Located in northeast Asia, at the same latitude as southern Japan, South Korea is located on a peninsula, which it shares with its neighbor, North Korea. The partition between the two countries took place in 1953, at the end of the Korean War, which opposed the South, supported by the United Nations, and the North, supported by China and the USSR. The two halves have not reached a peace treaty, however, and are still officially at war, although the conflict is simmering. As a result, the Land of the Morning Calm can only be accessed by sea or air.
We invite you to follow us to discover the most beautiful places to visit in South Korea.
1. The DMZ
The demilitarized zone which separates the two countries over 235 km has become a tourist attraction, especially since this No Man’s Land has been colonized by fauna and flora of great interest. However, it is only possible to access it by an organized excursion, which will take you to visit the key points along the area, without entering it.
From the observatories, you may have the chance to observe deer, which take advantage of this natural environment. There is also a more comprehensive tour, which includes the UN-run JSA (Joint Security Area) and takes you inside the area.
When you come to visit South Korea, it is important to know the main lines of its history. The charming city of Gyeongju , not far from the coast, in the southeast, is perfect for soaking up Korean culture.
The one that was the capital of the Silla kingdom for 1,000 years, between 57 BC and 935 AD, has preserved many vestiges of its glorious period. We discover them during a walk in a green park, with nearly 200 burial mounds, one of which has been cut out to house a small museum. A little further, you can see one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world, dating from the 7th century, then the Donggung Palace, on the edge of the Anapji pond. Go there rather at the end of the day to enjoy the illuminations at nightfall.
3. Andong and Hahoe
Another charming place to visit in South Korea, the city of Andong is located in the center-east.
First go to the top of the Buyongdae cliff, for a panoramic view of the village, then continue to Hahoe , a historic village dating back to the 14th century and still as it was then. What a sight this village, nestled inside a bend in the river, surrounded by fields and mountains! In spring and autumn, it lights up with the colors of the flowers or those of the blushing leaves. Stroll through the narrow streets, enter the traditional houses still inhabited and enjoy very colorful folk parades.
Difficult to visit South Korea by ignoring Busan, the second largest city and major port. If the city is not generally attractive, it has at least two places which deserve the turning: Gamcheon , the cultural village, with the narrow lanes, which wind among brightly colored houses. The construction of this district dates from the 1950s and everything has been thought out so that each house enjoys an unobstructed view. Street art is very present there, with in particular a statue of the Little Prince contemplating the city.
About 1 hour from Busan, it is absolutely necessary to hike on the developed coastal path of Igidae , between forest and indented coast. The walk begins at an observatory of the seabed of the tiny Oryukdo Islands, then crosses a landscaped park, superbly landscaped on a former military site and then winds through the forest to end with a breathtaking view of the Gwangan Bridge.
On the south coast, Suncheon shines with its botanical garden and its ecological bay. After the 2013 International Garden Exhibition, the huge botanical park has retained many of the floral and landscape arrangements designed by the guest countries. This space was designed to represent the configuration of the city and, from the top of one of the hills, we discover the general view. The body of water represents the urban area. Along the way, admire the work of the gardeners, who pull the weeds by hand…
At the end of the afternoon, take the monorail which leads to the bay, erected in a protected natural park. A long walk in the largest reed bed in the country will make you appreciate the calm of the place and enjoy the song of the birds. At the end of the road, it is the spectacle of the setting sun on the Yellow Sea, which rewards you for having walked so far.
It is impossible to visit South Korea without getting to know one of Asia’s emblematic cultures better! So let’s explore the tea fields in Boseong , about 1 hour from Suncheon. Here, it’s not only your sight that will be awakened, but also your sense of smell, with the delicious smell of tea tree leaves, gently lulled by the breeze. You will be amazed by these green hilly landscapes, sometimes underlined by light mists. It is not without reason that this region is often used as the setting for Korean films.
Many plantations are open to visitors and are thus the subject of a walk through fields and hills. You will also have the opportunity to visit a tea museum and taste the local specialities, made with green tea, of course.
200 km southwest of the capital, Jeonju is an essential stopover. Plan for traditional accommodation (hanok) in the old town, you will feel transported back in time. Your bedding will consist of the traditional futon, placed on the floor. You may need some explaining to install this one properly, as you will find it bent, so as to free up space. This will be the occasion for a pleasant moment of sharing with your host.
In this preserved district, car-free during the day, you will wander between small traditional houses, historic buildings, museums – including that of the art of calligraphy, and even a Catholic cathedral, founded by an Aveyronnais. Everywhere in the streets, you will be accompanied by young people, and not so young, wearing traditional dress. You can try it too, they are for rent and this will allow you to enter the museums for free. The city is famous for its gastronomy (it is from here that the famous bibimbap comes from) everything here is brought together for the pleasure of the senses.
8. Seoraksan Park
To the northeast, in the mountains that served as the setting for the 2018 Winter Olympics, is Seoraksan Park , considered the most beautiful in the country. Here, nature reigns supreme, because this park is protected. Choose one of the 15 hiking trails to suit you to discover the forest, the jagged rocks, the waterfalls or the temples that line it. Climb Ulsanbawi, a rock made up of six peaks, the highest of which is 950 m.
The walk is a little demanding, but you will be rewarded with the magnificent views of the surrounding valley. You can end the day at Sokcho beach, not far from there.
9. Seonyudo ou Sunyudo
This pretty string of islands 2 hours from the capital is an authentic and refreshing stopover after the hustle and bustle of the city. Accessible in an hour by ferry from the port of Gunsan, the small islands of Seonyudo , Munyeodo, Janjado and other Daejangdo can be explored quickly on foot, and are an opportunity to observe fishermen at work, natural creeks, as well as a curious endemic tree: the rain tree. The perfect opportunity to taste raw fish, prepared in front of you and admire a magnificent sunset. The best is to arrive by the ferry in the afternoon, to arrive when the excursionists have just left! Be careful not to confuse it with Seonyudo Park in Seoul when planning your itinerary…
A paradise destination that is one of the must-see places to visit in South Korea, Jeju Island is located 85 km south of the peninsula. Formed by several volcanic eruptions, it offers beautiful landscapes, numerous hiking opportunities and the benefits of a subtropical climate. However, by climbing Mount Hallasan, which culminates at 1950 m, you may also be confronted with a sub-Antarctic climate!
Another unusual experience in Jeju: the Manjanggul cave, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the longest lava cave in the world.
There is of course no question of visiting South Korea without discovering the charms of the capital, Seoul. Admittedly, the megalopolis may seem difficult to grasp at first sight, as it is so extensive, but its center is easy to visit and includes many attractive districts. The Royal Palaces coexist without complex with the futuristic buildings and each street corner reveals new surprises.
The most popular and relaxing walk is along the banks of the Cheonggyecheon, a river that has been freed from its concrete shackles to offer Seoulites a breath of fresh air. Not far from there, the pedestrian street of the traditional district of Insadong allows you to admire the small shops and art galleries at leisure.