We lived in Korea for 2.5 years, and made sure we set aside time to explore our surroundings. Korea is a little country, but packs a punch with festivals, landscapes, and historical places to visit. Sadly, we never made it to Jeju Island, which I’m sure would be on this list if we had gone! If you ever happen to be in the area, you’ll have to be sure to visit a few of the 10 places I list below. Some of them are pretty touristy, where others are a bit off the beaten path.
Cherry Blossom Festivals are held every Spring, usually in April. The cool thing is they’re in a bunch of different areas of the country, but the most famous flower festivals are in: Jinju, Gyeongju, and Seoul. Not only will you feel like you’re in a magical wonderland with petals raining down on you like confetti all day, but the food is great, and the festival games are even better! Be prepared for crazy traffic. Leaving for the flower festivals early, around 6-7am, will help you not get stuck in traffic.
Location: Jinju, Gyeongju, Seoul
If you’re up for experiencing life in Korea the traditional way, go visit Gyeongju. Not only can you stay in a traditional house, sleep on traditional mattresses, and eat traditional food, but you can enjoy an infamous bike ride through the city. Gyeongju has amazing trails to ride on that are full of flowers, beautiful hills, and more traditional buildings.
Cost: Free + Accommodation
Bike rentals: 10,000-15,000 won ($10-15) per bike
Wanting to do something a little hardcore? How about being stared down by a North Korean Soldier in the DeMilitarized Zone between North and South Korea? Enjoy a day taking a bus through minefields, looking into the mountains of the North, and standing 5 feet inside the North Korean border.
Location: Tour leaves out of Seoul
Cost: 125,000 won ($125) per person
Where the air literally smells like a cup of tea, you’ll enjoy walking through the fields of green tea, and then eating some ice-cream afterwards. I’ve heard tales of a green tea spa where you can even bathe in green tea!. Keep in mind you’ll be butt naked with a bunch of other women or men (segregated of course). I’m not too confident in the filtration systems/ sanitation at such places, so I didn’t pursue exact locations or details. If you’re braver than I- go. for. it.
Cost for the tea field experience: Free-4,000 won ($4) (depends if the farmer likes you or not)
Ice-cream: 2,000 won ($2)
Green Tea Bath: 5,000 won ($5)
I’m not sure you’ll be taunting your tastebuds as you walk through South Korea’s largest fish market. You’ll see biggest variety of fish you have ever seen in your life: stingray, flying fish, mackerel, squid, octopus, sea squirts, sharks, and even…whale meat (insert sad face). Come prepared, with hundreds of stalls, this place is rather smelly. Many of the fish you can literally eat right on the spot, quickly prepared as sushi.
Location: Nampo-dong, Busan
Cost: Free to visit, barter for a fish!
Hands down, Seoraksan has the most stunning views in the entire country. Be sure you stay a couple days to explore what Seoraksan has to offer! Arrive early to avoid the long waits to take the tram up to the top of the mountain to take in the view. If not, you’ll be waiting at least 2 hours.
Cost: 2,500 won($2.50) entrance fee.
If you weren’t paying attention to this post, you are now. I can see your eyes widen as you exclaim, “Wait, what?!” Haesindang Park (aka Penis Park) is only the most controversial park in Korea…but only to foreigners. Apparently for South Koreans it’s just your average park to bring small children and babies to play on a Saturday. Well, that’s what we witnessed on the gorgeous day we chose to visit. I decided against posting an entire review on the park, due to its…sensitive nature, so this is all you get.
There are literally hundreds of penis statues all over the place, in memorial to a woman that was fabled to have died in the area. Legend has it that this woman was dropped off to harvest seaweed for the day by her husband. Winds came up suddenly and the tide came in. She drowned before her husband could come get her. The locals thought she must have been very angry, because fishermen could not catch fish anymore. They built the penis carvings and statues to her to soothe her spirit, and the fish slowly returned.
How about that?
YOU SHOULD KNOW: If you’re appalled by these statues, don’t visit Korea, or SE Asia for that matter. Statues of male body parts are believed to bring good luck and fertility. There are tons of temples, shrines, and parks (obviously) dedicated to fertility!
Cost: 3,000 won ($3)
45 minutes of the most incredible fireworks I’ve ever seen in my life. Also one of the busiest fall festivals (October) I’ve experienced in Asia. If you’re claustrophobic, do not go to this festival. Even getting there 6+ hours early, you’ll be fighting traffic, slamming elbows with your neighbor, and failing to clear an area to set up your camera. Its worth the effort to go to at least once! I found the best spot for pictures was on a mountain, but just as long as you have a clear view of Gangwan Bridge, you’ll be right as rain.
Location: Haeundae-gu, Busan
Cat (and dog) Cafe’s are notorious in Asia. Everyone wants to go cuddle with a dozen+ cats while sipping on a latte or green tea right? It’s clear to see why they aren’t FDA approved in the US, so while you’re in Korea, you better give the cafes a try! I’m allergic to cats but I still went, so that’s saying something.
Location: Any major city
Cost: A coffee or tea purchase (4-8,000 won)
Not sure which was better: the colorful lanterns, or the delicious festival food! Also a fall festival, the Jinju Lantern Festival is a 10 day event that usually begins in October. Be prepared for music, food, games, face-painting, lantern making, boating, and more! It can get cold at night as the festival is along a river, so bring a coat!
Cost: 1,000 won ($1) if you wish to cross over the river to see the lanterns up close. If you’re happy with staying further away, it’s FREE!
There are a ton more places and events to visit while in Korea –what are your favorites?