An Insider’s South Korea takes you beyond the glitz of Seoul to show you the greater depths of this complex, enigmatic and underexplored country. Discover the many distinctive voices of a multi-faceted South Korea, away from preconceptions and cliches, and meet the strong local communities at its heart.
- Ride Seoul’s subway from temples to towers
- Pause in the historic Demilitarized Zone
- Explore royal tombs and striking temples in Gyeongju
- Taste traditional bibimbap and Korean BBQ with locals
- Marvel at the art-covered streets of Gamcheon
- Learn insider skills from green tea and rice wine artisans
Seoul, DMZ, Songnisan National Park, Beopjusa Temple, Jeonju, Yeosu, Busan, Gyeongju
Day 1 - Arrive Seoul
On arrival in South Korea, you'll be met by your private guide, who will accompany you to your Seoul hotel.
The rest of your day is at leisure to start scoping out the best spots for dinner and drinks.
Day 2 - City tour, BBQ dinner
Sample Seoul’s key highlights with your guide, travelling in local style on the subway. Start at the imposing Gyeongbokgung Palace for a behind-the-scenes glance at the royal guards in traditional costume, rehearsing before the morning’s changing ceremony. Walk ten minutes to the contrasting Bukchon Hanok Village: home to around 900 Joseon dynasty homes, built using wood and clay, with their distinctive curved roofs. Stroll through the narrow streets, stopping for a famed bibimbap one-pot wonder lunch. Visit UNESCO-listed Jongmyo Shrine (Korea’s oldest and best preserved royal Confucian shrine) to see the ‘spirit tablets’ of ancient kings and queens. In the early evening, head out with your guide to get panoramic sunset views from N Seoul Tower - the highest point in the city - and enjoy a traditional Korean BBQ feast among locals at one of your guide’s favourite restaurants.
Day 3 - DMZ tour, Myeongdong shopping street, Gwangjang Market
Set out for a tour of Korea’s infamous DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). Created in 1953 to separate the North from the South, and the location of the landmark leaders’ meeting in May 2018, this 160 mile strip of land is the most heavily militarised border in the world. Get an introduction to the zone’s history in the briefing room before boarding an official guided bus tour through this highly sensitive area. Stop at the Bridge of Freedom, crossed following the Armistice Agreement, and visit the fascinating (and slightly surreal) Third Tunnel of Aggression under the DMZ that was built by the North, apparently in preparation for an attack. Back in Seoul, get dropped off at the well-known Myeongdong street to enjoy a little shopping, or hop on the subway to Jongro to visit Gwangjang Market. Dating back to the early 1900’s, Gwangjang is one of the largest and oldest traditional markets in the country, packed with stalls selling everything from vintage clothing to vegetables, and is arguably the best place in Seoul for street food.
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Beopjusa Temple - 1 night
Beopjusa is one of South Korea’s most beautiful and culturally cherished temples. Founded in the 6th century, it was rumoured to be home to as many as 3,000 monks during the Silla dynasty. It’s best known for the 100 foot high, gilded bronze Buddha in the centre of the temple compound as well as Palsangjeon, a five storey wooden pagoda that’s one of the oldest in the country; Daeungbojeon, one of South Korea’s three major Buddhist halls; and the Two Lion Stone Lamp statue. Like many of South Korea’s Buddhist temples, Beopjusa welcomes overnight visitors to experience Buddhist monastic life first-hand.
Day 4 - Archery at Suwon Fortress, drive to Beopjusa temple
Swap cityscapes for countryside as you journey south towards Beopjusa Temple in Songnisan National Park. Stop en route at the ancient city of Suwon, known for its 18th century fortress. Suwon has now outgrown the fortifications, but the UNESCO-listed walls, turrets and observation towers still stand. Watch a demonstration of Gukgung (Korean Archery) before trying your hand at this traditional local sport. Continue to Beopjusa Temple, where you’ll spend the night. After your orientation tour, dine with the resident monks before they begin their evening worship, which you’re welcome to simply observe or participate if you wish, then it’s lights out at 9.30pm!
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Jeonju - 2 nights
The charming city of Jeonju boasts one of the largest collections of traditional ‘hanok’ houses in the country. With the ginkgo trees swaying over their gently curving rooftops, it’s easy to get the impression of having stepped back in time. The city’s deep, cultural heritage, which includes musical pansori performances, calligraphy and lantern-making, continues to draw visitors, and the exciting food scene has been grabbing the headlines since it was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2012. It’s known as the home of bibimbap, the original, comforting, ‘one-pot-wonder’ meal, so enjoy sampling as many variations as you can.
Day 5 - Temple rituals, National Park walk, Jeonju murals and market-stalls
For the full monastic experience, rise at 4am and join Beopjusa’s resident monks as they perform their morning rituals, before heading out for a gentle morning walk past the scenic granite mountains and azalea-filled valleys of Songnisan National Park. Set off for Jeonju, and arrive in the early afternoon with plenty of time to start exploring the city at your leisure. If you feel like soaking up a bit of culture straight away, make a beeline for the Jaman Art Village to explore its incredible street art murals, galleries and bohemian cafes. If you’re in Jeonju on a Friday or Saturday, spend an evening grazing on hotteok pancakes, hot pot and other typical Korean dishes from the lively stalls of Nambu Market.
Day 6 - Paper making, Hanok Village tour
Visit Jeonju Hanji museum in the morning to try your hand at making Hanji, traditional Korean paper, from the bark of the dak tree. After lunch, stroll through the cobbled lanes of Hanok Village - a settlement of over 800 traditional, curved-roofed houses. Whilst some of the hanok remain private homes, many have been converted into eateries, boutiques and guesthouses which you can visit. Make a stop at Jeonju Korea Wine Museum to taste some traditional wine, and take a wander through the quiet cloisters of the Jeondong Catholic cathedral.
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Yeosu - 1 night
The busy port city of Yeosu on South Korea’s southern tip encompasses the peninsula itself and over 300 islands sprinkled in the bay beyond. It’s a relaxing and diverse place to spend a few days exploring the region’s history and culture. The vibrant fish market is a seafood lovers paradise, where you can choose your own fish to be transformed into a sashimi lunch while you wait, and the lofty cable car affords riders panoramic views over the city and the bay. The colourful lights of Dolsan Bridge illuminate the waterfront every evening and the surrounding seafood restaurants and cafes buzz with chatter from locals and visitors alike.
Day 7 - Boseong Tea fields, Yeosu tour
Depart mid-morning for Yeosu, enjoying the views over the jagged coastline on the journey. Stop en-route to take in the beautiful southwestern scenery at the Boseong Green Tea field. Learn about the process of cultivating the area’s finest leaves, taste some homemade green tea ice cream, and sip a variety of freshly brewed green teas on a tasting experience. Continue on to Yeosu, arriving at lunchtime. Walk up to the Hyangiram Hermitage to see the extraordinary statues and colourful carvings, admire beautiful wildflowers on a walking tour of Odongdo Island, and take a soaring cable car ride over the bay.
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Busan - 2 nights
Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, is famed for its beaches and seafood, and frequently referred to as ‘Seoul by the sea’. Though just as rich in historic sites, buzzing markets, ultra-modern high rise architecture and plenty of chic soju bars, Busan enjoys a more laid back vibe than its capital cousin in the north. Head to Haeundae beach and try some fresh seafood snacks, or marvel at the colourfully illuminated suspension bridge across the bay from Gwangalli sands, before finding peace amid the city’s temples and enjoying a night on the town.
Day 8 - Travel to Busan, Gamcheon Culture Village tour
Set off along the coast towards the seaside city of Busan. In the early afternoon, pause at the famously Instagram-ready Gamcheon Art Village. Known for the rainbow-hued houses stacked across its rolling hillside, interspersed with striking public artworks, Gamcheon has become a well-known hub for artists and photographers. Grab a map and wander through its winding streets, between the galleries, murals and sculptures, pausing to take photos, discover hidden gems, and snack on a sweet hotteok pancake or two from a nearby stall.
Day 9 - Tour of Busan’s highlights
Visit Beomeosa Temple on the picturesque slopes of Mt. Geumjeongsan to explore this designated National Treasure, still home to around 150 monks, and soak up the tranquil atmosphere. Next, make a contrasting stop at the Jagalchi Fishery Market: a noisy, frantic place with a mind-blowing array of freshly caught seafood, where you can enjoy lunch at an eatery recommended by your local guide. Pause at BIFF Square, the original location for the prestigious Busan International Film Festival, then take a high-speed lift up the 390-feet high Busan Tower to enjoy panoramic views over the city. Your last stop of the day is Taejongdae, where you can stand on the rocky clifftops and gaze across the sea towards Japan’s Tsushima Islands.
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Gyeongju - 3 nights
Often referred to as South Korea’s cultural heart, Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla dynasty for close to a thousand years and contains more temples, tombs, pagodas and palaces than anywhere else in the country. The area is well known for its abundance of ‘tumuli’ (huge grassy mounds under which lie ancient royal tombs from the Silla era), and the 7th century Cheomseongdae Observatory is reputedly the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia. Wander through the historic streets, buying seasonal fruit from local vendors, and venture into Gyeongju National Park to find hidden treasures in the mountainous landscape.
Day 10 - Rice wine brewery visit, Gyeongju exploring
Depart for Gyeongju in the morning, stopping en route at Ulsan to visit a family-run rice wine brewery. This micro-brewery was set up by a husband and wife who were keen to champion the traditional wine-making methods taught to them by his mother, and the reputation for the high quality of their product quickly spread. Learn about the process of creating authentic Makgeolli - a traditional, unfiltered, carbonated rice wine made using Nuruk, a Korean fermentation starter - and taste the finished product. Continue to Gyeongju, and spend the afternoon at leisure meandering through its layers of evocative history.
Day 11 - Tour of temples, tombs & historic sites
Take a full day tour around Gyeongju’s highlights. Start your tour at Daereungwon Tomb Complex (also known as Tumuli Park), where you’ll find over two dozen large tombs said to hold the remains of ancient kings. Step inside Cheonmachong tomb, the origin of astonishing treasures including a gold crown, to see the impressive wall paintings of horses. Move on to the 7th century Cheomseongdae Observatory, reputedly the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia, then on again to Banwolseong, the site of the palace fortress during the Silla dynasty and now an attractive park area with a handful of atmospheric ruins. The nearby Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond were originally part of the palace complex. A treasure-trove of ancient relics, from exquisit roof tiles to gilt bronze Buddha figures, have been discovered beneath the waters. Finally, stroll through Gyeongju’s excellent National Museum, viewing archaeological treasures and royal artefacts that bring South Korea's history to life.
Day 12 - Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple, Yangdongmaeul Village
After breakfast, make an early start for the UNESCO-listed Seokguram Grotto. Located on Mount Toham overlooking the Sea of Japan, this 8th century Buddhist cave temple houses a 3.5 metre tall, seated Buddha statue constructed from white granite, as well as 37 other sculptures of bodhisattvas and disciples. From the grotto, walk downhill to visit Bulguksa Temple: a 6th century Buddhist temple complex comprising wooden halls, pagodas and shrines on raised stone terraces, which is still a practising place of worship and home to Buddhist monks. In the afternoon, explore another UNESCO World Heritage Site at Yangdong Folk Village. This traditional clan village is a beautifully preserved example of 15th century Korean culture. Climb the steep hills and amble through the streets past over 150 preserved homes and two shrines, built in perfect harmony with the natural topography.
Day 13 - Fly home from Busan
Transfer to Busan airport for your onward flight.