Famous for k-pop music groups like BTS and Blackpink as well as companies like Samsung and Hyundai, South Korea is a booming nation with a strong international influence. Home to quaint ancient temples, remarkable landscapes, and ultra-modern cities, the country seamlessly blends its past with modern designs and structures.
Filled with thrilling and unique experiences, South Korea is a great destination for adventure seekers. A long history has helped shaped this country and its people to become one of Asia’s powerhouses with innovation and technology coming together to build the future.
With a population of 51.7 million people (as of 2020), all are eager to welcome visitors into their borders.
환영 – Welcome to South Korea!
Seoul is the capital of South Korea, and it’s known for being a modern hub that is central to the country and the continent. The capital has the third-largest economy in Asia and proudly displays its accomplishments in modern architecture, developed fashion scene, and technological advances.
To honor their traditions, old sites like temples, shrines, and wooden homes have been preserved. Visitors will often comment on the never-ending hustle and bustle of Seoul, which provides you with adventures 24/7 so that you’ll never be bored in this top destination.
- Culture and Language
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
While the Korean Peninsula has been inhabited for centuries, South Korea is relatively young. Established after World War II ended, the country has emerged as a dominant force in the global market.
Overcoming its storied past and continuing to expand, the country’s pop culture has become such an international influence that the phenomenon has been called the Korean Wave.
South Korea History
The history of Korea, before it was split into two countries, dates back thousands of years, which influenced the country’s culture. Ancient Korea was ruled by kingdoms and dynasties that were impacted by nearby countries like China.
In more modern history, Korea was occupied by Japan in the late 1500s. Japan would then occupy Korea again during World War II. When WWII ended, and the country was divided by the North and South. South Korea became a republic with the government running off of the presidential system, with Syngman Rhee becoming the country’s first president.
The Second Republic changed to a parliamentary governmental system but only lasted 9 months. By 1961, there was a military coup before the Third Republic was established in 1963. South Korea was considered to be a liberal democracy by the Sixth Republic and now has become a stabilized nation with an elected president.
While the country has had difficult periods, the people have remained optimistic with a generous attitude. South Koreans are always happy to help and are very polite in their interactions. With such a warm welcome, visitors will feel immediately at home and have the confidence to travel and explore the nation.
South Korean Culture
Religion and family are staples of South Korean culture, as they are throughout many Asian cultures. Major religions in South Korea include Christianity, Buddhism, and Confucianism. All the religions co-exist throughout the country, though you’ll be more likely to see ancient sites that honor Buddhism and Confucianism with temples and shrines.
Family is also integral to South Koreans, and children will look after their parents. Many homes may even be multi-generational, with parents living with children. While modernity in the cities may change the living situations, deep respect for elders is still expected in their culture.
Korean is both the official and national language of South Korea, which is used by the government and in daily life. While Korean is the most prominent language throughout the country, there are local dialects and foreign languages spoken as well. There are 8 main local dialects throughout the Korean Peninsula, with 5 of them being spoken in South Korea.
South Korea is also unique because foreign languages that are present throughout the country tend to be divided by age. The younger generation is more versed in English, as are those who work in international relations and global businesses. The country is even seeking to make English its second language.
No matter which language you speak, visitors shouldn’t be worried about visiting South Korea. The friendly people will be happy to assist in any way they can, even with a language barrier, and warm gestures can go a long way.
Before entering South Korea, it’s important that you consider your spending budget while you’re planning your trip to the country. South Korea is more expensive compared to other countries in Asia, though it can still be traveled on an affordable budget.
However, as with any country, you can pay more for a luxury vacation. The most important parts of your budget will include airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
If you’re visiting from the United States, you should expect to travel for long hours and pay for an expensive ticket. Most flights will take about 13 hours to reach the country if you leave from a big city like Los Angeles.
The average cost for an economy ticket is rather expensive, but you may find special deals that bring the price down. The biggest factors that can change the price of a ticket are what time of year you plan your vacation and how far in advance you book the ticket.
South Korea’s peak tourist seasons run from April to May and September to October. During these months, many will be eager to travel to the country, and you should expect plane tickets to cost more. The absolute most expensive months to visit are June, July, and August, whereas March is the cheapest month to visit.
You can also slightly reduce the price of your ticket by booking further in advance. The longer you wait to book and ticket, and the closer the date comes to your day of departure, the prices will go up and may even increase by a few hundred dollars.
While the planet ticket will be the largest portion of your budget, those who are looking to travel affordably will need to be prepared to spend a bit for decent accommodation. If you’re willing to stay off the beaten path, dorm room-style accommodation in a hostel will be the least expensive option.
While a hostel might not be for everyone, there are decent hotels found throughout the country. There is a difference between local hotels and western-style ones though, so make sure you check in advance for certain features you may prefer. Luxury accommodations are also readily available but come with a price to match.
Travelers will also find that accommodations are more expensive in the cities, which is where most people travel when they visit South Korea. If you head out into the countryside, you may be able to find a more affordable option, though you shouldn’t expect a full-service hotel. Another accommodation option would be to rent through Airbnb.
While the company has some restrictions in the country, if the host is renting to a foreigner, the service is legal. Guesthouses are a common rental throughout South Korea, and they can provide you with a nice place to stay that is private, unlike a hostel. The price will change depending on the type of accommodation, duration of stay, and the number of people.
Once you’ve booked your ticket and decided on accommodation, the next most important consideration for your budget will be centered around meals. Food and drink are important to factor in because you’ll need to eat and will probably be excited to taste authentic cuisine, like kimchi.
Kimchi is a popular fermented dish, usually, usually comprised of cabbage, radish, and cucumber, which are seasoned gochugaru, onions, and garlic. So popular that instead of saying “cheese” when you take photos you say “kimchi” instead, the dish has made its way across the world.
Other popular South Korean dishes include hoetteok, which is a sweet pancake covered in syrup and sugar. The dish is known for being crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside. Bulgogi is a marinated beef barbeque, which is often ranked as one of the most delicious.
Japchae is a stir-fried noodle that can be served for lunch or dinner and is also widely popular. South Korea even has its own version of blood sausage, which is called soondae and is prepared differently according to region.
With plenty of tasty dishes to choose from, budget travelers will be happy to know that you don’t have to break the bank to eat out. Street food is widely popular throughout South Korea and can be purchased for relatively low prices at night markets and stalls.
Restaurants will be more expensive, and you can easily rack up a bill that is worth hundreds, depending on where you go. Top locations and Michelin-rated establishments can cost hundreds per person and would better fit a budget suited for a luxury vacation.
Eating isn’t the only cost, and if you want to get some drinks and head out to the bars, you’ll have to include those prices into your budget too. Locally produced beer and soju will be the most affordable, with most brands sold in the shops for a few won. However, most drink prices at a restaurant or bar will be significantly more.
How to Get Around
One of the best things about South Korea is that it’s easy to travel around the country due to the extensive railroad tracks that service the cities and routes between cities. Many big cities will have a functioning metro system, and Seoul is famous for its excellent subway.
Subways and Trains
With well-designed subway systems, getting around is fairly easy, particularly in major cities. Incredibly affordable, subway passes can be refilled at convenience stores or in the metro station. Better priced than a taxi, and easier than walking, the subway is a surefire way to get around South Korea.
Trains are another option for getting between cities. Rail passes are available, though prices can increase depending on the distance. While the trains are fast, they tend to be very crowded, and if you’re looking to travel further, they can eat up your time, which means fewer places to visit.
If you want to travel quickly around the country and aren’t worried about raising your budget, flying is another option. South Korea has a few budget airlines that have domestic flight services throughout the country, with Jeju Air being the most popular choice.
For shorter distances, buses are another great way to travel that may have routes the subways do not follow. Public buses will be abundant in large cities and be a reliable way to travel. The buses are the most affordable way to travel though they will take significantly longer to reach their destination if you’re traveling between cities.
Taxis prices vary, especially depending on which type of car you use. There are multiple services within South Korea, with black cars being the most expensive. There are apps to hail taxis, depending on the city you are in, but overall, this transportation option is the priciest.
Finally, you can always walk if you’re exploring a concentrated area or neighborhood, and it’s a great way to see the local lifestyle. Many places are safe to walk to, and you shouldn’t have any problems. However, as with any destination in the world, you should be aware of your surroundings and belongings to stay safe.
Top Cities to Visit
While Seoul is the main attraction, there are other cities in South Korea that are eager for tourists. Whether you’re looking to spend time on the coast, explore an island, or visit temples, there are plenty of places to include on your itinerary besides the capital. Here are the top cities to visit in South Korea.
With a population of over 9.9 million people in the metro area, Seoul is a bustling city that is known for its contrast of modernity and history. New technology is created within the city, and many leading technological advances have been created within its towering architecture.
With old sites like the Changdeok-gung Palace, visitors can also appreciate ancient architecture. Don’t let sightseeing be the only thing on your to-do list. The city is known for its cuisine, and there are plenty of restaurants and street stalls ready to offer you a tasty bite.
The brightly colored buildings of Busan have helped make it a big tourist attraction, along with the mountain backdrop and pristine beaches.
The city is known for being more industrial though there are preserved historical sites like the Beomeosa Temple that await tourists too. With hot springs, restaurants, and the nearby mountains, this city offers you endless entertainment.
Seogwipo is located on Jeju Island and is known for its jagged coastline, cascading waterfalls, and pretty beaches. The natural beauty of the area has given it the title of “Best Scuba Diving in South Korea.”
There are plenty of tours, and while the city is not the main star, you won’t need modern entertainment when you witness the natural beauty of Seogwipo.
One of the hidden gems in the country, Gangneung, is the best place to go if you want to get off the beaten path. This area has beaches, delicious cuisine, and cultural events that attract visitors. The Danjoe folk festival is a big attraction for tourists that is held every year.
Incheon is an important city for the country because it houses the Jeondeungsa Temple, which is the oldest in South Korea. While modernity is taking over, the city’s historic sites have been preserved as American soldiers once landed here during the Korean War as they recaptured Seoul.
Now, a waterfront area and Chinatown entertain guests with shops, restaurants, and bars.
Gyeongju is like entering a museum because the city has a vast history that dates back over 2000 years. The picturesque landscape is filled with tombs and temples, which have been dated back to the 1st century BCE when the Silla Kingdom ruled. The two most popular tourist sites are the Bulguska Temple and Seokguram Grotto.
Points of Interest
While cities are always fun to explore, you may find that there are also specific points of interest that capture your attention. With prime destinations throughout the country, there are plenty of popular tourist sites to explore while you’re visiting.
Discover the best of South Korea’s thermal springs to add to your itinerary, on our sister site, Top Hot Springs.
Located not too far outside of Seoul, Jeonju has preserved ancient architecture and relics from the Joseon Dynasty. The ancient homes fill the streets and let visitors experience ancient Korea first-hand. A few of the homes are open for visits as they have been converted into museums, restaurants, and hotels.
Bukchon Hanok Village
The Bukchon Hanok Village is an ancient area that has been preserved to showcase the country’s history. Most of the architecture dates back 600 years ago, and in cases like Bukchon, it has been kept in its original location.
For visitors, this village rests in the center of Seoul, and there are a few places that provide accommodation to tourists.
Seoraksan National Park
Seoraksan National Park was the first in Korea and is often called the “Yellowstone of Korea.” The park’s natural rock formations are filled with lakes, streams, and waterfalls.
Many hiking trails are scattered throughout the terrain so that visitors can step into nature. A cable car also runs up Seoraksan Mountain, which will provide you with an amazing view.
The DMZ is the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Many tourists are interested in glimpsing North Korea, however, don’t expect a friendly welcome. The border is heavily guarded, and you’ll need to book an official tour.
A cross-border room does allow you to visit North Korea, which provides you with the safest way to say that you crossed the DMZ.
Hallyeo Maritime National Park
The Hallyeo Maritime National Park is a popular tourist hotspot because of the Hallyeosudo Viewing Ropeway, which is a cable car that takes you up the cliffs for a stunning view of the coastline. Just an hour outside of Seoul, this is a perfect day trip from the capital.
“The Land of the Morning Calm”
South Korea is a welcoming country that’s filled with unique experiences. The bustling capital of Seoul is famous for its technological advancements, though tourists will also find plenty of hidden gems. With skyscrapers, ancient temples, and beautiful parks, you’ll fall in love with South Korea and its friendly people.