Given how thoroughly it was trashed during the Korean War, it’s no small miracle that so many of Seoul’s historic landmarks remain. A number of them are meticulous reconstructions, but that doesn’t diminish their significance or impact.
Food & Drink
Seoul is the best place to sample the full range of Korean culinary delights – from hot kimchi stews and sizzling street snacks to the delicate morsels that make up a royal banquet.
At all times of day or night there’s always somewhere to shop in Seoul. The teeming markets of Dongdaemun and Namdaemun are must-do experiences, as is cruising the boutiques and department stores of Myeong-dong or ritzy Apgujeong and Cheongdam.
Gyeonggi-do & Incheon
Scores of islands flaking off like crumbs into the West Sea make for perfect escapes from the urban grip of Seoul and Incheon. Try historic Ganghwado or laid-back Deokjeokdo, which has a gorgeous crescent-shaped beach.
The DMZ splitting North and South Korea is a must-see, as are the Unesco World Heritage–listed fortress walls surrounding the inner core of Suwon.
The pottery town of Incheon draws in ceramics lovers, and Heyri near the DMZ border is a village packed with small galleries. See something different in the exhibitions at Incheon Art Platform or the sculptures of Anyang Art Park.
Seoraksan National Park abounds with gorgeous vistas of mist-shrouded crags that rarely fail to stun. The valleys are loaded with quiet temples, hot springs, hiking trails and quietude.
Hit the Slopes
Host of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang’s Yongpyong and Alpensia ski resorts aren’t the biggest in the world but they pack in lots of family-friendly options such as sledding and inner tubing.
Take the bus down from Samcheok to Haesindang Park and wander through a parkland decorated with an almost surreal assortment of penile statues to a backdrop of beautiful marine views.
Secreted away among mist-shrouded mountains are ancient esoteric temples, buffered from the neon-drenched cities of Gyeongsangbuk-do by isolation and dense woodland.
Head to Gyeongju, the ‘museum without walls’, for a rich display of Silla history, from hill-shaped tumuli to riveting finds on display at the excellent National Museum, ancient temple remains and a Unesco World Heritage site outside town.
The huge city of Daegu is not just a great stop for some superb cuisine, craft beer and a youthful, buzzing atmosphere – it's home to tremendous cultural heritage too and some terrific museums.
You’d have to be swimming in the ocean to get your hands on seafood fresher than the produce at Busan’s Jagalchi Fish Market. Pick your creature from a tank and it’ll be your next meal within minutes.
Sure, Haeundae beach can be overcrowded and overhyped, but it’s the nation’s most loved for good reason. Kick back in the sand, frolic in the waves and snack on savoury barbecued shellfish in Cheongsapo, a short taxi ride from the beach.
The crumbly coastline has myriad islands to explore, but Namhaedo, one of the largest, is stunningly beautiful, with mountaintop temples and terraced rice paddies sloping down to the sea.
Arts & Culture
Ceramics & Contemporary Art
From Gangjin's ancient celadon (green-tinged pottery) kilns to Gwangju's new Asian Culture Complex, Jeollanam-do has a long history of supporting the arts. Visit in September for the Gwangju Biennale.
The rolling hills lead down to the coastline, where you can hop on a boat to explore hundreds of islands. Don’t forget to sample the local catch of the day: sashimi, abalone or even live octopus.
Hunting for murals in a traditional market (in Gwangju), getting steamy in a seawater sauna (in Hampyeong), gawking at sunken treasures (in Mokpo)…just some of the quirky sights and activities possible in this region.
Art & Culture
Discover the island the slow way, following one or more of the 26 routes on the Jeju Olle Trail. Alternatively, take one of four routes to the top of Halla-san (1950m), South Korea’s tallest mountain.
Arty Stones & Sexy Art
Jeju-do is packed with all manner of galleries and museums, from the impressive Jeju Stone Park and stunning photos at Kim Young Gap Gallery Dumoak, to a trio of quirky sex museums.
Jeju’s separately developed island culture reveals itself in a distinct cuisine, heavy on seafood but also with cuts of black pig and horse on the menu.
Head for the Hills
For a small province, Jeollabuk-do has an impressive amount of parkland. Choose from a number of national and provincial parks and join the droves of outdoor enthusiasts in exploring Korea's natural beauty.
In the middle of an agricultural heartland, Jeonju is Korea's favourite foodie destination, home of the rice dish bibimbap and a lively street-food culture. After hours it's all about the makgeolli (milky rice wine).
Go Back in Time
History is celebrated in Jeonju’s hanok village and its clusters of artisans. Other engaging reminders of the past include the Gochang fortress and the former colonial port of Gunsan.
There are opportunities galore to work on that tan at Korea’s most popular beaches. Whether you like packed summer scenes or intimate small strips of sand, you’ll find it here.
Possibly Korea’s most famous (some say infamous) festival, the Boryeong Mud Festival is a messy extravaganza that’s hugely popular with foreigners.
The twin sleepy towns of Gongju and Buyeo were once the seat of power of Korea’s earliest dynasty, the long-running Baekje kingdom. Festivals, fortresses, tombs and museums pay tribute to its legacy.
Discover Inner Peace
Some of Korea's most intriguing and impressive temples exist here. The modern hillside complex of Guin-sa and its hiking opportunities are alluring, but find time for the rare five-storey wooden pagoda at Beopju-sa.
Slow it Down
This landlocked region, with its quiet towns, offers a chance for leisurely exploration of Korea’s heartland. Take a meandering cruise along Chungju Lake or soak in an oncheon (hot-spring spa) at Suanbo.
Footnotes in History
The world’s first book printed by movable metal type was created in Cheongju, and is celebrated in a museum on the site of the temple that oversaw its production. The book's legacy is perhaps the greatest cultural treasure to emerge from Korea.