Interested in traveling to South Korea for vacation? Then you’re gonna want to bookmark this post stat because I’m recapping highlights from my recent trip. I spent the last 3.5 weeks there exploring the entire country, and I can’t wait to share my recommendations with you guys. I’ve already written quite a bit on my vacation so I’ll be linking relevant posts within this write-up when applicable. So, let’s kick things off with Bulguksa Temple!
Visit Bulguksa Temple
Located in Gyeongju city, Bulguksa is the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It was built in the 8th century, and it houses seven national treasures including 2 gilt-bronze Buddha statues. It’s only a fraction of its original size because of a massive fire, but they did a brilliant job with this partial reconstruction.
Out of all the temples I visited in South Korea, Bulguksa was by far the most impressive. The entrance fee was about 5 dollars, and it was money well spent. I explored for a good 2-3 hours and watched a Buddhist service from the outside. It was a really moving experience, and many visitors went in to pray. It’s well worth the title of World Heritage Site. Everything from the pagodas to the gardens were beautiful, and I was legitimately blown away by Silla architecture.
These colorful lanterns are prayers that are hung up all over – you can purchase them for a small fee (aka temple donations) on Buddha’s birthday. They’re typically only displayed then, but because Bulguksa is such a popular tourist destination, they keep them up longer. My grandma’s a devout Buddhist, and she does this for me and my family every year.
You can get more information on their website, but if you want to save yourself a click, their address is 385 Bulguk-ro, Gyeongju, Geongsangbuk-do, 38127, South Korea, and their phone number’s +82 54-746-9913.
Take in the View from Above at Signiel
Now for a complete 180. Located in the heart of Seoul, Signiel is the epitome of luxury. I posted a full review on their hotel a while back, but I’m going to give you guys a quick recap in case you want a more concise blurb.
Signiel’s unique in the sense that it’s located inside one of the tallest buildings in the world. The price ain’t cheap, but it’s truly an unbelievable experience, and you get a lot for what you pay for. They have a swanky lounge with complimentary food and drinks all day long, and that includes a fancy champagne hour daily.
They also have two Michelin-starred restaurants on site, in addition to two bars and a lounge. I got to dine at Bicena – think traditional Korean food with a twist – but I didn’t have time to check out Stay. The food was phenomenal so I low key regret missing out! The pricing’s affordable for what you’re getting so I highly recommend splurging while you’re there. To see more from my meal at Bicena, make sure you check out this post on Nomtastic Foods.
The room itself was incredible, and it had a panoramic view of the city along with the Han river. I stayed on the 101st floor so I was pretty much mesmerized the entire time I was there. It was stunning during the day, and even more stunning at night. I loved falling asleep to the view, and it’s something I won’t ever forget.
Walk Through Camellia Hill
I don’t know how long you’re planning on staying in South Korea, but if you have time to visit Jeju Island, visit Jeju Island. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and if you enjoy basking in nature, your time here will heal your soul. I recently wrote a travel guide called, “48 Hours in Jeju Island, South Korea,” so I’ll keep things short and only share TWO things from my list on today’s post.
Camellia Hill is probably the most gorgeous arboretum you’ll ever visit. They’re open all year long, and they have thousands of Camellia trees on site along with other lovely blooms that will catch your eye. There are photo opps everywhere so it’s basically an instagrammer’s dream come true. Whether you go with friends, family or a significant other, you’ll enjoy perusing their flowers and indulging in sweets in one of their many cafes. Click for more information on visiting, frands!
Boat to Udo Island
Udo and Camellia Hill go hand in hand because Udo Island’s only about a 15 minute boat ride away from Jejudo. If you can, make a day trip out of it! The reason why I insist is because there are two magnificent beaches you absolutely need to see: Geommeolle and Seobin Baeksa. Click here to see why you need to visit both, and don’t forget to indulge in some peanut ice cream while you’re there. It doesn’t sound like much, but I promise you’ll love it. You’re welcome in advance.
Heal at Daehangnam Park
Located in Ulsan, Daehangnam is famous for Ulgi Lighthouse and its weathered rocks. It’s free and has a beautiful trail with tons of trees leading to the ocean. The highlight for me was seeing Daewangam Island, a large rock formation that looked like a dragon. Local legend says Queen Munmu of the Silla Dynasty wanted to be buried underneath to protect Korea in death as a dragon reincarnate. Cool, right?
In 1995, Hyundai built a bridge to connect Daehangnam and Daewangam so you can walk across and see out into the ocean. PS. they turn on pretty neon lights at night so it’d make a pretty awesome date night. A romantic walk by the sea? Yes please.
Visit Gyeongbok Palace
Located in Seoul, north of Gwanghwamun Square, Gyeongbokgug (translates to “greatly blessed by heaven”) is the largest palace of the Joseon Dynasty. It’s one of the most iconic places in South Korea so you absolutely have to go, no ifs, ands or buts. After being destroyed by a fire in 1592, the palace was abandoned for nearly 300 years. Restoration work began in 1989, and now there are two museums on site: the National Folk Museum and the National Palace Museum.
They have free guided tours in English every day at 11, 1, and 3:30, and the Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place on the hour from 11-3PM. It’s not as cool as the Min Sok Chon performances I talked about here, but it’s still worth seeing, especially if you’re there anyways.
Note: Gyeongbokgug’s closed on Tuesdays so keep that in mind when you’re figuring out your schedule. Also, tourists and natives alike enjoy dressing up in traditional garb for photos so that’s always an option. It’s very common to rent these outfits in Korea so let me know if you are interested and/or have questions!
Hike Mount Seorak
Nature lovers unite! Seoraksan is the third highest mountain in Korea, and it’s located near Sokcho. If you’re big into hiking, you definitely want to add this park to your list because there’s a lot to do and see! Not only do you have beautiful trails with scenic views, you have cafes with delicious food and a cable car.
It costs about 8 dollars to ride to the top, and you can hike further up from there. Not gonna lie though, it’s a little scary so you may want to pass on this if you’re afraid of heights. Otherwise, it’s stunning so I highly recommend doing both! Hike to sweat it out, and then enjoy a leisurely ride to the peak to take pictures.
Note: Korean people don’t really respect personal space so expect to be shoved during the cable car ride. It’s a pet peeve of mine, but it’s just how things are. It’s not considered rude or anything, it’s just a way of life. They’ll stand SUPER close to you or even push you aside to get a better view so don’t be afraid to hold your ground, lol.
Bargain Shop at Namdaemun Market
This wouldn’t be my blog unless I posted about bargain shopping in some way, shape or form. Located in Seoul, Namdaemun is the largest street market in Korea. Everything’s super affordable, and you’re expected to negotiate so don’t be shy. You can get pretty much anything you want here, and most items are made by shop owners so you’re bound to find some truly unique things. There’s also a lot of street food so come hungry.
Technically, Namdaemun Market is closed on Sundays, but that all boils down to choice, like I’ve gone on a Sunday and there was still plenty happening. They’re open until the wee hours of the morning so if you want to meander the streets and indulge in some late night shopping, you know where to go! There are over 10k+ (!!!!!!) stores here so there’s lots to see. On this trip, I got the cutest wedges for 20,000 won. I was proud of myself because they were originally 40,000 won, haha.
Explore the Taehwa River Bamboo Forest
Who knew Ulsan was so beautiful? I told you guys about Daehangnam Park earlier so if you can, hit up both to make the most out of your time here. This bamboo forest had the prettiest walking trail, and it was a wonderful break from city exploring. The water was peaceful, and the views were gorgeous at sunset – remember to pack bug spray though because there are quite a few mosquitos. For those of you interested, the KTX train will get you here in about two hours from Seoul, but it costs 50,000 won (about $45). If you don’t mind a longer ride (about 4.5 hours), the bus is half price.
Alright friends, that’s it for today! I hope you enjoyed reading my trip recommendations. Let me know what sounds coolest to you by commenting below, and stay tuned for more travel content. There’s lots more to come to stay tuned! For more on my adventures, click here. Sending love from the DMV!