10 Things To See & Do In South Korea

by Rachael VanDerWerff

A study abroad program in South Korea will land students in a bustling country full of tradition, history, shopping, and exquisite dining. Here are some exciting suggestions of things to do and sites to see which will give you insight into South Korea’s past, present, and future. Visit ancient temples, pick one of the many markets for shopping, or spend time in nature: all things made possible by a studying abroad in South Korea.

Gyeongbokgung Palace 
Gyeongbokgung Palace 

Shop Your Heart Out

Many shopping markets sprinkle the streets throughout South Korea, so it is a good idea to bring an extra bag just to get all your purchases home safely. The Dongdaemun Night Market is one of the busiest and brightest places in all of Seoul. The glittering scene even includes a giant outdoor stage that shows live music and dance performances, that is surrounded by fashionable shopping opportunities on all sides.

Start your evening with a walk down the Cheonggyecheon Stream that runs along the area, and end the night in the brightly colored open air markets which open as the malls close. Namdaemun Market is the largest traditional market, located in the center of Seoul. It is typically packed with visitors from all around the world purchasing everything from prescription glasses, to kitchenware, to clothes. The Seoul Folk Flea Market is newer and is a good place to find traditional crafts and foods in the city.

The Demilitarized Zone

The DMZ serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. It is about 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. The DMZ is the most heavily armed border in the world and a very popular stop for any tourist. Visitors are not allowed to point towards objects in North Korea or draw attention to themselves in any way. Even a sneeze can result in the immediate termination of a tour, so make sure you are on your best behavior during your visit.

Changdeokgung Palace
Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung Palace

The Changdeokgung Palace is one of Five Grand Palaces located in Seoul. It was built in the 15th century in what is now northern Seoul and is an excellent example of the traditional building style, which embraces the land around the structure. Traditional buildings mesh into the natural surroundings, treating the typography as a feature of architecture. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Changdeokgung Palace was originally built as a secondary palace to the main Gyeongbokgung Palace. The complex includes residential and office buildings, elaborate gardens, and over 56,000 trees all at the base of the majestic mountains.

Seoraksan National Park

Anyone studying natural sciences in South Korea shouldn’t miss this UNESCO Biosphere Preservation District. Located in northeastern South Korea, the park features 30 distinct mountain peaks and many rare flora and fauna. While hiking around the park, be on the lookout for Asiatic black bears, deers, otters, and even gorals, which are a type of wild goats.

Buses run from campgrounds to the gates of the park, but once inside visitors must rely on their own two feet for transportation. Trails are well cared for and purposefully marked with signage in both Korean and English. There is even a cable car ride that provides great views which allows visitors to skip the hiking.

Mt Seoraksan
Mt Seoraksan

Korean Folk Village

To experience Joseon-era Korean culture visit the Korean Folk Village, which is located in Yongin about 45 minutes south of Seoul. You will be able to explore traditional houses, and experience customary religious ceremonies and festivals. Often referred to as a living museum, it is an ideal location for students who want to learn about Korean history while literally becoming a part of it.

Namsan Mountain

This mountain on the outskirts of Seoul has been considered sacred through Korean history and is still an important part of the culture. The peak offers much more than a typical hike and nature visit; it is home to 60 stone pagodas, 80 Buddha statues, and 100 temples which sprawl across its slopes. The top of Namsan Mountain also provides the best views of the city. Visitors can ride a cable car to the top then go even higher if they climb to the top of the N. Seoul Tower, where they can take in all of the capital.

Gyeongju

Gyeongju is a historical city located along the southeastern coast of South Korea. Its impressive and concentrated history began in the 1st century BC. It is a prime location to see how the country developed. Visitors can see evidence of the Silla Kings who ruled for almost 1000 years or remnants of the pre-Buddhist cults that originally inhabited the area. Excavation has uncovered hundreds of pagodas, statues, lanterns, temples, and monuments in the area.

Jeju Island
Jeju Island

Jeju Island

This large island off of the coast of the Korean Peninsula offers fun in the sun as well as adventure. Jeju is a volcanic island which is known for its unique shaped black rocks and sandy beaches; it is a place just waiting to be explored. It is the southernmost location in the country so it offers a considerably warmer climate, and it can give foreign students a taste of paradise during their study abroad program in South Korea. It was originally dominated by fishing villages and secluded from the rest of Korean culture which led it to develop its own unique culture and dialect.

Visitors will see many dolhareubang, or old grandfather statues which have become the signature symbol of the island. The stone sculptures are scattered across the landscape and greet visitors with a wide variety of facial expressions from comical grins to serious glares.

Bulguksa Temple

This structure was built during the Silla Dynasty in 528 and is now the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It is home to several National Treasures of Korea, including the Seokgatap pagoda and Dabotap, or the pagoda of many treasures. Visitors will also see the Cheongungyo and Baegungyo Bridges, which really don’t look like bridges at all. The two parts combine to form a large stone staircase which leads to the Bulguksa temple. The lower half represents the common man’s path and the upper half signifies the path of Buddha; the structure rests upon a total of 33 stairs, which represent the 33 heavens of Buddhism.

Bulguksa Temple
Bulguksa Temple

Traditional Dining

South Korea is famous for their barbeque and kimchi. The Korean barbeque is not something to easily disappoint. Thin slices of beef, or pork, are marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, and pepper. It is often prepared right at the table and served with green onion salad and fresh vegetable dishes.

Kimchi appears at almost every Korean meal, because it is not only a tradition but also a  favorite of most Koreans. The word Kimchi is often used as a cue from photographers for when it is time to smile in a picture like the Americans use “cheese.” Kimchi is fermented cabbage made with salt, vinegar, garlic, chile peppers, and spices. It is often served alone as a side or accompanied by noodles and rice.

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