A One Week South Korea Tour
South Korea- officially the Republic of Korea- is a vibrant, modern country with much to do and see. As part of a holiday in Asia, or as a mini-vacation by itself, one week is sufficient to see many of the most popular sites.
Below is a highly adaptable itinerary for your first visit. It uses the KTX - the Korean high-speed rail line- to travel between cities.
Days 1-2: Acclimate and Tour Seoul
Travelers from the west won't get used to the time difference fast, but Seoul provides an excellent opportunity to hydrate, keep activities light, and venture to the more popular sites.
- Make a trip to Gwanghwamun Station, the mass-transit station adjacent to three historic sites: Gyeongbok Palace, the King Sejong Statue and Cheonggyecheon Stream.
- At night, use jet lag to your advantage to visit the bars, clubs, restaurants and shops as Itaewon comes to life. The city lights view from Seoul Tower should not be missed.
Day 3: Visit the Korean DMZ
North Korea is a mysterious, isolated country, that is still officially at war with the South. Westerners cannot visit North Korea easily (and are advised not to try) but they can get close. A tour to the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, from Seoul makes for a fascinating day.
To visit the the DMZ, visitors can book a tour from many operators around Seoul (book early, as tours fill fast). Options include half or full-day itineraries and may include the following:
- The joint-security area at Panmunjeom, where military guards from both countries stand in a perpetual face-off separated only by a cluster of small bunkers. A must-see. South Korean president Moon Jae-in shook hands with North Korean President Kim Jong-Un here in April, 2018. Visitors are required to bring a valid ID, and adhere to a strict dress code.
- Dora and Odusan Observatories - platforms that offer binoculars for peeping into one of the most mysterious nations on Earth.
- Infiltration tunnels, dug in secrecy from the North into the South in preparation for invasion.
Day 4: Take a Train to Busan
Head to Seoul Station early in the morning for the 2.5 hour ride to Busan on the KTX. Busan is a city of beaches and features at least five. The most popular is Haeundae Beach. Crowds sometimes force travelers to say no to its white, powdery sands, and if that's the case opt instead for Songjeong Beach further north. Enjoy the seafood restaurants on its southernmost point.
While in Busan, consider visiting Haedong Yonggung temple, built into the shoreline by the sea, and Dongbaekseom Island with its pleasant walking path.
Day 5: Shop in Busan then Travel to Gyeongju
Busan has the best shopping in all of Korea. Gwangbokro Culture and Fashion Street is lined by high-end shops, and comes alive at Christmastime. At the end of it is BIFF Square, an open-air food market stocked with cheap street eats. For those who prefer indoor shopping, Shinsegae Department Store Centum City is an enormous, multi-level shopping paradise complete with ice rink and food court.
With lunch over, take an afternoon KTX train to the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom, Gyeongju. Called "the museum without walls," the city contains over 120 historical sites scattered about the town. At night, Wolji (or Anapji) Pond and Cheomseongdae Observatory beautifully illuminate.
Day 6: Visit Gyeongju then Return to Seoul.
The Gyeongju National Museum is filled with Silla artifacts and is an excellent place to orient oneself and learn about Gyeongju's place in Korean history. On the city's outskirts, Bulguksa Temple- a UNESCO World Heritage Site and masterpiece of Buddhist Art- should not be missed. While there, make the trek to Seokguram Grotto, filled with sculptures. It is one of the most popular spots in Korea to watch the sun rise.
In the afternoon, take the KTX back to Seoul, and find a hotel near Incheon.
Day 7: Bid Korea farewell, and fly home.
Head to Incheon airport for the journey home, carrying with you souvenirs, treasured memories, and plans for your return.
South Korea is a welcoming nation with friendly people, and after following this one week itinerary, you will want to see more. Explore, try new food and cultural experiences, and be prepared to be surprised by what you find.