The Korean peninsula is a tantalisingly unexplored slice of East Asia – a pine-clad land of mountains, misty archipelagos and rice paddies of emerald green, studded with urban pockets of incomparable joie de vivre. While its troubled history has made Korea’s very existence nothing short of miraculous, amazingly its traditions and customs have largely survived intact – and for visitors, this highly distinctive culture is an absolute joy to dive into.
The blue and red circle at the heart of the South Korean flag neatly symbolises the divided Korean Peninsula, but also the fluid mix of the ancient and the modern in the country officially called the Republic of Korea, where the vast majority of visitors will spend their time. South Korea is a dream destination – an engaging, welcoming place where the benefits of a high-tech nation are balanced alongside a reverence for tradition and the ways of old Asia.
South Korea’s compact size and superb transport infrastructure mean that tranquillity can be found in easy reach of the urban sprawl. Hike to the summits of craggy mountains enclosed by densely forested national parks. Some of those same mountains transform into ski slopes come winter. Get further off the beaten path than you thought possible by sailing to remote islands, where farming and fishing folk welcome you into their homes and simple seafood cafes. Chill out in serene villages surrounded by rice fields, sleeping in rustic hanok guesthouses.
Top 10 Must-See Places in South Korea
1. Seoul – Seoul is not only the largest city in South Korea with lots to offer to cater everyone’s preferences but it is also a major tourist destination in East Asia. There are so many wonderful attractions in this metropolitan city and some of the must-visits include Gyeongbok-gung and Changdeok-gung along with a bunch of ancient temples, shrines, cutting-edge modern shopping centres, beautiful public parks.
2. Gyeongju – With its more than 2000 years old history of the old capital of the Silla Kingdom, Gyeongju is definitely a must-see destination for everyone who wants a more in-depth look at the country’s ancient culture. The city offers lots of historical sites and Buddhist culture and artefacts including the Bulguska Temple, the Seokguram Grotto Temple, the Covered Market, and much more.
3. DMZ – This piece of land right on the border between South and North Korea is known as the demilitarised zone. Although not completely safe as a whole, some areas of the zone are open to the public and can be safely visited on an authorised guided tour. In fact, visiting the JSA area of the zone gives you the chance to physically stand in North Korea too.
4. Jeju Island – For a quick getaway from the South Korea mainland you can head to Jeju Island just right off the southern shore of the country. Besides being the country’s one and only Special Autonomous Province, the island offers a lot to see and experience including lush greenery, beautiful beaches, lava tubes, the Glass Castle, which is a theme park revolving around glass figures and sculptures, and more.
5. Andong – More than 2000 years old, Andong is often referred to as the spiritual capital of South Korea with lots of sites and little villages preserving the local cultural heritage. Andong is also a perfect destination for food lovers as it offers plenty of local specialities and traditional alcoholic soju.
6. Seoraksan National Park – Enjoying the South Korean nature at its finest means that you have to head to Seoraksan National Park. With plenty of jagged mountain peaks around, sparkly lakes and crystal clear stream, old pine forests, and more than 2000 animal species, this park definitely makes up for a perfect place for stunning pictures.
7. Jeonju – Filled with plenty of ancient temples and interesting museums, Jeonju is definitely a must-visit place in South Korea. Getting to know the local history and culture means that you have to head to Jeonju Hanok Village and enjoy its beautiful ancient traditional homes.
8. Busan – Busan is the second largest city in the country known for its amazing beaches and as a major port. The stunningly coloured hillside of Busan is actually the Busan’s Gamcheon Cultural Village that is also known as Santorini of South Korea.
9. Chuncheon – Chuncheon is the capital city of Gangwon Province and the location of one of the most popular Korean soap operas. While the majority of the tourists visit the place just so they can have a look at the popular filming locations, Chuncheon has much more to offer with its stunning lakes and towering mountains, beautiful temples, and the food paradise it offers.
10. Suwon – Just 20 miles outside of Seoul is located the city of Suwon where you will be able to visit the World Cup Stadium called the Big Bird that hosted the quarterfinals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The city is often neglected by the majority of the tourists and along with its perfect location and easy access, it makes up for a perfect and peaceful getaway from the hectic Seoul.