To celebrate the completion of its new website, the Korea Tourism Organization has come up with an list of heralded travel destinations exclusively for visitors. Due in large part to Korea's beautiful, rolling mountains, surrounding oceans and myriad cultural & historical sites, the flow of tourists to the country is steadily growing. If you do not want to miss out on any must-see places or must-do activities, be sure to include Korea's top 10 tourist destinations in your itinerary.
No.1 Traditional Market Tour (Namdaemun Market, Dongdaemun Market, Myeong-dong and Insa-dong)
As a time-honored traditional haven, Namdaemun Market makes for an ideal place to soak in the shopping scene with its unlimited street-vendors, and myriad restaurants. If it's the latest fashion trends you're after, Dongdaemun Market never sleeps, greeting shoppers from 10am to as late as 5am the following morning. The area is bustling with energetic Koreans even at dawn. Myeong-dong, which was rated the number-one destination visited by foreign tourists, is crowded with people all year round.
It has a longstanding reputation for attracting the young and fashionable aficionados. The cozy, narrow streets of Insa-dong are lined with antique shops selling old-fashioned books, paintings and ceramics. The many elusive alleyways boast a variety of teahouses serving traditional teas and eateries selling bindaeddeok (Korean-style pancakes) and makgeolli (rice wine).
No.2 Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto Tour
Regarded as a "roofless museum," Gyeongju has numerous relics and remains dating all the way back to the Silla Kingdom (BC 57 -AD 935).
In particular, Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto, which have both been designated World Cultural Heritage Sites by UNESCO, are must-see destinations.
Dabotap and Seokgatap, granite pagodas engraved with bamboo and lotus flower patterns, are popular spots for photo opportunities. Seokguram Grotto is a dome-shaped stone cave made from some 360 granite plates. The marveling construction of Seokguram Grotto, built with unprecedented precision, features a gem on the forehead of the beautiful and magnificent Buddha statue and is an incredible sight to behold at sunrise.
The DMZ is a place where you can see the truce line that separates Korea into south and north, making it the only divided country in the world. As public access to the DMZ is strictly restricted and the area is guarded by both South and North Korean soldiers, the DMZ remains a virtually undisturbed zone. Therefore, rare plants and animals are often spotted there. You can also see stern guards defending their respective territories at the Panmunjeom security posts. You may even get a glimpse of North Korean residents through a telescope at any number of observatories.
No.4 Busan's Haeundae Beach and Jagalchi Market Tour
Busan, a beautiful port city on the Korean Peninsula surrounded on three sides by ocean, features perfect harmony between vast sandy beaches and coastline. Haeundae Beach is considered a landmark in Busan as it is frequented by international and Korean tourists alike, particularly during the summer vacation season. Jagalchi Market, located near Haeundae, is Korea's largest fish market. It sells a variety of fish caught off of Haeundae's coast. Jagalchi offers the delight of sampling fresh sushi as merchants prepare it on the spot.
No.5 Jeju UNESCO Natural Heritage Tour
Jeju Island, Korea's southernmost island, was formed as a direct result of volcanic activity. Its natural beauty is globally recognized as it was designated a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO in June 2007.
The Jeju tour offers a number of places to appreciate the mystery and beauty of nature. There is a legend about Baekrokdam Lake at Hallasan Mountain where wizards are said to have frolicked here. And though the Geomun Oreum lava caves were created a long time ago, their inner structures are well preserved and lava pillars show traces of where lava onced flowed. Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak (Sunrise Peak) is a perfect spot to watch the magnificent view of the sun rising over the sea cliffs at dawn.
No.6 Tradition Experience Tour (Andong Hahoe Village & Korea Folk Village)
Are you interested in the lifestyle of ancient Koreans? If so, be sure to check out both Andong Hahoe Village and Korea Folk Village. You can learn about the old homes, traditional games and folk culture of Korean ancestors all in one place.
The ancient houses at Hahoe Village are traditional Korean-style houses that are thousands of years old. More surprisingly, they are still inhabited by people today. There is a program that gives tourists a chance to spend a night in one of the houses. The Hohoe Byeolsingut Exorcism, which has been designated an important intangible cultural asset, is staged at 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday from March through November. Admission is free.
No.7 Korea Buddhist Temple Tour (Haeinsa Temple, Tongdosa Temple, Songgwangsa Temple, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple)
Korea's Buddhist temples are located deep within mountains, and are in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature. Haeinsa Temple, located at Gaya Mountain, is one of three major Buddhist temples in Korea. is home to Tripitaka Koreana, a national treasure created to protect the country from foreign invasion.
Tongdosa Temple is famous for not having any Buddhist statues in the temple. However, you must stop by its main building, which have sarira (marble-shaped relics retrieved after cremating Buddha) enshrined in the place of a Buddha statue. Nicknamed "a prison in heaven,"
Songgwangsa Temple means "a rest area for clouds and winds." It is an ideal spot to relax body and mind. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is a temple frequented by tourists visiting Busan. It features picturesque scenery as it towers over the ocean. It offers many other attractions, including a dragon-shaped stone sculpture, Korea's largest Buddha statue, and a wishing rock.
No.8 Famous Mountain Tour (Seoraksan Mountain, Jirisan Mountain, Geumgangsan Mountain)
A mountain climber was once asked, "Why do you climb a mountain?" and he answered, "Because there is a mountain."Korea is a perfect place for such an enthusiast as the majority of its landscape is covered with mountains. In addition to a sense of accomplishment upon conquering their peaks, Seoraksan Mountain, Jirisan Mountain and Geumgangsan Mountain offer the pleasure of a beautiful nature experience.
Seoraksan Mountain has a number of peaks and valleys, including Korea's third-highest peak, Hangyeryeong. Designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, it is home to diverse species of plants and animals.
The origins of the name of Jirisan Mountain, Korea's first national park, lead to a popular belief that the mountain has the power to turn a foolish person wise. Though it is famous for its steep and towering peaks, it is also good for family climbers as there are various paths on the mountain.
Geumgangsan Mountain, located in North Korea, commands a unique view in each season, and so it has a different name for each season: Geumgangsan Mountain, Bongraesan Mountain, Pungaksan Mountain and Gaegolsan Mountain. You will need to sign up for a package tour to visit Geumgangsan Mountain. Among four different courses, all of which feature the seasonal beauty of Geumgangsan Mountain, Guryongyeon Falls is not to be missed.
No.9 Ancient Palace Tour (Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Deoksugung Palace)
Built during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), Gyeongbokgung Palace is recognized as the finest among the five major palaces. As a main palace representing the Joseon dynasty, it was a residence for royal families and a place where official ceremonies and rituals were held. It is a famous destination and a favorite among foreign tourists who visit Seoul.
Changdeokgung Palace is a secondary palace built after Gyeongbokgung. Its original form is the best preserved of all the royal palaces of the Joseon dynasty. Its rear garden with its harmony of nature and man-made structures is known for its tremendous beauty. Untouched natural settings and pavilions create a garden that is truly fit for a royal king.
Deoksugung is a royal palace where King Gojong, the 26th king of the Joseon dynasty, lived until his final days. Especially famous are Seokjojeon, which hosted foreign envoys, and the stonewall path that has a superstitious belief associated with it that lovers who walk along the wall together will break up.
No.10 Gangwon-do Ski Tour
Gangwon-do is a haven for Korean skiers as winter begins earliest here in Korea and it is famous for heavy snowfalls throughout the winter. Skiers have a wide selection as Gangwon-do's ski resorts offer diverse slopes and various facilities. Yongpyeong Resort, where international competitions have been held, has 31 slopes available for skiers of all levels.
Daemyung Vivaldi Park is ideal for young skiers who want to ski well into the night. Those who do not want to ski can have fun at Ocean World, an indoor water park located underground, beneath the resort. At Gangwon Land High 1 Ski Resort, you can enjoy gambling as well as skiing. It is connected by Korea's only ski train, and the ride to the ski resort adds to the overall sense of entertainment.