South Korea Tours and Travel Guide
South Korea Attractions & Landmarks Guide
Seoul: The Restored Capital
A city that has been occupied since before Christ, Seoul has been known by many names including Wirye-seong, Namgyeong, Hanseong, Hanyang, and Gyeongseong. It has been the capital of Korea from the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty (1394-1910) to the present day. As a result, more of Korea’s history and culture can be found in Seoul than anywhere else in the country.
Being the biggest city comes with a price, however, as the city was almost entirely destroyed during the Korean War in 1950. Much of what did not survive has been reconstructed or restored; as a result, it’s not uncommon to see the old and new exist side-by-side. Seoul’s new City Hall in the heart of downtown is right across the street from Deoksugung, a Joseon-Dynasty palace.
Gyeongbokgung is the biggest and most well-known Korean palace, but Seoul also has four others that were used over the centuries-long Joseon Dynasty. The best guided tours showcase the downtown area of Seoul, a vibrant combination of the old and new.
Busan: Korea’s Second City and a Port to the World
About 3 hours southeast from Seoul is Busan, arguably the ship making capital of the world and one of Korea’s largest ports. As cosmopolitan as Seoul, you’ll find Busan’s beaches to be some of the biggest draws in the area. A number of temples date back over a millennium – Haedong Yonggungsa, for example, is a unique seaside temple offering a look back at history along with a great view of the sea.
Though these industrial ports themselves aren’t popular tourist destinations, the nearby Jagalchi Fish Market is well worth a visit! And don’t miss a walk along Busan’s beautiful beaches, offering a nice respite from the bustle of the city. Here also, you’ll find a number of temples dating back over 1000 years. For great views and a look back at history, head to the seaside temple of Haedong Yonggungsa.
Get Out of the Urban Jungle!
Seoul and Busan are both great – but there’s plenty more to Korea than the urban jungle. The san (mountains), hae (the sea), or Buddhist temples can be found in virtually any non-urban parts of the country. Many guided tours offer trips to these out-of-town and offbeat destinations, so make your choice carefully based on how long you have!
Korea’s cuisine can vastly range in flavors and have starking contrasts. The spicy stews and meat bbqs are full of intense flavor, but milder dishes like tteokbokki (rice cakes) and beef bone soup are appreciated for their simplicity. Many dishes tend to be focused on meat, and served with a side of rice or noodles. At restaurants, you’ll always be given banchan (small side dishes) to nibble on before your meal comes out. You’re always allowed to ask for refills at no extra cost! One banchan you’ll notice everywhere, and also happens to be their staple food, is kimchi - a spicy fermented cabbage with garlic, scallions, and sesame seeds.
Top 5 Can’t Miss Dishes when Traveling in South Korea
Bibimbap - A warm bowl of rice topped with an array of various seasoned vegetables. Have it with a fried egg and minced beef, or keep it vegetarian. Mix it with spicy gochujang sauce and fragrant sesame oil while it’s still sizzling in the clay bowl.
Bulgogi - Thin slices of beef sirloin that’s marinated in a sauce that’s sweet and savoury. Goes great with a bowl of rice as an appetizer or meal itself.
Samgyupsal - Every Korean’s favorite - thick slices of pork belly barbecued at your table, with an array of condiments, side dishes, and greens to wrap it up.
Budae jjigae - A spicy stew that can be customized with ham, sausages, spam, instant noodles, kimchi, and vegetables. Boiled in a large pot in the middle of your table for everyone to share.
Tteokbokki - rice cakes can be eaten alone as a snack, or added to a stew as a meal. They’re quite chewy and have a subtle flavor when eaten alone. Most Koreans love mixing it with a spicy sauce.
What to Wear
Even though the country is very modernized, Koreans are still quite conservative when it comes to fashion. Try to wear shirts that cover your shoulders and aren’t too low-cut or else people will shamelessly stare. Many Koreans also deeply care about their appearance, so you’ll find them to be well-dressed for the most part. If you don’t want to stick out, try to avoid sweatpants, baggy hoodies, ripped clothes, see-through shirts, and flip flops.
5 Things To Pack When Traveling To South Korea
Power Adapter - South Korean plugs and sockets are Type C and F; the standard euro plug. But don’t worry if you forgot, many convenient stores and hotels will have these available.
Deodorant - You’re probably wondering why this is on the list. Well, most Koreans actually don’t use deodorant, nor is it sold in many stores. So it’s best to bring a stick from home, especially if you’re visiting during the summer!
Walking Shoes - Just in Seoul itself, there can be quite a lot of walking to get from point A to B. Many activities also call for walking through palaces, neighborhoods, and villages, so make sure your feet won’t be sore!
Jacket - If you’re visiting during the spring/summer, bring a light jacket to wear during nighttime. For autumn, bring something that’ll keep you warm from the light wind. For winter, bring your thickest winter coat possible to keep you warm from the harsh cold.
Earphones - When watching videos or listening to music in public, it’s considered rude to play it out loud. Make sure you carry earphones with you so the older Korean women don’t shush you.
Korea is a photographer’s dream - there’s opportunity for shots whether it’s in the city or countryside. In Seoul, you’ll find many neighborhoods with eccentric glowing signs at night that make for great shots. The hanok villages, palaces, and temples are best to visit early in the morning or after 4:00pm when there is less people. (The lighting will also be much softer in your pictures!)
The four seasons are very distinct in this country, with weather being more extreme the farther up north you go. Summer can be quite hot and humid with temperatures generally ranging from 70 to 75 degrees. Winter is dry and cold, with an average temperature of 27 degrees. Spring and fall are the best times to visit, when the weather is pleasant enough to enjoy the outdoors. There are occasional downpours of rain in the springtime, so it’s always a good idea to be prepared.
Learn How To Speak Korean
English is spoken quite frequently in Seoul, but the minute you’re out of the capital, you’ll find it hard to meet Koreans that speak any English.
Here are some important phrases that’ll help you get by:
An-yeoung-ha-seh-yo - “Hello”
Er-mah-yeh-yo? - “How much is this?”
Uh-dee-ees-suh-yo? - “Where am I?”
Hwa-jang-shil-uh-dee-ees-suh-yo? - “Where is the bathroom?”
Kam-sam-nee-da - “Thank you”
Is it safe to travel to South Korea?
Yes. The country is completely safe from North Korea and is strikingly different from its neighbor up north. There are barely any cases of murder or crime, although there is the very small number of pickpocketing and scams that might occur. Be wary of taxi drivers that double or triple the price in the evening.
Is it easy for vegetarians/vegans to find food in South Korea?
It can be easy to find vegetarian options - ask for bibimbap without the beef and egg, tofu stew, sweet potato noodles, and green onion pancakes. However, Koreans still have difficulty distinguishing what ingredients are not considered vegan. Watch out for dishes with traces of fermented fish, eggs, and seafood in many of their “vegetarian”/"vegan" dishes. Let your tour guide know ahead of time so they can arrange something for you, or visit one of the many vegan restaurants if you are in Seoul.
Does Korea get snow?
Depending on where you are during the winter, there will be a bit of snow. In the northern region of South Korea, it’s mostly wet snow in the city. If you go up into the mountains, there will be enough snow for you to enjoy winter sports. But the further south you go, it won’t be as cold and there will rarely be snow.
What are some Korean etiquette rules I should know?
When saying hello, you’ll find that they bow while doing so, and waving is rare. The bow is the traditional Korean greeting, and some might follow it with a handshake. Also, receive/offer anything important (such as gifts, money, name cards) with two hands, as this is a sign of respect. Last but not least, tipping is not common here. In fact, it is frowned upon to tip at restaurants, and waiters will look confused if you leave them extra money.
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