The first-timer’s guide to Korea
This is sponsored content for Korea Tourism Organization Sydney
What is top of your agenda when we can finally head overseas again?
Are you dreaming of buzzing cities or soaring mountain landscapes, fabulous food or bustling markets? In South Korea, you can enjoy them all. Here are seven essential experiences that should be part of any trip.
Sink your teeth into Korean barbecue
From crunchy pajeon pancakes and hotpots to 100 varieties of kimchi, Korea is known for its flavour-packed food. For meat-lovers, nothing beats the smoky, sizzling experience that is Korean barbecue. At most restaurants, diners choose from a range of dishes – including galbi (short ribs) and Bulgogi (“fire meat”) – and grill their meat at the table. The sweet, spicy flavours are simply unbeatable.
Enjoy flavour-packed food at Korean barbecue. Photo: Supplied.
Soak up the atmosphere in a jjimjilbang
Korean bathhouses, where you soak in pools of heated water before having your knots kneaded out of your back, have sprung up around the world. The jjimjilbang, a Korean institution, lifts things to a next level.
As well as hot and cold pools, there are therapeutic hot rooms lined with different materials: think jade, amethyst, crystal salt and pine wood. You can spend hours trying out the different treatments; the biggest jjimjilbangs also offer amenities far beyond imagination – think snack bars, game rooms, massage chairs, theatres and nail salons.
Jjimjilbang like Aquafield Goyang (pictured) lifts things to a next level. Photo: Supplied.
Get into the K-pop groove
It’s known locally as hallyu, or the Korean wave – the explosion of Korean popular culture that has seen K-pop acts like BTS and Blackpink top the charts while Korean films like Parasite and Minari have scored big at the Oscars.
Get a taste for Korea’s quirky, colourful pop culture at K-Star Road, which runs through the Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong neighbourhoods. Check out the Gangnam dolls, bear-shaped dolls that represent various K-pop groups, that line the sidewalk before taking a break in one of the many K-pop friendly cafes such as SUM – located in level one of the SM Entertainment building, who owns and operates the local eatery (look for the pink entrance).
Get a taste for Korea’s quirky, colourful pop culture at K-Star Road. Photo: Supplied.
Take a deep dive into nature
Soaring mountains, verdant valleys and ancient forests: South Korea’s landscapes are among its best-kept secrets. Seductive at any time of year, they are at their most magnificent in spring and autumn.
An autumnal pilgrimage to Naejangsan National Park to see the fiery foliage is a local ritual while in spring, clouds of cherry blossoms transform both the country and the cities. Korea’s biggest cherry blossom display takes place in the southern city of Changwon, where 300,000 cherry trees line the streets and riverbanks.
South Korea’s landscapes, like Naejangsan National Park (pictured) are among its best-kept secrets. Photo: Supplied.
Drink a cup of memory
Old traditions linger, even in the hyper-modern metropolis of Seoul. In the city’s serene tea houses the rituals and traditions of yesteryear are carefully maintained.
You’ll find various traditional tea houses tucked away throughout the city.
Enjoy a cup of tea at a traditional tea house. Photo: Supplied.
Hit the local markets
Forget Korea’s sleekly modern malls; it’s the lively local markets, many of which run both day and night, that are the city’s most memorable shopping experiences.
In Seoul, visit the super-sized Dongdaemun Market, which houses an astonishing 26 shopping malls, 30,000 specialty shops and 50,000 manufacturers. In the picturesque seaside city of Busan, head to Gukje Market to pick up vintage pieces, and Jagalchi Fish Market for all kinds of seafood.
Dongdaemun Market (pictured) is one of the city’s most memorable shopping experiences. Photo: Supplied.
Take time out in a temple
South Korea’s Buddhist temples, decorated with lanterns, pillars and pagodas, have long been havens of tranquillity. Whether you sign up for a temple stay experience or stick with a day trip, there is something very soothing about the gentle echoing of gongs or the meditative act of following the winding prayer paths.
Many temples are destinations in their own right. To reach Songgwangsa Temple in the country’s southwest, you’ll have to take a bit of hike, but the journey is part of the experience. By contrast, nearby Unjusa Temple is easier to reach, and is home to almost 100 Buddha statues.
Explore Songgwangsa Temple (pictured). Photo: Supplied.
For more information on travel to Korea, please visit visitkorea.org.au