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What's Included

  • Luxury accommodation throughout
  • A range of cultural tours with an English speaking guide
  • Flight from Korea to Japan and train travel
  • Private transfers
  • Full support from your Travel Concierge before, during and after your trip
Use this itinerary to inspire your bespoke journey

At a glance

Discover both South Korea and Japan on this privately guided journey to a selection of their highlights, mixing ancient history with ultra-modern metropolises, time-honoured traditions with eccentric subcultures, intricate artisan crafts with cutting edge art, and zen gardens with thronging markets.

Begin your two-weeks in the vast city of Seoul, one of East Asia’s major centres. Here, been shown around fabulous palaces and historic villages, try incredible street food, ascend the iconic N Seoul Tower and visit some eclectic museums, getting a sense the capital’s storied past and exciting present. Next Venture south to seaside Busan, Korea’s second city, where you’ll visit fish markets, the rainbow houses of Gamcheon and take a day trip to Gyeongju to see its 8th century temples and tombs.

A hop across the Sea of Japan sees you arriving amid the bright lights of Tokyo. Once again, a private English-speaking guide accompany you around some favourite sights including shrines, Edo era streets, famous temples and for a traditional tea ceremony. Board a bullet train across Honshu Island to Kanazawa, wandering the city’s incredibly well-preserved old centre, the magnificent Kenrokuen Garden and contrastingly contemporary galleries while staying in a ‘ryokan’, a type of traditional Japanese inn in the green hills a short way out of the city.

End with a final three nights in Kyoto, the former Imperial capital of Japan, home to another fine selection of iconic temples, gardens and palaces sat in the middle of an invigoratingly modern urban centre. As well as seeing the best of these, be shown around the Geisha District and visit nearby the beautiful old city Nara to meets it famous deer resident.

Example Trip Itinerary

Days 1-4

Seoul

Flights & Transfers

Transfer

Private transfer to your hotel in Seoul

Accommodation in Seoul

seoul-city-skyline-south-korea
Three nights in Seoul Three nights in Seoul

South Korea’s capital and by far its largest city with a metropolitan area home to over half the country’s entire population, Seoul is one of East Asia’s major centres of culture and commerce. A contrasting mix of bleeding edge technology and tradition, an incredible work ethic and serene Buddhist temples, utterly unique youth subcultures and conformity, it is a truly fascinating city.

Bisected by the Han River into the northern historic ‘Gangbuk’ and modern southern ‘Gangnum’ halves, Seoul is further divided into 25 districts, known as gu, each with an area and population comparable to a small city. With these each having their own centre, the whole metropolis has no true core, much like Los Angeles. Thankfully getting around is easy as Seoul enjoys an incredibly comprehensive, modern and genuinely pleasant metro system.

Sites to see include five major palaces, numerous temples and many museums. Food lovers will be spoilt with delectable street food, busy markets and great restaurants while numerous and vast nightlife districts play host to one of the liveliest city scenes in the world. Getting out of town, the surrounding mountains reward hikes with spectacular city views.

Gyeongbokgung Palace tour Gyeongbokgung Palace tour

Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace (also known as the Northern Palace) was the main Joseon Dynasty royal palace in Seoul. Among the city's most popular sites, it is a symbol of South Korea and represents its national sovereignty. In the heart of the city, the complex expanded until the Japanese invasion of 1592 when it was reduced to ashes. It wasn't until 1867 that, under Regent Heungseon Daewongun, a restoration was completed on a grand scale, with some 330 buildings within the palace walls including offices for royal and state officials, living quarters and gardens. Due to it's importance, it was again demolished under Japanese occupation in 1915, with a second round of rebuilding and restoration beginning in 1990.

bukchon-hanok-seoul-south-korea
Bukchon Hanok Village visit Bukchon Hanok Village visit

Surrounded by Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine, Bukchon Hanok Village is home to hundreds of traditional houses called hanok that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. Today, many of these hanoks operate as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants and tea houses, providing visitors with an insight into Korean life here some 600 years ago.

traditional-masks-insadong-art-street-south-korea
Insa-dong Art Street tour Insa-dong Art Street tour

Insa-dong, located in the heart of the city, is where you can find Korean art, crafts and antiques for sale. There is one main road in Insa-dong with alleys on each side. Within these alleys are galleries, traditional restaurants, tea houses and cafes. To keep the ambience, even international chains like Starbucks change their usual signage from English to Korean Hangeul.

asian-street-food-seoul-south-korea
Gwangjang Market tour Gwangjang Market tour

Gwangjang Market is one of the Seoul's oldest street markets, an energetic place with some 5,000 independent stalls and shops selling food and clothing. It's also famous for its delicious Mung-bean pancake (Bindaetteok).

N Seoul Tower tour N Seoul Tower tour

Standing atop Namsan Mountain, the N Seoul Tower was built in 1971, instantly becoming an iconic landmark of the city. It's observation deck was opened in 1980 and the panoramic views it affords are a must for any visitor.

Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art

The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art has two distinct halves. Museum 1, designed by architect Mario Botta, houses a collection of traditional Korean art. 36 pieces are designated national treasures and the exhibits range from landscapes and folk paintings to traditional ceramics and porcelain, 14th century daggers, crowns, Buddhist art, sculptures and manuscripts. Museum 2 is the work of Jean Nouvel and features modern and contemporary art from both Korean and foreign artists such as Damien Hirst, Warhol, Rothko, Yves Klein and Donald Judd.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Dongdaemun Design Plaza was built in 2014, designed by world famous architect Zaha Hadid. Also known simply as the DDP, it is is located in the center of the Dongdaemun area and has become the newest iconic landmark of Seoul after N Seoul Tower. Its sweeping neofuturistic shapes house large exhibition and art spaces, numerous shops and the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park which was made around historic remains uncovered during construction.

Bugak Skyway drive Bugak Skyway drive

The 19km-long Bugak Skyway runs along the northeast ridge of Bugaksan Mountain. Opened in September 1968, the road quickly became known as one of Korea’s most scenic driving routes with lovely views of Bibong and Munsubong peaks on one side and Namsan Mountain on the other side. Trees line the roadside and different flowers bloom each season. The skyway leads to an octagonal pavilion at the top called Palgakjeong, where visitors can get a panoramic view of the city.

Korea Furniture Museum Korea Furniture Museum

The Korea Furniture Museum offers a fascinating overview of Korean antique furniture and craftsmanship in a beautifully restored traditional house that hosts over 2,000 pieces.

Flights & Transfers

Transfer

Private transfer to the train station

Transfer

KTX train to Busan

Days 4-6

Busan

Accommodation in Busan

Two nights in Busan Two nights in Busan

Busan is South Korea's second-most populous city after Seoul, and is the economic and cultural centre of southeastern Korea. Its port is among the world's busiest and this energy can be found on its streets where gleaming high-rises fill the gaps between green mountains and the beach while elegant bridges span across the sea. There's an energetic restaurant and nightlife scene, thronging fish markets and some scenic hikes, it is a fascinating city where you can see many sides of modern Korean life.

Gamcheon culture village Gamcheon culture village

Gamcheon is a beautiful village of brightly coloured houses built in staircase-fashion on the foothills of a coastal mountain. The many alleys cutting through this community are vibrantly decorated with murals and sculptures created by the residents, among which you can find a small museum, art shops, tea rooms and workshops.

Gukje Market tour Gukje Market tour

One of the largest markets in Korea, Gukje sells everything from souvenirs and electronics to meat and fruit. There are also numerous food stalls.

jagalchi-fish-market-busan-south-korea
Jagalchi Fish Market tour Jagalchi Fish Market tour

Jagalchi Market, located by the sea across from Yeongdo-gu Island, famous across the country, selling both live, fresh caught and dried fish. Most of the people who sell fish are women, so the vendors here are called Jagalchi Ajumma, 'ajumma' meaning middle-aged or married woman in Korean.

UN Memorial Cemetery visit UN Memorial Cemetery visit

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Korea honors UN soldiers from 16 countries and UN aids from five countries that were killed in battle during the Korean War from 1950-1953. This serene park spreads across a grassy plain area of 135,000 square meters. Some notable sites and memorials include: Memorial Service Hall, Memorabilia Hall, two Turkish Monuments, Greek Monument, Australian Monument, British Common Wealth Monument and two ponds. The Memorial Service Hall and the Memorabilia Hall were constructed in 1964 and 1968 respectively. The citizens of Busan dedicated the Main Gate in 1966. There are many annual events held here such as April’s Tributary Ceremony of the Veterans of the Korean War, May’s American Memorial Day, June’s Korean Memorial Day, and October’s UN Ceremony Day.

Flights & Transfers

Transfer

Private guide and driver for Gyeongju day trip

 
Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto tour Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto tour

Built in the 8th century on the slopes of Mount Toham, Bulguksa is a Buddhist temple complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site which contains a number of Korea's most revered national treasures. The grounds are designed to represent the land of Budda with three areas – Birojeon (the Vairocana Buddha Hall), Daeungjeon (the Hall of Great Enlightenment) and Geungnakjeon (the Hall of Supreme Bliss) – along with stone terraces, bridges and pagodas which show the incredible masonry skills of the time.

Close by is the Seokguram Grotto, built in the same period as Bulguksa, which contains a monumental statue of the Buddha surrounded by realistic depictions of gods, Bodhisattvas and disciples, and is considered a masterpiece of Buddhist art in the Far East.

sunset-tumuli-south-korea
Daereungwon Tomb Complex and Cheomseongdae Observatory tour Daereungwon Tomb Complex and Cheomseongdae Observatory tour

A number of larges, ancient burial mounds of kings and noblemen of the Silla Kingdom can be seen around Gyeongju at the Daereungwon Tomb Complex. The most famous of these is Cheonmachong which was excavated in 1973. Found to contain a lacquered wooden coffin with burial goods placed around it, over 11,500 artifacts were recovered from the tomb. The name of the tomb, translating to 'Heavenly Horse Tomb', derives from a famous painting of a white horse found on a birch bark saddle flap.

Dating to the 7th century, Cheomseongdae Observatory is the oldest existing astronomical observatory in Asia. Constructed from 362 pieces of cut granite during the reign of Queen Seondeok, it was used for observing the stars in order to forecast the weather.

Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond

Gyeongju Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond was the secondary palace site which was used by the crown prince. It also served as a banquet site for important national events and important visitors. After the fall of the Silla dynasty, the site was abandoned and forgotten. The pond was referred to as Anapji during the Goryeo and Joseon period. In the 1980s, pottery fragment with letters Wolji (a pond that reflects the moon) carved onto it was found, revealing the true name of the pond. After the discovery, the site was renamed to the current Donggung Palace and
Wolji Pond.

Flights & Transfers

Transfer

Private transfer to Busan airport

Flight

Flight from Busan to Tokyo

Days 6-9

Tokyo

Flights & Transfers

Transfer

Private transfer to your hotel in Tokyo

Accommodation in Tokyo

Three nights in Tokyo Three nights in Tokyo

Enjoy your time exploring the incredible metropolis of Tokyo, a city with an infectious energy that is like no other where neon light futuristic architecture sits backed by the iconic Mount Fuji.

Private driver and guide in Tokyo Private driver and guide in Tokyo

Spend the next two days exploring Tokyo with a private driver and guide visiting the following highlights:

Hamarikyu Gardens Hamarikyu Gardens

Take a stroll through Hamarikyu Gardens, an attractive landscape garden in central Tokyo that sits in green contrast to the skyscrapers it neighbours. Originally feudal lord's Tokyo residence and duck hunting grounds during the Edo Period (1603-1867), it then later served as an imperial garden before being made into a public park.

Shared Sumida River cruise Shared Sumida River cruise

The Suminda River flows from Iwabuchi into Tokyo Bay. Cruise along the water admiring the city from a different angle and enjoy the leisurely pace on this historically significant waterway.

Asakusa visit to see Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Dori Street Asakusa visit to see Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Dori Street

Today you'll visit the Asakusa District, one of Tokyo oldest and best-preserved districts. We'll stop at the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, marked by its huge lantern. We then walk along the Nakamise Dori merchant street. The Nakamise Dori merchant street dates back to the Edo period when the temple’s neighbours were given special permission to open their shops in the approach to the temple. Your guide will show you the small streets of Asakusa, where you can still feel the presence of Ancient Japan.

traditional-tea-ceremony-kyoto-japan
Traditional tea ceremony Traditional tea ceremony

Experience a tea ceremony, one of Japan’s most famous traditional cultural practices, a part of culture that encompasses not only the making of tea, but also tea-room architecture, the appreciation of tea utensils and bowls and Zen Buddhism. The tea master will then teach you how to prepare and present 'matcha' powdered green tea.

Ginza 'Deepachika' tour Ginza 'Deepachika' tour

Visit some of Ginza’s famous department stores, heading down to their basement floors called ‘depachika’ which house high-end food courts where Tokyoites buy their delicacies. A combination of 'depato', meaning department store, and 'chika', meaning basement, the 'depachika' of Japan are a fun place to try a range of delicacies.

Craft brewery tour Craft brewery tour

You will visit one of the newly opened craft-beer bars offering 10 to 15 different varieties of beer, all crafted by small operating breweries using the highest quality malts, hops and yeasts and traditional techniques.

mori-art-museum-tokyo-5
Mori Art Museum Mori Art Museum

Transfer to Roppongi to visit the Mori Art Museum. Faithful to the belief that each of the world’s diverse cultures must be accorded equal importance, the museum takes an open attitude in introducing the newest art forms from all over the world, with its key emphasis placed on the concepts of being contemporary and international.

Roppongi Hills Roppongi Hills

Climb up to the Roppongi Hills observation deck located on the 52nd floor of the same building, where you can enjoy amazing 360 degree view of Tokyo. There are two relaxed cafés where you can take a break enjoying the sweeping sights over the metropolis.

Flights & Transfers

Transfer

Private transfer to Tokyo station

Transfer

Bullet train from Tokyo to Kanazawa

 
Kanazawa tour with Omichi Market, Samurai District and Kenrokuen Garden Kanazawa tour with Omichi Market, Samurai District and Kenrokuen Garden

You will be met by your private English speaking guide from your bullet train. Start your excursion by private chartered vehicle to the Omicho Market, which local people regard as the “Kitchen of all Kanazawa”, for a short visit before lunch.

Move on to the ancient Samurai district of Nagamachi. Walking through this traditional part of Kanazawa, you'll see tangible evidence of Kanazawa’s prosperous past. In a tranquil setting, the narrow, rock-laid street bordered by earthen walls and decorative gates exude an ambience of feudal times. A visit to Nomurake, a former Samurai House, gives a great insight into Traditional Architecture.

Finally, stroll the magnificent Kenrokuen Garden, reputedly one of the three most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan. Admire the harmonious coexistence of six Chinese attributes of perfection, evolving as seasons unfold.

Days 9-11

Yamashiro and Yamanaka

Accommodation in Yamashiro and Yamanaka

Two nights in Yamashiro and Yamanaka Two nights in Yamashiro and Yamanaka

For more than a thousand years, Japanese holiday makers have been coming to Yamashiro and Yamanaka to sooth body and mind in their warm therapeutic waters. Two of the most celebrated hot spring resorts on the Kaga onsen circuit, the towns lie next to each other between the mountains and the sea in pretty countryside locales.

Higashiyama Geisha District Higashiyama Geisha District

Visit the ancient Higashiyama Geisha District. Built in 1820, it is reminiscent of feudal times with wooden lattice fronts on the old geisha houses. Visit the teahouse at Kaikaro to learn more about the history and traditions surrounding geishas.

suzuki-museum-japan
D.T. Suzuki Museum D.T. Suzuki Museum

The museum consists of three wings connected by corridors: an entrance wing, an exhibition wing and a contemplative wing. It also has three gardens - the vestibule garden, the water mirror garden and the roji garden. The museum is a great place to learn about the ideas and achievements of Daisetz Sazuki, a prominent Buddhist philosopher.

Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

Visit the Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, an architecturally striking building and one of the most successfully-run museums in Japan. The museum focuses on integrating the design of its space with the program and features many up-coming Japanese artists, as well as permanent installations by renowned international artists, such as Leandro Ehrlich and Anish Kapoor.

Flights & Transfers

Transfer

Private transfer to Kaga Onsen Station

Transfer

Train from Kaga Onsen to Kyoto

Days 11-14

Kyoto

Accommodation in Kyoto

Three nights in Kyoto Three nights in Kyoto

Kyoto is where you’ll find ancient and contemporary Japan collide in a fascinating cultural hub. The former imperial capital was spared much of the destruction of World War II and the city is unique for its abundance of prewar buildings including grand palaces, traditional “machiya” townhouses and ornate, ancient shrines. But as the country’s seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million people, it’s put on a thoroughly modern face.

Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji Temples tour Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji Temples tour

Visit the Kinkaku-ji 'Golden Pavilion' temple. Built in 1397 to serve as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, Kinkaku-ji served as the inspiration for the Ginkaku-ji the Silver Pavilion which was built by the Shogun's grandson.

We then continue to the serene Ryoan-ji Temple which is celebrated for its rock garden, comprised of nothing but clay walls, raked sand and 15 rocks.

Gion Geisha district tour Gion Geisha district tour

Today we visit the Geisha district of Gion which is famed for its beautifully preserved traditional architecture. During Gion's golden age in the first half of 19th century, more than 3000 Geikos (young Geisha) worked in some 700 teahouses. We will keep our eyes open for Geisha on their way to an assignment. This is also a great opportunity for shopping in this craft-rich district.

Sanjusangendo Hall Sanjusangendo Hall

You'll be brought to Sanjusangendo Hall where we'll feel the serene atmosphere of the temple. Famed for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess mercy, Sanjusangendo was founded in 1164 and its present structures date from 1266.

Kodaiji Temple Kodaiji Temple

Kodaiji Temple, a temple of the Rinzai (Pure Land) school of Zen Buddhism which was founded during the Momoyama-period by the wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the powerful general who unified Japan at the end of the 16th century. Kodaiji is interesting for its formal gardens and bamboo grove that leads to two famous teahouses.

Nishiki market visit Nishiki market visit

Afterwards, we move onto Nishiki, a narrow shopping arcade only 400 meters in length with just over 100 vendors, guests can discover Kyoto’s distinctive culinary delicacies and be surprised by the sights, the sound and the smells. Aritsugu, which features a variety of excellent kitchen tools, is a recommended shop to visit. Afterwards, you'll be brought back to your hotel in a private vehicle.

Full Day visit to Nara Full Day visit to Nara

Meet your private guide for your trip to Nara, the ancient capital of Japan in the 8th Century. Start your visit from Nara Park, a large pleasant park in the center of the city, commonly known as “Deer Park,” home to hundreds of freely roaming deers, regarded in Shinto religion as messengers of the gods and symbol of the city. A large numbers of historical sites in Nara are located in and around this park.

Visit Kasugataisha Shrine, originally established in 768AD as the shrine of the powerful Fujiwara Family. See the magnificent interior famous for its numerous bronze hanging lanterns, as well as the many stone lanterns that lead up to the shrine. Move on to the gigantic Todaiji temple, reputedly the largest wooden buildings in the world and one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples to be overwhelmed by the giant statue of Buddha Virocana.

Finish your Nara tour in Naramachi, the former merchant district of Nara, which was not affected by bombings during the Second World War. The district features several traditional warehouses and residential buildings including the Naramachi Koshi-no-ie, an old residence open to the public for free. Small boutiques, shops, cafes and restaurants can also be found along the narrow lanes in the district. Back to the hotel by 17:00pm and enjoy time at leisure.

Flights & Transfers

Transfer

Private transfer to Osaka Kansai Airport

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Cultural Highlights of Japan and South Korea

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