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Best things to do in South Korea

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Where in the world: Asia  /  South Korea

Top 15 things to do in South Korea

1. Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Dating back to 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace served as the residence of the Joseon dynasty rulers, their households, and governments. Though much of the original structure was destroyed by fire in the late 16th century, the palace was reconstructed during the 19th-century reign of King Gojong. The expansive complex includes a number of pavilions and halls, as well as the royal family's private quarters. Also on premises, you'll find the National Folk Museum, National Palace Museum, and a number of traditional Korean gardens.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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2. Changdeokgung Palace, Seoul

Listed as a World Heritage Site, Changdeokgung Palace represents the main palace of Joseon Dynasty's kings, which shelters lotus ponds, pavilions, and some 300-year-old trees. Established in 1395, the palace compound contains a royal family residence, a public area, and a secret garden, as well as other simplistic elements dating back to the period of Three Kingdoms. Go on a tour to explore the harmonious palace and its halls, which were purposely constructed and designed by implementing feng shui principles and Confucian ideology. You'll also find snack bars, shaded rest areas, and benches here.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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3. N Seoul Tower, Seoul

Ride the elevator to the top levels of N Seoul Tower, a broadcast and observation tower. Serving as South Korea's first general radio broadcasting tower, the 236.7 m (777 ft) structure also includes four floors of attractions interspersed with observation platforms. Visit the teddy bear museum and stop by the observation points, or take a seat at the French or Korean restaurant to dine with sweeping views of Seoul below. Check out the roof terrace and its thousands of "Locks of Love."
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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4. Insadong, Seoul

Once the prime district to find antiques and ancient art, Insadong remains at the heart of Seoul's cafe culture. The main street, which the municipality blocks off on weekends to allow for safe pedestrian traffic, branches off into narrow alleys, lined with art galleries, teahouses, and garden restaurants. Traditional and modern Korean art are available for viewing and purchase at over 100 local galleries. Munch on taffy and pajeon (Korean pancake) from street vendors while you explore.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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5. Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul

Explore a 600-year-old urban area composed of traditional Korean houses at Bukchon Hanok Village. Constructed during the reign of the Joseon Dynasty, the village consists of many neighborhoods which were uses as a residential quarter for nobles and high-ranking government officials. Go on a guided tour to explore the narrow streets and visit cultural and hospitality facilities, such as workshops, museums, restaurants, and cafes. With more than half a million visitors yearly, you will need to book a reservation at least three days prior to your visit.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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6. Namsan Park, Seoul

Enjoy some fresh air at the mountaintop Namsan Park, one of the city's most popular areas for strolling, picnicking, and relaxing. Make your way up to the top of the 262 m (860 ft) peak via cable car to take in sweeping views over the capital's urban sprawl. Go for a leisurely wander around the network of walking paths crisscrossing the park and meandering through the area's wooded landscape. You'll find sport facilities for badminton, tennis, swimming, baseball, and more around the park, as well as a botanical garden, library, and cultural center.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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7. Seoraksan National Park, Sokcho

Listed as a tentative World Heritage Site, Seoraksan National Park shelters rare animal and plant life on an area of 163.6 sq km (63.2 sq mi), popular among tourists and naturalists. Valued for its natural diversity, the park has registered about 1,010 species of plants and 1,560 species of animals. Black bears, Siberian flying squirrels, otters, and other animals roam the reserve, just make sure to follow all safety measures during encounters. Besides exploring the serene natural environment, you can also visit the Buddhist temples situated near the park. The mountainous area--covered in pine trees, oaks, and other deciduous trees--annually receives more than 1,000 millimeters of precipitation, so carry an umbrella just in case.
Suggested duration: 8 hours
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8. Myeongdong Shopping Street, Seoul

Search for treasures on Myeongdong Shopping Street, a major commercial and shopping district in Seoul. Featuring local and international brands, as well as high fashion houses and department stores, the area is popular among young, trendsetting locals and travelers. You can also find many Japanese, Western, and Korean restaurants in the neighborhood-- look out for local specialties like donkas (pork cutlets) and kalguksu (thick noodles) on the menus. While you're in the area, visit the Myeongdong Cathedral, a Gothic Revival Catholic church of immense proportions.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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9. DMZ Haemaru Village, Paju

Take a monorail to explore a blame-game tunnel of DMZ Haemaru Village, the only official venue for meetings between the ROK and DPRK. With the U.S. overseeing the peace process in the Cold War-divided peninsula, the zone gives you a rare opportunity to tour a military administration line amid heavy security. Official English or Japanese-speaking guides accompany your tour, showing you the venue where the 1953 armistice was signed. Observe a change of joint guards and use a telescope to see the northern part of the divided Korea. You must register at least four days prior to the tour, and for some countries a scanned color copy of your passport is required. Certain nationals may be banned from entry--check before you go.
Suggested duration: 5 hours
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10. Seongsan Ilchulbong, Seogwipo

Rising from the ocean like a rocky crown, the World Heritage Site of Seongsan Ilchulbong stands as a testament to the region's ancient volcanic activity. Formed nearly 5,000 years ago by an eruption, the formation, known as a "tuff cone," features sheer walls with a depressed center. Hike your way up to the top of the raised crater, which stands 180 m (591 ft) high and has a diameter of nearly 600 m (1,969 ft), and look out over the rugged interior. You'll also get to enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding ocean and coastline from the rim.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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11. Manjanggul Cave, Jeju

A 30 m tall (98.5 ft) and 23 m (75.5 ft) wide lava tube penetrating more than 13 km (8 mi) into the earth, Manjanggul Cave makes up part of a World Heritage Site sheltering exceptional volcanic rock formations and wildlife. Observe the world's largest lava column standing 7.6 m (25 ft) tall, and a stone shape resembling Jeju Island. Part of a larger lava tube system, the cave features the greatest number of living creatures of all tubes on the island, including bats and the Jeju cave-spider. Formed 200,000-300,000 years ago, the tunnel remains remarkably well-preserved with lava stalagmites and stalactites and cascades of funky flowstones. Watch the slippery steps and dress for 10 C (50 F).
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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12. Haeundae Beach, Busan

Backed by downtown's skyline, Haeundae Beach ranks as the one of the country's most popular waterfront spots. Stretching for 2 km (1.2 mi), the beach draws thousands of visitors with its sun, surf, and festivals. Rent an umbrella from one of many booths at the rear of the beach to give yourself some shade while you kick back on the sand. Alternatively, grab an inner tube and don your swimsuit to enjoy splashing and swimming in the sea. Along the beach, you'll find plenty of cultural activities and events--primarily focused on the "folk square," these include traditional games, wrestling, and performances.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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13. Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju

The head temple complex of Jogye Korean Buddhism, Bulguksa Temple features two exquisite stone pagodas and a gilded bronze statue of Buddha, which earned it World Heritage Site status. This impressive temple complex set in a picturesque landscape stores some of the world's oldest woodblock prints, made in the first half of the 8th century. Stroll underneath cherry trees and azaleas, place a pebble in a rock garden or touch a pig statue for good luck, and visit a hermitage in the grotto to see burial mounds and a 3.5 m (11.5 ft) tall Buddha. English-speaking volunteer guides will tell you all about the temple's tumultuous history.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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14. Nami Island, Chuncheon

Set in the middle of Bukhangang River only 63 km (39 mi) from Seoul, Nami Island provides a popular escape from city life for many locals, especially after the filming of a famous Korean drama. Stroll along the famous path lined with tall metasequoias and enjoy numerous sculptures representing love. Rent an electric bike to explore the supposed gravesite of a 15th-century general, or take a golf cart tour to enjoy the natural surroundings of countless chestnut, poplar, and mulberry trees. Cool off with a motorboat or waterski rental, or jump into the swimming pool.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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15. Lotte World, Seoul

Enjoy thrill rides, shop until you drop, and learn about local culture at Lotte World, home to the planet's biggest indoor theme park. Comprised of two main areas, one indoor and one outdoor, the complex features plenty of entertainment for all seasons. Get your heart beating on a roller coaster, or kick back on a kid-friendly, hot air balloon ride. Try your hand at the shooting range, indulge in some retail therapy at the onsite department store, or catch a magic show from a number of rotating performers. You can have a go on the country's largest ice skating rink to cool yourself down, or stop by the folk museum to learn about key points in the nation's history.
Suggested duration: 8 hours
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