South Korea Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration
PureTravel Says: "South Korea is a fascinating place to spend a holiday, with its friendly people and wondrous cities. The countryside is almost mystical in its beauty. With numerous temples, fortresses and palaces, this section of the Korean peninsula holds a great deal of historical significance. See unique traditions and a land with a wide array of choices on how to spend your time here. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage sites or see the marketplaces to find some souvenirs to take home with you. The rivers flow to the Yellow Sea; the rocky mountains rise from the land. A truly amazing country."
Culture – Seoul is the major center of culture in South Korea, with evidence that the land was inhabited as early as 6,000 years ago. The Yi dynasty existed here and a period of Japanese control followed. There are many historic sites and to get the true atmosphere and history of this country, you should see as many as possible, from the temples representing the Buddhist heritage to museums, including the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts.
Sightseeing – Koreans love theme parks, and you can start here with a number in or close to Seoul. You may prefer to explore the nature on this peninsula by seeing Bukhansan National Park or travelling the road leading to Seokguram Grotto. The gardens and parks are beautiful and a visit to North Korea is indeed a wonderful experience.
Nightlife – There is something in the nightlife in South Korea that sparks a sense of excitement, whether it’s the traditional teahouses or the special local dishes. You’ll find lively evenings in restaurants and bars and European-style beer halls in Seoul will show you a great time. After a long day of travel, you'll want to relax and enjoy the night. Take the breather you deserve whilst on your South Korean holiday.
Trekking – Numerous trails in South Korea invite you to get out in the wilderness and explore. You’ll find incredible scenery on your trek, from the national parks Seoraksan and Chuwangsan to the routes out of Daegu City. There are jagged mountaintops and rolling green hills. The coastline is amazing. You’ll have a choice of over 1,700 trails, so take your time in deciding where to go.
Water sports – Beaches lined with pines or luxury beaches around the high-class hotels will have you spending some quality time in the sun. And the activities! From parasailing to windsurfing, you'll have plenty to choose from, and lots to keep you busy outdoors. Visit the popular Haeundae beach, or Gwangalli Beach. Walk along the sands and enjoy the breezes, or hire some equipment and go diving.
Winter sports – Yes, you can go skiing in South Korea! There are many popular ski resorts close to the capital city and Dragon Valley might be the ideal place to go. With four resorts within an hour of Seoul, it would be wise to take the opportunity to get out there on the slopes for some winter sports fun.
When to Go
Spring and autumn are the ideal times to visit South Korea. The weather is mild and mostly dry. To avoid the hottest part of the year, don’t plan your trip between July and August.
- When entering a Korean home, you should remove your shoes before going in.
- Don’t beckon someone by having your hand palm up using a finger. Koreans call their dogs this way.
- Don’t write down anyone’s name in red ink. It symbolizes death.
- Electricity is generally 110 volts AC but most hotels now have 220 volts AC.
Holidays in Focus
Your visit to South Korea wouldn’t be complete without thoroughly investigating the culture of Seoul. See the grand royal palaces of Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung and Changdeokgung. At the Gyeongbokgung Palace, built by the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, you can also tour the National Museum of Korea with its lotus ponds and gardens. When viewing the marvellous Changdeokgung Palace, you have to see the secret gardens, enchanting in their beauty. Marvel at the South Gate of the city, dating back as far as the 1300s. See the ancestral tablets of the Joseon Dynasty at the Jongmyo Shrine. Also while in Seoul, you must stop at the Namsangol traditional Korean village. There are five restored homes showing the various social levels of society during the Joseon Dynasty. This is truly like moving back in time. You can check out the houses and also drink tea, do some shopping and try your hand at some ancient games. Outside of Seoul in Suwon City you should visit the Hwaseong Fortress. Near Busan you can see South Korea’s museum Gyeongju, which is filled with the culture of the Buddhist.
Enjoying the sights and sounds of this friendly nation is a true pleasure as you move around the country, exploring and having adventures. One popular trip is to go to the island of Jeju-do, which is off the southwest coast. Known as a “honeymoon island” it has Korea’s highest mountain. All over the island you’ll see stone statues made of black lava and you can witness the incredible waterfalls. Visit Seokguram Grotto with a magnificent granite Buddha. Not far outside Seoul you’ll find Bukhansan National Park with temples and fortresses to tour. Another popular activity is to ride the high-speed train that can go up to 186 miles per hour. Go to Jagakhi Fish Market in Busan (only for those who aren’t squeamish) and see the Busan Tower and the Beomeosa Temple. If you love theme parks like the Koreans do, you’ll have to put Lotte World on your itinerary. There are plenty of rides and parades and even a Magic Island with a fairyland castle. Explore Seoul by moving down the alleys of the Insa-dong district. You can find all sorts of treasures, such as Chinese pottery, jewelry and old books. Ensure you visit the local teahouses so that you stay refreshed on your travels.
Always exciting, the nightlife in South Korea centers within Seoul mainly. You can get great food, lively entertainment and wonderful drinks. Find a teahouse in the traditional style, an entertaining pub or a fancy restaurant. Try the suljip or wine bar, found all over the city. Eat some of the national specialties such as Grilled galbi or kimchi. The bibimbap is boiled rice with vegetables and chilli peppers. The seafood stew is called Haemultang. You can also find Japanese and Chinese cuisine in many hotel restaurants. Some drinks you can try are the Soju, which is similar to vodka, or the Yakju or Korean beer. And, by the way, the legal drinking age is 20 in South Korea. Meet some friends and drink at the European beer halls or find a champagne bar in the city.
You will join many Koreans who enjoy a great hike in the mountains. There are crowds on Sundays so any other day would be preferable. You will find the scenery will take your breath away as you trek through Seoraksan National Park or Odaesan National Park. Seoraksan is the most northern of parks and is considered to have the most beautiful views. There are too many routes to name them all individually, but some of the best are within Songni-san National Park and Worak-san National Park. These are in the North Ch'ungch'ong Province. Start on a trek from Daejeon City or Gangwon. There are many more throughout the country. All will be thrilling and full of new sights and sounds.
For some of the best beaches in the country, visit the Haeundae Beach district and walk the carnival boardwalk. Try one of the popular beaches (there are six total) in Pusan. You will find activities geared to the sun lover, and can try everything from diving to paragliding. Seogwipo is another great beach to relax and enjoy some downtime on your holiday. Or you can go water skiing and windsurfing. To find some great waterfront cafes and bars, drop by Gwangalli Beach. If you are a diving enthusiast, take a plane for a one-hour trip to Cheju-do Island. The waters there are also perfect for some deep-sea fishing. An unusual side trip will be to go to Samcheunpo to see dinosaur prints in the rocks along the shores.
You can find winter sports in Korea! There are thirteen resorts within a four or five hour radius of Seoul. Four of them are within an hour’s drive. Bears Town is a popular mountain resort boasting eleven trails and eight chair lifts. There are also four restaurants to enjoy between skiing trips. At Seoul Resort you can ski on three trails and use the lifts to get to the top. Some of the other ski areas you can try are Hyundai Sungwoo Resort, Ch`onmasan and Phoenix Park Resort.
- Take an official tour out to the demilitarised zone (DMZ) and the village of Panmunjeom. It’s a short trip of one hour from Seoul and you will see where the armistice negotiations took place in 1953.
- Take a cruise from Hallyeo Maritime National Park to see the archipelago and the 400 islands surrounding.
- See the Maritime Aquarium in Namsan Park and then climb the Seoul Tower to over 1.500 feet for some fantastic views. Afterwards, have dinner in the revolving restaurant so you can see Seoul by night from a great height.
- Go to the best-known temple in Korea, the Haeinsa, which contains 80,000 wood printing blocks with the engravings of the complete Buddhist scriptures.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon
- Jongmyo Shrine
- Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple
- Changdeokgung Palace Complex
- Hwaseong Fortress
- Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites
- Gyeongju Historic Areas
- Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes
- Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty
- Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong
2014 Public Holidays, Events and Festivals
1 January - New Year's Day
1st day of 1st lunar month - Korean New Year's Day (31 January in 2014)
1 March - Independence (Declaration) Day
5 May - Children's Day
8th day of 4th lunar month - Buddha's Birthday (6 May 2014)
6 June - Memorial Day
17 July - Constitution Day
15 August - Liberation Day
15th day of 8th lunar month - Midautumn Festival (8 September in 2014)
1 October - Armed Forces Day
3 October - National Foundation Day
9 October - Hangul Day
25 December - Christmas Day
By Julie Bowman