20) Boseong Tea Fields / 보성다원농원
Green tea is probably the second most important hot beverage in Korea, next to coffee of course. If you are looking for simply the best green tea around, the fields of Boseong deliver. Dozens and dozens of tea bushes line an enormous hill making for one of the most beautiful landscapes on the entire peninsula. On top of being able to buy green tea by the boat load, you can also try green tea ice cream and other quirky green tea foods. While definitely a bit ‘touristy’ and quite crowded, it is still stunning.
Pro Tip – It is often hard to get a picture without loads of people on them. You will notice on the map that the complex is actually separated into field and a tea museum. The “museum” route has fields too which are not as crowded and excellent for some pictures. Unfortunately, the mini fields which used to be accessible on the main field side have been closed off.
19) Hwasun Dolmen Sites / 화순 고인돌
The Hwasun Dolmen Sites are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Dolmen sites of Ganghwa, Hwasun and Gochang. Much like the other two, this is in the middle of nowhere with Gwangju being the closest major city. At the eastern entrance, there is a museum with open dolmens in an “archaeological dig” setting to show you what they look like from the inside. It is pretty neat, and the caretaker is quite enthusiastic to tell you all about it (and he speaks English). The whole complex is one long stretch which you could hike in one direction if you so choose. The tiny village connected to it was hoping the UNESCO nod would put it on the map and about a dozen minbaks opened for business only to find out that there is, unfortunately, very little interest and all but one or two closed down.
Pro Tip – Bring a picnic, and a car. Tons of great places to sit down for lunch, but public transport is rather unreliable in this neck of the woods.
18) Tomb of King Muyeong / 무령왕릉
Anyone who is into archaeology (or just pretends to be Indiana Jones in the local park) may have heard of amazing discoveries of the last century or so such as Machu Picchu (1911), the Terracotta Army (1974), and the tomb of King Tut (1922). Most, however, might have never heard of the discovery of King Muryeong’s tomb in 1971.
Muryeong was the leader of the Baekje Kindgom, one of the three ancient Korean sovereign states. Despite being technologically advanced for its time, Baekje fell to a combined force of Shilla and the Chinese Tang Dynasty, dawning a new era known as “Unified Shilla.” The discovery of this tomb gave us some insights into the Baekje Kingdom which in modern times, was mostly known from the point of view of their conquerors.
Currently, you can only view it from the outside, but an exact replica was built in a museum next to it to give you the most authentic experience possible, without harming this 1500 year old artifact.
17) Anapji Pond / 안압지
The Anapji pond is located next to the Gyeongju Historical Area and is considered part of it, but deserves separate consideration. While it is not original, it was carefully reconstructed and takes you back a few centuries as you stand in the pavilion overlooking the pond. The daytime is a bit less crowded, but the night view is spectacular, so I guess you have some serious thinking to do.
Pro Tip – Just go both times, it’s worth it.
16) Suncheon Bay / 순천만자연생태공원
The Suncheon Bay is one of the most ecologically diverse places in South Korea and it is a shame my picture above doesn’t do it justice (Google it!). While that is usually an exaggeration in Korea where people go nuts over catching a glimpse of a squirrel in Seoul, you truly can find some pretty exceptional fauna and flora. The views from the top of the small hill are stunning, but the hike to get there is the highlight. Look out for mudskippers, an ‘amphibious fish’ which also happens to be a local delicacy.
15) Yangdong Folk Village / 양동 민속 마을
This traditional folk village just north of Gyeongju is Korea’s largest of its kind and one of the two that make up the UNESCO site – Traditional Villages of Korea. Here, you can not only learn, but see how Koreans have lived (and continue to live) for the last 600 years. The hanok style houses are best appreciated from high ground, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to venture around the many vantage points.
Pro Tip – Certain days, you can also see the village elders smashing rice with wooden maillots and making traditional ddeok (rice cake). If you look exceptionally interested and confused, they might even let you take a few swings.
14) Hamdeok Beach / 함덕 바다
Everyone who has been to Jeju Island has their favorite beach and this is mine. Hamdeok Beach may not be completely unknown, but it does take a backseat to the far more famous Jungmun down south and nearby Black Sand Beach. If you are looking for a not so crowded piece of paradise and are not a surfer, head here for a relaxing swim without bumping into a hundred people. The sand bar in the distance is also a cool place to reach even if you can’t swim very well. If you speak a little Korean, there are fliers near the parking lot with fried chicken that can be delivered right to the sand, too!
13) Maze Park / 김녕 미로공원
I was never a big Harry Potter fan, but even I have to admit that the maze scene in The Goblet of Fire movie (or more recently, the Maze Runner) had me intrigued . A maze made out of bushes sounds like something straight out of fantasy, but such a thing does exist in Jeju Island. This is one of those ‘tourist traps’ that are so worth it (especially for a couple of bucks), but to give yourself a real challenge, try to solve the maze without using the map! It is right next to the lava tubes, so it’s even on the way.
12) Chuncheon / 춘천
Top 10, so let’s get serious here – It is time to talk about FOOD! If you want to leave Korea with tales of a meal you will remember for ages, look no further than Chuncheon. This city, which is now connected to the Seoul subway network, is the birthplace of “Dalk Galbi,” a fantastic spicy chicken BBQ. The city has a number of “dalk galbi streets” with Myeongdong (same name as the place in Seoul) being the closest to Chuncheon Station.
Edit for 2017: That Legoland I promised last year, sorry it keeps getting delayed! Looks like Legoland could open in 2018 or be scrapped altogether.
11) Suwon Hwaseong / 화성
The magnificent wall of Suwon made an appearance on my top things to do in Seoul, but it deserves recognition here as it is technically outside of Seoul. This miniature Great Wall is very well preserved and holds some cool surprises if you decide to go around the entire 5.74 kilometer circumference. Turret towers, fantastic gates, and even traditional Korean Archery are just a few of the activities and fantastic photo ops to be found in this UNESCO site. The picture above is a mosaic located at the foot of the palace which is located within the wall boundaries.
Note – This is also featured in the list: Top Things to do in Seoul
10) Sa-do Island / 사도
As one of the most out of the way places in Korea, Sa-do does not get the tourism it deserves. This beautiful island is actually a set of three islets that are linked together by an isthmus. During low tide, it even links up with a fourth island a bit further out. What makes Sado incredible is that together with a few other spots in Korea’s south coast, it holds up to 40% of all Cretaceous and Jurassic period dinosaur footprints in the world.
9) Buyeo Baekje Land / Complex / 백제문화단지
Together with Kongju, Buyeo (formerly known as ‘Sabi’) was once the capital of the great Baekje Kingdom. In an effort to revitalize interest in this lost civilization, the Korean government decided to rebuild the last Baekje palace, the incredible temple of Neungsa (pictured), and even the first palace of its founder, King Onjo. This site was opened to the public less than 5 years ago and sadly, very few visit with lots of the concession stands remaining empty in what is probably one of Korea’s best kept secret. In 2015, sites in Buyeo, Kongju and Iksan became Korea’s 12th UNESCO site, and while this place was not included for being a replica, it definitely is the highlight of the city.
8) Bulguksa and Seokguram Grotto / 불국사 + 석굴암
Bulguksa is a massive temple in the city of Gyeongju which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the best examples of Shilla era design and holds a number of ‘Korean treasures,’ including stone pagodas dating back to 750 CE. The early morning or the evening are the best bets to avoid the massive crowds as this too, is a favorite with the locals.
Seokguram Grotto is a satellite temple to Bulguksa at the top of the mountain and is just a short bus ride (or hour long hike) away from Bulguksa. The highlight is a solid stone Buddha in a cave which is widely considered one of Korea’s finest examples of Buddhist art.
7) Jeonju Hanok Village / 전주 한옥마을
Jeonju’s Hanok Village is comprised of hundreds of traditional hanok style houses surrounded by a very modern city. It is one of the most popular places to visit by both domestic and international visitors and for good reason. One of the more popular things to do is to rent a hanbok and roam around for a few hours. Personally, my favorite thing was roaming around the many alleys in the early hours of the morning right around sunrise for some spectacular views and a serene feeling.
Pro Tip – Already done the hanbok thing in Seoul? Me too, so I decided to try out one of the old high school student uniforms (pictured). Best decision ever.
6) Ulleungdo / 울릉도
The highest new entry to this list is none other than the fantastic island of Ulleungdo. Ulleungdo has long been recommended to me and while I’ve always been meaning to go, it is really cumbersome to reach and not exactly a destination for a single weekend. Anyways, Ulleungdo is pretty damn cool. It is one of the only places in Korea, outside of Jeju, to have bright touquoise waters and the trails on the edge of the island alone are worth the trip. Ulleungdo is primarily still a squid fishing town and you would be doing yourself a diservice if you don’t eat one… or ten squid while you’re there.
Pro Tip – I learned this too late, but hopefully it will help you. One of the issues with reaching Ulleungdo is that ferries are rather early, and even the earliest bus from Seoul won’t make it to the ferry terminal in time, so you’re forced to stay a night in Gangneung (which is what I did). It turns out, Korean tour companies sell private bus/ferry combo tickets which coordinate a very early departure from Seoul to prevent that missed day. I was lucky enough to be able to buy that on the way back. Otherwise, you have to go from the ferry terminal to the bus depot and just hope there is still a bus departing to Seoul which isn’t full.
5) Hallasan National Park / 한라산국립공원
Jeju is a volcanic island that sits about an hour flight (or an incredibly long ferry ride) away from the capital city of Seoul. In the center is Mt. Halla, a massive volcano that last erupted a millennium ago. The mountain and the entire area around it are a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hikes themselves are all pretty awesome, but the crater lake at the top makes the 10 hour round trip worth while. If you like more peaceful hikes, the trails that don’t reach the summit are virtually deserted.
4) Gochang Dolmen Sites / 고창군고인돌
While you might not have heard the term ‘dolmens’ before, chances are that you are at least familiar with the most famous such site in the world, Stonehenge. The Gochang sites are not as large, but together with the sites in Hwasun and Ganghwa, account for 40%-50% of all dolmens in the world. These pre-historic Korean tombs are very well preserved and number in the hundreds, well worth the hassle of heading all the way south to Gochang to check them out. For those of us counting, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Korea’s least visited.
3) Haeinsa Temple / 해인사
Haeinsa is one of the Three Jewel Temples of Korea. Located within Gayasan National Park, getting there requires a 2km hike up the mountain from where the bus drops you off (and is half the fun). The temple itself is reminiscent of many of Korea’s best Buddhist temples, but there are two things that set it apart.
First, as a participant of the Templestay program, Haeinsa the most important temple in the whole country to offer this service in English. It is seriously one of the coolest things to do in Korea where you live a day as a Zen Buddhist monk.
Secondly, Haeinsa is a UNESCO site for its possession of the Tripitaka Koreana, the oldest known flawless version of the Zen Buddhist Sutra. These 80,000 woodblocks are unreal and you owe it to yourself to see them with your own eyes.
2) De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) / 한반도 비무장지대
For those of you who live under a rock, the DMZ is the 4 km wide line dividing the DPRK and South Korea. Despite its name, the DMZ is the most heavily guarded border in the world, separating two countries that are culturally, historically, and ethnically homogeneous, but philosophically and politically worlds apart.
Access to the DMZ is by tour only with the highlight being the Joint Security Area. Seriously, the tour is not even worth it without the JSA part. After a very intense briefing by a US military officer, you will be led to the literal line that divides North and South. It is an area on the DMZ without a fence, barbed wire, landmines, and one only needs to take a few steps to be behind enemy lines. This is where the famed blue buildings stand, the UN meeting place to broker deals between the two countries as they have no official diplomatic relations.
Pro Tip – Having visited the DMZ twice, I definitely recommend the USO tour above any other.
Note – This is also featured in the list: Top Things to do in Seoul
1) Hahoe Traditional Folk Village / 하회마을
Korea is not as popular as Japan, China, or really, any of its other Asian neighbors and it really got me thinking about why this is the case. I could never put my finger on it for many years and I came to a conclusion recently. You see, most countries have a ‘signature attraction,’ something that goes beyond the regular list of things to do because it is an absolute MUST SEE in that country. Japan has this with Kyoto or Tokyo, Beijing’s Great Wall or Terracotta Army fit the bill, too. Cambodia has Angkor, Myanmar has Bagan, and so on… but to be honest, nothing in Seoul has this kind of caliber. Don’t get me wrong, there are more things to do in Seoul than the average city, and it is amazing in its own right, but even my favorite place, Gyeongbokgung, could be skippable for some people. That is when it hit me. Korea’s crown jewel is and always has been Hahoe Village.
Hahoe is a magnificent village frozen in time with unique traditions, a deep history, and truly breathtaking views. It lacks all of that glitz that sometimes ruins what would otherwise be perfectly good Korean tourist attractions (certain jeju waterfall comes to mind) and it is the simplicity that makes it beautiful. Andong’s International Mask Festival, which is my favorite festival in Korea, traces is roots back here and no matter how many times you visit, you will want to come back. I have passed by three times now and plan to continue my yearly tradition for years to come. If there is one place you visit outside of Seoul, nothing beat Hahoe Village.
- Honorable Mention (Missed the Cut): Gwangali Beach, Muuido Island, Jungmun Beach (Jeju), Abai Village, Buyeo National Museum, Gyeongju National Museum, Bigeumdo Island, Pyeongchang Ski Resort, Thomas Edison Museum (Gangneung), Tomb of Sejong the Great, Damyang Bamboo Forest, Damyang Metasequioa Road, Magoksa Temple, Play Doci, Seonggwangsa
- Dishonorable Mention (Will Forever Miss the Cut): Nami Island, Sheep Farm, Yeosu Aquarium
- Places I Am Aware of, But Have Yet to Visit: Bangudae Petroglyphs, Upo Wetland, Hongdo Island, Geojedo Island, Bijindo Island, Ulsan City, Dokdo Island, Pohang, Sejong City, Tongdosa Temple, Jinju, Ollehs (Jeju), Gangjingun Kiln Sites / Celadon Museum, Dinosaur Footprint Sites (Boseong), Gyeongju Land, Caribbean Bay, High 1 Ski Resort, Gochang Wildlife Reserve, Gamcheon Village, Oedo Island, Tongyeong Island, Ho-Am Art Museum, Donghae, Whale Museum