Before we talk about how to spend 10 days in Korea, I have a confession: I have a dysfunctional love/hate relationship with South Korea.
Living in South Korea was my second adventure as an expat. And, unfortunately, it was a far cry from my other happy-go-lucky year abroad. I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with South Korea. The living conditions weren’t exactly what I was used to. And Korean food? Well, it wasn’t love at first bite.
The longer I’ve been away from South Korea though, the more I’ve reimagined my time there. I find myself fondly remembering the complex flavours of gochujang-infused dishes and the sweet tang of bulgogi. Memories of ice-cold showers and lingering sewage smells in my apartment building are drifting away.
Most of all, I reminisce about travelling around South Korea. Escaping my provincial Korean living & crafting a South Korea itinerary from time to time was the highlight of my days there. Over time, I discovered an East Asian country that was far more interesting than my life in a small, rather unattractive Korean town revealed to me.
Need tips on where to go in Korea? Craft a South Korea trip plan you love with this complete 10-day Korea itinerary…
Table of Contents
10 days in Korea: Things to know before you go
Ready to plan out your South Korea travel itinerary? Don’t forget the following travel essentials before you go!
When to go to Korea
There’s one thing you’ll quickly learn about weather in East Asia: It’s anything but predictable. Korea’s no different. Here, you get a mix of everything from dry cool winters to hot & muggy summers with plenty of rain to keep you well hydrated.
(And not in a good Gatorade kinda way.)
The best time to go to Korea is either spring or fall particularly April or October.
In April, you’ll get to witness Korea’s beautiful cherry blossoms blanketing the country. They make some of the country’s most spectacular sites even more incredible. Likewise, in October the country bursts into a cavalcade of fall colours. It creates a dashing scene like none other. Autumn is a superb time to visit South Korea.
Do I need travel insurance for South Korea?
As much as it can seem like an unnecessary expense, travel insurance should not be an after-thought—even on a trip to a safe country like South Korea. No, you won’t likely encounter any problems while travelling in South Korea. But that doesn’t mean that nothing will happen.
Drawing up a travel insurance policy that covers things like medical expenses, trip cancellation, baggage damage or loss, and theft can potentially save you well beyond the small cost of coverage.
Getting connected in Korea
South Korea’s one of the most well-connected places on earth. Finding an Internet connection during your South Korea trip itinerary is rarely a problem. In bigger cities like Seoul, expect to find free WiFi in restaurants, cafés, hotels and so on.
Like anywhere else in the world, it’s not always so convenient to rely on public WiFi. Passwords are often not publicly advertised. And with a large number of people on networks at any given time, free hotspots aren’t always the most reliable place to connect.
Want to avoid the hassle of public WiFi? Rent a super-fast 4G Pocket WiFi for South Korea! The device allows you to connect up to 5 devices at a time with a 1G of data available per day. Rental price includes pick-up and drop-off at several major airports in Korea. If you have an unlocked phone, 4G LTE SIM Cards for Korea are also available to rent.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) for South Korea
Whether you decide to connect through your own device or publicly, it’s a good idea to use a travel VPN (virtual private network).
You won’t face major restrictions in South Korea as you would in, for example, China. But worldwide cyber theft is on the rise—without most of us even being aware.
Connecting to the Internet through a VPN ensures that your personal information stays secure. Your browsing activities will also remain private.
Need a fast, secure & reliable VPN? With servers all around the world, NordVPN offers blazing speeds. It uses Double Data Encryption technology to protect your most precious data and let you browse anonymously. For a limited time, get 72% off of a two-year plan by clicking here.
Other Korea travel planning resources
- Guidebooks: As much I rely on technology, I rarely travel without print guidebooks. Lonely Planet Korea provides one of the more comprehensive and up-to-date travel guides for Korea.
- Phrasebooks: It’s becoming easier to find English speakers in bigger Korean cities. But there’s no doubt you’ll run into major language barriers in South Korea. The Lonely Planet Korean Phrasebook is a great partner to travel along with.
- Language learning resources: Want to dig a little deeper into the difficult, but rewarding, Korean language? I’d recommend picking up a copy of Teach Yourself Complete Korean or Korean for Beginners to go beyond the basics.
- Vaccinations: There are no required vaccinations for South Korea. The CDC recommends being up-to-date with your routine vaccines. Travellers should consider getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A & B, typhoid. Planning an extended trip or spending significant time outdoors and in rural areas? Add a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis to the list, too.
Where to go in Korea in 10 days: A complete itinerary
There’s certain beauty in travelling in a country like South Korea.
Like other countries in East Asia, South Korea is tightly packed. It creates a perfect storm of compelling travel destinations and accessibility. It begs time-crunched travellers to approach it with full force.
Of course, even in a country with such a diminutive stature by Asian standards, you can’t expect to see everything in just ten days.
What I propose here isn’t the end-all-be-all of South Korea trips. There’s far more for you to see that what’s outlined here. (But it’ll be a good start!)
Got more time? Or does this 10-day Korea itinerary not quite fit your needs? Check out the summary at the end of the article. In it, I provide suggestions on how to customize the trip to better fit your style.
Without delay, let’s get started exploring South Korea…
Inching your way into Seoul for the first time is always an overwhelming experience.
When I first set foot into South Korea’s capital, it was the biggest city I’d seen up until that time. I’d yet to endure the traffic jams of Cairo, squint at the overwhelming blasts of colour in Tokyo or dodge rickshaws in Jakarta. Needless to say, Seoul is a bit shocking at first.
Jet around the city. The more you explore its neighbourhoods, each with its own unique flavour, the more the immensity of Seoul becomes obvious.
There’s no doubt that my prescription for at least 3 days in Seoul is hardly enough. This is a teaser. It’s not enough time to get to know the capital of South Korea, perhaps not even long enough to start to like it.
Seoul isn’t the easiest destination to swallow. Trudge on. Dig in to its chaos. Drop some won in the markets. Follow your nose and tastebuds to some of Korea’s most brilliant culinary moments. You might find yourself a new favourite Asian city.
Want to stay connected while in South Korea? Rent a 4G/LTE WiFi hotspot for your trip! Pick up is available upon arrival at Incheon Int’l Airport.
What to Do in Seoul
Hidden within the seemingly never-ending sprawl, there’s a barrage cool things to do in Seoul. Slip into alleyways for a street-side snack. Plying through dense street markets. Or find more peaceful moments on the fringes of the city. There’s no chance your time in Seoul will be wasted.
Get started with a few of these ideas for your Seoul itinerary:
Find serenity at Changdeokgung Palace
One thing you’ll immediately notice is that in Seoul a beautiful palace or temple is never far away.
The growth of the Korean capital has stranded many of its ancient buildings in an ever-changing sea of glass & concrete. The modern face of Seoul betrays its humbler cultural origins.
One big exception is Changdeokgung Palace, one of the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul. It’s set inside a fanciful park in Jongno-gu removed from Seoul’s boisterous modernism.
Of all five, Changdeokgung should be the first you venture to set your eyes upon. (And on a tightly-framed itinerary, maybe the only.)
Built between 1405 and 1412, Changdeokgung is only slightly older than Gyeongbokgung, the first grand palace. It’s the more impressive of the two, though.
The highlights of the palace don’t stop at the well-preserved architectural elements. Huwon, the relaxing garden to the rear of the palace, is one of the best places in Seoul to escape the clamour of the city.
Want to make the most out of your time at Changdeokgung? Book yourself onto one of these great tours:
- Seoul City 1-Day Tour: Explore Seoul to its fullest with this complete 1-day tour. Includes visits to Jogyesa Buddhist Temple, Changdeok Palace, and Cheongwadae Sarangchae. There’s also an option to extend the tour with the popular Nanta show or a visit to the Korean Folk Village.
- World Cultural Heritage Tour: This action-packed half day tour takes in Seoul’s top cultural sites. Stops include Bukchon Hanok Village, Jongmyo Shrine, and Changdeokgung Palace or Gyeongbokgung Palace. Choose the full-day option for a visit to add in a visit to the magnificent Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.
- Half-Day Afternoon Seoul Tour: See some of the city’s top sites with a private tour guide! Includes Changdeokgung Palace and the atmospheric nearby Bukchon Hanok Village.
Shop and eat your heart away at Namdaemun Market
Counteract the zen moments of Changdeokgung with a visit to one of Seoul’s busy markets. First on your list should be Namdaemun Market, Korea’s largest market. It’s named after the city’s old south gate where its sprawl begins.
Namedaemun Market relieves you of any doubt that Seoul is a wild place to explore.
The market hums day and night, picking up steam into the evening when the entire city seems to throng to its stalls.
Along the street and within dozens of buildings, you’ll find everything you’d ever want to shell out won for. Items here include clothing, accessories, herbs, toys, and handicrafts.
The real treat, however, is to experience the market’s culinary prowess.
It’s hardly a secret that Namdaemun Market is one of the best places to grab a bite in Seoul. Don’t just stick to traditional Korean dishes like bibimbap. Expand your horizons with the market’s popular kalguksu hand-cut noodles. Or try out galchi jorim, hairtail fish with spicy red pepper sauce.
Namdaemun is also located within close walking distance of Myeongdong. The Myeong-dong area is one Seoul’s most popular shopping districts.
Got a hankering for some Seoul soul food? Hop onto one of these tours including Namdaemun Market:
- Seoul Street Food Walking Tour: Enjoy Korean street food delicacies from BBQ ribs to green onion pancakes with your own expert guide.
- UNESCO and Traditional Markets Tour: Combine a visit to Changdeokgung and Namdaemun Market with this 4-hour afternoon tour. Also includes a stop at the Insadong Arts and Crafts Market for a little taste of Seoul at its most traditional.
- Seoul City 1-Day Tour: This fun full-day tour includes a visit to many of the most important cultural sites in Seoul. It also stops at Namdaemun Market for a food frenzy.
Experience more food delights at Gwangjang Market
If eating’s a big part of your Seoul game plan, be sure to carve out time for a visit to Gwangjang Market. This bustling market is one of the oldest traditional Korean markets in the city; it’s been open for over a century!
At Gwangjang Market, you’ll find everything. From shoes and fashion accessories to modern clothing and hanbok (traditional Korean formal wear), it’s all here. The real reason to make the journey, though, is for the food.
Gwangjang Market is one of the best night markets in Seoul. It offers a dazzling array of delicious Korean street snacks. Ply the stalls in search of bibimbap, gimbap, hotteok, and tteokbokki.
The speciality here, however, is bindaetteok. These traditional Korean savoury pancakes are made from mung beans rather than wheat flour. They’re stuffed with various ingredients including kimchi, ground pork, sesame oil, and scallions. You’ll love ’em!
Step into the past at Bukchon Hanok Village
If you thought Seoul was all glass skyscrapers and modern buildings, think again. By far, one of the most interesting corners of the city is the charming Bukchon Hanok Village. Harkening back almost six centuries, this quaint neighbourhood gives visitors a glimpse of Seoul’s past.
This beautiful historical quarter is famous for its hanok. It wedges about 900 of these traditional Korean residences, dating back to the Joseon Dynasty, into a couple block radius. And it’s for more than show: The houses in the district are still occupied by residents today.
Wander around the village at a languid pace to get the most out of your visit.
Gawk at Seoul from above at N Seoul Tower
There are few better places to grasp the enormousness of Seoul than at the N Seoul Tower.
Forget attempting to understand the odd hipster-styled name. (Who knows where that came from!) Focus on the amazing vistas from atop this 236-metre tower, the second highest point in the city.
The best time to visit N Seoul Tower is in the evening when the heat has dissipated and the views clear up.
It’s safe to say that N Grill, the revolving restaurant at N Seoul Tower, isn’t the most budget-friendly eating option in the city. But enjoying an evening meal to the dim glow of the city and beyond could be one of your most memorable memories while you visit Seoul.
Want to skip the line-up at N Seoul Tower and save? Book your N Seoul Tower Discount Observatory Ticket before you arrive in Seoul!
Step into the past at the Korean Folk Village in Suwon
With a mere half a day to spare, putter down to Suwon, a city over million strong that lies just south of the capital.
Suwon’s transportation system is contiguous with Seoul’s. The trip an easy one-hour ride on the subway and one of the best day trips from Seoul.
There’s a handful of cool things to do in Suwon. But if you’re looking for a quick glimpse at the cultural history of Korea, spend the afternoon wandering through the Korean Folk Village.
At the village, you’ll browse a collection of traditional homes, markets, restaurants, and workshops. While it might strike you as a little kitschy at first, the setting is beautiful. Watching the cultural performances is also quite entertaining.
The Korean Folk Village is about 30 minutes from the centre of Suwon via a free shuttle bus.
Want to save some serious time & won on your Suwon sightseeing? Check out these budget-friendly options:
- Suwon Hwaseong Fortress and Korean Folk Village Day Tour: A fantastic full-day tour to Suwon from Seoul that takes in the city’s two biggest attractions. Include pick-up and drop-off from your hotel in central Seoul.
- Full-Day World Cultural Heritage Tour: This 8-hour day tour combines a visit to some of the top culture sites in central Seoul. It also tosses in an afternoon at Suwon Hwaesong Fortress.
- Seoul Flexi Attractions Pass: This pass lets you to choose between 3, 5 or 7 top tours and attractions in &around Seoul. Options include tours to the Joint Security Area of the DMZ, the Korean Folk Village in Suwon, and several city walking tours.
Where to Stay in Seoul
As with most sprawling East Asian cities, choosing where to stay in Seoul won’t be the easiest task while planning your South Korea itinerary.
The centre of the city is split into several neighbourhoods. Each have their own flavours and quirks. Among the best to focus your search to are Jongno-gu, Insadong, Myeongdong, Gangnam and Hongdae. You’ll find the area of Itaewon popular among foreigners. Truthfully, it’s a little grungy. I’d highly recommend sticking to the other central neighbourhoods.
Here are few of the best hotels in Seoul…
- Hostel Vanilla 1 Dongdaemun: One of the best budget options in Seoul. Located in the central Jongno-Gu district, 5 minutes away from Dongdaemun Subway Station.
- Sunbee Hotel Insadong Seoul: This brilliant 3-star mid-range hotel is located in the popular Insadong area. With the metro just a 5-minute walk away and tons of top Seoul attractions within walking distance, this central hotel is a superb choice. The minimalist rooms are spacious in a continent known for its tight quarters.
- Four Seasons Hotel Seoul: This top-notch 5-star hotel is one of the best luxury properties in the city. If you’re coming from the über-pricey scene elsewhere in East Asia, you’ll appreciate the value of this hotel. The massive city views through the floor-to-ceiling windows highlight any stay here. Some of the best things to do in Seoul such as Gyeongbokgung Palace and Cheonggyecheon Stream are within a 10-minute walk.
Getting to Seoul
Seoul is served by Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN). Several airlines fly into ICN including Asiana Airlines and Korean Air. From Canada, the cheapest flights to Seoul will run you about C$700. From the United States, expect to pay $550-600 at the lowest end of fares from the west coast.
By Korean standards, it’s a long journey between Seoul and Gyeongju. For this itinerary, there’s no better place to break the trip up than Andong. Long known for its traditionalism, Andong is a centre of culture and folklore. It’s one of the best places to visit in South Korea for a glimpse of its ancient past.
To be sure, Andong isn’t Seoul or even Busan. Andong is a small provincial city, sleepy by Asian standards.
Give yourself at least two days in Andong. Most of the city’s attractions are spread in the surrounding area. Time will be of the essence to jam it all in.
What to Do in Andong
Considering its small stature among Korean cities, there’s a surprising array of things to do in Andong. To fit it all in, you’ll find yourself travelling into the countryside.
Not a problem.
The scenery around Andong is easy on the eyes. I guarantee you’ll find yourself stunned more than once on your journeys.
Step into the past at Andong Hahoe Folk Village
Within a couple days of travelling around South Korea, you’ll see how popular folk villages are among Koreans and foreigners alike. While they’re not exactly hard to spot, one of the best folk villages you’ll find in South Korea is the Andong Hahoe Folk Village.
The traditional houses at Hahoe Folk Village hail from the 16th century. They were built by the prominent Ryu clan. The reason Hahoe Folk Village is a touch above others is that Ryu descendants still occupy some of the homes here. The village is simply one step up from a film set. It’s filled with graceful authentic houses restored to their original glory.
Besides the village’s wondrous appearance, the area around Hahoe Folk Village is breathtaking. Hwasan Mountain rises just beyond the town. It’s punctuated by the surrounding pine forest and the Nakdong River.
Get a (light) buzz at Soju Museum
Andong’s own local firewater isn’t quite what you’ll find elsewhere in South Korea. The soju (rice vodka) from Andong probably has more bite than you’re used to—even if you’ve confronted the beastly drink already on your journey. At 45% ABV, Andong’s soju is a battle that even a vodka drinker would hesitate to welcome.
Get the scoop on how Korea’s national alcohol is made and consumed Andong-style at the Andong Soju Museum.
The minuscule soju tasting at the end of the tour is a bit of let down. The story of the history, distillation process and culture around Andong soju is, nonetheless, fascinating. If you’ve got a passing interest in alcoholic beverages, it’s worth a visit.
Swoon over Bongjeongsa Temple
Hopefully you refrained from drinking Andong soju enough to stumble unhindered to Bongjeongsa Temple. This Korean Buddhist wooden temple complex clings to the slopes of Mount Cheondeung. Its majestic setting is bound to impress anyone.
Almost 20 buildings are spread between the main temple complex and sub-temples of Bongjeongsa. The temples and halls date as far back as the late-7th century when Bongjeongsa was founded by King Munmu.
Queen Elizabeth II herself took a liking to the Bongjeongsa on her well-publicized visit to South Korea in 1999. As impressive as her thumbs up is, however, Bongjeongsa is a drop in the hat compared to the temples and historical buildings you’ll encounter on your next stop of your South Korea itinerary…
Where to Stay in Andong
Andong isn’t Seoul and finding a place to stay shouldn’t present much of a challenge. (Other than the limited selection.) I’d recommend staying in the town centre. It’ll put you close to the best transport links and give you the freedom to tackle Andong’s attractions with ease.
Here are a few of the best hotels in Andong…
- Goodstay AndongPoong-gyung Guesthouse: Don’t let the difficult name stop you from staying at this excellent two-star guesthouse. The new building is hardly rustic (or flattering). The clean, simple and budget-friendly rooms should be enough to win you over though. If not, look to the several thousand-strong library in the common area for an extra dose of inspiration.
- Goryeo Hotel: In a city short on mid-range & luxury accommodation, this 3-star is about as good as you’ll get. The hotel is super central. It’s a 5-minute walk from the train station and bus stop for the Hahoe Folk Village.
- Kim and Jeong House: If you want to get out of the city and closer to the Hahoe Folk Village, this guesthouse is your ticket. The rooms are clean and feature excellent views of the surrounding area.
Getting to Andong
The easiest way to get between Seoul and Andong is by bus. Buses to Andong leave hourly from the Seoul Central City Bus Station and Dongseoul Bus Terminal. The journey time is about 3 hours.
Sorry, Seoul. We love you, but there’s someone else.
No place during your 10 days in South Korea will live up to expectation better than Gyeongju. This fascinating city is nothing short of the cultural and spiritual heart of Korea. Gyeongju checks off all the boxes that drove you to visit South Korea in the first place.
Compared to the hubbub of Seoul and brash Busan, Gyeongju is a relaxing respite. And its as fulfilling as either. The top attractions in Gyeongju are spread far & wide. They encompass some of Korea’s finest cultural moments.
Give yourself at least 3 days to explore to Gyeongju on your itinerary, more if you can hack it. Gyeongju is known for a lot of things, but disappointing visitors who take in its charms slowly isn’t one of them!
What to Do in Gyeongju
You wouldn’t be far off in arguing that there are more things to do in Gyeongju for travellers than in any other city on the peninsula. Unlike Seoul or Busan, moving between the most interesting sites isn’t so straightforward. Hopping on a subway and walking isn’t an option here.
It’ll take time to appreciate Gyeongju. Many of its most compelling sites lie in its hinterlands rather than its core. Get started with these few must-sees:
Trace the last days of Korean royalty at Tumuli Park
Tumuli Park is one of the few Gyeongju tourist attractions smack-dab in the middle of town. The park is an ancient burial site. About two dozen Korean royal tombs sprout from the earth here
The tombs are covered by beautiful rolling green mounds. They’re punctuated by a sparse smattering of trees and shrubs that are aesthetic rather than purposeful. Underneath once lied some of Korea’s most important treasures.
Only one tomb, Cheonmachong (천마총), is open to the public.
Most of the artifacts were moved to the Gyeongju Museum. A few remain scattered along the walls of the tomb for visitors to scope out though.
Find Korea at its most mystical Bulguksa Temple
Dating back to the 6th century during the Shilla period, Bulguksa Temple is one of the country’s most famous landmarks.
And deservedly so. (Even UNESCO would agree.)
Bulguksa Temple is set among pine forests and mountains. The temple will swoop you away to the mystical Asia you’ve always dreamt about. The wooden structures of the temple complex showcase some of the finest craftsmanship in South Korea.
The original 6th-century temple has been rebuilt and renovated several dozen times. The stone bridges, stairways, and several pagodas around the plot are original though.
You’ll rarely find room to maneuver peacefully through this insanely popular temple complex. Visit early in the morning before the hordes descend for a more subdued experience.
With bus number 10 or 11 from the bus or train station, the trip to Bulguksa Temple takes about 40 minutes.
Admission to the temple complex is ₩4,000.
Get spiritual at Seokguram Grotto
From Bulguksa Temple, it’s a short ride (or moderate 3.2-km hike) to one of Gyeongju’s other “big three,” Seokguram Grotto. Unsurprisingly, Seokguram Grotto joins Bulguksa on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s a site of great cultural importance and mind-boggling 8th-century engineering feats.
The grotto introduces visitors with a diminutive wooden temple guarding the entrance. The temple does little to prepare you for the immensity of what’s within the Seokguram Grotto. Inside the main hall, you’ll see a 3.5-metre-high Seokgamoni Buddha. It dazzles with dozens of guardians keeping watch from above.
The grotto’s rotunda is built from hundreds of granite slabs. Most impressive is that these slabs were inched up Mount Tohamsan without the use of modern technology.
Where to Stay in Gyeongju
Gyeongju is one of Korea’s top tourist destinations. It’s hardly a surprise that there’s a whack of great accommodations here. Choosing where to stay in Gyoengju is fairly straightforward. (Especially when compared to bigger Korean cities like Seoul, Busan and Daegu.)
Here are a few of the best hotels in Gyeongju to get you started…
- Apple House: No, you won’t find pictures of Steve Jobs or resident “geniuses” at this small but comfy hotel. The central location is within close walking distance to transportation connections. You’ll also find markets and top attractions like Tumuli Park nearby. This guesthouse puts Gyeongju at your fingertips.
- Chacharang Guesthouse: Want an out-of-the-ordinary experience for your Gyeongju stay? This guesthouse offers excellent value Korean-style rooms. They’re equipped with heated floors and floor mats for sleeping. The royal tombs are within a 10-minute walk from the property.
- Hanok Sodamjeong: Step back into time with a stay in this traditional hanok. It’s just a 5-minute drive from the centre of town. The rooms are classic Korean-style with ondol (heated floors) and futon mats to sleep on.
- Hilton Gyeongju: This property is the top luxury hotel in Gyeongju. It overlooks Bumon Lake and its beautiful natural surroundings. Although out of the way for most travellers, the tranquil location makes Hilton Gyeongju a world unto its own. You’ll find everything you’ll need for your stay in Gyeongju here. Amenities include six on-site restaurants, two pools, fitness centre and squash courts. Book directly with Hilton.com to get the best price and make your stay eligible for Hilton Honor Points!
Getting to Gyeongju
The quickest and cheapest way to get to Gyeongju from Andong is by train. Trains depart Andong three times daily for Gyeongju costing between ₩8,000 and ₩15,000.
The 100-kilometre journey takes about 2h20m.
I’m afraid to admit: Like so many things I encountered while staying in South Korea, Busan is one of those take-it-or-leave-it places. Nothing on the surface suggests that anyone should fall in love with, or even like, this brash Korean port city. And that’s usually where the story ends.
It’s a shame. Sticking around and letting first impressions fade is the best way to let Busan under your skin.
Look past the faceless concrete buildings, forceful seafood odours, and rough-and-tumble character. You might find a reason or two to stick around for more than one day in Busan.
To get the most out of your visit, try to carve out at least two days in Busan on your 10-day Korea itinerary.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll start to see eye-to-eye with the cranky ol’ gal.
What to Do in Busan
Coming from Gyeongju, it’s hard to imagine how you’ll fill out your schedule in a city like Busan.
Most of the top things to do in Busan don’t lean towards traditional tourist attractions (with a few exceptions). Most are places that take a while to “get.”
As you ply through this port city, look for the following:
Plug your nose and wander at Jagalchi Fish Market
Okay, wait… Surrounding yourself with the off-putting aroma of seafood isn’t an experience most travellers seek out? Well, things might be a little different in Busan.
I can’t promise that you won’t be turned off by the rank smells. But when in Busan, don’t leave out the bustling Jagalchi Fish Market. It’s one of the city’s top cultural attractions, and an absolute must-see & must-do.
This is not just the port city’s biggest market; it’s the biggest fish market in South Korea. All types of seafood caught around the Korean peninsula find their way to the market stalls of Jagalchi Fish Market.
Wandering around Jagalchi Fish Market is a cultural experience you shouldn’t leave Korea without.
Feeling particularly adventurous? Descend upon the market by nightfall to eat some raw fish at one of the market’s many restaurants.
Want to get serious about Busan’s food scene? Experience the city’s eating culture on one of these tours:
- Full-Day Private Busan Food Tour: Want the low-down on Busan’s food scene? Join in on this all-day eating extravaganza around the city. The tour includes sampling the delicious fresh seafood of Jagalchi Fish Market.
- Jagalchi Market & Korean Cooking Class Experience: Fancy yourself a chef? This unique tour fuses a visit to Jagalchi Market with a traditional Korean cooking class.
Get awe-struck at Beomeosa Temple
Surely you aren’t templed-out yet? With your trip coming to a close soon, make time to fit one more temple into your Korea itinerary: Beomeosa Temple. This ancient temple is Busan’s top tourist attraction.
The original temple was founded in AD 678 by Ui Sang, a monk in the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It has since been rebuilt multiple times. Most of the current buildings hail from the 16th and 17th centuries.
No, Beomeosa Temple is not quite as stunning as Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Nonetheless, the Beomeosa Temple complex showcases remarkable architecture. From stone pagodas to ornate wooden gates, it’ll entrance you.
The temple also benefits from a spectacular location. It sits at the foot of Mount Geumjeongsan. Visiting Beomeosa Temple, it’s easy to forget that you’re in Korea’s second-biggest city.
Getting there almost seems too easy. With a subway station at its foot, it’s a mere 30-minute hike up to temple.
Want to make the most out of your time in Busan? Hop onto one of these top-rated tours:
- Private Busan City Tour: This full-day private tour takes in all the best Busan attractions with a private guide. Stops include Beomeosa Temple, Gamcheon Culture Village, and Jagalchi Fish Market. You’ll also visit Busan Tower, and Gukje Market. Hotel drop-off and pick-up is also included.
- Busan Full-Day Tour: Check out the best of Busan in one day with this complete tour. Includes visits to Taejongdae, Songdo Skywalk, Gamcheon Culture Village, and Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.
Relax and scrub down at Heosimcheong Spa
When something is the “biggest” or “best” in Asia, it demands your attention. I mean, this is a continent that occupies a huge chunk of globe—it’s no mean feat to be on top in Asia!
Heosimcheong Spa has space for over 3,000 bathers. Its claim to being the largest hot spring spa in Asia doesn’t seem too outlandish. The spa offers a handful of services. They range from hot saunas to hamam-style skin-exfoliating scrubs at varying degrees of violence.
We’ll admit: Dropping your drawers among total strangers isn’t always comfortable. But many would claim you haven’t fully experienced Korea without enduring a complete Korean spa experience.
If you’re ready to leap beyond your comfort zone in Busan, the Heosimcheong Spa is your best chance.
Where to Stay in Busan
Busan doesn’t compare with Seoul’s accommodation scene in difficulty or breadth. The sheer number of options for where to stay in Busan can still be mind-numbing though. For the best neighbourhoods for travellers, stick to Seomyeon, Haeundae, and Nampo-dong.
To get you started, here are a few of the best hotels in Busan…
- Sky Island Guesthouse: This modern budget guesthouse is located close to Nampo Station. It’ll give you quick access to the whole of Busan. Some of Busan’s top attractions like Yongdusan Park and Jagalchi Fish Market are within a short walking distance.
- Arban Hotel: This clean and contemporary mid-range hotel is located close to Seomyeon Station. Rooms are spacious by Korean standards. The welcome bag fromthe hotel includes a free Busan transport card as a special treat.
- Park Hyatt Busan: This property is the top 5-star hotel in Busan. Park Hyatt Busan is located close to Haeundae Beach. It features floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase tremendous nighttime views of city and sea. Whether unwinding with a massage at the Lumi Spa or cooling down in the indoor pool, the amenities here are top-notch. Grab an evening cocktail at the 30th-floor Lounge for a true taste of what sets this hotel apart.
Getting to Busan
From Gyeongju, it’s about a one-hour journey to Busan. Buses from Gyeongju to Busan depart every 15 minutes, starting in the wee hours of the morning. The cost is a budget-friendly ₩4,800 ($4.27).
More places to visit on your 10-day Korea itinerary
Got a few more days or even 2 weeks in South Korea? Tweak your itinerary with these other great places to visit in South Korea…
- Want more opportunities to get into the Korean outdoors? After Seoul detour to Sokcho, the gateway to the magnificent Seoraksan National Park. Or extend your stay in the capital to squeeze in some hiking in Seoul at nearby Bukhansan National Park.
- Does military history float your boat? Squeeze in an extra day in Seoul for a tension-filled day trip to the DMZ at Panmunjon on South Korea’s border with North Korea.
- Craving more urban South Korea? Add in couple days to your itinerary to spend some time in Korea’s third largest city, Daegu. Daegu is home to the country’s most famous traditional medicine market. The city’s also famous for its many excellent eating and shopping options.
- Seeking oceanside comforts? From Gyeongju, head to Pohang on the east coast to catch a ferry to the wonderful volcanic island of Ulleungdo. Or continue on from Busan to Jeju. The beautiful Jeju Island is the most popular island in South Korea for a seaside escape.