Futuristic cities, a booming economy, traditional villages and over 5,000 years of history and tradition – there are few places that blend the old and the new in quite the same way as South Korea. The north and south may have parted ways in 1953 after the Korean War, but while the former remains off limits, South Korea is very much open for business.
It is small, especially in comparison to some of its colossal neighbours, but South Korea is one of Asia’s most diverse nations. You’ll find intoxicating cities, serene countryside, volcanic islands, traditional villages, lush rice paddies and three different seas lapping at its shores.
The capital, Seoul, is an exciting metropolis of neon lights and non-stop activity. This is most people’s first introduction to South Korea and it doesn’t disappoint. It is the country’s economic powerhouse and while its frenetic ways are part of its charm, this is also a city packed with history and tradition.
In the south, second city Busan enjoys a pleasant seaside setting backed by mountains and is slightly more relaxed than the capital though still has everything that makes South Korea so fascinating. It is also within easy reach of Gyeongju, the former capital of the great Silla dynasty, and is now known as the museum without walls thanks to its proliferation of fascinating historic temples, shrines and tombs.
Well over half of South Korea is forested which makes it a great destination for lovers of the outdoors. The mountains are a hiker’s dream in spring and autumn, then come winter they are transformed into ski slopes. Rugged peaks give way to coastal plains and a scattering of islands, most notably the popular volcanic Jeju, lay just off its southern shores.
Aside from its cities and countryside, there is another major reason to travel to South Korea: its food. Spicy, sour and sweet, Korean food is a pure delight and you’ll be spoiled for choice with street stalls and markets everywhere you go. For the dedicated foodies, we suggest a traditional ‘hanok’ homestay in Jeonju, a UNESCO City of Gastronomy home of bibimbap. And of course there’s the people. Koreans are renowned for their friendliness and your lingering memories are bound to include the people you met along the way.