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Traveling to Korea: What can I expect?

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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changdeokgung secret garden

Best Things to Do in Seoul, Korea

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.

  • Rent a hanbok, and have a royal photoshoot at a Korean palace.
  • See Seoul from the top of Korea’s tallest building – the Seoul Sky Observatory.
  • Chill out by Banpo Hangang Park.
  • Eat Korean BBQ, dakgalbi and all the spicy things.
  • Wander around a traditional market, like Namdaemun or Gwangjang.
  • Get a Korean facial and indulge in all things K-beauty.
  • Take a day trip to the Demilitiarized Zone between North & South Korea.
gyeongbokgung palace seoul korea
sunset over namsan in seoul korea

Best Things to Do in Korea, outside of Seoul

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.

  • Get some serious beach time at Hamdeok Beach on Jeju Island.
  • Eat fresher than fresh seafood at Busan’s Jagalchi Market.
  • Try the best bibimbap in the country in Jeonju.
  • Admire the strange tombs of Shilla Dynastry royalty in Gyeongju.
  • Participate in a Templestay in a serene location.
  • Learn about Korea’s road to democracy at the May 18th Cemetery in Gwangju.
cafe delmoondo hamdeok beach jeju island
wonju korea

When’s the best time to visit Korea?

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.

cherry blossom trees in jamsil korea

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.

Money Saving Tips

1
Eat Korean food Foreign food in Korea is much more expensive than local food. A plate of pasta can easily set you back 15,000 won, but a healthy and filling kimbap can cost just 3,000 won.
2
Get a T-Money Card Public transit in most major Korean cities is super efficient, cost effective and easy to use. Get a T-Money (transit card) for free transfers between subways and buses and a discount on each ride.
3
Get the Discover Seoul Pass The Discover Seoul Pass includes free admission to 53 tourist attractions, 40 special discounts, a ride on the AREX airport line and FREE unlimited subway rides in the city.
4
Take advantage of free attractions There's a ton of free attractions all over Korea. Huge green spaces, museum exhibits and markets offer tons of eye candy, without the hefty price tag. Keep your eyes open for any seasonal festivals too!

Related Travel Guides & Articles

Recent stories from Korea.

Korea’s Top Tours & Attractions

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.

The Best Tours, Experiences and Activities

The Best Transport & Travel Services to Make Your Trip Easy

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