It’s finally here—you’ve made South Korea the next trip on your grand world tour. And sure, you’ve probably already researched answers to important questions like when’s the best time to visit and even looked up sample itineraries, but now it’s time to discover the best things you must do when visiting South Korea. So, sit back, relax, take good notes, and let’s get this party started!
Table of Contents
- Gyeongbukgong Palace
- Eat Street Food
- Jeju Island
- Gamcheon Culture Village
- Haeundae Beach
- See a Cultural Show
- Hit an Observation Deck in Seoul
- Party in Gangnam
- Explore a Historical Village
- Visit an Amusement Park
- Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
- Go Skiing at a Resort
- Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
- Watch a Baseball Game
- Korean Spa and Massage (Jjimjilbang)
- Hike a National Park
- Shop, Shop, Shop
- Sing Karaoke with Friends
- Attend a Festival
- What Do You Want to Do the Most?
Seoul’s Gyeongbukgong Palace just might be the most popular place to visit in all of South Korea. Built in 1395, the palace is the largest of Korea’s Five Grand Palaces that were developed to house the country’s most influential hierarchy during the Joseon Dynasty.
Visitors to Gyeongbukgong Palace can enjoy centuries old aesthetic architecture, beautiful gardens and floral displays, decorative halls, stunning pavilions, remarkably crafted structural gates, and impressive religious statues.
Plus, the palace hosts the National Palace Museum and National Folk Museum of Korea, which provide educational displays about the history of the Joseon Dynasty, as well as artifacts. Afterwards, head over to Gwanghwamun Square, a large public square home to landmarks and occasional events, located right outside the palace.
Eat Street Food
You might have heard the phrase, “There’s no place like home,” from Dorothy on her quest leave Oz and return to Kansas. When it comes to Korea, though, you may hear something along the lines of, “There’s no place like street food markets in South Korea.”
It’s true—you just can’t leave South Korea without trying the local treats at street food markets. Places like Seoul’s Gwangjang Market, Namdaemun Night Market, Dongdaemun, Myeongdong Street Food Alley, and Bamdokkaebi Night Market, offer up everything from rice cakes, kimchi, kimbap, and sweet pancakes, to friend milk, blood sausage, grilled cheese lobster, and even live octopus!
Most cities around South Korea, big or small, will have a street food market or some bustling area where loads of vendors are present. Again, don’t leave without visiting one!
Jeju island is Korea’s closest thing to paradise. Flights from the mainland to the island are short and cheap, too. Once there, you’ll have access to pristine beaches, enchanting gardens, hike-able volcanos, gorgeous waterfalls, lava tunnels inside caves, oceanside Buddhist temples, and fun shoreline pubs. Here are a few of the top things to do on Jeju island:
- Yakchusan Temple
- Sanghyowon Botanical Garden
- Seongsan Sunrise Peak
- Guksu Geori (Noodle Street)
- Seogwipo Submarine
- Manjanggul Cave
- Mount Hallasan National Park
- Cheonjeyeon Waterfall
Gamcheon Culture Village
Gamcheon Culture Village is one of the most beautiful architectural hubs not just in Busan, but across South Korea. Pictures are one thing, but … you really just have to see it for yourself.
The village is a collection of colorful houses densely-packed on a coastal mountain. Imagine Brazil’s favelas, but cleaner, greener, and undoubtedly more vibrant looking. Visitors can walk across the village’s premises, too. Pass through winding alleyways, visit cafes, check out imaginative murals, and take photos at various observation points. If you’re in Busan, Gamcheon Culture Village is a can’t miss attraction!
Haeundae Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Busan. Each summer the 1.5-mile stretch of white sand draws thousands of visitors that take up fun water activities, spend the night in 5-star hotels along the shore, and partake in occasional festivals.
And did I mention the sweeping coastal views? Aside from water, Haeundae Beach is surrounded by buildings, lush mountains, and hillside homes, making it one of the most picturesque beaches on the planet, at least, in my opinion.
See a Cultural Show
South Korea is a country brimming with rich history and culture, so it’s only right that you check out an entertaining performance or show that exemplifies life in the region, past or present. And no, they don’t have to be serious dramas or involve heavy themes—believe me, the comedies, action-packed performances, cooking, and visually stunning art shows are just as good. Here are some recommendations:
- Cookin’ NANTA (Myeongdong/Hongdae, Seoul)
- Jump! Comic Martial Arts Performance (Seoul)
- Musical CHEF (Seoul)
- DRUMCAT (Seoul)
- Big-O Show (Yeosu)
- The Painter (Seoul)
- Flying (Hyeongju)
- Sun & Moon Traditional Korean Music Show (Seoul)
- Bonus: Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Gyeongbukgong Palace
Hit an Observation Deck in Seoul
Seoul is South Korea’s capital and largest city. It’s sprawling landscape, full of skyscrapers, high-rise buildings, large neighborhoods, massive parks, and decorative neon lights, is a spectacular sight to see from hundreds of feet in the air. For the best bird’s eye viewing experience in Seoul, try any of these observation decks:
- Seoul Sky at Lotte World Tower
- N Seoul Tower
- 63 Building
Party in Gangnam
Seoul’s Gangnam District is one of the most popular places to party in South Korea, as represented by the smash hit “Gangnam Style” by K-pop artist Psy. The “Beverly Hills of South Korea” may serve as a luxury shopping and dining hub during the day, but at night, Gangnam becomes the city’s most sought after nightlife area for its highly rated bars, karaoke rooms, lounges, and clubs. “Oppa Gangnam style!”
Explore a Historical Village
South Korea is brimming with fascinating historical villages that provide visitors with an in-depth look into the country’s past. They cover history, traditions, practices, and daily lifestyle rituals. For the best experiences, you’ll want to visit:
- Bukchon Hanok Village
- Andong Hahoe Folk Village
- Jeonju Hanok Village
- Yangdong Village
By the way, you can even spend the night in some of the villages!
Visit an Amusement Park
Unfortunately, with the exception of Legoland Korea, you won’t find any popular western amusement parks like Disneyland or Universal Studios in South Korea, but there are quite a few local theme parks/water parks that are well worth visiting. They host everything from thrill rides, indoor/outdoor attractions, and live entertainment, to zoos, botanical gardens, themed zones, and lavish decorative displays. Here are my choices for top theme parks in South Korea:
- Lotte World
- Caribbean Bay
- Korean Folk Village
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
Have you ever seen a Buddhist temple built directly on a rocky, roaring wave kind of shoreline? Well, welcome to Busan’s Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. The religious site, built in 1376, features pagodas, bridges, Buddhist statues, a variety of halls, and elaborate decorations.
You’ll want to visit the temple just to see the it suspended on the coast. Besides a memorable moment, it may just be the place you’ll take the best pictures on your trip.
Go Skiing at a Resort
South Korea is a great place to visit in the winter, that is, if you’re an outdoor adventurist that loves the cold. Many regions of the country receive heavy snow between December and February, and ski resorts naturally become a very popular destination during that time.
You can find slopes of varying difficulty too, meaning there’s something for novice learners to professionals, and kids to adults. Here are just a few ski resorts that I highly recommend:
- Yongpyong Ski Resort (Largest ski resort in Korea)
- High1 Ski Resort
- Muju Deogyusan Resort
- Welli Hilli Park
- Vivaldi Park Ski Resort
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Korea’s Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is a 154-mile long, 2.5-mile wide buffer zone located along the border between North and South Korea. Established in 1953 towards the end of the Korean War, the strip is technically an active war zone. But while both sides of the aisle may have weapons aimed at the other, a ceasefire is in place, and a Joint Security Area serves as a location for everything from meetings and prisoner exchanges to joint conferences and negotiations.
The DMZ does have designated areas for which visitors can explore, with a licensed guide of course. Many of the tours depart from Seoul as well, making it a convenient addition to your list of things to do when visiting the city.
Watch a Baseball Game
Watching a Korean baseball game is one of the best cultural experiences you can have in the country. They are overwhelmingly exhilarating, and much like America’s MLB, you’ll find highly engaged fans, singing, chanting, cheerleaders, and delicious snacks at each of the games in the Korean Baseball Organization, or KBO.
There are just 10 teams in the league, a far cry from the 30 in the MLB. Three teams are located in Seoul, there’s one in Busan, and the rest lie in Incheon, Suwon, Daegu, Daejeon, Kwangju, and Changwon.
Find out schedules at the KBO website.
Korean Spa and Massage (Jjimjilbang)
You don’t always have to check out major attractions in order to have fun. Sometimes, the simplest activities can create the most interesting and memorable experiences.
Take Korea’s jjimjilbangs, or bath houses, for example. These popular leisure sites are the perfect afterhours spot following a long day’s work or partying deep into the night. They’re equipped with saunas, spas, swimming pools, movie rooms, restaurants, game spaces, and even sleeping quarters. Plus, they offer services like facials, nail care, and deep tissue massages.
Dragon Hill Spa, a popular brand, is open 24 hours. You’ll need to pay a fee to get in, but once you are in, you’ll find it to be worth every penny.
Hike a National Park
South Korea may be well known for its beautiful gardens, but did you know that its national parks are also worth the rave? In fact, type in “South Korean national parks” on Google search and you’ll get all kinds of listicles describing why you should visit a select few across the country. With that, I’ve got a few of my own that I’d like for you to consider:
Shop, Shop, Shop
You’ll find all kinds of sprawling shopping centers around South Korea, especially in big cities like Seoul and Busan. From malls to department stores, boutiques to underground shopping centers—Korea’s got it all.
You want beauty products to take home? No problem. How about souvenirs or traditional crafts? Of course. What about local herbs and spices? You bet!
I highly recommend you get your shopping done in Seoul, and here are the best places for it:
- Lotte World Tower
Sing Karaoke with Friends
In South Korea, karaoke is a wildly popular activity to do with family, friends, or coworkers. Actually, there are even a wide collection of karaoke rooms, or noraebangs, dedicated to those willing to belt out their favorite tunes. Consider this a deeply engrained tradition in Korean culture. Seriously, you probably won’t ever meet any local that’s never experienced a noraebang, so why not join in on the fun and live the regional lifestyle!
Attend a Festival
There are tons of captivating festivals that take place annually in South Korea. From culinary celebrations to wrestling in the mud, you’ll find that every month has a unique cultural event that takes place. For each city you visit, make sure you do some research as to upcoming festivals you may be able to attend. After all, that’s why you’re there, right?!
You can’t go wrong scheduling these festivals into your South Korea itinerary:
- Jeju Fire Festival
- Ultra Korea Music Festival
- Boryeong Mud Festival
- Seoul Lantern Festival
What Do You Want to Do the Most?
There you have it—nineteen of the best things you must do when visiting South Korea. So, where do you think you’ll start? Which do you feel you want to do the most? Or, how about extending your vacation and knocking them all of the checklist? Yep, that sounds like a plan. Safe and happy travels!