Why visiting South Korea? The “Land of the Morning Calm”, one of the last places in the Far East to open up to travelers from all over the world. South Korea has a lot to offer: a rich and unique Asian culture, amazing Buddhist temples, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, delicious and healthy cuisine and a world-class city: Seoul, with everything from luxury hotels, high-tech stores and places to go out at night. In this post we described the top 10 reasons why you should visit South Korea at least once in your lifetime.
South Korea experienced a tremendous growth from the 1970s, becoming, along with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, one of the “Four Dragons of Asia”. This economic growth has been accompanied by an increase in tourism, especially in Seoul where many hotels mushroomed over the last few years.
Since then, South Korea has taken on a truly international dimension with the organization of events such as the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, the FIFA World Cup in 2002, and the Winter Olympics in 2018 in Pyeongchang.
We moved to South Korea the same year, and lived there for 3 years. In these 3 years we explored this unknown country to us and were blown away by it’s beauty. South Korea, is not (yet) as popular as it’s neighbor Japan, but the growth of the Korean Culture worldwide with the K-Pop (BTS), K-Drama, Fashions, and skincare is drawing the attention of many tourists over the last few years.
So in this post, we listed why you should visit South Korea at least once in your lifetime.
1. South Korea has delicious food!
You’ve probably heard of kimchi already (spicy fermented cabbage). In South Korea, you will have it practically at every meals. It is also considered one of the five healthiest dishes in the world.
However, Korean food is much more than that! We even dare to call it a food heaven! Here are some of the most amazing dishes: Ddeokggochi, Odeng, Hotteok, Egg Bread, Tteokbokki, Kimbap, Bibimbap, Soy sauce crab, Jjamppong, Korean BBQ and so much more ! Everything is so delicious.
Everyone knows Vietnamese spring rolls, Japanese sushi and Chinese sweet and sour pork. Unfortunately, the unique Korean cuisine is only starting to become known around the world. Rightfully so, as it deserves to be recognized for its great benefits on the body and mind, but also for its spicy, sweet and salty flavors.
Restaurants in South Korea are often very full after work and during weekends. One of the reasons given by some Koreans? Many of them live with their parents until they get married, so it’s hard to invite friends or loved ones for a party or dinner with friends at home. Thus, the restaurants are a real meeting point and the conviviality inherent in Korean barbecue is so unique.
The good part, is that food in South Korea is very affordable. So enjoy as much as you can. Visit South Korea and you should spend an entire day roaming street markets trying those rich and delicious flavors.
Also try Soju and Magkoelli…
Every day and in all weather, Koreans gather to enjoy a few glasses of this very local alcohol: soju. It is definitely the national drink for all Koreans. Although we did not quite like it at first, we now enjoy having soju with Korean food, especially this brand called Jinlo.
The second most popular alcohol in Korea is undoubtedly Makgeolli, which comes from the fermentation of previously cooked rice and which is then milky. Magkoelly has a much lower alcohol content than the King Soju (between 6% and 8% alcohol).It is an alcohol loved by all but especially by women because of its dietary benefits, it is low in calories and its daily consumption is known to reduce the feeling of hunger.
In a nutshell, food alone should be a reason by itself to visit South Korea. If you are still unsure, watch Chef’s Table on Netflix, the episode about the monk check called Jeong Kwan. You will love it!
2. Visit gorgeous Palaces
Despite being very dense and sometimes stressful Seoul offers travelers havens of peace like temples or royal palaces, surrounded by greenery. The Changdeokgung Royal Palace is a perfect example. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its architecture typical of the Joseon dynasty.
Also worth seeing is the Jongmyo Shrine, the oldest Confucian shrine, the Gyeongbokgung Royal Palace, the National Museum or the Jogyesa, Jingwansa (more info here) and Bongeunsa temples.
Spend the night at a temple, with the temple stay program
For a unique experience while you are traveling to South Korea, spend a night at a temple and learn more about the Korean culture from Buddhist monks. You can check out the Temple Stay website, to see available temples and to book your stay. We highly recommend it. You can click here for more information.
3. Korean stunning nature
If you ask us, we prefer nature to big cities. So when we decided to move to Seoul we weren’t quite sure if we would like it.
However, the nature in South Korea, is what impressed us to the most, by far. Probably because we had no expectations and had no clue about it’s natural wonders.
South Korea is made up of 70% of mountains and it is possible to hike many of them throughout the country to enjoy a unique and very preserved nature.
Even Seoul is surrounded by beautiful mountains. Hiking the Bukhansan is a must-do while in Seoul. The Buhkansan is a very popular mountain amongst Koreans and tourists for hiking in Seoul. It is the ideal place to relax in the nature while being so close to the city. Between Buddhist temples, the Bukhansanseong fortress and the diversity of the landscapes, there are many things to see in this mountain which is beautiful in all 4 seasons (more info here).
As soon as you go outside Seoul, there are so many incredible sights. Take for instance the Boseong Green Tea Plantation, which is for us one of our most memorable trip in South Korea. (click here to know more about it).
Also in the Southern area, you can see stunning rice fields terraces. Head to Namhae, in a place called Gacheon Daraengi village to admire the rice terrace. It looks similar to Bali (more info here). We did not expect to see such things when moving to South Korea.
The natural beauty of South Korea is another awesome reason why you should visit this country.
4. Its modern architecture
As a contrast with it’s traditional temples and natural wonder, South Korea is also a very modern society.
In 2010, Seoul was elected as a World Design Capital, demonstrating impressive urban design and implemented a concrete plan to achieve economic, social, and cultural development through design.
Simply head to Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) to understand what design and modernity means in Korea. DDP is the newest and most iconic landmark of the Korean design industry. It is located at the center of the Dongdaemun area. Once you are there, you will feel like that you are in the future.
All around Seoul, you will see many modern buildings each very unique, some extravagant, and some blending perfectly with the traditional Korean culture.
5. Seoul, a fantastic city
When thinking about South Korea, the first thing that comes to mind is probably its capital city, Seoul.
Seoul is currently experiencing a wave of creativity. From fashion to cuisine, architecture and art, the city has become trendy in the international scene. Its many hip residents have helped create a future-proof city that still honors its distinctive past.
Across the city, temples and skyscrapers coexist, as acclaimed chefs merge traditional dishes with tasty new trends in famous South Korean cuisine.
It truly is a city built for the curious, for anyone who doesn’t like to stand still and, if you’re still not convinced, here are some good reasons to make Seoul the next destination for your trip.
6. South Korea has some of the most stunning cafes
If you ask a Korean what he would like to do later, the chances are he will tell you that his dream is to open a cafe.
In Seoul alone, there are no less than 18,000 cafes, making it the capital with the most establishments! The numbers of Starbucks per capita is the highest in the world! Impressive right?
It is said that the first Korean to drink coffee was the Emperor Gojong in 1896. This drink was long reserved for the elite. It was not until the 1970s, when cafes became very popular in South Korea. Like, very very very popular !
Koreans love real coffee, the one that is roasted, that is bitter but the aroma of which is so addicting. Foreign baristas team up with Korean brands. South Koreans train and compete in international barista competitions… And the coffee-loving country has many world champion baristas!
It may sound strange that this is one of the reason why you should visit South Korea. But, oh yes, Cafes in Korea are amazing and with many different and fun themes. Here, we’ve listed our favorite outdoor cafes in Seoul.
Finding THE best coffee has even become a favorite hobby of some Koreans who post on social media while traveling through the country in various cafes.
7. Its great beaches
Head to Jeju Island, in the south of the country for instance. It is a very calm island compared to the speed of development of the rest of the country. Many don’t know it, but one can spend a few days enjoying the beautiful white sandy beaches in South Korea! If you go to Jeju Island, make sure to check Hamdeok Beach, one of our favorite beach in South Korea.
In the east coast of South Korea, head to Gangneung. The east coast is absolutely stunning with miles long beaches. While living in Seoul, we spent many long weekend there. You can check out our post here to visit Gangneung.
In the west coast, we particularly enjoyed Taean National Park. It is well known by locals for its kilometers long sandy beaches. It is also popular for camping (especially at Mongsanpo Beach).
Another great reason why you should visit South Korea!
8. Shopping and Korean fashion
Seoul has established itself as one of the most avant-garde cities in the world. Fashion Week, showcasing the latest streetwear creations from the city’s elite designers, has become the must-see event for industry enthusiasts.
The influential event, which takes place twice a year, in March and October, is the opportunity for established and up-and-coming South Korean designers to showcase their streetwear styles to industry audiences.
Before, we often referred to Japan when it came to Asian fashion. However, Korean fashion today is in the midst of an explosion. Wander around Korean boutiques looking for unique pieces and dig into thrift stores to have a feel about Korean fashion.
Also when it comes to cosmetics, you can stock up on masks, treatments, make-up etc. South Korea has a huge number of cosmetics stores.
The main shopping areas are Myeongdong, Hongdae, and Gangnam (head to Garuso-gil, our favorite street in Gangnam).
9. Korean culture and its people
Koreans are often compared to the Latins of Asia and for good reason: they are proud, touching and curious. Koreans will not hesitate to come and chat with you. The children will come and greet you and the monks to invite you to drink tea in their temple. Expect to make great human encounters during a trip to South Korea and discover about their culture and history.
Make sure to also visit some Hanoks, these traditional Korean houses. You probably know Japanese ryokans or Mongolian yurts. But did you know that there is a traditional house in Korea called Hanok? These establishments made exclusively from natural materials (wood, mulberry paper, thatch) allow a better union with nature. You can even spend a night in a Hanok. You will then discover the charms of Korean housing and especially its century-old underfloor heating system. Even though sleeping on the floor on a light mattress can be a bit difficult the next morning, the experience is well worth it!
The best place to see Hanoks is in Jeonju Hanok Village. It is easily accessible by train from Seoul. You can check out our post here for more information.
10. Check out the cherry blossoms in Spring
Just like Japan, South Korea offers an incredible cherry blossoms festival in Spring. Simply walk in a park in any of the Korean cities to admire the trees changing colors and turning pink, purple or white. A magical moment in South Korea.
Spring is a wonderful season to discover the land of the morning calm. We highly recommend that you travel to South Korea during Spring or Autumn. Summer or winter woun’t be a very good idea. Check out why here.
Where to stay in Seoul?
1. Bukchonmaru Hanok Guesthouse for a unique experience in a Hanok (Korean traditional wooden house) with a garden. All rooms have heated floor and comes with traditional bedding. You will also have your private bathroom and a breakfast is served daily. It is a beautiful place which we highly recommend for your stay in Seoul. Book here.
2. Four Seasons: if you are not on a budget, then Four Season is a stunning hotel located right at Gwanghwamun Plaza, which makes it a perfect starting point for all your sightseeing. With many different cuisines, sauna, state of the art gym, Four Seasons is a beuatiful place to stay. You can book here.
3. Aloft Seoul Myeongdong: At Aloft Seoul, you will be located at the heart of Seoul in the shopping district of Myeongdong. The hotel is modern, and serves a yummy breakfast. If shopping is your thing, then don’t wait any longer, book your stay here.
Best Time to visit South Korea
Getting exciting about traveling to South Korea? Oh yes, you absolutely should be. However, be aware of the 4 very different seasons, which can make your trip the most amazing one, or the worst one depending on which month you are going to South Korea.
The climate in South Korea is divided into four very distinct seasons. Winters from late November to early March are Siberian cold, fairly dry, especially in the northern area. The summer, on the other hand, is rather hot and humid and is accompanied by a few sometimes quite dangerous typhoons. Note that during this monsoon period, the rains are generally torrential. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant seasons (cool and sunny).
In general South Korea is rather sunny the whole year except for the months of Summer. Clear blue sky is the norm.
However, because of the extreme change in temperature, it is therefore very important to choose the right time for your trip to South Korea. This will influence drastically what you should pack in your suitcase!
For us no doubt, Spring from April to May and Autumn from September to October, are by far the best time to visit South Korea. More info on the weather in South Korea here.
South Korea is a fantastic country to discover. Not yet known like its neighbor Japan, it is still preserved from mass tourism. Hence you can expect a high degree of authenticity.
The people, the food, the nature, the city, the fashion, there is something for everyone in South Korea. Make sure to add this country on your bucket list.
I hope our list of awesome reasons why you should visit South Korea, made you want to check out this incredible country.
We keep posting new articles about South Korea. You can check out all our posts here.