Globally, South Korea is often mistaken for its big, bad neighbour to the North. Understandable – since North Korea unfortunately grabs all too many (negative) headlines around the world. But I’m here to set you straight, with everything you need to know about visiting one of the world’s most underrated tourist destinations.
Gangnam Style really put Korea on the map for travellers, but there’s so much more to the country than just one crazy horse dance. From ancient palaces to fiery food, and dramatic mountain peaks to one of the best cafe cultures on the planet, you’ll have an absolute blast discovering everything there is to do here.
In this guide, I’ll cover the basics of traveling around South Korea, including the best things to see, general costs, and insider tips gleaned from living in Seoul as an expat, for over a decade.
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If it’s your first time visiting South Korea, you’re likely spending much of your time in Seoul. It’s one of the most dynamic cities in the world, so that’s definitely a good thing! However, there’s so many options, it can be overwhelming at first.
I’ve lived in Seoul for over 10 years, and know a thing or two about the best things to do and see here. These are the activities and attractions I personally recommend to anyone that comes to visit me in Korea… and you should definitely make time for them too.
Seoul is so huge and so incredible, that it can justifiably take up all your time, but get out of the megacity and you’ll discover a Korea you never knew existed. Jeju Island, Busan, Gyeongju and Jeonju are all worthy of your time, but allow yourself to wander off the tourist trail a bit more, and you’ll be richly rewarded.
Korea is a tiny peninsula with 4 dramatic seasons. Each lasts approximately 3 months, and each has its own charms (and difficulties).
Cherry blossoms bloom across the country in April, and autumn foliage is at its peak from mid-October to mid-November, so these tend to be the peak tourist seasons. Winter can also be busy as visitors from SE Asia and other hot countries descend on Korea to see snow and participate in winter activities.
Summer is incredibly hot and humid, but still crowded with tourists. It’s the one season I wouldn’t recommend visiting in, unless you plan to go to Jeju or spend time on Korea’s coastal areas.
Read my seasonal guides to get a better idea of what it’s like to visit Korea in each month.
Minimum daily budget: 50,000 won and up.
There’s a huge range of accommodation, food and activities for every single budget. If you need to watch your dollars, it’s totally possible to do so by staying in hostels, eating local food and walking a lot. And if it’s a luxury experience you’re after, well, the sky’s truly the limit in Korea.
Recent stories from Korea.
If you’re a foreign passport holder, you can get amazing discounts and packages to Korea’s most popular tours and attractions by booking online with Klook, Trazy or Get Your Guide.
I’ve curated the most booked, well-reviewed tours, shows, restaurants and experiences for you below. I recommend booking any popular tours at least a few days in advance, especially if it’s a busy tourist season or Korean national holiday.