Seoul is a massive city with a seemingly endless number of streets to explore and restaurants to visit, but you'd be missing out by not exploring the rest of the Korean peninsula. Visit the only official Chinatown in the country, enormous theme parks, historic fortresses, national parks, and more all on a day trip from Seoul. Traveling around South Korea is also made simple, with an expansive and reliable public transit network.
As the home of Incheon International Airport, most people making a trip to Seoul will pass through Incheon, but very few take the time to enjoy what South Korea's third-largest city has to offer. Explore the only official Chinatown in the country and taste some jjajangmyeon, the famous Chinese-Korean fusion dish of black soybean noodles. After finishing your noodles, you can learn about the history of the recipe at the Jjajangmyeon Museum.
Fans of the hit Korean drama "Goblin" or parks, in general, should head to Jayu Park (also called Freedom Park). The focal point of the park is the statue of General Macarthur, who led the Inchon Landings, at the summit of Mount Eungbongsan. The park also provides incredible views of the city and the port.
Getting There: It takes around an hour to get to Incheon by train from Seoul Station. Just take Line 1 to the Incheon stop; when you get off the train, you'll be close to Chinatown.
Travel Tip: Incheon is one of the best places to try Korean-Chinese fusion food like jjamppong and jjajangmyeon.
The Demilitarized Zone
Note: As of December 2019, the DMZ is currently closed because of African Swine Flu.
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) marks the boundary between North and South Korea. Because the Korean War has never officially ended, the DMZ was established in 1953 to separate the two nations after both sides agreed to a cease-fire. While this border is one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world, it's also a huge tourist draw. You can only visit on a guided tour, but for history buffs who are interested in Korean history and the Korean way, a trip to the DMZ is an absolute must-do. For more information on how to visit and what to see there, read our complete visitor's guide to the Korean DMZ.
Getting There: Guided tours are required to visit any of the sites in the DMZ, but several trains go from Seoul to the DMZ's Dorasan station on the Gyeongui Line. The trip takes about 90 minutes from Seoul Station.
Travel Tip: Because of the nature of the DMZ border, it is subject to close with little warning, be sure to book your tickets well in advance and bring your passport with you to ensure entrance.
Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient Silla kingdom for more than a thousand years, and as a result, the city is filled with history. There are a large number of ancient ruins and archaeological sites with more than 31 officially recognized National Treasures in Gyeongju. Be sure to visit the Gyeongju Historic Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with palaces, Buddhist artifacts, royal graves, and more. Make some time to visit the Gyeongju National Museum to learn about Silla's cultural heritage and explore its 16,000-item collection. While you're in town, you'll see a bunch of grassy hills dotting the landscape. Those hills are graves, more accurately called tumuli; there are 35 royal tombs and more than 550 tumuli in Gyeongju and its outskirts. You can get up close and personal with the burial sites at Tumuli park.
When you get hungry, try some Gyeongju specialties like Gyeongju bread, a red-bean-filled pastry; ssambap, a rice dish served with vegetable leaves, and a bunch of side dishes; haejangguk, a hangover soup; and muk, a jelly-like food made from grains, beans, or nuts.
Getting There: It's a 2-hour train ride to get to Gyeongju from Seoul Station on a high-speed train (KTX). The KTX train drops off at a station just outside the city, at which point you can transfer to a local bus.
Travel Tip: If possible, time your visit to Gyeongju for cherry blossom season in April. It's one of the best places in South Korean to see the blooms.
Korean Folk Village
The expansive Korean Folk Village (covering more than 10 million square feet) recreates a Joseon-era village using actual homes relocated from around the country. Korean Folk Village opened in 1974 and has been featured in dozens of dramas set in the Joseon Era. Visitors can wander the village's streets on foot, by river, or on horseback. If you're interested in learning more about life during that period, you can also spend some time at the Korean Folk Museum.
Getting There: The fastest way to get there is by taking a KORAIL train to Suwon. From Suwon station, take the Bundang subway line to Sanggal station and then walk to the folk village. The trip will take around an hour and 15 minutes.
Travel Tip: Visit in May to experience the Welcome to Joseon festival. The village becomes a living museum, with a full schedule of events and actors dressed in Joseon-era clothing.
For a tranquil island escape, head over to Deokjeokdo, one of Korea's West Sea Islands. It's a bit farther away (a trip to Deokjeokdo will take at least 2.5 hours from central Seoul), but the views and peace are well worth the journey. Seopo-ri Beach is surrounded by 200-year-old pine trees, making for absolutely stunning views, especially at sunset. In addition to Seopo-ri there is a beach with a rocky shore instead of sand (and we're talking boulders, not pebbles), and a third beach with shallow waters that's perfect for children. After enjoying the beach, you can explore one of several walking trails through the pine forest that Deokjeokdo is famous for. Before you leave, take a short hike to either Guksubong Peak or Bijobong Peak to enjoy the landscape. The pavilion at Bijobong Peak is also a great place to watch the sunset.
Getting There: Take the Line 1 subway to Incheon. From there, take a taxi or walk to the Incheon Port International Terminal and take a ferry to Deokjeokdo. A round trip on the boat costs 31,500 won ($26). The trip will take around 2.5 hours.
Travel Tip: Deokjeokdo is a lovely place to camp because of the pine forest, beaches, and plains, but you'll need to make a reservation in advance because spots are limited.
For an escape to nature close to Seoul, head to the tree-lined paths of Nami Island. The half-moon island was created after the construction of the Cheongpyeong Dam, and it's the burial site of General Nami, who led a victory against rebels during the Joseon Dynasty. There are no telephone poles on the island, making the landscape feel untouched. The island is also covered in chestnut and poplar trees, making for beautiful landscapes (and photographs) when the leaves change in autumn. The main draw to Nami Island is the views, but there is also a pool, water skiing facilities, tons of themed gardens, campsites, and more. Adventurous visitors can zipline to Nami Island from a 262-foot-high tower.
Getting There: It will take at least two hours to reach Nami Island from central Seoul. Ferries run between Nami Island and Gapyeong wharf every 30 minutes. To get to the pier, take the Gyeongchun Line towards Chuncheon and get off Gapyeong station. From there you can catch a taxi.
Travel Tip: Leaf peepers should visit in fall when the island's many trees are changing color.
South Korea's largest theme park is a must-visit for amusement park fans. There are more than 40 rides and attractions spread across five themed zones: European Adventure, American Adventure, Global Fair, Magic Land, and Zootopia. Adrenaline junkies should head straight for the T-Express roller coaster. The wooden coaster reaches top speeds of 65 miles per hour and has a 77-degree drop. See lions, tigers, and bears on a safari ride or watch a panda in Zootopia. There's also Caribbean Bay, a large water park next door with a human-made beach, sauna, artificial surfing, and more to enjoy. If you can't decide which to visit, you can buy tickets to both parks, either one day at each, or a half-day at each.
Getting There: You can take the Budang Line to Giheung station and transfer to the Everline train. Get off at the last stop and take the free shuttle to Everland. The complete journey will take around 2.5 hours.
Travel Tip: Foreigners with a T-money card can get a 20 percent discount on tickets to Everland or Caribbean Bay as long as they present the card at the time of purchase.
Another of South Korea's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Hwaseong Fortress was built in the late 18th century by King Jeongjo to protect the tomb of his father. The fortress was severely damaged during the Korean War, though intensive restoration efforts during the '70s have restored most sections to their former glory. The 33-foot-tall fortress wall stretches for more than three miles and offers excellent views of Suwon below. Inside the walls is Hwaseong Haenggung, an old palace that hosts martial arts displays and traditional performances.
Getting There: Take Line 1 or a KORAIL train to the Suwon station and transfer to Bus 2-2 or 11; or any bus beginning with 13, 16, or 50 to Hwaseong Fortress. The journey will take around an hour and 15 minutes.
Travel Tip: Stay on the bus until you see a hill with a golden Buddha statue on it. If you get off earlier, you'll have a lengthy walk to the fortress.
Bukhansan is technically still in Seoul, but this relatively small national park is worth a visit because of how unique it is. After all, very few national parks are surrounded by cities.
The most popular hiking trails in the park take hikers to the park's tallest peak (Baegundae), offering unparalleled views of the park. It's a relatively easy 2.1-mile path that takes around 2 hours to complete. Many of the 13 hiking trails in Bukhansan guide travelers around the historical sites and natural wonders inside the park. One of the most impressive things in the park is Bukhansanseong Fortress. The fortress is over 2,000 years old, though the current structure wasn't finished until 1711. The Uiryeong pass separates the parts into two sections. The north section, called Dobongsan, has several hiking trails and a temple. The southern section has the fortress and overlooks Seoul.
Getting There: To get to Southern Bukhansan, take Line Three to Gupabal Station and take bus 704 to the Sanseong entrance. It will take approximately 45 minutes. For Northern Bukhansan, take Line 1 to either Dobongsan or Mangwolsa. From the station, walk around 20 minutes to the entrance. It will take close to an hour, including the walk time.
Travel Tip: Because of high tourism volume, portions of Bukhansan National Park are dangerous, and specific trails are closed off to protect the environment. Follow all posted signage.
It's another national park, and it's far from the city. Still, seeing as Seoraksan National Park has one of the best waterfalls in the country and stunning landscapes, it's a worthy addition. In addition to the central peak, Daecheongbong, the park has 30 mountain peaks spread over 154 square miles. There are hiking trails for all levels, but some of the most impressive are for intermediate-level hikers. If you have the time, the Daesung Waterfall Trail is a must-do. It's a 7-mile round trip journey with a steep climb. But the reward to the falls is too great to ignore.
Getting There: Take subway Line 2 to Gangbyeon station. Head to the Dong-Seoul bus terminal and transfer to a bus heading to Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal. At Sokcho, take bus 7 or 7-1 to Seoraksan National Park. The journey will take around three hours.
Travel Tip: For stunning views of the park without much effort, you can take the Seorak Cable Car right by the park's entrance.
Another of South Korea's West Sea Islands, Ganghwado, is close enough to the mainland that you can drive there (or take the bus). Because of its location and that the northern side of the island is close to the North Korean border, Ganghwado was the site of several armed conflicts. One of the main draws to Ganghwado is the ancient dolmens. A dolmen is a large, single-chamber tomb, mostly from the early Neolithic period, and they exist all over the world. The Ganghwa Dolmen site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with similar areas in Gochang and Hwasun. While most of the dolmen are only accessible by car or bike, Ganghwa Goindol is accessible by bus.
Ganghwado is also the home of the oldest, still standing Buddhist temples in South Korea. While the original founding date of Jeondeungsa Temple, called Jinjongsa initially, is contested, it was completed far before at 1282, when the name was changed.
Getting There: Take Line 2 to the Sinchon stop then transfer to Bus 3000. The trip from Sinchon to Ganghwa-eup, the main settlement, will take an hour and 40 minutes. From Ganghwa-eup you can take a Chuanghu-ri or Gyodondo bound bus to Ganghwa Goindol. To get to Jeondeungsa, take Bus 3100 from Sinchon to Jeondeungsa Temple Rear Gate and walk to the temple.
Travel Tip: If you want to extend your stay and learn about Buddhism, consider doing a Temple Stay where you can spend the night at Jeondeungsa.
Gongju is a charming city filled with artifacts from the Baekje dynasty. Formerly the second capital of the region, Gongju is also home to a massive fortress, a hanok village, and the impressive Gongju National Museum. Gongsanseong Fortress is the city's main draw. Walk along the 1.6-mile-long perimeter wall before exploring the grounds within. After exploring the fortress, venture to the Gongju Hanok Village to get a glimpse of what villages looked like during the Baekje dynasty. While this village was created for tourism purposes, it does have cafes, restaurants, and convenience stores that you can visit while imagining life in the past.
Getting There: It takes around an hour and 20 minutes to get to Gongju from the Seoul express bus terminal. From the station in Gongju, you can walk to most major sites.
Travel Tip: Each fall, Gongju hosts the Baekje Cultural Festival with plenty of parades and traditional performances.