The Ultimate Travel Guide To South Korea
Nestled between the nations of China and Japan, South Korea is one of the coolest and most versatile destinations in Asia. Despite the fact that the country is roughly the same size as the state of Indiana, it’s home to a variety of things to do.
If you’re keen to check out the city life, you can head over to Seoul or Busan, but if you’d rather soak up in nature, there are many beaches to visit, forests to explore and mountains to hike.
If you’re currently planning a trip to South Korea, here is a little guide for you to prepare for your trip!
Must-See Places in South Korea
Korean Folk Village
If you’re fascinated by history and culture and want to experience what life may have looked like in Korea during the Chosun period (from the 1700s up until the early 1900s), a visit to the Korean Folk Village near Seoul is a must.
While strolling around the village, you’ll get to see and interact with residents dressed up in traditional clothes, try authentic cuisine, and take part in an array of shows and music performances.
Despite the fact that Seoul pretty much burned to the ground during the Korean War, it’s still home to hundreds of incredible shrines and palaces, so make it a mission to explore as many of them as possible! Start early at Chosun Dynasty’s Gyeongbokgung, a 5.4 million square foot palace with over 500 years of history behind it. Expect to spend several hours exploring it.
Next, check out the Jongmyo Royal Shrine. This is where the Chosun Dynasty worshipped, so it makes for a perfect stop after exploring the palace to get to learn more about the way of life back then.
Tip: If you happen to be in Seoul in May, try to visit on the first Sunday of the month. An annual traditional memorial ceremony is held annually at Jongmyo!
Another absolute can’t-miss palace is Gyeongbokgung, which has been home to many kings and rules over the course of history. The location of the palace itself is over 600 years old, but it’s been rebuilt time and time again after several invasions. Nowadays, Gyeongbokgung is home to the National Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum.
Once you’re done learning about the history of Seoul, head down south to experience the new. The southern part of Seoul is the commercial heart of the city and you’ll get to walk through modern architecture that blends in with the traditional.
Make sure to check out the city gates, spend a day shopping, or even hit up Seoul’s famous amusement part, Lotte World.
Seoraksan National Park
If you’re keen to get close and personal with the natural side of South Korea, head to Seoraksan National Park. The park is famous for its clear mountain views, vibrant flora and fauna, and unbeatable hiking trails.
Aside from hiking to the top of Seoraksan Mountain, you can also check out Ulsanbawi, a rock formation made of up six peaks as well as take several short hiking trails to the different waterfalls, peaks, and cliffs the park is home to.
Jeju is probably one of the most-loved Korean destinations for travelers and Koreans alike. Not only is the island a paradise to spend a few days chilling by the beach (Hyopjae Beach is one of the must-sees!), but it also offers an array of activities for those who love nature and culture.
If you’re keen to get immersed in nature, you can trek up to Hallasan Mountain, the highest one in South Korea. Moreover, other absolute musts for nature-lovers are Joeongban Waterfall, Oedolgae Rock, and Jusangjeolli Hexagon Lava Cliff.
One of the most popular destinations in Korea is the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) in Panmunjom. This is the place where you can see how the democratic South meets the communist North without many troops around (any other spot along the border is heavily armed). You’ll get a chance to witness the propaganda from both sides of the border – each of which paints an entirely different picture!
Busan is a coastal town located in the southern part of Korea. It’s actually the second largest city in the country, but it has a much laid-back feeling when you compare it to Seoul.
While here, make sure to check out Haedong Yongungsa, a seaside temple that dates back to 14th century. Next, visit Gamcheon Village for a taste of the city’s folklore, and stroll around the fish market.
Festivals To Check Out In South Korea
South Korea is host to several magical festivals, and it’s definitely worth taking part in at least if you happen to be visiting Korea at the right time.
Chunhyang Festival is what I’d describe as the Korean version of Romeo and Juliet. It takes place every year at the beginning of May and you’ll get the chance to see dance and music performances and take part in the parade.
The Nankye Traditional Music Festival was created to honor Nankye, a Korean composer and the creator of Chosun Dynasty Music. The event is held every year in September.
Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival is your go-to if you’re obsessed with all things cherry blossoms. It takes place in the spring.
Lastly, another great festival to attend is the celebration of Buddha’s birthday in May. It’s held all over the country, so you can expect to part take in the celebration no matter where you find yourself at the time. This festival is celebrated by pretty much all Koreans, regardless of their faith.
What To Eat In South Korea
South Korea is a foodies paradise, and you’re bound to eat lots of culinary delights during your trip! A few musts tries are:
- Pulgogi – A traditional dish made of marinated slices of beef with rice and vegetables and wrapped up in a lettuce leaf.
- Kimchi – A side dish that you’ll get served with pretty much every meal you order. It’s a mix of fermented vegetables. Beware, though, it’s usually quite spicy!
- Bibimbap – A bowl of rice mixed with all sorts of ingredients ranging from vegetables to meat and egg.
- Gimbap – Sometimes called “Korean sushi”. Gimbap is a roll of seaweed and rice that can contain a variety of ingredients including spinach, minced beef, radish, and more.
When to Travel to Korea
The best time to visit Korea is usually during the spring or fall if you’re looking for a mild weather sans the crowds (plus, lots of flowers during spring and fall foliage in autumn!).
Winters are great here as well, and it’s a specially good time to visit for ski-lovers (there are thirteen ski resorts in the country!). Summers tend to be wet and extremely crowded, so avoid visiting then if possible.
Don’t forget to get travel insurance before visiting Korea!
Before exploring Korea, make sure your travel insurance is up to date. If you don’t currently have travel insurance, I recommend getting it from World Nomads. It’s super easy to purchase online and will get you covered for your entire trip to South Korea (including activities like trekking and skiing). Plus, what makes it so awesome is that you can make all your claims online as well as extend or adjust your policy.