South Korea is a cultural beacon in Asia and, consequently, an incredibly popular tourist destination for visitors arriving from all around the world. Now that it’s open for quarantine-free travel for Singaporeans, there’s no better moment than now to take a direct flight to Incheon, Busan or Jeju island.
But there’s a lot more to South Korea than just Seoul. Beyond its metropolitan capital, there are other regions to explore – travel deeper into Korea to Jeollanamdo, known for its food and slower pace of life, or visit the evergreen Jeju Island, an eco-friendly destination known for its glorious caves.
Let us take you through some of these must-visit places to make your trip to South Korea worthwhile.
1. Dive into the royal history of Korea at Gyeongbokgung Palace
As one of the five grand palaces in South Korea, the vast and sweeping Gyeongbokgung Palace was once the royal epicentre of the Joseon Dynasty. Gyeongbokgung is the largest of these five palaces, and arguably the most beautiful.
It’s no wonder then that it has been a dominant tourist attraction in this part of Seoul. For eagle-eyed visitors, they will also recognise locations within the palace from television shows such as ‘Kingdom’, ‘My Sassy Girl’, and ‘The Last Empress’.
For K-pop stans, this place is a site of history for a different reason. In 2020, on the cusp of their western pop culture breakthrough, BTS filmed its now-iconic Jimmy Fallon performance at the palace itself.
If you intend to visit in a group of 10, you’ll have to make a reservation for a tour guide beforehand. Be sure to time your arrival to catch the Palace Royal Guard Changing Ceremony, a re-enactment of the royal procedure that took place during the Joseon dynasty, complete with historically-accurate choreography and costumes.
Address: 161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu
Operating hours: 9:00am to 6:00pm (March-May & September-October), 9:00am to 6:30pm (June-August), 9:00am to 5:00pm (November-February)
Admission cost: S$3.30 (adults), S$1.70 (children)
2. Get hip to the trendy alleyways of Ikseon-dong
Despite its history and rows of hanok (traditional Korean house), the area of Ikseon-dong has recently become a hub for hip and modern cafes. The alleyways are small, which may feel disorienting coming from the large streets of Seoul, but it also means many opportunities for photo-taking.
The Madang Flower Cafe is the area’s most well-known attraction, a boutique that’s reputed for its menu as much as it is for its array of colourful flowers, bouquets and potted plants.
If you’re walking along the alleyways of Ikseon-dong and you catch the smell of fresh bread, that’s not your imagination. There is the famous Mil Toasthouse, which serves steamed bread rolls and French toast soufflé. The bakery is unassuming on the outside, but if you see a large and minimal bread logo, you’re at the right place.
Want a space that feels more traditional? Oncheonjip Ikseon is a hot spring restaurant housed within a hanok. You’ll be able to tuck into some delicious Japanese shabu-shabu while enjoying the view of a hot spring garden. Their signature Oncheonjip Set with beef and rice (S$25) is highly recommended for a hearty meal.
Address: Ikseon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Operating hours: All day
3. Absorb the warmth and sunshine of Hwadam Botanic Garden
No matter the time of the year, Hwadam Botanic Garden will make you feel like you’ve jumped through time into the autumn season. “Hwadam” translates to “a friendly communication”. The garden is named as such to tell visitors one thing: the area serves as your way (and only yours) to communicate with nature. How beautiful.
Divided into 17 themes, the ecological park plays host to over 4,000 types of native and imported plants — all of which form an insightful learning journey as you traverse its grounds. Each zone contains a variety of flora and fauna. For starters, there’s a moss garden, an azalea trail, a birch tree forest, a bonsai garden, and a firefly habitat area.
As you can imagine, the park is a popular attraction so you’ll thank your past self by planning ahead for early arrival. But don’t worry about the crowds during your visit — there’s ample space for some alone time to connect with nature.
If you’re not able to pack your own food for the trip, don’t fret. The park hosts Hanok Jumak, a restaurant offering local Korean delicacies. It’s a perfect rest stop where you can take in the scenery while tucking into some yummy fishcake soup or kimbap.
If walking through the park may prove challenging for your companions, there’s always the Hwadam monorail, which offers routes to its observatory or bonsai garden. Ticket prices start at 4,000 won (S$4.50) for adults and 3,000 won (S$3.40) for children.
Address: 278 Docheogwit-ro, Docheok-myeon, Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do
Operating hours: March to October - Monday to Friday - 9:00am to 6:00pm, Saturday to Sunday - 8.30am to 6:00pm; November to February - Monday to Friday - 10:00am to 6:00pm, Saturday to Sunday - 8:30am to 6:00pm
Admission cost: S$11 (adults), S$8.70 (children)
4. Climb the colourful hills of Gamcheon Culture Village
This place might require some legwork, but there’s a reason why it’s called the “Machu Picchu of Busan”. Gamcheon Culture Village is formed by colourful houses built and arranged not unlike the vibrant favelas of Brazil.
The neighbourhood was originally built as a safe harbour for war refugees during the Korean War. Now, it’s the home for imaginative artwork and culture that springs to life the moment you set foot on its grounds.
From afar, you’ll be able to spot its collection of houses, draped in pastel hues, all lined up in an unwieldy and exciting fashion. Figuring out where to start might seem overwhelming, but it’s fairly simple.
Start at the top – head over to the Haneul Maru Tourist Information Centre and Observatory, where you can buy a map with recommendations on places to visit within the neighbourhood. Each pitstop awards you a stamp – collect all eight stamps and you win a prize! Plus, working your way down will feel much less daunting.
Aside from meeting the friendly locals, you will be greeted by its ravishing street art, which includes murals and sculptures of a wide variety. The entire neighbourhood essentially functions as an open-air art gallery, so you will be spending lots of time marvelling at the creativity displayed all over.
But, of course, you might want to snack on some treats while you continue your path. Busan is famous for ssiat hotteok, a sweet pastry generously filled with sugar, honey, nuts and sunflower seeds.
To learn about Gamcheon’s insightful past, you will need to make the Little Museum a mandatory stop (plus, this is where you can collect a stamp too!). Its name tells you one side of the story – it is small and cosy, but rich in historical quality. The museum displays traditional household items donated by past residents, giving you a glimpse into ordinary life that once lived within their colourful walls.
Other places worth your while: the Gamcheon Culture Station (where you can express yourself by making your own artwork), the Busanfornia Panorama (to see the entire village in all its panoramic glory), and the Stairs to See Stars (a long and infamous flight of stairs, so this might come in handy to burn some extra calories). Not far from the area is the Oryukdo Skywalk, which offers an unparalleled view of the Busan ocean and cliffs.
For those keen to visit Busan - you will soon have a direct flight option by Jeju Air from 25 June, with all-in one-way fare starting from just $332! Jeju Air, a South Korean low-cost carrier, will be the sole operator on the Singapore-Busan route, flying twice weekly services.
Address: 200 Gamnae 1(il)-ro, Saha-gu, Busan
Operating hours: 9:00am to 6:00pm
5. Explore the dark and mysterious lava caves and formations of Jeju
Jeju Island is another popular tourist destination for new and regular visitors, with its popular tea plantation fields basking in the sunshine. Its lava-encrusted jewels, however, are the deep, dark caves of the Manjanggul Lava Tube.
If we’re going back in time, the tube was formed between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago when the Geomunoreum volcano erupted. The flow of the lava was vast enough that it formed what we now know as the Manjanggul Lava Tube, which runs at a total length of 7.4km.
But if you’re yearning for more volcanic fun, be sure to check out Sanbangsan Mountain. The mountain is actually a huge body of lava, its cliffs marked with a variety of formations that can go as high as 200 metres. It’s also a popular spot for its bright yellow canola fields, where its flowers bloom every late-March and early-April.
It’s a bit of a hike, but there’s a trail that leads up to the Sanbangsan and Bomunsa temples, which hold the relics of Buddha. A perfect spot to learn more about Korea’s history, and one for the pictures.
Sanbangsan Mountain oversees Yongmeori Coast, a place where you can walk on a long trail amongst stunning rock formations and immense volcanic rocks.
If you’re looking to relax in a sun-kissed area, Woljeongri Beach is not far away. Featuring a pristine view of the sea and white sandy shores, stepping onto the beach feels instantly relaxing. The area also offers a beautiful view of giant windmills that you can see from the beachside!
Scoot will be commencing thrice weekly direct service to Jeju from 15 June, the sole operator on the Singapore-Jeju route.
Address: 182 Manjanggul-gil, Gujwa-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju-do
Operating hours: 9:00am to 6:00pm
Admission cost: S$4.30 (adults), S$2.20 (children)
6. Take in sunny island sights on the Mokpo Marine Cable Car
In the South Jeolla Province lies Mokpo, which is a mere two-and-a-half-hour train ride from Seoul. Hop aboard Korea’s longest cable car service at Mokpo Marine Cable Car. You’ll get to enjoy the wonderful aerial view and boast about it to your friends. Win-win!
The cable car starts from Bukhang Port in the city of Mokpo, going up the summit of Yudalsan Mountain before traversing over the sea that leads to Gohado Island.
The South Jeolla Province is full of underrated tourist spots, and you get to start it with a cool cable car ride. You can choose between standard or crystal cabin cars — the latter offers an unparalleled 360° view where you can pore over the sights through a transparent floor.
A roundtrip ticket allows you to make some stops along the way. If you’re in the mood for a refreshing hike, you can stop at Yudalsan Mountain to visit the Madangbawi Rock, where you can sneak a peek at the entire Mokpo city.
However, the roundtrip ticket is only valid for three hours. So, as always, plan ahead to get the most out of your buck! From there, the rest of the city is at your disposal to explore.
Address: 240 Haeyangdaehak-ro, Mokpo-si, Jeollanam-do
Operating hours: March to October - Sunday to Thursday - 9:00am to 10:00pm, Friday to Saturday - 9:00am to 11:00pm; November to February - Sunday to Thursday - 9:00am to 10:00pm, Friday to Saturday - 9:00am to 10:00pm
Admission cost: Standard Cabin - S$24 (adult round trip), S$20 (one-way), S$17 (children’s round trip), S$13 (one-way); Crystal Cabin - S$29 (adult round trip), S$23 (one-way), S$23 (children’s round trip), S$16 (one-way)
7. Visit the massive bamboo forest Juknokwon
South Korea may experience the four seasons – with winter obviously being an eternal mood immortalized by K-dramas – but in Juknokwon, it’s green all year around.
Juknokwon – also known as Damyang Bamboo Forest – is a large and immersive cultivated bamboo forest with different trails for a meditative journey. Amidst the dense greenery, you’ll find hammocks, panda statues, waterfalls, hanok buildings (which can be found at the Shiga Cultural Village), all surrounded by bamboo.
The scenery of Juknokwon must be seen to be believed. But, there’s always the urge to share it with the rest of the world on social media. Be sure to visit the Bonghwangru Observatory Cafe to get a prime view of the forest and take some scenic shots.
One of the hanoks houses the Chuwoldang Hanok Cafe, which offers coffee, tea, and organic pastries. If you were wondering, yes, there’s bamboo-flavoured items to try as well, especially bamboo ice cream!
Address: 119 Jungnogwon-ro, Damyang-eup, Damyang-gun, Jeollanam-do
Operating hours: 9:00am to 7:00pm (March to October), 9:00am to 6:00pm (November to February)
Admission cost: S$3 (adults), S$1.70 (teenagers), S$1 (children)
8. Take a mid-afternoon stroll at the Daehan Dawon Tea Plantation
The Daehan Dawon Tea Plantation is a popular tourist attraction for a reason. Boasting a vast landscape with rows of tea trees, and a tranquil cedar forest, Daehan is responsible for the high-quality green tea – also known as yubi-cha – that the country is known for.
Daehan dates back to 1937, and its history is as rich as its tea leaves. The plantation fields boast approximately 5.8 million plants, arranged in rows of tea hedges that are easily walkable.
The most notable route is the cedar path, which starts right at the plantation’s ticket office. You’re able to climb up stairs to get to the central observatory for a breathtaking view, or head towards the field observatory, which gives greater insight into the plantation and its forests.
Of course, the trip is not complete without trying some tea. The Dawon lounge offers desserts that incorporate the homegrown tea, and the Green Tea Restaurant serves green tea jajangmyeon, cold green tea noodles, and green tea bibimbap.
Address: 763-67, Nokcha-ro Boseong-eup, Boseong-gun, Jeollanam-do
Operating hours: 9:00am to 7:00pm (May to August), 9:00am-6:00pm (September to April)
Admission cost: S$4.40 (adults), S$3.30 (children)
9. Explore the charming Jeonju Hanok Village
Jeonju is the capital of Jeollabuk-do, or the North Jeolla Province. It’s only two hours away from Mokpo, but you will find yourself transported to a Korea unlike you’ve ever seen before.
While the city has been modernized over the decades, its Jeonju Hanok Village still retains its traditional and rustic beauty of older days.
To get the best view of the area, take a quick hike up to the Omokdae historic site, which offers a panoramic view of the village.
Gyodong Dawon is a traditional tea house that feels immediately welcoming. Visitors will be guided to sit on the floor, where low wooden tables are provided for their drinks. Don’t feel intimidated—the tea house has served its fair share of tourists. Feel free to ask them about their menu of traditional teas and snacks, along with advice on tea house etiquette practised by Koreans.
Down the road is the Jeonju Traditional Hanju Center, which has produced high-quality hanji paper (traditional handmade paper) for more than a thousand years. The centre has become a hub for hanji traditions, with exhibitions, stores and workshops for more people to understand its history and application.
Ladies, if you’ve always wanted to try on a hanbok (traditional Korean dress), you can visit Hanboknam Gyeongbokgung Hanbok Rental, which has over 300 sets of colourful hanbok for you to choose from.
Address: 99, Girin-daero, Wansan-gu, Jeonju-si, Jeollabuk-do
Operating hours: All day
Now that you know everything there is to know about travelling to South Korea, you’re ready to make the trip! South Korea has always been a beloved destination for Singaporeans and other foreigners alike, but we’re positive that there are even more new places to explore.
Things to note while travelling to South Korea
- South Korea has begun to ease Covid restrictions within the country. However, South Korea continues to practice social distancing in all areas.
- Wearing a mask in all indoor public places and on public transport is mandatory.
- You’re only allowed to take off your mask outdoors if you’re within a two-metre distance from other people.
Content courtesy of Korea Tourism Organisation.
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Best time to visit
Looking to visit right when the cherry blossoms are blooming? If so, April is your best bet. Alternatively, September to November is a great period for those who enjoy cooler (but not freezing) fall weather.
South Korea’s transportation is rather convenient—with extensive networks of railways, highways, bus routes, ferry services and air routes that traverse the country. Get the T-Money Public Transit Card for easy travel around the city. This can be easily topped up at public transport stations, convenience stores and even vending machines.
The official currency of Korea is the South Korean Won (KRW).
Get to Seoul from Singapore in just a little over 6hrs! Currently, there are direct flights to South Korea via Asiana, Korean Air, Scoot and Singapore Airlines. Search for airfares and book your tickets here.