Located along the Hangang River, Seoul has grown into a teeming metropolis with a population of more than 10 million. Over the years, the capital city of Korea has greatly expanded in the process of urbanization and industrialization and continues to grow as the thriving center of the country's political, economic, cultural and educational activities.
Seoul is the world's 10th-largest city. Its past and present coexist in a fascinating way: centuries-old palaces, city gates, shrines, gardens and priceless art collections attest to the city's illustrious past, while the glistening facades of soaring skyscrapers and the bustling traffic represent its vibrant present.
The old city was encircled by four inner mountains and four outer mountains. Bugaksan in the north, Naksan in the east, Inwangsan in the west, and Namsan in the south are "the inner mountains" as all were originally inside the old city walls of the Joseon capital. The four outer mountains are Bukhansan in the north, Yongmasan in the east, Deogyangsan in the west, and Gwanaksan in the south. Each mountain has a unique beauty of its own while boasting natural scenic landscapes and spectacular views overlooking the city of Seoul. There are also numerous mountain springs that freely provide clean, clear water to refresh weary hikers.
In Seoul, the must-see attractions are the ancient royal palaces of the Joseon Dynasty: Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, Changdeokgung, and Changgyeonggung. Jongmyo, the royal ancestral shrine of the Joseon Dynasty, and Changdeokgung's adjacent Huwon (Rear Garden also known as the Secret Garden) are noted for their beautifully landscaped gardens and classical structures.
One of the most popular areas for tourists in the old center of Seoul is Insa-dong. A place that beckons both casual shoppers and serious collectors, it is lined with antique shops, art galleries, traditional teahouses, and restaurants as well as bookstores.
Other attractions highly recommended for visitors include the National Museum, the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, the Ho-Am Art Hall and Korea House. The National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwacheon, a southern satellite town, also deserves a visit.
At Namsan Park, in the heart of Seoul, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire city from Seoul Tower and look around a reconstructed Hanok village below.
Visitors can relax, walk, or rent bicycles in numerous Seoul parks, such as Olympic Park, Seoul Grand Park, Seoul Forest, and the Hangang River Trail. These parks are among the hidden treasures of Seoul, enjoyed by residents but often missed by tourists.
Of course, Korean cuisine is also a must during a trip to the peninsula, either at a modern or traditional restaurant. Excellent Chinese and Japanese food is also available, as well as French, Italian, Thai, Pakistani and many other ethnic cuisines.
Seoul has an active nightlife with clubs, cafes, and roof-top lounges. A fantastic view of the city at night can be seen from the Seoul City Tour Bus or from along the Hangang River as a cruise boat slowly meanders through a valley flanked by high-rises.
Seoul Vicinity & Gyeonggi-do Province
Gyeonggido Province is located in the western central region of the Korean Peninsula, with the Hangang running through its center. The river divides the province into a mountainous northern area and open fields to the south. While Seoul keeps its visitors busy with so many intriguing and enticing things to see and do, this area outside of Seoul can provide a refreshing and invigorating break.
The shoreline of coastal regions juts in and out along the beaches and includes countless bays and coves, capes and islands. Namyangman and Asanman Bays, Gimpo and Hwaseong Peninsula as well as Ganghwado and Yeongjongdo islands are all attractions worth a trip outside of Seoul. The golden bell, the provincial flower, symbolizes prosperity and flourishes widely throughout the region.
Within a 30-minute drive to the south of Seoul is the Korean Folk Village. In this traditional village everyday Korean life of days gone by is reenacted. The Korean Folk Village opened in 1973 and now includes aspects of almost everything traditionally Korean.
Korean Folk Village in Yongin
Homes typical of the various provinces are on display, and there are regular performances of tightrope walking, wedding and funeral processions, kite-flying contests and folk dancing in the village square. Blacksmith, carpenters, potters and craftsmen can also be seen at work in their shops. In Suwon, adjacent to this traditional village is Hwaseong Fortress, a walled city of the Joseon Dynasty that was recently included in UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Yongin Everland, a comprehensive leisure complex, consists of state-of-the-art amusement park facilities, including a water park and spas, ideal for summer recreation for all age groups.
The distinguished Ho-Am Art Museum displays over 5,000 pieces of art. About 80 kilns are concentrated in the area of the Icheon Ceramic Festival which is held in September each year. Bigger still, the World Ceramic Biennale spreads out over Incheon, Gwangju and Yeoju on odd-numbered years, Here you can savor the mysterious color of Goryeo celadon and the white purity of Korean porcelain.
Ganghwado is situated in the estuary of the Hangang River north of Incheon Port. This island, Korea's fifth-largest, is rich in history and natural beauty. Major historic monuments here include an altar said to have been erected by Dangun, the legendary founder of Korea, along with fortresses, ancient walls, a celadon kiln dating back to the 13th century Goryeo Kingdom, and Jeondeungsa Temple.
Just a 56-km bus trip north of Seoul is Panmunjeom, the truce village where the Korean Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, ending the fierce fighting of the Korean War. It is now a joint security area managed by the UN Command and North Korean guards. Visitors are escorted and briefed by military guides.
Gangwon-do Province is located in the central eastern region of the Korean Peninsula. Most of the land is covered with thick forests, providing an abundance of scenic vistas with fewer residential areas than in other provinces. Both its remote wooded mountains and ravines as well as small coastal towns are rich in scenic splendor.
Gangwon-do has a number of ski resorts.
With these natural conditions, Gangwon-do served as an ideal site for the 4th Asian Winter Games in January 1999. The International Trave
The International Travel Exposition (ITE) ‘99 was also held here from September 11 through October 30, 1999. Over 2 million visitors from overseas and around the country participated in these events. Under the theme, “Man, Nature and Life of the Future,” the ITE offered an array of performances and events in addition to a number of fascinating exhibitions and useful information to visitors.
The eastern coastline, stretching 390 kilometers (234 miles) from Hwajinpo to Busan, is rugged and mountainous with some of the most breathtaking scenery in Korea. Skiing and other winter sports help make the area a year-round resort destination. To meet the needs of the more than one million skiers per year, several resorts are now equipped with snow-making machines, which have extended the season from December to March. Other popular recreational activities in the region include swimming in summer and mountain climbing in autumn. The beaches here are perhaps the finest in Korea, gently sloping into shallow water and mild currents.
Seoraksan Mountain, part of the Geumgangsan Mountain Range, draws visitors with its magnificent splendor. It is impressive and colorful all year round and is home to the Asiatic black bear, the symbol of Gangwon-do Province and one of the most endangered species in the world.
Other popular sites include the Cheoksan, Osaek and Sorak Waterpia hot springs in and around Seoraksan National Park and the unification observatories abutting the DMZ that offer excellent views of North Korean territory. And every August, puppet theater groups from around the world converge on the capital of Gangwon-do for the Chuncheon Puppet Festival.
Ulleungdo, lying 217 kilometers (134.8 miles) northeast of Pohang, is an extinct volcano rising prominently from the East Sea. Dokdo, the easternmost point of Korea, lies 87.4 kilometers (54.3miles) to the southeast of Ulleungdo.
Geumgangsan is considered one of the world's most spectacular natural wonders. It is located in North Korea near the eastern end of the Demilitarized Zone. Tourists can travel overland to Geumgangsan by signing up with an authorized South Korean travel agency for a guided tour.
Chungcheongbuk-do and Chungcheongnam-do provinces lie in the western center of the peninsula. Chungcheongbuk-do is the country's only landlocked province, but with the completion of the Government Complex in its capital Daejeon and the newly opened international airport in Chungcheongnam-do's capital Cheongju, the two provinces are being turned into a strategic heartland for the domestic economy.
Seosan City is located a little southwest from Seoul and East Asia's best birding areas, Cheonsu Bay and the Seosan reclamation lakes and rice-fields.
Daejeon is about two hours south of Seoul by car and is a major train junction for the Seoul-Busan and Seoul-Gwangju-Mokpo lines. It is rapidly developing into one of Korea's major science and technology centers. Expo Park, the site of the International Daejeon Expo ‘93, has been renovated and converted into a public science park.
Buyeo, the last capital of the Baekje Kingdom (18 B.C.- A.D. 660), features the Buyeo National Museum which houses a comprehensive collection of about 7,000 relics from the Baekje period.
The Geumgang River flows alongside Gyeryongsan, one of the region's most popular mountains. As the original center of Baekje culture, the area abounds with unique cultural artifacts and historic relics.
Dotted between the many peaks and saddlebacks along the ridgeline of the Sobaeksan Mountains are a wealth of national treasures and historical places. These include the seven-story stone pagoda of Yongdusa, the Palsangjeon wooden pagoda, Sangdangsanseong Fortress, and Admiral Yi Sun-sin's Chungnyeolsa Shrine.
Many other celebrated temples, hot springs, national parks and natural wonders are also waiting to be discovered here. Chungjuho Lake offers a variety of delightful water sports in central Korea. Cruise boats ply its waters between Chungju and Danyang, giving passengers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Gosudonggul Cave captivates visitors with its glistening stalactites in all shapes and sizes. Chungju orchards are one of the country's main sources of delicious apples. Yellow tobacco is also a specialty of this region, and the area's ginseng has gained a worldwide reputation.
Korea's southwestern region encompasses Jeollabuk-do and Jeollanam-do provinces. The region is relatively flat, containing broad stretches of rice paddies, and its jagged coastline creates many small harbors. It is a fertile and warm region sheltered by high mountains on the east and north and calm seas and many islands on the west and south. Because of the influence of both continental and ocean climates, the provinces exhibit a wide variety of weather conditions.
Jeonju is famous for its traditional mixed vegetable rice dish, bibimbap, and for Hanji, traditional mulberry paper. The provincial bird is the magpie, which is related to a poignant legend. According to this legend, on the night of the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, magpies build a bridge above the Milky Way by carrying twigs and pebbles in their beaks, allowing two lovers, Gyeonu and Jingnyeo, who are destined to meet only once a year to see each other again.
Namwon is the gateway to Jirisan National Park, as well as the famed home of Chunhyang, one of Korea's legendary heroines. Chunhyangga, a narrative epic song (pansori) about the faithfulness of her love, is one of the most favored performances in Korea. Mt. Jirisan contains the second highest mountain peak in South Korea. The sub-range is vast and stretches across three provinces, Jeollanam-do, Jeollabuk-do and Gyeongsangnam-do.
Deogyusan National Park commands superb views of the 30 kilometer-long Mujugucheondong Valley. The valley encompasses Muju Ski Resort, the largest skiing area in Korea.
The Gwangju National Museum is home to a collection of Chinese ceramics recovered from a 600-year-old Chinese merchant ship that was wrecked in the seas off Sinan.
Damyang, 22 kilometers north of Gwangju, is the center of bamboo cultivation and craftsmanship. The Damyang Bamboo Museum is the world's first museum devoted exclusively to bamboo.
Other tourists sites and museums such as Hwangtohyeon Victory Field, Gochang-eupseong
Wondrous sea parting near Jindo
Fortress, the dolmen sites in Gochang and Hwasun counties and the Gangam Calligraphy Museum add historic and literary character to the province.
On Jindo Island, which is some 350 kilometers south of Seoul, visitors can see the Korean version of the Moses Miracle. The sea between the coastal village of Hoedong-ri on Jindo and nearby Modo Islet actually parts for about an hour twice a year in early May, and again in the middle of July, leaving a walkable path, 2.8 kilometers long and 40 meters wide. Jindo is also renowned for the indigenous Korean dog breed, Jindogae, which is designated as Natural Monument No. 53.
Korea's southeastern region, encompassing Gyeong-sangbuk-do and Gyeongsangnam-do provinces, is an area rich in tourist attractions, cultural assets and historical places. The Hallyeosudo Waterway and the mountains of Jirisan and Gayasan are among this region's most outstanding natural resources. In addition, the entire city of Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935), is now an exceptional open-air museum. Royal tombs, temple sites with weathered stone pagodas and fortress ruins are scattered all around the city and have yielded many ancient treasures.
three-story Seokgatap Pagoda
Gyeongju's main architectural sites are Bulguksa Temple and the nearby Seokguram Grotto. Both were completed in the eighth century and are representative of highly refined Buddhist art. They were included on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1995. Other important historic sites include Dumuli Park, Oreung (Five Tombs), Cheomseongdae Observatory, General Kim Yu-sin's Tomb, and Mt. Namsan, which is dotted with numerous Buddhist images, pagodas and temple remains. The Gyeongju National Museum houses antique treasures recovered from Gyeongju and its vicinity.
Bomun Lake Resort, six kilometers from downtown on the eastern outskirts of the city, is an integrated tourist destination with several first-class hotels and various recreational facilities. Haeinsa Temple is famous for housing the 80,000 wooden printing blocks used to print the Tripitaka Koreana, which were carved in the 13th century. The Tripitaka Koreana is acknowledged as the most complete compilation of Buddhist scripture in East Asia.
Not far from historic Gyeongju are the growing industrial cities of Pohang and Ulsan. Pohang is home to the POSCO steel mills, while Ulsan is the industrial base for Hyundai, one of Korea's leading conglomerates.
Further to the south is Busan, Korea's principal port and second-largest city. The Jagalchi Fish Market, one of Korea's most famous markets, is right next to the piers where fishing boats unload their daily hauls. The market offers tourists a great early morning attraction as buyers and sellers haggle over the catch of the day.
Andong is one of the last living vestiges of old Korea, a treasure-trove of Confucian tradition. Hahoe, a small village near Andong, is famous for its unique traditional masks and the mask dance-drama, Hahoe-talchum. Dosanseowon, a Confucian academy founded in the 16th century by one of Korea's most well-known scholars, Yi Hwang, is also nearby. Massive international tour and resort complexes were opened in 2006 in the western and northern areas, featuring ultramodern recreation and leisure facilities.
Jejudo Island and Southern Coastal Regions
Within an hour's flight from Seoul, Busan or Daegu, travelers in Korea can reach a land of a completely different character. Recognized as the best-preserved area in the nation, Jejudo is Korea's only island province.
The island is Korea's most popular honeymoon destination. Known as “Little Hawaii” for its volcanic landscape, picturesque subtropical scenery, sandy beaches, waterfalls and hiking trails, it is one of the world's top ten tourist attractions with over four million visitors a year.
Jejudo enjoys a semitropical climate, with its plants and landscape being remarkably different from those of the mainland. It is also the natural habitat of over 2,000 species. Its principal mountain is the 1,950-meter Hallasan, a dormant volcano crowned with a large crater. Many centuries ago, lava flows from this volcano created tunnels, pillars and other unusual features formed by the quickly-cooled basalt. Favorite destinations include the Jeju Folkcraft and Natural History Museum, Jungmun Resort, Cheonjiyeon Falls, and Jeju Fantasy Gardens.
Jejudo's old thatched cottages with walls made from lava rock offer visitors a great chance to glimpse the island's unique folk culture. They reflect both the island's natural environment, characterized by strong winds, and the hearty lifestyle of its people.
Closer to the mainland, more than 3,000 islands line the winding southern and western coastlines. The completion of the Honam and Namhae expressways in 1973 made these picturesque coasts more accessible. The areas around Jinhae, Tongyeong, Jinju and Namhae are recommended highlights. The southern boundary of the Korean Peninsula is a jagged coastline which has created an irregular pattern of bays and inlets dotted with large and small islands. For those preferring waterways to expressways, a hydrofoil skims over the water between Busan and Yeosu. The boat stops at Seongpo, Tongyeong, Samcheonpo and Namhae.