The ancient capital of Korea, Gyeongju, is a must in the country and is considered one of the top ten ancient cultural cities in the world. Amidst the shops and markets of the modern city, you will find abundant vestiges of 2,000-year-old history, including tombs and burial mounds from the 5th century, a stone observatory from the 7th century and the gardens of royal amenities of Anapji, designed in 674 AD. Other areas of Gyeongju are rich in elegant pagodas and historic wooden Buddhist temples, and many trails lead you to the slopes of the sacred Nam-san mountain, which overlooks the south of the city.
Hiking in national parks
South Korea is full of exciting national parks, all of which are crisscrossed by well-marked trails and dotted with good campsites (and the occasional mountain hut). The choice of crop is Seorak-san, and in particular, Naeseorak (Inner Seorak), an exceptionally peaceful expanse of wooded peaks, rivers, waterfalls and Buddhist temples – as well as some established rock climbs. Jiri-san is also worth a visit, with a 65 km long ridge and many historic temples; the popular and fairly gentle trails of Songni-san; and Bukhansan, on the outskirts of Seoul.
The modern capital of South Korea is full of tourist attractions to keep you occupied for a few days. The most interesting are the five imposing royal palaces, some of which date back to the 15th century. Changdokkung Palace is home to one of South Korea’s most beautiful gardens, the Piwon, a beautifully landscaped oasis of ponds and pavilions. In the modern part of the city, visit the Kimchi Museum, dedicated to fiery sauerkraut which is the national dish of South Korea, browse the Leeum Museum of Modern Art and spend the evening in the trendy night district of Sinchon.
At 38th latitude, the 1953 ceasefire line between North Korea and South Korea – a four-kilometre strip of land filled with sentry posts – is still in effect, and the village of Panmunjeom, located on the DMZ, just 56 km north of Seoul, is a popular day trip from the capital. Unless you can afford to go on a tour of North Korea, this is the closest thing to the repressive and hopelessly impoverished totalitarian state. There is no border crossing here (or anywhere between the two countries), but Panmunjeom attracts buses full of tourists, all of whom need to dress smartly (no jeans, T-shirts or miniskirts) and, when they are men, have a respectable haircut!
Korean folk village
It may sound like a nightmare on the bus, but the Korean folk village is definitely worth a day trip from Seoul, especially if you don’t have time to explore the rest of the country. Reconstruction of a typical 19th-century village, with a Buddhist temple, a Confucian school, pottery and weaving, blacksmiths and traditional farms. The people you see in the village also live and work there, although they may look like actors dressed in traditional outfits.
This southern island has preserved traditions that have long since disappeared from the continent and are now a popular tourist destination and a favourite of local honeymooners. Highlights include mysterious Easter Island-like statues, hikes to the top of Halla-san (South Korea’s tallest volcano) and a seven-kilometre cave with lava tubes. The climate here is warmer and more humid than in the rest of the country, but do not come especially for the beaches because you will find them busy and disappointing dirty