Lonely Planet Korea by Lonely Planet, Trent Holden, and Rebecca Milner - Read Online
Lonely Planet Korea
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Summary

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Korea is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Walk along Cheong-gye-cheon's long-buried stream, hike around Jeju-do's volcanic landscape, or jump into a vat of mud during the Boryeong Mud Festival; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Korea and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Korea Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - including customs, history, art, literature, cinema, music, dance, architecture, politics, and wildlife Free, convenient pull-out Seoul map (included in print version), plus over 97 local maps Covers Seoul, Incheon, Jeju-do, Gyeonggi-do, Gangwon-do, Cheongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Sokcho, Samcheok, Chungju, Daejeon, Gongju, Daegu, North Korea, Pyongyang, Panmunjom, the DMZ, and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience Seamlessly flip between pages Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash Embedded links to recommendations' websites Zoom-in maps and images Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Korea, our most comprehensive guide to Korea, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for a guide focused on Seoul? Check out our Lonely Planet Seoul guide for a comprehensive look at all the city has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

Published: Lonely Planet on
ISBN: 9781760340230
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Korea

Contents

Plan Your Trip

Welcome to Korea

Korea's Top 13

Need to Know

First Time

If You Like...

Month by Month

Itineraries

Outdoor Activities

Regions at a Glance

On The Road

Seoul

History

Sights

Activities

Courses

Tours

Festivals & Events

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking & Nightlife

Entertainment

Shopping

Around Seoul

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) & Joint Security Area (JSA)

Heyri

Suwon & Around

Anyang Art Park

Donggureung

Namhansanseong

Icheon

Incheon

Yeongjongdo

Muuido

West Sea Islands

Ganghwado

Gangwon-do

Chuncheon

Samak-san

Sokcho

Around Sokcho

Seoraksan National Park

Gangneung

Around Gangneung

Pyeongchang

Gohan

Odaesan National Park

Samcheok

Around Samcheok

Wonju

Chiaksan National Park

Gyeongsangbuk-do

Daegu

Around Daegu

Gyeongju

Around Gyeongju

Pohang

Ulleungdo

Andong

Hahoe Folk Village

Cheongnyangsan Provincial Park

Juwangsan National Park

Busan & Gyeongsangnam-do

Busan

Gajisan Provincial Park

Geojedo

Tongyeong

Jinju

Namhaedo

Jirisan National Park East

Jeollanam-do

Jeollanam-do Highlights

Gwangju

Around Gwangju

Damyang

Unju-sa

Gurye

Suncheon & Around

Yeosu

Boseong

Gangjin

Haenam

Wando

Mokpo

Around Mokpo

Dadohae Haesang National Park

Jeju-do

Gimnyeong Beach

Manjang-gul

Woljeong Beach

Sehwa-ri & Hado-ri ,

Seongsan-ri & Sinyang-ri ,

Seongeup Folk Village

Seogwipo

Jungmun Resort & Around

Sagye-ri

Hallasan National Park

Sangumburi

Moseulpo

Inland Region

Hallim

Jeollabuk-do

Jeollabuk-do Highlights

Jeonju

Around Jeonju

Naejangsan National Park

Muju & Deogyusan National Park ,

Gochang & Around

Byeonsan-bando National Park

Gunsan & Seonyudo ,

Chungcheongnam-do

Chungcheongnam-do Highlights

Daejeon

Gyeryongsan National Park

Gongju

Around Gongju

Magok-sa

Buyeo

Boryeong & Around

Sapsido

Taean-haean National Marine Park

Anmyeondo

Taean

Chungcheongbuk-do

Chungcheongbuk-do Highlights

Cheongju

Around Cheongju

Songnisan National Park

Chungju

Around Chungju

Chungju-ho

Suanbo

Woraksan National Park

Danyang

Sobaeksan National Park

North Korea

North Korea Highlights

Pyongyang

Around North Korea

Kaesong

Panmunjom & the DMZ &

Myohyangsan

Hamhung

Wonsan

Kumgangsan

Nampo

Sinchon

Paekdusan

Chilbosan

Chongjin

Rajin-Sonbong -

Understand North Korea

North Korea Today

History

The Culture

Environment

Food & Drink

Survival Guide

Understand

Understand Korea

Korea Today

History

The Korean People

In the Korean Kitchen

Arts & Architecture

The Natural Environment

Survive

Directory AZ

Accommodation

Children

Customs Regulations

Discount Cards

Electricity

Embassies

Emergency

Gay & Lesbian Travellers

Health

Insurance

Internet Access

Legal Matters

Maps

Money

Opening Hours

Photography & Video

Post

Public Holidays

Safe Travel

Telephone

Time

Toilets

Tourist Information

Travellers with Disabilities

Visas

Volunteering

Work

Transport

Getting There & Away

Getting Around

Language

Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Welcome to Korea

Split by a fearsome border, the Korean Peninsula offers the traveller a dazzling range of experiences, beautiful landscapes and 5000 years of culture and history.

Ancient & Modern

The blue and red circle at the heart of the South Korean flag neatly symbolises the divided Korean Peninsula, but also the fluid mix of the ancient and the modern in the country officially called the Republic of Korea (ROK), where the vast majority of visitors will spend their time. South Korea is a dream destination – an engaging, welcoming place where the benefits of a high-tech nation are balanced by a reverence for tradition and the ways of old Asia.

Urban Marvel

Korea might be known as the Land of the Morning Calm, but dive into its capital Seoul, the powerhouse of Asia’s third-largest economy, and serenity is the last thing you’ll feel. This round-the-clock city is constantly on the move, with its work-hard, play-hard population the epitome of the nation’s indefatigable, can-do spirit. You can hardly turn a corner without stumbling across a tourist information booth, a subway station or a taxi in this multifaceted metropolis where meticulously reconstructed palaces rub shoulders with teeming night markets and the latest technological marvel.

Gorgeous Countryside

South Korea’s compact size and superb transport infrastructure mean that tranquillity can be found in easy reach of the urban sprawl. Hike to the summits of craggy mountains enclosed by densely forested national parks. Some of those same mountains transform into ski slopes come winter. Get further off the beaten path than you thought possible by sailing to remote islands, where farming and fishing folk welcome you into their homes and simple seafood cafes. Chill out in serene villages surrounded by rice fields, sleeping in rustic hanok (traditional wooden house) guesthouses.

Festivals & Food

Rest assured the ROK also knows how to rock. A packed calendar of festivals and events means there’s almost always a celebration of some sort to attend wherever you are – it might be Boryeong for its mud fest, or Gwangju for its Biennale or its annual salute to that most Korean of foods: kimchi. Friendly Koreans are always delighted to share their culture with visitors – often that means over a shared meal with a tantalising array of dishes and plenty of toasts with local alcoholic beverages.

Hwaseong, Suwon

PANYA KHAMTUY/500PX ©

Why I Love Korea

By Simon Richmond, Author

For all of its headlong rush into the 21st century on a hallyu (Korean popular culture wave), what charms me most about the ROK is its proud promotion of age-old traditions and culture. I fondly recall meditating at a Buddhist temple retreat where the honk of traffic was replaced by the rhythmic predawn chants of shaven-headed monks; hiking along Seoul's 600-year-old city walls; and walking parts of the Jeju Olle Trail, connecting with history and island traditions on the way. My taste buds also tingle with the memory of one of Asia’s least known, but most delicious, cuisines.

Korea’s Top 13

Changdeokgung

The ‘Palace of Illustrious Virtue’ was built in the early 15th century as a secondary palace to Gyeongbukgung, though these days this Unesco World Heritage–listed property exceeds Gyeongbukgung in beauty and grace – partly because so many of its buildings were actually lived in by members of the royal family well into the 20th century. The most charming section is the Huwon, a ‘secret garden’ that is a royal horticultural idyll. Book well ahead to snag one of the limited tickets to view this special palace on a moonlight tour held on full-moon nights from April to June.

HENDRIK H / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Hiking Around Jeju-do

The frequently dramatic volcanic landscape of Jeju-do, the largest of South Korea’s many islands, is best seen on foot. The Jeju Olle Trail is a network of 26 half- to full-day hiking routes that meander around the island’s coast, part of the hinterland and three other islands. Spending a day following all or part of a trail is a wonderful way to soak up Jeju’s unique charms and beautiful surroundings. The summit of Hallasan, the country’s highest peak, is also very achievable and, in good weather, provides spectacular views.

FILIP NYMAN / 500PX ©

Top Experiences

Boryeong Mud Festival

Every July, thousands of people converge on the welcoming seaside town of Boryeong and proceed to jump into gigantic vats of mud. Welcome to the Boryeong Mud Festival. The official line is that the local mud has restorative properties, but one look around and it’s clear that no one cares for much except having a slippery, sloshin’, messy good time. Mud aside, this foreigner-friendly and high-profile festival also features concerts, raves and fireworks. A tip: don’t wear anything you want to keep!

CHUNG SUNG-JUN / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Suwon’s Hwaseong Fortress

Built as an act of filial devotion and heavily damaged during the colonisation period of the early 20th century and again in the Korean War, the restoration of this Unesco World Heritage Site began in the 1970s and is now almost finished. A detailed 1801 record of its construction has allowed the 5.52km-long wall and the Hwaseong Haenggung (a palace for the king to stay in during his visits to Suwon) to be rebuilt with great historical accuracy. A walk around the wall takes you through four grand gates.

CHOO YOUN-KONG / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Cheong-gye-cheon

A raised highway was demolished to allow reconstruction of this long-buried stream. The effort has transformed central Seoul, creating a riverside park and walking course that provides a calm respite from the surrounding commercial hubbub. Public art is dotted along the banks of the stream and many events are held here, including a spectacular lantern festival in November, when thousands of giant glowing paper sculptures are floated in the water. There’s also a good museum where you can learn about the history of the Cheon-gye-cheon.

LOOP IMAGES / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Skiing in Pyeongchang County

They say third time’s a charm, and so Pyeongchang won the chance to host the Winter Olympics with its third bid. In 2018 the Games will be held at the Alpensia and Yongpyong ski resorts, as well as the Gangneung coastal area. Located near each other, Alpensia and Yongpyong have dozens of runs, including slopes for families and beginners, views of the East Sea (Sea of Japan) on clear days and some spanking-new accommodation and leisure facilities.

RICHARD NEBESKY / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Jeonju Hanok Maeul

Jeonju’s version of a traditional village is impressive even though many of the buildings are new. The slate-roof houses are home to traditional arts – artisans craft fans, hand-make paper and brew soju (local vodka). Foodies will be pleased that the birthplace of bibimbap (rice, egg, meat and vegies with chilli sauce) offers the definitive version of this dish. If you decide to stay (and you will), you’ll find plenty of traditional guesthouses, where visitors sleep on a yo (padded quilt) in an ondol (underfloor heating) room. There’s even one run by the grandson of King Gojong.

MICHELE BURGESS / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Gwangjang Market

During the day it’s known for its secondhand clothes and fabrics, but it’s at night that Gwangjang really comes into its own, when some of the market’s alleys fill with vendors selling all manner of street eats. Stewed pigs’ trotters and snouts, gimbap (rice, vegies and Spam wrapped in rice and rolled in sheets of seaweed) and bindaettok (plate-sized crispy pancakes of crushed mung beans and vegies fried on a skillet) are all washed down with copious amounts of magkeolli and soju (local liquors).

ED JONES / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Busan

Mountains, beaches, street food and a cosmopolitan vibe make Busan, Korea's second-largest metropolis, one of the country's most enjoyable cities in which to hang out. Its top attraction is the atmospheric, waterside Jagalchi Fish Market, where you can buy and eat the freshest of seafood. Also don't miss sunrise on Haeundae beach; the Busan Cinema Center, an architecturally dazzling structure with the biggest screen in the country; strolling the lanes of Gamcheon Culture Village; sampling the local dessert sulbing; and knocking back shots of soju in a tent bar.

DESIGNED BY: COOP HIMMELB(L)AU, PHOTO: NATHAN WILLOCK / VIEW / CORBIS ©

Top Experiences

Bulguk-sa

It’s hard to choose just one standout treasure in and around magnificent Gyeongju, but this Unesco World Heritage cultural site is most likely to take the honour, not least because it contains seven Korean ‘national treasures’ within its walls. The high point of the so-called golden age of Shilla architecture, this incredibly sophisticated yet wonderfully subtle temple complex, with its internal pagodas, external bridges and gorgeous, undulating scenery, is a monument to the skill of its carpenters, painters, craftspeople and architects.

TRAVELASIA / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Templestay at Guin-sa

A bell rings and you wake at 3.30am to prepare for a morning meditation session. Breakfast is an austere meal, taken in silence so you can contemplate the ache in your bones from bowing 108 times in front of a Buddha image. Later, you’ll have more meditation time to contemplate the surrender of your body and mind in the search for inner peace. A templestay is the perfect antidote to fast-paced modern Korea, and while the country is awash with temples, the impressive fortress-like compound of Guin-sa is among the finest.

TOPIC PHOTO AGENCY / CORBIS ©

Top Experiences

Hahoe Folk Village

The closest thing Korea has to a time machine, the charming Hahoe Folk Village, some way from Andong, is a truly wonderful experience for anyone wanting to get a sense of how Korea looked, felt, sounded and smelled before the 20th century changed the country forever. More than 200 people continue to live here, maintaining traditional ways and customs and even inviting people to spend the night in their minbak (private homes with rooms for rent). For a slice of old Korea, Hahoe should be at the top of your list.

STEPHAN SCHERHAG / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

The DMZ

It’s known as the Demilitarized Zone. But this 4km-wide, 250km-long heavily mined and guarded buffer, splitting North from South Korea, is anything but. An enduring Cold War symbol, the DMZ has become a surreal tourist draw, on both sides of the border. The tension is most palpable in the Joint Security Area, the neutral area built after the 1953 Armistice for the holding of peace talks, which can only be visited on an organised tour. Seven observations points along the South Korean side of the DMZ allow visitors to peer into the secretive North.

KEREN SU / GETTY IMAGES ©

Need to Know

Currency

Korean won (₩)

Language

Korean

Visas

Australian, British, US and most Western European citizens receive a 90-day entry permit on arrival. Five-day-only stays on Jeju-do are visa free.

Money

ATMs with a ‘Global’ sign work with internationally issued cards; very few are open 24 hours. Credit cards are widely accepted, except in the countryside.

Mobile Phones

South Korea uses the CDMA digital standard; check compatibility with your provider. Mobile phones can be hired at international airports and elsewhere.

Time

Nine hours ahead of GMT/UCT

When to Go

High Season (Jun–Sep)

A Be prepared for sweltering heat and a very heavy rainy season through July across the peninsula.

Shoulder (May, Oct)

A Late spring sees the country bathed first in blossoms then fresh greenery. In autumn you can experience nature in all its russet shades.

Low Season (Nov–Apr)

A Temperatures plummet and snow falls. Best time for skiing and visiting museums and galleries.

Useful Websites

Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/south-korea) Best for pre-planning.

Korea Tourism Organization (KTO; www.visitkorea.or.kr) Official government-run site.

Korea4Expats (www.korea4expats.com) Covers many aspects of Korean life.

Korea.net (www.korea.net) A treasure trove of background detail on the ROK.

Everyday Korea (http://wiki.everydaykorea.com) Info on a whole range of Korean topics.

Important Numbers

Exchange Rates

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than ₩100,000

A Dorm bed: ₩20,000

A Street food: ₩1000–5000

A Hiking: free

A Entry to National Museum of Korea: free

A Subway ticket: ₩1300

Midrange: ₩100,000–300,000

A Hanok guesthouse: ₩70,000

A Entry to Gyeongbokgung (Palace of Shining Happiness): ₩3000

A Barbecued pork meal: ₩40,000

A Theatre ticket: ₩40,000

Top End: More than ₩300,000

A High-end hotel: ₩200,000

A Royal Korean banquet: ₩80,000

A Scrub and massage at a jjimjil-bang (luxury sauna): ₩60,000

A DMZ tour: ₩100,000

Opening Hours

Banks 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday, ATMs 7am to 11pm

Restaurants 11am to 10pm

Cafes 7am to 10pm

Bars 6pm to 1am, longer hours Friday and Saturday

Shops 10am to 8pm

Arriving in Korea

Incheon Airport %02-1577 2600; W) (Seoul)

Express trains (₩8000, 43 minutes) run every 30 minutes to Seoul; there are also commuter trains (₩3850, 53 minutes). Buses (₩10,000) and taxis (around ₩65,000) take an hour or more, depending on traffic.

Gimpo Airport %02-1661 2626; gimpo.airport.co.kr; West Seoul) (Seoul)

Express trains (₩1400, 15 minutes) run regularly to Seoul station. You can also catch the subway (₩1400, 35 minutes). Buses (₩7500) and taxis (around ₩35,000) take 40 minutes to one hour to the city centre.

Gimhae Airport (Busan)

Limo buses (₩6000 to ₩7000, one hour) and regular buses (₩1600, one hour) connect to Busan every 20 minutes. Or you can take the light rail line to Sasang subway station (₩2800, one hour). Taxis (around ₩40,000) take 30 minutes to one hour to the city.

Getting Around

Transport in South Korea is reasonably priced, quick and efficient.

Plane There are dozens of local airports and reasonable fares to several destinations, such as Jeju-do, thanks to competition from budget airlines.

Train Excellent but not comprehensive network with clean, comfortable and punctual trains. It's worth looking into a KR Pass even for something as straightforward as a return Seoul–Busan train.

Bus Cheaper and slower than trains but serving every corner of the country.

Ferry Connecting the mainland to hundreds of islands.

Car Not recommended for first-time visitors. You must be over 21 and have an international driving permit.

First Time

Checklist

A Check the validity of your passport

A If you plan to hire a car, bring a current international driving permit

A Check airline baggage restrictions

A Check government travel websites

A Call banks and credit card providers and tell them your travel dates

A Organise travel insurance

A Check whether your mobile phone is compatible with Korea's CDMA digital standard

What to Pack

A Passport

A Credit card

A Phrasebook or mini dictionary

A Slip-on shoes

A Travel plug

A Insect repellent

A CDMA-enabled phone

A Painkillers (or other hangover cure)

A Padlock

A Medical kit

A Sunscreen

A Penknife

A Torch (flashlight)

A Earplugs

A Eye mask

A Inflatable pillow

A Raincoat

Top Tips for Your Trip

A It's worth investing in a KR Pass even if you make only one longish trip on a fast train, such as Seoul to Busan return.

A Save money on public transport fares (and also pay for taxis) using a touch-and-go T-Money Card.

A Check with local tourist offices about free guided tours with students and others citizens who speak English and other languages.

A Spend over ₩30,000 at shops participating in the Global Refund scheme and you can claim VAT back on leaving the country.

A Hops from Seoul to Jeju-do on budget airlines may seem cheap, but check on baggage restrictions and extra costs before deciding – flying with Korean Air or Asiana may work out a better deal.

What to Wear

The vast majority of Koreans wear Western-style dress these days, although you’ll sometimes see people in hanbok (Korean clothing). The best version of this type of clothing – in fine silks and organza – are usually worn by women, and sometimes men, for formal occasions. More casual pyjama-style hanbok are made from cotton and are very comfortable for everyday wear.

For business, Koreans are quite formal and men wear suits and ties.

Sleeping

In general you don’t need to worry about where to stay – hotels and motels are so numerous there's usually little need to book ahead.

A Motels The most common form of accommodation. Most offer well-equipped, if plain, rooms. Some can be fancy, particularly rent-by- the-hour love hotels.

A Hanok Guesthouses Often only have a few rooms, so advance booking is advised.

A Hostels Common in cities and the best place to meet fellow travellers and English-speaking Koreans.

Advance Planning

If you are travelling over any of Korea’s major holidays, you should book all internal transport well ahead of time.

Think about booking ahead if you wish to stay at a hanok (traditional house), as these have only three or four guest rooms in total. Top-end international chain hotels can also fill up when conferences are in town.

Hiking on the weekend can be a madhouse – schedule your hikes for a weekday instead. The same goes for skiing trips in winter.

Book the USO tour to the DMZ as soon as you can, as it fills up.

Bargaining

Try bargaining if you're prepared to pay in cash and buy in bulk at markets, from street and subway vendors and even, occasionally, for big-ticket items in department stores.

Tipping

A When to Tip Generally not expected.

A Restaurants No need to tip; only top-end hotel restaurants will add a service charge.

A Guides Not expected; a small gift will be appreciated, though.

A Taxis No need to tip; fares are metered or agreed before you get in.

A Hotels Only in the most luxurious do you need to tip bellboys etc, and only if service is good.

Etiquette

There are several social rules that Koreans stick to, although they will generally be relaxed about foreigners doing likewise. Follow these tips to avoid faux pas:

A Meetings & Greetings A quick, short bow is most respectful for meetings and departures. Give or receive any object using both hands – especially name cards (an essential feature of doing business in Korea), money and gifts.

A Shoes Remove your shoes on entering a Korean home, guesthouse, temple or Korean-style restaurant.

A Eating & Drinking Pour drinks for others and use both hands when pouring or receiving. Use chopsticks or a spoon to touch food and don’t leave either sticking up in a bowl of rice.

A Loss of Face A mishandled remark or potentially awkward scene should be smoothed over as soon as possible, and if you sense someone actively trying to change the subject, go with the flow. An argument or any situation that could lead to embarrassment should be avoided at all costs.

ULLSTEIN BILD / GETTY IMAGES ©

Language

Korean is the common language. It’s relatively easy to find English speakers in the big cities, but not so easy in smaller towns and the countryside. Learning the writing system, hangeul, and a few key phrases will help you enormously in being able to decode street signs, menus and timetables. In big cities, nearly all the street signs are in Korean and English.

If You Like…

Traditional Architecture

Changdeokgung The most attractive of Seoul’s palaces, this World Heritage–listed site also has a ‘secret garden’

Bukchon Hanok Village Around 900 hanok (traditional wooden houses) make this Seoul’s largest neighbourhood of traditional homes

Seokbul-sa Hidden in the mountains of Busan, this temple perches daintily among enormous cliff-like boulders

Jeonju Hanok Maeul Jeonju’s sprawling hanok village is a charming nod to Korea’s low-slung architectural style

Seongeup Folk Village Step back in time in this walled village of thatched stone homes on Jeju-do

Hahoe Folk Village People still live in the rustic homes in this beautiful riverside village complex

Haein-sa This religious complex houses the Tripitaka Koreana: 81,258 wooden printing blocks containing Buddhist scriptures

Crafts & Shopping

Namdaemun Market Open round the clock, with more than 10,000 stores dealing in everything from seaweed to spectacles

Shinsegae Centum City Shop till you drop in Busan at the world’s largest department store

Icheon Ceramic Village See traditional kilns and buy beautiful pots directly from their makers

Gangjin Celadon Museum Before you buy, watch celadon (green-glazed pottery) being crafted and kiln-fired here

Daegu’s Herbal Medicine Market Stock up on anything from cheap ginseng to reindeer horns at this fascinating market

Damyang Long famed for its bamboo products, this town holds a bamboo crafts festival in May

Daein Market Fifty-plus artists have studios beside regular stalls at this traditional market in Gwangju

Outdoor Activities

Jeju Olle Trail%762 2170; www.jejuolle.org) Discover Jeju-do's byways on this excellent series of hiking routes around the volcanic island

Cycle along the Han River Pedal the cycle lanes linking the parks strung along Seoul’s major waterway

Wolchulsan National Park Hike through Korea’s smallest national park over a vertigo-inducing 52m-high bridge spanning two ridges

Seogwipo( MAP GOOGLE MAP) Korea’s best scuba-diving destination, with colourful corals, kelp forests and dolphins

High1 Check out the ski season at this resort in the mountains west of Taebaek

Seoul City Wall Hike beside these ancient walls as they snake over the capital’s four guardian mountains

Saryangdo Tackle jagged ridges, 400m peaks, ropes and ladders on the hike around this beautiful island off the coast of Tongyeong

Wolchulsan National Park, Jeollanam-do

CHRIS CUSICK / 500PX©

World Heritage Sites

Jongmyo The royal ancestral shrine set in peaceful wooded grounds is just one of several World Heritage sites in Seoul

Namhan Sanseong Hike beside 17th-century fortress walls surrounded by beautiful pine and oak forests and wild flowers

Hwaseong Suwon’s impressive fortress walls have been meticulously reconstructed with great historical accuracy

Gochang Thousands of bronze-age tombs known as dolmen dot the hills around this small village

Gyeongju Prime examples of Buddhist art in the form of sculptures, reliefs, temples and palace architecture

Jeju-do The dormant volcanoes, Hallasan and Seongsan Ilchulbong, and a network of lava-tube caves are all World Heritage worthy

Seokguram A superb mid-8th-century stone Buddha resides in the mountains above the Bulguk-sa temple

Contemporary Buildings

Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park Zaha Hadid’s sleek building is straight out of a sci-fi fantasy

Seoul City Hall This giant glass wave is a modern reinterpretation of traditional Korean design

Busan Cinema Center Architecturally dazzling structure with the biggest screen in the country

Paju Book City(www.pajubookcity.org) The hub of Korea’s book industry is based in a complex of futuristic award-winning buildings that are a must for architectural buffs

Songdo International City Marvel at this model urban development in the bay off Incheon

Glass House( MAP GOOGLE MAP) and Genius Loci( MAP GOOGLE MAP) Two stunning structures designed by Japanese architect Ando Tadao in the Phoenix Island resort on Jeju-do

Museums & Galleries

National Museum of Korea Packed with national treasures spanning the centuries

Leeum Samsung Museum of Art Three top architect-designed buildings and a dazzling collection of art from ancient to contemporary

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art(MMCA; bLine 4 to Seoul Grand Park, Exit 4, then shuttle bus) Make the trek out to Seoul Grand Park to see this classy art museum

Asian Culture Complex New collection of galleries and performance spaces on the main site of Gwangju's May 18 uprising

Arario Museum A quartet of renovated buildings in Jeju-si house showcase an outstanding collection of contemporary art

Gyeongju National Museum Houses a superb collection of artefacts from the Shilla dynasty and beyond

Daegu National Museum One of Korea’s best regional museums, packed with everything from armour to Buddhist relics

Top Tastes

Namdo Food Festival(www.namdofood.or.kr/www/page/) Tuck into hundreds of different dishes, including the love-it-or-loathe-it hongeo samhap (fermented skate)

Busan Sink your teeth into a twitching squid tentacle at Jagalchi Fish Market, or snack on the nether parts of chickens in tent bars

Jeonju Eat bibimbap, Korea’s most famous culinary export (after kimchi, of course), at its birthplace

Boseong Try the green-tea ice cream, green-tea noodles and green-tea biscuits close by tea plantations

Jeju Mawon Sample raw horsemeat at this restaurant in a mock-up of a Joseon Palace in Jungmun Resort

Chuncheon Along Dakgalbi Geori there are 20-plus restaurants serving the town's famous spicy chicken dish, dakgalbi

Gwangjang Market Sample super-tasty and cheap street food in one of Seoul's massive covered markets

Sokcho Platters of raw fish and other seafood delights at this east-coast port

Sansawon Brewery & Museum Unlimited tastings during the tour of this producer of traditional Korean liquors

Offbeat Experiences

Dragon Hill Spa & Resort Strip down for a communal steam and full-body scrub at this fancy jjimjil-bang (upmarket sauna) in Seoul

Chamsori Gramophone & Edison Museum If you love music and the spirit of invention, don’t miss this astounding collection of vintage machines

Cheorwon March along a North Korean infiltration tunnel under the DMZ and peer into North Korea

Haesindang Park Admire phallic sculptures in this park in the fishing village of Sinnam

Sex Museums Gain a very adult education at Jeju-do’s trio of nookie-obsessed exhibitions

Kumsusan Sun Memorial Palace of the Sun Pay your respects to the embalmed body of Great Leader Kim Il-sung in his former palace

Mr Toilet House Hilarious poo-related exhibits and more serious sanitation issues at this toilet-shaped museum in Suwon

Unification Park Climb aboard a captured North Korean submarine at this east-coast seafront park

Scenic Spots

Suncheon-man Rich mud beneath the rustling reeds attracts migratory birds and, in turn, scores of tourists

Paekdusan(Chinese border, far North North Korea; from Pyongyang) One of the best reasons to visit the DPRK is this stunning and fabled mountain

Bukhansan National Park Sweeping mountaintop vistas, maple leaves and rushing streams all within easy reach of Seoul

HeyrihBikes 10.30am-6.30pm) Wandering around this 'book village' with its contemporary buildings and quirky sculptures is a pleasure

Ji-dong Mural Village Outside Suwon's city walls, this labyrinth of grungy alleyways bursts with vibrant wall murals

Samjinae Village Enjoy the slow life in this village of centuries-old stone walls, homesteads and heritage houses

Jikji-sa Popular templestay in a postcard-pretty temple in a quiet forest

Geumgang Park Cable Car Providing breathtaking views of Busan's mountains, harbour and cityscape

Island Life

Namhaedo You’ll blink several times and think you’ve been transported to southern France on this gorgeous island

Ulleungdo This East Sea island offers mist-shrouded volcanic cliffs, traditional harbour towns and a breathtaking jagged coastline

Udo Admire the Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff cone volcano from the white coral-sand beach on this lovely island

So-Muuido Stroll around this car-free island at the southeastern tip of lovely Muuido

Jindo Spring tidal drops reveal a 2.8km-long causeway leading to the tiny island of Modo-ri

Sapsido Offers undeveloped beaches, bucolic villages surrounded by rice paddies, and the salty smell of fish

Namiseom Island(남이섬www.namisum.com; ₩8000) Spot deer, ostriches and waterfowl on this wooded, lake-bound island southwest of Chuncheon

Baengnyeongdo Stunning rock formations and a frisson of danger on this island at the front line with North Korea

Namiseom Island

CALVIN CHAN / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Month by Month

Top Events

Yeon Deung Ho (Lotus Lantern Festival), May

Jongmyo Daeje, May

Boryeong Mud Festival, July

Busan International Film Festival, October

Gwangju Biennale, September to November

January

Come prepared for freezing temperatures and snow across much of the country, particularly in the mountains.

2 Taebaeksan Snow Festival

Marvel at giant ice sculptures and enjoy sledding fun at this winter celebration in Taebaeksan Provincial Park.

February

Local religious holidays and festivals follow the lunar calendar, while the rest follow the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Therefore, Seollal will sometimes occur in January.

z Seollal (Lunar New Year)

Koreans visit relatives, honour ancestors and eat traditional foods over this three-day national holiday. There are a number of events in Seoul during this time. For more information visit www.visitseoul.net or www.visitkorea.or.kr. In 2016 Seollal begins on 8 February, in 2017 on 28 January and in 2018 on 16 February.

April

Bring your raincoat and war clothes as the weather can still be wintry and wet. Early April is also when areas of Korea turn pink in a transient flurry of delicate cherry blossoms.

z Chinese Day Cultural Festival

This event (www.inchinaday.com) is held in Incheon's Jayu Park and around Chinatown in September as well as April.

z Yeongdeungpo Yeouido Spring Flower Festival

Masses of cherry blossoms around the Seoul island draw the biggest crowds, but you can also see the flowers on Namsan and at Ewha Woman's University.

z GIC Biennale

Running into May, the world’s largest biennale specialising in ceramics (www.kocef.org) is for people potty about pottery. It's held in odd-numbered years in Incheon.

2 Pyongyang Marathon

Held on the nearest Sunday to 15 April, Kim Il-sung’s birthday, this event (www.pyongyangmarathon.com) is a unique chance to run through the mysterious North Korean capital.

May

One of the most pleasant months in which to visit Korea, with good weather and fewer problems finding accommodation than in the busy summer months.

z Jongmyo Daeje

Held on the first Sunday of the month, this ceremony honours Korea’s royal ancestors and involves a solemn, costumed parade through downtown Seoul to the royal shrine at Jongmyo, where spectators can enjoy traditional music and an elaborate, all-day ritual.

z Lotus Lantern Festival

The weekend preceding Buddha's birthday, Seoul celebrates with a huge daytime street festival and evening lantern parade – the largest in South Korea.

z Buddha’s Birthday

Brings a kaleidoscope of light and colour, as rows of paper lanterns are strung down main thoroughfares and in temple courtyards across Korea (celebrated on 14 May in 2016, 3 May in 2017 and 22 May in 2018).

3 Chuncheon International Mime Festival

The lakeside city hosts street performers, magicians, acrobats and quirky shows such as a soap-bubble opera at this festival.

June

Warmer weather before the rains of July make this a great time to enjoy Korea's great outdoors on hiking trips and at the beach.

z Gangneung Danoje Festival

Recognised by Unesco as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, Gangneung's version of the Dano Festival is held according to the lunar calendar and features shamanist rituals, mask dances and market stalls.

July

It can rain – a lot – during this month, so make sure you have appropriate gear and arrange your travel plans accordingly.

3 Ansan Valley Rock Festival

One of Korea’s premier summer music festivals (www.valleyrockfestival.com), with a stellar line-up of international headliners as well quality K-Indie bands.

2 Boryeong Mud Festival

Head to Daecheon Beach to wallow in mud pools and take part in stacks of muddy fun and games.

August

Head for breezy coastal areas and the loftier mountains to find some relief from the sweltering heat of high summer.

2 Chungju World Martial Arts Festival

This festival is held in the World Martial Arts Park, where you’ll see all sorts of unusual martial arts with teams participating from across the world.

September

Book ahead for transport around Chuseok, when many Koreans are on the move visiting family and friends.

z Chuseok

The three-day Harvest Moon Festival is a major holiday when families gather, visit their ancestors’ graves to make offerings of food and drink and perform sebae (a ritual bow). Begins 14 September in 2016, 3 October 2017 and 23 September in 2018.

z Gwangju Biennale

Held from September until November in even-numbered years, Korea’s leading international art show is a two-month carnival of the avant-garde.

3 Mask Dance Festival

This 10-day festival in Andong, held at the end of the month and running into October, brings together more than 20 traditional dance troupes.

z Korea International Art Fair

Held at Seoul's COEX, KIAF is one of the region’s top art fairs and a good opportunity to get a jump on the country’s hot new artists.

October

Autumn is a great time to visit, particularly if you like hiking as this is the season when the mountains run through a palate of rustic colours.

3 Busan International Film Festival

Korea’s top international film festival, held in the architecturally stunning Busan Cinema Center, attracts stars from across Asia and beyond.

z Seoul International Fireworks Festival

Best viewed from Yeouido Hangang Park, this festival sees dazzling fireworks displays staged by both Korean and international teams.

z Baekje Cultural Festival

This major festival, packed with events, is held in Buyeo in even-numbered years and in Gongju in odd-numbered years.

5 Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival

Join the celebrations for Korea’s most famous contribution to the culinary arts. For details see http://kimchi.gwangju.go.kr.

z Incheon Bupyeong Pungmul Festival

Dance along to traditional folk music performances and experience other aspects of Korean culture; see www.icbp.go.kr/open_content/foreign/eng/festival.jsp for details.

Itineraries

South Korea’s Highlights

2 weeks

Access the best of Korea on this trip taking in the dynamic capital Seoul, the southern port of Busan, lost-in-time country towns, quirky sights and beautiful Jeju-do.

Spend four or five days in Seoul, including a day trip north to the DMZ. Next head east to Chuncheon, where you can cycle around Uiam Lake and sample the town’s famous chicken dish, dakgalbi.

Dine on fresh seafood in Sokcho then hike around the stunning peaks and waterfalls of Seoraksan National Park. Follow the coast south to Gangneung to view well-preserved Joseon-era buildings, quirky museums and a tiny North Korean spy submarine at Unification Park in Jeongdongjin. From Samcheok explore the huge Hwanseongul and Daegeumgul caves, as well as Haesindang Park, packed with phallic sculptures.

Delve into Korea's past at serene Hahoe Folk Village and Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Shilla kingdom, where you can spend a couple of days exploring royal tombs, the excellent museum and the World Heritage–listed grotto at Seokguram.

Busan, with its fish market, beaches and urban buzz, is worth a few days. From here fly to Jeju-do, where you can enjoy amazing volcanic scenery on leisurely hikes.

Itineraries

West Sea to East Sea

3 weeks

This cross-country itinerary is ideal for those looking to experience the more rustic and natural side of South Korea, with stops on ruggedly beautiful islands and hikes along leafy mountain trails.

From Incheon International Airport it’s a quick hop to the small, idyllic island of Muuido, from where you can walk to So-Muuido or relax on lovely beaches. Enjoy Chinese food in the historic Chinatown of Incheon, then stroll around the Open Port area. Take a direct bus to Suwon, where you can stride around the ramparts of the meticulously reconstructed fortress wall, explore the palace and tuck into the town’s famous galbi (beef ribs).

Gongju and Buyeo, the ancient capitals of the Baekje kingdom, are your next stops – hillside tombs, a fortress and museum will give you an insight into Korea’s oldest dynasty. After enjoying the sand, seafood and mud skincare spa of Daecheon Beach, sail to the serene island of Sapsido, where you can spend the night. Return to Daecheon and continue north by bus to Anmyeondo, the largest island in the Taean Haean National Marine Park. Continue working on your tan at either Khotji Beach or Mallipo Beach, or hike some the new Haebyeongil trails through the park.

Travel inland to Daejeon to soak at Yuseong Hot Springs. Continue to Cheongju, learn about the world’s oldest printed book then move on to Songnisan National Park, covering central Korea’s finest scenic area and home to a 33m-tall gold-plated Buddha statue.

Chungju is the gateway to lovely Woraksan National Park and for a two-hour scenic ferry trip across Chungju Lake to sleepy Danyang, which is small-town Korea at its most charming. Explore nearby limestone caves and the stately temple complex of Guin-sa within Sobaeksan National Park.

Use Andong as a base for exploring the surrounding area packed with attractive river and lakeside villages – it’s also famous for its soju (Korean-style vodka). It’s only a couple of hours by bus from here to Pohang. From Pohang visit Bogyeong-sa temple in a gorgeous valley with 12 waterfalls, then board the ferry to Ulleungdo, a sparsely inhabited, volcanic island.

Itineraries

The Deep South Trail

2 weeks

This 850km route around Korea’s greenest and least-industrialised region offers the opportunity to visit scores of rural islands, dine in countless seafood restaurants and dig deep into artistic traditions.

Jeonju, provincial capital of Jeollabuk-do, has a fascinating hanok village crammed with traditional houses and buildings. It’s also the birthplace of the classic rice dish bibimbap and a place to enjoy the milky rice wine makgeolli. Use it as a base for visiting the 6th-century Geumsan-sa temple in Moaksan Provincial Park. Don’t miss Maisan Provincial Park, where you can hike between a pair of ‘horse ear’ mountains and see a sculptural garden of stone pinnacles piled up by a Buddhist mystic at the Tap-sa %063 433 0012; 367 Maisannam-ro, Maryeong-myeon, Jinan-gun; adult/child/youth ₩2000/1000/1500) temple. Alternatively, go hiking or skiing in beautiful Deogyusan National Park.

The industrial port city of Gunsan boasts Korea’s largest collection of Japanese-colonial-period buildings. From here hop on a ferry to the relaxing island of Seonyudo, situated amid 60 mostly uninhabited small islands. When the tide is in and the sun is out, the views from here are unbelievably beautiful.

Bronze and Iron Age tombs dot the lush green hills around the small village of Gochang, where you can also explore the 15th-century, ivy-covered Moyang Fortress.

Further south, Gwangju is home to several interesting historical sites, museums and a major arts complex. Make a day trip to Damyang to stroll the sandy trails through its Juknokwon bamboo grove. Move on to the port of Mokpo to board boats to the remote havens of Heuksando and Hongdo in the Dadohae Haesang National Park.

Admire Korea’s centuries-old tradition of pottery at Gangjin and taste food and drinks made from healthy green tea at the beautiful Boseong Daehan Dawon Tea Plantation.

Go bird spotting in the Ramsar-listed wetlands of Suncheon Bay then continue to Yeosu, site of Expo 2012 and access point for Dolsando, where you can hike up to Hyangiram, a Buddhist temple perched on a cliff.

For a final island experience, take in terraced rice paddies and misty temples on picturesque Namhaedo. The trail finishes at Korea's second-largest city, Busan.

Itineraries

Itineraries

City & Country

2 weeks

Some of South Korea's top temples feature on this route linking its two main cities.

In Seoul attend a Templelife program at Jogye-sa or Bongeun-sa. Danyang is the transit point for Sobaeksan National Park, where you’ll find modern Guin-sa, headquarters of the Cheontae sect.

Daegu is the base for trips to stunning Haein-sa, housing a World Heritage–listed library of more than 80,000 14th-century woodblocks, and Jikji-sa, a magnificent temple dating to the 5th century.

Jinan is the access town for Tap-sa, a tiny temple surrounded by two ‘horse ear’ mountains and an extraordinary sculptural garden of 80 stone pinnacles (or towers). From Gwangju, visit Unju-sa, with its fine collection of stone pagodas and unusual twin and reclining Buddhas.

From Gongju, one-time capital of Korea’s Baekje dynasty, visit remote Magok-sa, with a hall of 1000 pint-sized disciples who are all slightly different.

Finish just outside of Busan at Tongdo-sa, which has an excellent Buddhist art museum containing 30,000 artefacts.

Itineraries

Seoul & Jeju-do Jaunt

2 weeks

This two-centre itinerary is well suited to parents travelling with kids.

Seoul's many parks, interactive museums and, in summer, outdoor swimming pools are ideal for family fun. Older kids will most likely be happy cruising the capital’s vast shopping malls and department stores looking for souvenirs of Korea’s pervasive pop culture.

Day trips include the beaches of the West Sea islands; Korea’s biggest amusement park, Everland %031 320 5000; h9.30am-10pm Sep-Jun, to 11pm Jul & Aug); and the Korean Folk Village. The latter two can just as easily be visited from Suwon, where it's fun to walk around the walls of an 18th-century fortress. North of Seoul, the modern village of Heyri offers inventive sculptures and art exhibits.

Hop on a flight to Jeju-do, blessed with a fascinating volcanic landscape and dozens of sandy beaches. Amusement and water parks, cycle and skate hire and a whole raft of adventure activities, from quad biking to scuba diving, are possible on this fun-packed island with plenty of world-class resorts.

Plan Your Trip

Outdoor Activities

Korea’s countryside, coastline and islands are a year-round outdoor playground with a range of activities, including hiking, cycling, diving, surfing, rafting and kayaking. With soaring mountains and a reliable snow record, it’s ideal for winter sports and in 2018 it will host the Winter Olympics.

Activity Tips

Top 5 Outdoor Adventures

Climb Halla-san, Jeju-do

Dive Seogwipo, Jeju-do

Ski at Alpensia, Pyeongchang

Cycle around Seonyudo

Hike through Jirisan National Park

Responsible Outdoors

Pay any entrance fees required by park authorities.

Obtain reliable information about route conditions and tackle only trails within your realm of experience and fitness level. Do not hike closed trails.

Be aware of local laws, regulations and etiquette about wildlife and the environment.

Be aware that the weather can change quickly and seasonal changes will influence how you dress and the equipment you need to carry.

Leave only footprints, take only photographs – don’t litter and don’t bring back souvenirs such as seashells or flowers.

Hiking & Rock Climbing

Hiking is Korea’s number-one leisure activity. There are 21 national parks and scores more provincial parks, threaded with thousands of trails – everything from leisurely half-day walks, such as those along the Jeju Olle Trail, to strenuous mountain-ridge treks. Basic shelters are available, but expect a full house during holidays, summer months and autumn weekends. If you’re planning a major overnight mountain trek, shelter reservations two weeks in advance are recommended. About a quarter of the trails may be closed at any one time to allow areas to regenerate.

A Korea National Park Service ( www.knps.or.kr ) For trail information and online reservations for park accommodation.

A Hike Korea ( www.hikekorea.com ) Learn about Korean mountain culture as well as many of the country’s best trails. The site’s author, Roger Shepherd, is one of the authors of Bakedu-Daegu Trail , a book that details the 1400km-long ‘White Head Great Ridge’ down the southern Korean Peninsula.

A Hiking Hub Korea ( www.hikinghubkorea.com/about-hiking-hub.html ) Downloadable PDFs of English-language hiking guides for many of Korea's mountains.

A Adventure Korea ( www.adventurekorea.com ) In addition to running hiking trips, this expat-focused operator offers other adventurous activities, including cycling and rafting trips.

A Korea on the Rocks ( www.koreaontherocks.com ) Details on rock and ice climbing across Korea.

Hikers at Odaesan National Park

THE WASHINGTON POST / GETTY IMAGES ©

Cycling

To hire a bike, some form of ID is usually required. A helmet or lock is almost never included unless you ask.

In major cities it's possible to rent bikes – Seoul has great bicycle trails along the Han River.

Resorts with waterfront and hordes of tourists are sure to have a stand where bikes can be hired. Most bike paths are geared towards leisure riders, with couples and families in mind, so expect well-marked, paved, flat trails designed for pleasure rather than intense cross-country exhilaration.

The 200km pedal around Jeju-do, Korea’s largest island, takes from three to five days, depending on your level of fitness and how quickly you wish to take it. Hwy 1132 runs around the entire island and has bicycle lanes on either side.

Another lovely island to cycle around is Seonyudo at the centre of the Gogunsan Archipelago, off the coast of Jeollabuk-do.

Filthy (www.mtbk-adventure.com) Written by Korea-based expats, this site details a selection of mountain-biking trails.

KOREA’S TOP PARKS

NATIONAL PARKS

PROVINCIAL PARKS

Skiing & Snowboarding

In 2018 Pyeongchang county in Gangwon-do will host the Winter Olympic Games, with Alpensia serving as the main resort and the larger Yongpyong nearby hosting the slalom events.

Korea's snow season runs from December to March. Lift tickets cost about ₩65,000 and equipment rentals about ₩30,000 per day. Package deals from travel agents include transport, tickets, rentals and, if required, lessons and accommodation. Overnight packages vary from ₩60,000 for a night in a minbak (private room in a home) or basic hotel, to upwards of ₩250,000 for condos and upmarket suites. Weekends are often very crowded, especially at resorts near Seoul. Skiers and snowboarders alike are catered for; boarding has become especially popular with Koreans in recent years.

Many resorts run dedicated shuttle buses to/from pick-up points in Seoul, making for a long, but easy, day on the slopes.

Gangwon-do

High1 Modern ski resort with among the best facilities and snow in Korea. Set in the Taebaek Mountains and boasting 18 slopes, five lifts and four gondolas.

Yongpyong Korea’s oldest and biggest resort, with slopes ranging from bunny options to advanced runs.

Alpensia The 2018 Winter Games host resort. Its compact size also makes it a good place for families and anyone learning to ski.

Elysian Gangchon Small, slick ski resort reachable by the Seoul subway.

Jeollabuk-do

Deogyusan Muju The only ski area inside a national park, its 26 slopes are set in an Austrian-themed village.

Chungcheongbuk-do

Eagle Valley Ski Resort Modest resort near the relaxing hot springs of Suanbo.

North Korea

Masik-Ryong Ski Resort A pet project of Kim Jong-un, offering several runs (one over 5km long), bunny slopes, Skidoos, skating and the luxurious Masik Ryong Hotel.

Skiing in Pyeongchang

YONHAP NEWS AGENCY / CORBIS©

Ice Skating

Indoor ice skating is available year-round at Seoul’s Lotte World (롯데월드 아이스링크 bLine 1 or 2 to City Hall, Exit 5) outside City Hall, and the Grand Hyatt and Sheraton Walkerhill hotels have temporary outdoor rinks.

Surfing

Haeundae and Songjeong beaches in Busan are among the best places to experience South Korea’s surf. However, you’ll need to suit up as the best time for surf conditions is winter, when waves are whipped up by strong winds from the north. Water temperatures at these times dip to 3°C, but could be as high as 10°C. If that’s too chilly for you, head to balmy Jungmun Beach off Jeju-do’s south coast.

Diving

Korea has an active scuba-diving scene. The top dive site is just off Seogwipo on Jeju-do’s south coast, with walls of colourful soft coral, 18m-high kelp forests (March to May), schools of fish and the occasional inquisitive dolphin. Diving here is a mixture of tropical and temperate – rather like diving in Norway and the Red Sea at the same time. Visibility is best from September to November, when it can be up to 30m (it's around 10m at other times) and water temperature varies from 15°C to 28°C.

Other good underwater sites on the east coast are Hongdo, off the south coast; Pohang, Ulleungdo and Dragon Head, off Sokcho; and a wreck dive off Gangneung. The west coast has some dive operators – at Daecheon beach, for instance – but visibility can be poor.

Golf

In 1998 Se Ri Pak put South Korea onto the golf map by winning the US Women’s Open. Today, Korean women dominate the American LPGA Tour and golf is a national pastime with hundreds of courses dotting the country.

One of the most popular golfing destination is Jeju-do, where courses include Jungmun Beach Golf Club and Pinx Golf Club.

Playing on a course in Korea isn't cheap. An average 18-hole round of golf may set you back ₩300,000. But for virtual golf, there are thousands of golf cafes around the country, so you’ll find one in just about any city. A round of virtual golf at chains such as Golfzon (http://company.golfzon.com) costs about ₩30,000. Also common are golf practice ranges.

Golf in Incheon

CHUNG SUNG-JUN / GETTY IMAGES ©

Birdwatching

With some of the widest and most extensive tidal flats in the world, the Korean Peninsula is a natural magnet for birds. More than 500 species have been spotted in Korea, including 34 threatened species. Most are on their migratory route between Siberia and Manchuria in the north and Southeast Asia and Australia in the south.

Popular birding spots include the following.

A Suncheon Bay This wetland park on Jeollanam-do’s south coast is where the hooded crane winters.

A Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) A preferred stop for migrating birds because it’s been uninhabited for 50 years.

A Bamseom Island Bird Sanctuary This pair of islets in Seoul's Han River is off-limits to humans but birds – including mandarins, mallards, spotbills and great egrets – can be spotted from an observation platform in Yeouido’s Han River Park.

Birds Korea (www.birdskorea.org) has photos of Korean birds and lots of info for bird lovers.

Kayaking, Canoeing & Rafting

Gangwon-do’s northwest is the hotspot for kayaking, canoeing and rafting trips from mid-April to October. Adventure Korea (www.adventurekorea.com) and Koridoor also offer white-water rafting trips.

Regions at a Glance

Seoul

Historic Landmarks

Given how thoroughly it was trashed during the Korean War, it’s no small miracle that so many of Seoul’s historic landmarks remain. A number of them are meticulous reconstructions, but that doesn’t diminish their significance or impact.

Food & Drink

Seoul is the best place to sample the full range of Korean culinary delights – from hot kimchi stews and sizzling street snacks to the delicate morsels that make up a royal banquet.

Shoppers’ Delight

At all times of day or night there’s always somewhere to shop in Seoul. The teeming markets of Dongdaemun and Namdaemun are must-do experiences, as is cruising the boutiques and department stores of Myeong-dong or ritzy Apgujeong and Cheongdam.

Regions at a Glance

Around Seoul

Island Escapes

Scores of islands flaking off like crumbs into the West Sea make for perfect escapes from the urban grip of Seoul and Incheon. Try historic Ganghwado or laid-back Muuido, which has gorgeous beaches.

Historic Sites

The DMZ splitting North and South Korea is a must-see, as are the Unesco World Heritage–listed fortress walls surrounding the inner core of Suwon.

Artistic Places

The pottery town of Incheon draws in ceramics lovers, and Heyri near the DMZ border is a serene village packed with small galleries. See something different in the exhibitions at Incheon Art Platform or the sculptures of Anyang Art Park.

Regions at a Glance

Gangwon-do

Misty Mountains

Seoraksan National Park abounds with gorgeous vistas of mist-shrouded crags that rarely fail to stun. The valleys are full of quiet temples, hot springs and hiking trails.

Hit the Slopes

Host of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang’s Yongpyong and Alpensia ski resorts aren’t the biggest in the world but they pack in lots of family-friendly options such as sledding and inner tubing.

The Unknown DMZ

Peek into North Korea at the northernmost point along the DMZ at the Goseong Unification Observatory, or go deep under the zone itself in the Second Infiltration Tunnel in Cheorwon.

Regions at a Glance

Gyeongsangbuk-do

Idyllic Retreats

Topping mist-shrouded mountains are mysterious ancient temples, idyllically isolated from the neon-drenched cities of Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Historic Sites

Head to Gyeongju, the ‘museum without walls’, for a slice of Shilla history, be it the fabulous finds on display at the excellent National Museum, or the tombs and temples that surround the town.

Delicious Dishes

The island of Ulleungdo offers the best seafood in Korea, or try Andong’s famous mackerel. Don’t miss Daegu or Gyeongju’s innovative and superb eating options, surely some of the best in the country.

Regions at a Glance

Busan & Gyeongsangnam-do

Fresh Fish

You’d have to be swimming in the ocean to get your hands on seafood fresher than the produce at Busan’s Jagalchi Fish Market. Pick your creature from a tank and it’ll be your next meal within minutes.

Sand Castling

Sure, Haeundae beach can be overcrowded and overhyped, but it’s the nation’s most loved for good reason. Kick back in the sand, frolic in the waves and snack on savoury barbecued shellfish in Cheongsapo, a short taxi ride from the beach.

Island-Hopping

The crumbly coastline has myriad islands to explore, but Namhaedo, one of the largest, is