Five whole years have passed since we first arrived in South Korea. From day one, we had a Korea Bucket List checklist in our heads of must sees and must dos. We saw a lot of amazing things in those five years in the historic and culturally rich small peninsula. We love nothing more than to share those experiences with you, and have amassed quite the collection of Korea moments over here on our blog.
It’s hard to make a list like this, especially with a country so near and dear to our hearts. How can we possibly choose just 50?! We hope to write more and continue sharing our Korean experiences with you, even from back here in the states.
So, enjoy. Here’s our list of 50 quintessential Korean bucket list items.
1. See the Hwagae Cherry Blossom Festival
After five years of living in Korea, this festival is still my favorite Korea moment. All throughout the Hadong area, large, fluffy, white cherry blossoms canopy the roadways. As you turn up the road leading to Ssangyesa temple, the festival begins. Food, vendors, and stunning mature trees. The entire day was totally surreal and absolutely magical. If you are in Korea during Cherry Blossom season, you can’t miss this incredible place. Check out our video and posts below:
2. Rent a Hanok With a Rooftop Terrace
To see Jeonju at its best, you need a little height. A few cafes offer rooftop views that are pretty iconic, but these are always crowded. We found this little traditional hanok guest house rental complete with its own rooftop terrace! Over the weekend, we had the entire rooftop patio to ourselves, surrounded by the black tiled and historic hanok rooftops around Jeonju’s Hanok Village. Staying in a hanok guesthouse should definitely be high on your Korean Bucketlist as they are not only iconic to Korean history and culture, but they are also a great way to experience Korean traditional lifestyle.
3. Go on a Day Hike in Seoul
Seoul may be a huge metropolis but it is surrounded, strategically, by mountains on all sides. Though the need for mountain forts and defenses doesn’t really apply to modern times, the old castle walls, lookouts, and signal beacons still remain and are perfect for hiking to get a bird’s eye view of the massive and sprawling capital city. All the mountains around Seoul are accessible via public transportation, so if you are traveling to Korea, it is something to do that is quite accessible for tourists. Check out our favorite hikes below!
4. Go Camping on the Coast
One of our all time favorite weekend past times outside of hiking, is certainly camping along the coast of Korea. Most places in Korea you are likely to be totally fine to set up a tent for the night, just FYI. Make sure that you obviosuly clean up all your trash and pack out what you pack in, but otherwise we’ve known people to camp along the Han River in Seoul, along the miles of bike paths stretching across the country, and on every beach, valley, or national park. Our favorite places are coast side, though, so check out our list of favorite campsites below! Bonus for linking the foreigner camping group on Facebook as well!!
5. Find the Strange and Unique in Seoul
One major bucket list item for most people traveling to Korea, is to check out the fabulously strange and uniquely quirky places that the country is famous for. We love the never ending list of new and interesting places that make Seoul into an artistic and modern metropolis. The lifeblood of a city is its ability to satisfy every proclivity and personality and Seoul has this covered in spades. From great food to awesome night life, Seoul is an amazing city. Check out our guide of the more obscure attractions this city has to offer.
6. Ski the 2018 Winter Olympic Slopes
With the recent Pyeongchang Winter Olympic games being held in South Korea, you definitely should not miss out on skiing these slopes! The best part is, the ski lift tickets and rentals are some of the cheapest ski options we’ve found while traveling. With tons of tours and buses leaving the capital everyday to head east to the snowy landscapes of northern South Korea, you can easily make a day trip out of it! Check out our complete guide to skiing below as well as some of our other more popular skiing in Korea posts!
7. Get Tattooed on the D.L.
Yes, we’ve made a guide to accessing the underground illegal tattoo business of Korea. Tattoos are still very illegal in the country, but you can find your way through the red tape if you know who to get in contact with! Getting our tattoos in Seoul was one of our favorite experiences that was definitely packed full of meaning. The artists are so creative and highly sought after, so if you are considering some ink while traveling around Korea, you will need to make an appointment sometimes months in advance. Keep that in mind, and check out our guide below!
8. Get Naked in Front of Total Strangers
Jjimjilbangs are Korean bathhouses where you can soak, sweat, and eat your way to healthiness. They are a quintessential part of Korean culture and should therefore definitely be on your South Korea travel bucket list. For most foreigners traveling or living in South Korea, the word “jjimjilbang” elicits thoughts of nakedness and extreme discomfort as while you soak, you are in fact naked with a bunch of strangers. To quell your fears and learn what to expect from these bath houses, check out our guide to Korean Jjimjilbangs.
9. See Seoraksan National Park in the Snow
Okay, let’s face it, Seoraksan National Park is beautiful in literally any season. There is something special, however, about seeing this particular park in wintertime while it is covered in a white and cold blanket of snow. If you are planning to hike this mountain at this time, be sure to bring some crampons for your shoes and hiking poles as the trails are definitely icing. If hiking sound horrid in those temperatures, you can always take the cable car to the top and get a great view from there with absolutely zero effort involved. Get the video and more photos of our trip to Seoraksan below!
10. Hike in the Colorful Mountains in Fall
If you are coming to Korea in the fall, plan to wholly fall for the exquisite autumnal foliage. Koreans often boast about how their country truly experiences all four seasons, and we definitely agree. No matter where you are in the country you are sure to see the peak of colors changing any time between mid October in Seoraksan to mid November in Naejangsan. Be sure to check the yearly “Korean Fall Foliage” outlook posted every year by the Visit Korea tourism website.
11. Eat at a Hole in the Wall
No other restaurants can quite hit the same flavor notes as those old, worn in hole in the wall places you can find tucked into narrow alleyways and streets. Health regulations be damned, these places are good! If you want to experience some truly authentic Korean food, don’t look down your noses at their dilapidated storefronts, step inside and prepare yourself for food heaven! Our HANDS DOWN favorite hole in the wall gem is the Jeonju Makgeolli Hut where you can eat FOR FREE while drinking all. the. makgeolli. Check out the location by following the link below:
12. Snap Instagram Pictures in Anyang Art Park
Anyang was the first city we lived in during our time in South Korea, and hands down our favorite place in the city was the Anyang Art Park. A revitalization project done by the city, the art park now features many sculptures, installations, restaurants, and natural features. This park is beautiful spring through winter and the perfect weekend getaway location. If you are looking for unique art and instagrammable spots around Seoul, the Anyang Art park is a must see.
13. Grab Some Street Food in Myeongdong
If grabbing enough various kinds of street food to constitute a full dinner, plus tummy ache, isn’t on your to do list while traveling in Korea, you’ve got a problem. Cheap, hot, and authentic ingredients await you in the crowded streets of the Myeongdong neighborhood of Seoul. Seriously, go hungry and with your game faces on because there are more options than you are probably prepared for, but we believe in you! Eat all the food, except mayyyybe stay away from the silk worm larva. You’ll know it when you see it slash smell it…
14. Walk Along the Colorful Houses in Gamcheon
We love Korea’s old and historic neighborhoods. Dense and colorful, Gamcheon stands among the most iconic in all of South Korea. The murals, artwork, and recent addition of restaurants and cafes are all a part of an effort to revitalize the area by local city government and the residents of Gamcheon village.
15. See a Sea of Red at Suncheon Bay
The eco bay of Suncheon city along the southern coast of South Korea is a must see on your Korea Bucket List! The reeds and mudflats are out of this world stunning spring, summer, and fall, but early fall they truly shine. The reeds actually change colors like many autumnal trees and so in late October and early November you can witness this colorful display. The red color of the reeds swimming before you is wild to see, so don’t miss it if you are looking for a place to be wowed in nature!
16. Watch the Lotus Bloom in Deokjin Park
An utterly Asian aquatic plant, the lotus is a beautiful creeping plant found in rivers and ponds. The leaves float on top of the surface of the water and in mid July to early August, the thick stems burst open, revealing the perfect flowers in the hundreds. Deokjin Park is one of the best places to witness this feat of nature take place. The boardwalk slowly meanders through the plants across the surface of the water letting you get right in the middle of them all. Hang out at the central pagoda for a picnic or watch the ducks dart in and out of the leafy foliage. Check out the link below for a video and more photos!
17. Get Enlightened on a Temple Stay
Okay, so maybe you won’t actually achieve enlightenment after only only weekend spent in the life of a Korean monk, but you will definitely feel relaxed and learn a thing or two! An essential Korean Bucket List item, a Korean templestay is the perfect way to experience the culture in a very unique and fun way. There are many programs offered in many of the temples across the country, so check out our guide below for a quick how to!
18. Eat Bingsu on a Hot Summer Day
Bingsu is hands down our favorite cold treat to have on a hot summer’s day. Shaved yogurt ice cream topped with sauces, fruits, and sometimes even corn flakes, bingsu is an eclectic dessert that is as delicious as it is visually interesting. There are many different types of flavors, but you have to try the traditional version at least once before moving on to the simpler and more modern takes on the dish. The traditional patbingsu has shaved ice topped with red bean paste, fruits, small sticky rice cakes, ground nut powder, ice cream, and strawberry or chocolate sauce drizzled over the top. Check out our video of eating this unbelievable creation below:
19. Check Out a Lantern Festival, ANY OF THEM!
Right before Buddha’s birthday in early May, you will start to notice all of the temples stringing up hundreds of lanterns in a canopy around their shrines. The colorful display lasts about a month and during this time, there are many festivals you can see them at. Honestly, we can’t choose our favorite of the locations, so anywhere you choose to go you will be wowed. Try a temple to temple pilgrimage during this time of year to really enjoy Korea’s special celebration of a pretty insightful dude’s birthday.
20. Hike the Rocky Coasts of Yeosu
Yeosu has some of the best hiking trails with some of the best views of the bay. You can see the ocean from the top of any mountain in the city, but the island hikes are where to go to see the rugged and rocky cliffs. Most of the islands you must take a ferry to, but some of them have bridge access making driving there quite easy. Check out our favorite hikes in Yeosu below, and if you haven’t found the Klimbing Korean Mountains blog, you should definitely check it out. Our friends Tom and Elicia hiked all over Korea and mapped out there entire three years worth of experience for you!
21. Fall in Love with Rural Korea
When most people visit Korea, they typically spend all their time in the capital, never truly exploring the culturally rich rural towns, villages, and valleys of the country. We honestly think this is a total shame.Getting from place to place can be intimidating, but getting a bus or train outside of Seoul is much easier than you think! For exploring more of SouthKorea, we recommend exiting these major cities in favor of the more remote and secluded provinces like Gangwon or Jeolla if you are interested in getting a feel for what Korea is really like if you strip away the imported cars, high fashion, and high rise apartments.
22. Make Some Winter Kimchi
Yet another quintessential Korean cultural experience to have on your Korean bucket list: the yearly making of winter kimchi. Koreans love their kimchi. This universal side comes with almost every meal and we’ve long ago become huge fans of this spicy fermented cabbage. We’ve tried to learn how to make kimchi for the past several years, but have been unsuccessful. Recently, our good friend invited us to Naju, South Korea to join her family for their annual kimjang. We spent a day laughing, learning, and being a part of this sacred family ritual. Our “Korean Bucket List” just got a whole lot shorter after this awesome experience.
23. Try Out Korean Hangover Cures
In case you missed the notice, Koreans say drinking is part of a true cultural experience! Hey, as long as we all have the go ahead, right?! If you are going to do Korea right, then you should definitely dedicate an entire night out on the town. And, if you are going as hard as Koreans do, then you are going to need a bit of hangover help for the following day. Better yet, we decided to be super scientific and put the most famous ones to the test for you after getting housed on Korean soju, beer, makgeolli, and a good old fashioned norebang (karaoke) session. Check out the video for the results or the corresponding posts about other drinking highlights in Korea!
24. Visit an Animal Cafe
Though many of the WILD animal cafes may soon be shut down due to a proposed bill in August 2018, domestic animal cafes such as cats and dogs will still live on. We’ve visited many of the animals cafes in Korea and honestly, the cat cafes are our favorite. Snuggly and totally chill with living in a coffee shop, cats are probably best suited for this kind of life. We love sipping coffees and snuggling with the cats. If you have interest in any of the various types of animal cafes in Korea, check out our posts below!
25. Marvel at the Cliffside Temples
Korean temples are always beautiful places to explore and photograph, but the cliffside temples scattered around the peninsula are definitely our favorite! These hermitage gems have sprawling views out to sea or across miles and miles of mountain ranges. If any temple is on your Korean bucket list, one of the breathtakingly precariously perched ones should be your go to! Check out our favorite cliff side temples below!
26. Check Out Our Favorite Village in Korea, Hadong
Nestled in the valleys of the Jirisan mountain range close by to our costal city of Yeosu, Hadong easily became our favorite place for a weekend getaway. The valleys, river, cherry blossom and fruit trees, tea and rice fields, and mountains will certainly win over any nature lover’s heart. If you are looking for a place to relax and recharge, Hadong fits that bill! We hiked, camped, and explored this region in depth, so check out our guide to Hadong below for more information!
27. Take a Ferry Off the Southern Coast
The southern coast of South Korea is dotted with hundreds of islands, most albeit uninhabited, but several which you can explore. Visit any of the port coastal cities and grab a ferry for an amazing Korean island adventure. What you’ll discover is a version of Korea seemingly untouched by the forces of modernity. Old fisherman and farmers make up the entire population with the occasional pension owner. Here you find peace on the much quieter hiking trails, relaxation on the coastal shores, and cultural abundance in the small and quaint villages. Check out our favorite island getaways below for more information!
28. Learn Korean Drinking Games
Let me reiterate: Koreans love bonding over their drinking culture! What better way to do so that to circle up and play some old fashioned Korean drinking games? While you are trying to check everything off your quintessential Korea bucket list, drinking and bonding over fun and play is a perfect way to do Korea right. If you’ve never heard of or played any Korean style drinking games, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered. Check out our video explaining five different classic drinking games.
29. Wear Hanbok and Play Games in Jeonju
In case you’ve somehow missed the notice, Jeonju is a pretty stellar city in South Korea. Filled with history, culture, hanok houses, art, and food there’s pretty much something for everyone. Our favorite way to experience Jeonju? Rent a hanok guest house, dress in traditional Korean hanbok clothing, and play all the traditional games throughout the sprawling hanok village! Check out our guide to this westernly located traditional city by following the links below!
30. Hang Out on a South Coast Beach
On most weekends, you could most likely find us on one of the many beaches that dot that southern coast of South Korea. These smaller gems attract a lot less traffic and are generally pretty devoid of other people. A three hour high speed train ride away from the capital, the southern coast of Korea is still fairly accessible for a day trip away from the big city. Some of the beaches even turn into mudflats at low tide, making them prime real estate for clam digging. Shift out the salt water from them and boil them in your camp ramen noodle for the ultimate Korean experience!
31. Attend a Traditional Korean Wedding or Reenactment
Fortunately for us, we’ve been lucky to actually been invited to a real traditional Korean wedding ceremony of our friends, Pete and Sanha. You too can find your own reenactment of a Korean historic event or wedding, if you know where to look.With performances all across the country, you are sure to find something to satisfy your history buff needs. Check out our post below to learn about the traditions that occur at a Korean wedding, or browse some more to find out how to attend a reenactment!
32. Take a Bubble Bath at Red Ginseng Spa
By far one of the most strangely unique experiences we’ve had while in Korea, the Jinan Red Ginseng Spa should probably also be on your Korea bucket list as well. The spa has a variety of themed rooms that are each more confusing than the next. Each room is supposed to be healthy in some way or another either for your mind, body, or funny bone perhaps. Regardless, we loved our afternoon spent here probably more than any other Korean spa we’ve been to. Check out more information and photos by following the link below!
33. See Bijindo’s Bikini Beach From Above
Most people have to make a double take with this island. The bikini shape of the beach that connects to two main lands together is beyond bizarre. The cyan blue waters also lend to the incredible views and many people have to stop and wonder, “wait, is this actually Korea?!” The answer is yes. Yes it is. Those blue crystal clear waters and white sand beaches are more reminiscent of islands in Thailand than South Korea. With just a short forty minute ferry ride away from the mainland, it is easy to see why Bijindo Island is a favorite summer getaway amongst many of the foreigners living in the southern provinces.
34. See Spectacular Springtime Flowers
Cherry Blossoms are definitely not the only incredible flowers to see in Korea during springtime. Korea also has a longer blooming season, so nearly anytime of year you can enjoy a walk through these lovely blooms. Seoul has plenty of blooming trees in the springtime, but we are huge advocates of getting out of the capital and exploring the rest of what Korea has to offer. Below you can find our list of our favorite springtime locations in South Korea.
35. Stay in a Funky and Cheap Themed Hotel
Many of the hotels in Seoul have taken to making their rooms themed in cute, quirky, and sometimes down right confusing motifs. In our video, we talk about these places in more depth while in the themed room of slavery in the American south. SUPER CONFUSING. To be clear, we didn’t CHOOSE that room, the hotel had different themes for each of their rooms, and that’s just what we ended up with. If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, try booking a theme hotel in Seoul and really satisfy your need for the strange. Watch the video from our very first year in Korea below and check out our Seoul neighborhood guide for more unique hotel ideas!
36. See the Ancient Graves of Kings in Gyeongju
Honestly, the Gyeongju ancient graves of the kings are some of the most surreal looking places in Korea. If you are looking for some historically interesting places to experience, you really can’t miss this fascinating park. The Oreung Royal Tombs house four kings and one queen as well as many other royal and notable figures. The tombs are stunning in any season and well worth putting on your Korean bucket list.
37. Spend the Day on the Han River
If you are looking for something to do on a warm summer day or night in the capital city, the Han River is a great and iconic place to spend some time. In Korea’s fascinating past of invasion, occupation, and perseverance, this river was the central lifeblood to the city, responsible for transporting supplies while also requiring constant protection from invading boats. Apart from its interesting history, The Han River as it stands today is a massive public park providing Seoul with a central playground in the warm Summer months. Check out our guide to the top things to do on the Han River below!
38. Have Tea in a Hanok Straight Out of a Korean Drama
If you want to feel transported in time and have a taste of Korean culture to boot, you can’t miss out on trying tea in a traditional hanok house. At the Suncheon Wild Tea House, you can be served green tea in beautifully simple ceramic cups seated on the floor of a toenmaru (veranda) in traditional style. There is honestly no better way to feel the royal treatment that this!
39. Commit to a Real Korean Night Out
Come on, at least ONE night in Korea absolutely has to be dedicated to going hard to the paint. Our go to night out activities in Korea? Start off easy drinking outside the convenience stores at their complimentary picnic tables. Super cheap and totally socially accepted. Afterwards, hit up a Korean BBQ restaurant, where you should continue the drinking, bottle after bottle. Fill yourself, and hit the town for some singing at the noraebang. Here you can stay for the rest of the night getting progressively drunker and drunker. If you can swing one last stop in, hit up some fast mid night food to help your body recover a bit from the intensive amounts of alcohol you’ve just consumed. We combined our night out with our hangover cure experience, so the video should pretty much cover it all for you!
40. See the Seoul Skyline From Above
There are a few places you can enjoy taking in the Seoul skyline from an elevated position. Several restaurants, hotels, and bars have rooftop spaces for viewing the cityscape with a bird’s eye view. Other go to places for us are the Namsan Tower which rises 480 meters into the sky and Ansan mountain. Check out the following links to see some ideas of where to see Seoul from above below!
41. Explore Our Favorite Province, Jeollanamdo
Okay, so maybe we are a bit biased after we lived there for four years, but the Jeollanamdo province is our favorite area of all. If you are looking for natural beauty and a more accurate portrayal of the country, the southern province of Jeollanamdo is the place to go! Our beautifully large “Jeonnam” has a lot to offer visitors and lucky residents, but it oddly isn’t promoted as a premier destination. While much of Korea is awash with natural beauty and stunning landscapes, Jeollanamdo is no exception. We’ve written about our province many times, but here are our most popular and comprehensive posts below!
42. Eat. All. The. Food.
In case you missed it, we’ve had a running video series about all things food in South Korea. To this day, Korean food is still our favorite cuisine of any of the Asain foods we’ve tried in our travels. Your Korean bucket list, therefore, should consist of mostly of food. I’m only half kidding, because there really is so much we’d suggest to eat while you visit South Korea. Check out our favorites we’ve managed to narrow down below, or just explore our food video playlist on our YouTube channel!
43. Drink Some Green Tea in Boseong Tea Fields
One of the most scenically stunning places in the Jeollanamdo province, the Boseong Green Tea Fields are a must see for your Korea bucket list. Even in the wintertime when the bushes are covered in a blanket of soft white snow, these rows are gorgeous. Boseong is a small town and you can take a train or bus there fairly easil, if you know what to do. If green fields, bamboo forests, green tea flavored ice cream and foods are calling to you, check out our posts belwo for more information!
44. Explore the Mountains of Jirisan
The tallest mountain range on the South Korean mainland, the Jirisan National Park and mountain range is as beautiful as it is imposing. Strewn with an exhausting network of hiking trails, this national park is a paradise for adventurous visitors and is spectacularly beautiful regardless of season. The tallest peak of Jirisan is Cheonwanbong and is quite the trek to summit, but absolutely one of our greatest memories of being in Korea’s nature. Surrounding the mountain is Guyre, a mountain town that is exqually as fun to explore as the trails of Jirisan. Check out our video below to see more!
45. Check out Korea’s Most Unique Temple, Guinsa
Korean Buddhism is an important aspect of Korean history and culture, and visitors are undoubtedly going to find themselves visiting a temple or twelve. While many people get burned out on visiting temples, they each hold their own special details for the discerning eye. While exploring a huge number of temples (I love them and refuse to see them as all the same) in our years living in South Korea, we stumbled upon Guin Temple (Guinsa) in the province of Chungcheongbuk-do’s Sobaek Mountains. Completely different in architectural style and building arrangement from ANY other Korean temple we’ve visited.
46. Travel Back in Time to Andong
One of our favorite locations in all of South Korea, and one that we kept returning to throughout the years, is Andong. Famous to the levels of the Queen of England visiting to experience “real Korean culture,” Andong is a city of relentless “old world” charm and character. Preserved in time, the thatch-roofed houses of Andong instantly transport visitors to an era long ago where life was simpler and traditions carried the day. We’ve loved our trips to Andong and are sure anyone interested in Korean culture will too!
47. Set Out on a Sunrise New Years Hike
One tradition that we surprisingly loved was the South Korean practice of hiking through the frigid, early hours of New Year’s Day to see the first sunrise of a new year. Though generally cold and exhausted from NYE parties just hours before, many Koreans force themselves up the steep sides of their nearby mountains and you should join them. Each time we’ve tortured ourselves with this tradition, we’ve been immensely glad to have gone. To help fend off the cold and ensure the luck promised by a new year, sunrise hikers are often given endless steaming bowls of tteokguk (rice cake soup) as they begin their treks.
48. Explore Korea in the Wintertime
Namwon in Snowy Winter Wonder
Spring, Summer, and Fall are all known to be beautiful seasons in South Korea, but Winter should not be overlooked. Koreans are known to boast about their “four distinct seasons” and for good reason. Though the “greener” months are the most typically photogenic, Winter landscapes can be just as spectacular. Mountain landscapes, temples, and frozen street photography can be just as interesting, even if it means braving the cold. It’s rarely comfortable, but getting out and experiencing South Korea in the depths of Winter is always a good idea if you can force yourself to do it!
49. See the Best West Coast Beach, Gosapo
Being a peninsula, South Korea is obviously rife with beaches and oceanside areas. In our years living here, we’ve explored a vast number of beaches for camping and swimming, and have our obvious favorites. Gosapo Beach, located west of Byeonsanbando National Park, this glorious stretch of beach and heavily wooded campground quickly became of our favorite beach camping destinations. Though we lived 3 hours from Gosapo, we frequently made the drive just to be at such a brilliant beach for the weekend.
50. Grab Some Cheap Eats to Make It All Affordable
Korean cuisine is objectively amazing. It’s nearly impossible to miss the mark with restaurant food, but there are plenty of times when something cheap or fast is needed. Street food and convenience stores offer a lot of delicious, albeit sometimes confusing, options for affordable dining that is rarely discussed. For cheap eats, we highly recommend venturing into markets and shopping districts with street food carts and going to town for a mere dollar or two. Convenience stores like 7-Eleven, GS25, and CU often sell their own cheap kimbap rolls and triangle rice balls, but kimbap restaurants are often similarly priced ($2-4 per kimbap roll) but with fresher ingredients.
Did we miss anything that you consider a must see or must do? Have you traveled to South Korea? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!