South Korea Bucket List – the complete list of things worth doing

South Korea Bucket List

Before moving there, we had no idea how many amazing things are there to discover in South Korea. After one year of living in Seoul and extensively traveling throughout the country, we have put together a great South Korea bucket list.

This list is packed with popular attractions, but also some hidden gems. It is perfect to go through especially when you have a bit more time to explore.

Alex loves history, nature, and food, while Ingrid knows all the Instagram-worthy spots, best cafes, and all flower fields, and tourist attractions in the country. Thus, you should expect to find a little bit of everything on this bucket list.

Read also: South Korea 10-day itinerary | 5-day itinerary

This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Read more about it on our disclosure page here.

South Korea Bucket List things to do & see

Useful Information for when you visit South Korea

VISA and K-ETA

Depending on where you are traveling from, you will or won’t need a visa. Check your Visa requirements here!

Currently, South Korea has in place a visa-free online application process for certain eligible countries (you can check the list here) that you must obtain before your trip.

K-ETA or the Korean Electronic Travel Authorization must be obtained before boarding a flight or ship. Here is some useful information regarding the K-ETA visa:

  • The approval process takes more than 72 hours, thus it is useful to apply in advance;
  • You will need to have accommodation booked before applying for the K-ETA, the address is one of the required information.
  • The validity of the K-ETA visa is of 2 years from the date of approval;
  • With the K-ETA you can stay in South Korea for 30 to 90 days;
  • However, if you are visiting for travel purposes, and plan to return after your first visit, you will have to come back and update your visa with the new hotel address;
  • One person can apply for up to 30 persons and can pay for all at once;
  • K-ETA price: 10.000 won (around 9-10 USD)

How to get from the airport to Seoul

Communication and transportation

Getting around South Korea

Other useful tips & links

Visit the Palaces in Seoul

Seoul in Spring

No visit to South Korea should skip the Five Royal Palaces in Seoul. Of course, if you only have 3 days or even 4 days in Seoul, you might find it hard to visit all the palaces, you might want to know beforehand which one to choose.

The 6 palaces are relatively close to one another, all set in Seoul’s city center. If you are passionate about history or simply want to learn about South Korea’s past, choose to step inside a few of the palaces.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, and Gyeonghuigung Palace are lovely throughout the year, but especially charming during spring or fall.

Extra tip: Get your Seoul City Pass – the card offers free unlimited transportation for 24, 48, or 72-hour, along with free entry to 40+ attractions and discounts to over 60 attractions, including the most important palaces.

Visit a traditional Hanok village

eunpyeong Hanok Village Seoul

Why I haven’t said “the” Hanok Village? Well, because there is not only one area with traditional Korean houses you could visit in Seoul or Korea.

Sure, Bukchon Hanok Village is the most popular and centrally located in Seoul. However, there is also the charming and less-known Eunpyeong Hanok Village, or the Namsangol Hanok Village.

Additionally, Suwon has a nice area with hanok houses and cafes, there’s the Jeonju Hanok Village (전북 전주 한옥마을), and we should not forget about the historical capital of Shilla – Gyeongju.

Stay in a hanok house

The good news is you won’t have to travel far from Seoul, or at all, in order to stay in a traditional Hanok house. There are many guesthouses to choose from, where to have an authentic experience.

Namuae in Gyengju is a guesthouse with authentic Korean rooms. Expect to sleep on the floor and eat some of the most delicious food in the world. The place has a charming garden and offers free parking.

Stay in a traditional house in Insadong!

Read also: Best areas to stay in Seoul

Rent a hanbok and take some pictures

Deoksugung Palace hanbok

If this is the first time you’ve heard about the hanbok, I won’t judge you, it was my first time as well. And I wasn’t aware you can rent one, and furthermore, walk on the streets of Seoul and take amazing pictures in it.

The Korean hanbok is a dress for semi-formal or formal attire during traditional occasions. The term literally means “Korean clothing”, but the term used today makes reference specifically to the clothing worn during the Joseon dynasty period.

Apart from being a cool experience, you will also benefit from free entrance to the palaces while wearing your traditional dress.

We have written a comprehensive guide with everything you should know about the experience, some cool photo spots, and more.

Go to a Cat Cafe

Cat Cafe Seoul

Myeongdong offers so many cool things to do, and visiting a cat cafe is one of these things.

It is just worth knowing that they open at around 12 PM and close at around 10 PM.

Also, most cafes have specific rules when dealing with animals. You cannot pick them up, you must only pet them when they want to, feeding them is not allowed unless you purchase certain treats from the cafe, and you must take off your shoes and wash your hands before touching the cats. On top of that, the time spent there is limited (depends from place to place) and you must pay an entrance fee.

Most cats are friendly and curious, and they are used to people, thus spending one or 2 hours in a cat cafe is a fun thing to do in Myeongdong.

Eat all the delicious traditional food

Korean traditional food - bossam

Let me say this from the very beginning: in my humble opinion, Korean cuisine is one of the best in the world. And I drew this conclusion after a decade-and-a-half-long business career that took me all over the globe.

The Korean culinary culture is varied, catering to many tastes. Are you into seafood or fish? There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different dishes you could try. Or perhaps you prefer noodles or dumplings? My mouth waters just thinking of the so-called Pyongyang cold noodles (naengmyeon). But if you are a meat lover, South Korea is a paradise since they have an entire culture built around barbecue.

For a full guide on Korean traditional food and dining in South Korea, check out our guide here.

See all the cute cafes

Happy Bear Cafe Sinchon Seoul

After we moved to Seoul I understood really quickly that there are 3 types of cafes in town:

  • The Instagrammable cafes where you mostly go-to for the picture, not so much for the coffee. These are some of the most popular places in town, they show up like mushrooms after the rain and if you try to visit shortly after they are open you might find it challenging even during the week.
  • The chain cafes – a Twosome Place, Ediya Coffee, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Cafe, Pascucci, Angel-in-us Coffee, and Hollys Coffee, only to name a few. Here you will find so-and-so coffee, at a more reasonable price, together with cake and other pastries. Most of these places also have larger spaces and free internet so that people can come and hang out. Pretty much like Starbucks.
  • The cafes with single-origin coffee are where coffee lovers go. These are pretty much my kind of places. Most of them have an interesting interior design, they are not huge cafes, in some places you can even go to work or just to hang out with your friends. But one thing is sure, you go there for the coffee and nothing else! Most places have something sweet but don’t usually offer cakes or food.

For Seoul, we have put together a list of cafes worth visiting no matter if you are looking for aesthetics or if you want to taste truly delicious coffee.

Sail on the Han River at sunset

An activity worth adding to your Seoul bucket list, sailing on the Han River will offer you the chance to admire the city from another perspective.

The river splits Seoul in two and by sailing on it, you will see some of the most important landmarks in town: the N Seoul Tower, Lotte Tower, some of the nicest bridges, Itaewon with its colorful buildings, Yeouido, Banpo Bridge Fountain Show, and more.

The yacht cruise lasts for 30 minutes and you can choose from various boat types.

Go at a jimjilbang (Korean SPA)

Even before we went to South Korea I had heard so many things about the Korean SPAs, and especially about their famous body scrub.

However, since there were plenty of restrictions in place when we moved to Seoul, we had to wait until we could enjoy a day at the SPA.

We are both great fans of wellness retreats and SPA facilities, and the jimjilbang didn’t disappoint! We absolutely loved every moment spent there.

There are a few things worth knowing when you plan to spend a few hours or a day at the Korean SPA:

  • There are more traditional SPAs, and there are fancier ones such as the one we have been to (Aquafield in Goyang or Hanam);
  • In every SPA, there are common areas to be enjoyed by both women and men, dressed with some special costumes you get at the reception – this is usually where you find saunas, massage chairs, and small pools for your feet;
  • The shower area has also hot water pools, steam saunas, and a scrubbing room – access here is done separately by men and women;

Popular jimjilbangs to try in Seoul: LK SPA near Myeongdong and Dongdaemun; Hwanggeum Sauna in Myeongdong; Dragon Hill Spa & Resort in Yongsan; and Aquafield in Goyaing or Hanam.

If you are traveling to Busan, you should not miss Busan SPA Land Centum.

Visit the Garden of the Morning Calm

Garden of the Morning Calm

Korea is known to the locals as the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’ because of its natural beauty and picturesque mountain landscapes, evoking a harmonious balance and equilibrium. The similarly-named garden perfectly reflects the country’s self-image. The place reminded me of the elvish settlements from fantasy movies: wildly beautiful yet neatly pedicured and maintained.

The vast arboretum lies to the east of Seoul, nestled between several mountain peaks.

It houses over 5000 plant species, some of them rare or endangered.

Eat bingsu on a hot day

The first time I’ve seen “bingsu” I was shocked and couldn’t really understand what it was. This sweet is something that Koreans love to have during summer torrid days because it is much more than just ice cream.

Shaved ice, topped with ice cream, cream, fruit, or sometimes even tiramisu or other kinds of sweets, and chocolate. It is a caloric bomb, but you should try it at least once!

Do a TempleStay

Jogyesa Temple Seoul

While usually temples are hidden outside of Seoul, in the mountain areas, there are a few options in the city as well.

The temple stay is not only an accommodation type but an entirely unique cultural experience. You get to learn about Korean Buddhism, spend time with the monks, taste delicious vegetarian meals, and find yourself at the temple.

Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam-gu, Jogyesa Temple in Jongno-gu, and Jingwansa Temple in Eunpyeong-gu all offer different kinds of Templestays.

If you would rather go outside of Seoul, Hwagyesa Temple, Bongsunsa Temple, or Geumsunsa are great options worth considering.

Read more about a templestay and book one here!

Shop for cosmetics and K-fashion

Getting from Incheon to Myeongdong

There’s no doubt about it, South Korea is a worldwide leader when it comes to skincare and cosmetics. Thus, shopping in Seoul should definitely be on your bucket list!

Myeongdong is heaven for skincare lovers, and you can easily spend hours and hours moving from one store to the other. Make sure to save some space in your luggage because you will need it at departure.

The same goes for k-fashion, even though they tend to make clothes in small sizes, which would make it complicated for many to shop here. If, however, you want to try on a few dresses, head over to Dongdaemun or go to the Jamsil Underground Shopping Center.

Read everything on where to buy skincare in Seoul!

See some temples before (and after) Buddha’s Day

Bongeunsa temple lampions

Celebrated during spring, Buddha’s Birthday is a huge public holiday in South Korea. Even though you won’t participate in the celebrations, it is worth visiting some of the most popular temples in town (Bongeunsa and/or Yogyesa) if you want to admire the beautiful lampions.

Learn how to make kimchi

Kimchi and tofu
Kimchi and tofu

If you plan to visit Korea, you probably heard of the national dish called kimchi. Usually, they serve it as a side dish with virtually any main course. There are also many dishes containing kimchi as an ingredient. But what is kimchi?

It is basically a spicy fermented vegetable, similar to Western pickles. Koreans deposit the prepared vegetables into particular recipients, which they dig underground until the contents ferment. Due to the fermentation process, the kimchi has a strong smell that Westerners might consider unpleasant. But I assure you, kimchi is delicious.

The most common vegetables used to prepare kimchi are cabbage and radish, although there are numerous other types of kimchi.

Learn more about Dining in South Korea!

Apart from eating it, you can also take a cooking class and learn how to make your own kimchi! Learn the difference between different types of kimchi, what vegetables are used for each, the whole process, and more.

Go for an afternoon tea

The afternoon tea ceremony is not only popular in Great Britain, but you can also have an unforgettable experience in Seoul or Busan.

Most of the fancier hotels will offer afternoon tea sets that can be enjoyed in a luxurious setting.

Explore the tea plantations

Boseong tea plantations South Korea

Boseong Tea Plantation and Daehan Dawon Tea Plantation (대한다원) are the most important places you should head to if you want to see how tea is harvested in South Korea.

Apart from walking through beautiful hills covered with green tea, you will have the chance to learn about tea production, and also taste some local products with green tea flavors.

If you prefer to explore the tea plantations on the hills north of Yeosu, a day trip to Boseong from Busan should be considered.

You can rent a car and drive there by yourself, or you can book an organized tour and forget about having to think about itineraries, schedules, maps, and so on. A tour will take you through the tea plantations in Boseong, but you will also get to see the Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve.

Take the Blue Line Train

BlueLine Park Busan

Take the Blue Train &/or Sky Capsule and admire the coastline from the comfort of your own small and colorful capsule.

The Sky Capsule has a shorter distance, operating on a 2-kilometer section, and it only links Mipo to Cheongsapo. The whole ride takes less than 30 minutes, and the car goes at an average speed of 4 kilometers per hour.

They only allow a maximum of 4 people inside one car, and we relayed our trip. The one-way price for 2 people in a car is 30.000 won, while 4 people will pay 44.000 won.

Make sure to book in advance, especially if you want to have this experience at a certain time of the day.

Learn how to surf in Busan

Songjeong Lighthouse

Songjeong Beach in Busan is popular with surfers, and it has a more relaxed vibe than Haeundae. The Blue Line Train has its end of the line close to the beach, so you can either take the train back, just in time for sunset, or go back by bus.

While you are there, and if you are interested, you can book a surf board and surfing lessons.

Take countless pictures in Gamcheon or Huinnyeoul Cultural Villages

Gamcheon Village Busan

Two of the most colorful places in Busan, Gamcheon, and Huinnyeoul are great for taking Instagram worthy pictures.

Filled with beautiful photo spots, colorful streets, and buildings, but also pretty and popular cafes, there is no way you will get bored in either one of these cultural villages.

Cross the Red Bridge in Paju

Majang Lake Paju

The Majang Lake, or Majangho in Korean, was one of the first places we visited outside Seoul. Since our first trip, we returned many times that we craved a bit of peace and quiet.

One of the main attractions of Majang Lake is the suspension bridge linking its forested shores. Officially the Gloucester Heros Bridge, also called the Gamaksan Suspension Bridge, was named to honor the 1st Battalion Gloucester Regiment of the British Army who fought in the Korean War. At 220 meters long and 10 meters high, it is the longest suspension bridge in South Korea. The pleasure of walking over the lake while enjoying the amazing view it’s surpassed only by the joy of taking and sharing a memorable selfie.

On the lake’s southern shore, near the suspension bridge, you can find the Red Bridge Café and Italian Restaurant. The coffee is good, and the food tastes almost Italian. However, the lake view from the restaurant’s terrace is WOW! Our usual routine was to stop for lunch or coffee and then cross the bridge and walk around the lake.

Sleep on the floor in a traditional Korean room

Hanok is the name of the Korean traditional house, where people would sleep on the floor in order to be closer to the heat during the cold winter days. That’s because even back in the day, Koreans had a special heating system that would work from the floor, called “ondol”.

Nowadays, you can choose to have an authentic experience by staying in a traditional hanok.

Go fancy in Gangnam

Things to do in Gangnam

Yes, the “Gangnam Style” was about partying like the people in this district do. You will find here some of the coolest and most exclusive restaurants and bars in town, where people come to have fun (and of course, to show off).

Check out also all the other fun things to do in Gangnam!

Feel like a royal at the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon

Hwaseong Fortress Suwon

The main tourist attraction is Hwaseong Fortress or Suwon Hwaseong, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The fortress’ wall surrounds Suwon’s center, and once it encircled the entire city. Walking around its walls and the wooded areas around it can take your mind away from the hustle and bustle of the 21st century.

Today’s visitors can admire the impressive fortress’s several gates and sentry towers.

Feel like a kid at Wolmido Island Park

Easily reached by subway and a bus, Wolmido Island Park is set in Incheon and can be a fun getaway from the city. You will also be next to the sea, and around so many cool cafes and restaurants.

Go camping

Camping is a huge deal in Korea and you will see that campings have everything that you might need. It is great to spend a few days (and nights) in nature, under the star-filled sky.

There are plenty of options to choose from, closer or farther away from Seoul. Just book in advance, because as I’ve said, they tend to be popular.

See the temple with the breathtaking view in Namhae

South Korea Bucket List

There are quite a few things worth doing and seeing on Namhae island, and you can easily get there from Busan or Yeosu. However, the Boriam Temple offers one of the most stunning views.

You can park your car in the temple’s parking. From there, a small bus will take you up the mountain. However, be prepared to hike a little on foot, because you will need to do so in order to reach the top of the mountain, and the temple.

On a clear day, you will be delighted by the most amazing views, but we were unlucky to go on a foggy day (even if we couldn’t tell from the sea level).

Visit the DMZ and peak over to North Korea

DMZ Korea

Unsurprisingly the area dubbed as ‘the world’s most dangerous border’ is also the number 1 tourist attraction in South Korea; over 1.2 million visitors flock every year to the infamous Korean Demilitarized Zone or DMZ.

Read all about the experience and plan your trip from Seoul!

See Seoul’s skyline from Buam-dong

Seoul off the beaten path

One of the most charming neighborhoods in Seoul, Buam-dong is still a hidden gem less explored by tourists.

Don’t come here for cosmetics or tourist attractions, because you will be disappointed. However, this is the place to go to if you are looking for local art galleries, narrow streets with breathtaking views, pretty cafes, and some of the best local restaurants in town.

We really enjoyed this area and went back whenever we had a chill afternoon or wanted to enjoy a coffee with a view.

Visit Seoul Museum with its contemporary art exhibitions, stop by Seokpajeong, a former royal villa with impressive gardens, and relax at one of the many cool cafes on the cafe street. Bugak Skywalk is not easily reached but will enchant you with some of the best views of the city.

Participate in a traditional Korean wedding ceremony

Traditional (and modern) Korean weddings are a bit different than what you might expect. They only last a few hours, and there are certain ceremonies that must be followed.

As a tourist, chances are you might not have the opportunity to participate in a Korean wedding. However, the Korea Hosue restaurant and cafe (한국의집), they organize also traditional wedding ceremonies. It is an experience worth having during your South Korean vacation.

Take the cable car in Yeosu

If you manage to make it all the way to the southern part of the peninsula, Yeosu is a great place where to spend a few days exploring.

Even if you go there on a day trip from Busan, you should not skip going on a ride in the cable car. The view is stunning!

Travel to Frace at Petite France

While that might not be the first thing you want to see in South Korea, it is still a cool experience to have on a day trip from Seoul.

Usually done together with a visit to the Garden of Morning Calm and Nami Island, Petite France is a cool-themed village set in between the mountains of Gapyeong.

Blend in with the expats in Itaewon

Itaewon streets Seoul

When we first moved to Seoul everyone was telling us we should search for apartments in Itaewon. That’s mainly because the area is one of the favorites amongst expats coming to Seoul.

Even though we ended up staying in a more traditional residential area, Itaewon is still cool to explore. With lots of international restaurants, cool clubs, and bars, this is the place to go to when you want to have a “less-Korean” night out.

See a bamboo forest at Ahopsan Forest (아홉산숲)

Set north of Busan, one hour away by car, Ahopsan Forest is a charming escape from the city. Start your day with a coffee and some traditional rice sweets on the terrace between the bamboo trees, and be ready to walk up the hill.

You will find here one of the most beautiful bamboo forests in South Korea, and the place is big enough for you to easily spend a few hours exploring.

While you could get there by public transportation (bus no. 184 from Banyeo Agricultural Wholesale Market Namnum Bus Stop 반여농산물도매시장 동문 to Ungcheon Bus Stop 웅천) it is much easier to get there by car.

Pick Hallabobg during harvest season on Jeju Island

Hallabong is a type of tangerine that grows on Jeju Island and is very popular with the locals. They eat it as it comes, use it in tea, and even in k-beauty.

That’s why you should visit Jeju Island during the harvesting season when you can pick your fruit and savor it in its natural setting. Throughout the island, there are tourist-friendly farms that will allow you to visit and explain everything there is to know about the harvest process and not only.

October to February is the peak season for tangerines on Jeju Island.

Step back in time in Gyeongju

Gyeongju Royal Tombs

As the capital of the Kingdom of Silla, Gyeongju became the center of Korean political and cultural life by 668 A.D.

The old town’s traditional buildings host several restaurants. We had the chance to enjoy delicious cuisine worldwide over the years, but one of the best meals was in Gyeongju.

There are many beautiful places to visit in the old town, and it is the perfect destination for a day trip from Busan or even Seoul by KTX.

Go hiking during fall foliage

Hidden Garden Seoul Autumn

As soon as autumn comes, South Korea puts on different types of beautiful clothes. Sure, spring in Seoul is amazing, but visiting the city during fall is as charming.

If you love nature and don’t mind the exercise, there are plenty of hiking trails in the city or close by. Bukhansan National Park offers plenty of hikes fit for any experience level.

Check off a few temples by the sea: Haedong Yonggungsa in Busan, Naksansa Temple (낙산사) in YangYang

Most guides about South Korea will tell you about “the only temple by the sea” set in Busan. However, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is not the only one of its kind.

Sure, if you are in Busan you should head over and visit it, but the Naksansa Temple (낙산사) is closer to Seoul. Yangyang area is also nice to explore, less touristic, and a great mix of mountains and ocean.

Cycle from one cafe to the other below the cherry trees in Chuncheon

Chuncheon Lake bike

The capital city of Gangwon Province, Chuncheon is one of the best and closest mountain destinations to Seoul.

A great weekend destination but also a place where to go for a day only.

Get there by train, rent a bike, and cycle around the lake in search of cool cafes! There are plenty of those in and around Chuncheon.

See the tides on Ganghwa Island

Ganghwa Island South Korea

Another great destination for a day trip from Seoul, Ganghwado Island is known for its impressive tides.

Imagine sitting on a beach, an ocean of mud as far as you can see, people playing in it, or looking for shells kilometers away from the coast. While in Europe, the sea retreats only a few meters during low tide, and on Africa’s eastern shores, it might retreat hundreds of meters, at Ganghwa, the ocean can withdraw as much as 5 kilometers.

The result is breathtaking, the sea leaving room for endless mudflats.

And also the cute cafe

Doré Doré Brunch & Coffee (도레도레) is set on the island and it is famous not only for its rainbow cake but also for its beautiful daisy garden. Try to avoid going there on the weekend because you won’t find a parking space or a table.

Go for a luxury SPA treatment

It is of course expected from a country famous for its skincare brands and treatments to have also luxury SPAs.

If you have more time to spend in Seoul, try to fit into your schedule and itinerary, at least a visit to one of the many luxury SPAs.

There are plenty of great offers you should check out:

Try a cosmetics clinic for a laser treatment

Sinebeam Hongdae

If you would rather buy the skincare and bring it back home with you, you shouldn’t leave Seoul without trying a professional treatment.

Gangnam has hundreds of plastic surgery clinics, but you shouldn’t go all the way, you can at least try a laser facial. It is really good for collagen production, and in South Korea, it is much cheaper than in many other places around the world.

I used to go to Shinebeam in Hongdae, but they also have a branch in Gangnam. They always have great packages and deals worth checking out.

See a K-Pop concert

Well, if you are into K-Pop you should know much more about it than we do. There are plenty of concerts you could attend at any time in Seoul, and you can even see street performances by k-pop wannabes in areas like Hongdae.

Explore K-drama filming locations

They are easy to find around town and almost everywhere around South Korea, and true fans will know where to look for what they want to see!

Visit a Korean theme park

Lotte World Seoul

Set in the middle of Seokchon Lake next to the famous Lotte World Tower, Lotte World is the most popular adventure park in South Korea.

No matter if you are traveling with kids or you simply want to feel like a child again, spending one day at the amusement park should be on your Seoul bucket list.

Choose a Fast Pass when you don’t want to wait in line at any of the rides, or get the combo ticket and visit the Aquarium as well.

Everland Amusement Park is another cool option where you can easily spend one full day without getting bored. Get your day pass discounted ticket here!

Go skiing in Gangwon-do

As expected from a country with so many mountains, South Korea has also really great skiing resorts. And the good news is most of them are really close to Seoul.

If you are visiting during winter you can go for a day to Alpensia Ski Resort, the Eden Valley Ski Resort, or to the Phoenix Park Ski Resort, just to name a few.

6 comments

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *