Seoul is the world’s 10th-largest city. Its past and present coexist in a fascinating way: centuries-old palaces, city gates, shrines, gardens and priceless art collections attest to the city’s illustrious past, while the glistening facades of soaring skyscrapers and the bustling traffic represent its vibrant present.
The old city was encircled by four inner mountains and four outer mountains. Bugaksan in the north, Naksan in the east, Inwangsan in the west, and Namsan in the south are “the inner mountains” as all were originally inside the old city walls of the Joseon capital. The four outer mountains are Bukhansan in the north, Yongmasan in the east, Deogyangsan in the west, and Gwanaksan in the south. Each mountain has a unique beauty of its own while boasting natural scenic landscapes and spectacular views overlooking the city of Seoul. There are also numerous mountain springs that freely provide clean, clear water to refresh weary hikers.
Gyeongbokgung Palace is arguably the most beautiful and remains the grandest of all the five palaces in the capital city.
In Seoul, the must-see attractions are the ancient royal palaces of the Joseon Dynasty: Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, Changdeokgung, and Changgyeonggung. Jongmyo, the royal ancestral shrine of the Joseon Dynasty, and Changdeokgung’s adjacent Huwon (Rear Garden also known as the Secret Garden) are noted for their beautifully landscaped gardens and classical structures.
One of the most popular areas for tourists in the old center of Seoul is Insa-dong. A place that beckons both casual shoppers and serious collectors, it is lined with antique shops, art galleries, traditional teahouses, and restaurants and bookstores.
Other attractions highly recommended for visitors include the National Museum of Korea, the National Gugak Center, the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, the Ho-Am Art Hall and Korea House. The National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwacheon, a southern satellite town, also deserves a visit.
At Namsan Park, in the heart of Seoul, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire city from N Seoul Tower and look around a reconstructed Hanok village below. Visitors can relax, walk, or rent bicycles in numerous Seoul parks, such as Olympic Park, Seoul Grand Park, Seoul Forest, and the Hangang River Trail. These parks are among the hidden treasures of Seoul, enjoyed by residents but often missed by tourists.
Of course, Korean cuisine is also a must during a trip to the peninsula, either at a modern or traditional restaurant. Excellent Chinese and Japanese food is also available, as well as French, Italian, Thai, Pakistani and many other ethnic cuisines.
Seoul has an active nightlife with clubs, cafes, and roof-top lounges. A fantastic view of the city at night can be seen from the Seoul City Tour Bus or from along the Hangang River as a cruise boat slowly meanders through a valley flanked by high-rises.
Gyeonggi-do Province is located in the western central region of the Korean Peninsula, with the Hangang running through its center. The river divides the province into a mountainous northern area and open fields to the south. While Seoul keeps its visitors busy with so many intriguing and enticing things to see and do, this area outside of Seoul can provide a refreshing and invigorating break.
The 18-kilometer Incheon Bridge connecting Incheon International Airport and the New Songdo International City
The shoreline of coastal regions juts in and out along the beaches and includes countless bays and coves, capes and islands. The bays of Namyangman and Asanman, Gimpo and Hwaseong Peninsula, Ganghwado and Yeongjongdo islands are all attractions worth a trip outside of Seoul. The golden bell, the provincial flower, symbolizes prosperity and flourishes widely throughout the region.
Within a 50-minute drive to the south of Seoul is the Korean Folk Village. In this traditional village everyday Korean life of days gone by is reenacted. The Korean Folk Village opened in 1973 and now includes aspects of almost everything traditionally Korean.
Homes typical of the various provinces are on display, and there are regular performances of tightrope walking, wedding and funeral processions, kite-flying contests and folk dancing in the village square. Blacksmiths, carpenters, potters and craftsmen can also be seen at work in their shops. In Suwon, adjacent to this traditional village is Hwaseong Fortress, a walled city of the Joseon Dynasty that was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Ganghwado is situated in the estuary of the Hangang River north of Incheon Port. This island, Korea’s fifth-largest, is rich in history and natural beauty. Major historic monuments here include an altar said to have been erected by Dangun, the legendary founder of Korea, along with fortresses, ancient walls, a celadon kiln dating back to the 13th century Goryeo Dynasty, and Jeondeungsa Temple.
Korean Folk Village in Yongin
Walking through the 1km2 village, visitors can experience over 270 traditional houses representing different regions in a natural atmosphere.
Just a 56-km bus trip north of Seoul is Panmunjeom, the truce village where the Korean Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, ending the fierce fighting of the Korean War. It is now a joint security area managed by the UN Command and North Korean guards. Visitors are escorted and briefed by military guides.
With these natural conditions, Gangwon-do served as an ideal site for the 4th Asian Winter Games in January 1999. The International Travel Exposition (ITE) ’99 was also held here from September 11 through October 30, 1999. Over 2 million visitors from overseas and around the country participated in these events. Under the theme, “Man, Nature and Life of the Future,” the ITE offered an array of performances and events in addition to a number of fascinating exhibitions and useful information to visitors.
Ski resorts have fine snow conditions and are equipped with advanced facilities for ski enthusiasts. (Photo courtesy of Yongpyong Resort)
The eastern coastline, stretching 390 km from Hwajinpo to Busan, is rugged and mountainous with some of the most breathtaking scenery in Korea. Skiing and other winter sports help make the area a year-round resort destination. To meet the needs of the more than one million skiers per year, several resorts are now equipped with snow-making machines, which have extended the season from December to March. Other popular recreational activities in the region include swimming in summer and mountain climbing in autumn. The beaches here are perhaps the finest in Korea, gently sloping into shallow water, which has only mild currents.
Mt. Seoraksan, part of the Mt. Geumgangsan Range, draws visitors with its magnificent splendor. It is impressive and colorful all year round and is home to the Asiatic black bear, the symbol of Gangwon-do Province and one of the most endangered species in the world.
One of the most popular mountain tourist destinations for its beautiful scenery and rare species.
Other popular sites include the Cheoksan, Osaek and Sorak Waterpia hot springs in and around Seoraksan National Park and the unification observatories abutting the DMZ that offer excellent views of North Korean territory. And every August, puppet theater groups from around the world converge on the capital of Gangwon-do for the Chuncheon Puppet Festival.
Ulleungdo, lying 217 km northeast of Pohang, is an extinct volcano rising prominently from the East Sea. Dokdo, the easternmost point of Korea, lies 87.4 km to the southeast of Ulleungdo.
Located in the East Sea, 90 kilometers to the Southeast of Ulleungdo, Dokdo Islet is part of Ulleungdo. It consists of Dongdo (East Islet) and Seodo (West Islet) and is surrounded by 36 tinier rock islets. Dongdo and Seodo face each other at a distance of 150 m and the average depth of the water between the two islets is about 10 m. Dokdo has a number of sea caves such as Hyeongjegul and Cheonjanggul. Cold and warm currents converge in the surrounding sea, creating an ideal environment for an abundance of marine life to come and thrive. There are also many birds like the Swinhoe’s fork-tailed petrel, streaked shearwater, and black-tailed gull.
To get to Dokdo, visitors must first travel to Ulleungdo. Ferries for Ulleungdo leave from Mukho Port in Gangwon-do Province or Pohang in Gyeongsangbuk-do Province. The ports are about 161 km and 217 km away from Ulleungdo, with traveling time on the ferry about 2 hours and 20 minutes and 3 hours, respectively.
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Dongdo and Seodo face each other at a distance of 150 meters and the average depth of the water between the two islets is about 10 meters.
Chungcheongbuk-do and Chungcheongnam-do provinces lie in the western center of the peninsula. Chungcheongbuk-do is the country’s only landlocked province, but with the completion of the Government Complex in its capital Daejeon and the newly opened international airport in Chungcheongbuk-do’s capital Cheongju, the two provinces are being turned into a strategic heartland for the domestic economy.
The Namhangang River at Cheongju, Chungcheongbuk-do
Daejeon is about two hours south of Seoul by car and is a major train junction for the Seoul-Busan and Seoul-Gwangju-Mokpo lines. It is rapidly developing into one of Korea’s major science and technology centers. Expo Park, the site of the International Daejeon Expo ’93, has been renovated and converted into a public science park.
Buyeo, the last capital of the Baekje Kingdom (18 B.C.-A.D. 660), features the Buyeo National Museum which houses a comprehensive collection of about 7,000 relics from the Baekje period.
The Geumgang River flows alongside Gyeryongsan, one of the region’s most popular mountains. As the original center of Baekje culture, the area abounds with unique cultural artifacts and historic relics.
Dotted between the many peaks and saddlebacks along the ridgeline of Mt. Sobaeksan are a wealth of national treasures and historical places. These include the seven-story stone pagoda of Yongdusa, the Palsangjeon wooden pagoda, Sangdangsanseong Fortress, and Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s Chungnyeolsa Shrine.
Many other celebrated temples, hot springs, national parks and natural wonders are also waiting to be discovered here. Chungjuho Lake offers a variety of delightful water sports in central Korea. Cruise boats ply its waters between Chungju and Danyang, giving passengers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Gosudonggul Cave captivates visitors with its glistening stalactites in all shapes and sizes. Chungju orchards are one of the country’s main sources of delicious apples. Yellow tobacco is also a specialty of this region, and the area’s ginseng has gained a worldwide reputation.
Jeonju Bibimbap is warm rice served with minced raw beef, bean sprouts, spinach, crown daisies, bracken, roots of Chinese bellflower, watercress, a raw egg and shiitake mushrooms. The contents are mixed with gochujang (hot pepper and soybean paste). This popular dish represents the cuisine of Jeolla-do with magnificent taste and color.
Namwon is the gateway to Jirisan National Park, as well as the famed home of Chunhyang, one of Korea’s legendary heroines. Chunhyangga, a narrative epic song (pansori) about the faithfulness of her love, is one of the most favored performances in Korea. Mt. Jirisan has the second highest mountain peak in South Korea. The sub-range is vast and stretches across three provinces, Jeollanam-do, Jeollabuk-do and Gyeongsangnam-do.
In May, the annual green tea festival takes place in Boseong, where green tea, music, and azaleas are all together in harmony. http://dahyang.boseong.go.kr/
Deogyusan National Park commands superb views of the 30 kilometer-long Mujugucheondong Valley. The valley encompasses Muju Ski Resort.
The Gwangju National Museum is home to a collection of Chinese ceramics recovered from a 700-year-old Chinese merchant ship that was wrecked in the seas off Sinan.
Damyang, 22 km north of Gwangju, is the center of bamboo cultivation and craftsmanship. The Damyang Bamboo Museum is the world’s first museum devoted exclusively to bamboo.
On Jindo Island, which is some 350 kilometers south of Seoul, visitors can see the Korean version of the Moses Miracle. The sea between the coastal village of Hoedong-ri on Jindo and nearby Modo Islet actually parts for about an hour twice a year in March or April, and again in the middle of July, leaving a walkable path, 2.8 kilometers long and 40 meters wide. Jindo is also renowned for the indigenous Korean dog breed, Jindotgae, which is designated as Natural Monument No. 53.
The Jindo Sea-Parting Festival takes place once a year, in March or April, when the sea parts and reveals a path to an island for about one hour, attracting some one million tourists from home and abroad.http://miraclesea.jindo.go.kr/
Korea’s southeastern region, encompassing Gyeongsangbuk-do and Gyeongsangnam-do provinces, is an area rich in tourist attractions, cultural assets and historical places. Hallyeo Maritime National Park and the mountains of Jirisan and Gayasan are among this region’s most outstanding natural resources. In addition, the entire city of Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935), is now an exceptional open-air museum. Royal tombs, temple sites with weathered stone pagodas and fortress ruins are scattered all around the city and have yielded many ancient treasures.
A group of guardian deities in bas relief decorates the walls of the Seokguram Grotto antechamber.
Gyeongju’s main architectural sites are Bulguksa Temple and the nearby Seokguram Grotto. Both were completed in the eighth century and are representative of highly refined Buddhist art. They were included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1995. Other important historic sites include Daereungwon Tumuli Park, Oreung (Five Tombs), Cheomseongdae Observatory, General Kim Yu-sin’s Tomb, and Mt. Namsan, which is dotted with numerous Buddhist images, pagodas and temple remains. The Gyeongju National Museum houses antique treasures recovered from Gyeongju and its vicinity.
The three-story Seokgatap (Sakyamuni) Pagoda boasts its austere, yet elegant style.
Bomun Lake Resort, 6 km from downtown on the eastern outskirts of the city, is an integrated tourist destination with several first-class hotels and various recreational facilities. Haeinsa Temple is famous for housing the 80,000 wooden printing blocks used to print the Tripitaka Koreana, which were carved in the 13th century. The Tripitaka Koreana is acknowledged as the most complete compilation of Buddhist scripture in East Asia.
Not far from historic Gyeongju are the growing industrial cities of Pohang and Ulsan. Pohang is home to the POSCO steel mills, while Ulsan is the industrial base for Hyundai, one of Korea’s leading conglomerates.
Andong is one of the last living vestiges of old Korea, a treasure-trove of Confucian tradition. Hahoe, a small village near Andong, which was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2010, is famous for its unique traditional masks and the mask dance-drama, Hahoe-talchum. Dosan Seowon, a Confucian academy founded in the 16th century by one of Korea’s most well-known scholars, Yi Hwang, is also nearby. Massive international tour and resort complexes were opened in 2006 in the western and northern areas, featuring ultramodern recreation and leisure facilities.
Gwangan Bridge is a suspension bridge located in Haeundae-gu, Busan. This structure, which spans 7.42 km, is Korea’s first two-story marine bridge.
The island is Korea’s most popular honeymoon destination. Known as ‘Little Hawaii’ for its volcanic landscape, picturesque subtropical scenery, sandy beaches, waterfalls and hiking trails, it is one of the world’s top ten tourist attractions with over seven million visitors a year.
Mt. Hallasan rising in the middle of Jejudo has a crater lake.
Jejudo enjoys a semitropical climate, with its plants and landscape being remarkably different from those of the mainland. It is the natural habitat of over 2,000 species. Its principal mountain is the 1,950-meter Hallasan, a dormant volcano crowned with a large crater. Many centuries ago, lava flows from this volcano created tunnels, pillars and other unusual features formed by the quickly-cooled basalt. Favorite destinations include the Jeju Folkcraft and Natural History Museum, Jungmun Resort, Cheonjiyeon Falls, and Jeju Fantasy Gardens, and the Olle Trail.
Jejudo’s old thatched cottages with walls made from lava rock offer visitors a great chance to glimpse the island’s unique folk culture. They reflect both the island’s natural environment, characterized by strong winds, and the hearty lifestyle of its people.
Closer to the mainland, more than 3,000 smaller islands line the winding southern and western coastlines. The completion of the Honam and Namhae expressways in 1973 made these picturesque coasts more accessible. The areas around Jinhae, Tongyeong, Jinju and Namhae are recommended highlights. The southern boundary of the Korean Peninsula is a jagged coastline which has created an irregular pattern of bays and inlets dotted with large and small islands.