Many people that I talk to wonder if South Korea is worth visiting and here’s what I normally tell them:
While there are a lot of Asian countries to visit that are significantly cheaper than South Korea, this country is worth visiting especially if you have that extra spending budget. Why? It’s simply a country like no other. If your perception of Asian countries is limited to Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam, then South Korea will be a treat for you. From its amazing culture and history, bustling cities and sleepy provinces, to their famous food and music, it’s no question that South Korea is worth visiting.
It doesn’t even matter if you’re not into Korean culture (their dramas and music), if you like a good time and exploring unique destinations, then you’ll fall in love with South Korea the moment you’ve stepped out of your plane.
Wonder where you should start? Here are some of the things that you can do in this country:
1. Indulge in crazily delicious Korean food
The best way to experience South Korea is through its food. It’s unbelievably delicious and it’s nothing like any other Asian cuisine. There’s so much to try out because of the wide varieties of Korean cuisine.
If you think that crossing out your Korean food list will do no good for your weight, then you’d be delighted to know that most Korean food staples are quite healthy compared to other cuisines. Don’t forget to miss out on these top must-try Korean dishes:
- Samgyeopsal. Koreans love their pork and beef and their style of barbecue is completely different from what you might experience in America. It’s definitely a community thing, where you have a griller in the middle of your table, and you get unlimited choices of meat cuts and sauces. Wrap it up lettuce along with a couple of side dishes and dip it in sesame oil for the perfect Korean food experience.
- Kimchi. This is probably the first thing that comes to your mind when we say Korean food. Basically, it’s spicy fermented vegetables that could be eaten with anything. Or, you could just eat it as it is. It’s definitely the quintessential food item.
- Bibimbap. Asians love rice and South Koreans are no exception. They have a wide array of bibimbap or rice bowls that will surely leave you filled up. This dish is a tasty combination of steamed rice, your choice of meat, side vegetables, gochujang, sesame oil, and topped with a fried egg.
For your street food delights, don’t forget to stop by at Myeong-dong in Seoul. Don’t be shy to try out where the locals would eat and frequent. Start off with gimbap (rice roll), bindaetteok (mung bean pancake), and hotteok (sweet potato cake).
2. Visit the grandeur of Korean Palaces
If you’ve watched at least one Korean drama or movie, you’d immediately notice that a lot of it showcases the grandiosity of the Korean culture.
Everyone is wearing their traditional outfits and women would have their hair tied up in the most intricate way that’s possible. They would walk through the palaces and temples that’s way too beautiful that it almost looks like an elaborate set.
But, the palaces in South Korea are not products of a film set. The country’s ancient history and glorious culture are evident in their many palaces.
It’s absolutely breathtaking to visit. Check out some of the notable palaces in South Korea that are definitely worth visiting:
- Gyeongbokgung Palace. This palace was built in 1395 during King Taejo’s reign. Gyeongbokgung means “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven” and it’s the largest palace built by the Joseon dynasty. This palace is the most ornate and grand. Notable stops in this palace are the Hyangwonjeong Pond and the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion.
- Changdeokgung Palace. While it’s only the second-largest palace among the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul, it’s the best-preserved palace. Make sure to check out their special tour that will lead you to the palace’s Biwon or the Secret Garden.
When you’re at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, make sure that you stick around for the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony.
It happens every hour between 10AM and 3PM. Witnessing this moment will definitely feel like a leap back in time.
3. Explore South Korea’s theme parks
If going to Hongkong means not skipping the day or two at Disneyland, the same goes for South Korea’s Lotte World and Everland. It’s a debate on which two parks are better but if you’re in South Korea, it’s definitely world checking both of them out.
Lotte World is the world’s largest indoor theme park. But, it’s more than just that. It’s technically a mixture of the theme park, luxury hotels, shopping malls, museums, entertainment centers, and a whole lot more of establishments.
One thing that’s for sure, you won’t have a boring moment at Lotte World with so many things available to do.
If you want a more traditional South Korean theme park, then head on to Everland. Think Disney park but with a splash of Korea. Plus, the world’s fourth-tallest wooden roller coaster and one of the ten fastest is located in this park. So definitely don’t miss a ride in T-Express for your dose of adrenaline.
4. Take a peek at North Korea in the Demilitarized Zone
Everyone wonders what North Korea is like considering that this nation is so heavy-guarded with their life. The closest you’ll ever get to this Hermit country as a tourist is visiting the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ.
It would be a miss if you don’t pay a visit to the border that separates Korea into two. It’s about 48 kilometers north of Seoul and the remnants of the Cold War are still very visible.
You could join a tour to this place, so you’ll get to see every place that you’re allowed to visit while listening to the history of both nations.
If you’re at the DMZ, you can look at North Korea from numerous safe locations. You’ll find the Military Demarcation Line or the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom.
It’s the most visited area in DMZ it’s unsettlingly steely with soldiers from South and North Korea on both sides of the barbed wire.
This is also where the “Bridge of No Return” is located which is a single bridge that crosses the demarcation line between South and North Korea.
If you want to actually cross the demarcation line legally, only the USO DMZ tour will take you to the “Blue Room” where it’s perfectly placed between the borders of South and North Korea.
5. Attend many of the South Korean festivals
If you can, schedule your trip in a way that it coincides with one of South Korea’s festivals. They’re definitely a nation that loves their festivities and they would have a festival for almost every occasion.
It’s a great chance to experience the culture of the country without any of the touristy parts. Here are some of the amazing festivals that you could attend in South Korea:
- Jindo Moses Miracle Festival. This is definitely a quirky way to celebrate nature’s wonders. Every year during late April, Koreans would flock the little town of Jindo to witness the sea parting because of the very low tide and cross the land bridge that connects two islands. South Koreans liken this even to Moses’ miracle.
- Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival. If you think that cherry blossoms are unique to Japan, South Korea is here to prove you wrong. The enchanting displays of cherry blossoms trees and its petals are absolutely breathtaking to watch in Spring where the entire country is greeted with the color and beauty of these trees.
- Mud Festival. If you’re into beach parties, alcohol, and fun, then this festival is for you. The Mud Festival in July is incredibly popular with tourists and foreigners who would want to take the heat off and play in oodles of therapeutic mud while partying like no tomorrow.
- Jinju Lantern Festival. This festival looks like it’s taken right out of a Disney movie. Every October, South Koreans would go to Namgan River in Jinju-si to light thousands of lanterns to travel down the river. This is a tribute to more than 70,000 Koreans who lost their lives fighting during the Imjin War with the Japanese.
Everyone celebrates as the riverside transforms into a festival of amusements, food, and drink.
You should definitely wait until the main attraction of the Jinju Lantern Festival which is a parade of grandiose and huge lanterns.
While it might be quite a detour from the normal South Korea tour itinerary, it’s definitely worth the trip.