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11 Reasons Why Korea is Worth Visiting

Jason Park

There are many reasons to visit Korea, today we’re going to talk about the 11 reasons why you should visit Korea.

which country would you like to visit korea

Many people are wondering every day if it’s Korea that they want to visit. There are many other beautiful countries so, is it really Korea that you want to visit. That question I asked myself many years ago.

After thinking about it for many days, I’ve finally decided to visit Korea, and it was the best choice of my life. There are many places you should visit. We’ll explain below what you should visit Korea . Let’s get right to the juicy info.

1. Seoul 

nightlife in Korea

Seoul should be the first place to visit if you’re going to Korea. It’s the capital of Korea and definitely worth visiting. There are many fun things you can do while you’re in Seoul like, going to the karaoke bar, visiting cafes, or just relaxing.

It might be a bit more expensive if you’re eating out all day so what I did when visiting Seoul was creating a budget. By creating a budget that suits your lifestyle gives you more room to work with. The last thing you want to happen is to run out of money.

I saw that one of my friends I was traveling with didn’t bring enough, so I covered him. He felt pretty bad, so make a budget and stick to it.

Another place you should visit is the Jangseng Geongangwon in the Gangnam District. They have one of the best cocktails that you can get. Try to enjoy it for as long as possible because time flies by, especially if you’re planning to party a lot.

2. The Culture

korean flag

Korean culture is very traditional, where people still bow to each other. In other countries, you don’t see this happen often. We’d rather give a handshake than bowing, but in Korea, this isn’t the case at all. So, try getting used to bowing, especially when you see elders.

This was a mistake I made in the beginning when I asked where the train station was. It’s pretty disrespectful if you don’t bow, so make sure you do. Another tip is to take your shoes off when going inside a house or apartment.

This is very important because Koreans really dislike walking inside with shoes on. Koreans are known to be very clean, and make sure you keep it like that.

There are also different pronounces to use when talking to people. Older people are called differently. Try learning more about the Korean language if you’re planning to stay in Korea for a very long time.

3. Korean Shopping

korean shopping

Shopping in Korea is very fun because you have a wide range of choices. There are many designer brands you can purchase from. However, the most fun stores are the ones on the market. There are many affordable pieces with very high quality.

The only thing you should look out for is to avoid getting ripped off. It doesn’t happen often but still, in case, make sure to ask yourself if the price is worth it. When I was visiting some other countries, people in street markets tried to rip me off by paying 4x the price other people were paying.

A great tip is to bargain. Another plus that I really liked when shopping in Korea is the online sites. Shopping online on stores like GMarket is extremely easy and fast. The delivery is often within delivered next day.

4. Hanbok (Korean traditional clothing) 

Hanbok

Hanboks are traditional Korean clothing. It’s very fun to wear. You can find these types of clothing pretty much everywhere you go. The best place to wear a hanbok is when visiting a Korean is in Seoul. Yes indeed! You can wear your hanbok everywhere, and people won’t look weird at you.

There are two types of hanboks for men and women:

These hanboks are very popular, and if you have the chance to visit Korea, make sure to wear a Hanbok. It’s really fun, especially if you’ve never worn one before. The most fun experience was when meeting different foreigners wear Hanboks , and you should try to do that too.

5. Korean BBQ 

Korean BBQ

Korean barbecue is very popular in Korea and other countries. It’s one of the must-try foods when visiting Korea. The meat is on a different level. You might not notice it, but the quality of meat they have in Korea is insane.

It can be a bit more expensive, but if you have the budget, it’s definitely worth it. I’ve been craving wagyu for a long time now, especially in Korea, because that’s really on a different scale. If you like eating Korean barbecue already, then this will blow your mind.

Many people in television programs or game shows often win a pack of high-quality meat. Yes, you’ve guessed it right a pack of high-quality meat from a game show. It’s because of the value, and many people can’t afford to eat it every day.

This reason alone should be enough to visit Korea, the quality of meat is different when you compare it to the USA, Europe, or Canada. Also, Koreans have a different way of cooking meat. They grill it on a plate while foreign countries do this on a regular barbecue.

6. Karaoke Bars in Korea

Karaoke Bars in Korea

Karaoke bars are really fun, especially if you’re going with friends. However, karaoke bars are also a place to rest and chill. Many people visit them alone when they want to release stress. It might look lonely at first, but that’s not really the case because hundreds of people visit alone every day.

In Karaoke bars, you can get drinks, food, and snacks. So, it’s a great place to chill and relax. If you’ve never been to a karaoke bar before, make sure you do. You can’t find many karaoke bars in foreign countries because they aren’t popular enough.

In Korea, this is the opposite, and karaoke bars are one of the most popular activities you can do. Another plus is that you can practice your singing skills, it’s not expensive at all.

So, you don’t need a big budget to practice singing, and you don’t have to worry about singing in Korean because there are many English songs you can sing.

7. Fashion – Seoul Fashion Week

Fashion

Fashion is huge in Korea, and it’s often because of the celebrities promoting new products. Every year there’s a Seoul Fashion Week. This is where the most popular celebrities attend the walkway. It has been one of the most popular fashion activities in Korea all year round.

If you’re really into fashion, this could be a great reason for you to visit. You could impress everyone else by wearing something that no one has ever thought of. 

What I really like about Seoul is that you can wear anything you like and people won’t look weird at you. The fashion styles in Korea are very different from the ones overseas, and that’s really what makes it special.

Make sure to visit Korea if you’re really into fashion and want to attend the Seoul Fashion Week yourself. It’s a great way to expand your network in the fashion industry and build connections.

8. Korean Drama 

Korean Drama

Korean Drama is huge in Korea. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people, watch it every day. Korean drama has been expanding to different countries by releasing the episodes on Netflix. This is, of course, very lucrative for Korea itself because it creates another income source.

Streaming Korean drama is very easy, and you might even see one of your favorite actors/actress walking outside. That can really happen because it has happened to one of my friends that saw a huge crowd surrounding an actor.

Many Korean dramas are put together very well, and that’s what the audience likes. Korean drama could be one of the reasons why Korea is worth visiting, and this is probably because you want to visit the same restaurant’s people eat at in dramas.

Another reason could be that you want to visit the places where the dramas are shot at. Well, I’ve done both and must say that it’s definitely worth it.

9. The Weather

first impressions

The weather in Korea is awesome. Even if it rains, you see hundreds of people walking outside. If you’re planning to visit during the summer, make sure to use lots of sunscreens. Getting sunburned in Korea is very common, and it has happened many times to me.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Korea during the spring, make sure you do. It’s beautiful with all those cherry blossoms. You can’t find these anywhere else in the world, and this has been one of the reasons why I keep coming back to Korea.

The majority of people that are planning to visit Korea are often visiting during vacations. This is also when it’s the busiest on the streets, but that makes it even more fun. 

10. Easy and Fast Transportation

korean vs japanese transport

Using transportation is very easy and fast in Korea. It doesn’t require much knowledge since even people that can’t read Korean can easily travel. I’ve been to Korea multiple times now, and traveling has been one of the most fun trips.

You get to see many beautiful places while also feeling comfortable. Every time I’m traveling to another city in Korea, it’s a pleasure to travel by train. It’s one of the best transportations I’ve ever used, and I hope my other countries will follow.

I highly recommend getting a  Korean rail pass , especially if you’re planning to travel a lot through Korea. Traveling to Jeju island and other smaller villages is easy but make sure to plan in advance. You don’t want to get lost.

What I normally do is plan the whole trip and buying the tickets in advance, which’s less expensive, and the stress is also gone.

kpop dance

K-pop is huge in Korea and has slowly become one of the most popular music genres worldwide. The Kpop boyband BTS has been blowing up lately, which makes K-pop as a music genre also get more popular. If you’ve never heard about this, you’re really missing out.

What I really like about K-pop is that there are many different groups. In fact, there are too many to follow them all. However, the ones that are the most popular often have the best songs. I highly recommend you checking some groups out, especially if you’re planning to visit Korea.

K-pop is one of the main reasons why foreigners visit Korea, and it’s a great destination for tourists . When visiting Korea, make sure to visit a lot of K-pop cafes that are started by idols themselves. 

Which City Should You Visit In Korea?

The city that’s most visited in Korea is Seoul, and the main reason is because of the wide range of activities you can do. It’s affordable, and there are many other foreigners you can meet. Another plus is that there are many students that live in Seoul , which makes it even more attractive.

Why Do People Still Visit North Korea?

The majority of people that still visit North Korea are often the ones that want to know more about the history or find some secret hidden things they don’t show to the outside world. Those people don’t go the North Korea to enjoy and relax because they’re keeping their eyes on you 24/7.

Now that you’ve come to the end of this article, you’ve probably known the 11 reasons why people want to visit Korea. So back to the question, is Korea worth visiting? Yes, in my opinion, it definitely is because of the great activities you can do.

The nightlife, food, and much more things you can do make Korea really special. Even if you’re into fashion, Korea is a great hotspot to build new connections and meet people. Korea has been attracting more tourists every year.

This is probably because of Kpop, BTS has been blowing up lately, and many other Kpop groups. Other reasons could be because people really enjoy visiting Korea and like sightseeing.

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In My Korea

Complete South Korea Travel Guide 2024: Korean Travel Tips

Planning a trip to Korea but not sure where to start? First-time traveller who isn’t sure if Korea is the right country for your next trip? Worried about travelling to Korea and facing problems with the Korean language, culture, money, Internet, transportation, hotels, food, or etiquette? Then this complete South Korea travel guide is packed full of tips that you’ll certainly need.

You’ll find all the best Korean travel tips and advice in this article. Whether you’re a first-time traveller to Korea, or you’ve visited before, this South Korea travel guide will show what to see, when to travel, and which places to visit, as well as help you avoid any difficult situations or surprising culture shocks.

This guide is designed to walk you through everything you need to know to prepare for your trip to Korea. You can use it to plan your itinerary, to pre-book travel essentials, to learn about what festivals and seasonal events are on, and to find more reasons to want to travel to Korea right now.

Table of Contents

Affiliate Disclaimer :  This site contains affiliate links and I may earn commission for purchases made after clicking these links.

What’s In This South Korea Travel Guide

South Korea Travel Guide For Seoul And Korea

This South Korea travel guide covers all the essential information you need to plan a trip to Korea. This is useful for first-time travellers to Korea who might not be aware of uniquely Korean cultural and travel issues. Even if you’ve visited Korea before, I’m sure you can learn a lot from this travel guide.

This article contains lots of insights and knowledge about travelling to Korea and is quite long. I’ve added links in each section to articles that provide more information about each topic. Therefore, I suggest viewing this South Korea travel guide on a desktop computer as it will be easier to read.

What Are You Looking For?

To help make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for, I’ve broken this article into the following sections. Click the quick links below to jump straight there or keep reading through all parts.

Korean Travel News And Travel Restrictions

Latest Travel News

Current Requirements To Travel To Korea

Entry Requirements

Why You Should Travel To Korea

Why Visit Korea

The Best Time To Visit Korea

When To Visit

How To Book Flights To Korea

Flights To Korea

Where To Stay In Seoul New

Where To Stay

Cost To Travel In South Korea

Korea Travel Costs

Travel Money And Money Exchanges In Korea

Travel Money

Mobile Phones And Internet In Korea

Phones & Internet

Using Public Transport In Korea

Public Transport

Best Places To Visit In Korea

Where To Visit

Best Day Tours From Seoul

Seoul Day Tours

Best Sights To See In Korea

Sightseeing Spots

Best Activities To Try In Korea

Korean Activities

Best Korean Festivals To Join

Korean Festivals

Recommended Itinerary For Korea

1-Week Itinerary

Cultural Issues When Visiting Korea

Culture Issues

Language Issues When Travelling Korea

Language Issues

Health And Safety Issues In Korea

Health & Safety

Personal Travel Tips For Korea

Korean Travel Tips

Korean Travel News And Travel Restrictions 2024

Latest Korean Travel News

This section of the South Korea travel guide will show you the latest travel news and restriction updates, including any temporary or permanent changes to the entry process, visa changes, and other things that might affect travel to Korea. COVID-related updates will also be posted here.

Latest Korean Travel News In 2024

This section will detail any interesting or important travel news that could affect travellers to Korea, such as price increases in public transport, travel changes, new services, or closures.

The Korean government is aiming to boost tourism to Korea by doubling the amount travellers can claim back in tax when shopping in Korea. From 2024, travellers will be able to claim up to 5,000,000 KRW on eligible purchases with a limit of 1,000,000 KRW tax back per transaction. Source : Korea Herald

From August 2023, the price to travel on buses in Seoul is set to rise. Bus fares will rise to 1,500 KRW per journey. From October 7th, 2023, Seoul’s subway fares will rise to 1,400 KRW per journey. Other cities in Korea will enact similar rises throughout 2023 to cover higher costs of public transportation. Source : Korea Herald

From July 15th, 2023, the requirement to register your health condition through the Q-Code portal will be scrapped. Source : Korea Times

From July 3rd, 2023, children aged 17 years and younger, as well as adults aged 65 and older, will no longer need to apply for a K-ETA to travel to Korea. Furthermore, the validity period has been increased from 2 years to 3 years to make travelling to Korea easier. Source: K-ETA website .

From June 2023, Korea will end almost all pandemic-related restrictions for tourists and locals. Masks will no longer be necessary except in hospitals and infected people no longer face mandatory self-isolation (although the government still recommends 5 days self-isolation). Q-Code requirements haven’t been mentioned, however. Source : Korea Herald .

From April 2023 until December 2024, travellers from 22 countries won’t have to complete a K-ETA when visiting Korea, saving time and money for citizens of those countries. People from other countries still need a K-ETA. Source : K-ETA

The 22 countries temporarily excluded from the K-ETA requirement are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Macao, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, UK, US (including Guam).

From April 2023, all foreigners under 19 years old (18 and under) can now enter major royal palaces and tombs, including Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung Palace, for free. Previously, all foreigners were made to pay a fee to enter. Source : Korea Herald

From March 2023, a quarter of all buses in Seoul will refuse cash payments and allow only card payments using transportation cards, such as the T-Money card. Seoul’s night buses won’t be included for now, and 262 of Seoul’s 370 bus routes will still accept cash. Expect further increases in cash-free buses in the future. Source : Korea Herald

From February 2023, the base fare for a taxi journey in Korea has increased by 1,000 won to a minimum of 4,800 won. The distance that the base fare applies has also been shortened from 2km to 1.6km, which will make fares more expensive. Source : Korea Times

What Are the Current COVID Restrictions In Korea In 2024?

Korean royal guard outside a palace in Seoul

Korea has been removing COVID-related restrictions in the country throughout 2022 and 2023. It is no longer necessary to show a QR code to enter a building and restrictions involving masks and health checks have mostly gone. The latest COVID-related rules for Korea are as follows .

Masks : From Monday, March 20th, Korea has removed the mandatory mask rule for public transport, one of the final places that masks were required for the general public. The only places that require a face mask (from June 1st) are in medical facilities (hospitals). Masks are not mandatory elsewhere, including in schools, shops, restaurants or anywhere outside. Source : Korea Herald

Self-Quarantine : From June 1st, Korea will no longer impose a mandatory self-isolation period on infected people. The government instead ‘recommends’ a period of self-isolation for 5 days to reduce the chance of transmission to other people. Source : Korea Herald

For further details about the latest COVID requirements for entering or travelling in Korea, check out the second section of this South Korea travel guide, which has a list of all the updated entry requirements, including visas, tests, and other considerations.

Planning to visit Korea? These travel essentials will help you plan your trip, get the best deals, and save you time and money before and during your Korean adventure.

Visas & K-ETA: Some travellers to Korea need a Tourist Visa , but most can travel with a Korean Electronic Travel Authorisation (K-ETA). Currently 22 Countries don’t need either one.

How To Stay Connected : Pre-order a Korean Sim Card or a WiFi Router to collect on-arrival at Incheon Airport (desks open 24-hours). Alternatively, download a Korean eSIM for you travels.

Where To Stay : For Seoul, I recommend Myeongdong (convenient), Hongdae (cool culture) or Gangnam (shopping). For Busan, Haeundae (Beach) or Seomyeon (Downtown).

Incheon Airport To Seoul : Take the Airport Express (AREX) to Seoul Station or a Limo Bus across Seoul. Book an Incheon Airport Private Transfer and relax to or from the airport.

Korean Tour Operators : Tour companies that have a big presence in Korea include Klook , Trazy , Viator , and Get Your Guide . These sites offer discounted entry tickets for top attractions.

Seoul City Passes : Visit Seoul’s top attractions for free with a Discover Seoul Pass or Go City Seoul Pass . These passes are great for families and couples visiting Seoul – you can save lots.

How To Get Around : For public transport, grab a T-Money Card . Save money on Korea’s high speed trains with a Korea Rail Pass . To see more of Korea, there are many rental car options from Klook , EconomyBookings , and RentalCars .

Travel Money : Use money exchanges near Myeongdong and Hongdae subway stations for the best exchange rates. Order a Wise Card or WOWPASS to pay by card across Korea.

Flights To Korea : I use flight comparison sites such as Expedia and Skyscanner to find the best flights to Korea from any country. Air Asia is a good option for budget flights from Asia.

Travel Insurance : It is important to insure your trips to protect yourself against the unexpected. World Nomad is a specialized travel insurance provider with options for different coverage for travellers from around the world. You can also purchase cover when you are already travelling.

How To Learn Korean : The language course from 90 Day Korean or Korean Class 101 both have well-structured lessons and lots of useful resources to help you learn Korean.

Current Requirements To Travel To Korea In 2024

Passport and other documents for travelling to Korea

This part of the South Korea travel guide is for tourists . If you plan to travel for business, employment, or other reasons, check your nearest Korean embassy for the latest travel requirements.

Most of the restrictions and requirements for travelling to Korea have now been scrapped. You can see what entry and travel rules are in place for Korea in the table below:

The following section provides more information and exceptions about these requirements:

COVID-positive travellers should avoid travelling to Korea : To avoid infecting others on the way to Korea, as well as in Korea, the Korean government recommends that you shouldn’t travel to Korea if you exhibit COVID-symptoms or have tested positive. Self-quarantine is mandatory in Korea.

There are no PCR or other testing requirements : It is not necessary to take a PCR or other test before travelling to Korea. However, you will be asked to take a test if you show symptoms of COVID or similar illnesses when travelling to or arriving in Korea.

There is no quarantine on arrival : Travellers to Korea no longer need to quarantine when entering Korea. From June 1st, there is only a ‘recommended’ 5 day self-isolation period for infected travellers, but this is not enforced.

Complete the self-health check before or on arrival : From July 15th, 2023, travellers to Korea no longer need to complete a Q-Code self-health check or declare their health status on arrival.

Apply for a K-ETA or tourist visa before travelling : You need to apply for either a K-ETA or tourist visa for South Korea before flying to the country. Entry will be prohibited without the correct one. From April 1st, 2023 until December 31st, 2024, 22 countries are excluded from the K-ETA.

If you’re not sure which of these you need to apply for, more information is provided in the next section of this South Korea travel guide about the K-ETA and tourist visa for Korea.

K-ETA (Korean Electronic Travel Authorisation)

The K-ETA (Korean Electronic Travel Authorisation) is an online travel authorisation that visa-free foreign visitors aged 18 to 65 must obtain before entering the Korea for tourism, visiting relatives, participating in events or meetings, and for business purposes other than profitable activities.

Tourists from 112 eligible countries need to apply for a K-ETA before travelling to Korea and won’t be allowed to board a flight to Korea without it. The approval process isn’t difficult, but requires accommodation details, travel dates, and personal details such as passport number, etc.

From April 1st, 2023 until December 31st, 2024, the Korean government has decided to suspend the K-ETA requirement for travellers from the following 22 countries:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Macao, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, UK, US (including Guam).

The aim is to reduce the burden of travellers coming to Korea and to encourage more people to visit Korea during the ‘Visit Korea Year’, which runs during 2023 and 2024.

Source : K-ETA website news .

From July 3rd, 2023, the Korean government will no longer ask for travellers who are 17 years and younger, or 65 years and older, to apply for a K-ETA when visiting Korea. These are ages based on the time you travel to Korea, not the age when you apply to travel.

Furthermore, the validity period of the K-ETA is now 3 years, not 2 years. The Korean government has decided to extend the validity period to make it easier for people to travel to Korea.

The K-ETA is based on your nationality , not the country you’re travelling from. That means, if you require a tourist visa from your home country (e.g. the Philippines), but are travelling from a country that requires a K-ETA (e.g. the USA), you can’t use the K-ETA to travel to Korea.

Tourists should apply as far in advance as possible at the official K-ETA website. If you would like to know more about the K-ETA, check out my article explaining what is the K-ETA . The K-ETA costs 10,000 KRW (about $9.00 USD). If you are charged more than this, you’re on the wrong site.

Official K-ETA website

Not sure if you need a K-ETA? Check out this infographic to find out.

Do You Need A K-ETA Poster

Will The K-ETA End In The Future?

The K-ETA will continue for the indefinite future. It is not a pandemic-related travel restriction but a permanent feature that just happened to start in 2021. The Korean government have stated that the K-ETA will be ongoing and other countries and areas, such as the EU, are planning similar ETAs.

Update : In July 2023, the Korean government stopped requiring children 17 years and younger and adults 65 years and older to apply for a K-ETA. The validity period was also increased to 3 years.

Update : In April 2023, the Korean government suspended the K-ETA for travellers from 22 countries (listed previously). This is in an effort to reduce the burden on travellers visiting Korea during the ‘Visit Korea Years’ of 2023 and 2024. This lasts until December 2024, but could possibly go on longer.

Tourist Visas For South Korea

Tourists that aren’t from one of the 112 countries that require a K-ETA to travel to Korea will need to apply for a tourist visa. This includes nationals from countries such India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Tourist visas are based on nationality (passport), not country of residence.

The process to apply for a tourist visa differs depending on the country and may be as simple as submitting an application at the Korean embassy in the country you live in. For other countries, it may be necessary to submit extra information like bank statements and a full itinerary.

If you need a tourist visa for South Korea, contact your nearest Korean embassy as soon as you can to start the process. Tourist visas may be rejected, delayed, or take longer than expected. For some countries, such as the Philippines, it is necessary to apply through a specialist visa agency.

Transit Tour Visas For South Korea

Travel advisory about visa-free entry to Korea

Visa-free entry for foreign transit passengers at Incheon Airport will resume from May 2023 after being suspended for 3 years during the pandemic. There are two types of visa-free transit entry methods for travellers to Korea, they differ in length, requirements, and eligibility.

The first type of visa-free entry for transit passengers is open to all travellers to Korea and allows entry for 3 days, as long as they take a transit tour from Incheon Airport. The second type of visa-free entry for transit passengers is available for 30 days, but only from travellers from 36 select countries.

Visa-Free Entry For Transit Passengers (3 Days)

From May 15, 2023, travellers from any country can travel from Incheon Airport to the Seoul Metropolitan area for up to 3 days, as long as they book at least 1 transit tour from Incheon Airport. If Korea is not their final destination, they’re free to explore more of Seoul after the tour.

There are a wide range of transit tours available from Incheon Airport, including cultural, historic, food, shopping, and entertainment tours. See the sights of Seoul’s most popular places in a few hours, or stay for longer and see more. You can find out more about transit tours from the Visit Korea website .

Requirements : To be eligible for a transit tour visa, travellers must:

  • Have an onward flight to their home country or a 3rd country after Korea.
  • Participate in a transit tour program by a designated travel agency.
  • Stay within the Seoul Metropolitan area only.
  • Have more than 2 hours between connecting flights.

Eligible countries : Visa-free entry with a transit tour is open to passengers of all countries, as long as they meet the above requirements.

Tip : If you have a transit tour in Korea, I recommend staying in Hongdae , as there is a direct train from Incheon Airport to Hongdae called the All-Stop Airport Line. Hongdae is also a really fun place where you can see lots of culture, try Korean dishes, and pack your suitcase with Korean souvenirs.

Transit passenger tour information for South Korea

Visa-Free Entry For Transit Passengers (30 Days)

This will allow travellers from 36 countries to enter and stay in Korea for up to 30 days without a Korean visa. Travellers must be travelling to or from one of these 36 countries to be eligible to stay in Korea without a visa. This includes passengers who are not citizens of those countries.

Requirements : To be eligible for a visa-free entry as a transit passenger, travellers must:

  • Hold an onward flight to any of the 36 countries mentioned below.
  • Have no illegal stay records of any kind, nor have been denied entry to Korea.
  • Not have exceeded a maximum of 3 days stay in any other transit airport.

Eligible countries : Travellers from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and 32 EU countries (see picture below) can stay for up to 30 days, as long as the above-mentioned requirements are met.

Transit tour information for South Korea

Why You Should Travel To Korea In 2024

Women in hanbok at Korean palace in Seoul

There’s not enough space in this South Korea travel guide to write down all of the reasons why you should travel to South Korea. Korea is an under-appreciated gem that has so much to discover and experience that’s completely different from what you’ll find in other countries.

Much the way that Japan has a very distinct culture and history, Korea has lots of unique, appealing places to see, people to meet, history to learn about, and natural sights to appreciate. Many people only see a small slice of Korean culture and beauty through modern media, but there’s a lot more.

Here are some of the reasons you should travel to Korea:

  • Delicious foods and tasty seasonal dishes.
  • Four distinct seasons that offer a variety of views.
  • Fascinating history to learn about and explore.
  • Stunning mountains and beaches for outdoor lovers.
  • Unique and unusual festivals throughout the year.
  • Friendly locals and a safe country to travel around.
  • Modern, high-tech cities that are clean and efficient.
  • Welcoming Buddhist temples and temple stays.
  • Cheaper than most other developed countries.
  • A shopper’s paradise with many markets and malls .
  • Korea really wants you to come and visit.

Korea wants you to visit so much that they declared 2023-2024 the Visit Korea Year . This two-year period, confusingly referred to as a single year, is set to feature loads of events and activities to draw tourists to Korea, and includes promotions for discounted flights, accommodation, and food.

Some of the events you can expect to see during the Visit Korea Year(s) include K-Pop concerts, e-sports competitions, food festivals, and cultural celebrations. There’ll be K-Cultural stars involved, too, including your favourite K-Pop and K-Drama stars. Get ready to travel to Korea soon!

Want to know what you can do in Korea that you can’t do in other countries? Check out these amazing unique Korean experiences that should definitely be on your Korean bucket list.

The Best Time To Visit Korea

Beautiful Korean Pagoda At Royal Palace In Seoul In Autumn

The best time to visit Korea is in spring (late-March to May) or autumn (mid-September until mid-November). These seasons have the most comfortable weather, ranging from 10 to 30 degrees Celsius, an average amount of rain, and also have the most festivals and events.

My favourite months to travel in Korea are April and October . Early-April is when cherry blossoms come out and the weather warms up enough to stop wearing a jacket. October in Korea is a beautiful month when autumn foliage sweeps across the country and the weather is warm and calm.

When you travel to Korea, the season you travel in can have a big impact on what you can see, eat, and do. This section of the South Korea travel guide is one of the most important and if you want to travel to Korea in the future, I recommend learning about Korea’s seasons before making plans.

What Can You See In Korea Each Season?

Although spring and autumn are undoubtedly the best time to visit Korea, there are plenty of reasons to visit in other seasons, too. Visitors to Korea who are restricted to travelling during certain times, such as during school or work holidays, needn’t be put off by travelling in summer or winter.

Here’s a summary of what you can see and do in each season in Korea:

Spring In Korea Gyeongbokgung Palace

Spring: Cherry Blossoms, Blooming Nature, Culture Festivals

Spring is an amazing season to travel in Korea as you can see colourful plum blossoms (Mar), cherry blossoms (Mar-Apr), and many other bright sights. The warm weather allows people go out more to enjoy cultural activities and spring festivals , such as the Lotus Lantern Festival and Jindo Sea-Parting Festival, and also trekking, hiking, and cycling. Spring is one of the most popular times to travel in Korea for locals, so expect places to be busy, especially around cherry blossom season.

Check out my cherry blossom guide for the best places to see cherry blossoms in Korea.

Summer In Korea Boseong Green Tea Fields

Summer: Beaches, Korean Desserts, Water Sports, Camping

Summer is a difficult season for travellers due to the high humidity and heat. June and July are rainy season in Korea and it may rain for days on end, causing people to change travel plans to indoor activities. In late July and August it gets very hot, which is good for going to the beach and enjoying water sports or water parks, which Korea has many of. Evening activities like hiking, drinking in rooftop bars, and visiting night markets are great ways to get out in summer when it’s not as hot.

Check out my guide to Korean summer activities for the best places to have fun during summer and rainy day activities in Busan in case the weather isn’t so good.

Autumn In Korea Temple Wall Autumn Foliage

Autumn: Foliage, Festivals, Fresh Foods, Harvest Festivals

Autumn is another incredibly popular time to travel in Korea, especially in October when the autumn foliage is at its best. The foliage really brings everything to life, adding shades of colour to plain palace walls, mountains, and parks. The calm weather is warm with clear skies, making it perfect for going into nature to see the fresh fruits and other harvest goods, as well as join in harvest and cultural festivals. Enjoy local Korean dishes, fresh from the farm to your table.

Check out my guide to autumn foliage in Korea for the best places to see the leaves.

Winter In Korea Snowy Temples

Winter: Snow, Winter Sports, Ice Fishing, Light Festivals

Winter in Korea is often neglected due to the cold weather, but is actually a very nice time to travel with delicious winter foods to try. It’s the driest time of year with blue skies making everything bright and beautiful. When it snows, sights look even more incredible. Jeju Island is a great place to visit during winter as it has fresh citrus and colourful camellia flowers to see. You can enjoy winter sports, festivals and activities, such as ice fishing, ice skating, sledding, and more.

Check out my guide to Korean winter activities for the best places to have fun during winter.

What Is The Weather Like In Korea?

The weather in Korea follows a similar pattern each year, spread over five distinct seasons. As well as spring, summer, autumn, and winter, Korea also has a rainy season, which starts around mid-June and finishes mid-July. It doesn’t constantly rain during rainy season, but may do for several days.

There’s always something to do in Korea, no matter what the season. Even rainy season in Korea is fine for travelling, as long as you plan lots of indoor activities and can be flexible with your schedule. Don’t let the weather in Korea put you off visiting, you’ll find plenty to do in each season.

Here’s a summary of the weather in Korea each season:

The graph below shows you the average temperature each month in Seoul. This is an average temperature, so some days will be much hotter and others much colder. I’ve experienced summer temperatures of over 35 degrees and winter nights of -20, so be prepared for both.

Average monthly temperatures in Seoul Korea

The table below shows the average rainfall for each month in Korea, based on records from climate-data.org . The summer months have the most, while winter in Korea is very dry. The rainfall in the winter months can turn to snow when it’s cold enough, too.

There will be more information about the sights, festivals, and events you can enjoy in Korea in later parts of this South Korea travel guide. Check them out for travel ideas for your trip to Korea.

How To Book Flights To Korea

Person looking at flight times

Flying to Korea in 2024 is getting easier with more airlines offering direct or connecting flights to Korea and budget airlines adding more routes to Korea from other parts of Asia and as far away as the USA. There aren’t as many routes as there were in 2019, but they are returning month by month.

Booking a flight to Korea is one of the first things most people do and finding the right flight can really affect your travels. Choosing the right flight not only affects how much money you need to spend, but also when you’ll arrive, how you’ll get to your hotel, and where you’ll arrive in Korea.

Check out my guide to booking flights to Korea to discover the best ways to book a flight to Korea, including the best time to book (21 to 127 days before travel), where to get cheap flights, the various airlines that offer flights to Korea, and lots more.

Arriving At Incheon Airport

Most flights to Korea arrive at Incheon Airport, which is near Seoul. It takes about an hour to get to the centre of Seoul from Incheon Airport and there are various transportation options including a high-speed train, subway, limo buses, taxis, and private transfers.

The best option for transferring from Incheon Airport to your hotel is usually a limo bus as these run to popular areas of Seoul, such as Myeongdong, Hongdae, Gangnam, and Insadong. There’s also a direct train to Seoul Station and a subway that goes to Seoul Station via Hongdae.

Arriving during the daytime gives you the best options for getting from Incheon Airport into Seoul, while nighttime flights will leave you fewer options. There are a few night buses that run, but late arrivals will either need to stay at the airport or book a private transfer or taxi instead. More details about taking a taxi from Incheon Airport can be found in my guide to taxis in Korea .

If you want to book a private transfer direct to your hotel from Incheon Airport, contact Jerry Heng , a freelance driver. I want to recommend Jerry as he has years of experience organising airport pick-ups and drop-offs, as well as personalised tours around Korea. He’s also a friendly guy.

Recommended Flight Comparison Sites

I suggest checking at least one flight comparison website before booking any flights. You can alter the arrival and departure times, flight duration, choose direct or indirect flights, and sort by price to find the perfect flight for you. Skyscanner is my preferred comparison site, but they’re all useful.

Take time to change the dates and flight times to find the most suitable flights for you. Cheaper flights often have inconvenient arrival times, so you should decide whether it’s worth the hassle to save a bit of money. Sometimes spending more for the right flight is worth it, especially when time is limited.

I try to go for a balance of convenience and savings and avoid flights that arrive late at night or leave too early in the morning. These flights require you to book an extra night at the airport or make you lose time when you could be travelling and doing more interesting things.

Here are 4 of the best flight comparison sites for booking flights to Korea:

Skyscanner Flight Comparison Site

Skyscanner is one of the most popular flight aggregators and offers flights, hotels, and other travel bookings for all major destinations. Skyscanner shows airline environmental ratings and which flights are practical or difficult.

Expedia Flight Comparison Site

Expedia is a large US travel company that offers tours, flights, hotels, and other services around the world. You can book hotel and flights together, to save you time and effort when travelling. A good place to start your flight search.

Kayak Flight Comparison Website

Kayak is great for people looking for cheap flights to Korea. You can see price trends for your flight to Korea to see when the best prices are available. There are also lots of budget travel options on the site that can save you more.

Wayaway Flight Comparison Site

WayAway is a flight comparison site for the modern generation, with Instagram tips & travel advice as well as a good selection of cheap flights. You can get cashback on bookings with their premium service.

Where To Stay In Seoul

Popular neighbourhood to stay in Seoul

Incheon Airport is the main arrival destination for most travellers visiting Korea, with more than 71 million travellers passing through the airport in 2019, making it the world’s 14th busiest airport . It’s close to Seoul and has lots of transportation options to get into Korea’s capital.

Seoul is the first place people visit, not only because it’s close to Incheon Airport, but because it’s undeniably the heart and soul of Korea. The greater Seoul area includes about 50% of Korea’s population (25 million people) and is by far the biggest, most vibrant, and fun city in Korea.

To travel to Korea you need either a K-ETA or tourist visa . One of the requirements to apply for these is the address of the first place you’ll be staying in Korea. Therefore, you should book at least your first hotel in Korea so you can begin those applications. Seoul is an ideal first place to stay.

Best Neighbourhoods To Stay In Seoul

Deciding where to stay in Seoul can be difficult because there are so many unique neighbourhoods, each offering something interesting for travellers to experience. Knowing which has the best sights, entertainment, culture, shopping, transport, markets, restaurants, cafes, etc., is useful.

Seoul’s neighbourhoods typically contain a mixture of several of these elements and will appeal to different types of travellers. Below is a very rough guide for which neighbourhood each type of traveller might enjoy. Of course, there are plenty of other things to do in each area.

As you can see from the list above, both Hongdae and Myeongdong have a lot to offer and I would definitely recommend either of these neighbourhoods for first time travellers to Seoul. Even people who have travelled to Korea before will find lots of reasons to stay there. They’re where I usually stay.

I have detailed guides to hotels in the two best districts for staying in Seoul – Hongdae and Myeongdong. My guide to hotels in Hongdae includes a range of hotels for all types of travellers, while my guide to hotels in Myeongdong highlights Myeongdong’s best budget to mid-range hotels.

Each neighbourhood feels unique and offers something to discover, from traditional markets and eateries, modern Insta-worthy cafe districts, peaceful parks and lakes, world-class skyscrapers, and many fun activities. Wherever you choose to stay, you’re sure to find something you enjoy.

I’ve included the 8 best neighbourhoods in Seoul in this South Korea travel guide, along with a small summary about what you can expect in each area. These are the most popular areas for tourists to stay in, but certainly not the only places to stay. There are also links to hotels in these areas.

Here are the 8 best neighbourhoods in Seoul:

Myeongdong shopping sights and traditional markets

Myeongdong is arguably one of the best places to stay in Seoul for any traveller. It has the best range of budget and mid-range hotels in Seoul and is conveniently located for sights, activities, and public transport. It’s close to popular tourist sites, such as the N Seoul Tower and royal palaces. There are traditional markets and Myeongdong’s famous street food alley to check out. As Myeongdong is popular with tourists, you’ll find more people that can speak English and places to exchange money.

Hongdae youth culture shopping and dining area

Hongdae is one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Seoul and a must-see for any traveller to the city. This area has emerged as a creative hotbed for the latest Korean fashion, art, food, and culture, thanks to innovations from students of nearby universities. Youth culture is on display in Hongdae’s main and side streets, with boutique shops, trendy bars and cafes, inventive restaurants, street art, and live performances. If you want to see a vibrant, colourful side of Seoul, then Hongdae is the place for you.

Gangnam luxury shopping and modern k-culture

Gangnam is an upscale area of Seoul that’s home to some of Korea’s biggest stars. This area was where K-Pop was invented, as can be seen by the golden Gangnam Style statue outside COEX Mall. Gangnam is a lot more than that, and is a powerful business area with Seoul’s best shopping and dining experiences, as well as some of the city’s finest cafes and bars. Gangnam has a host of upmarket hotels that provide outstanding luxury, but also has a selection of budget and mid-range hotels making it accessible for all travellers.

Jongno Neighbourhood in Seoul traditional sights and hanok houses

Jongno is the area north of Myeongdong that includes Insadong, Bukchon Hanok Village, Ikseongdong Hanok Village, Jogyesa Temple, 4 of Seoul’s royal palaces, the presidential Blue House, and lots more. This area is packed full of interesting sights and traditional restaurants and tea houses to explore. You can find a good range of hotels in Insadong, Seoul’s artistic area that is home to artists and tourist-friendly attractions. There are also guesthouses and apartments to rent in the residential areas of Jongno that offer a more homely stay.

Jamsil luxury shopping theme parks and nature

Jamsil is an upmarket residential neigbourhood close to Gangnam that’s home to one of Korea’s largest companies, Lotte. You’ll find the Lotte World Tower, Lotte World Theme Park, and Lotte Aquarium in this area, as well as the beautiful Seokchon Lake and leafy Olympic Park. Jamsil is a great base for people visiting for cherry blossoms in spring as the Seokchon Lake Cherry Blossom Festival is one of Seoul’s best. There are lots of trendy cafes and bars near the lake and it’s a relaxed part of the city to stay in.

Dongdaemun neighbourhood traditional markets and modern culture

Dongdaemun is known for both its traditional markets, where you can buy a range of goods, as well as the futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). The area is an unusual mix of traditional Seoul, with Gwangjang Market offering some of Seoul’s best Korean street food, and modern culture, displayed by the night markets and art installations at the DDP. There are lots of cheap eats and bargain markets and malls in this area, making it a great place to stay if you plan to do a lot of bargain shopping in Seoul.

Yongsan International culture and Korean history

Yongsan is the area encompassing the N Seoul Tower, the popular international area of Itaewon, the trendy hilltop area of Haebangchon (HBC), Seoul Station, the National Museum of Seoul, and many riverside parks. Yongsan has a busy train station with towering skyscrapers and hotels around it catering to business and luxury travellers, as well as shoppers. This quiet business and residential area has good transport links and fewer crowds than other parts of Seoul, as well as interesting cultural attractions.

Yeoudio riverside parks and business district

Yeouido is a large island that rests in the Han River, overlooking Hongdae and Yongsan. It has some of the best parks in Seoul and is a popular place for locals to walk along the river on weekends and at night. These parks are home to Seoul’s biggest cherry blossom festivals, as well as summer night markets, fireworks performances, live music, and people enjoying life outside of work. Yeouido is the upmarket financial centre of Seoul, making it an ideal base for business, luxury, and family travellers.

Seoul’s neighbourhoods are informal designations, not necessarily the official district name. For example, Hongdae is a neighbourhood in the Mapo-gu district and Myeongdong a neighbourhood in the Jung-gu district. Whereas Jongno is both the neighbourhood and district name (Jongno-gu).

You might see some areas referred to differently. However, the terms I’ve used in this section are the names most commonly used to describe these areas by tourists and expats. Koreans will certainly know which area of Seoul you’re talking about when you use these names.

Learn more : If you want to know more about Seoul’s best districts and figure out where the best place to stay for your trip to Korea, then check out my detailed guide about where to stay in Seoul . It’s packed with useful info about each neighbourhood, hotel recommendations for different budgets, and tips about booking accommodation in Seoul. Also learn more about the Han River Boat Service launching in 2024 to connect Yeoudio, Jamsil and other riverside destinations.

Hotel Recommendations For Seoul

Hotel room in Seoul for travellers

There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of hotels in Seoul to choose from ranging from multi-person dorm rooms to the height of luxury looking down over Seoul from a 5-star hotel room in the Lotte World Tower . Whatever your budget or requirements, there’ll be somewhere to stay in Seoul for you.

To save you time searching for the best places to stay in Seoul, I’ve created a list of the 9 best luxury, mid-range, and budget hotels in Seoul, as well as 6 long-stay serviced apartments. This list has been created based on customer reviews, location, facilities, amenities, reputation, and quality.

I live outside of Seoul, so often book hotels when I’m visiting Seoul for the weekend . I’ve stayed at quite a few of these, so can personally recommend them based on my own experience. I’ve had both good and bad hotel experiences in Seoul and only want to recommend the best to you.

Recommended Luxury Hotels

Seoul has some incredible luxury hotels to enjoy, each with a true 5-star service, excellent amenities, and delectable restaurants. Many of Seoul’s best luxury hotels are located in Gangnam, Seoul’s wealthiest district, where you can find top restaurants and designer brand shopping.

Recommended Mid-Range Hotels

If you want to experience a luxurious stay in Seoul without breaking the bank, then these mid-range hotels will be perfect for you. These unique, 4-star hotels are reasonably priced and provide stylish, comfortable rooms that you’ll sleep easily in after a busy day exploring Seoul.

Recommended Budget Hotels

Seoul has a wide range of excellent budget hotels with prices that might surprise you for a large city. These are some of my favourite places to stay in Seoul when I visit for the weekend and are popular with travellers due to their convenient location, facilities, and comfortable beds.

Recommended Serviced Apartments

If you plan to stay in Seoul for a month or more, these serviced apartments will provide you all the comforts of home with the benefits of staying at a hotel. These excellent serviced apartments come with cleaning services, health facilities, cooking facilities, and are value for money.

Cost To Travel In South Korea In 2024

Korean won Korean money

This part of the South Korea travel guide will help you understand some of your expected costs to travel to Korea. The costs to travel to Korea include flights, accommodation, food, drinks, transportation, activities, sim cards, visas, souvenirs, travel insurance, and lots more.

The costs you will pay when you travel vary massively depending on what type of traveller you are and what style of travel you can afford. If you want 5-star luxury and fine-dining, your budget will be very different from someone eating ramyeon from 7-11 and staying in a budget guesthouse.

Therefore, I will try to provide expected costs for 3 different types of traveller – budget , mid-range , and luxury . These aren’t exact figures, but should give you a rough idea of how much you’ll spend.

Daily Costs To Travel In Korea

There are costs that you will pay each day when travelling in Korea that can be averaged out to give you a daily cost. Knowing these figures will help you plan your budget for Korea and to see where you can afford to spend more for the one-off costs to travel, which will be covered next.

The daily costs are accommodation, food & drinks, transportation, attractions & tours, and miscellaneous expenses that can pop up unexpectedly. These miscellaneous costs might include getting a street food snack, an unexpected entrance fee, or a few extra drinks in the evening.

Transportation will be covered later in this South Korea travel guide and there are some useful tips to reduce your transportation costs. You will also be able to see some of the best attractions, tours, and activities in Korea and you’ll be able to work out how much you’ll spend on those.

Here are the daily costs per person to travel in Korea:

Please note : These are costs per day, per person . Couples and families sharing a room will have lower costs as double rooms aren’t much more expensive than single rooms. Some days will be cheaper, some much more expensive, especially if you take day trips or visit premium attractions.

There are also one-off costs not included in these daily costs. These can be pre-travel costs, such as flights and a K-ETA or tourist visa (already covered), travel insurance, vaccinations, and such like. Pre-travel costs are different for each traveller and depend on your country of residence.

Other one-off costs during travel in Korea may include day tours, souvenirs, shopping, celebrations, medical costs, and expenses that you don’t normally pay each day. Again, these vary for each traveller and are difficult to calculate as people’s budgets are so different.

Is Korea A Cheap Country To Travel In?

cost to travel in Korea

Korea is relatively cheap country to visit, but certainly isn’t always a budget destination. The cost to travel to Korea has risen over the last few years and might be more expensive than you think, even if you’ve previously visited Korea. Flying to Korea is certainly more expensive now.

Food costs rose by 7.5% in 2022 alone and these costs have been passed on to restaurants, which now charge higher prices for meals. Transportation costs rose by about 20% in 2023 for buses and subways, although these are still relatively cheap compared to some countries.

Despite these price increases, travelling in Korea is still cheaper than travelling in most other high-income industrialised countries such as Japan, the USA, and Western Europe. If you’re from countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, or Malaysia, Korea may seem expensive.

City Passes That Save You Money In Seoul

There are a number of city passes that can save you money when visiting Seoul by offering free or discounted entry to some of the best attractions in the city for a single price. The original city pass for Seoul is the Discover Seoul Pass, but now there is also the Go City Pass and Klook Pass Seoul.

Here’s a summary of each of these Seoul city passes:

Discover Seoul Pass : Available in 24 | 48 | 72 hour periods, allows entry to top attractions in Seoul such as Lotte World Adventure, N Seoul Tower, COEX Aquarium, Alive Museum, Zoolung Zoolung, Sealala Sauna, Gyeongbokgung Palace, and more. Prices start at 50,000 KRW .

Go City Seoul Pass : Available as 1 – 5 day passes or a flexible pass for up to 7 attractions. Covers a wider amount of attractions than the DSP, including a DMZ Tour, Nanta Cookin’ Musical, Seoul Land, Seoul Pub Crawl, Seoul Ghost Tour, and more. Prices start at 68,000 KRW .

Klook Pass Seoul : Available for use 2 – 5 attractions, including Everland or Lotte World Adventure theme parks. The Klook Pass Seoul allows free entry to selected attractions within a 30 day period. Attractions include the N Seoul Tower and Lotte World Aquarium. Prices start at 44,000 KRW .

If you’d like to know more about these passes, be sure to check out my article about the Klook Pass Seoul , as well as my suggested Discover Seoul Pass itineraries . I’ll have a review article of the Go City Seoul Pass soon, too.

How To Save Money In Korea

How to save money in Korean won

There are always ways to save money and spend less in Korea. Budget options exist for travellers and you can travel in Korea for less than 150,000 KRW per day, even as little as 50,000 KRW per day. Here are some of the ways you can save money in Korea and travel more for less:

Eat like a local : Visit the traditional markets, food stalls, and traditional Korean restaurants. These are much cheaper than eating foreign foods in Korea. University areas are usually cheap, too.

Spend less on coffee : Coffee in Korea can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. A latte could cost you 5,000 KRW in a chain store, but there are cheap hole-in-the-wall cafes where it’s half that.

Shop in the markets : From designer goods (possibly fake) to souvenirs, the markets of Seoul and other cities usually have the best prices. Don’t be afraid to haggle.

Use public transport : Korea has a fantastic public transport network both in cities and between cities. Don’t waste money on taxis and private transfers when you can use a bus or subway.

Book everything online : You can find discounted entry and tour tickets online that are much cheaper than the regular price. Use Klook , Get Your Guide , and Viator for the best prices.

Stay in guesthouses and hostels : You can find rooms for as little as 10,000 KRW per night in shared dorms and 20,000 KRW in guesthouses. Book ahead to find the best prices.

Take advantage of free things : There are lots of places you can visit for free in Seoul and free services, such as walking tours in Seoul, 30-minute hanbok rentals, and even free entry to the palaces.

Get your tax back : Korea makes it really easy to recover tax you’ve paid when shopping. Stores in Seoul will process tax returns for you or you can claim a refund at the airport when you leave.

You will see tips and links in this South Korea travel guide that are designed to help you save money when you visit Korea. Booking tours, attractions, and sim cards in advance can save you a lot of money, as can using a T-Money card and Wise travel card. Keep reading for more money-saving tips.

Travel Money And Money Exchanges In Korea

Korean won travel money

If you follow the tips in this section of this South Korea travel guide, you can certainly save yourself a lot of money and avoid unnecessary fees when spending in Korea. Learn where and how to exchange money, how to avoid ATM and card fees, and how to get tax back before you leave.

Because this section covers a lot of the common questions people ask about travel money in Korea, it will be broken down into a question and answer format. This should make it easier for you to find the information you’re looking for and discover answers you didn’t know you were looking for.

Can You Use A Foreign Card In Korea?

Almost all foreign credit cards with Visa or Mastercard will be accepted in Korea and it is possible to use these cards to pay across the country. American Express is also accepted in popular tourist areas, but not as widely as Visa or Mastercard and may have problems outside of big cities.

Foreign debit cards should work if they use Visa or Mastercard, but there may be restrictions in place with your bank when using them abroad. It is recommended that you call your bank to check before travelling. For both credit and debit cards, check your bank for any fees you’ll pay overseas.

Can You Withdraw Cash From An ATM In Korea?

Foreign Currency Global ATM in Korea

You can withdraw cash from ATMs in Korea using a debit card, but not all ATMs will accept international cards. Look for a sign saying ‘Global ATM’ or ‘Foreign Currency ATM’ to withdraw cash in Korea with a debit card. You can also withdraw cash using a credit card, but it’s more expensive.

Whether you use a debit or credit card, an ATM is likely to charge a fee to withdraw money using a foreign card. Your bank or credit card company may also charge a fee or give a bad exchange rate. These costs can add up a lot if you withdraw regularly, so try to make fewer withdrawals.

Learn more : Should you use cash or card when you visit Korea? This article about the how to pay in Korea has lots of useful information about payment methods in Korea, including alternatives to the usual mix of cash and a credit card.

How Can You Save Money When Paying By Card In Korea?

Instead of using a foreign debit or credit card in Korea, which might have expensive fees or not work in places, here are two better options. The first is the WOWPASS travel card , which offers tourist-friendly card services in Korea. The other is to apply for a travel card that can be used globally.

Both the WOWPASS and the two other travel cards offer the ability to pay by card in Korea and to withdraw cash in Korean won. They also offer better exchange rates than you’ll find in airport or local money exchanges in Korea. They each have some unique features, which will be illustrated below.

Pay Like A Local With WOWPASS

The WOWPASS is a new way to pay in Korea that combines the essential functions of a T-Money transportation card with the benefits of a local debit card. This is a prepaid card you can top up at more than 90 locations in KRW or your own currency. Just look for the bright orange WOW machines.

WOWPASS Money Exchange Machine In Seoul

The T-Money function in the WOWPASS means it’s more useful than other travel cards as you don’t need to carry two separate cards when you travel. Please note, you still need to charge the T-Money balance of WOWPASS with cash, just like a regular T-Money card.

The WOWPASS travel card allows you to add up to 1,000,000 KRW to your card and can be used to pay for almost anything in Korea without any fees. The card is issued by a Korean company, so you can use it to withdraw cash at any WOWPASS machine located in Seoul & other cities in Korea.

Paying with a WOWPASS card in Korea

Thanks to the user-friendly WOWPASS app, users can freeze or replace their card, check their spending, add funds, and check exchange rates. Because the WOWPASS isn’t tied to your home bank account, it also reduces the damage by card fraud, in case the worst was to happen.

As well as a regular WOWPASS, you can also reserve the All-In-One Airport Package , which includes the WOWPASS, 10,000 KRW T-Money balance, and a discounted Korean sim card. This is really useful for those who want to get connected and travelling as soon as they arrive in Korea. Get the WOWPASS app for Android or Apple .

Tip : Use the invitation code INMYKOR1 to get cashback on WOWPASS top-ups in foreign currency.

Overseas Travel Cards You Can Use In Korea

Overseas travel cards are another option for spending in Korea and I use them myself to spend money from my UK bank account in Korea, as well as when travelling in other countries. They’re really simple to use and are much cheaper than paying with my foreign card or exchanging money.

Two of the leading travel card companies are Wise and Revolut . I use both of these to pay for things in Korea and have written an article about how to use the Wise card in Korea . You can use them to pay for hotels, food, drinks, transportation, taxis, attractions, and lots more. They’re really useful.

Here’s a summary of the main features of these travel cards:

Wise Travel Card for spending in Korea

The Wise travel card allows you to easily transfer and convert money from your home bank account into dozens of other currencies and use this money to pay when you’re travelling. You only need to transfer as much as you plan to spend and can easily transfer back anything you haven’t. The exchange rate will be better than your bank or a money exchange offers, too.

A versatile, easy to use app breaks down what you’ve spent by category so you can track your travel spending. You can withdraw cash from ATMs, pay by QR code, use it for Google Pay, and pay by contactless. Even if you lose your card, you can still spend money. It’s also really safe as you can freeze your card, set spending limits, and limit how much money you transfer.

Revolut Travel Card for spending in Korea

The Revolut travel card can be used in Korea to pay for a wide range of goods and services without expensive fees for spending your home currency overseas. Unlike the Wise travel card, which lets you transfer money into different currencies and then spend in a local currency, such as Korean won, the Revolut travel card lets you pay fee-free with your home currency.

The Revolut travel card comes with an easy to use app that can be used to manage your money both at home and when travelling in Korea. You can check your spending with categories and reports and set budgets for your spending. The Revolut travel card also offers cashback in the US, stock and crypto investments, and the same security features as the Wise travel card.

Can You Use Apple Pay In Korea?

Apple Pay wasn’t previously available in Korea due to a lack of approval by Korea’s financial regulator. However, in February 2023, Apple Pay received approval to begin operating in Korea through the Hyundai Card Co., allowing payments with Apple devices from March 2023 onwards.

The Apple Pay payment system has been available in Korea since March 21st , 2023 and allows Apple Pay members to pay for goods and services at NFC-enabled payment terminals. However, on the launch date of Apple Pay, there were only 70,000 NFC-enabled payment terminals in Korea.

The lack of NFC-enabled payment terminals will be a big issue for Apple Pay users in Korea as there are around 2,900,000 shops in Korea and most won’t accept Apple Pay. Franchises like Starbucks can’t accept Apple Pay and it can’t be used to pay for public transport. You’ll need a T-Money card.

Samsung Pay, which uses MST technology, not NFC, currently dominates the Korean market. NFC-enabled terminals should grow, especially in tourist areas and city-centres from 2023 onwards. This will be good news for Google Pay, which also uses NFC technology and also isn’t in use in Korea yet.

Should You Exchange Money Before Travelling To Korea?

It is not necessary to exchange money into Korean won before travelling to Korea, but it can certainly be useful to have a small amount of money. Exchange rates for Korean won outside Korea may not be as good as within Korea and changing large amounts of cash before you travel isn’t essential.

It might be hard to get Korean won from your local bank or money exchange as it’s not one of the most commonly exchanged currencies. Therefore, you might find exchange rates less favourable and extra fees applied to exchange money. Using travel cards like Wise or Revolut is a better option.

Should You Change Money At Incheon Airport?

Foreign Currency Exchange at Incheon Airport

I’ve travelled around the world and always avoid exchanging money at the airport if I can help it. Airports often have the worst rates for money exchange as they know people need to get local cash, there aren’t many other options, and you need at least a bit of money to travel to your hotel.

Incheon Airport is an exception to this rule and I’ve compared travel exchange rates at several times when flying into and out of the airport. The foreign currency exchange rates at Incheon Airport aren’t that bad and are just slightly higher than what you’d find in Seoul. Not the best, but not bad.

There are also Global ATMs at Incheon Airport, so you can withdraw cash here. If you have a Wise or Revolut travel card, you can withdraw up to $200 fee-free from an ATM in Korea. However, Korean banks will charge a withdrawal fee (about 3,000 KRW), which applies to any foreign card used.

Where Can You Exchange Money In Seoul?

Seoul is the first destination for most travellers to Korea and if you want to save money on exchange rate fees, I recommend exchanging money in the capital. There are two main options for exchanging money easily and quickly in Seoul – WOW money exchange machines and money exchanges.

Here’s a summary about the two main ways to exchange money in Seoul:

WOWPASS Logo

The cheapest and most convenient option for exchanging money in Seoul is through a WOW money exchange machine. This automated machine gives the best exchange rates and can quickly and easily exchange foreign cash for Korean won. It doesn’t accept card payments, only cash. All you need to do is scan your passport and deposit your cash and it will convert it into Korean won immediately. There are dozens of these machines in Seoul, as well as in other cities like Busan and Daejeon.

Money Exchanges In Seoul

The traditional way to exchange foreign currency in Seoul was through a money exchange. You can find these in Myeongdong, where many tourists stay and visit in Seoul. There are also money exchanges inside banks and in other tourist hotspots. These used to be the best place to exchange money, until the WOW money exchanges were introduced and travel cards like Wise and Revolut made it easier to use a card. If you want to use a money exchange in Seoul, Myeongdong is the best place to do it.

Can You Get Tax Back When Shopping In Korea?

Travellers to Korea can claim tax back on eligible purchases during their trip. This can be done immediately after you purchase an item (if the shop offers the service) or at Incheon Airport or other airports in Korea before you depart.

Instant tax refunds are available at certain locations in Seoul and other big cities. These are usually department stores and large chain stores. You are able to claim tax refunds for goods up to a total value of 2,500,000 KRW (incl. tax). There is a tax refund limit of 500,000 KRW per transaction.

2024 Tax Refund Changes : From 2024, the tax refund limits will be doubled, so you will be able to claim up to 5,000,000 KRW of tax back and claim up to 1,000,000 KRW back per transaction. Source: Korea Herald .

To claim a tax refund you need:

  • To show your passport
  • To be a tourist in Korea
  • To spend between 30,000 to 300,000 KRW in one place
  • To be leaving Korea within 3 months

Tax isn’t refundable on all purchases, so be sure to check when shopping. Tax refunds can also be claimed at the airport as long as you have the receipt and the goods you’ve purchased.

Mobile Phones And Internet In Korea

Using a phone while travelling in Korea

Staying connected to the Internet when visiting Korea is becoming more and more essential these days. Keeping your mobile phone, tablet, or computer connected to the web is useful not only to stay in touch with people back home, but also to help you save money and travel Korea more easily.

There are several options to stay connected in Korea when you travel. The main options for travellers are tourist SIM cards, either physical or eSIMs, portable WiFi routers, and relying on free WiFi provided in public places and hotels. All of these are good options, but there are other considerations, too.

This South Korea travel guide will cover the main differences between Korean SIM cards and portable WiFi routers and which will be most suitable for you. There are also details about why you might want a Korean phone number and which apps to use to help you travel in Korea.

Don’t forget, if you bring your phone or other mobile devices to Korea, you’ll need a travel adapter .

Should You Get A Korean SIM Card Or WiFi Router?

Both a Korean SIM card or portable WiFi router will provide access to Korea’s high-speed mobile networks and keep you connected to the Internet. They provide a secure internet connection, but do so in a different way and with different available features. Find out about the best Korean SIM card for tourists in this SK SIM card review .

Here are the main features of Korean SIM cards and WiFi routers:

Costs : SIM cards and WiFi routers are similarly priced when using them for a two week period, but they are charged in different ways. SIM cards are fixed-price and can be bought for set time periods, whereas WiFi routers are charged daily. WiFi routers are cheaper in the short-term.

Ease of use : If you purchase or pre-order a SIM card or portable WiFi router at Incheon Airport, which I highly recommend, the staff will install or setup everything for you. Once they’re activated, it’s very simple to use either one. Cancelling and returning them at the airport is also easy for both.

Here are the reasons you should get a Korean SIM card or portable WiFi router in Korea:

Korean sim cards to make phone calls

You should get a Korean SIM card when visiting Korea to get a Korean phone number. The benefits of having a Korean phone number are mainly to make calls and use Korean apps. SIM cards are also useful if you want a secure connection everywhere you go and plan to make calls or send texts. When you have a SIM card, you can tether your network connection to connect other devices you own. Korean phone coverage is amazing and you’ll get service everywhere. SIM cards don’t require you to carry any extra devices and are cheaper over the long-run than WiFi routers.

portable wifi routers in Korea

You should get a portable WiFi router if you’re travelling in a group or as a family as you can connect multiple devices to one router. This is much cheaper than getting separate SIM cards for all travellers, but also requires people stay close together. WiFi routers are charged per day and if you need additional days, they’ll be automatically added and charged when you return the router. This means you’ll never have to worry about your service suddenly ending. The main downside to using a WiFi router is the lack of Korean phone number, but that might not be an issue if you don’t need one.

Where Can You Get Korean SIM Cards Or WiFi Routers?

Sim card and wifi routers at Incheon Airport Korea

You can get a Korean SIM card or portable WiFi router in several ways. The easiest way, and one that I definitely recommend, is to purchase online through a tour company such as Klook , Viator , or Get Your Guide , and get a SIM card at Incheon Airport or other entry point into Korea when you arrive..

The main reason I recommend this method is that you can guarantee you will get a SIM card or router and it will be waiting for you when you arrive. The collection desks at Incheon Airport are open 24-hours a day and they will help you install everything you need to get started immediately.

You can also get SIM cards and WiFi routers when you arrive at the airport and you should find similar rates. However, you won’t be guaranteed a device and you will need to pay in person. When you book online, you can pay in your home currency and avoid those issues.

I don’t recommend getting a SIM card or WiFi router in Seoul or other cities. It is possible, but you may run into language issues and find less tourist-friendly options. Phone shops outside the airport usually cater to Koreans, not tourists. Airport rentals are the easiest options for visitors to Korea.

What’s The Benefit Of A Korean Phone Number For Tourists?

There are two main benefits of having a Korean phone number for tourists. The first benefit is the ability to call people when you’re in Korea. This can be useful for making reservations, keeping in touch with people, and in case of emergencies.

The second benefit of having a Korean phone number is the ability to use Korean apps . It isn’t mandatory to have a Korean phone number to use Korean apps, but most won’t let you use their services unless you sign up with a phone number. Using Korean apps makes travelling easier.

A phone number is like a form of identity in Korea, which is why you need your passport to register a SIM card. Once you have a phone number, many more services are available, including food delivery, ordering taxis, making reservations (such as for the Busan Sky Capsule ), and online messaging.

What Apps Do I Need For Travelling In Korea?

If you have a Korean phone number, you can use Korean apps. Even without a Korean number, you can still download these apps and use some of their services. Full features typically require a phone number though. There are other, non-Korean apps that will help you when travelling, too.

Here are the most useful apps to use when travelling in Korea:

Papago : This is the essential translation tool for visiting Korea. Papago’s translation services are the best and you can use the app to take pictures and translate Korean signs, menus, and other pictures.

Naver Maps : To find your way around Korea, use Naver Maps or Kakao Maps. Their systems are much more accurate in Korea than Google Maps. Use them to plan travel routes and transport times.

Kakao Taxi : Uber and Grab don’t really exist in Korea, so if you plan to take a taxi, you’ll need to use Kakao Taxi. Simple to use and takes the hassle out of trying to use Korean to give directions.

Kakao Talk : This is Korea’s most popular messaging app and is useful for keeping in touch with Korean friends, contacting businesses in Korea, and even calling abroad.

Seoul Subway : Use this app to travel around Seoul’s underground more easily. Plan your route, see when the next train is due to arrive, check connections, and see how late the trains run.

Korail Talk : This app allows you to book trains on Korea’s high-speed train network and regular train routes. This app has an English setting, so you can check train times and prices easily.

Coupang Eats : This is a food-delivery app that allows you to order almost anything edible and get it sent directly to you. You can even order convenience store goods. Useful for rainy days.

Mango Plate : Find restaurants in Korea with this app and discover the best places to go out and eat. You can also see restaurant details and get directions in Naver Maps and Kakao Maps.

WOWPASS : To use the WOWPASS to pay like a local in Korea and for T-Money functions, you’ll need the WOWPASS app. This will let you check your balances and spending and control your card.

Wise & Revolut : As mentioned in this South Korea travel guide, using a travel card to pay for items in Korea will save you money when you travel. If you use Wise or Revolut, make sure you have the app.

Klook : This company provides some of the best tours in Korea and if you make bookings through their website, you can easily manage them with the Klook app.

Intercity Bus by T-Money : This app is great for booking buses between cities in Korea. There is an English version that allows you to book tickets, check times, and see available seats.

These apps should be available on both Android and Apple. Some of these apps might default to Korean, but you should be able to change them to English in the side menu.

Is There Free WiFi In Korea?

Travellers in Korea have the option to not get a sim card or portable WiFi but still stay connected. This is thanks to the excellent Free Wifi in Korea that is provided in public transport, government buildings, restaurants, cafes, and many other places. This is mostly in the cities, however.

Hotels also provide free WiFi in most cities in Korea. If you plan to rely on free WiFi, I recommend using the hotel’s WiFi to plan routes, check opening times, and research places you want to visit. Take screenshots of these details so you can see them later, even if you don’t have Internet access.

The only warning I would give about relying on free WiFi when travelling in Korea is the increased use of mobile-dependent apps and passes in Korea. Physical tickets and passes are being phased out in favour of digital versions, which often need an active Internet connection to use.

I’ve noticed in recent years that services that impact travellers have moved to digital versions. This includes the T-Money card, Discover Seoul Pass, train and coach tickets, attraction tickets and event tickets. I believe that having a reliable net connection will be a must for most travellers soon.

Using Public Transport In Korea In 2024

Public transport in Korea ITX train

This section of the South Korea travel guide looks at Korea’s public transport system and how to navigate it as a traveller. Korea has arguably one of the best public transport systems in the world. It’s cheap, well-connected, frequent, and runs on time. Other countries could learn a lot from Korea.

The great news for tourists is that Korea’s public transport is very foreigner friendly and information is provided in English in almost all places, as well as Chinese and Japanese in popular areas such as Seoul and Busan. Travelling by public transport in Korea is cheap, easy, and convenient.

How Much Does Public Transport Cost In Korea?

The cost of public transportation in Korea is fixed, no matter what day you purchase tickets on. If you buy one month in advance, or last minute, you will pay the same price for the journey. Journeys within a city are a single price and not dependent on how far you travel, unless you leave the city limits.

All journeys are single fares and you can’t buy return tickets. You will need to buy two singles when you want to travel somewhere and back again. The cost of a single fare depends on how you pay for the ticket – by cash or with a transportation card.

Here are the costs for public transport in Korea by payment method, type and user:

Please note : The cost of subway rides is set to rise to 1,400 / 1,500 KRW in October 2023. These prices will be adjusted when this occurs.

How Do You Pay For Public Transport In Korea?

The cost of public transport in Korea depends on whether you pay with a transportation card, such as T-Money, a Korea Tour Card , or Cashbee, or in cash. This applies to both subways and buses. If you use a transportation card, you should add credit to it, then touch it to the card reader at the subway or bus to pay.

To use cash to buy a subway ticket, you will need to buy a ticket at the station. For buses, you should pay the correct fare to the driver when boarding the bus. However, since 2022, buses across Korea have started to end the use of cash and some will insist on payment by transportation card only.

In the future, bus payments are expected to become simpler with fares deducted via bluetooth-enabled phones that have the relevant app downloaded. This system has already been in place in Gyeonggi Province since March 2022 and is likely to spread to more bus routes in the future.

I highly recommend getting a T-Money card when you travel to Korea. You can use it to pay for public transportation (at a discounted rate), and it will work almost everywhere in Korea. It can also be used to buy goods from shops, cafes, and restaurants. It’s really convenient and a must-have for Korea.

Using T-Money To Pay For Public Transport In Korea

T-Money card machine to pay for public transport in Korea

A T-Money card is the essential transportation card for using public transport in Korea. You can purchase one at Incheon Airport, subway and train stations, and convenience stores across Korea. The card can be used in many places. It never expires, so you can use it on different trips, too.

Here is how to use a T-Money card in Korea:

  • Purchase a T-Money card (2,500 KRW)
  • Add money to the card (cash top-up only)
  • Enter the bus or subway station
  • Tap the T-Money card against the card reader (see pic above)
  • Tap the T-Money card again when you get off (for transfer discount)
  • Recharge when necessary

I recommend adding about 10,000 KRW for each day you plan to travel in Korea. That means about 70,000 KRW for a week. You can add more money later if necessary. You can top up at convenience stores and transport stations. There is also an app version of T-Money, but the card version is better.

How Do You Use Trains In Korea?

Korean high speed trains KTX

The train network in Korea is divided into high-speed trains (KTX) and regular trains (ITX and Mugunghwa). The KTX network connects major cities in Korea and is convenient for travelling around Korea quickly and cheaply. The carriages are comfortable and come with modern facilities.

Unlike other forms of public transport in Korea, transportation cards like T-Money aren’t accepted for trains. You will need to buy a train ticket to travel and all tickets are single tickets. The price to buy a ticket doesn’t change and you can refund a ticket up to the last minute for only a small fee.

You can book tickets within 30 days of travel through the official Korail website or app, or at a train station in Korea. Unfortunately, buying a train ticket online in Korea can be difficult as Korean payment systems often reject cards issued outside of Korea. Buying in person is recommended.

How To Book Korean Rail Tickets Outside Of Korea

If you want to book Korean train tickets outside of Korea, you can do it online with Trip.com , which is Korail’s exclusive overseas distributor. The price is slightly higher (about 5%) than the price you’ll pay in Korea, but it will allow you to book tickets online and secure your seat in advance.

If you plan to travel on the main KTX route between Seoul and Busan, I highly recommend booking tickets in advance. There are three types of tickets available – first class, regular, and standing. The journey takes 2:34 and you don’t want to be standing for all that time. Book ahead for comfort.

Is The Korea Rail Pass Worth The Price?

The Korea Rail Pass is a good option for tourists who plan to travel long distances by train in Korea, such as between Seoul and Busan or Seoul and Jeonju. The pass has two main options – flexible and consecutive. These mean you can use it any time (flexible) or within consecutive days.

The flexible pass is more expensive, but offers more freedom to travel around Korea over a longer period. You can use the pass to only cover big journeys and won’t feel pressured to use it again until you’re ready. The extra cost is more than worth the inconvenience of having to rush travel plans.

Will you save money with the Korea Rail Pass? That depends on your travel plans, how often you’ll be travelling by train, and how many people are travelling. If there are 2 people or more, purchase the group saver pass and save 10,000 KRW each on the pass. Group tours make it better value.

The Korea Rail Pass does not allow you to ride on the subway for free, which would make it better value. It can also be complicated to reserve tickets online using the pass and buying tickets in the regular way is more convenient. Overall, the pass isn’t essential, but might save you money.

How Do You Use Taxis In Korea?

People using a taxi in Korea

Taxis in Korea can be hailed from the street or called directly to you using apps such as Kakao Taxi . Companies like Uber and Grab don’t have a large presence in Korea and operate the same way as Kakao Taxi, by helping you find an official taxi driver. Private taxi services aren’t common.

The big issue facing the Korean taxi industry in 2024 is the lack of taxi drivers. This can make it hard to get a taxi, even when using an app like Kakao Taxi. Late night taxis are particularly difficult to find. Read this guide about how to use Kakao Taxi to help you learn how to call a taxi in Korea.

Taxi prices in Korea are reasonable, especially compared to countries like Japan and the UK. Although base taxi fares rose in 2023 to 4,800 KRW, the price is still low and relatively affordable to travel by taxi if you need to. It’s a good option if there are no direct public transport routes.

Taking a taxi to and from Incheon Airport is a convenient option if you have a lot of bags or you are travelling in a group. For solo travellers or couples, I would recommend using public transport or a limo bus, as it’s significantly cheaper and won’t take much longer than a taxi.

How Do You Use Intercity Buses In Korea?

Intercity buses in Korea operate in a similar way to trains. You can only book tickets within 30 days of travel and can only buy single tickets. Book tickets online through websites such as T-Money Bus or Bustago , through app versions of these sites, or at the bus terminal you will depart from.

You can’t walk onto intercity buses without a ticket, nor can you use transportation cards like T-Money to pay on entry. You will need to pay for and receive your ticket (physical or digital) before you can enter the bus. Ticket machines usually (but not always) have English options for buying tickets.

There are no return bus tickets in Korea and you can only buy tickets from your point of departure, unless you book online or via an app. If you’re travelling from Seoul to Gangneung, for example, you will need to buy a ticket in Seoul and then a ticket in Gangneung. You can’t buy both in Seoul.

How Can You Hire A Car In Korea?

Renting a car is a great way to see parts of Korea that aren’t covered by the train network and gives you the freedom to explore at your leisure. If you plan to travel to Jeju Island, which doesn’t have any trains, hiring a car will be a lot more convenient and is almost a must if you plan to travel inland.

Car rental in Korea isn’t that expensive and you can rent a modern car for as little as 75,000 KRW per day. I recommend booking car rentals through Klook , they will deal with the Korean car rental companies and reserve a car for you. This is easier than trying to do it in Korean.

To hire a car in Korea, you will need:

  • Driver’s license (must have had it for at least 1 or 2 years)
  • International Driving Permit (in some cases)
  • Credit card (in the name of the main driver)
  • Valid photo ID (passport)
  • Printed voucher for rental (if booked online)

Here’s some more information about the International Driving Permit and rules you should follow when driving in Korea, such as the legal requirement to wear seatbelts, booster seats for under 6s, and not using your phone while driving. Be sure to read up on local rules before driving in Korea.

Best Places To Visit In Korea In 2024

Bukchon Hanok Village is one of the best places to visit in Korea

The next few sections of this South Korea travel guide will help you figure out what you want to do and see on your travels. This first section will give you a brief introduction to the best places to visit in Korea, including the major cities, tourist hotspots, and unique areas that you’re sure to love.

Here are the best places to visit in Korea:

Seoul Korea's Capital City

Seoul: Korea’s Capital

Seoul is Korea’s vibrant, bustling capital and truly a must-see for any first-time visitor to Korea. There is so much to see and do in Seoul that you could easily spend a week or more exploring the city and not get bored. You will find yourself falling in love with the city for different reasons. Maybe it’s the friendly people, the deliciously cheap street eats, the way things just work, the hidden murals on old buildings down side streets, the feeling of safety even in a big city, or the historic sights creeping out from modern buildings. Seoul includes everything Korea has to offer, plus a lot more you won’t find elsewhere.

What To See In Seoul

Here are 10 great places to visit in Seoul:

  • Gyeongbokgung Palace
  • Bukchon Hanok Village
  • Myeongdong Street Markets
  • Lotte World Tower & Seokchon Lake
  • Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Markets
  • Yeouido Han River Park & Cruise
  • Secret Garden (Changdeokgung Palace)
  • N Seoul Tower & Namsan Mountain
  • COEX Mall & Bongeunsa Temple
  • Bukhansan National Park

Gamcheon Culture Village In Busan Korea (1)

Busan: Big Coastal City

While Seoul is a showcase of all things Korean, Busan is unashamedly its own city and a celebration of coastal life and local culture. Busan is famous for fresh seafood, traditional markets, great beaches, big festivals, movies, temples, and places to explore the coast. Beaches are popular places to visit in Busan, along with cliff-side walkways with views over the ocean. Central Busan is a lively spot with lots of entertainment and markets to enjoy, including a famous fish market where you can choose your own lunch and then eat it. Busan is spread out and deserves several days to explore it properly.

What To See In Busan

Here are 10 great places to visit in Busan:

  • Haeundae Beach & Beach Train
  • Jagalchi Fish Market
  • Gamcheon Culture Village
  • Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
  • Songdo Beach & Cable Car
  • Huinnyeoul Culture Village
  • BIFF Square & Centum City Mall
  • Oryukdo Skywalk & Coastal Paths
  • Lotte World Busan
  • Busan X The Sky Observatory

Jeju Islands famous attraction Seongsan Ilchulbong

Jeju Island: Natural Wonder

Jeju Island is a gorgeous island created from a volcano rising out of the ocean 2 million years ago. Today it’s one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of Nature and deservedly so. The lush island is packed with pine trees, tangerines, rolling hills and fields, cacti, and jet black volcanic rock tumbled all around. You can relax on a beach, go horse riding, explore ancient lava tubes, scuba dive, climb to the volcano’s peak, chill in a beach-side cafe, explore traditional markets, learn about local culture, and lots more. The island has two main cities, but the attractions are spread out along the coast.

What to See On Jeju Island

Here are 10 great places to visit on Jeju Island:

  • Hallasan Mountain (Volcano)
  • Seongsan Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak
  • Hyeopjae & Hamdeok Beaches
  • Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market
  • Jeju Folk Village
  • Yakcheonsa Coastal Buddhist Temple
  • Jungmun Beach & Jusangjeolli Cliff
  • O’Sulloc Green Tea Museum
  • Cheonjiyeon & Jeongbang Waterfalls

Bulguksa Temple Gyeongju Historic City

Gyeongju: Historic Capital

Gyeongju , the former capital of the Shilla Kingdom in ancient Korea, is a true treasure trove of UNESCO World Heritage sites, as well as local culture, history, and natural beauty. Described as an outdoor museum, you can see many of the big attractions in the Gyeongju Historic Area, including the 1,400 year Cheomseongdae Observatory . There’s so much to see in Gyeongju outside this area though, including the impressive Bulguksa Temple, one of the best Buddhist temples in Korea. There’s also the Bomun Lake Tourist District, a dreamy sight during cherry blossom season.

What To See In Gyeongju

Here are 10 great places to visit in Gyeongju:

  • Bulguksa Temple & Seokguram Shrine
  • Cheomseongdae Observatory
  • Donggung Palace & Wolji Pond
  • Yangdong Folk Village
  • Hwangnidangil Hanok Street
  • Daereungwon Tomb Complex
  • Bomun Lake Tourist Complex
  • Woljeonggyo Bridge
  • Gyeongju National Museum
  • Gyochon Traditional Hanok Village

Jeonju Hanok Village Korea

Jeonju: Traditional Views & Food

Jeonju is the perfect destination for a day trip from Seoul and has most of its main attractions in one area of the city. What can you see in Jeonju? The main attraction is the gigantic Jeonju Hanok Village , featuring more than 700 traditional hanok houses. You can dress up in Korean hanbok, dine on Jeonju’s famous bibimbap in an old restaurant, and see how life in Korea used to be. There are plenty of other sights nearby, including a traditional market, pretty river, and the rather unusual Jaman Mural Village.

What To See In Jeonju

Here are 5 great places to visit in Jeonju:

  • Jeonju Hanok Village
  • Jeongdong Catholic Church
  • Gyeonggijeon Shrine
  • Nambu Traditional Market
  • Jaman Mural Village

Suwon Historic Fortress City

Suwon: Fortress City

Suwon is another city close to Seoul that you can visit in a day and see many interesting and unique sights. The main draw of Suwon is the Hwaseong Fortress and the fortress walls, which are still intact and run for 6km around the city. Inside this fortress you’ll find lots of museums, historic buildings, parks, and activities, such as archery. There are often cultural festivals in this area, too. Surprisingly, Suwon is the best place to get KFC (Korean Fried Chicken). There’s a whole street dedicated to making it.

What to See In Suwon

Here are 5 great places to visit in Suwon:

  • Hwaseong Fortress & Fortress Walls
  • Hwaseong Haenggung & Haengridan Gil
  • Fried Chicken Street
  • Korean Folk Village
  • Gwanggyo Lake Park

Incheon Modern City in Korea

Incheon: Modern City With Islands

Incheon is one of Korea’s largest cities, but is sadly ignored as it’s right next to Seoul and most people think it’s just there for the airport. That’s not true at all and there’s plenty to see and do in Incheon. Described as a futuristic city, Incheon is at the front of Korea’s push to become an ultra-modern country and nowhere shows that more than Songdo Central Park . The traditional side of Incheon is also worth exploring, including the Chinatown, which is home to Korea’s most popular student food – jajangmyeon . If you want to explore a lesser-seen side of Korea, check out the islands near Incheon to see ancient fortresses, temples, and charming sights.

What to See In Incheon

Here are 5 great places to visit in Incheon:

  • Songdo Central Park
  • Incheon Chinatown
  • Wolmido Island
  • Incheon Grand Park
  • Ganghwa Jeondeungsa Temple

Nami Island women in hanbok Korea

Gapyeong County: Tourists Treats

Gapyeong County is a rural part of Korea just outside Seoul that is one of the most popular day trip destinations for visitors and locals alike. Inside Gapyeong County is the lovely Garden of Morning Calm , a beautiful sculpted garden that showcases traditional Korean buildings set amongst thousands of different plants and trees. There’s also Nami Island , an ever-popular attraction that has long tree-lined streets to explore, woodland animals, bike paths, and even a zip line to the island. You can also visit Petite France, a recreation of a French village, Gapyeong Rail Bike Park, and Cheongpyeong Lake, and many other attractions in Gapyeong.

What To See In Gapyeong

Here are 5 great places to visit in Gapyeong:

  • Nami Island
  • Garden of Morning Calm
  • Petite France
  • Gapyeong Rail Bike Park
  • Cheongpyeong Lake

Beach in Gangneung Korea

North-East Coast: Amazing Beaches

The north-east coastal region of Korea, spreading between Sokcho and Gangneung , features some of Korea’s most popular summer seaside resorts and beaches. The wide, sandy beaches are perfect for water sports, working on your tan, and sitting at night listening to local musicians perform BTS covers and their own tunes. Sokcho deserves at least two days to explore, more if you plan to visit nearby Seoraksan National Park , one of Korea’s best places to see autumn foliage. Gangneung is where to see cherry blossoms in spring, sit and relax at a seaside cafe at Gangneung Coffee Street , and enjoy beach life.

What To See On The North-East

Here are 5 great places in north-east Korea:

  • Sokcho Beach
  • Gangneung Beach
  • Seoraksan National Park
  • Yangyang Surfyy Beach
  • Gangneung Coffee Street

Famous bridge in Ulsan Korea

East Coast: Harbour Cities

Ulsan and Pohang are two industrial cities that don’t get enough attention, but are ideal for a weekend visit once you’ve explored other top sights. These coastal cities both have good beaches, coastal walks, and green spots, including a pretty bamboo forest in Ulsan. In Pohang, you can see the dizzying Space Walk , which looks out over the city and ocean. There’s also a former Japanese district with old buildings, and the famous Homigot Sunrise Square where you can watch the first sunrise of the year. Ulsan is famous for whaling and visitors should check out the charming Jangsaengpo Whale Museum and Daewangam Park.

What To See On The East Coast

Here are 5 great places on Korea’s East Coast:

  • Yeongildae Beach & Space Walk
  • Ilsan Beach & Daewangam Park
  • Jangsaengpo Whale Museum
  • Homigot Sunrise Square
  • Taehwagang National Garden

Damyang Bamboo Forest in Southern Korea

South-West: Iconic Rural Destinations

South-west Korea is a long way from most travellers’ typical route, but this area is worth visiting if you have time. Gwangju , one of Korea’s largest cities, is hidden away down here and surrounded by natural beauty, including the Juknokwon Bamboo Forest , Boseong Green Tea Fields, and Suncheon Bay Nature Reserve. If you plan to hire a car , these spots will show you a completely different side to Korea. Gwangju, too, which is a fun city and the birthplace of Korean democracy. Hidden in the far corner of Korea is Mokpo, a lovely coastal city that has a new cable car carrying you over the ocean.

What to See In The South-West

Here are 5 great places in south-west Korea:

  • Damyang Juknokwon Bamboo Forest
  • Boseong Green Tea Fields
  • Gwangju Culture Park & Penguin Village
  • Suncheon Bay Nature Reserve
  • Mokpo Marine Cable Car

Namhae Island in South Korea

South Coast Islands: Summer Getaways

Best explored during the hot summer months and early autumn, the south coast islands in Korea, which span from Busan to Mokpo, are where Koreans spend their summer holidays. The most popular destinations here are Geoje, Tongyeong, Yeosu, Namhae, and Goheung and each offers winding coastal paths, beaches, natural beauty, and fun summer activities. The best way to see these islands is with a rented car or by bike, riding around the coast visiting a few different beaches and attractions. Don’t expect too many cultural sights, instead you’ll find luges, gardens, water sports, and lots of fun.

What to See On The South Coast

Here are 5 great places on Korea’s South Coast:

  • Dolsan Park & Cable Car
  • Namhae Geumsan Boriam Hermitage
  • Hallyeohaesang National Park
  • Oedo-Botania Botanical Garden
  • Skyline Luge Tongyeong

As you can see, there are many great places to visit in Korea. Korea is truly a country of undiscovered wonders that people aren’t aware of. Seoul is an incredible place to visit, but there’s so much more to see. That’s why I try to include lesser-known places in this South Korea travel guide.

The list above covers a lot of the most popular or tour-worthy destinations in Korea, but there are still more places I could recommend, such as Andong (home to the mask dance festival), Gunsan (port town with a retro vibe), Daegu (big city with historic sights), Daejeon , and many more.

Besides cities and towns in Korea, there are also 18 national parks to explore, thousands of mountains, Buddhist temples, beaches, bike routes, campsites, and so much more. I’ll include a few of each of these in the next few sections of this South Korea travel guide.

Best Day Tours From Seoul In 2024

DMZ Peace Village In South Korea

Taking a day tour while you’re staying in Seoul is a great way to see more of Korea’s top attractions without the hassle of moving hotels to somewhere new. The 10 day tours from Seoul below can all be done in a day or less and can even be combined with other activities in the same day.

I don’t want to include every day tour available in this South Korea travel guide as there isn’t enough room to talk about them all. If you want to find more day tours, I recommend looking at the options available through tour providers such as Klook , Viator , and Get Your Guide .

Please note : There are many day tours from Seoul and they come with various prices. I recommend avoiding the very cheapest as these will often waste your time by taking you to some overpriced gift shop area and pressuring you to buy souvenirs or rushing you through too many attractions.

Here are 10 great day tours from Seoul:

DMZ between North and South Korea

Why Visit The DMZ

The DMZ, the demilitarised zone between North & South Korea is a truly unique place to visit when you’re in Korea. There are several different locations to see in this area, each reflecting the bitter struggle between the two Korea’s in the ongoing Korean War. Some of the highlights are the 3rd Tunnel, Dora Observatory, Dorasan Station, Gamaksan Suspension Bridge, and the Imjingak Park. There’s also the Panmunjom Truce Village where you can walk into North Korea, but this is currently closed. Tours are required to travel to certain parts of the DMZ.

Heart statue at Nami Island Korea

Why Visit Gapyeong County

Gapyeong County is home to Nami Island, the Garden of Morning Calm, Petite France, Gapyeong Rail Bike Park, and several other fun attractions. Nami Island and the Garden of Morning Calm are the most popular and can both be visited in a day. You can witness beautiful scenes at these destinations, especially during cherry blossom season (April) and autumn foliage season (October). Tours from Seoul to Gapyeong County are convenient and can take you to multiple places in one day without the hassle of buses and finding your own way.

Hwaseong fortress and walls in Suwon Korea

Why Visit Hwaseong Fortress

Hwaseong Fortress and its fortress walls offer a unique chance to see what life was like in Korea 200 years ago. Not only can you walk the full length of the walls around the city, you can also try archery and other traditional activities in the fortress grounds. There are many museums, fortress buildings, and exhibitions showing how people lived in this period. You can also enjoy the beautiful ponds and streams that run through the palace with traditional Korean restaurants and cafes looking out over these areas.

Korean Folk Village traditional sights and culture

Why Visit Korean Folk Village

Discover traditional Korean life at the Korean Folk Village in Yongin during a day trip from Seoul. Walk through dozens of recreated farm buildings, government offices, academies, shops, smiths, schools, and other traditional buildings from Korea’s past to get a feel for how people lived at this time. Actors dressed in traditional Joseon-era costumes bring the scenes to life. You can try fun activities, such as mask carving, horse riding, and archery. Witness exciting festivals and cultural performances, too.

Jeonju Hanok Village In Korea

Why Visit Jeonju Hanok Village

A day trip to the Jeonju Hanok Village in Jeonju is a great way to experience various traditional Korean cultural activities in a beautiful setting. This sprawling hanok village has over 700 traditional buildings for you to explore, dine in, or even stay in. Make sure you rent hanbok in Jeonju so you look like Korean royalty and make memorable photos during your trip. Whilst you’re in Jeonju Hanok Village, you can try local delights such as Jeonju bibimbap and PNB chocopies. Also check out the traditional Nambu Market and Jeongdong Catholic Church.

Alpaca world attraction in Korea

Why Visit Alpaca World

When you travel to Korea, you may not think about seeing alpacas, which are from an entirely different continent. But Korea’s love of all things cute means that these furry friends have become very popular in Korea and have their own theme park a few hours from Seoul. There are dozens of cuddly alpacas to see, feed, and play with at Alpaca World , as well as hundreds of other cute critters such as ponies, rabbits, deer, goats, fennec foxes, and more. There are 17 separate areas to explore in Alpaca World and it’ll provide hours of fun for the whole family.

Seoraksan National Park with clouds

Why Visit Seoraksan

Seoraksan National Park on Korea’s east coast is a great day trip from Seoul for those who want to see mountain peaks, leafy valleys, stony rivers, and a gigantic Buddha. Even if you’re not a keen hiker, you can explore lots of the park’s valley pathways easily, or reach the top thanks to the convenient cable car. See the sights from the observatory and check out the small temple in the clouds. Make sure you try haemul pajeon (seafood pancake) and makgeolli (rice wine). It’s the traditional meal Koreans enjoy after hiking.

Everland Theme Park in Korea

Why Visit Everland

Everland is Korea’s biggest theme park and is packed with attractions for everyone to enjoy. Thrill seekers will love the rollercoasters, such as T Express (the world’s 4th steepest rollercoaster) and many more exciting rides. Check out the Zootopia section to see wild animals and wild rides, or the Plantopia section for floral beauty, romantic walkways, and seasonal delights. There are plenty of attractions, cultural performances, entertainments, and seasonal events to keep you amused all day long.

Paragliding in Korea

Why Visit Danyang

A great way to see Korea’s countryside is with a day trip to Danyang to enjoy the rush of sailing over valleys and beside mountains while tandem paragliding. Feel the wind in your face and the sensation of riding the air currents as you pass over the many delightful views of Danyang. You can enjoy other activities in this area, such as the Mancheonha Skywalk , a clifftop lookout with incredible views, riding an alpine coaster, and zooming along a zip line. The perfect day tour from Seoul for thrill seekers.

Dae Jang Geum Park In Korea

Why Visit Dae Jang Geum Park

Fans of Korean period dramas and movies will love a day trip to Dae Jang Geum Park in Yongin. This is the largest historical drama filming set in Korea and was used to film MBC productions such as ‘Wind in the Palace’ and ‘The Great Queen Seondeok’, as well as K-Pop videos including Daechwita by Suga from BTS. If you’re lucky, you may see filming going on here. But even if you don’t, it’s a fun place for those who want to learn more about Korea’s history and take some cool pictures in a real movie set.

I’ve linked to tours provided by reliable tour companies in Korea. If you would rather book a tour through a local guide, contact Jerry Heng or Andrew Chung Hanbyul . They’re freelance guides with years of experience offering tours in Korea and both offer amazing service.

These places are accessible by public transport, but may take much longer than a tour would do, wasting your precious time. Check out my guide for getting to Nami Island to help you navigate Gapyeong County. For other destinations, I would recommend a tour – it’s more practical.

Best Sights To See In Korea In 2024

Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam Seoul Korea

South Korea truly has something for everyone. There’s so much I want to include in this South Korea travel guide, which is why this section is full of different sights to see and explore. However, to keep things short and simple, I’ll just list them, not give full details about each one.

Whether you’re travelling to Korea to learn about Korean culture or history, to see Korea’s impressive landmarks, to enjoy family fun attractions, to hop from cafe to cafe, to immerse yourself in nature, or simply to eat and shop, then you’ll definitely find something for you in this section.

N Seoul Tower is an unmissable landmark in Seoul

Famous Landmarks In Korea

Landmarks and iconic buildings are often top of a traveller’s bucket list for Korea as they provide great photo opportunities, showcase the best of the country, and offer fantastic views. Seoul has many top landmarks, but you can see plenty of other sights outside of the capital, too.

Here are 10 famous landmarks in Korea:

  • Lotte World Tower (Seoul)
  • N Seoul Tower (Seoul)
  • Dongdaemun Design Plaza (Seoul)
  • Cheonggyecheon Stream (Seoul)
  • DMZ Area (near Seoul)
  • Nami Island (Gapyeong County)
  • Gamcheon Culture Village (Busan)
  • Seongsan Ilchulbong (Jeju)
  • Homigot Sunrise Square (Pohang)
  • Banwol Purple Island (West Coast)

Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul Korea

Historic Sights In Korea

Discover life in the Joseon period and before in Korea’s many captivating historic sights, including royal palaces, Buddhist temples, fortresses, and hanok villages. There are so many amazing historic sights to see in Korea, with each city having something to see.

Here are 10 historic sights in Korea:

  • Bukchon Hanok Village (Seoul)
  • Gyeongbokgung Palace (Seoul)
  • The Secret Garden (Seoul)
  • Seoul Fortress Walls (Seoul)
  • Hwaseong Fortress (Suwon)
  • Bulguksa Temple (Gyeongju)
  • Gyeongju Historic Area (Gyeongju)
  • Jeonju Hanok Village (Jeonju)
  • Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (Busan)
  • Andong Hahoe Village (Andong)

K Star Road in Gangnam Seoul

Korean Modern Cultural Sights

Fans of BTS, K-Dramas, Korean movies, and modern Korean culture in general have a lot to see and do in Korea. As well as famous filming locations across the country, these modern cultural sights will entertain, inform, and provide great destinations to visit.

Here are 10 modern cultural sights in Korea:

  • Hallyu K Star Road (Seoul)
  • K-Style Hub (Seoul)
  • Hongik Uni. Station Area (Seoul)
  • COEX Artium (Seoul)
  • Asia Culture Centre (Gwangju)
  • BIFF Square (Busan)
  • Dae Jang Geum Park (Yongin)
  • Sunshine Studio (Nonsan)
  • Kim Gwang-Seok Street (Daegu)

Lotte World Adventure Theme Park In Seoul

Family Fun Attractions In Korea

Families travelling to Korea have plenty of things to see and do and ways to enjoy spending time together. There’s no Disneyworld or Universal Studios in Korea, but there are plenty of great alternatives, as well as places for children to explore, learn, and discover.

Here are 10 family fun attractions in Korea:

  • Lotte World Adventure (Seoul)
  • Everland Theme Park (Yongin)
  • Seoul Grand Park & Zoo (Seoul)
  • Alive Museum & Dynamic Maze (Seoul)
  • Seoul Children’s Museum (Seoul)
  • Zoolung Zoolung (Seoul)
  • Sea Life Busan Aquarium (Busan)
  • Jeju Dinosaur Island (Jeju Island)
  • Alpaca World (Gangwon Province)
  • Skyline Luge & Lotte World (Busan)

Soldier statues at the War Memorial In Korea

Korean Museums & Galleries

Travellers to Korea who want to learn about Korea’s history, culture, and art will love Korea’s impressive museums and galleries. These are great places to visit when the weather is bad and you might be surprised at how much there is to learn about Korea’s past.

Here are 10 museums & galleries in Korea:

  • National Museum of Korea (Seoul)
  • War Memorial of Korea (Seoul)
  • Seoul Museum of Art (Seoul)
  • Seoul Museum of History (Seoul)
  • Seodaemun Prison Museum (Seoul)
  • Museum Kimchikan (Seoul)
  • National Folk Museum of Korea (Seoul)
  • Gyeongju National Museum (Gyeongju)
  • National Maritime Museum (Busan)
  • Daegu Art Museum (Daegu)

Barista making coffee in Ikseongdong Seoul

Cafe Areas In Korea

When you need a break from travelling in Korea, visit one of these cosy cafe areas and take time to relax and recharge. Although Korea was traditionally a tea drinking country, cafes are now everywhere and you’ll find photogenic cafes everywhere these days.

Here are 10 cafe areas to visit in Korea:

  • Ikseondong Hanok Village (Seoul)
  • Gyeongui Line Parks (Seoul)
  • Samcheondong Cafe Street (Seoul)
  • Sinsa-dong / Garosugil Road (Seoul)
  • Jukjeon Cafe Street (Seoul)
  • Jeonpo Cafe Street (Busan)
  • Haeridangil (Busan)
  • Hwangnidangil (Gyeongju)
  • Hwaseong Haenggung Area (Suwon)
  • Gangneung Coffee Street (Gangneung)

Korean woman preparing food at Gwangjang Market Seoul

Korean Markets & Malls

If you want the best selection of street food, souvenirs, and bargain shopping options, be sure to visit Korea’s many traditional markets. It’s a cultural experience itself. Korea also has some of the world’s largest malls with a wide variety of Korean and international goods.

Here are 10 markets & malls in Korea:

  • Gwangjang Market (Seoul)
  • Dongaemun Market (Seoul)
  • Hongdae Shopping Street (Seoul)
  • Starfield COEX Mall (Seoul)
  • Jagalchi Fish Market (Busan)
  • Seomyeon Underground Mall (Busan)
  • Centum City Mall (Busan)
  • Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market (Jeju)
  • Nambu Market (Jeonju)
  • Paju Premium Outlets (Paju)

Bear statue at Seoraksan National Park Korea

Korean Natural Wonders

Korea is a country covered in mountains, waterfalls, valleys, rice terraces, and beautiful natural sights. Make time to visit some of these natural wonders when you visit Korea and you’ll be amazed at the incredible views you can find. The national parks are truly breathtaking.

Here are 10 natural wonders to see in Korea:

  • Hallasan Mountain (Jeju)
  • Jirisan National Park (Southern Korea)
  • Seoraksan National Park (Gyeonggi)
  • Garden of Morning Calm (Gapyeong)
  • Juknokwon Bamboo Forest (Damyang)
  • Boseong Green Tea Fields (Boseong)
  • Udo Island (Jeju Island)
  • Seongsan Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak (Jeju)
  • Hyeopjae Beach (Jeju)
  • Suncheon Bay National Park (Suncheon)

These 100 ideas are just the tip of the iceberg for what you can enjoy when travelling to Korea. There’s so much more to discover and I recommend you add some time to your travel plans to explore without a plan. Sometimes the best travel memories come from unexpected discoveries.

Best Activities To Try In Korea In 2024

Often the most memorable moments when travelling come from the experiences we have, not just the places we visit. Visiting a palace is interesting, but visiting a palace while dressed in traditional Korean hanbok , pretending you’re Joseon-era royalty with your friends or family is much more fun.

This section of the South Korea travel guide offers 10 fun activities you can try when you visit Korea. These will give you a good introduction to Korean culture, food, history, and nature. If you want more ideas, check out my list of 50 unique Korean experiences you can only do in Korea.

People wearing Korean traditional hanbok dresses

One of the top experiences to try in Korea has to be wearing Korean hanbok. It is available for all members of the family (even pets) and you can rent hanbok near most palaces or hanok villages. The hanbok easily fit over your regular clothes and come in a variety of colourful or traditional designs. You can get hair styling, accessories, and even have a hanbok photoshoot . Rentals can be as short as one hour or up to a full day.

Korean Street Food in Seoul

Travellers to Korea can’t say they’ve truly tried Korean cuisine until they’ve eaten Korean street food from a market stall or street vendor. There are many types of Korean street food to sample in Korea, such as savoury snacks like tteokbokki and eomuk , to sweet treats like hotteok and bungeo-ppang . Korean street food is cheap and delicious. It’s usually not that healthy, but always leaves you feeling great. Give it a try.

Hanok House In Seoul

Experience life as a Korean would have in the Joseon-era with a night in a traditional hanok house. A hanok stay is very different from sleeping in a hotel and allows you to try a night on a futon (with underground heating keeping you warm in winter). Slide the doors aside in the morning and walk out onto the wooden decking to enjoy traditional Korean tea at a low table and the sight of the ornately decorated garden. Don’t forget to take your shoes off before you enter.

Korean fortress walls with white plants

Seoul and other cities in Korea still have fortress walls you can walk or hike along that will offer incredible views of cities and mountains. As you walk along the fortress walls, you begin to imagine what life would have been like as a soldier keeping the city safe from invaders. Nowadays, you can enjoy exercise and sightseeing at the same time. Seoul’s fortress walls are a good place to start, but you can find fortress walls in many other places.

Korean Sauna

Visiting a Korean sauna might be a bit shocking for first-time travellers to Korea, but it’s a great way to relax and is especially good in winter. When you enter a Korean sauna, you should take off all your clothes, have a shower, and then enter one of the hot baths. Being naked in front of others can be scary for some, but you soon overcome that fear. Korean saunas sometimes have a communal resting area called a jjimjjilbang . These areas require pyjamas and offer snacks, drinks, and places to rest.

Korean Buddhist Temple Musical Performance

The Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism have set up a templestay program at dozens of temples across Korea where you spend a day or two at the temple and join in various activities. This is truly a unique experience that you should try in Korea as you get to see customs performed by the monks that aren’t normally shown to the public. You also get to stay overnight at the temple and experience a hanok stay at the same time. Guests can also eat healthy vegan temple food, learn a lot, and chat with the monks.

Korean Karaoke Noraebang Sign

A noraebang is the Korean version of a karaoke room, but is more popular in Korea and is commonly visited by locals and tourists alike. This is a great place to visit in the evening after a big Korean bbq meal and a few drinks. Everyone can relax and belt out their favourite Korean or international tunes together (or alone), shake some tambourines in support, or just watch and enjoy the atmosphere with some drinks. You can find these in every town and city in Korea and they provide a cheap night of fun and drinks.

Sky Bridge On Lotte World Tower

Open since 2020, the Sky Bridge at Lotte World Tower offers unbeatable views of Seoul and a nerve-racking trip above the city. Walk between the two towers at the top of the Lotte World Tower and peer down the 541 metre drop to the city streets below. It’s actually very safe and you’re strapped into a harness as you walk from one side to the other, but this definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted. If you’re not sure you can handle the height, check out the Seoul Sky Observatory on the 117th floor instead.

Sheep Cafe in Seoul Korea

Koreans love to drink coffee and also love cute, unusual things, which is probably why theme cafes have become so popular in Korea. Besides the many cat cafes, there are theme cafes where you can stroke sheep, pet dogs, and see other animals. There’s more to Korea’s theme cafes than just drinking coffee with animals, you can also try drinking from a toilet at the Poop Cafe , paint pictures, build lego, go camping, practice being a wizard, and more. Hongdae in Seoul is the best place to find theme cafes.

Boseong Green Tea Fields In Korea

Although cafes are replacing Korean tea houses, Korea still grows and drinks lots of tea, especially green tea. You can visit these tea fields in areas such as Boseong and on Jeju Island, both of which have visitor centres and attractions to teach you about the wonderful world of Korean tea. The Daehan Dawon Tea Plantation in Boseong has lush green fields all year round and has been used as a filming location for several Korean shows. The O’sulloc Tea Museum on Jeju Island also has lovely views.

I recommend trying at least a few of these unique activities, they’ll really make your trip to Korea more memorable and offer insights into Korean culture and life. My advice is to be brave when visiting Korea and try new things, even if they seem a bit unusual at first. The same applies to Korean foods.

Best Korean Festivals To Join In 2024

There are dozens of festivals held in Korea each year celebrating the seasons, local products, traditions, culture, and often just for the sake of having fun. Visiting a festival in Korea will offer you a glimpse of how locals celebrate life, culture, and nature and let you join in the fun.

Whenever you visit Korea, there’ll be festivals going on. However, the biggest festivals occur in spring or autumn. As mentioned previously in this South Korea travel guide, these are the best seasons to visit Korea as the weather is pleasant and people are celebrating the end of summer or winter.

Cherry blossom viewing in Korea

Cherry Blossom Festivals

The cherry blossom festivals in Korea occur in late March and early April and are some of the biggest festivals in Korea. People flock to forests, lakes, and rivers to see the pretty blossoms. The Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival has over 2 million visitors each year, and even more people visit Seokchon Lake and Yeouido Hangang Park in Seoul. There are many festivals and tours to see cherry blossoms in Korea so you should be able to find a quiet place to enjoy the view.

Light Festival In Korea

Winter Light Festivals

During the cold, dark days of winter, attractions such as Nami Island, the Garden of Morning Calm, and Herb Island transform into sparkling winter wonderlands with millions of bright lights illuminating them. There are also winter illumination festivals in Korean cities, such as the Haeundae Lighting Festival in Busan, Cheonggyecheon Stream Winter Lights in Seoul, and the Busan Christmas Tree Cultural Festival. When it snows in Korea, these festivals look even more magical.

Summer Music Festival Concert In Korea

Summer Music Festivals

Summer in Korea is hot, but that doesn’t stop people enjoying day-long music festivals across the country. From chilled jazz festivals like the Seoul Jazz Festival , to action-packed concerts like Psy’s Summer Swag , there are music festivals to suit everyone. This is a popular summer activity in Korea , so be sure to book in advance for ticketed events. If you can’t get tickets, just go to a popular beach in the evening and you’ll usually find musicians performing.

New Year Festivals In Korea

New Year Festivals

There are various festivals in Korea to celebrate the solar new year. New Year’s Eve festivals involve a bell-ringing ceremony where a giant bell is rung at midnight to welcome in the new year. Fireworks festivals are common events in cities across Korea, starting at midnight, too. Koreans celebrate the start of the new year by visiting the East Coast to see the first sunrise of the year at places like Homigot Sunrise Square or Seongsan Ilchulbong on Jeju Island.

Buddhist lanterns for Buddha's Birthday In Korea

Buddha’s Birthday Festivals

Buddha’s Birthday is like Christmas for the Buddhist world, but celebrated very differently. It also falls on changing dates each year as it follows the lunar calendar, just like Korean New Year. Korean Buddhist temples across Korea will celebrate by putting up colourful lanterns and decorations for at least a month before the actual date. The biggest festival celebrating Buddha’s Birthday is the Yeon Deung Hoe Lantern Festival , which features thousands of lanterns and a lantern parade through central Seoul.

Boryeong Mud Festival in Korea

Boryeong Mud Festival

The Boryeong Mud Festival is one of Korea’s largest festivals and attracts visitors from around the world. Running for 2 weeks during rainy season, this is the best way to see a Korean festival even when the weather is bad. There’s a lot to see and do at this festival, including getting dirty in the mud with mud sports, mud wrestling, mud tug-of-war, and other mud-filled events. Boryeong is famous for the high-quality mud found in nearby waters and, by joining this festival, you’re getting a free mud facial.

Jinju Lantern Festival In Korea

Jinju Lantern Festival

The visually stunning Jinju Lantern Festival is held in October each year in Jinju City and runs for several weeks. During the day, watch cultural performances and enjoy exploring the central fortress grounds of Jinju. Once it gets dark, see the city transform as thousands of lanterns, some as big as trees, come to life. There are so many weird and wonderful lanterns to discover at this festival. You can also set your own lanterns to float down the river with your wish inside.

Andong Mask Dance Festival In Korea (1)

Andong Mask Dance Festival

The Andong Mask Dance Festival in Andong, home of the Andong Hahoe Village, is a great opportunity to witness traditional Korean dance and music performances. Not only can you see traditional Korean performances during this 4 day festival, there are also international performers displaying their own culture’s dancing. Get hands-on with traditional Korean culture at this festival. Explore Andong and learn about its contributions to Korea’s cultural development.

Cat statues at Goyang Flower Festival

Goyang Flower Festival

The Goyang International Flower Festival runs twice per year, once in spring and once in autumn. It’s a beautiful celebration of floral beauty mixed with Korean cuteness and creativity. At this flower festival you can stroll through a maze of different displays, with each section focusing on certain flowers and plants. There are indoor displays with vividly coloured roses, nature-based outdoor photo zones, and the lovely Ilsan Lake Park in the background.

Baekje Culture Festival In Gongju

Baekje Culture Festival

The Baekje Culture Festival probably isn’t one that first-time travellers to Korea would know about. Held in Gongju and Buyeo, the two former capitals of the ancient Baekje Kingdom, this 10-day long festival held around Chuseok (Korean mid-autumn harvest festival), is packed with unique events and sights and is set in historic locations in each city. There’s local food to try, musical & cultural performances, fun photo zones, lantern displays, and much more.

Knowing when you plan to visit Korea will help you research what festivals are on and what the weather will be like. There are certainly a lot more than just the ones mentioned above, including some others mentioned previously in the seasons part of this South Korea travel guide.

I recommend using a tour company to see out of the way festivals like the Jinju Lantern Festival and the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival. These are often far from typical tourist destinations and can take hours to get to by public transport. Tours are worth the cost to save you time and avoid hassle.

Recommended Itinerary For Korea In 2024

In this section of this South Korea travel guide is my recommended first-timer itinerary for South Korea. This introduces you to two of Korea’s biggest cities, as well as a couple of day trips to highly rated destinations in Korea. There’s a mix of history, culture, nature, sights, and experiences.

This itinerary starts in Seoul as that’s where most people arrive to Korea after flying into Incheon Airport. If you arrive in Busan, you can change the route to start and end there instead. For travellers to Korea with only 2 or 3 days, I recommend using the first few days of this itinerary instead.

The itinerary lasts for one week, which isn’t enough time to see all of Korea, but enough time to get a feel for the country. If you have more time, use this itinerary and add in or replace extra destinations as you like. Jeju Island is certainly worth visiting if you have an extra 2 or 3 days.

Classic Sights Of Korea Itinerary

N Seoul Tower In Seoul At Night

This itinerary covers a few must-see sights in Korea, including the two largest cities, the history city of Gyeongju, and some popular day trip destinations from Seoul.

Day 1 : Arrive in Seoul and explore Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village, Insadong Art Street, Jogyesa Temple, and Cheonggyecheon Stream. Get dinner at the Jonggak Avenue of Youth for authentic Korean food that’s better than the touristy places in Myeongdong.

Day 2 : Learn about Korean history at the War Memorial of Korea or National Museum of Korea, explore Seoul’s traditional Gwangjang market in Dongdaemun, take the cable car to the N Seoul Tower for sunset & night views, then head down to Itaewon or Myeongdong for dinner & drinks.

Day 3 : Take a day trip to Gapyeong and visit Nami Island, the Garden of Morning Calm, and the Gapyeong Rail Bike Park. Return to Seoul for dinner and rooftop drinks in Myeongdong and then walk along the fortress walls from Dongdaemun Station if the weather is good.

Day 4 : Take the KTX to Busan, drop your bags, and take the subway to Nampo-dong for Jagalchi Fish Market, Bosu-dong Book Alley, and traditional sights. Take a taxi to Huinnyeoul Culture Village. End the day in Haeundae for evening dinner & drinks and a walk along the beach at night.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple In Busan

Day 5 : Take the bus to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, then a taxi to Songjeong Beach. Relax in a beachside cafe, then take the Haeundae Beach Train to Cheongsapo, change to the Sky Capsule, and end up in Haeundae. Take a bus to Gamcheon Culture Village and get dinner at Songdo Beach.

Day 6 : Take a day trip from Busan to the UNESCO World Heritage City of Gyeongju. Visit the Gyeongju Historic Area, then Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village for traditional food and sights of Woljeonggyo Bridge. See tranquil night views of Wolji Pond before getting dinner at Hwangnidangil.

Day 7 : Head back to Seoul on the KTX for a final day of shopping and sightseeing in Hongdae. Walk along the Gyeongui Line Forest Park or Book Street or visit a theme cafe. Take the subway directly to Incheon Airport from Hongdae or spend a night here and check out the lively night scene.

Gyeongui Line Book Street In Seoul

Please note : I recommend trying not to cram too much into your itinerary. You may want to see as much as possible, but people often end up rushing past sights and not appreciating them. Plan for less and see more if you have time. It gives you a chance to be spontaneous.

To plan a realistic itinerary for South Korea, it is important to factor in transportation, meal breaks, and rest times. Use Naver Maps to plan your route and work out travel times. A short journey on the map might take much longer if there’s no direct route. Also consider breaks if you plan to walk a lot.

Cultural Issues When Visiting Korea

People eating a Korean BBQ meal on the street

The next few sections of this South Korea travel guide will provide answers to some of the most common questions first-time travellers to Korea have in regards to cultural, language, and safety issues. Korea is a culturally unique country with customs and traditions you might not be aware of.

Korea is a society that places a strong emphasis on social image, respect for others, and social harmony. This means Koreans will often try to avoid conflict, especially in public. To show respect for Korean culture and to avoid being rude, try to respect social harmony and always avoid conflict.

If you follow these tips, you’ll find it easier to avoid accidentally upsetting someone in Korea. There’s far too much to cover in this South Korea travel guide, so if you’d like to know more, check out my detailed guide to Korean etiquette and culture , it’s packed with tips and insights to understand Korea.

What is considered rude in Korea? It is considered rude to point with one finger or with chopsticks, give and receive with one hand, cross your legs when sitting, and to walk inside with your shoes on. Things considered rude in other countries such as swearing and spitting are also rude in Korea.

What is considered unlucky in Korea? It is considered unlucky to write someone’s name in red ink and to stand chopsticks upright in rice. Both are used in rituals for deceased people. The number 4 is also unlucky as the word is the same as the word for ‘death’.

Do you need to tip in Korea? It’s not necessary to tip in Korea and most restaurants and cafes won’t expect or allow you to tip. There is no service charge added to bills in Korea, with the exception of some upmarket restaurants, bars, and hotels in touristy areas of Seoul. Tipping guides is okay.

Sign to take off your shoes in Korea

Do you need to take off shoes when going inside? If you enter someone’s house in Korea, you should take off your shoes. This rule also applies to temples, traditional restaurants, and other places in traditional buildings. Most cafes, shops, and restaurants won’t ask you to take off your shoes.

When should you use two hands in Korea? You should use two hands when giving and receiving things in Korea, such as money, a gift, a business card, or food. When you shake hands, use both hands, not just one. The same applies to pouring drinks, both pouring and holding a glass.

Do I have to act like a Korean in Korea? You don’t have to follow Korean customs and traditions when you visit Korea. You are a guest in the country and Koreans won’t expect you to know every rule. However, showing cultural awareness in Korea will help you make friends and impress locals.

The best tip for being culturally sensitive in Korea is to first consider all the things that you’d consider rude in your own country – spitting, swearing, shouting, physical violence, etc. Show the same acts of kindness you’d show at home – help others, give up your seat for those in need, be polite, etc.

Furthermore, remember that social harmony is really important in Korea and try not to cause a scene. Keep your voice down in public, don’t talk or act aggressively, be polite, and don’t force things when people are reluctant. Koreans may feel obliged to do things, even when they don’t want to.

Language Issues When Travelling Korea

Korean and English on a sign in Seoul

Language issues can be a big concern for first-time travellers to Korea as Korean is a very different language from English and has a unique alphabet. Korean is also one of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers, ranked alongside Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic.

However, as a tourist to Korea, you don’t need to worry about mastering the language. English is used for signs and announcements in most places that you’ll need it, such as on public transport, at the airport, at attractions & tourist sites, on menus, and most other places. It’s common across Korea.

If there is a sign or notice that isn’t in Korean, I recommend using the Papago app to take translate it. Use the image translation function in the app to scan the sign and Papago will translate it into English for you. It’s really convenient and the way I translate things I can’t read in Korean.

Do Korean People Speak English?

Speaking in English to Korean people is different from being able to read and translate signs. English is taught from elementary school until the end of high school. That doesn’t mean everyone will remember it, but there’s a good chance some people will know English, especially younger Koreans.

It is best to ask if someone speaks English before trying to have a conversation. You can do this in Korean by asking “영어 할 수 있어요?” (Yong-oh hal su iss-o-yo?) or just ask it in English. Tour guides and people in the tourism industry will probably be able to speak English, but it’s not guaranteed.

Shyness is an issue in Korea and locals may be reluctant to speak English at first for fear of making a mistake. As an English teacher in Korea, I know that Korean students are usually quite competent in English, but lack confidence to use it. Be patient and encouraging when talking in English.

Although some Koreans may be too shy to use English, other people may be enthusiastic about speaking English to you and want to practice it. I’ve been asked random questions in English by strangers in the street in Korea who want to practice English and find out about my life.

Ticket prices for Lotte World Adventure In Seoul

Should You Learn Korean Before Visiting Korea?

If you do want to learn some Korean before you travel, I recommend you start by learning the Korean alphabet , or at least learning some basic Korean travel phrases . Knowing how to introduce yourself, discuss prices, ask for directions, and ask for help will make your trip to Korea a lot easier.

You can learn Korean online through courses such as 90 Day Korean and Korean Class 101 , or with self-study textbooks like the excellent Talk To Me In Korean series. There are lots of resources on YouTube, too. I particularly like Learn Korean with GO! Korean Billy as he explains things clearly.

Another way to prepare to move to Korea is to read some Korean novels in English . Although these books won’t teach you any Korean, they’ll offer up valuable insights into Korean culture, both traditional and hidden under the surface. Literature is a good way to gain an understanding of a culture.

Nonsensical English sign in Korea

A warning about Konglish : Although Korea uses English in many useful ways, there’s also a lot of Konglish. The sign above is a good example of random English words being used to look cool, but ending up being confusing. There’s a lot of this in Korea and it’s mostly harmless, so don’t worry.

Health And Safety Issues In Korea

Person washing their hands at a temple in Korea

First-time travellers to Korea may be worried about health and hygiene issues, such as if certain foods are available and if they’re safe to eat. Other issues include vaccinations, personal safety, and how easy it is to contact emergency services. These issues are addressed below.

Is Korean Street Food Safe To Eat?

Korean street food is generally safe to eat and won’t give you any health issues unless you have an intolerance to the food. Korean street food can be spicy or contain a lot of salt, be aware of your own personal tolerances and dietary requirements before trying it.

Also be careful when ordering food with meat or seafood and check that it is cooked thoroughly. Korean street food that has been left out for a long time is more likely to cause food poisoning problems, so ask for freshly cooked food if you’re concerned.

Flame cooked Korean street food

Is It Easy To Find Vegan-Friendly Food In Korea?

There are many vegan-friendly Korean dishes , such as gimbap , japchae , pajeon , bibimbap , ramyeon , and tteokbokki . However, some restaurants may use non vegan-friendly ingredients when preparing these foods, so be careful. Kimchi isn’t vegan-friendly due to its seafood ingredients & sauces.

Vegetarianism and veganism aren’t common in Korea with fewer people following these diets than in countries such as the USA or UK. Vegetarians in Korea account for 3% of the population, while vegans in Korea are only 0.2% of the population as of 2022. The UK is 10% and 2% respectively.

However, the number of vegan-friendly restaurants and bakeries is increasing each year in Korea, especially in areas such as Hongdae and Itaewon. Korean Buddhist temple food is vegan-friendly and a good option for vegans who want to enjoy vegan food while learning about local Korean culture.

If you’re concerned about accidentally ordering non vegan-friendly food, or want to know how to tell someone about food allergies or requirements, check out my guide to Korean phrases for ordering food . This has a whole section about special requests when ordering food in Korean.

Is It Safe To Drink Tap Water In Korea?

Korean tap water is potable and safe to drink. Korea ranks 23rd for water hygiene, which is above the USA, Canada, and Australia. However, many Koreans don’t drink tap water , preferring to use water purifiers and bottled water instead, claiming that tap water smells strange or water pipes are bad.

Personally, I don’t like drinking tap water in Korea as it tastes a bit stale, but it’s perfectly fine to drink and doesn’t cause any problems. Bottled water is very cheap in Korea and costs 600 KRW for a 500ml bottle from a convenience store. Buying water from a supermarket is a cheaper option though.

Person giving a vaccination

Do You Need Any Vaccinations To Travel To South Korea?

There are no mandatory vaccinations required to travel to Korea , but it is suggested you should have at least routine vaccinations such as tetanus, MMR, and polio. Hepatitis A & B, typhoid, and Japanese encephalitis vaccinations are also recommended.

Is Korea Friendly To Tourists?

Korea is generally friendly and welcoming to tourists. The Korean government spends a lot of money and effort to promote Korean tourism to the world and there are many incentives to bring people to the country. Korean people are also mostly polite and welcoming, especially in the tourism sector.

Is Korea A Dangerous Country To Travel In?

South Korea is a safe country to travel in and the crime rate in Korea is low, comparable to Norway or the Netherlands. Public crimes, such as theft and assault, are rare. Pickpocketing and purse snatching aren’t common and unattended goods are generally left alone or reported to the police.

How safe is Korea? I regularly see people leave their phone or handbag on a cafe table to reserve it before going up to order a drink. People even leave their laptops open while they pop out for lunch or go to the toilet. Stealing disturbs social harmony and is one of the reasons it’s rare in Korea.

Physical violence is also rare, but still occurs in Korea, as it does in all countries. This is most often found in areas with lots of bars and when people are drunk. However, visiting bars in Korea is a lot safer than I’ve experienced in other countries and trouble is not common, even in busy places.

Seoul Tourist Police in Korea

How Do You Contact Tourist Information Services In Korea?

Call 1330 in Korea to contact the Travel Helpline . The Korean Travel Helpline provides the following services free of charge to tourists in Korea.

  • Tourist Information : Find out about attractions, opening hours, prices, and other information.
  • Tourist Interpretation : Access travel information in several languages.
  • Tourist Complaints : Report rip-offs and problems you encounter when travelling in Korea.
  • Tourist Police : Report minor crimes in English and other languanges.

There are tourist police patrolling the streets of Seoul, dressed in purple uniforms as shown in the picture above. In popular tourist locations like Myeongdong and Bukchon Hanok Village, you’ll also find friendly tourist information staff dressed in red shirts with matching red cowboy hats.

What Should You Do If You Have An Emergency In Korea?

If you need to report a fire or medical emergency in Korea, you should call 119 from any phone. To contact the police in Korea, call 112. You will need to select an option to report an emergency in English or another language. It may take some time to be redirected to an English speaker.

  • 119 – Medical Emergency & Fire Rescue
  • 112 – Police

When you use medical services in Korea, you have to pay the cost of treatment, but there is no fee for the ambulance ride as this is covered by the Korean government. Travel insurance should cover the cost of medical bills, so if you’re worried about a large medical bill, insurance is recommended.

Fortunately, the cost of treatment in Korea is quite reasonable and Korea has advanced medical facilities, which is why it’s a popular medical tourism destination . Many people travel to Korea for minor and major surgery, including laser eye surgery, cosmetic surgery, and internal medicine.

Is Air Pollution A Problem In Korea?

Air pollution is an issue in Korea, especially in spring & summer. Winds blow yellow dust from Central Asia, field burning spreads fumes across Asia, and fossil-fuel burning contributes to higher levels of air pollution. Some days there’ll be very low visibility and health risks for people with lung problems.

My Personal Travel Tips For Korea

Man with ginkgo trees at Nami Island

This South Korea travel guide is a collection of information I’ve researched and learned since moving to Korea in 2015 and blogging about Korean travel since 2019. I hope the provided information and insights are useful and assist you plan your dream first-time, or even tenth-time, trip to Korea.

This section includes my personal tips that didn’t really fit anywhere else and reflections built from travelling all over Korea in all seasons. These are tips I would offer to first-time travellers to Korea and people who might have some worries about visiting the Land of Morning Calm. I hope they help.

The Real Korea Isn’t What You See On TV

Korea is a developed country that went from being a 3rd world country in the mid 20th Century to a high-tech country in a short time. Despite the many high-rises and modern K-Pop stars, there are still shadows of the former Korea seen in both run-down slums and people with ‘traditional’ values.

The image created by selective K-Culture can distort people’s reality when dreaming of a trip to Korea in the same way Korean people can suffer from Paris Syndrome when visiting France. There are many wonderful things about Korea, but don’t travel thinking that everything is as shown on TV.

Be Prepared For Culture Shock

One of the best things about travelling is seeing a country and people that act and behave differently to how you do in your own country. This is known as culture shock and can be both a blessing and a challenge for first-time travellers to Korea. Things you might be used to can be different in Korea.

Some examples of culture shock in Korea include the way age determines hierarchy in Korea and how older people can be rather pushy, especially on the subway. Younger people also typically don’t question the decisions of older people in Korea as it is considered rude and disrespectful.

Less extreme cultural differences that might confuse some first-time visitors to Korea include having to shout to call someone to take your order in a Korean restaurant or not giving a tip. Koreans might similarly look at you strangely if you do something culturally different, such as walking while drinking.

Don’t Overpack When You Travel To Korea

First-time travellers to Korea may be worried about visiting a country like Korea without taking everything they need from home, even the kitchen sink. My advice is to pack as light as possible and leave yourself some space in your suitcase. There are two reasons for this.

  • You can buy most things you need in Korea . This includes sun cream, heat packs, clothes, shoes, cosmetics, travel accessories, etc. They’re also probably cheaper in Korea, too.
  • You will want to take home lots of things . From weird Korean snacks to beautiful hand-crafted pottery and woodwork, there are so many things to buy in Korea.

(1) The only exception is if you might have a problem finding correct-fitting items. Korean shoes and clothes are slightly smaller than what you’d find in Western countries and the sizes are also differently labelled. I’m a medium in the UK but a large (sometimes XL!) in Korea. Be careful when shopping.

(2) It’s hard to fit everything you buy in Korea into an already full suitcase. Fortunately, you can buy extra suitcases at low prices. Check out Namdaemun Market for cheap luggage options, as well as shops like the one pictured below (this is in Busan) in places like Hongdae and Dongdaemun.

Luggage shop in Busan Korea

Electricity In South Korea

Be careful with electric items when travelling to Korea. Korea uses type C and F plugs , which are used in Europe, Russia, and other parts of Asia. The standard voltage is 220V with 60Hz frequency. Anything designed for a standard voltage between 220V and 240V should be fine in Korea.

Laptops, mobile phones, and other portable devices will be fine when you travel in Korea as long as you use a travel adapter with a USB or socket connection. Hairdryers, shavers, curlers, and similar devices might have problems charging in Korea and run out of power very soon. My shaver did.

Go With The Flow And Go Quickly

Korea is a very busy country and you might hear people mutter ‘빨리빨리’ ( ppalli ppalli ) if you walk slowly, especially in the subway. Koreans work long hours and are eager to get home or go out for dinner. Don’t take it personally if people push past you and don’t feel like you have to rush.

Know Where To Throw Away Rubbish

It can be difficult to find a bin to throw away rubbish in Korea, even in urban areas. The best place to dispose of rubbish in Korea is at a convenience store. You can find recycling and trash bins in these shops. If you go hiking or explore the countryside, expect to carry your rubbish home with you.

South Korea Travel Guide FAQs

Finally, here’s a few FAQs about this South Korea travel guide, in case the above information didn’t cover enough for you.

What is the best month to visit South Korea?

The best months to visit South Korea are April and October. April is warm and you can see cherry blossoms in Seoul at the start of the month. October is warm with clear skies. During October you can see autumn foliage across Korea.

How much money is enough for South Korea?

The amount of money you need to travel in South Korea depends on your travel style and desired level of comfort. A rough budget for South Korea is 50-100,000 KRW per day for budget travellers, 100-200,000 KRW per day for mid-range travellers, and 200,000+ KRW per day for luxury travellers.

Is South Korea friendly to tourists?

South Korea is a welcoming country and friendly to tourists. There are many services to welcome tourists to South Korea, including free transit tours from Incheon Airport, cultural performances in tourist destinations, low entry fees to traditional attractions like Gyeongbokgung Palace, and tourist information and signs in multiple languages.

What do I need to know before travelling to South Korea?

It’s important to know about the weather before travelling to South Korea as this can impact your day to day travel and affect what clothes you’ll need. You should also research what festivals are on before you travel, what seasonal events are happening, such as cherry blossom viewing, and also how to use public transport and get connected to the net.

What is the cheapest month to visit South Korea?

January and February are two of the cheapest months to visit South Korea and are considered low season as the weather is cold. Hotel prices and flights to Korea will be lower in these months. Winter is a good time to travel to Korea to see snow and enjoy winter sports and festivals, however, some attractions will be closed during this time of year.

Do I need a South Korea travel guide?

It is good to check a South Korea travel guide to research your trip, especially for first-time travellers to Korea. Korea has a unique culture, language, and customs that might be confusing for new travellers. A South Korea travel guide will help you prepare for these factors and give you ideas to create your perfect trip to Korea.

Can you drink tap water in Korea?

Korean tap water is potable and safe to drink. You can drink water from hotels and apartments in Korea. Restaurants and cafes will provide you with free drinking water, which usually comes from a water cooler. Bottled water is available from convenience stores and is reasonably priced.

Is South Korea safe for first-time travellers?

South Korea is a safe country for first-time travellers to visit. Personal crimes, such as theft, mugging, and physical violence are rare in Korea and it is safe to walk the streets of Seoul, even at night. First-time travellers can prepare for a trip to South Korea by being aware of potential scams, such as taxi drivers over charging them or being ripped off in the traditional markets.

What are the best apps for travelling in South Korea?

The best apps for travelling to South Korea are Papago, Kakao Taxi, Naver Maps, and Seoul Subway. These apps will allow you to translate between Korean and English, hail taxis, and navigate as you travel. All of these apps have English language options and are free to use.

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Hi! My name is Joel, I'm the author of In My Korea and writer of this article. I've lived, worked and travelled in Korea since 2015 and want to share my insights, stories and tips to help you have the best experience during your trip to Korea.

I love learning more about Korean culture, hiking the many mountains, and visiting all the coolest places in Korea, both modern and traditional. If you want to know more about my story, check out the ' about me ' section to learn why I love living in Korea.

4 thoughts on “Complete South Korea Travel Guide 2024: Korean Travel Tips”

This South Korea travel guide is a comprehensive resource for anyone planning a trip to Korea. It covers everything from entry requirements and travel tips to accommodation options and places to visit. Whether you’re a first-time traveler or have been to Korea before, this guide has something for everyone. The inclusion of the latest travel news and COVID-related updates adds to its relevance and usefulness. I appreciate the detailed breakdown of sections and the inclusion of quick links for easy navigation. Overall, this guide is a valuable tool for anyone looking to explore the wonders of South Korea.

Moderator – Nice Article! In My Korea

Thank for the great info! Could you please recommend any tours agency for a few day trips around Korea? I found a few , but they are pretty pricey!

Hi, thanks for reading. Klook and Viator have a good selection of tours in Korea with some of the best prices on the market. I’m not sure which tours you’re looking for, but they usually do day trips for less than $100 per day that cover popular tourist sights.

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Home » Asia » South Korea » 26 South Korea Travel Tips You Need to Know! • 2024

26 South Korea Travel Tips You Need to Know! • 2024

South Korea is a tiny country that punches way above its weight in a number of arenas, and that extends to being one of Asia’s greatest travel spots!

The land of KBBQ, the world’s fastest internet speeds, futuristic cities, and a breathtaking mix of ancient and modern, this is one of the best countries in Asia to travel in, and yet it’s criminally underrated.  

I spent a few years calling this country home, and I’ve created the ultimate Korea travel guide to help you navigate your way through this gem of northeast Asia.

Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a return visitor, here’s a list of 26 South Korea travel tips you need to know before stepping off the plane!

a tourist and two korean locals hanging out in south korea

The Broke Backpacker is supported by you . Clicking through our links may earn us a small affiliate commission, and that's what allows us to keep producing free content 🙂 Learn more .

26 EPIC South Korea Travel Tips

After years of living and traveling in South Korea , here are some of the most important tips I’ve learned along the way!

1.  Download These Apps!

a screenshot of the seoul subway map app

South Korea is one of the most tech-savvy societies on the planet, and you’re going to need to keep up. These apps are just a few of the essentials you want to have to make your trip to South Korea the unforgettable experience it should be.

Subway Korea

Not the most exciting app to download but crucial all the same, this is going to make your time in Seoul so much easier.

With a full, interactive map of Seoul’s ( Korea’s capital city ) absolutely sprawling subway system, Subway Korea tells you exactly which station you need to begin and end at, which stations to transfer at, and how long it’s going to take you from start to finish.

You can find this on the App Store for both Android and iPhone, and a companion app exists for Busan’s smaller (but still pretty big!) subway system.

When it comes to Korean, Google Translate can give you some hilariously bad translations and while that’s always entertaining, you’re going to need to be able to communicate with more than just hand gestures!

That’s why you need to download Papago . It serves many languages and its Korean translations are far better than Google’s, so this is going to make traveling to South Korea for the first time go much smoother.

You can get around places in Seoul with only English, but beyond that you’re going to need some help which makes Papago a must-download.

In my experience, Google Maps isn’t too helpful in Korea, and that’s why you’ve got to download Kakao Maps!

screenshot of kakao maps to use while traveling in south korea south korea travel tips

An app made by a Korean company, Kakao Maps is going to provide you with a level of detail, precision, and helpfulness that Google Maps simply can’t deliver.

Whether you’re exploring the city or out in Korea’s gorgeous countryside, this app is the best option for navigating the country.

2.      Learn Some Basic Korean Phrases

Having a solid translation app is all well and good, but it’s also important to memorize a few basic phrases in Korean just in case your phone doesn’t come through for you.

a tourist looking confused in south korea

Anyeong Hasaeyeo – Hello

(You might have heard anyeong as meaning “hello” in Korean before and while that’s true, it’s important to say the full phrase because shortening it to anyeong can be seen as disrespectful.)

Kamsamnida – ­ Thank you

Kohn Bae! – Cheers!

Odi / Odi…? – where / where is…?

Hwajangshil – Bathroom

3. Explore the Dramatic East Coast

Staying in Seoul is great, but the country has SO much more to offer.

Korea’s east coast in particular flies far under the radar for most foreigners and isn’t visited nearly enough. But I can attest that it’s easily one of the most epic regions in Korea!

a view of boats on the water and mountains behind them at a port in south korea

With tall, jagged peaks rising straight out of the sea, the east coast is the perfect place for travelers looking to escape Korea’s ultramodern cities and get out to explore the country’s natural wonders.

The east coast holds some of Korea’s best hiking spots, and Seoraksan National Park in particular is a favorite of mine, especially during winter and spring.

4. Korea is a Shopper’s Mecca

If you’re keen on shopping for the latest fashion or newest tech, South Korea is pretty much unbeatable.

Between Shinsegae, Lotte World, and a TON more, Korea has limitless options for shoppers of all stripes.

a woman walking in one of south korea's largest shopping complexes

Shinsegae and Lotte are two absolutely massive department store chains in Korea that house countless stores within their walls, and there are so many more on top of those two to choose from and explore.

Your choices really are infinite.

The one thing you need to keep in mind though is that you should be prepared to spend.

Korea is not a cheap country in general, and that extends to its shopping scene. If you’re going to buy a higher-end item here, be ready to shell out a lot of cash.

5.      Avoid Drinking Tap Water

Sadly, Korea isn’t a place where you can drink the tap water worry-free. While many places in the countryside have springs with fresh water straight from the mountains, you will need to have a filtered water bottle for your trip!

a grayl geopress waterbottle on the ground

That’s why we strongly recommend you invest your hard-earned cash in getting a Grayl Filtration Bottle to accompany you on your travels!

It’s a reusable, zero-waste system that allows you to drink water from pretty much anywhere and in the long run, will save you countless dollars that you would have otherwise spent on water bottles, filters, and purification tablets.

grayl geopress filter bottle

Drink water from ANYWHERE. The Grayl Geopress is the worlds leading filtered water bottle protecting you from all manner of waterborne nasties.

Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle. Save money and the environment!

We’ve tested the Geopress  rigorously  from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Bali, and can confirm: it’s the best water bottle you’ll ever buy!

6. Learn How to Get Around in South Korea

Nearly every corner of South Korea is connected by an intricate web of trains and buses that link large cities like Seoul and Busan in the south with the tiny villages and hamlets in the countryside.

Public transportation in Korea is fantastic: it’s reliable, clean, convenient, and always on time!

Even if you’re waiting at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere, if the schedule says a bus arrives at 8:30, it will be there at 8:30, give or take a few minutes.

how to get around South Korea cheap

On that note, if you’ve got a bus or train ticket departing at a certain time, make sure you’re there early because you will get left behind if you’re not there on time!

That brings me to one of the most important points of this piece: I highly recommend that you do NOT rent a car or motorbike in Korea if you’re considering it.

While the roads are modern, impressive feats of engineering, drivers here can often be very unpredictable and that can lead to some dangerous situations on the road if you’re not used to it.

view of a paved road in south korea around fall time

A one-hour motorbike ride between two cities in Korea felt longer and scarier to me than a nine-hour ride on Pakistan’s Karakoram Highway, and anyone who’s made that trip can tell you how much that statement means!

It’s for that reason that I think you should avoid getting your own wheels in Korea, and that risk combined with the excellent public transportation system makes any rentals a needless expense.

When going between different cities, you can use Trip.com to book your train or bus tickets.

Remember to book in advance because if you show up and try to buy the ticket the day of your intended departure, there’s a good chance you’ll be out of luck.

Simple Seoul Travel Tips You Need to Know

Whether you’re traveling to South Korea for the first time or coming back for more, you’ll be spending a ton of time in Seoul so it’s good to know how to stay on top of things when exploring this behemoth of a city!

7. Invest in a Month-Long Tmoney Card

You’ll probably be using public transportation a lot, so it’s best to invest your money where it counts to get the most bang for your buck.

Bus and train fares in Korea are cheap anyway (about one dollar or less per ride), but the government just launched a new transit card option which allows passengers to spend $49 for a one-month pass and get unlimited access to Seoul’s huge network of trains and buses, as well as public bicycle rentals.

The card is rechargeable, so if you plan on staying in Korea for longer than a month, this is a great option to make your Seoul itinerary easier to execute.

green and white public bicycles are a great tip to get around seoul south korea cheaply

You can get one at any major subway station, but sadly this card only covers public transportation in Seoul for now, so keep that in mind before buying.

If you’re just looking for a good old-fashioned Tmoney card without the month-long plan, you can get one at any convenience store or subway station and charge it with cash.

8. Make Reservations in Advance if Possible

When it comes to accommodations or more popular restaurants/cafés, it can be difficult in Seoul to simply show up to a place and expect to find an open spot, especially in high season.

This is a country where it’s best to make your reservations beforehand. If you don’t, there’s a very good chance that you’re going to miss out and get turned away.

9. Try Seoul’s amazing street food

Korean cuisine has plenty of tasty street snacks that are quick and cheap, making this one way to cut costs in Seoul! There’s no shortage of markets and stalls offering a quick bite, so be sure to check them out.

a plate of meat and cylinder shaped noodle looking pieces in south korea

Kimbap and tteokbokki are two classic Korean eats that are cheap, delicious, and filling.

10. Understand Internet and Data in South Korea

Wifi is everywhere and internet speeds are lightning fast, but you’ll still want to stay connected when you’re on the move!

SIM cards and data plans tend to be pricy by Asian standards, and while you can get Korean e-SIMs at the airports, there’s a better option: a WiFi Egg rental.

You can check out a list of rental options here , and any of them will keep you connected to Korea’s ridiculously fast internet while you’re on the go without breaking the bank.

11. Korea Isn’t Cheap

Expenses in Korea aren’t quite as scary as Western Europe in summer but this isn’t Thailand either, so you need to be prepared to spend a little more.

Hostels will cost at least $15 USD/night but usually a bit more, and proper meals will start at around $8.

Public transportation is cheap, but going to a different city is going to cost a bit more: between $10-$50 depending on how far you’re going.

audy on top of a mountain in japan with the osprey aether

We’ve tested countless backpacks over the years, but there’s one that has always been the best and remains the best buy for adventurers: the broke backpacker-approved Osprey Aether and Ariel series.

Want more deetz on why these packs are so  damn perfect? Then read our comprehensive review for the inside scoop!

12. Bring Masks to Protect Yourself from Pollution

Korea and neighboring China are heavily dependent on coal for their energy needs, and as a result, the skies can occasionally have dangerous levels of smog, especially in big cities.

seoul south korea under a massively thick cloud of smog pollution

Masks are technically not an essential, but you’re going to want to have a few masks on hand to help you deal with this problem.

Just to give you an idea of how bad this can be sometimes: I’ve had an easier time breathing whilst hiking in difficult conditions at 5000m+ altitudes than I’ve had while just sitting outdoors at a café in Seoul trying to enjoy my coffee on a day when the pollution is at its worst.

13. Pay Attention to the Rules

Koreans are meticulous rule-followers, and it’s very important to keep this in mind when planning a trip to South Korea.

a person crossing a crosswalk on a busy street in seoul south korea

No matter how ridiculous a rule might seem to you, Koreans will obey it almost without exception. Even if it’s 3am and the roads are completely empty, a pedestrian is going to wait until the crosswalk turns green before they think about venturing out onto the empty road while the sign is red.

Many countries are really loose with the law but this is not one of them, so make sure that you’re completely respectful of the rules when you’re visiting South Korea.

A Few South Korea Cultural Travel Tips

Respecting Korean societal norms are SUPER important. Let’s get into a few of them…

14. Don’t tip

This might come as a huge relief to visitors, especially for Americans, but it’s important to know that tipping isn’t really a thing in Korea. Very rarely a place will ask for tips for its workers, but otherwise you should avoid tipping in all situations.

woman serving liquor at a bar in south korea

15. Politeness and respect are non-negotiable

Korean culture is deeply rooted in visibly showing respect for others, and it’s important to adopt that attitude while you’re visiting South Korea. Sass and sarcasm are looked down upon in nearly all situations so it’s best to avoid using those entirely.

16. Koreans tend to be reserved

While Koreans are very polite and hospitable, they are usually pretty reserved and it takes awhile for them to open up, so don’t worry if it seems like they’re not too friendly at first!

17.      Learn to Read Korean

Okay, I realize this might sound insane, but hear me out!

Hangul – the name for the Korean alphabet – is incredibly easy to learn how to read and will take you an hour or two max to get the basics down.

korean hangul script

Just a bit of study goes a long way in helping you read signs and menus, making this a great return on investment for your time.

Even if learning languages isn’t your thing, I promise you that this is way easier than it sounds and strongly recommend giving it a try!

18. Understand When to Visit South Korea

Autumn and Spring are majestic.

Japan gets a lot of recognition for its stunning seasonal colors (and rightly so!) but these seasons in Korea are just as magical and can’t be missed.

It’s also way less crowded than Japan, and the colors you’ll see here are simply unreal.

a traditional south korean home seen in autumn in a garden

These are not busy seasons in Korea as far as foreign tourism is concerned, so you’ll have a lot more space than you would in summer.

You’ll have to get out of the city to see these colors at their best, and Magoksa Temple is one of the most stunning locations in Korea during peak foliage!

one of the best south korea travel tips is to visit during the fall foliage season where you can see yellow and red leaves like this

Magoksa Temple is not too far from Seoul so it’s very accessible. If you’re in Korea during Autumn, this spot is a can’t-miss.

If you’re keen on visiting South Korea during Spring, you will see spellbinding cherry blossoms pretty much everywhere you go, but Seoraksan National Park on the east coast is one of the best spots in the country this time of year.

a cherry blossom tree in front of a jagged mountain peak in south korea

This one’s a bit further out of the way as it’s a 3-hour bus ride from Seoul, but it’s more than worth it! I’ve made the trip out to Seoraksan multiple times and it still isn’t enough.

Going to South Korea in summer is going to be a non-stop sweatfest and while winter can be utterly breathtaking, it’s freezing cold, so Autumn and Spring are the ideal seasons to visit Korea.

Active Roots Security Belt

Stash your cash safely with this money belt. It will keep your valuables safely concealed, no matter where you go.

It looks exactly like a normal belt  except for a SECRET interior pocket perfectly designed to hide a wad of cash, a passport photocopy or anything else you may wish to hide. Never get caught with your pants down again! (Unless you want to…)

19. Seoul is a Foodie’s Paradise

Not only does Seoul have tons of excellent spots for trying Korean food, but the capital is also home to cuisines from all over the world! Italian, Japanese, Mexican, barbecue of all kinds, and so much more: you name it, Seoul has it.

mexican meal in seoul south korea

While you could easily dedicate an entire book to Seoul’s many restaurants, here are a few highlights!

One of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve found anywhere in East Asia is Taco Amigo , located right in the heart of Itaewon.

Just up the road and right on Itaewon’s main street is Vatos , a Mexican fusion restaurant that has a seemingly infinite number of delicious meals to try out.

If you’re craving some classic Texas BBQ, Low and Slow Itaewon has got you covered.

The Royal Food and Drink is a cliffside restaurant with a stunning view of Seoul and serves a majestic brunch that will send you into a food coma.

Not only one of the best brunch places in Seoul but one of the best I’ve been to anywhere, meals here are unforgettable.

Whether you’re looking for izakayas, Levantine restaurants, kebabs, Mexican, or pretty much anything else: this city is a paradise of cosmopolitan cuisine, and taking advantage of that is a must.

Seoul does have unforgettable KBBQ restaurants and countless more excellent Korean restaurants, but the best (and cheapest) Korean food will be found beyond Seoul’s expansive boundaries!

20. Being Vegetarian or Vegan in Korea Isn’t Easy

As with a lot of Asian countries, it can be a challenge to navigate the food scene if you’re vegetarian or vegan. When visiting Busan , Seoul, Daegu, and other larger cities, many restaurants can cater to your diet but in the countryside, you’ll find that your options are much more limited.

Thankfully, Korean food does have some options for those of you who don’t eat meat!

a popular south korean food in a black bowl

Vegetarian mandu (dumplings), kimbap, and bibimbap are all tasty vegetarian dishes that you can’t miss out on, and jjajangmyeon is one of my personal favorites.

If you’re at a restaurant and ordering food that may or may not come with meat, like dumplings, just ask the waiter for “gogi opsoyo” (“no meat”) and you’ll be all set.

21. Explore Korea’s Amazing Café Scene

Going to South Korea means you get to explore a café scene which is second to none. A massively diverse range of cafés awaits travelers from the traditional to ultra-modern and quirky.

Seoul itself is home to countless unique, very photogenic cafés that you could probably spend a lifetime venturing through.

courtyard of a cozy cafe in south korea

One of the capital’s most iconic spots is C.Through Café, which you’ll find here . Not only are the drinks delicious, but they also look so good that you almost feel bad for drinking them.

The coffee itself may or may not be what you’re looking for depending on your own personal tastes, but Korea’s cafés and teahouses are so diverse and incredible that I highly recommend you spend some time exploring what they have to offer!

22. Discover Korean Meals You Might Not Know Of!

Korean BBQ, samgyupsal, and kimchi are famous Korean culinary exports for good reason, but there are so many more Korean dishes that any backpacker worth their salt has got to try at least once.

Dakkalbi is a truly epic dish served in a massive pan that contains meat, rice cakes (called dak), vegetables, spices, and more depending on what you request. 

a popular meat and vegetable dish in a black pan in south korea

This is the perfect meal to have after you’ve worked up a huge appetite from exploring all day, and best to share with friends.

Quite possibly my favorite Korean meal is jjimdak. Often served in an enormous pan, this dish consisting at its core of chicken, glass noodles, rice, spices, and onions is a gluttonous, decadent meal that everyone should reward themselves with, and you can add more to the pan to mix things up a little.

Hint : add cheese.

23. Get Lost in Seoul’s Insane Nightlife

Seoul’s nightlife is famous and for very good reason: it’s amazing .

Coming out of a difficult few years due to the COVID pandemic, the capital’s bars and clubs are slowly returning to their former glory.

Gangnam, Itaewon, and Hongdae each have an endless supply of bars, restaurants, and clubs to explore that are wild fun, and a visit to Seoul is incomplete without at least a few sleepless nights spent in these districts.

south koreans having fun at a bar in south korea

You’ll also find unique escape rooms, board game cafés, and more.

It’s simply not possible to list all the things you can do in Seoul, which is exactly why you should get hopelessly lost in wandering through this amazing city’s nightlife.

24. Get Off the Beaten Path

South Korea is rightly well-known for being a haven of futuristic cities, shopping, and lightning-fast internet, but it’s so much more than that!

This is a country where ancient wonders mix with natural beauty in a way that doesn’t happen anywhere else, and one of the best tips for traveling to South Korea I can give you is to journey away from the typical tourist loop of Seoul, Busan, and Jeju.

a traditional structure in south korea in the dark being coated in snow

That might seem like hard advice to follow in a tiny country that’s so modernized, but venture beyond the confines of the cities and you’ll find a side of Korea that most people don’t see.

Experiencing Korea’s ancient, rich culture and all the gems hiding in its many hills simply can’t be missed out on, and this is what makes going to South Korea an unforgettable experience, far more so than a night out in Seoul or Busan.

25. Know Which Places to Stay/Avoid

Korea has no shortage of great hostels to stay at that range from cozy and classy to social and wild, but here are just a few to keep in mind:

If you’re looking for a good time in Seoul that doesn’t involve much sleeping, The Time Traveler’s Party Hostel in Hongdae is hard to beat. Fun and social with a downstairs bar and a crew that goes out into Hongdae’s vibrant nightlife every night, this is the place to be for all kinds of partiers.

Its sister hostel, Time Travelers’ Relax Guesthouse , is for backpackers looking for something more low-key and restful. Also in Hongdae, this hostel is in a quiet neighborhood that’s just a short distance from the district’s unbelievable nightlife scene, so it gives you the best of both worlds.

the common room of a hostel in seoul south korea

Seoul Cube Itaewon is also an incredible hostel with a great reputation, and its location right in the center of Itaewon is basically unbeatable!

When it comes to Seoul – and Korea in general – pretty much any hostel or guesthouse you choose is going to be solid with one exception: the Hongdae Bird’s Nest Hostel. This is the one place I recommend you absolutely avoid at all costs unless you have no other choice.

You might be tempted by its low prices and convenient location (I was!), but the facilities are less than ideal and the management is strange, unhelpful, and at times very unfriendly to guests. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Time Travelers Party Hostel

Time Traveler's Party Hostel

With a basement bar and a perfect location just 7 minutes from Seoul's Hongdae neighborhood, this is the best hostel for those looking to get the most out of the city's epic nightlife. It's super social, and you can even get a taste of authentic Korean BBQ every Friday night at their weekly group dinners.

26. Travel With Good Insurance!

Travel insurance is one of the most essential items all travelers simply should not go without, and you need to make sure you’re covered in the event a disaster happens!

Korean healthcare is some of the best – and most affordable – in the world, but you still don’t want to be stuck paying for 100% of a hospital bill.

That’s where SafetyWings comes in: at $40 per month and contract-free, this is an excellent choice for travelers and digital nomads.

Having that peace of mind that you’re covered in case of emergencies is priceless, so don’t forget to sign up before you set out on your travels: it could make all the difference.

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing .

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

which country would you like to visit korea

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

So is South Korea Worth Visiting?

100%, absolutely, undeniably yes. Not only is it more than worth the effort, I stand by the fact that Korea is one of Asia’s greatest countries to travel in.

Temples, towers, unforgettable nights, delicious food and more await travelers who make the trip to this unique land caught at a crossroads.

Going to South Korea is the experience of a lifetime and when your trip is at an end, no matter how long it is, you’ll find yourself wanting more.

I hope you’ve learned something from these South Korea travel tips. Now all that’s left is to book that ticket.

A wild ride awaits!

  • Become a MASTER traveler with our epic travel tips.
  • Embrace your backpacker spirit and travel off the beaten path , because… why not?
  • Our killer guide to living in hostels will transform your stay. Check it out!
  • Get off the couch and into the great outdoors with our hiking guide .
  • Or… explore more of the region and go backpack Japan .
  • See what most backpackers do not with an epic trip to China .

rainbow colored lanterns made into a tunnel going up a stone staircase to a historical building in south korea

Nathan Jordan

South Korea Travel Tips You Need to Know Pinterest Image

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The Sunrise Dreamers

Ultimate South Korea Bucket List: 20 Best Things To Do

Looking for the best things to do in South Korea? Enjoy our South Korea bucket list full of great ideas on how you can plan your South Korea trip! This list features things to do in Seoul, Busan, Gyeongju, Jeonju and more beautiful places around the country. Here’s our bucket list on what to do in South Korea!

Ultimate South Korea Bucket List: 20 Best Things To Do

South Korea is a country in East Asia known for its K-Pop, Korean food, palaces, Buddhist temples and the famous capital city Seoul. If you love unique culture, views of mountains, bright neon signs and a country with so many modern features then you should start creating your South Korea bucket list now!

There are so many amazing things to do in South Korea and this list won’t even capture it all – but it’s definitely a start and a great introduction to what to do in South Korea on a first trip! If you need any help planning out your route, head over to our 2 week South Korea itinerary to plan the most amazing trip.

This South Korea bucket list includes destinations that are easy to get to by the impressive public transport the country has to offer. We’ll share how to get to these places and a few more tips for South Korea at the bottom of this page!

This post may contain affiliate links. We will receive a small commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no additional cost to you .

South Korea things to do - Seoul

Ultimate South Korea Bucket List

Table of Contents (Skip to a section!)

South Korea is an incredible country to visit with amazing cities, lovely villages, great food and some of the best hikes! In no particular order – here are the 20 best things to do in South Korea!

1. Visit Gyeongbukgung

Gyeongbukgung is one of the most beautiful palaces in Seoul . There are five palaces in Seoul and all of them deserve a visit – but if you only have time for one, make it Gyeongbukgung. It was built in 1395 and was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty.

Make your visit to the palace memorable by renting a hanbok for a few hours. Hanbok rental stores are hard to miss when visiting South Korea and there are a few rental shops right around the corner from Gyeongbukgung. Find the link on Klook here –  Hanbok Rental Klook

If you’re in Seoul for a few days – check out our  5 Day Seoul Itinerary travel guide here !

Gyeongbukgung - South Korea Bucket List

We use a  Joby GorillaPod 3K Pro Kit  to take photos of us together on our camera, it’s so useful especially when there’s no one around! There’s also a version for a phone –  Joby Phone Tripod  to get the best photos on your South Korea trip!

2. Have a traditional Korean meal

Eating Korean food is one of the best things to do in South Korea and should definitely be on your South Korea bucket list! Enjoy a traditional Korean meal at Osegye Hyang ( location ) in the gorgeous streets of Insadong.

When entering, it’s polite to take off your shoes and sit on cushions on the floor instead of chairs. Along with your meal, you’ll be served lots of little side dishes called Banchan ! The best meal to have when you first arrive in South Korea!

Traditional Korean meal at Osegye Hyang

3. Stay in a Temple

Temple stays are a cultural programme in South Korea as a way to experience the Buddhism lifestyle and practices. It’s our favourite thing we did in South Korea and we’d 100% go back to stay in more temples around the country. We highly recommend – Golgulsa Templestay ! (Near Gyeongju & Busan)

Here’s the link to find out more information and book a stay at –  Golgulsa Templestay Reservations . The  price  is  60,000KRW  per night, per person. (30krw for a pre-schooler)

We’ve also shared a Golgulsa Templstay Review so you can find out exactly what it’s like to stay overnight in a South Korean Buddhist Temple. It’s such an amazing and unique experience!

Best Things To Do in South Korea - Golgulsa Templstay Review

4. Take the train to Busan

If you’ve ever seen the horror/action movie Train to Busan – then taking the train from Seoul to Busan must be on your South Korea bucket list! Remember, it’s just a movie!

You can book your ticket on the KTX  here –   Korail Train Tickets . It’s a quick 2 hour 15 minutes from Seoul to Busan and the tickets are usually around ₩45,000 – ₩65,000. If you’re on a budget, then intercity and express buses are generally cheaper but slower in South Korea.

If you’re taking multiple trains in South Korea, you may want to get a KR Pass to save you money! Find out more details on Klook !

If you’re interested in travel costs and how much to budget for South Korea, here’s our 10 Best South Korea Budget Tips + Travel Costs (2024) !

5. Explore a Hanok Village

Another one of the best things to do in South Korea is to explore the many hanok villages that can be found around the country. Bukchon Hanok Village may be the most popular village to explore in South Korea as it’s located in Seoul. It’s absolutely beautiful and should be on your South Korea things to do list! Find Bukchon Observatory for an impressive view to see the tops of the preserved buildings!

  • Jeonju Hanok Village (Jeonju)
  • Bukchon Hanok Village (Seoul)
  • Andong Hahoe Folk Village (between Seoul & Busan)

Bukchon Hanok Village - Seoul

6. Visit the DMZ

If you’re spending a few days in Seoul you may be interested to visit the Demilitarized Zone of Korea in between North and South Korea. It’s an important part of the country and there’s so much history to learn about the Korean War. This can only be done on a tour –  book tickets with Klook here !

7. Spend a day in Gyeongju

Wondering what to do in South Korea? Take a visit to the beautiful city of Gyeongju also known as a museum with no walls . This ancient city has preserved remains and tombs from many years ago and it was once the residence of Silla rulers for over 1000 years. You can book a Gyeongju UNESCO World Heritage Tour from Busan on Klook .

Take a browse at 11 Best Things to do in Gyeongju  to plan your trip!

Woljeonggyo Bridge in Gyeongju - South Korea Bucket List

8. Eat Korean street food

We’ve already mentioned that Korean food should be on your South Korea bucket list – and now we want to tell you to try Korean street food! There are so many markets around the country that have amazing choices when it comes to food. Gwangjang Market is our favourite food market in Seoul!

  • Tteokbokki (Rice cakes in a spicy sauce)
  • Gun Goguma (Roasted sweet potatoes)
  • Mandu (Korean dumplings)
  • Gamja-Hotdog (Korean-style corn dog covered with potato)
  • Dakgangjeong (Korean fried chicken with a sweet spicy coating – There’s vegan options too!)
  • Bindaetteok (Mung bean pancakes)

Check out our Vegan in South Korea Guide – Best Restaurants & Snacks (2024) !

Street Markets in Busan

9. Hike in Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park is one of the most impressive hiking spots in South Korea. Sokcho (the city nearby) is only a bus ride away from Seoul and has accommodations to stay in for anyone who wants to spend a day or more in the park.

Hiking Seoraksan ( Snow Rock Mountain ) should be on your things to do in South Korea if you love hiking! Challenge yourself to reach Ulsanbawi – a six-peak formation with gorgeous views of the mountains. It takes around four hours one way or there’s actually a cable car going a similar way.

10. Wander around Insadong

Seoul is a destination that must be on your South Korea bucket list and one of the best things to do in South Korea is to wander around the beautiful streets of Insadong.

Insadong is home to many independent restaurants, cafes and boutique shops – it’s a lovely place to spend a morning or afternoon in South Korea. It also has a few of our favourite places to eat! Plan your Seoul trip here –  5 Day Seoul Itinerary travel guide !

Exploring Insadong - Seoul

11. Hike to the top of Seoul Tower

Next up on your South Korea bucket list is hiking in Namsan Park (Seoul Tower). Don’t worry, it’s not as long as the hikes in Seoraksan National Park and it’s right in the heart of Seoul. It’s actually possible to get a bus up to the top and the base of the tower.

The views are incredible from the park and one of our favourite things to do in South Korea. You can also go o the top of the tower for a better view of the city. Tickets are really affordable on Klook – so make sure you  buy your ticket in advance!

Views from Namsan Park - South Korea Bucket List

12. Go to a K-Pop concert

K-pop is very popular in South Korea and people also love it around the world! For some fans, it’s the main reason they visit South Korea! K-pop is short for Korean popular music and is a big part of South Korean culture. Check tickets on InterPark or search the web! It’s such a South Korea bucket list moment to be able to watch K-pop live in the same country it originated from!

13. Try bibimbap

Bibimbap is a big part of Korean cuisine and it’s easily customizable for anyone which means it’s great for vegetarians in South Korea. Bibim means mixing rice and bap refers to the rice.

The Korean dish is usually topped with kimchi, gochujang, vegetables or protein and mixed up before being eaten. It’s one of the tastiest and most nutritious dishes in South Korea and originated in Jeonju!

Browse our guide on 25+ Best South Korea Travel Tips before your trip!

Eating Bibimbap at Osegye Hyang

14. Explore Jeju Island

Jeju Island has to be on your South Korea bucket list, unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit the island on our South Korea trip and are definitely planning a visit there next time!

The island is known for its stunning nature, waterfalls, the highest mountain in South Korea and lovely beaches. It’s a popular getaway for Koreans to escape the business of cities on the mainland. The country isn’t short on things to do in South Korea to spend your days!

15. Stay in a Hanok in Jeonju

Jeonju Hanok Village is home to over 700 Hanok homes that are still being used to this day. Some are people’s homes and others have been turned into accommodations for guests. Staying in a hanok is one of the best things to do in South Korea!

We highly recommend staying in the accommodation Jungdam ( Find here on Booking.com ) – right in the heart of the traditional Korean village! In hanoks, the sleeping set-up is Korean Style (on the floor!)

Best things to do in South Korea - Hanok Stay

16. Try out Noraebang (Karaoke)

Noraebang is the Korean name for Karaoke (which is Japanese ). South Koreans love Noraebang and you’ll find plenty of Noraebang rooms in cities around the country. Most noraebang will rent a room by the hour to sing your heart out! It’s common to see clips from older K-dramas in the rooms too, so it’s a fun experience!

17. Shop in Hongdae

You can’t take a trip to Seoul without visiting the vibrant and trendy neighbourhood of Hongdae. Visit one of the many cafes in the area to join in with the popular cafe culture in South Korea. Hongdae is also a great place for nightlife and amazing street performers! Add this to your bucket list in South Korea!

Hongdae  is one of the hip and trendy areas of Seoul, with many shops, restaurants and themed cafes. It’s also a great spot for nightlife alongside Itaewon. Street performers

Hongdae - Seoul, South Korea

18. Take a trip to Nami Island

Nami Island is a popular day trip from Seoul and one of the best things to do in South Korea in any season but especially in the Fall. The trees and foilage come alive in peak season and it’s a cosy place to visit!

From Seoul catch a train to Gapyeong Station, then a bus and from there it’s a 10-minute ferry over to the island! You can even take a zip wire onto the island! Nami island is also known as the final resting place of General Nami who was part of the Joseon Dynasty and a filming location for K-dramas such as Secret Garden and My Love from the Star.

The best way to get to Nami Island is to book a tour with Klook , prices are usually discounted and you can choose what activities to do. A Nami Island day trip is also included in the Klook Seoul Pass !

19. Gamcheon Culture Village

Visiting Gamcheon Culture Village is another one of the most interesting things to do in South Korea and a must when visiting Busan! The village has come a long way since the Korean war when it was populated by poor residents of Busan.

The Tourism board of South Korea chose to bring the village to life with art and creativity in the hope to attract visitors. It soon became a beautiful attraction with cute cafes and trendy shops and now it’s a spot to add to your South Korea bucket list!

We also have an in-depth 3-Day Busan Itinerary if you’re planning a visit!

Best things to do in South Korea - Gamcheon Culture Village Busan

20. Learn about history at the National Museum of Korea

Lastly on this South Korea bucket list, is to take a visit to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul – the largest museum in South Korea ! There is a collection of more than 310,000 historic artefacts dating back thousands of years.

The museum is easy to reach by Seoul’s public transport. It’s also free to enter this museum, so it’s perfect if you’re looking for things to do in South Korea!

Jeonju Hanok Village - South Korea things to do

So that’s our 20 best things to do in South Korea bucket list – it’s definitely not all the best things to do in the country, but now you can add to this to create your perfect trip. Here are a few more suggestions for you!

Best things to do in South Korea (Weather)

December – February ( Winter ) – Go skiing or snowboarding! If you’re visiting South Korea in the winter, it’s the best time to hit the slopes or have fun in the snow! Build a snowman, create a snow angel or go on a winter hike. The winter is pretty cold in South Korea, but it’s definitely worth a visit to see the country magically covered in snow!

March – May ( Spring ) – Once the snow has melted away and nature starts brightening up again, South Korea is covered in beautiful cherry blossoms. Japan is well known for the Sakura season all over the world, but South Korea gets the same lovely blossoms. Visit in Spring to be a part of the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival!

June – August ( Summer ) – This season is pretty different to European summers. South Korea experiences typhoons and the rainy season in the summer months. It’s usually hot and humid with lots of rain, although there will be sunny days too! We visited in early June and it was getting hot but no rain.

September – November ( Fall ) – Another beautiful season to visit South Korea – the foilage in October is absolutely beautiful and should be a season on your South Korea bucket list. Spring and Fall may be the best seasons to come to Korea.

Hiking in South Korea - summer season!

What to pack for South Korea?

Depending on the weather, you’ll want to pack the clothes you usually wear, plus a good pair of footwear! We wear trainers everywhere (even when wearing hanbok oops!) and it’s definitely needed in the cities or on short hikes. Here are a few travel essentials we always carry:

  • Stainless Steel Water Bottle  – A refillable bottle is a must when tap water is free & accessible in South Korea!
  • Amazon Basics Packing Cubes  – We can’t pack our bags without using packing cubes!
  • Rain Mac in a Bag  – Essential for unpredictable rainfall when it’s warm in Korea!
  • Anker Power Bank  – Keep your phone charged by carrying around a power bank for your trip!
  • Worldwide Travel Adaptor  – The best for visiting multiple countries!
  • Joby GorillaPod 3K Pro Kit  – The perfect lightweight tripod to take anywhere in South Korea! We love our  Joby GorillaPod  and use it for our  Sony A600 . There’s also a version for a phone –  Joby Phone Tripod .

Where to stay in South Korea?

  • Seoul – Hostel Tommy – Find here on Booking.com !
  • Busan – Dynamic Guesthouse – Find here on Booking.com !
  • Gyeongju – Doobaki Guesthouse –  Find here on Booking.com !
  • Jeonju – Jungdam –  Find here on Booking.com !

Gyeongbukgung - Best Things to do in South Korea

Festivals in South Korea

Boryeong Mud Festival – A celebration of water, coolness & covering the body in mud – summer

Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival – A festival to celebrate cherry blossoms – spring

Busan International Film Festival – A movie festival in Busan – fall

Lotus Lantern Festival – A celebration & Buddha’s birthday festival – spring

The Seoul Lantern Festival – A celebration of Korean culture – fall

Boseong Green Tea Festival – To celebrate South Korea’s biggest tea plantation – spring

SafetyWing Nomad Insurance

Don’t forget Travel Insurance! SafetyWing is a totally flexible monthly-rolling travel insurance to help you stay safe on your trip anywhere in the world. You don’t have to be in your home country to start it and you can add months to your trip whenever you need to! Find out more here!

More  South Korea  guides:

Ultimate 2 week South Korea Itinerary: Best Places (2024)

  • 5 Day Seoul Itinerary – Best Things To Do (2024)
  • Staying in Golgulsa Temple: The Best Templestay in Korea (2024)
  • 3 day Busan Itinerary: What to do in Busan (2024)
  • 11 Best Things to do in Gyeongju: Itinerary (2024)
  • 25+ Best South Korea Travel Tips: What to Know
  • Vegan in South Korea Guide – Best Restaurants & Snacks (2024)
  • 10 Best South Korea Budget Tips + Travel Costs (2024) !
  • All our  South Korea  posts!

That’s the end of our  Ultimate South Korea Bucket List: 20 Best Things To Do!  Have an amazing time in South Korea and if you need any more help planning – send us a message on Instagram (@thesunrisedreamers) or leave a comment below!

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Amy & Dan are the founders of The Sunrise Dreamers. They are travellers from the UK who have been on the road since 2017 whilst living in places like England, Canada, Thailand and the Canary Islands. They share their knowledge of travelling the world with detailed travel guides and tips. They're experts in vegan travel and show their audience how to travel on a budget.

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19 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in South Korea

Written by Freddy Sherman Updated Mar 20, 2023 We may earn a commission from affiliate links ( )

Author Freddy Sherman has traveled to South Korea multiple times, including a recent trip to Seoul in late 2022.

South Korea offers everything a traveler could want in a destination. It has a long and fascinating history, a wonderful culture, amazing food, friendly people, and an excellent tourism infrastructure (including a new high-speed rail system).

It's also a country of contrasts, with tourist attractions ranging from ancient mountaintop Buddhist temples like Bulguksa to the ultra-modern skyscrapers of Seoul, like the Lotte World Tower.

It also has one of the most unique attractions in the world that can be visited: a no man's land, part of a military border between two countries technically still at war (the DMZ). Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in South Korea.

1. Experience Korean History at Changdeokgung Palace

2. explore beaches and history in busan, 3. visit jeonju, the former spiritual capital of korea, 4. view seoul from above at the n seoul tower, 5. see how people lived 600 years ago at the bukchon hanok village, 6. hike in the mountains at seoraksan national park, 7. look into north korea at the dmz, 8. check out korean art, history, and archeology at the national museum of korea, 9. have fun at korea's largest amusement park, lotte world, 10. gyeongbokgung palace, 11. ride the cable car at hallyeo maritime national park, 12. bulguksa temple, 13. visit the blue house, south korea's white house, 14. enjoy a beach getaway on jeju island, 15. walk through seoul's restored gwanghwamun gate, 16. stay overnight at jingwansa temple, 17. spend a night out in itaewon, 18. enjoy a meal in one of seoul's street food markets, 19. admire cherry blossoms at the jinhae cherry blossom festival, map of tourist attractions in south korea.

Changdeokgung Palace

Of the five grand palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty in the 15 th century around Seoul, Changdeokgung Palace was always the preferred royal residence. It's where the king and royal family lived their daily lives.

The palace isn't just a single building, it's a complex of buildings, and each served a different purpose. Some are accommodations; some are libraries, dining rooms, and meeting rooms, among other uses. Be sure to spend some time in the 78-acre Huwon, or palace garden, located behind the palace. It's filled with pathways, green spaces, pagodas, streams, and lakes.

Address: 99 Yulgok-ro, Waryong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Seoul

The hillside village of Gamecheon in Busan

Did you know you can hit the beach in Korea? Busan is the second largest city in the country, and its coast is lined with some beautiful beaches and resorts. There's a lot of culture and history here, too. Be sure to visit the Beomeosa Temple and the hillside village of Gamecheon . Gamecheon is a European-style village on the cliffs above the sea, like Korea's version of Santorini.

Seafood lovers should be sure to visit Jagalchi Market , the country's largest commercial seafood market. Part of the market is open to consumers, and there are many small restaurants that will cook up your purchase, so you can eat it right here.

Getting to Busan is easy, it takes a little more than two hours from Seoul on Korea's KTX high-speed bullet train.

Traditional house with storage pots in Jeonju

Jeonju is a very historic city, once the spiritual capital of the Joseon Dynasty, it's about 90 minutes by train from Seoul. It's home to many ancient temples and shrines along with a hanok village. These are found throughout Korea. They are preserved neighborhoods of ancient and old homes (hanoks), allowing visitors to get a feel for what life was like in ancient Korea.

Some of the homes in the hanok villages are open for tours, and others have been made into museums (and restaurants and lodging, too), but most remain private homes.

N Seoul Tower

Yes, everyone visiting Seoul should go up in the city's iconic observation tower. Its position almost on top of a mountain, plus the height of the tower itself, gets you almost 500 meters above sea level and the city below.

But, leave some time to explore the surrounding mountain area. The tower is near the top of Mount Namsan, and the entire area is Namsan Park, which is run by the city. There are miles of hiking trails to explore, all within a few minutes of downtown Seoul.

The top levels of the N Seoul Tower include indoor and outdoor observation areas and restaurants. The exterior of the tower is covered in LED lighting, which is illuminated each night in seasonal light shows.

There's a cable car that takes you from the city (near Myeongdong) to the tower's base area. You can then hike from here. After climbing the mountain and riding on the cable car, leave time to explore the Namsan Hanok Village . These preserved historic villages, which are located all over Seoul and Korea, are re-creations of ancient Korean neighborhoods. This village includes five restored hanoks or traditional Korean homes.

Address: 105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Bukchon Hanok Village at sunset

Hanok villages, which can be found in a few places in Seoul and around Korea, are living museums. They're restored and preserved ancient neighborhoods, some in their original location (like Bukchon) and some re-created with hanoks (traditional Korean homes) moved from elsewhere. They give visitors an opportunity to not only experience what it was like to live in a hanok, but also what it was like to live in Korea 600 years ago.

You can experience the tiny, narrow streets and also explore Korean culture, as many of the hanoks are museums or offer cultural demonstrations. Many are private homes, and some offer accommodations. That's what makes these village areas so special; they are true living history because many of the homes are privately owned and occupied by real local residents.

Bukchon Hanok Village is a popular place to explore, as it's right in central Seoul, in the area between the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Changdeokgung Palace .

Seoraksan National Park

Like the Yosemite of Korea, this majestic natural wonderland (Korea's first national park) has mountains, lakes, waterfalls, streams, and miles of hiking trails that allow you to explore them.

This park is known for its natural diversity, as it has over 1,500 different animal species and over 1,000 different kinds of plants. There are also two Buddhist temples inside the park, one known as the " Temple of a Hundred Pools " due to all the ponds around it fed by mountain streams.

When you get tired of walking, there's a cable car that will take you up Seoraksan Mountain for some incredible views of the mountains and valleys. It takes about four hours by bus or three hours by car to reach the park from Seoul.

Soldiers at the DMZ

DMZ stands for demilitarized zone, and it's the no-man's land border between North and South Korea. Heavily guarded and mined, this strange area can be visited, but only on an official, guided tour. The official area is about four kilometers wide and is formally known as the JSA or Joint Security Area. It's probably the best place to visit in South Korea to learn about this conflict.

The No Shopping Half-Day Korean DMZ Tour from Seoul includes round-trip transportation from Seoul. Official DMZ tours include a visit to the 3rd Tunnel, dug by the North to facilitate an invasion of the South, and to the Dora Observatory, where you can look across no-man's-land into North Korea.

National Museum of Korea

As a world capital, Seoul is filled with a lot of museums. The largest is the National Museum of Korea , and like the Met in New York, it's a place that really can't be explored in a single visit. The vast collection combines art, history, and archeology, presented to show the history of Korean culture and tell the story of the Korean people.

It's also an excellent attraction to see if you only have limited time in Seoul. The collection is beyond vast, as it goes back over a million years. It's fascinating, especially for families and kids as there's such a wide range of objects. Everything from Stone Age tools to modern artwork by Korean artists.

Address: 137 Seobinggo-ro, Seobinggo-dong, Yongsan-gu

Lotte World, Seoul

There's an amusement park right in the middle of downtown Seoul. It's a fun place to spend the day and a chance to immerse yourself in real Korean commercial culture. Lotte World includes a hotel, movie theaters (one with the world's largest screen), a folk museum with traditional performances, and other things to do like ice skating.

This theme park is at the base of the Lotte World Tower, the tallest building in South Korea and the fifth tallest building in the world. The tower has multiple observation areas and experiences, its own luxury hotel (the SIGNIEL SEOUL ), and a range of shopping and dining options inside.

A visit is fun for both kids and adults, and aside from the rides and attractions there's a lot of shopping and also artists' workshops and cultural performances to watch. There's the world's largest indoor theme park and an outdoor theme park area called Magic Island .

For a bigger, outdoor theme park experience, Everland is about 45 minutes outside Seoul and is Korea's version of Disneyland.

Address: Songpa-gu, Jamsil 6(yuk)-dong, Olympic-ro, 300, Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace with cherry blossoms

Also known as the Northern Palace, the large Gyeongbokgung Palace complex has gone through some incredible turmoil over the years. It was first built in 1395 during the Joseon dynasty, which built five grand palaces around Seoul. The palace has been bombed, destroyed, and rebuilt several times, occupied by the Japanese (first in 1592), and only finally restored in 1990.

Be sure to check out Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and Hyangwonjeong Pond , two of the remaining original structures from the Joseon period.

The palace compound can be explored on a guided walking tour . There are also two museums inside the grounds (the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Museum ), both worth a visit.

Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Hallyeo Maritime National Park

The ruggedly beautiful Hallyeo Maritime National Park includes miles of raw coastline on over 300 separate islands. Each has hiking trails with spectacular ocean and cliff views. The area also features a cable car, known as the Hallyeosudo Viewing Ropeway . It's the only dual-cable, automatic circulating gondola system in the country.

The ride is almost 2.4 kilometers long and takes nine minutes to reach the summit. You're rewarded with sweeping views of the countryside and coastline, including the Japanese island of Daemado. The park is about an hour by bus or car from downtown Seoul.

Bulguksa Temple

One of Korea's true must-see Buddhist temples, Bulguksa Temple is considered by many to be the country's most important. It's officially Historic and Scenic Site Number One as classified by the government. The temple is home to seven of the country's national treasures, sacred pagodas, and statues of the Buddha.

The temple is on the slopes of Mount Toham in Gyeongju, the ancient capital city of Korea. It's a city so historic, it's called a "museum without walls" due to all the historic sites and temples. Gyeongju is about two and a half hours from Seoul via the new KTX high-speed train.

Address: 15-1 Jinhyeon-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do

The Blue House

Named for the striking blue-tile roofs of its many pavilions and buildings, the Blue House, much like the White House, is the home of the Korean president. The very secure complex of buildings also houses many Korean executive government offices and official meeting sites. It's an interesting place to visit, as it gives you a behind-the-scenes look at modern Korean government and Korean formal culture.

A lot of what you see on the guided sightseeing tour are meeting rooms and official state reception rooms where foreign dignitaries are welcomed. Hour-long public tours are given, but you need to apply online in advance for a security check.

Address: 1 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Jusangjeolli Cliff, Jeju Island

A very popular resort destination (think the Hawaii of Korea), this volcanic island is best reached via a quick hour-long domestic flight from Seoul. The island boasts beautiful beaches along with a lot of culture and history.

The highest mountain in South Korea (a dormant volcano called Hallasan) is here along with miles of giant lava tubes. The lava tubes, which can be explored, are natural air pockets in the hardened lava, the size of railway tunnels.

Be sure to visit Jungmun Beach to see the diving women. These are women who free dive hundreds of feet to catch different types of seafood. This tradition started centuries ago, when the local men were all out on fishing boats. The island also has hundreds of miles of hiking trails and a lot of hot springs and health spas.

Gwanghwamun Gate

This attraction is a giant gate, formerly the opening in the fortress wall to the Gyeongbokgung Palace located within. It was originally built with the palace in the 15 th century but has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Most recently in 2010, it was moved back to its original location in front of the palace and Gwanghwamun Square and restored with authentic materials using traditional techniques.

The previous restoration included concrete and other non-traditional construction techniques, but the new gate has been completely constructed with ancient techniques, using only native woods and handmade fittings.

Gwanghwamun Gate is home to the changing of the guards ceremony (performed since 1469), which happens daily (except Tuesdays) at 10am and 2pm. The area in front of the gate, Gwanghwamun Square, is a large public space often used for political and social demonstrations.

Sunset at Bukhansan National Park

This ancient temple complex about 15 minutes from downtown Seoul offers both an authentic Buddhist temple experience (including a temple stay program) and a beautiful national park. The temple, which was first established at the site in 1,000 BCE, has several programs for visitors to learn about and experience Buddhism and the monk lifestyle.

The temple is a must-visit attraction for foodies, as they grow most of their own food on-site. The temple also prepares its own Korean specialties, like pickling kimchi in ancient, giant pottery jars. Jingwansa offers meals to the public (and extended overnight stays) and educational programs that show the sustainability of the ancient temple operation.

You can do a temple stay program, which includes an overnight visit, or just come for a meal (vegetarian) or to explore the buildings and shrines. You can also visit the area just to explore Bukhansan National Park , as the temple is inside it. There are miles of hiking trails and three peaks, which can be climbed. Aside from the mountains and forests and their spectacular scenery, there are also ruins of an ancient fortress along the hiking trails.

Address: 73 Jingwan-gil, Jingwan-dong, Eunpyeong-gu, Seoul

Itaewon at night

Yes, it's a touristy, ex-pat area filled with gift shops and street food, but the Itaewon neighborhood is a great place to just spend an afternoon wandering around. It's especially fun in the early evening, when residents also come out to grab dinner and people-watch. There's an energy here that defines the cosmopolitan city, and it's also a popular strolling spot for locals. You'll see a lot of Korean families, kids, and couples enjoying the shops and restaurants.

For those in search of authentic Korean food, this is not the place to come, but it is the place to come for international foods not widely available in Seoul. Things like Italian food, pizza, burgers, and American-style western barbecue.

Street food in Seoul

As one of the world's great food cultures, no visit to Korea is complete without enjoying some street food. The Gwangjang Market, in Central Seoul , is truly a foodie heaven on earth. The large covered market area is filled with multiple food stalls offering a complete array of Korean specialties. It's definitely one of the best places to visit in Seoul if you're hungry.

The cool thing about this market and most food markets in Seoul is that the majority of these food stalls are like little mini restaurants in that they have a row of stools and a counter, so you can sit and eat. It's also cool that most stands will offer you a free sample.

Stalls typically offer bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), bibimbap (rice mixed with sauteed beef, vegetables, and gochujang red chili paste), gimbap (Korean sushi), sundae (blood sausage), tteokbokki (stir-fried spicy rice cakes), and various types of noodles.

Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival

Boasting almost 400,000 cherry trees, some over 100 years old, Jinhae is the best place in Korea to enjoy cherry trees blossoming with flowers each spring. This small town, located along South Korea's southern coast, hosts the country's most popular annual cherry blossom festival. Over a million visitors a year come to Jinhae just to see the cherry blossoms.

Formally known as Gunhangjae (Naval Port Festival), the Jinhae cherry blossom festival takes place in late March or early April, depending on when the trees are in flower. Head to Yeojwacheon stream and Jinhae's Gyeonghwa train station for some of the best blossom viewing. You can also enjoy the festival's food markets, public art installations, and live performances.

Getting from Seoul to Jinhae is easy via South Korea's high-speed ATX train — the journey takes just under three hours.

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  • South Korea
  • 15 Reasons Why You Should...

Reasons Why You Should Visit South Korea at Least Once in Your Lifetime

which country would you like to visit korea

While South Korea might not yet be the number one travel destination for many around the world, there are plentiful reasons why you should visit the country of the morning calm on your next vacation. From history to culture and food to religion, take a look at our guide to the top reasons why you should visit South Korea at least once in your lifetime.

Did you know you can now travel with Culture Trip? Book now and join one of our premium small-group tours to discover the world like never before.

Sing karaoke in Seoul, go hiking in Seoraksan National Park and eat bibimbap in Jeonju on our 10-day small-group trip to South Korea .

Pulsating culture

Due to their long history, South Koreans have a variety of traditions they have kept alive throughout centuries. Still today, you can watch traditional Korean dance and music performances, while people love to dress in traditional clothes ( hanbok ) – you can rent it to wear around Seoul and Jeonju, for example. Even in modern Seoul, you can still find traditional hanok house neighborhoods with lovely teahouses that have been in existence for decades. This mix of old and new is truly fun to explore when traveling in South Korea.

Rich History

The history of South Korea is long and dating back over a thousand years. Due to the natural isolation of the Korean Peninsula, the country’s culture hasn’t changed as much as in other regions. Still today, you can stand in awe of some of the most significant cultural heritage sites of the country, such as Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main palace situated in Seoul. The city of Gyeongju is also a place of historic value and is often called a ‘museum without walls’. Gyeongju was the capital of Korea during the Silla Dynasty from 57 BC – 935 AD and is home to countless royal tombs, palaces, and temples that are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Year-round Festivals

When you are for the first time in South Korea, make sure you visit a festival. Every year, there are more festivals in South Korea than one could attend, with a couple of main festivities everyone likes to join in with. When the snow melts and the weather gets warmer, pink and white cherry blossoms transform South Korea into a magical wonderland for a short period at the beginning of spring, and thousands of people come to see the blossoms from all over the country. Buddha’s Birthday is another major holiday celebrated in May with lantern parades and performances at local temples, while in fall, Koreans celebrate their own version of Thanksgiving during Chuseok and honor their ancestors during proudly conducted ceremonies. In fact, there are festivals in every month of the year for every taste.

Futuristic Modernity

The modern face of South Korea I

In contrast to its historic landmarks, South Korea is a pioneer in creating new and innovative structures. Looking at Seoul, for example, you are surrounded by futuristic buildings in one part of the city, such as the Dongdaemun Design Plaza by Zaha Hadid, while traditional hanok neighborhoods lie just around the corner. Earlier this year, Seoul proudly opened the world’s fifth largest skyscraper piercing majestically out of the ground overlooking the Han River. It comes with little surprise that some of the world’s leading companies are also located here, including Samsung, Hyundai and Kia.

Exciting Food

Koreans are very proud of their unique cuisine. This is another result of the country’s natural isolation and climate leading to particular food preparation methods. Take kimchi , for example, the country’s number one side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables that are kept in jars for months, one of many practices used to protect food during harsh winters. Over the centuries, Koreans have created a fascinating and rich food culture made up of meat dishes, stews, soups, noodle dishes, seafood and many vegetable side dishes. Visit South Korea and you should spend an entire day roaming street markets sampling your way through this concert of flavors.

Quiet Countryside

As South Korea is not yet a worldwide popular vacation destination like its neighbors China and Japan, you will find untouched rural areas giving insight into traditional Korean lifestyle. While around 20% of all South Koreans live in and near Seoul, it’s especially the small rural villages where you can find peace and quiet. The well-connected railway and express bus systems make it easy to also explore the less visited areas of the country. You’ll be surprised that you can find lush rice terraces and hidden temples right here in South Korea.

Buddhist Nun Performing Tea Ceremony

You can find even more tranquility and inner peace when joining a one- or two-day templestay program, which allows you to spend some time living like Buddhist monks in temples across Korea. While the Korean templestay program might not be as heard of around the world, it’s a well-established organization offering English-speaking programs to anyone around the country. Whether you want to experience a templestay in downtown Seoul or in rural South Korea on top of a mountain, the options are endless and the results are incredibly rewarding.

Vibrant cities

While Seoul is arguably the most thrilling city in South Korea, it’s not the only large city that’s worth a visit. Despite its small size, South Korea has plenty of exciting cities from north to south. Busan in the very south, for example, is the country’s second largest city and located on a beautiful coastline with sandy beaches and clear ocean water. Jeonju in the west of the country is one of the last places featuring a traditional old town with Korean hanok houses and a beautiful destination in spring and fall. Each of Korea’s nine provinces has its own local cuisine and attractions that are worth exploring.

K-pop Culture

BTS

South Korea is world-famous for its exciting music culture. K-pop is not only a music genre, it’s part of Korean culture that captures people all over Asia and the world. Walking down main pedestrian streets in South Korea, you will hear the latest hits of the industry. K-pop fans visit South Korea in waves and visit their favorite group’s or singer’s music label, get a K-pop makeover or visit K-pop-themed cafés. If you’re not yet into Korean music, we guarantee you that after you visit South Korea, you will be.

Korean Trendsetters

Shoppers in Korea

K-pop and Korean fashion go almost hand in hand. However, in recent years, South Korea has not only become known for coming up with quirky outfits for their boy and girl groups but also setting global trends in regular fashion. Seoul Fashion Week, for example, is becoming more and more visited by international designers and fashion labels who visit fashion shows to import Korean fashion lines to their home countries in Europe, America, Africa and all over Asia. Visiting Seoul, visitors will also notice that South Koreans, in general, are very fashionable and love to experiment and show off their hot streetwear on the streets of Seoul. Visit Dongdaemun, Gangnam or Myeongdong to get your own sets of Korean outfits to take home with you.

Make-up and Skincare

Ever wonder why Korean women (and men!) have flawless and stunningly beautiful skin? Koreans see taking care of their skin as an essential part of their daily lives and they spend more money on skincare and beauty than anywhere else in the world. Many Koreans even have a ten-step morning and night routine they strictly follow day after day to maintain their beautiful skin. It’s therefore no wonder that South Korea is home to countless skincare and make-up brands offering the most innovative and futuristic products on the global market. If that’s not a great reason to come to Korea, then we don’t know what is!

Quirky Entertainment Options

Entertainment is very important to South Koreans and they come up with new ways to keep themselves amused almost every month. We have all heard of the quirky themed cafés all over Seoul that offer visitors the chance to pet cats or dogs, play with racoons, cuddle with meerkats and engage with all kinds of other animals. There are also themed cafés that allow you to dress up as a princess and take pictures or eat food shaped like poop. Karaoke rooms have also been part of Korean entertainment for decades and are popular among all age groups. PC rooms are also well-visited, usually by a younger crowd, who compete in a variety of online games with people from all over the world – so much so that South Korea has become a leading force in global e-sports.

Stunning Coastline and Beaches

Due to South Korea being a peninsula, the country offers miles and miles of beautiful coast and stunning beaches. Korea also has a lot of beautiful islands, the most popular and largest one being Jeju Island. Jeju Island is one of Korea’s most visited destinations thanks to its exceptional natural wonders and breathtaking beaches. Another beautiful beach and coastal region is Jeollado in the west of the country. Moreover, the eastern coast is famous for beautiful sunrises, the earliest in the country.

Picturesque Mountain Ranges

South Korean attractions include beautiful national parks. Despite its small size, South Korea is home to 22 national parks with countless mountains. The island of Jeju has the highest peak in South Korea, the shield volcano Hallasan. Another popular hiking area is Seoraksan, the third tallest mountain in the country at 1,708 meters (5,603 feet). You can hike around this national park on Culture Trip’s 10-day adventure around South Korea . It’s exactly this combination of mountains and coast that make South Korea such a thrilling destination.

Four Amazing Seasons

Due to South Korea’s location in East Asia, the country is blessed with changing seasons. This makes Korea an exciting place to travel and live. No matter when you travel to Korea, you’ll be surprised with breathtaking seasonal changes in nature, such as cherry blossoms in the spring, flower fields in the summer, colorful foliage in the fall and a white wonderland in the winter. Besides the changing weather, each season also has special festivals and also dishes, such as the Taebaeksan Snow Festival in winter and cold noodles in summer.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips , led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

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Complete Guide for Planning Your First Trip to Seoul, South Korea

Bukchon Hanok Village looking towards Seoul Tower

Seoul, South Korea is a complex city. It's full of history and culture both new and old. From the complicated dynamics between the two Koreas to the super modern youth compared to the traditional older folks, Korea is full of experiences and opportunities to be had. When we hopped on a place to Korea back in October 2022, we knew enough about Korea to be really really excited to finally visit this country, but we were also pretty unsure what that to expect. Personally, the mystery is half the fun to me! I love being surprised by a destination and approaching with little to no preconceived thoughts or ideas.

While Korea is a safe, modern, and friendly country to visit, you'll want to go prepared, especially if you've never been to Asia before. If you're traveling from the USA or another western country, Korean is the perfect Asian country to visit. It clearly had lots of western influence as it rebuilt after the Korean War, so it's familiar but also completely foreign. It's hard to explain, but if you're nervous about this big leap across the Pacific Ocean, just go in knowing that you'lre going to be FINE and you're going to have so much fun! The people are kind, the city is clean, and no matter what happens, you're never far from wi-fi and a kind person to help you find your way again.

To help you prepare for your trip to Seoul, South Korea, here is everything we recommend knowing before hopping on that plane.

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Where is seoul, what is seoul best known for, is it safe to visit korea, is seoul, korea expensive, best time of year to visit seoul, how to get to seoul, do i need a visa to visit korea, money in korea, cell phone service and wifi in korea, where to stay in seoul, transportation in korea, navigation in korea, what to pack for korea.

Seoul is a part of the Asian nation of Korea and is located in the northern part of the South Korean peninsula. While it's a relatively small country by landmass, its population of the city of Seoul is quite large. Seoul, the capital city of South Korea and its largest metropolis, is surrounded by mountains and has a population of over 10 million people. This vibrant city offers visitors an endless array of things to do – from exploring traditional markets to sampling delicious street food.

View of Seoul skyline at sunset

Seoul is best known for its culture, art, food and nightlife. From traditional palaces to cutting-edge museums, Seoul has something for everyone. Seoul's most popular attractions include the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul City Wall and Bukchon Hanok Village – all of which feature an abundance of cultural architecture to explore.  Seoul's traditional markets, such as Namdaemun and Insadong, offer an exciting way to experience Seoul's unique culture. Seoul is also renowned for its delicious street food, with some of the most popular dishes including kimchi, bibimbap and Seoul-style fried chicken. Lastly, Seoul has a vibrant nightlife, featuring a wide array of bars and clubs to explore.

Girl spinning in yellow hanbok at palace in Seoul, Korea

Seoul is generally a safe place to visit. As with any large city, it's important to exercise caution when exploring Seoul by being aware of your surroundings and keeping valuables close. We spent three weeks in Seoul and never once felt unsafe. I don't want to give a false impression that nothing bad will happen. We were just very cautious in avoiding bad neighborhoods and we always stuck together. When we traveled to neighborhoods we didn't know anything about, we opted for a taxi instead of the subway so we wouldn't stumble into a bad area.

Like with any new place you travel to, exercise caution, trust your gut, and when in doubt, ask the locals for their advice.

Korea War Museum at sunset

Seoul is a relatively affordable city to visit, even for budget travelers. The cost of living in Seoul is slightly lower than other large cities like London and New York City, with basic items like bread and milk being much cheaper than most big cities. Accommodation in Seoul ranges from cheap guesthouses to luxury hotels depending on your budget. Public transportation is also very affordable, with most trips costing less than $2.

A lot of tourists visit Korea expecting it to be incredibly affordable like nearby Thailand and Vietnam, but it definitely is not. I'd say Seoul is in line with most midsize cities in the USA, with the small towns and villages in South Korea being much less expensive.

When we visited Seoul the dollar was fluctuating significantly and the Korean won was down by about 25%. Because of this, our grasp on how expensive Korea is is slightly more skewed than what you might experience. To check your home country's current currency conversion, checkout Google free calculator HERE .

Seoul is a great place to visit all year round, and depending on your interests, different seasons offer different experiences. Seoul has four distinct seasons – spring (March - May), summer (June - August), autumn (September - November) and winter (December – February).

Spring in Seoul is mild with temperatures ranging from 50-68 Fahrenheit (10-20 Celsius). Seoul in the spring is a great time of year to visit as the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and many outdoor festivals take place throughout the city.

Summer in Seoul is hot and humid with temperatures reaching up to 90 Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) at times. If you're interested in exploring Seoul's parks and outdoor attractions, as well as Seoul's famous beaches and islands, summer might be the perfect time to visit.

Autumn in Seoul is mild with temperatures ranging from 45-68 Fahrenheit (8-20 Celsius). Seoul in the autumn can be a great time to visit due to its vibrant fall foliage, although the weather can get quite cold at night. We visit for the month of October and had perfect weather! It only rained two days and the temperatures were perfect for walking around during the day and required just a jacket and warm shoes at night.

Winter in Seoul can be bitterly cold with temperatures reaching below zero Celsius, but Seoul in the winter is also a great time to visit as many of Seoul's festivals, including the Seoul Lantern Festival and Winter Sonata Music Festival take place during this time. We were advised by the locals to avoid South Korea in the winter because the Siberian winds are brutally strong and cold when they come down from Russia.

No matter when you choose to visit Seoul, there is something for everyone!

Girl and dog walk down street in Bukchon Hanok Village

Korea is a peninsula with North Korea to the north and only the ocean to the south, so getting to South Korea you’ll need to fly. The only exception is if you’re traveling from Japan, then you’d have the option to take one of the ferries over. All of the ferries from Japan will stop in Busan, which is about a 4 hour train ride from Seoul. This would be a really fun way to travel if you have the time to visit both Japan and Korea in the same trip! We personally haven’t tried the ferry yet but really hope to next time we visit this region of the world. Because we can’t give first hand advice on how to make the journey, we recommend you check out this article for more information.

We flew Delta round trip from Nashville (BNA) which cost ~$1250 per person . The route included a short layover in Seattle both ways which was nice to break up the long haul flight. You can fly direct from the USA to Seoul (ICN) from several major cities including Detroit, Atlanta, New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, and more. Our long leg of the journey was from Seattle to Seoul which was about 12 ½ hours on the way there, and just under 10 hours on the way home. Not too bad! If you’re like us and like to break up long haul flights, Korea makes a really great stop on your way to other places in Asia. For example, we’d strongly consider visiting Korea again for an extended layover on our way to somewhere like Thailand or Singapore.

Something really important to note: Seoul’s main airport is actually in Incheon (ICN), a neighboring city to Seoul’s west. Most international flights will fly into Incheon (ICN), then you’ll either need to take the 1-1 ½ hour train ride into the city, or catch a taxi. There are plenty of taxis and Ubers going to and from the airport to the city, so don’t worry about being able to catch one! While we love using public transit when we travel, after a long travel day, we typically opt for the taxi or Uber since we’re usually jet lagged and hungry by then.

To answer this question, you'll need to know the passport you hold. Citizens from many countries and regions are able to enter South Korea without a visa for up to 90 days, but there are some exceptions. We recommend checking out the official Korean government website for more information about which passports require a visa, as well as all of the other details.

For us as Americans holding passports from the USA, we are not required to have a visa when traveling to Korea for less than 90 days. However, as of September 2021, all visitors from visa free countries must register their visit via K-ETA before arrival. The websites states that you'll receive your QR code/access to Korea within a few days, but as always, we recommend applying as soon as you know you're visiting to save yourself the headache. I applied just a few days before we departed and had my code within the hour. Super easy to get!

Seoul skyline with flowers at twilight

Korean currency

The Korean currency is called the won (KRW). Seoul and Korea in general is an inexpensive place to visit, but prices range depending on where you are. Seoul is definitely more expensive than other cities in South Korea, such as Busan or Daegu.

COVID definitely moved many businesses to being a more credit card friendly place to visit, but there are still a few places that require cash, and it's nice to have on hand to tip throughout your trip.

How to pay in Korea

Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Seoul, and most places accept Mastercard, Visa, American Express, etc. Money exchange is available at Seoul Airport (ICN) but not all airports in Korea so it's best to come prepared with some won in your pocket. It's always cheapest to convert money through your home bank a couple of weeks before your trip. We use Bank of America and we just go online to order our cash in whatever currency we need, then pick it up at the local branch.

Should you tip in Korea?

Tipping is not super common in Seoul, so it's not expected but always appreciated if you receive great service. If you do decide to tip, 5-10% of the total bill is appropriate. Just be aware that many restaurants add a 10% service charge to your bill already, so check before tipping extra!

We'd definitely recommend tipping guides if you participate in any sort of food, historical, or DMZ tour. These guides are often working for larger companies and many of the individuals are still recovering from COVID hitting Korea really hard.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

If you're visiting Seoul for a few days, you'll either want to purchase a SIM card upon arrival or bring your own unlocked phone with an international plan. I have a Google Fi plan which works well for me both at home in the USA and abroad. I had excellent service in Korea, so if you travel internationally a good bit, I'd highly recommend giving Google Fi a try.

For most though, renting a SIM card (or even an entire phone!) is the best option. You can reserve your SIM card before you even leave home and just pick it up at the airport. If you forget to reserve it ahead of time, no worries, you can still rent one in the airport, just for a slightly higher price. For more information regarding renting SIM cards in Korea, I'd recommend checking out this blogpost .

Public wifi is widely available all throughout Seoul including on the subways, many of the parks, and most restaurants. Korea is incredibly connected so you're never too far from wifi!

Seoul has a variety of accommodations for all budgets, from Airbnbs and hostels to luxury and budget hotels, to even staying in a traditional hanok house . You can find just about every type of accommodation in all the most popular neighborhoods (except for the hanoks which are best found in Bukchon). Instead of looking for a particular type of accommodation, I'd recommend figuring out which neighborhood you'll most enjoy staying in while you're in Seoul.

This neighborhood is close to many of the major attractions including palaces and the Bukchon Hanok Village. This neighborhood has plenty of shops and restaurants to explore, plus it's conveniently located close to multiple subway stops.

If you know the song "Gangnam Style," you know what to expect of Gangnam. It's fashionable, flashy, and expensive. This is the neighborhood we stayed in, but only because we booked late and it was the only hotel we could find in our budget that was dog friendly. Gangnam is incredibly safe, but you will likely pay more to stay here. Unless you're really into Korean fashion or are planning on having any K-beauty treatments performed while you're there, I'd recommend staying in one of the other neighborhoods with more charm. Gangnam definitely feels very new and western compared to other parts of the city.

This was our favorite neighborhood in Seoul! Lots of great restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and overall just a really fun, young environment. There's a large university in Hongdae which certainly has a heavy influence on the neighborhood. It's a young area, but in our 30s we didn't feel too out of place here. There were plenty people of all ages enjoying the little winding streets and city park, perfect for hanging with friends and grabbing a drink after dinner.

Myeongdong is another great neighborhood option if you want to be close to many of the most popular attractions in Seoul. It's situated right between the palaces and Namsan Tower . This neighborhood offers a lot of different hotel options, so if you're planning to stay in hotels instead of Airbnbs, this might be the best place to check.

Itaewon is very popular among expats, especially American expats given its close proximity to the American military base. The neighborhood is famous for its lively nightlife scene and shopping options. If this is your first time to Asia and nervous about feeling too out of sorts as an American, this might be a good option for you. There's still plenty of Korean charm in this neighborhood, but you will see plenty of other expats walking around. Personally, we like immersing ourselves in the culture, but we do have friends who prefer to ease their way into it. There's nothing wrong with that, whatever gets you out there and traveling. Do note that Itaewon is very hilly! If you plan to walk a lot but aren't too athletic or struggle with mobility, keep that in mind.

Men in red outfits playing traditional Korean instruments at Gyeongbokgung Palace

We most commonly rely on public transit and Uber when traveling, but taxis, buses, high speed rail, and car rentals are all an option, too. Do note that if you plan on renting a car in Korea, you need to get an International Drivers Permit before you leave home.

The subway system in Korea is incredibly clean, safe, and reliable. Oh, and it's very affordable too at just ~$1 per ride. We recommend using the Naver App to help you navigate the complex Subway system throughout Seoul.

Buses are another very affordable and reliable option for getting around Seoul, although we never actually took them. We found the subway to be faster and more direct everywhere we planned on going. The Naver App also works well for helping you navigate the bus system.

Ubers and taxis are both very affordable in Korea and are easily available everywhere in the city. Taxis accept American credit cards and, of course, you pay for Uber in the app. One thing to note though: Uber in Korea will show up as UT.

Car Rentals

You can rent a car in Korea so long as you have an International Driving Permit with you. We did not rent a car in Korea, but just glancing at the availability online, you can pick up rental cars at the airports and in most neighborhoods.

High Speed Rails

Korea has high speed rails which are very safe, efficient, and far faster than driving. If you plan on visiting places outside of Seoul, consider hopping on the high speed rail and check out other cities like Busan .

Chris, Sara, and Kramer in Seoul, Korea

While Google Maps works well in most of the world, Korea is not one of those places. They have their own apps for navigation, all of which work well. We highly recommend the Naver app because of its subway navigation help. The app easily guides you through the subway tunnels, tells you when to get on and off, and even what place to stand on the platform. The app is available for both iOS and Android .

Like with any place you travel to with fluctuating weather, packing layers is key. Sweaters and jackets are best so you can take them on and off as the weather warms and cools. If you're going to be in Seoul during the fall, winter, or spring, I'd recommend bringing gloves and a hat just in case you get some colder days. If you're like us, you'll be doing a lot of walking in Seoul so be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes for both cooler and warmer days.

Final thoughts

We absolutely loved our three weeks in Seoul. It's a massive, busy, complex, and interesting city. There's so much to see, do, and try any season of the year. If you have a piece of advice or information for other travelers to Seoul, Korea, be sure to drop it in the comments below!

Like this article? Be sure to checkout our other travel guides for South Korea!

  • 16 Must Try Foods in Korea
  • Renting a Hanbok and Visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace
  • Medical Tourism in Korea (SMILE / LASIK Eye Surgery)
  • Gwangjang Market - What to eat, when to go, and more

Complete Guide for Planning Your First Trip to Seoul, South Korea

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Travelling to South Korea? What Seems Underwhelming is Misunderstood

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Travelling to South Korea seemed underwhelming. Yet it’s misunderstood. Here’s how to see Korea and find the best of its tourism offering.

I had a multitude of reasons for going to South Korea. 

Korea is a split peninsula. After being in North Korea, I wanted to visit South Korea to understand their differences.

South Korea always seemed unknown, a country that people rarely extensively travel outside the capital of Seoul and the beach town of Busan. I wanted to travel further. 

South Korea is talked about in great detail by westerners who moved there. I wanted to see why.

South Korea remains a country marketed towards its regional neighbours who flock here because of the world-renowned K-Pop and K-Beauty. Only until the recent success of K Dramas like Parasite and Squid Game has South Korea been propelled further on the world stage. Pop culture is always a draw. 

Altogether, South Korea can be tricky to unravel, harder to travel and harder to understand. Here’s why. 

Travelling to Korea For the First Time?

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Being in Korea will bring a lot of cultural and language barriers, coupled with the lack of tourism infrastructure, but as a visitor, you should adapt. As a modern country, the general infrastructure is great, so there’s no issue with getting around, navigating or finding accommodations whatever town or city you find yourself in.

Fairly quickly I realised I wasn’t overwhelmed by South Korea – which happens in some places. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; more a matter of personal opinion but I like to try and understand why.

I came to realise that South Korea is a destination that needs adequate time and dedication in getting to know and understand it. Especially when you look at its history of oppression. 

Seoul is a city that needs a deeper dive to find its hotspots and then it clicks. As I passed through new towns, I realised that locals had told me things prior to my arrival which were filled with an abundance of beautiful pride, but which in reality for a tourist visitor were nothing more than just a residential town with one or two areas of interest. However, food enthusiasts will find smaller towns pack a punch when it comes to localised Korean cuisine. 

You need to research heavily on where to go in South Korea and what the cultural highlights are. You have to work hard to find it. 

Whilst certain parts of Korea did not live up to my initial expectations, my time there did come with some great memories times and very particular destinations that stand out. I do have a desire to return to see it differently, but more so to really spend some time in some of the country’s 22 National Parks and seven mountains. That kind of nature accolade is impressive, and I only scratched the surface of it.

After one month in the country, I pulled together this guide on how to travel to South Korea and make the most of it, alongside my top picks on where to visit for your first time there. 

The Traditional Korean Bukchon Hanok Village on a hillside overlooking the modern skyline of Seoul.

Travelling to South Korea? What Seems Underwhelming is Misunderstood.

My biggest mistake was in visiting Japan first and the ongoing Korea or Japan debate is inevitable, but it’s also wrong.

Sure, Japan was incredible and after spending one month there and I was on a huge come down. Travel to South Korea felt less appealing in comparison – it wasn’t as ‘seemingly’ vibrant and eccentric as its neighbour. I missed Japan and its madness. South Korea feels much more relaxed and less hurried, so it just takes time to adjust to the different tempo. 

Visiting Japan first is a hindrance to having a fresh perspective on Korea.

Especially when given the brutal history between the two countries, you can see how anti-Japanese sentiment is rife in Korea and it pays to have a better understanding of their differences.

Travel to South Korea – Understanding the Reality

This might be an alternative South Korea travel guide in that I’m not listing all that is wonderful and 100% perfect. Yet, we are all guilty of too easily dismissing travel to a destination without looking at its current state in context. In the case of Korea, this is important. 

South Korea suffered under 35 years of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), which included ruthless military rule, censorship, discrimination and forced labour. It’s a part of the collective consciousness today. 

Following the three year Korean War, which began in 1950 when the North invaded the South, the country was to grow into a major economy. That came after decades of invasion and colonisation of Korea by Japan during 1910–1945.

The country was destroyed, and after a long period of political instability, General Park Chung-hee’s military takeover in 1961 led to the formation of a new government. To many, he was seen as a ruthless dictator, whose rule saw many waves of abuse of human rights, yet the economy under him developed significantly, known as ‘The Miracle on the Han River’.

This term refers to the post-war industrialisation of Korea and the modern-day success story Korea is known for. A period which saw immense technological advancement, rapid urbanisation (including the Seoul subway system in use today), booming high standards of living and educational reforms, the hosting of huge sporting events including the 1988 Summer Olympics and the 2002 FIFA World Cup, as well as placing the country on the global stage with the formation of international companies including Samsung, Hyundai and LG. 

Whilst many remain divided in opinion about his time in power, the country’s development is evident. South Korea is an economic miracle in its own right. 

Older generations in South Korea here have lived through the rapid change from the aftermath of war, creating a solid work ethic in all generations. Not only that, but locals informed me that culturally they are private people – community and family-focused – and do not need to take an outsider into their circle quickly.

Therefore, welcoming tourists in South Korea with open arms is not instant. And that’s ok too. 

That doesn’t mean you won’t meet those who are an exception to the rule, who are so excited to see someone visit their hometown and want to show you every aspect of it. It’s just not an occurrence that happens in abundance.

Korean women in traditional hanbok clothing walking through a traditional village in South Korea.

Korean women in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing).

Tourism in Korea isn’t a core lifeline like how it is in, say, Thailand or Cambodia. South Korea rose from the ashes and became a strong and prosperous nation, albeit at great sacrifice. They are a nation of staunch hard workers; their children study all day (and most of the night). There’s huge pride in that. 

Korea is Asia’s fourth-largest economy, with a high standard of living. Essentially, they don’t need tourism to thrive, so the notion of tourism is misunderstood and rests significantly on those wanting to visit the DMZ border.

READ MORE: Visit the DMZ in North Korea and South Korea – The Story of Both Sides

READ MORE: Travelling to North Korea – The Truth of Visiting the DPRK – My Experience

Three South Korean guards stand between two blue huts on the DMZ demiliterized zone facing North Korea.

South Korean Guards at the DMZ.

Places to Visit in South Korea

With all this in mind, I made it a personal mission to not immediately dismiss travel to South Korea and leave too early. I knew there were plenty of things to see and do in Korea emitting some level of cultural or adventurous interest and in each destination, I tried to find something positive, picturesque or historically relevant.

I didn’t have any particular South Korea itinerary, instead, I just landed in the capital ready for a sporadic adventure.

I grew to love the arty side of Seoul, choosing the funky student-filled Hongdae as my base and enjoying the atmosphere of Itaewon and Gangnam that is best seen when the sun goes down.

From huge markets, old villages, historical palaces, entertainment districts and shopping plazas, there was always something new to try to seek out daily. The neighbourhoods are diverse, and that alone, alongside the array of cafes and coffee roasters, will keep you occupied in the capital. 

READ MORE: Places to Visit in Seoul – The Soul Capital of South Korea

Day Trips and Tours in Seoul

  • Enjoy a tour of Seoul by e-bike . learn about the city’s history, stop for Korean snacks and get to the best viewpoints. 
  • Get acquainted with the city on a half-day Seoul city highlights tour , including Gyeongbokgung Palace.
  • Known for its abundance of nightlife, take a pub crawl tour of Seoul
  • Visit Nami Island and the Garden of Morning Calm on this full-day trip.
  • Visit the DMZ on a full-day tour  with the option for a half-day trip. 

Locals at a busy street of Namdaemun Market in Seoul, South Korea.

Namdaemun Market in Seoul.

Tourists in Korea, some with sun umbrellas, walk towards the two-tier pagoda of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea.

Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.

I visited Andong with the purpose of checking out Hahoe Folk Village – one of Korea’s few ‘preserved villages’. While Andong itself doesn’t necessarily attract visitors, its historical points of interest, reached by various long bus routes, did not disappoint.

A traditional wooden house in Hahoe Folk Village in Andong - one of Korea's last preserved villages

One of the traditional houses in the preserved Hahoe Folk Village near Andong.

Tourists on a boat trip in a dense forest area in South Korea.

Nature in South Korea, accessible from Andong.

A local romanticised Daegu as a place full of old historical buildings and hidden picturesque spots – we sat for an hour marking key highlights on a map – but I was left deflated when I realised it was nothing more than a big city. However, it was an important insight into the different parts of the country and how the experiences of travelling in South Korea vary greatly.

Luckily, there is now a Daegu City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off Bus so you can easily see the main attractions. 

Often, overnight stops in local towns are a great way of breaking up a long journey. 

A traditional Korean Pagoda in the modern Daegu town centre in South Korea.

Daegu town centre, South Korea.

The UNESCO Ancient Capital of Gyeongju is a highlight, with huge grassy tombs, temples and gorgeous parkland surrounded by mountains. One of the more interesting cities of former dynasty times, with a lot of ground to cover.

Day Trip – Visit Gyeongju from Busan .

The grassy royal burial mounds in Gyeongju South Korea to a backdrop of mountains.

The Gyeongju Burial Mounds – one of South Korea’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

Three grassy mounds in Gyeongju - one of the best places to visit in Korea.

The grassy royal burial mounds in Gyeongju are one of the best places to visit in Korea.

Busan, with its lively beaches and mountainous terrain, was a refreshing and chilled break from the brash Seoul. I also got to check out Spa Land – one of Korea’s many ‘walk around completely naked’ spas and a rite of passage for any visitor to Korea!

Day Trips and Tours in Busan

  • A compact city but with lots of highlights, consider a full-day Busan city tour to see it all. 
  • See Busan’s skyline from the water on a 90-minute sightseeing cruise . 
  • Day trip to Oedo Island for the lush nature and the longest cable car ride in Korea.

The curved sandy coastline and modern city of Busan, South Korea.

The mdoern coastline city of Busan, South Korea.

A yellow sand beach lined with red umbrellas in front of the modern building of Busan, South Korea.

Busan beach city.

I had an incredible few days in the small harbour town of Yeosu, staying with a friend who was teaching there and taking random bus trips to start short treks in nature – like reaching the scenic viewpoint of the Geomosan Hyangilam temple I would have otherwise found hard to come by. 

The colourful painted wood roof of Geomosan Hyangilam temple in Yeosu, with a view overlooking the ocean.

The colourful Geomosan Hyangilam temple in Yeosu overlooking the ocean.

A walking path lined with small houses in a forest covered village in Yeosu South Korea.

Forest walks and temple treks in Yeosu, Korea.

Jeju Island was hands down my favourite destination in Korea – a stunning domestic holiday spot with stunning beaches and a host of UNESCO sites, including lava caves, a mountain and incredible viewing points.

The ferry ride to get here is rough on the choppy waters, but it’s all a part of the adventure. And there’s a lot of adventuring to do in Jeju as a core pristine nature hotspot.

READ MORE: All the World Wonder of Nature Things to Do on Jeju Island , South Korea

People walking on narrow paths on a green mound of Jeju Island's Sunrise Peak, looking down onto red-roofed houses, coastal rocks and the vast ocean.

Visiting Jeju Island’s Sunrise Peak.

A woman in blue shorts and vest poses next to a Haenyo Female Diver Statue on Jeju Island. The statue sits upon rocks on the white sand coastline, and behind in the ocean and another stone statue.

Haenyo Female Diver Statue on Jeju Island, South Korea.

A key part of enjoying Korea is knowing the people who live there. I was lucky to visit friends in Seoul and Yeosu, which made a HUGE difference because they could also introduce me to their Korean friends. I lost count of the times I was told you could only really enjoy Korea when people could tell you or show you where to go. 

Korea doesn’t shout about its beauty, and must-see spots can be hard to find . Knowing someone is key – take advantage of this if you consider visiting there. When I spent time with locals, I used every minute to get a deeper insight into the country. I have recently heard that things have changed a lot, and there’s much more information and guidance on how and where to find and access points of interest because tourism promotion has gained more steam. 

Would I visit again? Absolutely. I would travel to Korea again. There are still parts of the country that I have yet to see, such as the National Parks, the mountainous areas with hiking trails and much further down the line, the smaller towns which will one day be more accessible to travellers, rather than to those living there who take months to uncover it as they call it home.

Locals on a busy street in Seoul, South Korea lined with tall buildings and markets stalls.

Life in the city of Seoul, South Korea.

South Korea Travel Tips

Land in South Korea and be travel ready with these mobile and transport cards and passes.

Rather than scour the streets for a SIM card, pre-order the 4G LTE unlimited data SIM card and collect it from airport pick-up stations where you will get help loading and topping up your data. You’ll need to present your passport. 

If landing at Incheon Aiport, pick up this handy SIM and public transport combo card – an unlimited 4G data sim and charge card for subways and buses. 

The Korean rail network is extensive and makes travel around South Korea convenient, fast and cost-effective. Available only for foreign visitors, consider purchasing a Korea Rail Pass for unlimited use within two to five days on the following services:

  • KTX and KTX-Sancheon high-speed trains
  • ITX-Saemaeul, Saemaeul, Mugunhwa, Nuriro and ITX-Cheongchun main network trains
  • The O-train, V-Train, S-Train, DMZ-Train, A-Train and Westgold-Train tourist trains

This pass also includes discounts on first-class tickets for certain journeys and free or discounted entry into museums country-wide.

People sit on a bunny decorated bench inside Seoul's metro station in South Korea.

Seoul metro and train station.

  • The Korea Lonely Planet has recently been updated and is a great addition to travel throughout the country.
  • Read ‘Korea: The Impossible Country’ for further insight into Korea’s substantial economic and political growth. This book charts the rise of Korea as one of the best success stories of the post-war period and how it rose from the ashes and out of the shadows of Japan and China.
  • ‘The Two Koreas’ is a contemporary history book that focuses on the history of the Korean Peninsula from World War II to the present day.
  • Are you a fan of K Pop and keen to know how Korean Pop became a worldwide sensation? ‘The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture’ is a fun look at how (to quote the book) “a really uncool country became cool”.

Not everyone wants to navigate a country solo, and the complexities of a South Korea trip are no exception to those who might not know the Asia travel circuit extensively. Despite Korea’s great infrastructure and various stopping points of interest, some like to have smaller details organised and travel in small groups for a big adventure. Plus, you will be with a local guide, and South Korea is best experienced with someone who knows it as home.

The G Adventures South Korea tour takes you through Korea’s highlights over eight days , covering most of what’s been mentioned in this article. The trip costs include a visit to the DMZ, city tours in Seoul and Busan, alongside cultural villages and temples, as well as accommodation in all destinations and transport in between.

A woman holding a blue umbrella, with three family members, walks towards the two-tiered boat roof entrance of the imperial palace in South Korea

About Becki

Becki Enright is a British Travel Press Award-winning writer whose work focuses on changing perceptions about misunderstood aspects of destinations. Her writing combines storytelling with insight into the social, historical, political and economic factors that shape the country or place in relation to tourism. Becki has appeared live on Sky News and CNN and has contributed to high profile media including National Geographic, Time.com, Guardian online, New York Times, Grazia and Buzzfeed.

24 January 2019 at 6:11 am

The Korean travel industry is actually geared more to other Asians, as it should be. I just don’t think Europeans or Americans would want go there. Korean-Americans are the exception.

I mean just be logical, if westerners want beaches or a place for their honeymoon there are other more exotic people and places in Europe and Asia. Korea will never compete with Bali orThailand or Greece. And Korea and Koreans just aren’t exotic in that Oriental way that attracts Western tourists. Korea is actually attractive to other Asians in the way that Hollywood attracts tourists.

Also in terms of visiters Korea actually does reasonably well compared to Japan, China and Thailand. It could do better and spendings on infrastructure is increasing.

24 January 2019 at 9:36 am

Not every westerner wants to go to beaches and more tropical climates etc. Korea has things to do and see, it’s just not shouting about it enough or making it as accessible. It’s only now I am hearing more and more about the incredible nature and National Parks, for example.

I despise the term ‘exotic’ in the travel industry. It’s patronising, especially in relation to east and west and what the Western sees Asia as. And, ultimately, what Westeners ‘want’ Asians to be.

Korea, like every destination, has it’s own unique persona, or in more modern times how it has grown into a hub of pop culture, amongst other things. It’s just harder to really dig into, and even for friends who lived there, it still took them many years.

12 January 2019 at 6:41 pm

I would post your comment but since you are being aggressive, threatening about me returning (also in your previous, longer comment) and unable to have a mature conversation (like the majority here in this thread which invite insightful discussion amongst travellers, Koreans and expats), it is futile to respond.

12 January 2019 at 3:07 am

Ok. If there’s any backpackers out there, let me try to change your perspective on travel a little. I am 37 and obviously more mature than your average backpacker, but i have been backpacking since my 20s and i feel i have something to contribute. I call this India and Nepal problem. I love Nepal and am trying to find a way to spend a few months every year here that’s my goal. The thing is i have friends who love India and i used to tell them I hate India. I travelled India in 2011 and i did not enjoy the place. Nepal seemed like a paradise in comparison. The people seemed rude and the place dirty. I have made up my mind. I hated India. My friends used to accuse me of close-mindedness. So this time i made an effort to learn a little Hindi to get to know the locals. How India has changed in 7 years! Also my Hindi made a big difference. The Indians embraced me as ‘bharatyi’ and they were ready to see me as one of them. Many backpackers have this attitude i am spending my cash so the locals should be like this or that. We are becoming cultural consumers. That is a very fake way to live this world. I was certainly guilty. But try to open your mind and let the travel change your ‘self’.

12 January 2019 at 7:16 pm

I agree, especially that there is a similar situation with India and Nepal. India takes a while to get used to, whereas to many an affinity with Nepal ‘appears’ more instant. But once a country that you may have been slow to warm to, or which requires multiple returns to understand then clicks, it’s special. Meeting as many locals as possible is the best insight into a country you can ever have. I’m not going to blame just backpackers for any closed-minded attitudes as it comes from all manner of travellers; old and young; experienced or not. I’ve been travelling for 20 years too, but that doesn’t mean we can automatically take the high road. We just all have to find our way of adjusting and understanding as much as possible.

1 January 2019 at 4:20 pm

Becki -a wonderful article. I certainly had a very different experience (in both North and South Korea) and found locals to be really helpful and friendly and interested in having visitors in their country. My mum and I must have looked super lost when we got off the metro in the city centre from the airport because a young guy came over to try and help us immediately. We had monks giving us free fruit on the beach, a man trying very hard to explain the history of a statue in Gyeongju (defo agree this is a highlight by the way!) and an old man who walked us a good 15 minutes to find our hostel. I also think it’s interesting you mentioned about needing to know somewhere there…my first thought when I started reading this article was how it does strike me as one of those places you need to spend a really long time in to get under the skin of and understand so I was glad when you said the same. Have you gone back to South Korea again?

6 January 2019 at 1:33 am

Not yet, but I would like to visit the National Parks and get deeper into the nature.

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15 Best Cities to Visit in South Korea

By Alex Schultz · Last updated on February 5, 2024

In less than fifty years, South Korea went from being one of the world’s poorest countries to one of its richest. Its thriving cities highlight this change as ancient palaces, and traditional temples lie next to gleaming shopping malls and futuristic buildings.

Despite bordering two larger, more powerful nations for much of its history ( Japan and China ), the country has managed to preserve its unique culture; many of its museums showcase South Korea’s fascinating history, art, and local traditions.

A beautiful country to visit, many of South Korea’s cities are located amongst scenic mountains or next to idyllic islands and beautiful beaches. Hiking and immersing yourself in nature is almost a national pastime such is its popularity. Now known just as much for its delicious food and K-pop as for its impressive historical sights, South Korea and its fun and friendly cities are sure to delight with all they have to offer.

Map of cities in South Korea

Map of cities in South Korea

A very welcoming and friendly place, Andong is renowned for its delicious cuisine, so foodies will rejoice at all the local delicacies on offer.

Founded over 2000 years ago, Andong boasts many historical and cultural attractions and often markets itself as a spiritual center due to its many temples and local religious sites.

One of the most interesting places to visit is the Andong Hahoe Folk Village, where you can learn all about the local traditions, culture, and history.

14. Tongyeong

Tongyeong

Surrounded by sea on three sides, Tongyeong is located right on the southern tip of a peninsula. Most visitors to the city use it as a gateway from which to explore any of the 151 nearby islands.

A sleepy, laidback place, Tongyeong’s harbor is beautiful to behold. Walking along the harbor front or eating a delicious seafood dinner while watching the sunset is a unique experience.

Although there is not much going on in town, the city more than makes up for it with the wealth of beautiful islands nearby. Nature lovers will revel in visiting the spectacular Hallyeohaesang National Park.

13. Daejeon

Daejeon

Having expanded rapidly over the last few decades, Daejeon is now one of the largest cities in South Korea and is a significant science and research center, thanks in part to the large Expo Park complex.

While not particularly pretty to behold due to its urban sprawl, the city is, however, home to lots of interesting museums, with the National Science Museum’s fantastic exhibits making it one of the best on offer.

No visit to Daejeon is complete without a stop at the Yuseong Hot Springs; bathing in the thermal waters is the perfect way to end a day after taking in the city’s sights.

Suwon

Due to its proximity to Seoul, Suwon is a fantastic day trip option from the capital, although it often gets overlooked by travelers.

Now a major center for industry, the city is home to Samsung Electronics. Its busy streets are packed with bars, restaurants, and shops, while Ingyedong is the place to head if you’re after some fun nightlife.

The main reason that people visit Suwon is for the stunning 18th-century fortress of Hwaseong that lies at the heart of the city; its twisting walls and looming towers are lovely to explore.

Yeosu

Lying on a peninsula of the same name in the south of the country, Yeosu is one of the most beautiful port cities in South Korea and an increasingly popular beachside resort.

Lined by mountains, Yeosu is surrounded by islands and cliffs that look spectacular. One of the best views is from Hyangiram Hermitage – a beautiful cliffside hermitage.

While Yeosu is not big on sights, its lively waterfront is home to lots of brilliant seafood restaurants. Just relaxing on the beach and taking in the view is what most people want from a visit to the city.

Geoje

More of an island than a city, Geoje has nicknamed itself the ‘Blue City.’ It is surrounded by sparkling clear waters, a gorgeous rocky coastline, and lots of beautiful beaches.

While its scenic charm is what most people come for, Geoje has lots of interesting tourist sites to offer, such as a stunning 15th-century castle and a POW Camp, which used to host North Korean prisoners.

Although the city has more than enough restaurants and bars to keep you occupied, the spectacular scenery is what really steals the show. A boat trip to the breathtaking islands of Haegeumgang and Odeo is a must.

Daegu

Home to a sizeable student population, Daegu has a youthful feel to it and is surprisingly friendly and welcoming, considering that it is the fourth largest city in the country.

Wandering around its lively downtown is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Its fantastic art museums lie side-by-side with beautiful old churches and temples, while its food and nightlife scenes are thriving.

Many people use Daegu as a gateway to the region, and the nearby Palgong Mountain is well worth a visit. It is home to loads of scenic trails as well as numerous temples and Gatbawi – a magnificent stone statue of Buddha.

8. Gyeongju

Gyeongju

Boasting more than 2000 years of history, Gyeongju is fittingly known as ‘the museum without walls’ thanks to its endless array of tombs, temples and archaeological sites. Many of them date back to when the city was capital of the Silla Kingdom.

A captivating place to explore, the center of town is full of old tombs, beautiful pagodas, and traditional houses. The Gyeongju National Museum houses a wonderful collection of local artifacts.

Two must-see sights are the stunning Bulguksa Temple, dating back to the eighth century, and the nearby Seokguram Grotto – both of which delightfully show off some rich Buddhist art and highlight how the religion impacted the area.

Jeonju

Once the spiritual capital of the country, Jeonju is full of historical sites and cultural landmarks. It is also home to one of the nation’s most popular tourist attractions in the shape of Hanok Village, which showcases traditional houses, local cultural practices, and artisanal products from around the region.

With lots of beautiful temples to marvel at, Jeonju is fascinating to walk around; its winding alleys are home to atmospheric cafes and restaurants, and no visit to Jeonju is complete without trying bibimbap – a local delicacy.

Before leaving, make sure to visit the excellent Jeonju National Museum, which protects, preserves and promotes the rich local history and culture.

Incheon

The third largest city in the country, Incheon lies just under 40 kilometers from Seoul. It was at the huge port here that American soldiers landed in 1950 during the Korean War to recapture South Korea’s capital.

An important city to the nation in both historical and economic terms, Incheon is expanding rapidly and has loads for visitors to see and do. Its bustling Chinatown and maze of shops, restaurants, and bars in Bupyeong are just two of the highlights.

With the oldest temple in the country – Jeondeungsa – for you to enjoy, alongside lots of lovely old architecture and some delightful waterfront promenades, Incheon is a great option if you’re looking for a comfortable and accessible day trip from Seoul.

5. Gangneung

Gangneung

Lying on the East coast, Gangneung is the perfect place to head if you’re looking to step off the beaten path and get to know one of the country’s lesser-known cities.

Separated from the rest of South Korea by the Taebaek mountain range bordering it, Gangneung has its own distinctive culture and feel about it, as is evidenced by the delicious local cuisine and cultural events – such as the fascinating Danoje folk festival.

With centuries-old temples for you to visit, alongside the impressive Ojukheon Museum – home to shrines, traditional buildings and memorabilia from famous Koreans – Gangneung also has some lovely nature on offer; one of the nation’s most popular beaches can be found at Gyeongpo.

4. Jeju City

Jeju City

The largest city on the island of the same name, Jeju’s warm, welcoming climate makes it a popular tourist destination. Many people head here during the summer to enjoy the fancy hotels, teeming casinos, and trendy bars.

Although most of the main attractions are found out of town, Jeju City is a pleasant place to visit, with lots of fantastic restaurants, upmarket boutiques and accommodation options on offer.

Many people use it as a base from which to explore the rest of the island . A visit to the nearby Jeju Loveland – an adults-only theme park – will certainly highlight why the island is a popular honeymoon destination.

3. Seogwipo

Seogwipo

Located on Jeju Island, Seogwipo is surrounded by some beautiful scenery, including a spectacular rocky coastline, plunging waterfalls, and beautiful beaches.

Consequently, most visitors to the city come primarily for its natural sights; it also boasts the best scuba-diving in the whole country. With lots of great paths and trails snaking their way to the waterfalls and along the coastline, it is also a popular hiking destination.

While the city itself doesn’t have that much going for it, the lovely scenery more than makes up for it. If you are at a loose end, the fun water park and immersive submarine tours are well worth checking out when in town.

Busan

The second largest city in South Korea, Busan is home to a bustling port and is a popular tourist destination, thanks to its beautiful scenery made up of forest-coated mountains and gorgeous beaches.

With many different sides to it, Busan is home to both a gritty industrial area and the hillside Gamcheon Cultural Village, full of brightly-colored houses offering delightful views over the city.

While most people come for its beaches, Busan has many interesting historical sites scattered around town: there’s the popular Beomeosa Temple with its numerous hot springs, fantastic seafood restaurants, and wealth of outdoor activities.

Seoul

A sprawling metropolis that encompasses over 25 million people, South Korea’s capital has everything imaginable on offer. It is an enthralling place to explore, with centuries-old palaces and temples rubbing shoulders with gleaming shopping malls and bustling night markets.

With something for everyone to enjoy, you can be marveling at the intricate architecture of the 15th century Chandeok-gung palace one minute, be hiking in the nearby mountains and numerous parks the next, before later visiting one of the city’s fabulous museums.

Renowned for its excellent cuisine, Seoul has loads of great restaurants and street stalls dotted around. The city is continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible – whether that is in fashion and design or architecture and technology.

As such, there is always something new to see and do in Seoul.

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5 Best Places To Visit In South Korea (Besides Seoul And Busan)

When it comes to places to visit in South Korea, most travelers default to Seoul (and, in rare cases Busan, the country’s second city). The vast land between the two cities, filled with charming towns and villages, stunning scenery and food so delicious you’ll want to learn Korean to talk about, goes all too often ignored.

This post aims to remedy that discrepancy, whether you prefer traditional and accessible Korea sightseeing, or are in the mood for something more obscure. Likewise, Korea offers destinations and experience that cater both to adventurous eco-tourists and culture-minded city slickers.

Keep reading to learn where to go in Korea, instead of (or, if it’s your first time, in addition to) Seoul and Busan.

Why Do People Focus on Seoul and Busan?

which country would you like to visit korea

Before I get into places to visit in South Korea you might not have considered, I’ll address the elephant in the room: Why do so many travelers stick to Busan and especially Seoul? The reasons for this are complex and manifold, but a few of the main ones are as follows:

  • Convenience:  Most flights to Korea arrive in Seoul and Busan
  • Variety : Busan and Seoul especially offer an eclectic range of experiences
  • Accessibility : Both cities offer great public transport; you can get around speaking English
  • Reputation : Seoul is one of the web’s most written-about destinations—and Busan is up there, too

Needless to say, nothing I say in this post is advocating against including Seoul and Busan in your Korea trip—I go back to at least one of these places every time I return to Korea! I do recommend exploring Korea beyond these cities, however.

The Best of the Rest of South Korea

which country would you like to visit korea

Gyeongju  isn’t officially among the most famous places in Korea, at least not for non-Koreans. But whether you come for ancient palaces and burial mounds that date back to the ancient Silla Kingdom, or take day trips to destinations like the famous cherry blossom village of Jinhae, Gyeongju is a city that should be on your radar.

which country would you like to visit korea

Most of why I believe Gyeongju will soon be listed among the best cities in South Korea is the historical attractions. Visit 7th-century Donggung Palace , which rises over scenic  Wolji Pond , in the city center, or take a day trip to  Bulguksa , an 8th-century Buddhist temple that sits in the mountains just outside the city, a short bus ride away. 

which country would you like to visit korea

Jeju Island

As places to visit in South Korea that aren’t Seoul or Busan go,  Jeju is probably the most famous. On the other hand, most people who travel here are Koreans from one of those two cities, as is evident by the fact that Seoul-Jeju is by some measures the busiest air route in the world. (By contrast, Japan’s Okinawa enjoys significantly more international flights, to say nothing of its more traditionally tropical scenery.) 

With this being said, you should definitely include the so-called “Oriental Hawaii” in your Korea trip planner, even if sights like  Hallasan Mountain and  Cheonjiyeon Waterfall  seem more Scandinavian than sub-tropical. If you do decide to come to Jeju, where public transport is limited, consider obtaining an International Driving Permit (IDP) in your home country so that you can rent a car.

The Korean DMZ

which country would you like to visit korea

One of the places to visit in South Korea is actually closer to North Korea than it is to Seoul or Busan. I’m of course speaking of the demilitarized zone or DMZ , which is the area between the two Koreas where a permanent ceasefire is maintained. Whether on a day excursion from Seoul or as a standalone trip, the DMZ is an interesting destination—and not just because of the ongoing Korean War.

On one hand, war-related places like the  Dora Observatory ,  Joint Security Area  and  Third Tunnel of Aggression have earned their place among top tourist destinations in Korea. On the other hand, the South is in the process developing this area far beyond military tourism, whether that’s in the form of duty-free shopping or ecotourism that highlights the biodiversity of this largely uninhabited landscape.

Sokcho and Seoraksan National Park

which country would you like to visit korea

If you’re looking for beautiful places in Korea that are also relatively easy to visit,  Seoraksan National Park  is a great choice. Located 2-3 hours east of Seoul and accessible via the colorful, quirky and underrated seaport of  Sokcho , Seoraksan is most famous for its scenery during autumn months but is beautiful 365 days per year.

Beautiful, and exhilarating. In addition to stunning Korea scenery, Seoraksan offers some of the country’s best hiking. My personal favorite trail takes you from the eastern entrance to the park to the summit of  Ulsanbawi , a towering “rock” (at least according to the Korean translation into English) that requires about two hours round-trip, plus whatever time you spend at the top.

which country would you like to visit korea

Like the DMZ, the ancient city of  Suwon  is sometimes lumped in among day trips from Seoul, though I don’t encourage this. I say this in spite of the fact that you can walk the entirety of  Hwaesong Fortress , a sprawling UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the late-18th century, in a matter of an hour of two.

As places to visit in South Korea go, Suwon occupies an interesting place. Located in  Gyeonggi-do  province, which sits just outside of Seoul, Suwon is urbanized without being extremely cosmopolitan, which means going there immerses you in a world of Korean language and music (K-Pop)—and cuisine. In particular, Suwon is famous for  Galbi  or grilled beef ribs.

Other Korea Destinations

Although I’ve named some very interesting places in Korea indeed, they’re only the beginning. Other must-visit Korea destinations include the following:

  • Boseong  Tea Fields
  • Bukhansan  and  Naejangsan National Parks
  • Jeonju : Korea’s budding foodie capital
  • The winter wonderland of  Pyeongchang
  • Spiritual  Andong

Are there places to visit in South Korea that you personally love, but that I haven’t mentioned in this post? Make sure to leave a comment so everyone knows what you do!

which country would you like to visit korea

How Long Should You Spend in South Korea?

When it comes to how many days in South Korea you should spend, it ultimately depends on how extensively you plan to explore the country. For example, I recommend a Seoul itinerary that lasts between 3-5 days and at least 2-3 days in Busan, so you’re looking at one week in Korea right there, even if you don’t go anywhere else. I’d say that if you visit 2-3 of the destinations above, then 2 weeks in South Korea is perfect for you.

Another consideration you should make is the best time to visit South Korea . While April is the best time to see Korea cherry blossom and autumn colors peak in late October or early November, these are also the busiest times to visit Korea. If you can bear the cold, Korea’s snowy winter is a beautiful and quiet time to come; summer is the perfect season for sub-tropical Jeju, though it can also be rather rainy so you should take care.

Read next: Epic Adventures To Take In Your 20s, 30s, 40s And Beyond

I hope you feel more informed—and inspired—about places to visit in South Korea outside of the usual suspects, Seoul and Busan. Whether you trace history in Gyeongju, scale the dramatic peaks of Seoraksan, step up to the edge (or North Korea) at the DMZ or simply hit the beach in Jeju, Korea is more than its two largest cities, however fabulous it may be. Now, there’s only one question left—when are you going to book your flight?

Contributing members are responsible for the accuracy of content contributed to A World to Travel.

When is the best time to visit South Korea?

Charles Usher

Feb 18, 2024 • 7 min read

which country would you like to visit korea

Whether you visit for the city buzz or the peace of the mountains, here are the top times to travel to South Korea © Jesse Morrow / Stocksy United

No matter where your good times happen – raucous nightclubs, ancient mountain hermitages, packed baseball stadiums, boundary-pushing museums and galleries – the chances are you'll find something to love in  South Korea . There's no such thing as a bad time to visit, but some planning can take your trip to another level and create lasting memories.

With terrain that ranges from alpine peaks to subtropical beaches, South Korea goes through four distinct seasons, so knowing what to expect and how to prepare will go a long way toward getting the best out of your vacation. Here's everything you need to know about choosing the best time to visit.

March to May is the best time for mild weather and cherry blossoms

South Korea starts to shake off its winter frost in March, and for the next three months, you can expect mild, pleasant weather. By the time May rolls around, Seoul and other inland cities are already pushing for summer, with temperatures occasionally rising into the upper 20s Celsius. Naturally, folks start heading back outside – hikers start hiking, bikers start biking, and Korea's pro baseball and soccer leagues get underway.

The season's undeniable highlight, however, is the annual return of the cherry blossoms. They begin appearing on Jeju-do  and along the south coast in mid-March and work their way up the peninsula, arriving in Seoul and Gangwon-do Province in early April. The end of March also brings the spectacle of the Jeju Fire Festival, which celebrates the creation of the island.

The weather in May can alternate between springlike and summery. Koreans celebrate Children's Day on May 5 and Parents' Day on May 8, and amusement parks and any sights that are vaguely kid-related fill up with families. Buddha's birthday in May is celebrated in Seoul by the Lotus Lantern Festival  when brightly colored lanterns light the avenues and a parade of giant glowing floats proceeds through downtown.

The one thing that can put a damper on the season is hwangsa , yellow dust that gets blown off the deserts of Mongolia and northern China. It combines with local air pollution to occasionally create some pretty grim air conditions. When that happens, it's a good idea to wear a mask if you plan to spend significant amounts of time outdoors.

Asian woman at a Korean pavilion in cherry blossom season, Seoul, South Korea

June to August is the best time to head to the mountains or the beach

Summer in South Korea is long, hot and rainy, particularly in the cities. The Korean rainy season – known as jangma – starts in the second half of June and can last through August. Temperatures stay stuck at close to 30ºC (86ºF), the humidity borders on the sadistic, and it rains just about every day.

Fortunately, no matter where you are in South Korea, there are beaches or mountains (or both) close at hand for a summer escape. Get out of the city and explore Seoraksan National Park , the surfing town Yangyang or far-flung islands such as Jumun-do, off the Incheon coast. Busan's famed Haeundae Beach is packed, while young Koreans and expats head to the west coast town of Boryeong to party at its Mud Festival . It would seem madness to travel to Daegu , Korea's hottest and most humid city, at this time of year, but they host a lively Korean-style fried chicken and beer festival , so think about it!

The downside of this plan, of course, is that accommodation rates in top vacation spots are higher at this time of year. For a cheaper escape, partake in the traditional Korean pastime of packing a picnic and spending the day in a gyegok , a mountain valley with a cool stream – a good starting point is Woo-ii Gyegok on Seoul's northeastern edge.

Summer also brings a wide range of festivals to the peninsula, and Korea's two major pro sports leagues – the Korea Baseball Organization and the K League soccer tournament – are in full swing. The traditional holiday of Dano typically falls in June, marked by one of Korea's most remarkable festivals – the UNESCO-listed Gangneung Danoje . During this multi-day event, celebrants conduct traditional shamanic rituals, perform mask dramas and pray to the mountain spirits. Visiting at this time offers a unique opportunity to get a glimpse of Korea's traditional shamanic practices.

Korea celebrates Liberation Day, commemorating the end of Japanese colonial rule, on August 15. The rain finally starts to let up, though the weather remains hot and humid. Alternative art has its moment, with the Seoul Fringe Festival taking place in the artsy university neighborhood of Hongdae, and both domestic and international rock, pop and metal acts turning up the volume at Incheon's Pentaport Rock Festival .

Ginkgo trees turn gold in fall at Gongju-si, Chungcheongnam-do, Korea

September to November is the best time for dry skies and golden ginkgoes

Visiting South Korea in the fall is pretty much a foolproof plan. Pleasant temperatures, crisp air and clear skies make this the ideal time for travel in the Land of the Morning Calm. And surprisingly, September is also South Korea's best beach month.

Summer's heat – but fortunately not its humidity – is still hanging around, but the crowds have seriously thinned out. Instead, locals head into the mountains to take in the fiery foliage, which starts to get really good in late October and early November. Expect crowded mountain trails at this busy time of year. This is also the season when the leaves of Seoul's innumerable ginkgo trees turn a stunning royal gold, making the sometimes drab cityscape undeniably beautiful.

Koreans call fall the "season for reading," and it's an ideal time to grab a book and spend some time enjoying the country's terrific cafe scene, hopping from one impeccably designed coffee shop to the next. In fact, October is probably the best month to visit South Korea. The Busan International Film Festival , Seoul Fashion Week , Andong Mask Dance Festival , Jarasum Jazz Festival and Gwangju World Kimchi Festival would all be reasons enough to buy a plane ticket, but to have all of them in the same month? And then you've got golden ginkgoes and fall foliage on top of all that? It doesn't get any better.

After October's frenzy of events, South Korea seems to exhale in November, and the calendar is relatively empty. Traditionally, November was a time when Koreans would prepare for the coming cold season, a vestige of which remains in the act of kimjang , preparing kimchi for the winter, which many families continue to perform together. For travelers, November's cool, clear weather creates great conditions for hiking in Korea's national parks and sipping a latte or local craft beer in a renovated hanok (traditional Korean house).

Woman selling soup in winter in Namdaemun Market in Seoul, South Korea

December to February is the best time for winter sports

Travel to Korea in winter, and you'll quickly learn the expression " Choo-uh! " – meaning "it's cold!" – which Koreans utter pretty much nonstop for three months. The country can be frigid at this time of year, especially up north and in the mountains. Expect daily highs to reach just a few degrees above freezing, with the south coast and Jeju-do being slightly warmer.

Mountainous Gangwon-do Province gets the most snow. The 2018 Winter Olympics brought international attention to Korea's winter sports venues, most of which are in Gangwon-do. While the crowds thin out elsewhere, as with any hub for recreation in this densely populated country, the ski slopes can get a lot more crowded than visitors from Europe or North America will be used to.

Winter brings celebrations for Christmas and New Year's, a holiday so nice Koreans celebrate it twice – once on January 1 and once on the Lunar New Year, when families gather and share traditional foods. Foodies will also be rewarded for making an off-season visit – winter is when Korea's hearty, soup-centric cuisine is at its most satisfying. Stay warm by getting lost in Seoul's many superb museums (such as the excellent National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art ) and tucking into buchimgae (fried pancakes) in a cozy pub with traditional ondol floor heating.

Most years, Seollal falls in February. This three-day affair is one of Korea's two major holidays, and many Koreans travel to their hometowns. If you think you'll need to travel on these dates, book tickets far in advance. If you're staying put, you'll find that major cities such as Seoul and Busan are uncommonly peaceful with so many folks out of town. Many businesses remain open, but not museums and palaces.

This article was first published Aug 16, 2022 and updated Feb 18, 2024.

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Guest Essay

The Real Danger if Trump Is Re-elected

An illustration of Donald Trump playing golf. Instead of a golf ball, a tiny globe sits on the tee.

By Jacob Heilbrunn

Mr. Heilbrunn is the editor of The National Interest, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the author, most recently, of “America Last.”

Donald Trump may be regularly depicted as an impetuous toddler in chief, but he appears to possess genuine convictions about international relations. Ever since he gave an interview to Playboy magazine in 1990 decrying Mikhail Gorbachev for failing to hold the Soviet empire together (“not a firm enough hand”) and praising the Chinese Communist leadership for crushing the student uprising at Tiananmen Square (“they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength”), Mr. Trump has extolled authoritarian leaders as possessing the right stuff, while he has dismissed democratic ones as weak and feckless.

This impulse is not a new phenomenon for the United States; it dates back to World War I and World War II, when leading American conservatives praised foreign autocrats such as Kaiser Wilhelm II, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco as their ideological comrades in arms. Until now, however, no modern president has lauded autocracy as a model for America.

During his four years in office, Mr. Trump blustered about alliances and praised foreign dictators but never actually upended America’s foreign policy. That could change in a second Trump administration. The former president is poised to adopt a radical program centered on constructive engagement with foreign strongmen and hostility toward democratic allies; it would include abandoning NATO. It would convert America from a dominant economic and military power into what Mr. Trump purports to abhor — a global loser.

To understand why Mr. Trump’s approach might well differ from the one he took in his initial term, it’s helpful to look at the foreign policy advisers who are being talked about as potential members of a new Trump administration. They can be divided into two camps, which might be called Restorationists and Revisionists.

Restorationists are establishment Republicans such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the former national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien who want to go back in time — specifically, to Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy hawkishness and staunch internationalism, which they believe led straight to the fall of the Berlin Wall and victory in the Cold War. During the Trump presidency, they worked overtime to maneuver Mr. Trump in this direction, pushing him to adopt tough stances toward Iran, Russia and China, while maintaining ties to traditional allies in Asia and Europe.

Now, in a variety of interviews, speeches and books, they have been sketching out their vision for a second Trump term — one that would shore up America’s alliances, pursue peace through strength and confront Iran, Russia and China — while camouflaging their crusading Reaganite views in a thin veneer of Trumpian nationalism.

Revisionists, by contrast, are “America First” advocates who espouse a much harder-edged approach and, more often than not, want to go it alone.

Organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and the America First Policy Institute, the two main think tanks vying to staff the next Trump administration, have been vetting potential appointees to establish a government in waiting. As Keith Kellogg, a retired lieutenant general and former Trump national security official, observed in his 2021 memoir, “War by Other Means,” “Our problem was that we did not always know who our enemies were; in some cases, they were our own political appointees.” Mr. Trump himself has loudly complained about many of the advisers he appointed, such as John Bolton.

The conservative activists around him wish to install purists who will preach America First precepts, not least the dogma that America’s security isn’t tied to Europe’s because, as Mr. Trump recently put it, “an ocean” separates the territories.

The Revisionists don’t place as much value on our membership in NATO and are generally ardent proponents of a longstanding dream on the right of a Fortress America that can strike unilaterally whenever and wherever it pleases, unencumbered by nettlesome international alliances and organizations.

Take Mr. Trump’s former ambassador to Germany and acting national intelligence director, Richard Grenell. He has opposed Sweden and Finland’s joining NATO while supporting far-right populists in Serbia, Guatemala and elsewhere. Then there is Russ Vought. A former Trump budget director who might serve as the White House chief of staff, Mr. Vought has decried American aid to Ukraine and stated that he would reassess “the old idea of NATO’s collective defense.”

Mr. Kellogg, who might serve as defense secretary under Mr. Trump, is not a staunch opponent of sending aid to Ukraine, but even he has suggested that we should be prepared to use the threat of cutting it off to push the country into peace talks with Moscow — a recipe for pre-emptive surrender.

Former Trump Defense Department official Elbridge Colby, who is widely seen as a top contender to become national security adviser if Mr. Trump wins re-election, typifies the radicalism of the Revisionist camp. Mr. Colby has insisted that confronting China requires slashing support to Ukraine, and he recently lambasted Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, for “lecturing” Republican politicians about the imperative to assist Kyiv, deeming it “foreign interference.”

Mr. Trump’s own hostility to sending aid to Ukraine suggests that he would most likely be receptive to a deal with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, allowing him to operate freely in Central and Eastern Europe — in the name of stability and peace. By the same token, for all his bluff and bombast about the China threat, Mr. Trump, unlike President Biden, has never indicated that he would stand by Taiwan were China to invade.

He appears to view American alliances with South Korea and Japan with skepticism, if not outright hostility. Less than a year after the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, met with Mr. Biden in April to announce new security agreements, Mr. Trump could simply decide that he has no intention of honoring America’s commitments abroad.

Rupturing America’s alliances would lead to arms races and nuclear proliferation in Asia and Europe. Nationalists like Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, and Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, who is known as a “little Putin,” would be emboldened to strengthen their ties with the Kremlin and undermine European security.

And the domestic consequences could be severe. Many of Mr. Trump’s economic advisers, including the former trade chief Robert Lighthizer (a leading candidate to be the Treasury secretary under Mr. Trump), are apparently intent on pursuing the Great Depression redux — waging trade wars with Europe and Asia. They’re floating a host of other risky measures, including curbing the independence of the Federal Reserve, weakening the dollar to try to increase exports, and imposing high tariffs on goods from China and Europe.

While Mr. Biden’s new tariffs on China aggressively target the solar industry and electric cars, Mr. Trump wants to decouple the world’s two largest economies from each other. These measures would weaken the confidence of foreign investors and fuel higher inflation.

With Ukraine and Russia at war, China threatening its neighbors and the Middle East aflame, warnings of a new world war already abound. Add in Mr. Trump’s strongman predilections — purging the State Department, the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. as redoubts of the deep state, cozying up to Mr. Putin, threatening China and reportedly sending assassination squads into Mexico to target drug kingpins — and the odds of a calamity rise.

Would the damage be irreversible? Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany supposedly remarked that “God has a special providence for fools, drunkards and the United States of America.” But Mr. Trump’s return might test even the Almighty’s patience.

Mr. Trump’s economic and foreign policy nationalism would subvert the preponderance of power that America has enjoyed since 1945 and that he has promised to bolster. It has been threatened from without but never from within. As he vows to upend America’s relations with the rest of the globe, the danger is not that Mr. Trump would fail to live up to his principles. It’s that he would.

Jacob Heilbrunn ( @JacobHeilbrunn ) is the editor of The National Interest, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the author, most recently, of “America Last.”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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What's the best state for you », north korea displays leader's portrait beside predecessors for first time.

North Korea Displays Leader's Portrait Beside Predecessors for First Time

Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the 19th expanded political bureau meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, which was held from January 23 to 24, in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this image released by the Korean Central News Agency on January 25, 2024. KCNA via REUTERS/ File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean media have published photographs showing leader Kim Jong Un's portrait hanging prominently next to those of his father and grandfather, in an apparent push to solidify his status as a leader equal to his forebears.

The photographs appeared to be the first time state media was publishing his portrait hanging beside those of state founder Kim Il Sung and his late father Kim Jong Il, who ruled the nation until his sudden death in 2011.

The photographs, taken at the opening of a new school training cadres for the ruling Workers' Party, showed giant portraits of the three generations displayed on the facade of the imposing structure.

In other photographs, Kim was shown speaking to aides, including the cabinet premier, in classrooms with the portraits of the trio hanging above the blackboard at the front.

Kim told the opening ceremony the location of the school was chosen as it was close to the palace where Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state, "so that the great leaders can hear every word of even whispering students," the KCNA news agency said.

State media did not comment on the intent behind the display of the portraits or say if it had become the standard across the country for all public venues and classrooms.

The Kim family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since its founding after World War Two has sought to strengthen its grip on power by building cults of personality around itself.

Another recent move that appeared aimed at burnishing the image of Kim Jong Un was the release of an upbeat song praising him as a "friendly father" and a "great leader" in a music video of North Koreans from all walks of life belting out the lyrics.

There has also been speculation that state media's discontinuation of the term "Day of the Sun" to describe a holiday for the birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung was to avoid drawing attention away from the current leader.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez)

Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters .

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Ukraine-Russia war: Latest updates

Scroll down to catch up on all the main developments and analysis of the war in Ukraine.

Friday 24 May 2024 14:44, UK

Ukrainian servicemen patrol an area heavily damaged by Russian military strikes, amid Russia&#39;s attack on Ukraine, in the town of Orikhiv in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine May 20, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

  • Big picture: What you need to know this week

While we are not running our usual updates, here is a rundown of the main events:

Vladimir Putin is ready to halt the war in Ukraine with a ceasefire that recognises current battlefield lines, four Russian sources have told the Reuters news agency.

Three of those sources claimed the Russian leader had expressed frustration about what he views as Western-backed attempts to hinder ceasefire negotiations.

"Putin can fight for as long as it takes, but Putin is also ready for a ceasefire - to freeze the war," a senior Russian source who has reportedly worked with Mr Putin and has knowledge of top-level conversations in the Kremlin, told Reuters.

Read more here...

Zelenskyy visits Kharkiv

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has travelled to the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which has been facing intensive Russian air attacks. 

The Ukrainian president met senior military leaders and travelled to the site of a major printing house - a day after it was destroyed in a Russian missile attack that killed at least seven people. 

Further developments :

  • Russian forces have had partial success near the village of Ivanivka in the east of Kharkiv region, the Ukrainian military said. Ukraine's general staff said 10 battles took place, with one successfully repelled and more ongoing near the villages of Petropavlivka, Ivanivka, Stelmakhivka, Nevske and Druzhelyubivka;
  • Volodymyr Zelenskyy will travel to Spain on Sunday, Spanish radio station Cadena SER reported. The Ukrainian president postponed visits to Madrid and Lisbon earlier this month because of intense fighting in Kharkiv;
  • Vladimir Putin is planning to visit North Korea, Russian state news agency RIA said.

Our live coverage will remain paused today, but let's catch you up on where things stand and on any updates overnight.

  • Russia said 35 rockets and three drones were fired into Belgorod and overnight, claiming to have destroyed all of them;
  • Blasts were heard in Kherson as Russia shelled the city, said its regional governor Roman Mrochko;
  • The leader of Russia's Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, met  Vladimir Putin and offered to send more fighters to the frontline;
  • Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a fresh plea for upgraded defence systems to protect Ukraine's cities against guided bombs, which he described as the "the main instrument" now used by Moscow';
  • A Russian airstrike on Ukraine's northeastern city of Kharkiv yesterday destroyed a cafe, damaged a nearby residential building and set a petrol station ablaze, with local officials saying ten people were wounded.

As we've not been providing rolling coverage of the war in Ukraine today, here is a quick update on what's been happening since this morning. 

One of the most significant new stories is the UK accusing China of providing or preparing to provide lethal aid to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine. 

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps told a news conference this morning that US and British defence intelligence had evidence "lethal aid is now, or will be, flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine".

He called this a "significant development".

We also heard from the Kremlin this morning, which said "in-depth dialogue" was needed to reduce rising tensions between Russia and the West - particularly with regards to nuclear issues. 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov accused the "collective West" of refusing to engage with Russia despite the potential dangers. 

Here are more of the top stories: 

  • Russian forces have taken over the village of Klishchiivka in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, close to the city of Bakhmut, according to Russian news agencies 
  • At least nine people have been injured in a Russian air attack on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv
  • Russia accused Ukraine of using a drone to attack a non-nuclear facility at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, causing no critical damage
  • Moscow said it is bolstering its efforts to protect its energy infrastructure from drone attacks
  • Six children were handed over to Ukraine by Russia and reunited with their families, after a deal was brokered by Qatar. 

We're pausing our coverage of the Ukraine war for the moment.

Scroll through the blog below to catch up on today's developments.

Vladimir Putin has praised the late president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, and said he was a "reliable partner".

Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash near the Azerbaijan border over the weekend along with his foreign minister and seven others.

Speaking on the leader, Mr Putin said he was "a man of his word" who carried out any agreements the pair made.

"He was truly a reliable partner, a man sure of himself, who acted in the national interest," Russian news agencies quoted Mr Putin as telling Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia's lower house of parliament.

"He was, of course, a man of his word and it was always good to work with him. What I mean is if we came to an agreement on something, you could be sure the agreement was carried out."

The Kremlin leader asked Mr Volodin, who will be attending memorial events in Iran, to pass on "words of our sincere condolences in connection with this tragedy".

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia has strengthened political, trade and military ties with Iran in a deepening relationship that the US and Israel view with concern.

Heavy fighting in the Pokrovsk area in eastern Ukraine has forced Ukrainian troops to engage in "manoeuvres," the Ukrainian military's general staff have said.

Their report said Pokrovsk, northwest of the Russian-held city of Donetsk, remains the front's "hottest" sector.

"In some areas, the situation requires our troops to engage in manoeuvres," the general staff report reads.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has referred to the region and adjacent areas as "extraordinarily difficult" in his nightly video address.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said allies are taking too long when it comes to decisions on military support for Ukraine.

In an interview with Reuters, the Ukrainian leader said every decision which everyone came to was "late by around one year".

"But it is what it is: one big step forward, but before that two steps back. So we need to change the paradigm a little bit," he said.

"When we're quick, they fall behind. And then there's a gap - six, eight months of unpassed (aid) packages, and then two-three months of supplies - and a year goes by. We would like not to lose the advantage."

Mr Zelenskyy also said Ukraine had never used Western weapons on Russian territory.

A senior Russian diplomat has said that the EU plan to channel profits from frozen Russian assets to Ukraine would have "unpredictable" consequences, according to the TASS news agency.

According to TASS, Kirill Logvinov, Russia's acting permanent representative to the EU in Brussels, told Russia journalists: "The only predictable thing is that those in the EU will be obliged sooner or later to return to our country what has been stolen."

For context : In March the European Commission proposed transferring to Ukraine profits generated by Russian central bank assets frozen in Europe.

The plan would see 90% channeled through the European Peace Facility fund to buy weapons for Ukraine. 

The rest would be used for recovery and reconstruction.

Russia's defence ministry has said it has begun a round of drills involving tactical nuclear weapons. 

The exercises were announced by Russian authorities this month in response to remarks by senior Western officials about the possibility of deeper involvement in the war in Ukraine.

It was the first time Russia has publicly announced drills involving tactical nuclear weapons, although its strategic nuclear forces regularly hold exercises.

According to the ministry's statement, the first stage of the new drills include nuclear-capable Kinzhal and Iskander missiles.

The maneuvers are taking place in the southern military district, which consists of Russian regions in the south.

A Moscow court has ordered a Russian journalist who covered the trials of the late Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny and other dissidents must  remain in custody pending an investigation and trial on charges of extremism.

Antonina Favorskaya was arrested in March. 

She is accused of collecting material, producing and editing videos and publications for Navalny's Foundation for Fighting Corruption, which had been outlawed as extremist by Russian authorities, according to court officials.

Today, Moscow's Basmanny district court ordered that she remain in custody until at least 3 August.

Kira Yarmysh, Navalny's spokeswoman, said earlier that Ms Favorskaya did not publish anything on the foundation's platforms and suggested that Russian authorities have targeted her because she was doing her job as a journalist.

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  1. 16 things to know before going to South Korea

    4. Take advantage of Korea's world-class public transportation. Korea's subways, trains and buses are clean, convenient and efficient. It can sometimes seem like a new station is added to the Seoul metro every month, and the rail and intercity bus networks will take you to every corner of the country.

  2. 11 Reasons Why Korea Is Worth Visiting

    Let's get right to the juicy info. 1. Seoul. Seoul should be the first place to visit if you're going to Korea. It's the capital of Korea and definitely worth visiting. There are many fun things you can do while you're in Seoul like, going to the karaoke bar, visiting cafes, or just relaxing.

  3. Complete South Korea Travel Guide 2024: Korean Travel Tips

    Current Requirements To Travel To Korea In 2024. This part of the South Korea travel guide is for tourists. If you plan to travel for business, employment, or other reasons, check your nearest Korean embassy for the latest travel requirements. Most of the restrictions and requirements for travelling to Korea have now been scrapped.

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    Also when it comes to cosmetics, you can stock up on masks, treatments, make-up, etc. South Korea has a huge number of cosmetics stores. The main shopping areas are Myeongdong, Hongdae, and Gangnam (head to Garuso-gil, our favorite street in Gangnam). 9. Korean culture and its people.

  5. 20 Best Places to Visit in South Korea in 2024

    4. Busan. One of the best cities in South Korea to visit is Busan, a port city that provides a nice contrast to many of the other popular city destinations. The main focus for many visitors to Busan is the city's gorgeous beaches, with Haeundae Beach and Gwangalli Beach the two best known.

  6. 26 South Korea Travel Tips You Need to Know! • 2024

    11. Korea Isn't Cheap. Expenses in Korea aren't quite as scary as Western Europe in summer but this isn't Thailand either, so you need to be prepared to spend a little more. Hostels will cost at least $15 USD/night but usually a bit more, and proper meals will start at around $8.

  7. Ultimate South Korea Bucket List: 20 Best Things To Do

    Korean Cuisine - Best Things To Do in South Korea. 9. Hike in Seoraksan National Park. Seoraksan National Park is one of the most impressive hiking spots in South Korea. Sokcho (the city nearby) is only a bus ride away from Seoul and has accommodations to stay in for anyone who wants to spend a day or more in the park.

  8. 50 beautiful places to visit in South Korea

    One of the few places where you can see poppies in Korea, the local town hosts a Poppy Festival here every year around June. Simhak Mountain, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 파주시 심학산) 34.

  9. 19 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in South Korea

    Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in South Korea. 1. Experience Korean History at Changdeokgung Palace. 2. Explore Beaches and History in Busan. 3. Visit Jeonju, the Former Spiritual Capital of Korea. 4. View Seoul from Above at the N Seoul Tower.

  10. Reasons Why You Should Visit South Korea At Least Once In Your Lifetime

    Quiet Countryside. As South Korea is not yet a worldwide popular vacation destination like its neighbors China and Japan, you will find untouched rural areas giving insight into traditional Korean lifestyle. While around 20% of all South Koreans live in and near Seoul, it's especially the small rural villages where you can find peace and quiet.

  11. Top 8 Places to Visit in South Korea for Tourists

    Jogyesa Temple in Insadong is a great option - the Golden Buddhas are amazing. Click here to check out our detailed Seoul Travel Guide. View of the walk along the Fortress Wall in Naksan Park, in Seoul, South Korea. 2. Nami Island. Nami Island is a great day trip or day tour to the east of Seoul in Gapyeong.

  12. Travel Guide to South Korea: Know Before You Go

    When to go to South Korea. Few cities have weather that ranges as wildly as Seoul - I've frozen in winter and melted in summer. In July and August, temperatures can reach 104°F (40°C) with very high humidity which, if you're from a cold country like me (Irish), ensures you sweat profusely. Then, in December and January, it can feel like ...

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    Korea is a peninsula with North Korea to the north and only the ocean to the south, so getting to South Korea you'll need to fly. The only exception is if you're traveling from Japan, then you'd have the option to take one of the ferries over. All of the ferries from Japan will stop in Busan, which is about a 4 hour train ride from Seoul.

  14. Travelling to South Korea? What Seems Underwhelming is Misunderstood

    Korea is Asia's fourth-largest economy, with a high standard of living. Essentially, they don't need tourism to thrive, so the notion of tourism is misunderstood and rests significantly on those wanting to visit the DMZ border. READ MORE: Visit the DMZ in North Korea and South Korea - The Story of Both Sides.

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  16. 10 Best Places To Visit In Korea That You Will Simply Love

    10. Suwon. 1. Seoul. Image Source. Seoul is the capital city of South Korea. It is the largest metropolis and a major destination in South Korea as well as eastern Asia. The city has a lot of attractions to offer tourists. A good starting point will be to visit one of the various palaces in the city.

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    Nature lovers will revel in visiting the spectacular Hallyeohaesang National Park. 13. Daejeon. Having expanded rapidly over the last few decades, Daejeon is now one of the largest cities in South Korea and is a significant science and research center, thanks in part to the large Expo Park complex.

  18. 5 Best Places To Visit In South Korea (Besides Seoul And Busan)

    Although I've named some very interesting places in Korea indeed, they're only the beginning. Other must-visit Korea destinations include the following: Boseong Tea Fields. Bukhansan and Naejangsan National Parks. Jeonju: Korea's budding foodie capital. The winter wonderland of Pyeongchang. Spiritual Andong.

  19. Best time to visit South Korea

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