The Western world may be chatting away on Samsung mobiles, driving new Hyundai cars and watching Daewoo DVD players, but the country these consumer goods all come from – South Korea – remains a bit of a blank on most travellers’ maps, even though it’s one of the most compelling destinations in the Far East.
Located on a dramatic, mountainous peninsula between Japan and China, South Korea presents a curious mix of ancient and modern. Its capital, Seoul, is a teeming megalopolis of skyscrapers and multi-lane freeways, but behind the towers of glass and concrete lurk numerous thousand-year-old vestiges of an illustrious Buddhist civilization every bit as technologically advanced, for its time, as contemporary South Korea is in today’s world.
In striking contrast to the cutting-edge modernity of the cities, this is also a country of keen outdoor enthusiasts who make the most of their national parks, where tracts of rugged mountains and pine forest make ideal terrain for treks, biking and winter sports.
While the north is alpine in appearance and climate, the south – the region’s ginseng belt – is tropical. Rice paddy surrounds snug farming villages, where you’ll see locals in baggy overalls and conical straw hats bending knee-deep in expanses of reflective water and vivid green rice shoots. And the coastline is spectacular, too, with numerous white-sand beaches, fringed by coral reefs, turquoise seas and volcanic rock formations.
The reason most foreigners travel to South Korea, however, is for a glimpse of its superb ancient monuments – the largest collection of which centres of the city of Gyeongju, whose streets are studded with magnificent historic shrines, tombs and palaces. While you’re there, be sure to sample the scrumptious national dish – kimchi – a spicy concoction of Chinese cabbage or fiery white radish, mixed with chestnuts, turnips, fish flakes and red pepper.
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South Korea holiday types
South Korea Places and Experiences
A megalopolis of over 10 million people, Seoul feels like a city on a mission. Modernity is undoubtedly the capital’s keynote, but recent years have seen efforts to reconnect with its underlying natural landscape and history: the Cheonggye...
Gyeongju, half a day’s journey southeast of the capital, was the seat of the powerful Silla dynasty, who ruled over the region between 57 BC and 935 AD. An exceptional crop of monuments survives as their legacy, the most impressive of them...
Seoraksan National Park
Seoraksan, in the far northeast of Korea, takes its name from the mountain whose snow-streaked heights form the park’s centrepiece. Renowned as much for its floral diversity as its dramatic scenery, the sanctuary is especially popular duri...
Busan & Geumjeongsan
Korea’s second largest city after Seoul, Busan is the country’s principal port, and the departure point for ferries bound for Jeju Island. Koreans flock here for the local beaches in summer, and to sample the seafood at Jagalchi market, wh...
Andong & Hahoe
The region northwest of Gyeongju, around the provincial town of Andong, has long been one of the most conservative in Korea. Many of the Confucian elite of the Joseon era maintained hanok manor houses in the area from the 16th century, num...
Suggested tours to South Korea
South Korea Explorer
Tailor-made Tour 12 days from £4830 per person
Just shy of a fortnight in duration, this 12-day tour offers exceptional variety. You’ll begin in the capital, acclimatising with visits to the city’s superb palaces, museums and atmospheric arts enclave of Insadong, with its old-style tea shops, an...
Flavours of the Far East
Tailor-made Tour 14 days from £5154 per person
Discover the culinary delights of the Far East on this unique tour of South Korea and Japan. From mouth-watering street foods and sensory fine dining experiences to hands-on cooking demonstrations; this tour will bring you closer to one of the most ...
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