South Korea’s Highlights

  • 2 weeks

Enjoy the best of Korea on this trip lassoing in the dynamic capital Seoul, the bustling southern port of Busan, lost-in-time country towns and offbeat sights before finishing on the beautiful island of Jeju-do.

Spend four or five days exploring Seoul, including a day trip north to the DMZ. Next head east to Chuncheon, to cycle alongside Uiam Lake and sample the town’s famous chicken dish, dakgalbi.

Dine on fresh seafood in Sokcho, then hike around the sublime peaks and waterfalls of Seoraksan National Park. Follow the coast south to Gangneung to discover well-preserved Joseon-era buildings before continuing to Samcheok to set foot in the huge Hwanseongul cave, as well as Haesindang Park, packed with phallic sculptures.

Hunt down the pagodas, temples and sights in and around Andong before delving into Korea's thatched past at serene Hahoe Folk Village. Continue to Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Silla kingdom, where the town's royal tombs, excellent museum and the World Heritage–listed grotto at Seokguram will need several days.

Busan, with its fish market, beaches and urban buzz, is worth a few days. From here fly to Jeju-do, where amazing volcanic scenery accompanies leisurely hikes.

West to East Sea

  • 3 weeks

This cross-country route is ideal for those looking to experience the more rustic and natural side of South Korea, with stops on ruggedly beautiful islands and hikes along leafy mountain trails.

From Incheon International Airport it’s a quick hop to the small, idyllic island of Muuido, from where you can walk to So-Muuido or relax on lovely beaches. Enjoy Chinese food in the historic Chinatown of Incheon, then stroll around the Open Port area. Take a direct bus to Suwon, where you can stride around the ramparts of the meticulously reconstructed fortress wall, explore the palace and tuck into the town’s famous galbi (beef ribs).

Gongju and Buyeo, the ancient capitals of the Baekje kingdom, are your next stops – hillside tombs, a fortress and a museum will give you insights into Korea’s oldest dynasty. After enjoying the sand, seafood and mud skincare spa of Daecheon Beach, sail to the serene island of Sapsido, where you can spend the night. Return to Daecheon and continue north by bus to Anmyeondo, the largest island in the Taeanhaean National Marine Park. Continue working on your tan at either Khotji Beach or Mallipo Beach, or hike some of the Haebyeongil trails through the park.

Travel inland to Daejeon to soak at Yuseong Hot Springs. Continue to Cheongju, learn about the world’s oldest printed book then move on to Songnisan National Park, covering central Korea’s finest scenic area and a temple that is home to a rare and handsome five-storey wooden pagoda.

Chungju is the gateway to lovely Woraksan National Park and two-hour scenic ferry trips across Chungju Lake towards sleepy Danyang, a restaurant-rich small town with a lovely waterside perch and hilly backdrop. Explore nearby limestone caves and the stately temple complex of Guin-sa within Sobaeksan National Park.

Use Andong as a base for exploring the surrounding area packed with attractive river and lakeside villages – it’s also famous for its soju (Korean-style vodka). It’s only a couple of hours by bus from here to Pohang. From Pohang visit Bogyeong-sa temple in a gorgeous valley with 12 waterfalls, then board the ferry to Ulleungdo, a sparsely inhabited, volcanic island.

The Deep South Trail

  • 3 weeks

This 850km route around Korea’s greenest and least-industrialised region offers the opportunity to stop by scores of rural islands, dine in countless seafood restaurants and dig deep within artistic traditions.

Jeonju, provincial capital of Jeollabuk-do, has a fascinating hanok village crammed with traditional houses and buildings. It’s also the birthplace of the classic rice dish bibimbap and a place to enjoy the milky rice wine makgeolli. Use it as a base for visiting the 6th-century Geumsan-sa temple in Moaksan Provincial Park. Don’t miss Maisan Provincial Park, where you can hike between a pair of ‘horse ear’ mountains and encounter a sculptural garden of stone pinnacles piled up by a Buddhist mystic at the temple of Tap-sa. Alternatively, go hiking or skiing in beautiful Deogyusan National Park. Both are accessed via the town of Jinan.

The industrial port city of Gunsan boasts Korea’s largest collection of Japanese-colonial-period buildings. From here hop on a ferry to the relaxing island of Seonyudo, situated amid 60 mostly uninhabited small islands. When the tide is in and the sun is out, the views from here are unbelievably beautiful.

Bronze and Iron Age tombs dot the lush green hills around the small village of Gochang, where you can also explore the 15th-century, ivy-covered Moyang Fortress.

Further south, Gwangju is home to several intriguing historical sites, museums and a major arts complex. Make a day trip to Damyang to stroll the sandy trails through its Juknokwon bamboo grove. Move on to the port of Mokpo to board boats to the remote havens of Heuksando and Hongdo in the Dadohae Haesang National Park.

Admire Korea’s centuries-old tradition of pottery at Gangjin and taste food and drinks made from healthy green tea at the beautiful Boseong Daehan Dawon Tea Plantation.

Go bird-spotting in the Ramsar-listed wetlands of Suncheon Bay then continue to Yeosu, site of Expo 2012, and head to the small bamboo and camellia tree-clad island of Odongdo to wander its paths.

For a final island experience, take in terraced rice paddies and misty temples on picturesque Namhaedo. The trail finishes at Korea's second-largest city, Busan.

City & Country

  • 2 weeks

Some of South Korea's top temples feature on this route linking its two main cities.

In Seoul attend a Templestay program at Jogye-sa or Bongeun-sa. Danyang is the transit point for Sobaeksan National Park, where you’ll find modern Guin-sa, headquarters of the Cheontae order.

Daegu is the base for trips to sublimely-situated Haein-sa, housing a World Heritage–listed library of more than 80,000 14th-century woodblocks, while Daegu itself is home to some tremendous heritage architecture, including an early-19th-century cathedral.

Jinan is the access town for Tap-sa, a tiny temple surrounded by two ‘horse ear’ mountains and an extraordinary sculptural garden of 80 stone pinnacles (or towers). From Jinan you can reach Gongju, one-time capital of Korea’s Baekje dynasty, to visit remote Magok-sa, with a hall of 1000 pint-sized disciples, each one slightly different, and Gwangju, to reach Unju-sa, with its fine collection of stone pagodas and unusual twin and reclining Buddhas.

Finish just outside of Busan at Tongdo-sa, home to an excellent Buddhist art museum containing 30,000 artefacts.

Seoul & Jeju Jaunt

  • 2 weeks

This two-centre itinerary is well suited to parents travelling with kids.

Seoul's many parks, interactive museums and, in summer, outdoor swimming pools are ideal for family fun. Older kids will most likely be happy cruising the capital’s vast shopping malls and department stores looking for souvenirs of Korea’s pervasive pop culture.

Day trips include the beaches of the West Sea islands; Korea’s biggest amusement park, Everland; and the Korean Folk Village. The latter two can just as easily be visited from Suwon, where it's fun to walk around the walls of an 18th-century fortress. North of Seoul, gain closer proximity to North Korea with a trip to the DMZ.

Hop on a flight to Jeju-do, blessed with a fascinating volcanic landscape and dozens of sandy beaches. Amusement and water parks, cycle and skate hire and a whole raft of adventure activities, from quad biking to scuba diving, are possible on this fun-packed island with plenty of world-class resorts.