South Korea has earned its title - and its reputation - as the land of the morning calm. No amount of war or political upheavals have diminished the inherent gentleness of this country. Koreans take pride in being patriotic and do everything to maintain and nurture what nature has blessed them with - almost every Korean you meet will be interested in hiking and mountaineering.
Your tour guides or trekking guides in South Korea will not present you with a brochure's literature - they will speak to you of their beautiful country from personal experience, which makes discovering nature in South Korea all the more inviting.
With so much to see and do in South Korea, you are sure to have an amazing time! Our South Korea Detsination Guide below lists some of the major highlights on a holiday in South Korea, which are perfect for discovering on one of our South Korea tours. You can also find out what there is to see and do in Seoul, or check out our South Korea Country Guide for more useful travel information.
On South Korea’s southwest coast is the volcanic island of Cheju-do, which also boasts of Korea’s highest mountain, Mount Halla, Korea’s favourite honeymoon destination, standing nearly 2000 m tall. Of special significance is the excellent hiking trail to the top of Mount Halla. And for those who prefer beaches to mountains there are wonderful beach resorts with sandy beaches, great waters and some terrific water sports too.
For tourists on the lookout for things uniquely Korean, there’s the Chungmun tourist complex that offers a golf course and a leisure centre. The Songup Folk Village is not to be missed either. Natural tourist attractions include the volcanic surroundings of Songsanilchulbong Park, three grand waterfalls and the Samsonghyol Caves. Cheju-do is well known for its many eateries that serve excellent seafood, most of which is procured locally by haenyeo women divers.
Korea has close to 200 golf courses. You can call up the golf course of your choice for bookings or have your travel agent or the hotel do it for you. If you’re carrying your personal golf clubs, make sure they’re registered with Customs when you enter the country.
South Korea has over 10,000 temples and 20,000 monks. Korean Buddhists and monks welcome tourists into their monasteries; in fact, this brand of spiritual tourism is becoming very popular. Visits to these religious retreats last anywhere between three weeks to a few years. You’ll get a slice of the peaceful religion that Buddhism is – starting from practicing silence for several days, to meditation and prayer, traditional dining practices and other quaint ceremonies.
Kyongju is one of Korea’s best museums, also known as “the museum without walls”. You see the historic and Buddhist origins of Korea in this museum. Points of interest are the 7th century observatory Chomsongdae, with impressive construction that has withstood the test of time; around 20 tombs of an old Korean dynasty, the Shilla Royalty in nearby Tumuli Park; and the Heavenly Horse tomb. You can actually enter the tomb. Some age-old treasures of these periods have also been preserved in the Kyongju National Museum. The Anapji Pond and Gardens have been rebuilt so you get a feel of how Korean royalty lived.
The Pomun Lake Resort is about an hour’s drive from Kyongju. The resort offers a variety of amenities, including hotels, golf courses, a convention and entertainment centre and a horde of shopping centres to buy souvenirs for loved ones back home. Also nearby is the Pulguksa Temple, famed for its beautiful paintings and pagodas that were built in the 8th century.
On the mountain above the Pulguksa Temple is the Sokkuram Grotto, a cavernous structure that has a huge granite Buddha. The walls of this grotto have carvings of Buddhist deities.
Korea is famed for its nature tours that change with the season and prevalent festivals, and showcase the country’s flora and fauna to the fullest. Some of the most popular choices are Korea’s folk and flower villages, mountain trips, rock climbing and trekking, cherry blossom hiking trails and bird watching.
Visit the Kangjin Koryo Celdon Kiln site and the Yoju Ceramic Art Village to learn the art of ceramics and pottery from some of Korea’s potters, whose families have been in the business for generations.
No tour of South Korea is complete without a thorough dekko at the country’s shining example of harmony and progress– Seoul. While its modern architecture, neon lights and skyscrapers that glint in the sun have made it one of the world’s top metropolises, it is also loyal to Korean culture and traditions. Co-existing with the well-preserved relics and monuments with historical significance are the swanky and happening commercial and business hubs of Seoul.
Seoul also boasts of a few royal palaces that are listed in the UNESCO. The most famous of these is the Changdokkung Palace. Around this palace are the famed Secret Gardens of South Korea. Just a few miles away is the holy Chongmyo Shrine, with undisturbed natural surroundings. The ancestral remains and literature of the Joseon Dynasty are said to be found here. A panoramic view of this magnificent city can be seen from the Seoul Tower on top of the Namsan Mountain.
If hiking and trekking are your preferred choice of recreation, then head north of Seoul for dense forests and great hiking trails on the hills of the Pukansan National Park. Down south from Seoul, you’ll find the Suwon Korean Folk Village, where you see the history of Korea recreated and represented in this thriving community, complete with a flea market. Suwon City also boasts of a few preserved heritage sites. For some excellent Korean ceramic work, head to the south east of Seoul where you’ll find the Icheon Traditional Centre and a museum dedicated exclusively to ceramics – the Haegang Ceramics Museum.
If you’re in Seoul in the middle of winter and would like to ski, you have 13 ski resorts to choose from, all within a few hours’ drive from Seoul. The two most popular are the Chonmasan Ski Resort near Seoul and the Yongpyong Ski Resort in Tackwallyong.
The eastern coast of South Korea has got some great beaches and gloriously green mountains. Most of South Korea’s winter sports are held here. You’ll find the well-known resort of Hwajinpo and gorgeous, wide, clean beaches of Samchok. And if you thought a volcanic island is all grey and dead, wait till you reach Ullungdo Island – it’s breathtakingly beautiful and you’ll have to take a ferry to reach it. The ferry ride itself is a great experience.
From the East Coast Highway, you can visit South Korea’s famous national parks – Chuwangsan, Soraksan and Odaesan – that are each a short distance away. They have terrific hiking trails, luxury and semi luxury resorts and offer some incredible views of the abundant greenery of South Korea. Soarkdong is a popular option for most tourists, and the cable car ride to the Kwongumsong Fortress is highly recommended. Chiaksan offers some great rock climbing expeditions.
South Korea’s eastern coast has the country’s biggest sea port – Busan. The main tourist attractions of Busan are the Pomosa Temple, the busy fish market and the Kumjongsansong Fortress. The two main beach resorts in Busan are Haeundae and Songjong.
Tourist attractions include sightseeing boat tours, historic monuments at the Kumgang Park and bird watching in the world famous Ulsukdo Bird Sanctuary. Also on the list are the hot springs, said to have medicinal properties. The Chirisan National Park has some great trails for hiking and mountaineering. And for a look at Korea’s spiritual side, there is the Hwaeomsa Temple at the bottom of Mount Chirisan, known for its many pagodas and the annual lantern festival.
The western coast of South Korea is every bit as beautiful as it appears on the map – it is jagged, uneven and spectacularly scenic. You’ll find many national and provincial parks, of which the Kyeryongsan National Park with the temples of Kapsa and Dongkaksa is the most famous. The National Museum here has some artefacts and remains that are at least 1000 years old. Another temple, the Temple of Tapsa, at the bottom of Mount Maisan, is famous for its inimitable pagodas, supposedly built stone by stone by a Buddhist hermit.
Koreans practice traditional sports also. There’s T’aekwondo, Korea’s very own martial art. Ssirum is Korean wrestling, which in many ways is like Sumo wrestling. Other sports include archery and kite flying.
Resorts and facilities that offer water sports are mainly along the southern coast and some of the scattered islands. While June to November is the recommended time for most sports, swimming, white water rafting and paragliding are offered all through the year.
The incredibly scenic volcanic island of Cheju-do is a favoured destination for scuba diving. There are some great deep-sea diving and fishing opportunities in the crystal clear waters here. Most resorts along the coast offer facilities for water-skiing, boating and windsurfing.