Hit the ground running and head straight for the city’s downtown area upon arrival. Wonder at traditional architecture at Gyeongbokgung Palace, get lost in the labyrinth of tiny alleys and gorgeous old Korean homes in Bukchon Hanok Village and gorge on Korean eats and sweets in the neighborhood of Insadong.
Designate a day to enjoy the great outdoors on a cruise or bike ride along the Han River, before hiking up Namsan Mountain to N Seoul Tower for amazing city views. Nearby, the National Museum of Korea houses thousands of ancient artefacts which provide a unique insight into the country’s past. Fast forward to the future at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the epicenter of Seoul’s design and fashion trends.
Finally, head south of the Han to experience Gangnam Style in the city’s upscale neighborhoods. Load up on K-beauty products and the latest looks in Sinsa-dong, rub elbows with Hallyu stars in the cafes of Apgujeong, and experience Korean nightlife in the swanky bars of Cheongdam-dong.
Often considered one of the most dangerous borders in the world, the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is a 250 km (155 mile)-long, 4 km (2.5 mile)-wide stretch of land that serves as a buffer zone between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).
Join a day tour and visit sites such as the Joint Security Area (JSA), where you can have the opportunity to physically stand in North Korea, not to mention snap a photo for proof, as well as the infiltration tunnels that were discovered by the South in the 1970s.
“Eat once in Jeonju,” Koreans say, “and you’ll be spoiled for life”. Situated in the country’s southwest, Jeonju is renowned for its gastronomy, making it one of the best cities to delve into Korean cuisine. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy a big bowl of bibimbap (rice bowls with veggies and red pepper paste), as the dish was originally created here.
The city is also a great place to experience the traditional side of Korea. Wander cobblestone alleys, browse art galleries, waste away an afternoon in a quaint tea house and spend the night in a hanok (traditional home) in the heart of the city.
The tranquil town of Boseong is widely known for its verdant green tea plantations. Beautifully curved around the region’s hilly terrain, the most renowned of these is the Daehan Dawon Plantation. Here, tea enthusiasts can spend an entire day taking in the stunning sight of Boseong’s awe-inspiring surroundings.
Be sure to visit the Tea Museum of Korea, where you can learn about the process of growing green tea – and even make your own. Stop by one of the local restaurants for lunch and sample a selection of green tea specialties such as green tea noodles and green tea ice cream.
Just off the southern coast of South Korea, Jeju Island attracts tourists by the tens of thousands, with its vibrant rapeseed fields, legendary female divers, and the world’s longest lava tube system being some of its most popular attractions. Beach bums will enjoy soaking up the sun on its sandy shores, while divers can take in its breathtaking volcanic underwater terrain in Seogwipo.
Trekking the Olle-gil is a yet another way to witness the island’s natural landscapes and cultural beauty. With more than 20 routes to choose from, each course offers something unique, whether it be small villages, beaches, farms, or forests, providing varied perspectives of the island. If biking is more of your thing, take advantage of the smooth, continuous cycling tracks that stretch some 180 km (112 miles) across Jeju.
With an impressive landscape of mountains and beaches, and a countless number of hot springs and seafood restaurants, Korea’s second-largest city is an animated coastal metropolis that first-time visitors often consider the highlight of their stay.
Spend an afternoon at Gamcheon Culture Village, a hillside community brimming with brightly colored houses covered in murals. Afterwards, take in the tranquil beauty of Haedong Yonggung Temple, one of the only oceanside Buddhist temples in the entire nation.
Foodies will adore Busan’s culinary scene – a dynamic combination of casual tent bars, boisterous fish markets, and sophisticated cafés. For majestic sunset views, head to Haeundae Beach, a beautiful stretch of white sand set against the city’s urban landscape, or the nightlife district of Gwangalli.
Spend your last day in Korea experiencing the artsy side of Seoul at Hannam-dong’s Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, which houses an extensive collection of traditional and contemporary art, or at Stradeum, a sophisticated space dedicated entirely to music.
When the sun sets, head to Hongdae, the city’s hub of youth culture, and enjoy live street performances, quirky cafés, and cheap Korean barbeque food. End your night – and your trip – in true Korean fashion: at a noraebang, or karaoke room. After all, you’re no longer a newbie tourist.