South Korea is not quite the ‘standard tourist destination’ for many – but I’m actually quite thankful for that because it means I get to explore most of the amazing things that Korea has to offer without crowds of people spoiling my experience! When you visit, don’t leave Korea without ticking these items off your list!
One of the most visited attractions in the country, Gyeongbokgung Palace should be on top of every itinerary and is usually one of the first things travelers visit when in Korea. The palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty and was built in 1395. It is said that the layout of the Forbidden City in Beijing was taken as an example when building Gyeongbokgung in Seoul. Therefore, visitors will step through a lot of gates and pass countless ornate buildings and temples when exploring the place complex.
Tip: Wearing traditional Korean hanbok will spare you from the palace’s admission fee. You can rent hanbok at OneDay Hanbok very close to the palace.
Eat Street Food
Korean BBQ is popular all over the world and you should definitely have it when in Korea. However, there is a multitude of dishes and snacks that are offered outside at markets or on pedestrian streets that are cheap and oh-so-delicious. Try as much street food in Korea as possible as the flavors of Korean snacks are unique and very distinct compared to anywhere else in the world.
Traditional markets such as Gwangjang Market, Namdaemun Market or Tongin Market are great places to start. Myeongdong, Hongdae, and Insadong also offer a great selection of street food but prices have risen due to the increasing popularity of these areas. Some foods you absolutely need to try include:
- Spicy Rice Cakes/ Ddeokbokki (떡볶이)
- Fish Cakes/ Odeng/Uhmook (오뎅/어묵)
- Fried Rice Cake Skewers/ Ddeokggochi (떡꼬치)
- Sweet Korean Pancake/ Hotteok (호떡)
- Tornado Potato/ Hweori Gamja (회오리 감자)
Do A Temple Stay
Templestay is a cultural experience program that lets one get a taste of the incredible cultural heritage which has blossomed during the five thousand years of Korean history, as well as experience the cultural consciousness transmitted throughout Korean Buddhist history. – Templestay.com
Don’t leave Korea without taking part in a temple stay program. It is one of the best possible ways to get deeply in touch with local culture and history. Temples all over the country offer unique programs designed for foreign visitors coming to Korea to find themselves. Typically, participants stay for one night and live like the local monks at a temple. This entails praying, meditating, doing chores, eating vegetarian meals and getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning. However, many temples also offer a one-day program or hold events for just a couple of hours. No matter how long your Korea trip is, you can easily fit a temple program in your schedule! Check out their Website to book your experience.
Wear Korean Hanbok
Hanbok is Korea’s traditional clothing and still widely in use. Especially for national holidays or family events, such as birthday’s and weddings, people like to dress up in the colorful Korean hanbok. Foreign tourists coming to Korea have realized the beauty of the local traditional clothing and love to play dress up when exploring. Places like Seoul and Jeonju offer the chance to rent hanbok and take unforgettable travel photos. Don’t leave Korea without renting hanbok, for example from OneDay Hanbok in Seoul located close to the main palace of Gyeongbokgung. The best part is that you get free entrance to various historic attractions, such as Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung or Jongmyo Shrine, when wearing hanbok.
Hike Seoraksan Mountain
Listed under the National Park Law in 1970, Seoraksan National Park was the first national park in the country and is still the most visited. The park covers an area of 163.6 square kilometers (63.2 sq mi) and boasts many mountains reaching over 1,200 meters in height. Outdoor enthusiasts will especially appreciate the colorful foliage in the fall. However, Seoraksan can be visited year-round and is always a unique destination.
Walk Across Tea Fields
Even though South Koreans tend to drink more coffee than tea, the country is still a major tea producer in Asia. The city of Boseong is known as the green tea capital of South Korea. The climate and soil in Boseong provide ideal conditions for growing a unique green tea that has a taste and aroma distinct to the region. The largest tea plantation is called ‘Daehan Green Tea Plantation’ and can be toured throughout the year.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
Millions of tourists come to Korea each year for one sole purpose: shopping. Especially Asian tourists from neighboring countries like China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Japan, come to Korea to pick up skincare and make-up products, Korean fashion, as well as K-Pop and K-Drama merchandise. Even if you are not into Korean actors or singers, you should definitely try out some of the amazing skincare products and take some sheet masks, cleansing foams, and hand creams back home with you. Some of the best places for shopping in Seoul include Myeongdong, Insadong, Hongdae or Gangnam.
Visit A Theme Cafe
Café culture in South Korea is a very interesting phenomenon and one that you should absolutely not miss out on. Seoul is a mecca for quirky dessert cafés and coffee shops and has everything from animal-themed cafés with sheep, raccoons, cats, dogs or even meerkats to princess or with themed cafés. However, there are also many themed cafés located all over the country, such as the Harry Potter café near Daegu, or the photography inspired Dreamy Camera Café in Yangpyeong County. Don’t leave Korea without visiting at least one themed café!
Visit A Local Teahouse
I’m a huge fan of everything related to tea and visiting a local teahouse in Korea (or anywhere in Asia) never gets old. My favorite teahouse is Tteuran in Ikseon-dong, however, there are plenty of places to choose from all over Korea. Be sure to order local tea varieties, such as Omija tea, Jujube tea, buckwheat tea or ginseng tea. Most tea places also offer Korean desserts and sweets on the side.
Sleep in A Hanok
Hanok is the name of Korea’s traditional house used hundreds of years ago. What’s so special about them? Despite the fact that their beautiful tiled roofs and wooden details, they come with ondol, or underfloor heating. The wooden floors heat up quickly in cold weather but keep the house cool in the hot summer months. Moreover, people don’t sleep in beds in a hanok but on the floor, absorbing the warmth of the ondol. While there are several hanok houses you can spend the night in in Seoul, don’t leave Korea without visiting the city of Jeonju and spending a night or two in its historic hanok old town boasting over 800 traditional houses.
Swim in Haeundae
South Korea’s most famous beach is located in its second largest city of Busan. Located on the southeastern coast of the Korean Peninsula, Busan attracts millions of visitors each year. While the city is a bustling tourist destination throughout the entire year, the summer months get especially crowded when everyone heads to Haeundae Beach. While it might not be the most relaxing or most beautiful beach in the country, it is without a doubt the most famous and a must-visit when in South Korea.
Hike a Volcano
Volcanoes in Korea? Absolutely! The island of Jeju-do, the largest island of South Korea, was created entirely from volcanic eruptions approximately 2 million years ago. Mt. Hallasan is the tallest mountain in the country is also a volcano standing 1metersetres (6,400 ft) high. While the most recent eruptions are estimated to have taken place about 5,000 years ago, Hallasan is still considered active. Don’t leave Korea without checking out the different hiking trails leading up to the top of Hallasan.
Are you ready to explore South Korea?
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