South Korea may not yet be a wildly popular travel destination, but it should be. This exciting country offers something for every kind of traveller, from fascinating culture to amazing food and friendly people. There’s truly something for everyone, so take a look at the top 15 places to visit in South Korea.
It’s known both for its hilly countryside dotted with cherry trees and centuries-old Buddhist temples, as it is for its high-tech cities such as Seoul, the capital. With its intriguing mix of urban hotspots, historic sights and idyllic countryside, you can find a wide variety of tourist attractions in South Korea.
Here Are The Top 12 Places To Visit In South Korea
1Seoul, South Korea’s Cosmopolitan Capital City
South Korea’s capital is a bustling and vibrant city. Full of restaurants and bars and a unique combination of ancient history and ultra-modern design and technology, this city has a wide range of tourist attractions best seen during spring and autumn months to avoid the crowds. Between exploring Mount Namsan to visiting one of Seoul’s many museums, here are some places you must see:
- N Seoul Tower: This observation tower located on Namsan Mountain is 236 metres tall and provides dramatic views of the city. You can get there via cable car and visit any one of four observation decks, or the various restaurants. Sunset is the most popular time to come here; try to visit on a weekday to avoid the long queues.
- Gyeongbokgung Palace: Built in 1395, this was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. It has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, and today houses the National Palace Museum of Korea. Visit between 1 and 2 pm to see the ‘Changing of the Guard’ ceremony.
- Changdeokgung Palace: Also built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty this palace dates back to the 1400s and is known for its lavish residences, as the 78-acre Huwon (rear garden) is filled with serene ponds and pavilions. Visit the palace between September and October to see its magnificent autumn foliage.
- Myeong-dong: A shopping area packed with international fashion brands, department stores and cosmetics shops, Myeong-dong also has lots of casual eateries and street vendors selling all kinds of food.
Also Read: Things To Do In Seoul On Your Next Trip
2Travel Back In Time At The Bukchon Hanok Village
Though it’s situated within Seoul, the Bukchon Hanok Village deserves a separate mention. Located between the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Changdeokgung Palace, it is a perfectly preserved village lined with hanoks (traditional Korean houses) dating back 600 years to the Joseon Dynasty. Here you’ll find traditional restaurants, guesthouses, tea houses and cultural centres, which are perfect spaces to relive the atmosphere of historic Korea. It truly is one of the places you must see in South Korea. However, it can get a bit crowded during the day, so try to visit early morning.
3For More History And Some Delicious Food, Visit Jeonju
Jeonju is a city in western South Korea, just two hours away from Seoul by train, that’s known primarily for the Jeonju Hanok Heritage Village. Much like the Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul, it is an area of traditional houses, craft shops and food stalls. Also located here is the Jeonju Korean Traditional Wine Museum. Be sure to visit Jeonju for the week-long Jeonju International Film Festival held every April or May, and for the delicious bibimbap (rice bowls with vegetables, chilli paste and eggs) that’s said to have originated here.
4Hit The Beach In Busan, The Second-largest City In Korea
Located along the coast and lined with some beautiful beaches and resorts, Busan is one of the top places to visit in South Korea and is about 3 hours away from Seoul by train. Nearby is the picturesque cliffside village of Gamecheon which is also a must-see. The city itself is a modern, cosmopolitan place, but has a lot of culture and history to offer as well. Visit in spring or autumn to see some amazing natural beauty. Some places you cannot miss are:
- Haeundae Beach: This is one of the most popular beaches in South Korea. It is busy throughout the year, and various festivals are held here, including the Polar Bear Festival every January. If you want to visit quieter beaches, consider Daedepo or Songdo.
- Taejongdae: Located just outside Busan, this forested park has excellent views of the sea, as well as an observatory, an amusement park, and a lighthouse. It’s best to visit in summer, as trains may not run during rainy or icy conditions.
- Jagalchi: The country’s largest commercial seafood market, Jagalchi has many small restaurants that offer to cook your purchases so you can eat them fresh right there. While the market is open seven days a week, get there early to find the freshest catch.
- Haedong Yonggungsa Temple: A seaside Buddhist temple near Haeundae Beach, it was originally built in 1376 (but later destroyed and rebuilt in the 1930s). Visit during the Buddha’s birthday celebrations in spring when the complex is decorated with paper lanterns.
5Visit Nami Island If You Enjoy Stunning Seasonal Scenery
Nami Island, also known as Namiseom, is a half-moon shaped island in the Gangwon Province. Created in 1944 by the rising water of the North Han River (after the construction of the Cheongpyeong Dam), it is a popular day-trip destination from Seoul as it’s just over an hour away. It’s famous both for being the filming location of the popular K-drama ‘Winter Sonata’, as well as for its absolutely stunning scenery that offers something special every season. Don’t miss the beautiful cherry blossoms in spring, or the spectacular fall foliage along Ginkgo Tree Lane and Pine Tree Lane.
6Get A Taste Of Traditional Korean Architecture At Gyeongju
Once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla (57 BCE – 935 CE), Gyeongju today is one of the best places to visit in South Korea to get a taste of the country’s traditional architecture and history. While it is four hours away from Seoul, it’s just 40 minutes from Busan. Often called “the museum without walls,” the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Top attractions include the Bulguksa Temple (and its 1000-year-old Buddha statue), the Cheomseongdae Observatory, the Royal Tombs, the Gyeongju National Museum (which holds more than 16,000 artefacts), and the Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond. The best months for visits are April to June, and September to October, just before and after the summer rains.
7Semi-Tropical Jeju Island Is Perfect For Hiking
Just off the coast of southern South Korea is Jeju Island. While you can take a train and ferry here (the trip takes 8 hours), it’s quickest to take a short domestic flight from Seoul. The best time to visit Jeju Island is between November and February when the weather is pleasant and the skies are clear. A semi-tropical island, it is home to the country’s tallest mountain Hallasan. This dormant volcano is an excellent destination for hiking and is also known for its lava tubes, rock formations left by receding lava from ancient eruptions. Other points of interest on Jeju Island are:
- Seongsan Ilchulbong: This bowl-like crater on the eastern side of the island created a formation known as a “tuff cone”. You can climb to the top to explore its unique and diverse flora.
- Waterfalls: There are also plenty of beautiful waterfalls on the island, such as Jeongbang, Cheonjiyeon, and Cheonjeyeon.
- Manjanggul: A lava tube with all kinds of structures to marvel at, such as stalactites, stalagmites, lava columns, cave coral, and much more.
- Jeju Loveland: This sex-themed outdoor sculpture park is described as “a place where love oriented art and eroticism meet.” Here you will find sex education films, hundreds of sculptures and more “hands-on” exhibits.
Also read: Must-visit islands in South Korea
8Explore All Kinds Of Bamboo At Damyang
Also located towards the southern tip of South Korea is Damyang County, a 4-hour train or bus ride away from Seoul. Its many small towns and villages have become famous for their wealth of bamboo goods. Visit the local Bamboo Theme Park, the Bamboo Museum, and Junknokwon, a park filled with green bamboo. You can also take part in the annual Damyang Bamboo Festival held in May.
The region is also known for its unique cuisine serving bamboo foods such as daetongbap (rice cooked in bamboo), bamboo tea and wine, and salads of raw bamboo and spicy vinegar. Apart from those bamboo-related sights, there are hiking opportunities around the mountains of Byeongungsan and Chuwolsan.
9If You Love Tea, Boseong Is A Must-See
Boseong is a small but picturesque county whose rolling fields are responsible for 40 per cent of Korea’s tea production. It is in southern South Korea, and it takes over 4 hours to reach from Seoul; however, there are short flights available from Busan. Visitors here can see seemingly endless traditional terraced farmlands with impressive mountains in the background. Another major draw is the food, as the local green tea-related specialities (like green tea ice cream and green tea pork belly) are tasty treats. You can also visit during the green tea festival held every May.
10For Hiking And Incredible Natural Sights, Head To Seoraksan National Park
This majestic natural paradise was Korea’s first national park. It is a popular and short trip from Seoul, as it just takes 2 hours to reach here by road. Covering an area of 163 sq km, it includes various mountain peaks, such as the scenic Gongnyong Ridge and Seoraksan Mountain. You can even take a cable car up the mountain for some incredible views of this tourist attraction in South Korea. The park is known for its natural diversity and has thousands of species of flora and fauna. So, be respectful of nature when you visit, by responsibly disposing of waste, not feeding wild animals, and not harming the ecosystem.
There are also two Buddhist temples inside the park, one of which is surrounded by ponds and is known as the “Temple of a Hundred Pools”. If you plan to go hiking, visit the park in spring to enjoy the mild weather. But, if you just want to bask in nature, try summer for lush greenery and gorgeous cascading waterfalls, and autumn for some beautiful foliage.
11See The Cherry Blossoms In Jinhae
Jinhae is mostly visited for its annual spring cherry blossom festival (held from late March to early April) when the city’s cherry blossom trees are in full bloom for a short 10-day period before the petals start to fall. The best spot within the city to see the blossoms is by Gyeonghwa Station, where there is a mile-long stretch of trees. The festival also features cultural performances, art, and parades; and the event attracts more than two million visitors annually. The city is about 4 hours away from Seoul, but just 45 minutes away from Busan by road.
12Visit An Active Military Site At The DMZ
One of the most unique tourist attractions in South Korea is the military border between North and South Korea. The DMZ (or demilitarized zone) is the no-man’s-land between the two countries and can be visited, but only via an official, guided tour. Spread across 4 km, you can explore a North Korean gift shop, a conference room that straddles the official Military Demarcation Line (where you can actually step over the border into North Korea) and other nearby parks and museums.
The closest town to the Korean DMZ is Panmunjom, where reservations must be made at least 2 weeks in advance. Remember to bring your passport, dress modestly (no skirts, shorts, or camouflage prints). The best times to visit are in spring and autumn, though tours can be cancelled or end unexpectedly at any time if tensions rise at the border.
How Can You Get The Best Out Of South Korea Tourism?
South Koreans have very specific social rules, and although foreigners are generally given some slack, it’s important that you read up on these before you visit. Additionally, the country is famous for its lush green countryside, so be responsible while visiting. If you really want to get the best experience of the local culture, skip the hotel and opt for a small inn or bed-and-breakfast at one of the many historic villages in the country.
So, Which Of These Places To Visit In South Korea Are For You?
The wide range of places to visit in South Korea is sure to appeal to almost every conceivable kind of traveller set it apart from more popular Asian alternatives. Whether you set your sights on the bright lights of Seoul, join in the tranquillity of Buddhist monasteries, or explore the country’s stunning flora and fauna, let South Korea reveal herself to you in her own time.