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12 Very Best Cities in South Korea to Visit

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South Korea is (still) an underrated travel destination – but incredible to explore! From stunning hiking trails, islands like Jeju and the best cities in South Korea to visit, there’s a slice of the peninsula that everyone will love.

Most people who do decide to travel to South Korea often only explore Seoul. That being said, you can actually get a deeper sense of the country’s culture when venturing outside Seoul‘s city walls.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some of my favorite and best cities in South Korea I visited since I moved here in 2015. From sprawling mega-cities like Seoul to smaller hidden gems – there is something for everyone!

Seoul

Almost every trip to South Korea likely starts (or ends) in Seoul. It’s no surprise that the country’s capital is also one of the best cities in South Korea to visit. Seoul seems to have it all: culture, history, shopping, food, urban hotspots… You name it – Seoul‘s probably got it.

There is so much to see and do in Seoul that it’s best to check out my ultimate guide to Seoul for a comprehensive overview.

Top 5 Places To See in Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace: This historic palace is one of the most iconic landmarks in Seoul. Explore the grand architecture, visit the National Folk Museum, and catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony. It’s a beautiful place to learn about Korea’s royal history.

Myeongdong: This bustling shopping district is a paradise for fashion enthusiasts and foodies. You can find trendy boutiques, street food stalls, and numerous cosmetic shops. Myeongdong is also famous for its vibrant nightlife.

Bukchon Hanok Village: Step back in time by wandering through this traditional Korean village. The well-preserved hanok (traditional Korean houses) provide a glimpse into the past. It’s a picturesque area with lovely alleys and courtyards.

Namsan Seoul Tower: Take a cable car or hike to the top of Namsan Mountain to reach the iconic Namsan Seoul Tower. From the observation deck, you’ll be treated to breathtaking panoramic views of the city. It’s especially enchanting at sunset or in the evening when the city lights up.

Insadong: Explore the cultural heart of Seoul in Insadong. This area is known for its art galleries, traditional tea houses, and shops selling antiques and traditional crafts. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in Korean culture.

Top 5 Tours & Experiences in Seoul

Where to stay in Seoul

Busan

Even though Busan is the second largest city in Korea (after Seoul), the two cities couldn’t be more different. If Seoul is the NYC of Korea, Busan would probably be the Korean Miami. It’s pretty laid-back and heavily influenced by beach vibes.

However, besides fun in the sun, Busan also has some of the most interesting cultural attractions, especially the seaside temple Haedong Yonggung. Grab some of the best seafood here and don’t forget to take a dip in Korea’s most famous beach: Haeundae!

Top 5 Places To See in Busan

Haeundae Beach: Haeundae Beach is one of the most famous and popular beaches in South Korea. With its soft sands and crystal-clear waters, it’s an ideal place to relax, swim, or take a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk. During the summer, the beach comes alive with various water sports and festivals.

Jagalchi Fish Market: As South Korea’s largest seafood market, Jagalchi Fish Market is a must-visit for seafood lovers. You can witness the bustling activity as fishermen and vendors sell a wide variety of fresh seafood. Many restaurants in the area will prepare your selection for you to enjoy on the spot.

Gamcheon Culture Village: Known as the “Machu Picchu of Busan,” Gamcheon Culture Village is a colorful and artistic hillside community with vibrant murals and sculptures. It’s a great place for taking pictures, exploring winding alleys, and enjoying local artwork.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple: Perched on the coast, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is a stunning seaside temple that offers breathtaking views of the ocean. It’s a unique and picturesque place to experience both the beauty of Korean architecture and the serenity of the sea.

Yongdusan Park and Busan Tower: Yongdusan Park is a peaceful green space in the heart of Busan, and it’s home to the Busan Tower. Take the elevator to the top of the tower for panoramic views of the city and the ocean. The park itself is adorned with sculptures and offers a relaxing atmosphere.

Top 5 Tours & Experiences in Busan

Where to stay in Busan

Gyeongju

History buffs are going to love Gyeongju. In fact, the city is often referred to as Korea’s “museum without walls” because Gyeongju has more tombs, temples, pagodas, Buddhist statuary and palace ruins than any other city in all of South Korea. It’s a lovely place to visit and should be on every Korea travel itinerary.

Top 5 Places To See in Gyeongju

Bulguksa Temple: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Korea’s most important temples. It features exquisite architecture, intricate stone carvings, and beautiful gardens. The temple is a symbol of Korean Buddhism and a must-visit for its historical and artistic significance.

Seokguram Grotto: Located near Bulguksa Temple, the Seokguram Grotto is a stunning stone temple carved into a granite hill. Inside, you can find a serene Buddha statue and remarkable stone craftsmanship. The grotto is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gyeongju National Museum: Explore the extensive collection of artifacts and treasures from the ancient kingdom of Silla. The museum provides a comprehensive overview of Gyeongju’s history and culture, making it a perfect starting point for your visit to the city.

Cheomseongdae Observatory: This is one of the oldest observatories in East Asia. Dating back to the 7th century, it’s an important historical and astronomical site. The observatory is made up of 362 stones, and it’s especially fascinating for those interested in ancient astronomy.

Anapji Pond: This beautiful artificial pond is surrounded by scenic gardens and historic sites. It was originally constructed during the Silla Dynasty and is a serene place to take a leisurely stroll. The pond area is beautifully lit at night, creating a romantic atmosphere.

Top 5 Tours & Experiences in Gyeongju

Where to stay in Gyeongju

Jeonju

As the birthplace of both the Joseon dynasty and Korea’s most well-known dish, bibimbap (rice, egg and vegetables with a hot sauce), Jeonju is one of the best cities in South Korea to visit. Most people visit the hanok maeul area, which is filled with traditional wooden homes. Be sure to stay overnight and sleep in a hanok – Korean style!

Top 5 Places To See in Jeonju

Jeonju Hanok Village: This is the heart of Jeonju’s cultural heritage. It’s a well-preserved traditional Korean village with hundreds of hanok (traditional Korean houses). Visitors can explore the narrow alleys, experience traditional culture, and even stay in hanok guesthouses.

Jeonju Street Food & Restaurants: Jeonju is renowned for its street food and restaurants, especially for its famous bibimbap. Stroll through the bustling streets and try various local delicacies, but don’t miss the opportunity to savor Jeonju’s signature dish, bibimbap, in one of the city’s authentic restaurants.

Gyeonggijeon Shrine: This historic shrine houses the portrait of King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty. The shrine’s beautiful architecture and serene surroundings make it a significant cultural site in Jeonju.

Omokdae and Imokdae Pavilion: These twin pavilions offer panoramic views of Jeonju Hanok Village and the surrounding landscape. They are also historically important as sites of military strategy during the Imjin War.

Jeonju Hanji Museum: This museum is dedicated to hanji, traditional Korean handmade paper. Visitors can learn about the history and art of hanji, and even participate in making their own paper.

Top Tours & Experiences in Jeonju

Where to stay in Jeonju

Jeju Island

Jeju Island is one of Korea’s best domestic travel destinations that locals and visitors love. Besides its beautiful beaches, Jeju also offers lush countryside and some of the best seafood restaurants you can find.

Top 5 Places To See in Jeju

Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak): This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a volcanic tuff cone that rises dramatically from the sea. Hiking to the top of Sunrise Peak offers breathtaking views, particularly at sunrise. The natural beauty and geological significance make it a must-visit.

Hallasan National Park: Hallasan, South Korea’s highest mountain, is the centerpiece of this national park. Hike to the summit for panoramic views of the island or explore the various trails and ecosystems within the park. It’s a haven for nature enthusiasts.

Jeju Folk Village Museum: This open-air museum showcases traditional Jeju culture and architecture. Visitors can explore various thatched-roof houses, artifacts, and demonstrations of traditional crafts and performances.

Manjanggul Cave: This lava tube cave is one of the most impressive in the world. Stroll through its underground passages to witness its unique rock formations, including lava stalactites and lava columns.

Osulloc Tea Museum & Tea Fields: Explore the Osulloc Tea Museum and its surrounding tea fields, where you can learn about the history and culture of Korean tea. Enjoy beautiful green tea plantations and savor a variety of teas in a tranquil setting.

Top 5 Tours & Experiences in Jeju

Where to stay in Jeju Island

Gangneung

Located on the Gangwondo coast, Gangneung is a lovely seaside town with some of the finest beaches in South Korea. Gangneung also hosted several events of the 2018 Winter Olympics and is also home to various well-preserved Joseon-era buildings.

Check out this East Sea & Gangneung 1 Day Tour from Seoul.

Top 5 Places To See in Gangneung

Gyeongpo Beach: This is one of Gangneung’s most popular beaches, known for its picturesque pine tree-lined promenade, soft sands, and clear waters. It’s a great place for swimming, water sports, and leisurely walks along the shore.

Anmok Beach and Coffee Street: Anmok Beach is famous for its coffee culture, and Coffee Street is lined with charming coffee shops and cafes. Enjoy a cup of coffee while taking in the sea breeze and views of the East Sea.

Gangneung Seongyojang: This well-preserved traditional Korean house (hanok) is a historic site that provides insight into the daily life of the nobility during the Joseon Dynasty. Explore the elegant architecture and beautiful gardens.

Ojukheon House: Ojukheon House is the birthplace of Shin Saimdang, a renowned artist and calligrapher. The house is a well-preserved historical site with traditional buildings and gardens, offering a glimpse into the life of a prominent historical figure.

Gangneung Danoje Festival: If you visit during the right time, don’t miss the Gangneung Danoje Festival, a UNESCO-recognized intangible cultural heritage event. It celebrates the local culture, shamanistic rituals, and traditional performances, making for a vibrant and colorful experience.

Top Tours & Experiences in Gangneung

Where to stay in Gangneung

Incheon

While most visitors only head to Incheon to catch a plane out of Incheon International Airport, it’s actually worth exploring South Korea’s third-largest city on a day trip from Seoul, for example. The colorful Chinatown and Open Port area are some of the most interesting sites to visit in Incheon.

Top 5 Places To See in Incheon

Incheon Chinatown: As one of the largest and most well-preserved Chinatowns in South Korea, Incheon’s Chinatown is a colorful and vibrant area. Explore the streets, enjoy delicious Chinese cuisine, and visit historic sites like the Chinese Incheon Jajangmyeon Museum.

Songdo Central Park: Songdo Central Park is a picturesque urban park in the Songdo International Business District. It features a man-made canal, lush greenery, and beautiful sculptures. You can rent a bicycle or enjoy a leisurely walk along the waterfront.

Incheon Bridge: The Incheon Bridge, one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world, is a modern architectural marvel. Take a walk or drive across the bridge to enjoy the stunning views of Incheon and the surrounding areas.

Wolmido Island: Wolmido is a popular leisure destination, featuring an amusement park, an observatory, walking trails, and seafood restaurants. You can take a ferry to the island from the mainland for a day of fun and relaxation.

Incheon Landing Operation Memorial Hall: This museum commemorates the Incheon Landing Operation led by General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. The exhibits and artifacts provide historical context and insights into this critical event.

Top 5 Tours & Experiences in Incheon

Where to stay in Incheon

Suwon

Suwon is the largest city in Gyeonggi-do province. The city is home to Hwaseong Fortress, a World Heritage–listed fortification dating back to the 1700s. In fact, Suwon served as the capital of the Joseon Dynasty and is therefore one of the best cities in South Korea to visit if you are into history.

Top 5 Places To See in Suwon

Hwaseong Fortress: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most iconic attraction in Suwon. Hwaseong Fortress is a beautifully preserved fortification that surrounds the city. You can walk along its walls, admire the impressive architecture, and explore the various gates and pavilions.

Hwaseong Haenggung Palace: This palace was built as a temporary royal residence within the Hwaseong Fortress. Explore the traditional buildings and gardens while learning about the history of the Joseon Dynasty.

Suwoncheon Stream: This beautiful stream runs through the city and is surrounded by walking paths and parks. It’s a great place for a leisurely stroll, picnics, and enjoying the natural beauty of Suwon.

Korean Folk Village: Located just outside Suwon, the Korean Folk Village is a living museum that showcases traditional Korean culture and architecture. You can see historic buildings, watch traditional performances, and even try traditional Korean dishes.

Suwon Galleria Mall: Suwon Galleria is a modern shopping mall with a wide range of retail stores, restaurants, and entertainment options. It’s a great place to shop, dine, and experience contemporary South Korean culture.

Top 5 Tours & Experiences in Suwon

Where to stay in Suwon

Paju

Because of Paju’s close proximity to the North/South Korean border, there are many U.S. and South Korean army bases are set up in the area. On top of that, visitors can explore various historic sites that played a large role in the Korean War, including an observatory allowing you to see North Korea with the naked eye.

Check out this DMZ and Third Tunnel Tour from Seoul.

Top 5 Places To See in Paju

DMZ (Demilitarized Zone): Paju is located near the Korean Demilitarized Zone, one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world. You can take guided tours to explore the DMZ and its historical landmarks, such as the Third Tunnel and Dorasan Station.

Imjingak Park: Imjingak Park is a symbolic place that represents the hope for reunification. It features various monuments, bridges, and a Peace Bell. The park also offers a poignant view of the DMZ.

Odusan Unification Observatory: Located on a hill overlooking the DMZ, the Odusan Unification Observatory provides panoramic views of North Korea. It’s a place for reflection and understanding the division of the Korean Peninsula.

Heyri Art Village: This artistic community is home to numerous galleries, studios, and cultural spaces. It’s a hub for artists and art enthusiasts, offering a unique blend of contemporary and traditional Korean art.

Paju Book City: Paju Book City is an expansive complex dedicated to the publishing and printing industry. You can explore bookstores, libraries, and cultural events while enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.

Top Tours & Experiences in Paju

Where to stay in Paju

Yeosu

The center of Yeosu city is often described as nothing special – but its shoreline, filled with cliffs, islands and peninsulas, makes up for that and is truly breathtaking. Yeosu served as an important naval base in the 1500s when Japanese invaders were fought off by famous Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, whose statues and replicas of his turtle ships can be seen all around town. It’s one of the best cities in South Korea in terms of scenic seaside landscape.

Top 5 Places To See in Yeosu

Yeosu Expo 2012 Site (EXPO Ocean Park): The site of the 2012 Yeosu Expo has been transformed into a beautiful ocean park. Explore the various pavilions, aquariums, and scenic waterfront promenades. It’s an excellent place to learn about marine life and enjoy the sea views.

Jinnamgwan Hall: This historic building was a naval training center during the Joseon Dynasty. It’s one of the oldest wooden structures in Korea, offering insight into the country’s maritime history. The surrounding park provides a tranquil setting for a leisurely stroll.

Dolsan Park: Dolsan Park is known for its scenic cable car ride, which offers breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding islands. The park is also a popular spot for watching the sunset over the sea.

Odongdo Island: This small island is connected to the mainland by a beautiful walking bridge. Odongdo is famous for its camellia flowers, which bloom in the spring, and its coastal walking trails. It’s a delightful place to enjoy the natural beauty of the region.

Yi Sun-sin Plaza: This plaza is dedicated to Admiral Yi Sun-sin, a Korean naval hero known for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Imjin War. The plaza features a statue of Admiral Yi and a replica of his famous turtle ship.

Top Tours & Experiences in Yeosu

Where to stay in Yeosu

Andong

Andong is the capital of Gyeongsangbuk-do and makes a great base for exploring the numerous historic and cultural attractions in the surrounding area. The city of Andong itself is known for its mackerel, strong soju (Korean alcohol made of rice), wooden masks and ancient sites.

Top 5 Places To See in Andong

Hahoe Folk Village: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hahoe Folk Village is known for its well-preserved traditional Korean hanok houses and Confucian heritage. You can experience the beauty of Korean culture and architecture while strolling through the village.

Dosan Seowon: This Confucian academy was built to honor the famous scholar Yi Hwang (Toegye) of the Joseon Dynasty. The serene and picturesque setting, along with the historical significance, makes it a must-visit.

Andong Mask Dance Festival: If you visit Andong in the fall, don’t miss the Andong Mask Dance Festival, which showcases traditional Korean mask dances, cultural performances, and exhibitions. It’s a vibrant celebration of local culture.

Andong Soju Museum: Learn about the history of Andong’s traditional rice wine, Soju, and see the traditional production process. You can also sample different types of Soju at the museum.

Woryeonggyo Bridge: This wooden bridge, also known as “Moonlight Bridge,” is one of the longest footbridges in South Korea. It offers stunning views of the Nakdong River and the surrounding natural beauty.

Top Tours & Experiences in Andong

Where to stay in Andong

Boseong

If you are a tea lover, Boseong is going to be among the best cities in South Korea to visit for you. The county around Boseong is actually the largest green tea producer in all of Korea. Daehan Dawon Tea Plantation is one of the main attractions, where you can sample green teas and explore Korean green tea fields. Every year, Boseong also holds a Green Tea Festival in spring.

Check out: Boseong Green Tea Festival 1 Day Tour – from Seoul/Busan

Top 5 Places To See in Boseong

Boseong Green Tea Plantation: The Boseong Green Tea Plantation is the most famous attraction in the area. You can explore the vast, terraced green tea fields, learn about the tea production process, and enjoy the tranquil beauty of the landscape.

Boseong Green Tea Museum: This museum provides a comprehensive look at the history and culture of green tea in Korea. You can learn about the cultivation and production of green tea and sample various tea products.

Yulpo Beach: Yulpo Beach is a lovely coastal area near Boseong. It’s a great place to relax, swim, or enjoy a beachside picnic. The beach is known for its clear waters and scenic beauty.

Naganeupseong Folk Village: Located in a neighboring village, Naganeupseong Folk Village is a well-preserved traditional Korean village with thatched-roof houses and cultural experiences. It’s a short drive from Boseong and provides insights into Korea’s rural heritage.

Illim-san: This is a striking mountain in South Korea part of Jirisan National Park. This challenging hiking destination boasts lush forests, pristine streams, and stunning summit views. Whether you’re an adventurer or nature enthusiast, conquering Illim-san is a rewarding journey that showcases the natural beauty of South Korea’s landscapes.

Top Tours & Experiences in Boseong

Where to stay in Boseong

Ready to explore the beautiful cities South Korea has to offer?

As the captivating journey through the 12 most remarkable cities in South Korea draws to a close, I hope you’re brimming with excitement and a sense of adventure. From the bustling streets of Seoul to the picturesque landscapes of Jeju Island, these cities have unveiled the diverse tapestry of South Korean culture, history, and natural beauty.

Whether you seek the modern vibrancy of Busan or the serene tranquility of Gyeongju, each city has something unique to offer every traveler. They are gateways to discovering South Korea’s rich heritage, innovative spirit, and stunning landscapes.

Each city, with its own blend of tradition and progress, invites you to explore, connect with the local way of life, and craft unforgettable memories. So, as you plan your next South Korean adventure, consider including these exceptional cities in your itinerary. Embark on a journey that will not only amaze your senses but also leave you with a profound appreciation for the beauty and diversity of South Korea’s urban landscapes.

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Linda

Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

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