These travel tips for South Korea cover everything you need to know about food, shopping, and must-see attractions to the do’s and don’ts when visiting the region. Knowing these things before your trip will help you avoid looking like a tourist! And more importantly, these South Korea travel tips will give you a better sense of what to see and do so you know what to expect on your trip to South Korea. Continue reading to find out more.
CONTENTS – In this article, you will learn some important travel tips for South Korea, including:
- When to Visit South Korea
- South Korea’s Must-See Attractions
- Shopping Tips in South Korea
- South Korea Transportation Tips
- Food Tips for South Korea
- Nature Tips in South Korea
- Unusual Attractions in South Korea
- Best Places to Live in South Korea
- 7 Things to Keep in Mind before Setting Off for South Korea
- Do’s and Don’ts When Visiting South Korea
- Final Thoughts on South Korea Travel Tips
South Korea Travel Tips | When to Visit South Korea
With a population of more than 51 million people, South Korea is famous for many things. Among them:
- Rich traditions and culture
- Meditative Buddhism and Confucianism
- Expansive shopping malls
- The hi-tech world
The best time to visit South Korea is autumn, but that is the most popular season so expect crowds. This time of year will be hot in the daytime, but nighttime temperatures can go down to a comfortable 61°F (16°C) or even less.
Top Attractions you Mustn’t Miss on Your Visit to South Korea
When you are in South Korea, do not forget about the mountains! The country boasts many mountains which are excellent places for sightseeing.
Most Koreans love hiking, sightseeing, and mountain climbing among other activities. If you enjoy this kind of sport, too, South Korea is ideal!
If you plan to visit just a few mountains, go to Namsan Mountain. It is one of the highest mountains in South Korea, with a height of over 260 meters. You can even take a cable car or funicular up. You’ll find several hiking routes there suitable for beginners and advanced hikers, as well.
Another of the country’s attractions is the Han River. It’s located in the southwest part of the country, between Seoul and the Incheon metropolitan area.
You’ll discover that the river has numerous small fish ponds along its banks where people enjoy fishing from springtime till the end of autumn, when it gets really cold.
In the hot summer months, it is possible to swim in those ponds or rent a boat.
If you travel to South Korea in winter, don’t miss this opportunity to check out the ski resorts. They are close to Seoul, Pyeongchang, and Jeongseon. Most ski resorts have artificial slopes so you can practice skiing and snowboarding regardless of the weather.
In the southeast part of South Korea, you’ll find a pair of interesting islands. The Ganghwado and Hansando Islands are a perfect way to spend the summer holiday, especially when it gets too hot on the mainland.
The local specialty of these islands is dried salty fish, which can be found at almost every street shop. Also, if you need a break from sightseeing and would like to rest on some beach, this is the place. That’s because you will not find so many tourists there as on the Haeundae or Songcheon beaches.
If you plan your trip to South Korea in spring or autumn, remember the temperature changes quickly and can be unpredictable. For the most versatility you’ll want to pack some warm dresses, T-shirts, and skirts. Most local people go around in sneakers, low shoes, and sandals, so pack those if you want to blend in.
Travel Tips for Shopping in South Korea
Now, with regard to shopping in South Korea, what might come to your mind is electronics. You’ll find smartphones, tablets, and other equipment, including the latest models available all around the world.
You will come across plenty of shops in South Korea with good quality stuff at a more than affordable price!
For example, the Myeongdong Shopping District has everything you will need, from clothes, to shoes, accessories, or just souvenirs. You can even buy fur coats for half the price of what they’re solf for in Boston!
If you are a fan of duty-free goods, it is better to shop at Incheon International Airport, where there are duty-free shops located in public areas. You won’t see any discounts on South Korean brands here, since all imported goods already have a pretty high price tag.
So if you want to save money, instead of buying duty-free at the airport, search in a cheap department store instead!
Transportation Tips in South Korea
As far as transportation goes, you’ll learn there are many options available for tourists.
First of all, the Seoul metropolitan area consists of many large cities, including Seoul, Incheon, and Goyang. That is why it is better to buy a T-money transit card for using public transport.
The price varies from 1,250 won (1.50 USD) to 50,000 won (48.5 USD). You can add money to your card at convenience stores throughout the city anytime you need.
In South Korea, there are few express trains connecting almost all big capital cities one way or another.
Plus, you’ll find there are also many subway stations in the Seoul metropolitan area. The subway stations offer an efficient traffic control system that guarantees punctual train arrivals at scheduled stations during rush hour.
Buses have their own lanes, too, so they don’t interfere with other traffic.
If you decide to use a taxi, remember to take your receipt after getting out of the vehicle. Also, note down its number to avoid being overcharged.
If you want to be sure that the driver hasn’t cheated you, be sure to check if there have been any complaints about him recently. In this way, you can get your money back!
Food Tips in South Korea
Apart from traditional food reflecting many centuries of culture in South Korea, you will also find plenty of imported dishes from all around the world. That includes:
- Food from the Middle East
- Delicious street food
- Indian cuisine
- Mexican and Italian delicacies.
Besides, it is pretty easy to buy ingredients for preparing your own meal. That’s because the 24-hour grocery shops with fresh vegetables and fruits are located almost everywhere in bigger cities.
Additionally, Koreans love eating out—you’ll see outdoor cafes and restaurants everywhere. So it won’t be a problem to find a place where you can sit down and enjoy your meal after shopping or sightseeing.
If you want to try some delicious traditional food in this country, the best tip would be to go to Myeongdong district at lunchtime instead of late evening! All street food stalls put their “daily dishes” on display, so you will see them immediately upon arrival.
You can help yourself with utensils and then take a number and choose an open table nearby until the waiter brings your order there. Then just pay the bill directly to your waiter without leaving anything extra, such as tips. The price is all-inclusive.
Try visiting some typical Korean restaurants and enjoy dishes like Jalebi for yourself. You won’t be disappointed in this deep-fried batter soaked in a sweet syrup.
Travel Tips About Nature in South Korea
In South Korea, if you want to plunge into nature and go hiking or camping, here is some useful advice for you.
Firstly, it is better to go with a guide as there are many unmarked dangers such as wild animals (even tigers), poisonous snakes, and underground bunkers left by the North Korean army. If you don’t want your holiday trip to end up badly, it is better to be safe than sorry!
Note that you need all sorts of permits and licenses to collect rare samples of wild plants and mushrooms–so if you see someone doing it illegally, he must be very experienced! Don’t risk it yourself.
Also, remember the obligatory wearing of helmets – if not provided by the tour operator – when riding on terrains at higher altitudes where wind gusts can be pretty intense.
People in South Korea are very friendly, and it is easy to communicate with them despite the language barrier. So don’t be afraid to use gestures and basic words like:
- sorry (mi-an-ha-da)
- thank you (gamsahamnida)
- hello (annyonghaseyo)
- goodbye (gaseyo)
Koreans also love taking photos of each other, so if you want an easy way to make a friend, just ask someone to take a picture of you together!
Related Article: Find out more about learning a new language.
Unusual Attractions to Visit in South Korea
If traditional culture and cuisine weren’t enough to impress you, you might try out at least one unusual attraction every day.
The first thing that comes to my mind is visiting Nami Island. It’s filled with a mysterious atmosphere, maybe because tourists are told that some kind of spirit inhabits it. So you can see many temples, Buddhist statues, and even animatronics showing you how to deal with ghostly creatures!
Another great destination for those who enjoy being spooked out is Seodaemun Prison History Hall, which the Japanese army used during their occupation of Korea. It is said to be haunted, too, so you will probably get goosebumps – just don’t forget to take a selfie with ghosts!
If the weather isn’t the best for outdoor activities, it’s a good idea to visit Naksan Park or some museums instead. A good thing about this country is that no one cares if you decide not to come in; they won’t force you, so you can skip the entrance fee and go around looking at the exterior only.
Where it is Better to Live in South Korea
If you are thinking about making a move to a new place and enjoy a busy city, you might choose Seoul. It is also one of the most photographed cities in the world, as it is crowded all the time with both local and foreign tourists.
You can look for housing online, but be careful with providing your personal information so you don’t get scammed.
If you prefer a more peaceful life away from the hustle and bustle, you might select a province that has fewer people living there. It will be easier to buy or rent a house there, too.
Kyonggi-do Province is perfect for those who love quietude. Just imagine yourself waking up surrounded by clean air and birds chirping. This province also has several national parks, so if you own a car, prepare to take it out on weekends!
Another great place to live in South Korea is Jeju Island, known for:
- Its numerous amusement parks
- Coastal cliffs
- Botanical gardens
- The world’s biggest aquariums, the COEX Mall Aquarium.
This island is a great choice mainly because of the amazing landscape filled with volcanoes, hot springs, and even folk villages where you can taste local dishes made from seafood. Plus, it has a very low crime rate, so it is safe even for families with children.
Things to Keep in Mind before Setting off for South Korea
While traveling to South Korea, you should remember that this country is perfectly safe. But at the same time, it can be expensive for those who are used to traveling on a budget — local attractions and accommodation prices aren’t as low as in other countries.
Here are seven things you should know before beginning your journey to South Korea.
If you want your trip to be more comfortable to your senses, avoid big cities like Seoul or Busan. Instead, visit some tourist destinations that are harder to reach from abroad. Many of these places can be found in Kyonggi-do Province, which makes it easier to make a decision about where exactly you want to travel. If you decide not to stay long there, check out Seoraksan National Park, which has many hiking trails, waterfalls, and even Buddhist temples.
If you don’t want to waste your time looking for places where you can eat healthy meals, then you better look up some Korean menus online before leaving home. That way, you will be able to avoid restaurants that serve only the usual meat/fish/chicken with rice or noodles.
It really isn’t difficult to find healthier food in South Korea. People are quite open about it, so ask them the best dishes they recommend. Most enjoy it when tourists ask about their culture.
3. Language Barrier
Don’t assume that everyone speaks English just because you know a few phrases. You’ll find many people who have never studied foreign languages in their life. So it is better to be more prepared if you plan to use English instead of the Korean language when communicating with locals.
If you don’t speak Korean, it won’t be a big problem as long as you can read or use Google Translate.
When you visit Ancient Gyeongju city, you’ll discover many Buddhist temples, folk villages, and even Amphitheater. Plus, if you manage to get there at the right moment, you will have an amazing time watching Korean traditional performances!
Exchange rates in South Korea aren’t too bad, but they change every day. So, you’ll want to look them up online before leaving home.
However, credit cards are widely accepted, so don’t worry about that too much. All you need is some cash for street food, small restaurants, a few purchases under $10,000 won ($10), and some for public transportation. That shouldn’t add up to too much during your stay.
There are many ways to get around in South Korea. Local trains run regularly, and they are quite cheap compared to taxis. There is also a metro in Seoul that runs 24/7, which is essential for modern cities. Buses and tour guides may also come in handy for those who like hiking tours, especially if you don’t speak Korean.
While it may be customary to tip in other countries, it isn’t necessary when dining out in South Korea; your bill will already include tips.
Dos and Don’ts When Visiting South Korea
Even though South Korea is an extremely modern country, there are some cultural differences that may be confusing to understand. For example, using your left hand when eating or giving someone money as a gift is considered disrespectful here. (In addition, you should use both hands when giving a gift in South Korea.)
You should check online to learn the full complement of things to avoid doing if you don’t want to offend anyone. But here are ten quick tips to help with the “Do’s and Don’ts” of South Korea:
- Don’t forget to pack warm clothes. It can get freezing in South Korea during wintertime.
- Do try all traditional dishes that you can eat with chopsticks, like kimchi or bean porridge (bibimpap). They are usually delicious
- Don’t leave your chopsticks standing up in your rice bowl. Upright chopsticks is taboo, and is only done when offering food to the spirits of the dead.
- Do check if there are any special events before traveling somewhere, because transportation might be limited during national holidays.
- Don’t leave empty bottles or cans lying around on the table. This is considered to be bad luck.
- Do pack some games and cards because people love playing them, especially on long journeys.
- Don’t sit with your hands against the table. It means you want to leave.
- Don’t give green tea directly to someone else; always pour it into their cup first! Turning green tea down is also very offensive in South Korea.
- Don’t be surprised if you see some people sleeping on public buses or trains. It happens very often.
- Don’t call someone you just met by their first name. This may be considered disrespectful or even rude. Always use their title to show respect, instead. e.g., Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss.
Final Thoughts on Travel Tips for South Korea
As you can see, traveling in South Korea is a very interesting and unique experience. The best way of learning about a foreign culture like this one is to make new friends who will introduce you to their traditions. Or better yet, immerse yourself in South Korea for yourself when you travel.
Read this next: The Ultimate South Korea Travel Itinerary You Need To Know
Charles Normandin writes unique articles for publications. He also works with professional essay writers and can speak 3 languages proficiently. He enjoys volunteering, drawing, and rock climbing. Charlie also enjoys helping animals at the shelter to make their life better. Meet him on Twitter @Charles60104524.