South Korea

South Korea

While its neighbour to the North almost defines the word inhospitable, South Korea by contrast offers a wonderful welcome to travellers seeking out its amazing history and culture, vibrant cities and brilliant outdoor adventures.

Seoul very much rules the roost, as a capital city in all respects. With more than 10 million people and over 20% of the country’s population located here, Seoul is the archetypal Asian mega-city. Skyscrapers and modern masterpieces dominate the skyline above, but compete with Buddhist temples and palaces at street level, while street markets abound alongside gleaming and ever-growing shopping centres. And, it’s very much the old and the new that vie for your attention in terms of highlights as well, from the spectacular Gyeongbokgung Palace and beautiful traditional architecture of Bukchon Hanok Village through to the awe-inspiring Dongdaemun Design Plaza, an incredible platinum blob showcasing the ingenuity of Korean design.

Outside of the capital, the cities still have a plethora of opportunities to explore. Busan in the south offers up stunning beaches, a cosmopolitan lifestyle that mixes the modern (world’s largest department store) with the traditional (Beomeosa Temple), and great access to some pretty impressive mountain hiking. Nearby Jinhae is known for its spring cherry blossom festival, arguably the finest in Asia, while the world-heritage listed Gyeongju is home to the finest collection of traditional and palace architecture in the country.

But, it’s beyond the cities where South Korea sometimes really surprises visitors, with landscapes of spectacular spring flowers or autumn colours, verdant forests in summer and snow-capped fairylands during the winter months. Nearly always located close to urban centres, opportunities for hiking (and skiing come winter) abound, with Seoraksan National Park probably leading the way. Only 2.5 hours from Seoul, the park offers spectacular landscapes, some really challenging hiking and the best South Korean sunrise. Further to the South, the country’s most popular slope (among locals - hiking is such a part of the culture) is Jirisan, featuring the highest summit on the mainland and an amazing collection of Buddhist temples. But, it’s not just the mountains that impress. Off-shore are hundreds of (sometimes quite remote) islands dotted with fishing villages and an opportunity for a much more chilled-out seaside village existence.

Whichever option you choose, there are a few constants to your Korean adventure. A long-practiced tradition of hospitality and helpfulness will give you a non-stop supply of polite advice and a desire to help. When it comes to food, the Korean staple of Kimchi rightfully dominates both at the table and culturally, while barbecued meat and an array of spices and flavours will ensure your tastebuds remain sated at all times. And, all this is washed down with an ever-growing collection of alcoholic inventions that mirror so closely the wonderfully creative nature of the South Korean people.

Image by PKphotograph, Shutterstock