge Gold Buddha statue, is a good start to any of the hikes. At the mountain village, there are hordes of restaurants and home-stays where you can sleep the night. Halfway up the mountain, is a hut called Birosanjang where you can find some authentic wilderness, which is quite rare in Korea. And the hiking! Not so difficult, but with amazing views!
My Songnisan Travel Tips:
1. Be sure to sample some of the mountain food at the base of the mountain. My favorites are the Pajeon (green onion pancake) and Beo-sot Bulgogi (mushroom marinated pork).
2. Be sure to check out an "am" (hermitage) part-way up the mountain. Monks live there in isolation for long periods of time and are usually quite hospitable. One time, I got a meal and enjoyed a couple hours of conversation with one of them.
3. Don't worry about booking accommodation ahead of time. There are literally thousands of rooms at the base of the mountain in Minbaks (homestays) or hotels. They're never full, even on the busiest of weekends.
4. Don't worry too much about snacks and drinks while hiking. There are a multitude of little shacks selling stuff, including my favorite, Pajeon (green onion pancake).
Hiking Songnisan National Park
Seoraksan National Park: Beautiful Fall Colors
Seoraksan National Park is Korea's most famous. It's located outside the fishing village of Sokcho, in the northeast corner of Gangwon-Do. During the peak fall seasons, it seems like half of Korea is climbing the mountain. Also in the area are some luxurious gambling resorts, rafting rivers, bungee jumping, and beautiful beaches. In winter, there are some nice ski resorts in the area. You could spend a week or two exploring this place, so make sure you have a few days.
My Seaoraksan Travel Tips:
1. Rent a car. There's so much to see away from the bus routes. Travel during off-peak hours (leave at 5 AM!) if you're coming from Seoul. You'll hit lots of traffic if you leave Saturday morning at 10 AM.
2. As with the busy roads at peak times, the mountain gets crowded too. Try to hit it away from the prime-time weekends because you'll experience a line-up when you're hiking, which is not ideal.
3. if you go hiking, especially in spring, summer, or fall, wake up early (with the sunrise). It will be much cooler, and you won't be climbing in the middle of the day. And you'll have the whole mountain to yourself.
Seoraksan Hiking Information—A Must-Visit Korean Place
Hiking in Beautiful South Korea
Visit Korea this year!
Gyeongju: the Ancient Capital of the Shilla Dynasty
Historical Relics in Abundance!
A capital from the Shilla Dynasty 2000 years ago, Gyeongju is filled with cultural relics at every corner. You could spend months here and not see everything. Whether you walk down the street, or hike up the local mountain, you can't escape history. The best way to see the sites is to rent a bicycle, get a handy tourist map, and enjoy your day.
My Gyeongju Travel Tips:
1. Be sure to take some time to relax. There are so many sights that it's easy to get caught up trying to see them all. Find some off the beaten path and enjoy the journey as well as the destination.
2. DO NOT take a bus tour to Gyeongju. You will be shuttled from spot to spot to snap a picture and be whisked off to the next place. Go on your own (it's easy enough), so you can have an enjoyable time there.
3. While it is busy during cherry blossom season (early April usually), Gyeongju is a spectacular place to visit during that time. Make sure you go to Bomun Lake and rent a bicycle to ride around it. It takes about two hours and costs only 5000 Won.
Travel information for Gyeongju
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Andong Folk Village
Home of the Mask Festival
Andong is a small city in the southeast corner of the country. It's famous for food. Right near the train station is a food street where deliciousness awaits you at every turn. The highlight of the city is the Hahoe Folk Village. It is famous for the mask dance that happens every weekend and the two-week-long festival they hold every year in the fall. The best part is that you can sleep overnight in the village in one of the traditional houses.
My Andong Travel Tips:
1. While you can visit Andong during the mask festival, I find it more enjoyable to visit the city at other times. It's less busy, but much more peaceful and relaxing. Plus, you won't have a hard time with traffic or finding accommodation.
2. Be sure to try some "Andong Jimdalk" (spicy soy-sauce chicken). It's their famous specialty and super-delicious!
The DMZ: A Surreal, Intense Experience
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is the border between North and South Korea. It's less than 100 km from Seoul. Things are tense, with American, South and North Korean soldiers standing at armed attention. You can't travel here alone but must join up with a tour, which will take you to the tunnels that the North dug to try to sneak into the South undetected. You'll also visit an overlook and see what's happening on the other side. Check it out for a dose of the surreal.
My DMZ Travel Tip:
Not all tours are created equal. Some go to a lot more places than others. The USO ones often have a waiting list to get in on them, for good reason. Do your research before choosing one.
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Gongju and Buyeo: Ancient Capitals of the Baekje Dynasty
The former capitals of the Baekje Kingdom, Buyeo and Gongju are tucked away in the heart of Chungnam province. They are filled with cultural and historical relics from 2000 years ago. Tombs, fortresses, and temples seem to be on every corner. The best way to see the sights would be by car, so either rent one or get a Korean friend to take you.
My Gongju and Buyeo Travel Tips:
1. These places are best explored on bicycle, motorcycle or by car. Beg, borrow or steal! Or, rent a taxi for the day to take you to the sights.
2. If you have your own transport, it's entirely possible to see both these places in one day. If not, choose one and have a relaxing trip.
Gongju and Buyeo Travel Information
Deokjeok Island: An Expat Beach Paradise!
Deokjeok Island is a two-hour ferry ride from the port at Incheon. You can camp at the beach, or stay at one of the local motels. It's a beautiful, secluded kind of place, and you'll be able to get your own piece of beach for the entire day. The best part is at night, having some drinks on the beach with a campfire and fireworks.
Deokjeok Island Travel Tips:
1. Don't bring too much stuff with you if you go camping. You can buy basic food to cook, and even a small BBQ, charcoal, and so on.
2. During peak times (for example long weekends in summer) it can be very hard to get ferry tickets at the gate. Get a Korean to help you reserve ahead of time to make your trip a success.
South Korea Guidebook
Busan: The Most Popular Beach Spot in South Korea
Busan, Korea's second major city, is down in the southeast corner of the country. It has plenty of sights to keep you occupied for days, but the top attraction is Haeundae Beach, where hordes of Koreans descend to get their summertime fun.
My Busan Travel Tips:
1. Haeundae is outrageously popular and crowded, but the other beaches in the area are just as nice. My favorite are Songdo, Songjeong and Dadaepo. Get off the beaten track for some more relaxing times.
2. Check out the Busan Shark Dive while you're in Busan. It's an experience to remember!
3. Take the KTX (bullet train). It's fast and surprisingly cheap. Just be sure to buy your tickets at least a few days in advance if you plan on traveling during the weekend, since they often get sold out
4. Wondering where to stay in Busan? My recommendation is Seomyeon. It's very central and makes a nice base from which to explore. Plus, it's at the intersection of the two major subway lines, so you'll never have to worry about getting somewhere quickly, cheaply and conveniently. And restaurants, bars, and shopping are plentiful, so you'll be spoiled for choice!
Tourist Information for Visiting Busan
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