A city of rich history, with its feet firmly in the future, Seoul is an explosive fusion of tradition and technology. It’s a 24-hour city that’s home to some 10 million people. A bustling metropolis, skyscrapers and cutting-edge architecture conceal ancient temples and dramatic palaces. Explore vibrant streets and sultry bars. Sample street sellers’ delicacies and award-winning cuisine – all before the bright lights of the karaoke bars draw you in until dawn.
From the majestic Jogyesa Temple to the awe-inspiring Changdeokgung Palace, feast your eyes on the city’s striking landmarks and festive districts. Slow down in Bukchon Hanok, a 600-year-old village in the midst of the city. Wander in the shade of sloping roofs and peek through ancient wooden doors. Or duck into a traditional teahouse for an authentic Korean experience.
Beyond the colourful clutter you’ll find innovative building projects, lush green spaces and world-class museums, as well as a tasty spread of places to eat and drink. Seoul is a feast for the senses. Go from the fragrant market stalls of Myeong-dong to the restaurant scene of Itaewon on a journey of gastronomic discovery. Try the simple yet incredible Chi-Mc – South Korea’s answer to southern fried chicken – or go in for the full Korean barbeque experience. No night is complete without a shot or two of Soju, the nation’s favourite drink.
Escape the city for a day and explore the region’s past with a trip to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Cutting a 4km-wide path across the Korean peninsula, a visit to this infamous buffer zone is a fascinating and poignant experience. See the infiltration tunnels and gaze across this haunting no man’s land from the Dora Observatory. Less than 50km north of Seoul, the DMZ is another world entirely.
Fashion-forward Seoul is a mecca for the style-savvy. Pick up a bargain in Dongdaemum, or head to the luxury-lined streets of Gangnam for designer boutiques and high-end department stores. For the seriously devoted, there’s even a 24-hour market in Namdaemun. Dating back to 1414, it’s the perfect place to experience everything the city has to offer.
So hike up your hanbok and come and meet the people putting their hearts into Seoul!
BUSAN & GYEONGJU
Busan is South Korea’s answer to Barcelona, a port city with a wide beach, majestic mountains, steaming baths and springs, killer food and slightly more urban edge than its inland sibling, Seoul. Even with the beach, it's all about the food and art. From casual tent bars and chic designer cafes to fish markets teeming with every species imaginable, Busan has something for all tastes. Events such as the Busan International Film Festival underscore the city’s desire to be a global meeting place. You can explore malls and markets for antiques and collectables, seek out tranquil temples, or visit historic districts that once offered shelter to fleeing refugees but have since been transformed into bohemian enclaves. To get a feel for the city, peer across it from the Busan Tower observation deck, before dipping into delicately painted shrines and historical sites. You can also take a cruise around the bay, which is an interesting mix of scenic coastline and industrial container ships.
About one hour away is Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Shilla Dynasty (57 BC – 935 AD), the old rulers of the Hermit Kingdom. Like the corresponding Tang Dynasty in neighboring China, the Shilla period is considered the epitome of Korean art and culture. In the early Silla period, the dominant belief system was based on shamanism, that magical world inhabited by benevolent mountain spirits and malevolent demons. The huge tombs of Gyeongju and other areas on the Korean peninsula date from this period, as do magnificent golden crowns decorated with amulets.
Walk through streets lined with royal palaces, temples, tombs, pagodas and shrines. Despite the ravages of time and war, a considerable number of ancient structures remain, many of which have now been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. Known as the ‘museum without walls’, it’s dense with ancient ruins and archaeological sites that you can explore. You’ll also find over 500 rounded grassy burial mounds that indicate the final resting place of the dynasty’s imperial rulers.
Jeju is an exquisite island located some 130 kilometers southwest of the Korean peninsula. Noted for its unique properties as a volcanic island, Jeju has World Natural Heritage and Biosphere Reserve designations by UNESCO, and in 2010, was voted the 20th member of the Global Geoparks Network. Jeju is an ideal place to explore and travel as its indigenous culture mixes well with the island’s fine scenery. The island boasts beautiful seas, waterfalls, cliffs, hundreds of oreums (small extinct volcanos), caves and lush forests. Its fields are crisscrossed by snaking stone walls built of black basalts and flowers bloom year-round with stunning colors.
South Korea's national pastime is hiking - and there is no better place for it than in Jeju. Choose from one of the 20 Jeju Olle Trails and explore tangerine-trimmed country roads, jagged coasts and narrow lanes dotted with cottage-style homes made from black lava rock. Or if you are feeling for a bigger challenge, hike up South Korea’s highest mountain, Halla-san, or climb the incredible tuff cone Seongsan Ilchul-bong, rising straight from the sea, to watch the sun rise from the ridge of a crater. The ocean is never far away, so watch the famous Haeneyo female free-divers bring up the freshest sea-food catch for your plate. Or take the dive yourself and plunge into blue seas to view coral as colourful as the sunsets.
Traveling in Jeju is very safe and secure. Jeju has for centuries been called “Sammudo” or an “Island of Three-Nothings”. There are no beggars, no thieves, and no gates. A variety of lodging options are on offer, which range from five-star hotels to dormitory-style guesthouses scattered along Jeju Olle Trail. You can also enjoy the naturally harvested crops and fresh seafood throughout the seasons.