Day 1: Seoul, A Metropolitan City where Traditional and Modernity Coexist
The itinerary for a one-day tour was created based on places approved by many tourists over the years. But there is still much more to see and enjoy in Seoul. So, this is the day that you can’t afford to miss!
The National Folk Museum of Korea
Located inside the beautiful Gyeongbokgung Palace, one of the largest Joseon Dynasty palaces, is a museum, which helps foreigners to understand Korean culture and Korean lifestyle. You will discover the characteristics unique to Korea compared to those of neighboring East Asian countries such as China and Japan.
Changdeokgung Palace, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Built in 1405, Changdeokgung Palace is best known for its informal design in the architectural history of East Asian palaces. Named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the palace consists of buildings ideally located so as to be in harmony with the surrounding environment. Huwon, the serene Secret Garden located toward the rear of the palace, represents the very essence of Asian style landscapes.
Insa-dong, Mecca of Korean Traditional Culture
Located less than a 10-minute walk from Changdeokgung Palace, Insa-dong is famous for streets filled with the flavors of tradition and is universally well-loved by tourists. Here, foreigners can purchase traditional souvenirs at low prices and taste authentic dishes by stepping into a Korean restaurant found on every street corner.
N Seoul Tower
A panoramic view of the entire city unfolds before you here. As a dating spot where you can enjoy dinner while appreciating the view of the Han River and the city’s colorful night lights, it is popular not only among those visiting Korea but also with young Koreans.
Day 2: Sokcho, Gateway to Beautiful Beaches and Mountains
Popular among tourists, Sokcho takes pride in its clean beaches and its beautiful Mt. Seoraksan. Fishing is a major industry, which means fresh seafood is abundant. Visitors can also taste local dishes including soft tofu and squid sausage, made with the famous squid caught in the East Sea. Many hotels and short-leased condos are located near Mt. Seoraksan, and reasonably-priced lodging with ocean views can be found along the shorefront.
Sokcho Beach is well-known for its clean waters, fine sands and pine trees framing it all in the background. The tall pines surrounding the beach emit a pleasant aroma, making the beach ideal for tanning with an “aromatic forest” scent. Since the water is not deep and slopes down gently, the beach attracts many visitors during the summer.
Also, Abai Village, which is only a 15-minute walk from the beach, is famous as the site where the drama Autumn in My Heart (Gaeul Donghwa) was filmed. You can visit the store owned by Eun-seo’s (played by Song Hye-gyo) mother, ride the skiffs that actors were filmed in, and stroll along Cheonghodong’s White Sand Beach, one of the drama’s backdrops. The village is about a 5 minute drive from Sokcho Beach. (Though a short distance, it’s not easy to reach by foot; therefore, a taxi is recommended. Taxi fare costs about 3,000 won).
Mt. Seoraksan’s Cable Car
If your time is limited but you still want to experience just how magnificent Mount Seoraksan is, it is highly recommended to take a cable car. As the cable car climbs its way up the mountain, you can view the grand Buddha statue at Sinheungsa Temple and the rocky cliff of Gwongeumseong. In autumn, the brilliant mountain foliage is sure to leave you breathless.
Seorak Waterpia at Hanhwa Resort is a hot springs theme park that utilizes the natural mineral waters from the local area. Visitors can soak in a hot-spring bath and also enjoy exciting water rides. In particular, the “rafting slider,” in which you descend down a slide on a mat from a height of 20 meters, and the “body slider,” which allows riders to slide down without equipment using your body, are both popular and lines are relatively short.
Day 3: Andong, a Journey into the Past
Traces of distinguished scholars of the past can be felt in Andong, a town of nobility. Cultural heritage is preserved in many forms such as the seowon (memorial hall), old-style homes, and traditional performances such as the Hahoe mask dance drama. The area acquired a measure of fame after Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1999. Visitors can also enjoy authentic local cuisine including heotjesabab (a memorial service meal) or gangodeungeo (marinated mackerel) as well as try the local liquor, Andong soju.
There are a number of accommodations including hotels and motels that can be found near the Andong train station. However, for a taste of traditional living you may wish to spend the night in a countryside home.
Andong Hahoe Village
Hahoe Village makes a fine place to delve into the traditional culture of Korea because the old courtyard homes from the Joseon era and the Hahoe mask dance drama are both well-preserved. In the village, you will find Namchon-daek and Bukchon-daek, which represent the homes of the gentry. It’s also interesting to visit the Samshin-dang area, home to a 600-year-old zelkova tree. There is a local belief that mistreating this tree can bring misfortune. Visitors can write a wish on a paper and hang it from one of the strings that surround the tree for good luck.
From March to November, the mask dance performance known as “Hahoe byeolsingut talchum” is held at the village’s folklore preservation center (schedule varies by season), and from summer until winter one can take part in the harvest by picking melons and other produce.
Byeongsan Seowon (Confucian School)
As its name describes, Byeongsan seowon is a beautiful seowon, or memorial hall, lined up against a mountain that spreads out like a folding screen. From the top of the Mandaeru Pavilion, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the surroundings, while from Ibgyodang a scene of the memorial hall exquisitely set across the backdrop of nature can be appreciated.
It is especially lovely in the fall when the colorful autumn foliage is at its peak, and in winter when the rocky cliffs become more prominent. However, many visitors come to see Byeonsan Seowon in summer to relax and enjoy the refreshing cool breeze by the river. Visitors can also stroll down the sandy path along the stream flowing in front of the memorial hall.
Day 4: Gyeongju, Roofless Museum – World Heritage
Often referred to as a “museum without a roof,” Gyeongju is the ancient capital of the thousand year-long Silla Dynasty, and the history and remains from that period can still be seen. With cultural heritage spread throughout the city, Gyeongju possesses a subtle yet awesome combination of modern structures and ancient relics. It’s also a great place for a bike tour. (Bike rental shops can be found near Gyeongju Bus Terminal, the train station and Daeneungwon. A one-day rental costs about 18,000 won.)
A range of lodgings including hotels, are located in and around the Bomun tourist district, and visitors can also enjoy authentic local cuisine including soft bean paste-filled hwangnamppang; gyodong beopju, a liquor with a unique aroma; and Gyeongju ssambab, a rice dish made with seasonal ingredients.
Cheonmachong Tomb (Daeneungwon)
One of the 23 tombs that belong to Daeneungwon, the largest group of ancient mounds found in Gyeongju, Cheonmachong is the only tomb where visitors are allowed inside. Among the many other attractions in Daeneungwon are: Michu Wangneung, used as a ritual hall in times of national crisis, and Hwangnam Daechong, referred to as the twin tombs. Daeneungwon is especially beautiful at twilight with the sun setting in the background.
Anapji, the largest man-made pond dating back to the Silla era, was built with a curved shape, so it’s difficult to view the entire pond from any single location. This makes the pond seem infinitely long and wide, but what’s more interesting is that its shape appears to change depending on where one is standing. So it’s intriguing to circle the pond entirely; a stroll which takes about 30 minutes. Also, because the pavilion and the pond look mysterious under the twilight, many people prefer to visit here in the evening. In summer, the full lotus blossoms create quite a spectacle.
Situated on the slopes of Mt. Tohamsan, Bulguksa Temple is famous as a structure embodying Buddhist beliefs. For instance, the two stone pagodas that stand before Daeungjeon, the simple yet graceful Seokgatap and the highly ornate Dabotop, represent the yin and yang, respectively. Dabotop pagoda is engraved on Korea’s 10-won coin.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site together with Bulguksa in 1995, the Seokguram grotto temple is shaped by hundreds of granite stones with soil plastered on the outer layer to make it resemble a natural cave. The man-made grotto contains mysteries that modern science has yet to solve including humidity control and control of the angle of light falling into the main chamber where the Buddha is located. If you visit before dawn you can appreciate a surprisingly beautiful sunrise.
Day 5: Temple Stay at Haeinsa
Hapcheon is a town where Mt. Gayasan and Haeinsa Temple blend together in harmony. This temple is where Palman Daejanggyeong (Tripitaka Koreana) is kept. Visitors can enjoy sanchae jeongsik, a local vegetable dish, and a traditional temple meal at Haeinsa as well as famous regional cuisine made from Korean-grown beef and pork. Although lodging can be found near Gayasan National Park, if you are interested in experiencing Buddhist temple life, it is recommended to stay at Haeinsa.
Haeinsa Temple (Temple Stay)
A Temple Stay at Haeinsa presents a variety of activities; making lotus lamps is especially popular. If you are interested in a Temple Stay, you may want to check the dates of the Palman Daejanggyeong Festival (this festival was held during October in 2006.) in advance. Held in connection with the Haeinsa Temple Stay, the festival provides a great opportunity to experience Korea’s traditional printing methods firsthand. During the festival, visitors can enjoy such events as a re-enactment of the exchange of the Tripitaka Koreana from Ganghwa-do Island to Haeinsa Temple during the early Joseon period.
Day 6: Geoje-do, an Island Where Nature Prevails
In addition to Geoje-do, Korea’s second largest island after Jeju-do, Geoje city consists of 10 inhabited and 52 uninhabited isles. It is the islands that draw tourists: Each is unique in a different way with splendid natural scenery. The local tastes include gorosoe yaksu (a type of mineral water), maengjong juksun duruchigi (bamboo shoot stir-fry) and gulgukbab (oyster soup with rice).
Oe-do Island Paradise
Surrounded by rocky cliffs, this island entered the public eye after a couple transformed the entire island into a beautiful garden. The Venus Garden, where a statue of Venus is located, is a famous attraction on Oedo Island Paradise. Lee’s House, where the final film shoot for the popular drama “Winter Sonata” took place, is famous as a photo spot.
Since boats do not operate in inclement weather you may want to check the schedule of boats traveling to the island during rainy or stormy periods. Visitors are allowed to tour the island for 90 minutes.
Day 7: Busan, a City with Diverse Festivals and Attractions
The country’s second largest city and largest port, Busan offers many attractions as well as festivals. Its beaches are especially popular in summer because of their size and good water quality. Besides seafood, Haeundae galbi (beef ribs) is another famous local dish. A good choice of lodging is found along the beachfront.
Korea’s biggest seafood market, Jagalchi Market is always noisy, filled with Busan’s local accent haggling over prices. At the same time, it’s where visitors can witness the peculiar “jeong” of Korea from merchants who give customers extra or accept less money for their products. Around October each year, the market hosts the Busan Jagalchi Festival filled with all kinds of seafood to see, taste and buy.
Haeundae Beach gets crowded in summer, for the water is shallow and there is hardly any tidal change. The beach’s white sands don’t stick to your body, and the beach has earned a measure of fame for the sunrise over the horizon and the moonrise view from Haewoljeong Pavilion.
Day 8: Damyang, a Town Offering Aromatic ‘Forest Bathing’ amid the Bamboo
Set in a region long regarded as famous for its bamboo groves, Damyang has many attractions and offers many kinds of souvenirs made from bamboo. Especially in summer, visitors can find abundant groves of green bamboo and also enjoy a healthy “forest bath” beneath the towering bamboo stalks. Authentic local cuisine includes tteokgalbi (seasoned rib steak), juksunhoe (bamboo shoots and squid seasoned with condiments) and daetongbab (rice cooked in bamboo).
Soswaewon is a private garden from the Joseon period where nature and art coexist in harmony. Upon entering the garden, one passes along a walkway through thick bamboo groves, eventually reaching Daebongdae Pavilion. From the deck of the pavilion, you will be able to see a full view of Soswaewon entirely. The garden is uniquely arranged in that the water flowing down from the north passes beneath the fence. Also, the view of the garden from Gwangpunggak Pavilion is a worthwhile visit.
At Jungnogwon one can enjoy an aromatic “forest bath” while listening to the crisp sound of bamboo leaves falling. The park consists of eight paths, each with a different theme and a unique atmosphere. Pavilions and benches are located along the paths, encouraging visitors to relax and enjoy the forest tranquility. While it’s wonderful in spring with bamboo sprouts appearing everywhere, summer is definitely the most gorgeous season with bamboo at their greenest. Other attractions near Jungnogwon include Gwanbangjerim, a special man-made forest cultivated to improve the water quality of Damyangcheon Stream.
Day 9: Cultural Tour of Suncheon Aboard a Bus
With many well-maintained cultural sites nearby, Suncheon makes an ideal place to explore and learn about Korean culture. Near to Boseong, famous for its green tea plantation, and Beolgyo, a town well-known for its kkomak, cockle-shelled mollusk, Suncheon offers many special types of Korean cuisine as well as related events such as the Namdo Culinary Festival. As for lodging, hotels and motels are found around Suncheon Station while private homestays are available at the Naganeupseong Folk Village.
A beautiful temple located on the slopes of Mt. Jogyesan, Seonamsa has produced a number of distinguished Buddhist monks, and even nowadays, many monks meditate in the temple’s Gangwon and Seonwon. In and around the temple, visitors can find chestnut, maple and camellia trees that are over a hundred years old, which together create impressive autumn colors. In spring, green sprouts and colorful seasonal flowers offer a splendid sight. Oddly enough, another must-see temple site is its restroom. This traditional restroom is uniquely structured to accommodate three people at a time.
Naganeupseong Folk Village
What makes Naganeupseong Folk Village special is not the well-preserved thatch-roofed houses, but the fact that families continue to live in them. On weekends and holidays, a changing-of-the-guard ceremony (dating back to the old days when they protected the fortress) can be seen, and traditional folk games are offered for visitors to experience. From the highest point of Naganeupseong’s fortress walls, you can obtain a panoramic view of the town, and there’s also Mt. Geumjeonsan (“golden money”) in front, which is said to make a person rich when they stare at it. The mountain is especially beautiful at twilight because of how the sunlight strikes the rocky western part of the peak. If you are interested in experiencing the local village lifestyle, you may stay at one of the private homes offering overnight accommodation.
Famous for its coastal plains and fields of reeds, Suncheonman Bay is a place to take a look at rare bird species from around the world. There are interesting attractions year-around; thick fog in spring, jjangttungeo (a rare type of goby fish) and the coastal plains in summer, reeds in autumn and some 200 kinds of migrating birds including the hooded crane in winter. But, the bay is especially beautiful in fall when the Reed Festival is held and in winter when groups of dancing birds can be seen. The S-shaped waterway in the bay is famous for creating a splendid glow at sunset.
If you want an up-close experience of the natural environment around the bay, a tour by boat or bicycle is recommended. A boat tour can bring you to just about any corner of the bay, and while onboard you can also enjoy a hot drink as well as ocean fishing. Fishing equipment can be rented at no extra charge.
Day 10: Jeju, the Country’s Hottest Vacation Destination – Home to Natural Wonders and a Distinct Culture
The country’s leading tourist destination, Jeju Island is the ideal vacation region where natural wonders and unique cultural traditions can be experienced all at once. With a mild year-round climate, the island offers an exotic natural environment as well as diverse attractions, making it an ideal place to tour and relax. Among the local specialty dishes are okdom (sea bream), heukdwaeji samgyeopsal (a kind of grilled bacon) and hallabong, a type of tangerine. Many luxury hotels including Hotel Shilla Jeju, the Hyatt Regency Jeju and Hotel Lotte Jeju, are located in and around Jungmun Resort where affordable lodging can also be found.
As the largest tourist complex in the country, Jungmun Resort attracts visitors during all four seasons, thanks to the region’s mild year-round climate as well as the many hotels and the diversity of amusements and facilities found here. They include Pacific Land, which offers a dolphin show and a chimpanzee show; the Teddy Bear Museum, the largest of its kind in the world, and the popular Yeomiji Botanical Garden, which has the world’s largest glass greenhouse and a wide selection of rare plants.
Located along Daepo Beach at Jungmun, Jusangjeolli consists of multifaceted stone pillars in the shapes of various sized cubes or hexagons, that were formed when cooling lava from Mt. Hallasan flowed into the sea. From rough-surfaced columns resembling raw ore to stylish and exquisite pillars that seem to have been sculpted by an artist, the Jusangjeolli cliffs feature layered columns that some say resemble a black-and-white painting created by a god. When the tide is high, waves can soar tens of meters high as they crash against the columns, creating a magnificent spectacle.