Fashion- and technology-forward but also deeply traditional, this dynamic city mashes up palaces, temples, cutting-edge design and mountain trails, all to a nonstop K-Pop beat. Design Matters Over the last decade Seoul has worked hard to soften its industrial hard edges into an appealing urban ideal of parks, culture and design.
The best sites in Korea either awe you with beauty or deepen your understanding of the culture. Busan (부산) and Gyeongsangnam-do (경상남도) do both. Busan’s easily accessible mountains, beaches and hiking trails, as well as its colourful seafood and drinking scene, make it very easy to love.
Home to majestic mountains, glistening beaches, steaming hot springs and fantastic seafood, South Korea’s second-largest city is a rollicking port town with tonnes to offer. From casual tent bars and chic designer cafes to fish markets teeming with every species imaginable, Busan (부산) has something for all tastes.
Gyeonggi-do & Incheon
Seoul's staggeringly efficient mass transit system makes its surrounding areas incredibly accessible, whether for easy day trips or longer excursions. And despite such proximity, cities such as Suwon, the provincial capital of Gyeonggi-do with its World Heritage–listed fortress, or Incheon with its intriguing multicultural background, have a vibe all their own.
Korea’s cultural warehouse, Gyeongsangbuk-do (경상북도) is a region resplendent in both natural beauty and heritage sites, including enchanting temples, ancient pagodas, rock-carved Buddhas and sublime tombs. Gyeongju is often called ‘the museum without walls’ for its historical treasures, many of which are outdoors.
This beautiful southwest province is one of Korea’s greenest and least developed. The heartland of Jeollanam-do (전라남도) has rolling hills, the towering Sobaek Mountains to the east and 6100km of coastline to the south and west, with more than 2000 islands offshore – less than 300 of which are inhabited.
Gyeonggi-do (경기도), its name literally meaning the 'province surrounding Seoul', is the most populous province in Korea, encompassing some 28 cities that often feel like extended suburbs of the capital. But start to explore a little and you'll find pockets of fascinating history, public art, hilltop hiking and much more, all within easy access of Seoul.
Chungcheongnam-do (충청남도) tends to fly under the radar of most travellers, and that's unfortunate. Some of the best nature within striking distance of Seoul is here. Gorgeous Daecheon Beach is popular, especially during the Boryeong Mud Festival, while those preferring solitude can hop on a ferry to one of the nearby islands.
Incheon Metropolitan City
One of Korea's six gwangyoek-si, or 'metropolitan cities', Incheon is the country's third largest, second only to Seoul and Busan (though it can seem like an extension of the former). But what sets Incheon apart is that it also administers the dreamy sweep of West Sea islands or do, the largest of which, Ganghwado, is only separated from the mainland by a narrow channel.
If you only have a short time on Jeju-do, make Seogwipo your base. It has the best climate and coastal scenery, plus easy access to Halla-san and Seongsan Ilchul-bong. It is a little far from the airport but there are direct buses to and from there. it is also well connected to the atmospheric Buddha in a cave at Sagye-ri and group-package favourite Jungmun Resort.
South Korea’s fourth-largest city is a pleasant and progressive place with a fascinating traditional-medicine market; a historic central area packed with heritage, old churches and missionary residences; some excellent eating options; and a humming downtown that’s good fun to explore.
Gwangju (광주), Korea's sixth-largest city, is defined by its powerful political history and reverence for creativity. Often considered the birthplace of Korean democracy, the effects of the May 18 Democratic Uprising – a 1980 mass protest against South Korea's then-authoritarian military government – remain a strong part of the city's identity.