One of the best ways to explore the Land of the Morning Calm is by car. South Korea’s size makes road tripping an attractive option. Vehicles can easily be rented at Incheon International Airport and through many hotels in Seoul. The following standout spots fall in a clockwise route, beginning in the capital.
Tip: Try to reserve an LNG-ready car. The cost of this alternative fuel is about a quarter that of gasoline.
Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.
Best to wait on the car rental for a few days while you make use of the subway to see Seoul.
Start at one of the grandest palaces in the country, Gyeongbokgung Palace. It dates back to 1395. In addition to the impressive Throne Hall and a pavilion virtually floating in a pond, the National Folk Museum is also on the grounds. The photogenic changing of the guard takes place at 10:00, 13:00, 14:00, and 16:00 daily outside the main gate. Admission: $3 USD.
Gyeongbokgung PalaceSeoul, South KoreaRoyal palace of the Joseon dynasty. It’s commonly called the Northern Palace as its the furthest north when compared to the other 4 grand palaces of the region. Check out the folk museum too.
A short walk from Gyeongbokgung is Insadong, the best traditional market in town. Grab lunch at one of the many old-school restaurants before strolling through the art galleries and craft shops.
Bukchon Hanok VillageSeoul, South KoreaBukchon Hanok Village is one of the few areas in Seoul that transports visitors back in time to see what the city must have looked like during the Joseon Dynasty. This hilly district that flanks Changdeokgung Palace is made up of traditional Korean homes called “hanoks” that are now used as a mixture of residences, local businesses and cultura learning centers. I stopped to pick up a map by the small tourism office about a block from exit 2 from Anguk Station. It plots some scenic walks and the best spots to snap pictures of the ancient village with stretches of modern metropolis looming in the background.
#history #architecture #views #walks
Afternoons often see folk music and traditional dancing exhibitions in Bukchon Hanok Village another interesting part of the city.
Next, an introduction to Seoul chic. Myeongdong is the place to go to find trendy name-brand stores and hip clientele. Try to hit the narrow alleys when they truly come to life — after work — when Seoulites stroll past designer boutiques while munching gourmet street food. You’ll most likely caught a glimpse of the N Seoul Tower, standing tall on Namsan Mountain. A cable car ($6 USD round trip) will shuttle you up the mountain to the base of the needle, from where you can ascend to the tower’s observatory level ($3 USD) for city panoramas. The tower also houses a rotating restaurant.
Stop 1: Northeast Coast
Okay, it’s now time to hop behind the wheel and hit the road.
Seoraksan National Park
Seoraksan has it all: hiking, wildlife, and history. The park is at its best in autumn, when the colors of its foliage rival those of New England. Take the cable car ($5 USD) up to Gwongeumseong Fortress to gaze over the spectacular peaks and rock cliffs of this park. Or, if the line’s too long, put your boots to work.
This charming port town on the East Sea is the perfect base camp for a park visit. Browse the seaside fish markets for dinner, then knock back some of that famous Korean alcohol, soju, while listening to the waves crash on the rocky coast — the perfect post-hike chillout.
Stop 2: Gyeongju
The ancient capital town provides endless opportunities to delve further into the peninsula’s history. The Silla tombs, twenty massive burial mounds standing almost 50 feet tall, rise out of central Tumuli Park. Kite fliers and picnickers relax in the shadow of Korea’s oldest structure, an astronomical observatory built in 627.
Gyeongju National Museum, loaded with artifacts found in nearby Anapji Pond, is a worthwhile stop on your way to Bulguksa Temple in the mountains above town. From here, you can walk even higher to the Seokguram Grotto and its well-visited Buddha statue that looks out over the East Sea.
Stop 3: Busan
It’s time to kick back on the southern coast. Get up early to snag a spot on Korea’s most popular beach, Haeundae. In the peak season (i.e., any nice weekend and all of August), umbrellas saturate the 2 km of sand. If the crowds are too much for you, check out one of the other five beaches Busan is famous for.
Reportedly the largest hot springs in Asia, Heosimcheong ($5 USD) lies 10 km north of central Busan in the district of Dongnae. Remember to shower before slipping into the nearly 55-degree Celsius (130 Fahrenheit) pools. Different aromatherapy and herbal tubs are available for soaking, while masseuse and scrubbing services are provided for a fee.
Jagalchi Fish Market
Right on the waterfront in the heart of central Busan is this busy market. Wander the pungent stalls, make a purchase, then take your pick to one of the nearby seafood restaurants and they’ll prepare it for you — most likely raw, sashimi style. When you’ve finished dinner, head to Texas Street, opposite the Busan train station, to take in the nightlife of Korea’s second largest city.
Stop 4: Gwangju
Gwanju played a key role in the development of the modern Korean state in the 20th century. In 1929, local students took part in one of the fiercest anti-Japanese uprisings of the entire 35-year occupation. 1980 saw hundreds of civilians killed at the hands of the army during a protest against the military government, an event known today as the Gwangju Democratization Movement. Residents are rightly proud of their recent history, and a defiant student art culture persists.
The Gwanju National Museum gives you a chance to learn about the region’s more distant past. Follow that up with a visit to the surreally shaped rock cliffs of nearby Mt. Mudeung.
Stop 5: Gunsan Islands
If you have time, park the car in the west coast port town of Gunsan and hop a ferry to Seonyudo Island for a day or longer. The pace is island-slow (except during holidays), and the seafood is some of the country’s best. The white-sand beaches may convince you to stay longer than you’d planned. Seonyudo is connected by bridges to a couple smaller islands, and renting a bicycle or 4-wheeler for some solo exploration is also rewarding.
Stop 6: Suwon and Yongin
Korean Folk Village
In Suwon, step into history at the Korean Folk Village ($10 USD). It features over 200 authentically reproduced and renovated structures from all corners of the country and traditional performances like tightrope walking, aerial acrobatics, music, dancing, and horsemanship.
Ranked as the 10th best park in the world by the Themed Entertainment Association, Everland (day passes from $26 USD) will help you unleash your inner child. The park is divided into four themed sections, as well as a newly renovated water park, Caribbean Bay. Try to get to the park on a weekday, when lines are more tolerable. There’s an excellent range of rides, climaxing with a white-knuckle scream-fest aboard the world’s largest inclined wooden coaster, T-Express. From here, it’s a quick shot up the highway and back into Seoul.
Best Travel Credit Cards
Top offers from our partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
100,000 bonus points
The Platinum Card®
100,000 bonus points
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 bonus points