South Korea Guide
Five Things First Time Travellers To South Korea Should Know
- You don't need to tip in South Korea. Whether it's at restaurants, after a taxi ride, or the maid service at a hotel, leaving a tip is not customary.
- You need to get your waiter's attention. In South Korea, waiters let you enjoy your meal without interruption. If you need more dishes, you either shout "Yogiyo" or press the call button at your table. The bill is also left on the table for you to pay at the counter once you're done.
- You might come across public squat toilets. If you do, remember to make sure your shoes line up with the front of the porcelain. It's also a good idea to keep toilet paper in your bag or make sure you take enough from the dispenser outside.
- Bring shower shoes. In a bid to save space, most Korean bathrooms don't have an enclosed shower. Instead, the shower head is next to the toilet. If you're staying in a place with communal showers, pack your own pair or buy some from the front desk.
- English is not spoken by everyone. While the language is taught in Korean schools, the older generation doesn't know it that well. To get around the language barrier, bring a phrasebook and learn some essential Korean words and sentences.
Best Time To Visit South Korea
With so much to offer each season, there isn't a bad time to visit South Korea. You just need to plan your trip according to your interests.
April to June are the prettiest months of the year to visit. The cherry blossoms are in bloom, and the cold weather has started to melt away. The lack of rain also makes it one of the most popular times to visit. Expect crowds at the country's top attractions and hotel rates to be higher.
In the summer, humidity rises and temperatures average around 22°C. It's not the most comfortable time to sightsee unless you stick to the early mornings before the midday heat kicks in. July to August is also monsoon season. The country gets half of its annual rainfall during this time, which could put a damper on your travel plans.
If you want to avoid the heat and the rain, visit during September and November. The autumn months magnify the country's natural beauty, with the landscapes flushed with shades of orange and red. As the temperatures start to drop, so do the prices making the season a top choice for travellers on a budget.
For winter sports enthusiasts, the best time to visit South Korea is during its colder months. From December to March, the ski resorts open their doors and crowds are at a minimum. Prices in the cities are also at their lowest, and you won't have to wait in line for any of the country's top attractions.
South Korea Cities
Seoul is South Korea's capital city and boasts a history that dates back 600 years. Some of its most historic attractions include the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the War Memorial of Korea.
But the city really shines in the evenings. Its nightlife is buzzing with delicious restaurants, karaoke rooms and plenty of pubs. It's rare to find a night that ends earlier than 5:00 a.m.
But if you're not a night owl, Seoul is a megacity surrounded by mountains. Grab your hiking shoes and climb Bukhansan, the tallest mountain in the area.
Busan is South Korea's second largest city and one of its most popular destinations. Tourists flock here to relax on the beautiful beaches and explore the historic buildings.
Visit Hur Shim Chung Spa, the oldest spa in the country for a day of pampering. Explore the stunning Taejongdae Resort Park and work on your tan at Haeundae Beach.
Incheon may be one of South Korea's main transport hubs, but it has a lot to offer those who choose to hang around.
It's home to a 19th-century market, a 1,000-year-old temple and some of the country's best seafood.
Once you've had enough of the city life, you can hop on board a ferry and visit the islands dotted around Incheon's shoreline.
Top Attractions in South Korea
Built in 1395, the Gyeongbokgung Palace is the most iconic structure of the Joseon Dynasty. For centuries it was the centre for state affairs and once housed hundreds of ancient Korean royal books.
Today, it's used as a fascinating museum. Time your visit for one of the free English tours, and learn more about the massive complex's role in South Korea's history.
Just be sure to block out enough time in your itinerary to appreciate the palace, it's easy to spend at least three hours exploring the grounds.
If you plan on visiting the other palaces in Seoul, buy the Integrated pass for KRW 10,000 instead of forking out KRW 14,000 for each site.
The Haeinsa Temple is the largest Buddhist monastery in the country and part of South Korea's Three Jewel Temples. Founded in the 9th century, it houses the Tripitaka Koreana - the most complete collection of Buddhist scriptures.
Inside the complex, you'll also find the oldest wooden statue of Buddha in the country and the storage hall of Buddhist Sutras that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
While it is the hardest of the jewel temples to get to, it's well worth the effort, especially if you have an interest in the religion.
Seoraksan National Park
Seoraksan National Park is home to the third largest mountain in South Korea and is a UNESCO Biosphere Protection Site.
It's famous for its unique rock formations, wildlife, hot springs and Silla-era temples. One of the best ways to appreciate the area's natural beauty is to go on a hike. The Geumgang Gul Cave is one of the most popular treks that will reward you with beautiful views of the Cheon Dong Valley.
For those that don't feel like hiking, there's a cable car at the park's entrance. It will take you to the peak of the mountain to the site of a former temple.
Namhansanseong Fortress is over 2,000 years old that was built and defended by Buddhist monk-soldiers. It could hold 4,000 people and was designed to be an emergency capital for the Joseon dynasty.
Today, it's one of South Korea's most impressive historic monuments. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, there are various hikes to choose from to explore the ancient fortress walls.
Sharp-eyed visitors will also find plenty of temples and shrines along the way, as well as some of the original buildings dating back to the 16th century.
Located on Jeju Island, Mount Halla is South Korea's highest mountain. It's home to 4,000 animal species and is a beacon of natural beauty.
The mountain also houses the oldest Buddhist temple on the island and a beautiful crater lake.
For outdoor enthusiasts, there are a number of hiking trails, with the most popular, Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak, leading hikers to the summit of Mount Halla.
If you decide to attempt the trek, make sure you are prepared. As the mountain stands at 2,000 metres above sea level, the climate changes drastically the higher you go. It's also a good idea to keep some change on you as the locals sell noodles on route to the top.
Major International Airports in South Korea
- Incheon International Airport
- Jeju International Airport
- Gimpo International Airport
- Gimhae International Airport
- Cheongju International Airport