South Korea may look relatively small on a map, but make no mistake about it – it’s packed with history, culture, and insanely good food. I’ll help you navigate the big cities and countryside villages to plan a perfect 10-day trip.
Few places embrace futuristic design the way that South Korea does in cities like Seoul – with a subway system and buildings like Dongdaemun Design Plaza that look like something straight from a science fiction epic.
But don’t get it twisted – there’s also a deep commitment to preserving traditional culture you’ll find in nearly every corner of the country, from the ongoing custom of wearing the ornate Korean hanbok dresses in smaller cities like Jeonju to the beautifully preserved urban palace and gardens at Changdeokgung.
I just got back from spending several weeks in this gorgeous country and I learned a ton from this trip. After returning from South Korea, I paged through my notebook (and memory bank) to develop a perfect travel plan so you can make the most of your visit.
Ready to learn more? Here’s everything you need to know for your South Korea trip.
South Korea Itinerary
Days 1-2: Seoul
Few cities in the world balance old and new as well as Seoul does. Facts.
On my most recent trip, I found myself moving from ancient landmarks like the royal Joseon dynasty estate of Gyeongbokgung Palace to N Seoul Tower, where the bright neon lights from 237 metres (777 ft) encapsulate the city’s pursuit and perfection of modernity like no other vantage point I’ve seen.
Stroll through the charming Samcheong-dong area for some of the best shopping in the city and a look into the exciting neighbourhood filled with jazz clubs, cocktail bars, and hair salons where you might run into your favourite K-pop singer.
The trendy boutiques featuring local art or K-beauty supplies seem perfectly at home near classic Korean Hanoks (houses) and bustling business districts, which speaks to the balance of history, commerce, and a trend-setting drive that makes Seoul one of the most interesting cities in the world.
Things to Do in Seoul
Visit Changdeokgung Palace
What’s the best way to kick off a 10 days in Seoul itinerary? Tap into the history and culture of the city.
Visiting a Joseon Dynasty Palace offers a peek into the 500-year rule through a lesson in history and architecture. Changdeokgung Palace was my favourite, as the extensive palace and secret gardens really gave a sense of what life was like for Korean royalty for centuries.
It’s an affordable tour, for just £6.10 ($7.70).
Alternatively, you can visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, where many of the original Joseon Dynasty Grand Palace buildings have been restored since being destroyed under Japanese occupation.
See the Views from N Seoul Tower
If you only make time for one viewpoint, you need to see the panoramic city views from the top of N Seoul Tower.
High up on a hill, you can either walk or take the Namsan Cable Car to the top for gorgeous views from the landmark’s observation deck that doubles as a radio tower. I opted for the latter, and after elbowing my way to the window, my reward was spectacular views all the way up
Eat at Gwangjang Market
Whether you go for lunch, dinner, or both, visiting the iconic Gwangjang Market offers you a taste of why Seoul is literally heaven on earth for foodies. Try the fish cake soup (Eomukguk) and hand-cut noodles in anything you see.
Only have time to try one dish? Try mung bean pancakes.
Head to Sunhui-ne Bindaetteok as early as possible to dive into the mung bean pancakes that are crispy, savoury, and oh-so-addictive.
Explore a Hanok Village
Whether you’re walking around the peaceful Namsangol Hanok Village, or exploring the bustling Bukchon Hanok Village, seeing the traditional homes made of pine, stone, and tile is another example of the well-preserved history in Seoul.
The ancient homes (some dating back over 500 years) are now home to museums, shops, and tea houses, but Bukchon is still a functioning neighbourhood at its heart.
Getting to Seoul
You’re most likely going to land at Incheon International Airport in Seoul, no matter which country you’re visiting from.
From there, you can take a train from the terminal to Seoul Station before transferring to the Myeongdong Station and walking to your hotel. In all, it will take you just under 1.5 hours to get from your terminal to your hotel if you stay in Myeongdong.
Base yourself in Myeongdong when you’re in Seoul for access to the city’s top landmarks, restaurants, and transportation.
The Four Points Josun Seoul Myeongdong offers comfortable (if a bit bland) accommodations that do have some of the better views of the gorgeous skyline. Rooms are on the small side but clean and cosy.
The breakfast was a highlight, with Korean and Western options – my favourite was the made-to-order noodle station.
Days 3-4: Andong
When you arrive in Andong, it’s not hard to notice a stark contrast from the bustling capital of South Korea.
While walking through Seoul is an exercise in back-and-forth time travel from past to present to future, Andong is mostly rooted in centuries-old traditions and culture. I’m not complaining.
I found it refreshing and enlightening to explore the UNESCO World Heritage sites like Dosan Seowon Confucian Academy, taste new (but ancient) flavours in places like Andong Set Menu Restaurant 한상채비, and walk across the Nakdong River on the country’s longest pedestrian-only bridge.
Things to Do in Andong
Dosan Seowon Confucian Academy
Confucianism is most commonly associated with China, but it also played a key role in Korean culture.
Yi Hwang was a well-respected Confucianist teacher in Andong, and his students created an academy after he passed away in the late 16th century.
Confucianism began to fade away after the Joseon Dynasty no longer ruled Korea, but the Dosan Seowon Confucian Academy never closed. It’s a beautiful place with 17 beautiful Joseon-era buildings, and it’s no surprise it fostered deep thinking and centuries of teaching in its tranquil location by the large lake.
Dine at Andong Set Menu Restaurant 한상채비
One of my favourite meals on my last trip was also the most traditional Korean restaurant I visited. The beef bulgogi, grilled mackerel, Jangajji (pickled veg), and every other dish at Andong Set Menu Restaurant 한상채비 were all spectacular.
You’ll need to go out of the way from Andong city centre, but it’s well worth the detour for the full South Korean dining experience on day 1 in Andong.
Start the Day at Nakgangmulgil Park
If you think Nakgangmulgil Park looks like a Monet painting, you’re not alone. The forests and ponds are picture-perfect and a beautiful place to wake up and enjoy the scenic side of Andong.
Try the Famous Chicken at Andong Old Market
Walking past the lively stalls selling pastries, seafood, and fried chicken, you can’t help but fall in love with the aromas and flavours in this long-standing marketplace.
Don’t miss a chance to have a meal at Andong Shinsegae Jjimdak. The savory braised chicken over glass noodles is a classic dish in Korea, and there’s no better place to try it.
Go Wine Tasting at 264 Lee Yuk Sa Winery
In an area so steeped in tradition; it’s a bit surprising to find a winery pushing the boundaries of local horticulture. But 264 Lee Yuk Sa Winery is a kind of tribute to famous poet and Andong hero Lee Yuk-sa, who died in a Beijing prison due to his affiliation with the Korean Liberation Army.
Even though the winery is only a few years old, I thought they put out some impressive juice. The Cheongsu was a really fun white wine with a dry floral note that was better than I expected.
See the Light Show at Woryeonggyo Bridge
Take a walk on the longest pedestrian-only bridge in South Korea when you visit Andong. The Woryeonggyo Bridge is in a beautiful setting over the Nakdonggang River, but it’s especially striking at night.
Visit around 8 pm or 10 pm for a special show that lights up the water and temple in the middle of the bridge.
Getting to Andong
You can reach Andong from Seoul by bus or train. My advice? From the Cheongnyangni Station, take the high-speed KTX train, which will get you there in about 2 hours.
If you don’t mind going a bit out of your way, Andong Gurume Resort allows you to stay in a gorgeous Korean Hanok village. You can choose from several different room styles, each with a traditional design and a complimentary breakfast each morning.
Days 5-7: Busan
If you want to visit one of the most picturesque areas in the country, make sure you add Busan to your South Korea itinerary.
The port city along the southern coast of South Korea is not only a delight for outdoor enthusiasts and foodies, but it also has a deep history related to the Korean War.
Because it’s the 2nd largest city in the country and one of the most important ports, it was crucial that the UN helped defend the peninsula from the Korean People’s Army in the earliest months of combat. Now, Busan is home to the only UN Memorial Cemetery in the world.
Things to Do in Busan
UN Memorial Cemetery
You can’t overstate the importance of Pusan (Busan) in the Korean War, and the UN Memorial Cemetery gracefully paints the tragic (but heroic) picture of the worldwide effort to retain South Korea’s independence. It’s the only UN cemetery in the world and a sobering reminder of the bloody war.
Make sure you attend the UN flag raising and lowering and watch the educational video about the soldiers, which we were all in tears over by the time we left. This is a good way to learn more about the city’s history on your first day in Busan.
Try Korean Sashimi for Lunch
I know you may think sashimi is best in Japan, but hear me out – Koreans enjoy it just as much, and Bangpajae Hoetjip has it down to a science.
Choose the fish of your choice when you walk in, and dive into anything from the fresh catch of the day to something a bit more adventurous, like the live octopus. I found the latter a bit challenging, but if you can get over the suckers trying to put up one last fight, it’s a dish with delicious flavours.
Ride the Busan Air Cruise
One of the best ways to take in any city is from an aerial perspective, and hopping aboard the Busan Air Cruise is one of the more impressive rides with a view I’ve taken.
Not only do you get incredible vantage points of downtown and Songdo Bay, but you’ll see the rugged cliffs and water right under your feet.
The museum on the top is kind of strange, but the city and ocean views are seriously amazing.
Visit Gamcheon Cultural Village
Start your second day in Gamcheon Cultural Village, which is quickly becoming a top tourist destination in South Korea.
The historic neighbourhood got a bit of a facelift in 2009, and now the rows of densely packed hillside houses with colourful wooden facades and brightly painted street murals is one of the most photogenic areas in Busan.
Stand-Up Paddle Boarding at Gwangalli Beach
Try stand-up paddle boarding on Gwangalli Beach, where you’ll have picture-perfect views of the skyscrapers and Gwangan Bridge from a SUP. The best part? You can rent them right off the beach!
The conditions can get a tad gnarly, but that’s part of the appeal. I think this is best at sunset, so plan for a late dinner.
Have Dinner at Korean Steak Grill
It’s really hard to narrow down my favourite restaurant in South Korea. Borderline impossible.
Nonetheless, this Korean Steak Grill (전설의 우대갈비 해운대직영점) between Haeundae Traditional Market and Haeundae Beach is what Korean BBQ dreams are made of (the views by the window are great, too).
So, what should you order? The steak on the bone is a must. It’s grilled at your table and then cut into small pieces for you to tuck into in sheer bliss. It’s divine.
Visit Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
On your last day in Busan, take a day trip to Visit Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, just under an hour bus ride from Haeundae Station.
The oceanside landmark is a beautiful example of a Korean Buddhist Temple, with a rich history dating back to the 14th century and wonderful recreations of Joseon Dynasty-era architecture.
Watch the Sunset in Huinnyeoul Culture Village
Save yourself time to visit the “Santorini of Korea” and go to Huinnyeoul Culture Village in the afternoon. You’ll find over a dozen murals (you can pick up an information guide near the village entrance) in the charming coastal village and some ridiculous sunset views from the Huinnyeoul Trail.
Getting to Busan
You can travel from Andong to Busan by train or bus. Both options will take around 2-2.5 hours, door to door, so either will work just fine.
Grand Josun Busan boasts sleek, modern rooms in a beautiful property near Haeundae Beach. The luxury hotel features a pool, spa, and stunning vistas from the rooms and suites
Days 8-9: Jeonju
If you’re beginning to pick up on a theme in Korea, it’s that the food is absolutely incredible.
I’m not kidding when I tell you that each city I went to left me reeling about how exciting the culinary scene was. Jeonju might have been my favourite.
You’d expect no less out of the place where bibimbap originated, right? Oh yea, it’s also a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
From making the Korean fermented beverage Moju to eating more pork in one sitting than I thought possible, culinary treats are around every corner in Jeonju. That said, I was surprised by how much there is to do here besides dive into the incredible food and beverage.
For starters, the gorgeous free open spaces like Jeonju Arboretum or the lakeside Deokjin Park are a welcome respite from the busy city streets.
There’s also a deep commitment to education and the arts, which you can explore by signing up for cooking classes, pottery demos, or taking a stroll through the Yeonhwajung Library in a gorgeous Hanok.
In all, Jeonju is so lovely that I would say you can’t plan a trip to South Korea without including it on your itinerary.
Things to Do in Jeonju
Jeonju Arboretum is home to one of the most beautiful parks in the city, and it’s even free to stroll through and look at the abundance of flora and fauna.
It’s a stunning garden, which sprouted up after the expressway left the land in less than desirable shape. They transformed it into a tranquil space that is especially beautiful in the fall, when the pink muhly is in peak bloom.
Visit the Gyeonggijeon Shrine
The 15th-century Gyeonggijeon Shrine is a beautiful example of Joseon Dynasty architecture in Jeonju and was built as the home of a portrait for the first ruler King Tae-jo.
Despite being damaged during a Japanese invasion in the 16th Century, the building is still beautiful inside and out and home to portraits of numerous Joseon Dynasty royalty over the 400+ years of their rule.
Make Your Own Moju
If you’re looking for a cool activity to try while you’re in town, try making the fermented Korean rice wine bevvy known as moju.
First time trying moju? Not to worry. You can choose from 3 different recipes, each with unique ingredients
Explore Jeonju Hanok Village
One of the best memories of my most recent trip was walking through Jeonju Hanok Village.
Locals and visitors dress up in traditional Korean hanbok dresses and stroll around the town, a beautiful reminder of the rich cultural traditions in Jeonju. You can even rent them at a local shop.
Head to the Jeonju International Film Festival in the spring, which helps bring to life a place that’s already brimming with tradition.
Dinner at 경성금돼지 – Pork Grill Restaurant
Had plenty of grilled meat? Sorry, but make room for more. This excellent restaurant dishes up unctuous cuts of pork grilled to perfection at your table.
The prices are reasonable, and the atmosphere is festive and social. So, come hungry and enjoy some cold noodles and kimchi alongside too much meat for one person to comfortably take down.
See Deokjin Park at Night
After you enjoy dinner, head to Deokjin Park to see why locals love the beautiful urban green space after the sun goes down. The pond lights up from the lights along the walkways and nearby University buildings.
Still, it’s the stunning Yeonhwajeong Library with its traditional Hanok facade that really lights up the park at night.
Getting to Jeonju
Jeonju is easy to get to from Busan. You can take KoBus and reach the city in 3 hours or take a train from Cheonan Asan Station, a short bus ride away from Jeonju.
Lahan Hotel Jeonju is a popular modern hotel overlooking the city and traditional Hanok village. The rooms are large, the beds are comfortable, and it’s a perfect location for exploring the city.
Day 10: Seoul
Now that you’ve checked a few of Seoul’s most popular tourist boxes, it’s time to see the city like a local. Start at Cheonggyecheon Stream, where you can hang out at numerous spots along the 10.9 km (6.7-mile) stream known for its street art, bridges, and famous Unicorn Horn art installation.
After that, check out the vendors at the bustling Gwangjang Market or explore the vibrant shopping and dining scene in Myeongdong; I promise when you start digging deeper into things to do in Seoul, you probably won’t want to leave.
Things to Do in Seoul
Walk Around Yeouido Hangang Park and the Hyundai
Start your day at Yeouido Hangang Park, where you can take a stroll, hire a bicycle, or snap a selfie in front of the “I Seoul You” sign on the Han River.
Then, visit The Hyundai Seoul for some shopping. Visit any of the pop-ups for a unique look at the rotating storefronts and kiosks, including exhibits by some of the most well-loved clothing brands and K-pop stars.
Dine at Insadong Hangane Bulgogi Jumak
There are some cities where I feel like you need to hop around as many restaurants as possible until you’re uncomfortably full. Seoul is one.
But if you only have time for one, do the set menu at Insadong Hangane Bulgogi Jumak. For 18,000 won (£11), you’ll enjoy soup, rice, and pickled veggies. But the real star of the show is the beef bulgogi, which was buttery, rich, and a must-try when you’re in Seoul.
Jijimbang at Spa Lei Seoul
Be sure to schedule a session at a Korean spa. It’s a unique experience, and Spa Lei is probably the most accessible to Westerners and is also for women only.
I wouldn’t say this is relaxing, but it’s totally invigorating. And for under £100 ($125), the massage and body scrub made me feel like an entirely new person before my long flight home.
Getting to Seoul
From Jeonju you can take a high-speed train from KTX to Seoul in around 2 hours. I thought the trains were extremely comfortable, and the views were spectacular – so don’t hesitate to book a ticket.
If you want to stay in a different part of town, I recommend Insadong for your second leg in Seoul.
The rooms are comfortable, there’s a 24-hour front desk with currency exchange available, and you can walk to the subway easily from the lobby.
Have More Time? Add Gangneung To Your Itinerary
If you have more time, I highly recommend adding a couple of days in Gangneung.
For starters, the “City of Coffee” might just boast more artisanal cafes roasting their coffee than any place I’ve ever been. And pretty much every market and restaurant I tried was seriously incredible, so I’ll just mention a few.
Be sure to stop by Gangneung Jungang Market, where you can check out the traditional and underground fishery market, which has been open since the 1980s. Take your time to sample regional fare, but do not miss the Korean fried chicken from Baenni – an explosion of flavours and textures that was straight-up delightful.
And if you only have time for one meal, Owole Chodang Korean Pancake Restaurant (오월에 초당) is the spot. The thick omelettes are bursting with fresh ingredients. Think crunchy on the outside, soft veg, and seafood on the inside – it was easily one of my favourite dishes from the trip.
Want to see a bit of the surroundings between chowing down? The city has a stunning coastline, with Gyeongpo Beach being the most popular place to spend a day lying on the white sands lined with fragrant pines.
Handy Tips for Planning Your Korea Trip
What to Pack
You’ll need to decide what time of year you’re visiting South Korea before you start planning your wardrobe.
The weather is completely different in July than it is in January. You can see temperatures below -6.6°C (20°F) in the winter, where summer highs often reach over 26.6°C (80°F).
No matter when you visit, you’ll want to pack dressy clothes for restaurants and museums and lean a little towards conservative. I like choosing dresses or skirts with tops that are a bit less revealing, as it’s the custom in most areas of South Korea.
Bring a reliable pair of sneakers for getting around the city and subways, underseat luggage (or a small rolling suitcase), and a mix of casual and formal clothes for sightseeing, dinners, and entertainment.
Pack your best beachwear if you visit in the summer, but again, you might want to stick to conservative outfits like a one-piece or shorts and a cover-up.
Best Time to Visit
Winters are quite cold, and summers tend to be very hot. If you can, plan your holiday in South Korea for the Spring or Fall.
Trying to visit when the weather is perfect? I’d aim for May or September when it’s generally between 13°C – 38°C (55°F – 75°F).
The public transportation system in South Korea is excellent. I used the bullet train to get between Jeonju and Seoul, and it was so comfortable, with beautiful views along the route. You can also rely on the bus system to get from city to city, with several companies offering consistent bus trips, depending on the region.
BusTago and Ko Bus are 2 of the most popular options, but you can check Kakaobus or Rome2Rio for specific routes and times.
Group or Tour
I just returned from a group trip to South Korea, and it was excellent. My only complaint is that I didn’t have just a bit more time to explore each city and town while I was there.
If it’s your first time in the country, I think a group tour is a wonderful way to learn more, especially if your tour guides speak Korean.
But this itinerary for 10 days in South Korea is perfect if you’d rather take your time and check out a few hidden gems I discovered on my most recent holiday.
South Korea Itinerary – Map
*I was hosted on a press trip by the Korean Tourism Organisation – as ever, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Read More South Korea Guides
- Unmissable Things to do in South Korea
- How to Spend 3 Perfect Days in Seoul
- Unmissable Things to do in Busan
- A Complete Guide to Travelling to Jeonju
- A Complete Traveller’s Guide to Gangneung
- Insider South Korea Travel Tips for Your Trip
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