Republic of South korea
🌎Currency: South Korean Won (₩)(KRW)
🌎Zone: +9 GMT
🌎Phone Code: +82
🌎Best time to visit: Sept-Nov
🌎Must eat: BBQ Cow
🌎Must drink: Rice beer
🌎Don't miss: The N Seoul Tower
Getting there and transportation: South Korea is a well established nation with the rest of the world. However it's a very well developed country this means that it's expensive to get there at first. National Airline Korean Air and fellow competitor Asianna Airlines offer direct links to Europe and the USA. However fares are very expensive so it's worth checking well before travelling there and comparing other airlines. Making a transit stop on your way to Korea might prove the best option and the cheapest.
The main point of entry into the country is via its capital, Seoul, (ICN) if coming from Europe or America. However you will find that many airlines also operate into Seoul's second airport, Gimpo, (GMP). These airlines mainly being Asian or low cost airlines.
If travelling from Asia on tour you also can consider to arrive direct to Busan, the second largest city. It also has many international airlines flying there mainly from other Asian cities and prices can be more competitive than Seoul.
Once in the country, Korea has a major public transport infrastructure and there is no reason why to panic on how to use it as everything has translations into English.Trains, metro,busses and high speed rail (KTK) all are available and connect the cities with smaller towns. Internal transport is also cheap so no matter where you going there would be always a way to get there. People are friendly and most stations will have staff who can easily speak in English in case you need extra help.
If you are travelling within the country the best way to move around is via the national rail, managed by KORAIL ,including several destinations which are served with KTX (Korea Train Express). You need always reserve in advance on these trains either at the station or online. Check: KORAIL
Attention!: If you are planning to access North Korea from the Republic of South Korea then you will find an unpleasant surprise as there is no access along the whole of the boarder. The only way in is by air from Beijing,China.
Weather and temperature: located in the northern hemisphere, South Korea enjoys climates similar to those in North Europe. However summer's can be rather short and humid if you are down south with a temperature of 30C or more. Winter's are longer and the climate inland can be very colder, often down below 0C easily, specially in Seoul and north of the country. The best time to visit would be mid spring to autumn. (April to November), though take into account the summer months are more expensive and hotter temperatures are to be expected. From September to November it's also interesting to visit to see the Autumn leave colour change in parks and the countryside.
Food and drink: Korean cuisine is very flavoured, colourful and fermented foods are common. Rice is present at pretty much all meals, except for the odd occasion when noodles are on the table. A typical Korean meal consists of warm rice, soup, rice water and between eight and 20 side dishes of vegetables, fish, poultry, eggs, bean curd and sea plants. All dishes tend to be served together and are shared among the group.
The highlight dishes and specialities are: Bibimbap: A bowl of boiled rice mixed with vegetables, chilli peppers, meat and an egg. Kimchi: A beloved funky-flavoured side dish made from fermented Chinese cabbage, turnips, onions, salt, fish, chestnuts and red pepper. Bulgogi: Also known as Korean BBQ, Bulgogi is thin slices of marinated beef cooked on a table-top grill. Grilled galbi: Beef short ribs marinated in ganjang (Korean soy sauce). Haemultang: A spicy stew made with red pepper paste and an assortment of seafood and vegetables. Chijimi: A savoury vegetable pancake. Tteokbokki: This spicy snack of sticky rice cakes in a chilli sauce is a popular Korean street food.
As for drinks, Korea’s best-selling spirit is soju, a clear liquor similar to, though milder than, vodka. Soju is frequently mixed with beer to create a drink known as somac. Hite: This mild-flavoured lager, along with beer brands Cass and OB, dominate the Korean market. Makgeolli: A low alcohol milky liquor made by fermenting steamed rice and water. Ginseng wine: A strong and sweet wine, similar to brandy, believed to have medicinal properties.
Transportation: Arriving to Seoul, is very simple and after clearing immigration you can access the quick subway which links the two airports with the downtown. From the main Airport ICN) there are several options. The express metro line (AREX) which has a few stops along the way is extremely efficient and leaves every 10 minutes. Cost is 4.150KRW (€4) When you arrive you can link to the main subway lines or continue your journey by train for example as it arrives to the main train station. Also there is KTK (High Speed Rail) which in half the time reaches the main station, but double the price (12.500KRW). Currently there is also the construction of the Maglev, (Magnetic Levitation), but it doesn't reach the heart of the city yet.
Within the city, public transportation is very easy to follow. The metro is very advanced and reaches all areas which a visitor wants to visit. You can pay for single tickets or use a T-Money card which stores the credit and it's easier to use if you travel often. Tickets are issued with a fee which is returned to you once you deposit your ticket again at the machines. Also it's very simple to navigate in the metro in Seoul, when you need to transfer there are specific sounds and colours for each line which help you identify the stations. For more information check: Metro Seoul
What to see and do? Seoul offers a good cultural and historical scene thanks to many centuries of rich history, linked to it's grounds and surroundings. Temples and imperial palaces are mixed within the city and spotting them is not hard. It also offers plenty of modern buildings, interesting architecture, museums and galleries as well as good view points in which to see the city.
Main highlights to see in the city are: The N Seoul Tower, located on Namsan Mountain in central Seoul. At 236m, it's the highest point in Seoul. Gyeongbokgung Palace, was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. Built in 1395.To get there take the metro to Gyeongbokgung Station. Gwanghwamun Gate, is the main and largest gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is located at a three-way intersection at the northern end of Sejongno, (street which is worth walking all the way down as you will find many interesting buildings). Namdaemun Gate, known as the Sungnyemun, is one of the Eight Gates in the Fortress Wall of Seoul. Heunginjimun, literally "Gate of Rising Benevolence" another of the Eight Gates. War Memorial of Korea, located in Yongsan-dong. Opened in 1994 on the former site of the army headquarters to exhibit and memorialise the military history of Korea. National Museum of Korea, the flagship museum of Korean history and art in South Korea. The 63 Building, is a skyscraper on Yeouido island, overlooking the Han River in Seoul, it's distinctive golden colour is very attractive. The Banpo Bridge is a bridge in downtown Seoul over the Han River, recommended to visit at night when it shines in colours. The National Theater of Korea.
Also not to be missed is the Namdaemun Market, located next to the Great South Gate, after which it is named. It's the oldest and largest market in South Korea, dates back to 1414.It sells everything from housewares and fabrics to flowers and stationery. The multi-storey buildings offer thousands of shops, as well as endless numbers of street-vendor stalls and great food stalls to refresh and eat tasty local snacks!
Itaewon: The district of Itaweon has developed into a multicultural mecca of great foreign influence. This international place is also one of the most popular tourist areas in Seoul. Shops and restaurants with influence from Europe, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, and Mexico are widely available in Itaewon making the streets colorful and vibrant in terms of language and looks.
In Itaewon you will find high quality leather products along with traditional Korean souvenirs. If you want to get custom-made shirts or dresses, Itaewon is also the place to go in Seoul. Furthermore, the main street is lined with brand stores such as Nike, Adidas, Converse, Apple Computers etc.
The local residents and visitors of Itaewon are dominated by Americans (both Military and civilian due to the military base history) but also many other 'international residents', who work and live here. At night Itaewon really comes alive. Seoul is a thriving city during the weekend and Koreans love to go out and party! Where to go out best but in this area, notorious for its nightlife. It has been labelled a nightlife/entertainment district for ages. Having said that nightlife is still what Itaewon is best known for. It is hard not to find a place to your liking. Itaewon has a significant gay/lesbian community, so you'll also find numerous gay bars in this colourful district, along with world class clubbing, numerous smaller clubs and lounges, Irish pubs, sports bars, boutique hotels, cigar lounges, cocktail bars, hostess bars and Russian karaoke bars etc. Itaewon offers great variety for everyone.
Accommodation: Seoul is not an expensive city to stay for tourists, however with the increase in popularity the country's wealth and a strong economy, prices are on the increase. For the budget travellers there are numerous hostels and guesthouses offering cheap accommodation. Also airbnb is a popular option as it takes off in Asia now. Normal hotels within the city centre are expensive, so staying close to a metro station and further away from the centre is not a bad idea. Itaewon is a popular area for budget hotels and accommodation for example.
Recommended duration: Seoul is a fascinating city and has much to offer for tourists. Staying a minimum of 3 nights would give you time to see the highlights of the city but probably you will be left short so an ideal 5 nights would be enough to enjoy and go out too during a weekend.
Transportation: Arriving at the airport is convenient, thanks to the link of the Light Railway which links with the subway. To get it just walk outside of the arrivals terminal, cross the road and turn right for 100m you will see the Station. It costs 1.300₩ to go to the nearest metro station (Daejeo Line 3). From there you need to pay another ticket to your final destination. (About another 1.500₩) There is also a bus named "limousine bus" which takes you from the arrivals level(stop 2 and 3) into the city centre and reaches popular places like Haeundae Beach and Busan Station amongst other stops near main Hotels.
Alternatively if you are arriving by Train (KO Rail) into Busan Main Station, you need to follow exit 7 and after you go down the escalators you will see the Metro Station just in front of you. From Busan Station you can also take many busses around the city. Check the image below for detailed numbers.
Once in the city, Busan is well connected, the metro is easy to use. Yo can buy a prepaid top up card, which costs 6000₩ upfront, and then use the card on all means of transport. You can top it up with desired amounts at metro stations and it has the added benefit of saving you money, when transferring from Metro to Bus (or Vice-versa) within 20min for only 250₩ extra. If you get the bus the flat rate in cash is 1300₩ payable to the driver. The busses are modern, with digital stop information in English.To check the metro map click on the link below:
What to see and do? Busan is a more local feel-like city and there are less tourists. Nevertheless there is plenty of things to see, both cultural and for entertainment. Abundant local markets, malls and shops will keep you entertained which ever season you decide to come.
Main highlights to see are:
Haeundae Market, this local market boasts a variety of fish alongside meat, fruit, clothes and miscellaneous items. Nice to visit during the week but extremely busy and packed at weekends with thirsty spenders, the market gives tourists an insight into the more rural side of Busan.
Busan Cinema Center:
Suggestion: Visit Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. The Buddhist temple was built beside the shore, as it's main attraction. The temple has a long history which dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty in 1376. The temple is located on rocks that are facing the ocean. Scattered around the temple you will see many different statues, sculptures and a stone pagoda. It's a worth visit both for it's culture value and the views. To get there take metro line 2 to Haeundae station, exit 7. Take bus 181 and get off at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. You will see the sings for it just before the stop. Bus trip takes just under 30min. Admission to the Temple if free of charge.
As you come back from the Temple, you can walk down to a nearby mall (Lotte Mart complex), recognisable by it's blue lantern-house tower. As well you can continue walking for 15min and reach Songjeong Beach, a calm beach with shops, restaurants and cafes dotted around. From here you can then take the same bus 181 back to Haeundae Beach or Centrum City metro stations.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple Photoshow:
Suggestion: Visit Gamcheon Cultural Village, formed by houses built in staircase-fashion on the foothills of a coastal mountain, earning this village the nickname of the "Machu Picchu of Busan." The many alleys cutting through this community are vibrantly decorated with murals and sculptures created by the residents. The many alleys are easy to walk around and they always take you to a main road eventually, so there is no getting lost in this maze of little alleys. there is plenty to see, eat, relax and shop. Normally weekends are always busier so going in between the week is suggested. To get there you should take the metro line 1 to Goejeong Station exit 6. Turn right as you exit and the bus stop is located 1min walking uphill. Take local bus 1-1, 2 or 2-2 to Gamcheon Elementary School Bus Stop. (fare is 1.200₩ one way ). Alternatively you can walk from the metro station, its a good 20 minutes up steep roads until you reach the Elementary School Bus Stop. Make sure you are there before 5pm to get the best views of the village with the sun shinning as soon after everything starts closing.
If you have time, another option is to take the road up, next to the Gamcheon Elementary School, (where busses are parked), and walk up the mountain side to the top, to appreciate some great views of the city of Busan. The walk will take 20minutes and at the top you will find a flat area where locals come to practice sports and do exercise.
Gamcheon Cultural Village Photoshow:
Shopping: Busan is full of shopping options for those looking to splash the cash on practically anything you wish! You can find international brands, boutique shops and stylish department stores on the high-end of the market right down to market merchandise and souvenirs.
For quality shopping, in a mega store building, visit the Shinsegae shopping mall at Centrum City. Here all the top brands can be found and international boutiques. For a more informal shopping experience head to Nampo station where you will find on Gwangbok street all the outlets, local and international shops for all ages as well as music, beauty and entertainment shops. Also for general shopping you can find Lotte Mall, big department stores where you can find anything you need in one big space. These malls are several spread around the city.
Nearby from Jagalchi station (exit 7) you can find the Gukje Market, mainly local foods, clothing and general merchandise. Last but not least, you can visit Bujeon, (Bujeon Metro LIne1 ) for more local market experience, specialising in produce, seafood and knick-knacks.
Accommodation: Busan is generally much cheaper than Seoul, but saying this if you stay near the beach are expect to pay high Hotel prices. The best hing is to stay within reach of a metro station and stay in secondary hotels or guesthouses which are very cheap.( starting at €20 a night). Also you can find cheap Airbnb accommodation.
Recommended duration: Busan is relatively small and everything can be seen in a couple of days. If you planning to relax on the beaches and take a more chilled approach then 4 nights would be enough.