Travel Guide: Top 12 Best Places to Visit in South Korea
Known as the “Land of the Morning Calm,” South Korea has risen over the past years as the destination of choice for tourists around the world. The rise of South Korea’s popularity among tourists can be attributed to its growing economic reach in terms of media, namely with its Kpop Music and Kdramas. However, it’s also greatly visited for its modern and sprawling cities, great nightlife, thrilling cuisine, rich culture and history, and advanced technological innovations.
Its territory occupies the southern half of the Korean Penninsula and is hugely distinct from its northern neighbor, North Korea. South Korea is also home to beautiful natural landscapes and sceneries outside the bustling cities. There are plenty of amazing destinations to visit in the countryside where the pace is slower.
This list will highlight the best 12 places to visit in South Korea in random order.
Seol is the sprawling metropolis city that acts as South Korea’s capital. It’s usually the first place that tourists visit in the country and oftentimes stay within the city’s territory throughout their stay. And it’s hard to blame them. Seoul has everything to offer for tourists.
The vibrant city has a great nightlife scene, amazing shopping districts like Apgujeong, scenic landmarks like the Han River and other parks that balance the city’s concrete, glass, and metal architecture. It’s also the place where you can find the trendiest fashion and chic bars and restaurants.
Plus there are plenty of historical places that reflects South Korea’s past and traditions that tourists are welcome to visit like Changdeokgung and Deoksugung.
Seoraksan National Park
Translated as Snowy Peaked Mountains, Seoraksan National Park is one of the best places in South Korea to see its beautiful nature. Seoraksan National Park is home to South Korea’s third-highest mountain, Seoraksan and the park itself covers an area of 400 thousand sq km. Its pristine landscape is visited by travelers from the world over and its jagged and snow-capped mountain ranged are popular destinations to hike for both tourists and South Koreans.
Other than its picturesque mountain range, Seoraksan National Park offers stunning lakes, crystal clear streams, fresh pine forests, and two Buddhist temples, Singheung-sa and Baekdam-sa. The park is also home to over 2,000 animal species. For those who want to visit and explore the park, head first over to its National Park Center where free maps of the park both in English and Korean are distributed.
The city of Jeonju used to serve as Korea’s spiritual capital during the peak of the Joseon Dynasty. Today, Jeonju is a reflection of South Korea’s grasp of balancing the modern world while upholding its traditional roots. Jeonju is highly visited because of its greatly preserved traditional buildings, museums, and temples as well as its traditional Korean cuisine. The popular Korean dish Bibimbap in Jeonju. It’s a dish that consisted of rice, egg, and vegetables with hot sauce.
For visitors who want a taste of Korea’s traditional culture and history, head over to Jeonju’s Hanok Village to see beautiful traditional 20th-century homes or learn to make traditional Hanji paper, among other traditional activities.
Busan is the second-largest just behind Seoul city in South Korea and it’s located at its southeastern coast overlooking the sea of Japan. It’s also home to a major port in South Korea as well as beautiful Buddhist temples, a sprawling beaches where some of the biggest fishes festivals are held in South Korea annually. The city is also blessed with to be overlooked by the nearby Jangan Mountain where people can hike up its summit and get a stunning vista of the city.
Additionally, Busan has a strong film culture where there’s a big film festival held each year, arguably the biggest in Asia.
This next entry is probably most known for hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics as well as the 2018 Winter Paralympics. Located at the Taeback mountain region, PyeongChang is the ideal place to partake in winter activities with parts of its area rising to 2,300 ft above sea level. The region’s seasonal abundance of snowfalls makes it a must-visit for winter sports enthusiasts. To add to its beautiful scenery, it’s also a popular destination for mountain hikers and it’s home to ancient Buddhist temples with some dating back to the 7th century.
The city of Suwon is located just 30 km south of Seoul and has become a popular day trip for tourists based in the country’s capital. Fun fact: Suwon almost became the capital city of Korea in the 18th century, only the death of the king of that time prevented the transfer of power from Seoul to Suwon.
Suwon’s most popular landmark is the Hwaseong Fortress built in the year 1794 and as the location of the country’s seat of power. It’s now serving as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site with the fortress’s massive walls stretching for nearly 6 km.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the stunning Jeju Island. It’s also known as the Island of the gods and with good reason. Jeju Island lies below the Korean Penninsula and it’s the top vacation and honeymoon destination in the country. Travelers can visit South Korea’s tallest mountain on the island, Halla Mountain. There are tons of natural and manmade attractions on Jeju Island including lava tubes, amusement parks, and beautiful beaches such as Hyeopjae Beach.
Additionally, Jeju Island developed a distinct culture from South Korea over the years and served as an autonomous region. Visit its Seongeup Folklore Village to immerse in the local culture.
This next entry is an absolute haven for history buffs traveling South Korea. Gyeongju is an ancient city that’s around 2,000 years old and once served as the Korean Penninsula’s capital during the Silla Dynasty over 1,000 years ago. Today, it’s known as the museum without walls because Gyeongju is home to the highest number of historical artifacts, sights, tombs, ruins, and the largest and oldest Buddhist temples in South Korea.
Gyeongju is just bursting with Korea’s ancient culture. Some of the must-visit destinations within Gyeongju are Bulguksa, Seokguram, Tumuli Park, and Yangdong Village.
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
After the Korean War ended in 1953, the Korean Demilitarized Zone or DMZ was created to serve as a buffer zone between the divided Korean nations. Within the DMZ is the Military Demarcation Line or MDL which runs through the exact location where the front lines are dug during the Korean War.
Tourists can only visit the DMZ and the MDL by joining an authorized tour to one of the most militarized areas in the world. Visitors can get a glimpse of the North Korean soldiers and even briefly step on North Korean territory inside a building called the Joint Security Area or JSA. Joining a tour to the DMZ will bring insight to tourists about the relations and history between the separated Korean nations.
Cherry blossoms aren’t exclusively found in Japan. South Korea has its very own beautiful cherry blossom festival or locally known as Gunhangje during its spring season in Jinhae. The city of Jinhae located just northwest of Busan and its a popular destination for lovers especially during its 10-day cherry blossom festival.
Military parades and street performances are held during the festivities. For those looking to visit this romantic city, it’s best to check out the cherry blossoms at night as there are significantly fewer people and the lights illuminate the pink of the cherry blossom flowers so majestically.
Just east of Seoul is the city of Chuncheon. The city’s tourism rose to soaring heights when it was chosen as the main setting of the popular Kdrama “Winter Sonata.” Its filming locations have since been a popular must-see destination for Kdrama lovers from the world over. But Chuncheon also boasts majestic natural sights and rich history. The city is surrounded by scenic lakes and snow-capped mountains.
It’s also a popular destination for foodies as the irresistible dish called dakgalbi, a grilled chicken dish with spicy vegetables and rice. Don’t forget to taste this delicious Korean cuisine after visiting Chuncheon’s attractions such as Cheonpyeongsa Temple and Soyang Dam.
This last entry is another historic Korean city called Andong. Andong is around 2,000 years old and is now known as South Korea’s Capital of Korean Spiritual Culture. Beautiful traditional villages are wonderfully preserved like the must-visit Hahoe Folk Village. Locals are always willing to share their traditions and cultures with visitors and it’s a must-visit for history enthusiasts.
Andong is also a popular destination for foodies because it’s known for several specialties including the chicken and noodle dish called jjimdak and the traditional Korean alcohol called soju.