South Korea is a fascinating mélange of ancient culture and modern technology. South Korea reveals traditions that have survived since the dawn of Korean history are finding new corners to exist in the rapid race toward economic and technological development. There are plenty of things to do in South Korea for everyone.
South Korea is a country that has no royal family and yet, the people rejoice in the celebration of Jongmyo Jerye, the Royal Ancestral Rite celebration which is officiated, in full regal regalia, by the descendants of the last royal line.
When you travel to Korea you’ll find ancient palaces that reverberate with silent tales of long-gone kings and courtroom intrigue, sit side by side with modern concrete structures and a frightening choke of traffic.
Also read: 20 Famous Landmarks in South Korea
- Things to do in South Korea
- 1- Watch A Traditional Wedding
- 2- Taste The Food
- 3- Explore Myeongdong’s Neon Lights
- 4- Shop For Antiques In Insadong In Seoul
- 5- Go Technology Shopping In Seoul
- 6- Visit The Shipping Ports In Goeje
- 7- Discover History In Gyeongju
- 8- Explore Jirisan National Park
- 9- Discover Jeju Island
- 10- Step Back Into History In Andong Hahoe Mask Village
- 11- Cruise around Hallyeo Maritime National Park
- 12- Explore Tongyeong’s Naval History
- 13- Stay In A Temple
- 14- Try On A Hanbok
Things to do in South Korea
1- Watch A Traditional Wedding
Couples exchange vows in a traditional Korean wedding ceremony so when visiting South Korea, try and find a traditional wedding.
Grooms present wooden wild goose, or kireogi, to the bride’s mother as a token of lifelong fidelity and dress in samo cap, and wedding hanbok.
The bride usually covers her face during the ceremony and even in today’s modern South Korea, it would be unthinkable for a young couple to skip the rituals of this ancient ceremony.
Couples compromise by having dual celebrations – both the traditional as well as a modern western celebration complete with a white wedding gown.
2- Taste The Food
As a country with agricultural roots, South Korean food is based on fresh produce from the land and sea.
In South Korea, food plays an integral part in the culture and is the glue that brings communities together.
From growing to harvesting to preparing food, each stage in the chain is a social event.
Starting way back in the Joseon dynasty, the communal family meal has been an important event of the day.
So, when visiting South Korea, one of the top things to do is to taste a variety of Korean food.
Dishes to put on your list are kimchi, a side dish of fermented cabbage and radish, seasoned with spring onions, garlic, ginger and other spices, and Bibimbap, which is a tasty rice dish served with various ingredients.
Most restaurants serve Bulgogi, thinly sliced marinated beef that is usually grilled.
3- Explore Myeongdong’s Neon Lights
Travel to Korea means absorbing both ancient and modern.
In downtown Myeongdong, bright neon signs shout a loud modern message.
As South Korea hurtles along the road of rapid technologic development, new technologies are influencing lifestyles.
High technology cafes are popping up in the midst of the busiest entertainment precincts.
The three-storey Starbucks Cafe is a popular meeting spot for groups of all ages from teenagers to grannies and has ample seating on every level.
It provides free wireless internet access to anyone who turns up with a wireless card and a laptop computer.
Besides the standard American Starbucks fare, the menu also carries a traditional Korean flavour with green tea frappuccinos and sweet potato cake.
Korea’s phone company, SK Telecom, is gathering the youth market into the bosom of its high technology TTL stores by providing free computer terminals with internet, music, DVD as well as magazines.
4- Shop For Antiques In Insadong In Seoul
While in the charming nooks of Insadong’s antique row, old traditional tea shops welcome the youth of Korea who savours the olden brews of their culture while pitting against each other in the ancient game of Go.
5- Go Technology Shopping In Seoul
South Korea is a leader in technology and Seoul is a 21st-century city that is full of interesting contemporary ideas.
High-speed internet is used everywhere by everyone including temple monks in the middle of a forest, traditional Korean guest houses, villagers and even the Jeju Island women divers who dive for produce in the cold oceans around Southern Korea.
Satellite dishes hide in the backyards of brick and mud huts.
The adoption of technology has touched all generations; the main reason is that by custom the elderly often live with at least one grown-up child.
This cultural practice has eased the path for the older generation of folk in learning new technologies.
South Korea was one of the first countries in the world to install a ticketless public transport system, where commuters swipe their credit cards to pay for small amounts on trains and buses.
6- Visit The Shipping Ports In Goeje
South Korea’s shipping industry is booming.
From the first spear ships built in AD1011 to the Turtle Ships that defended Korea during the war with Japan, Korea leads the world’s shipbuilding activities with the three largest shipbuilding companies: Hyundai, Daewoo and Samsung.
Daewoo produces 40 commercial vessels each year as well as other specialty ships like submarines and naval vessels.
With enough docks to build eight supertankers at one time, it employs over 20,000 people and builds entire ships from placement of the order to completion as quickly as 13 to 20 months.
7- Discover History In Gyeongju
Everywhere you go in Korea, there is evidence of how modern technology and ancient cultures blend into a harmonious and unusual landscape but there’s no place as amazing as Gyeongju.
The new high-speed KTX train flies at speeds of up to 300km/h and in a blink of an eye, it will take you to the Korean countryside in the Gyeongsangbuk-do region where World Heritage treasures and traditional Korean style houses abound.
The ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty is a fascinating museum without walls
Gyeongju’s seven districts include the Namsan district, with its Buddhist statues, stone pagodas and hundreds of temples, and Mount Tohamsan, where the famous Bulguksa Temple and its assembly of orderly terraces, curling tiled roofs, ornately decorated halls is located.
Anapji Pond was once part of the grounds of the royal family’s palace.
The pond was dug out thousands of years ago during King Munmu’s reign (661 to 681AD) and planted out with orchids, peonies, lotus and azaleas.
Swans, peacocks and deer once roamed here.
8- Explore Jirisan National Park
Jirisan National Park is a place to escape from Korea’s modern cities and rapid race toward economic and technological development.
Fresh air, beautiful mountains, waterfalls, ancient cultures and temples can be found in this Korean mountain Shangri-La.
The Nogodan trail is one of the most popular trails to hike and it’s not that difficult.
Around two-thirds of the way up, there is a drink kiosk, although the fresh stream of drinkable mountain water gushing next to the kiosk is infinitely more popular with hikers.
Join the queue to refill your water bottle and have a rest while watching young Koreans snap away at themselves with their camera phones, proof that they made it this far.
In the distance, the Hwaemsa Buddhist Temple is surrounded by a mysterious mist and is nestled deep in the valley, a further five-hour hike on foot.
The final section of the ascent is the most difficult and a seemingly endless climb up uneven rock steps.
At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree view of the surrounding area.
9- Discover Jeju Island
Jeju Island is one of the most beautiful places in South Korea.
A volcanic island 85 kilometres south of the Korean peninsula, it’s located at the junction of the Yellow and East China Seas.
With a rugged coastline and lush mountain ranges, the island has stunning scenery and lots of places for nature lovers to explore.
Home to Mount Hallasan, the highest mountain in South Korea, the stunning Seongsan Ilchubong (Sunrise Peak) and famous Cheonjeyeon (Pond of the Heaven’s Emperor) Waterfall, Jeju Island also has many luxury hotels and golf courses.
10- Step Back Into History In Andong Hahoe Mask Village
Poets, artists and scholars have found inspiration in the lush green countryside of Andong, which is a quiet mountain town.
Scholars from all over the country gathered to exchange ideas in this region, which spreads out over an area of 1,519 sq km.
Andong Hahoe Mask Village is on the horseshoe bend of the Nakdong River in Pungcheon-myeon and is inundated with Korean tourists keen on learning more about their heritage.
This lush province re-enforced its position as the home of the noble class when Emperor Wanggeon obtained the help of three of its leaders to establish the Goryeo Dynasty (918 to 1392).
The province is fanatical about preserving its historical assets and culture.
Many of the old buildings are designated with a “National Treasure Number” and intangible things such as dances, plays and traditional games with an “Important Intangible Cultural Property Number”.
One example is the Dosan Confucian Academy where Lee Hwang, Korea’s most well-known Confucian scholar, taught and practised Korean Confucianism is one such place.
Set in a verdant green mountain backdrop, it has beautiful gardens, ancient preserved school buildings and rare original books written by Lee Hwang on display.
A vibrant time to visit is during the Andong Hahoe Mask Festival.
11- Cruise around Hallyeo Maritime National Park
A short boat trip from Haegeumgang sets you down at Oedo Paradise Island where you can stroll among extensive well-manicured gardens that you would expect to see attached to a stately European royal palace.
This oddity in the midst of Korean waters was the brainchild of a husband and wife team.
In April, a kaleidoscope of flowering poppies, camellias and daisies brighten up the gardens while enormous cypress trees create shaded pathways.
The Venus Garden has manicured hedges and a display of twelve Venus sculptures captured in varying poses.
Another attraction in Hallyeo Maritime National Park is Sipja cave, which is a cave that is usually immersed beneath sea level during high tide.
Haegeumgang’s two peaks rise 116 m above the sea in an unusual cliff-like rock formation and sunrise is best viewed from the lofty heights of Ilwollbong Peak.
Legend has it that the Chinese discovered the herb of eternal youth on the island.
Tongyeong has a naval pedigree with deep historical roots.
In Tongyeong, there are obvious signs of the homage paid to Korea’s most famous general, Admiral Yi Sun-Shin.
Admiral Yi is credited for being the naval leader who saved Korea from being conquered by Japanese raiders in the 16th century.
During the Seven-Year War, the Japanese fleet was constantly invading Korea with the ultimate aim of conquering China.
Brilliant battle tactics and the futuristic design of history’s first iron-clad warships known as Turtle ships allowed Admiral Yi to defend the peninsula against a vast Japanese armada, many times larger than the Korean fleet.
Today, the memory of Admiral Yi is revered and celebrated in the many shrines built in his honour.
Each August, a festival celebrating the battle of Hansan is held at the Sebyeonggwan Guest House, which is a large open-air wooden pavilion that Admiral Yi used as a command post.
During the festival, The Victory Dance, a drum-tapping sword-waving dance originally performed to raise the morale of soldiers during the Japanese invasion, continues to be performed in honour of the Admiral.
13- Stay In A Temple
All around South Korea, there are historic temples you can stay in and a South Korea temple stay is an opportunity to see how Buddhist monks live.
Some temples have programmes specifically designed for foreign visitors.
To find out more read our temple stay in South Korea post.
14- Try On A Hanbok
Even though South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, the historic national dress (the hanbok) is widely worn.
When visiting South Korea, dressing up in a hanbok is a great way to get into the feel of the culture.