We got our tickets for Korea!


We’re going to Seoul at the end of May for our son’s wedding, and we’re going to spend about a week there (wish it could be more, but we have obligations back home).

So, besides the wedding at the end of our visit, is there anything we should not miss in our brief stay in South Korea?


  1. says

    If you like military hardware at all, you might enjoy the War Museum; they have a B-52 parked outside that’s pretty impressive, amongst a bunch of other Korean war leftovers. The war memorial is kinda cheesy and kinda moving. There’s a small robot museum that I quite enjoyed; nearly all toy and movie robots rather than industrial.

    The National Museum may go without saying, and is worth a day all to itself, I think. Gyeongbokgung Palace was still being reconstructed when I was there in 2007, and is quite large; Changdeokgung Palace is a more manageable size and didn’t need rebuilding after the Japanese were kicked out.

    If you can get out of town, I think a visit to the border to one of the observatories to have a look at the Potemkin villages in the north is worth it, and isn’t far away.

    There’s an active nightlife in Seoul, but I don’t know much about it because jetlag kept knocking me out by eleven or earlier, which is early by Seoul standards, I gather.

  2. davidhuber says

    Had an unforgettable experience 30 or more years ago in a red light district in Pusan, but that’s probably not the type of tourist attraction you’re looking for.

  3. petesh says

    I second a visit to the border. I still have my “Freedom is not free” coffee cup from the DMZ store, complete with barbed wire on the back. The compulsory briefing (no eye contact with The Enemy is allowed) is worth the price of admission by itself. On second thoughts, I have some trouble picturing you stifling your instincts enough to get in there, let alone out in time to catch your plane.

  4. StonedRanger says

    I was there in 1974 – 1975. There weren’t a whole lot of tourist attractions back then as they were still rebuilding after the ‘Korean Conflict’. From what Ive seen on Google maps, its so different there isn’t much Id recognize. It was a beautiful country to me and the people were for the most part pretty wonderful folks. But with the martial law not allowing you to be out past midnight it was tough to go anywhere. I envy your going there.

  5. says

    There are so many palaces right in Seoul, it would be a shame to miss all of them. Gyeongbukgung is the big one that everyone goes to, but I also enjoyed Gyeonghulgung, though it’s smaller. (I was in Gyeongbukgung in 2011 and most of it was open to visitors; construction is mostly over by now, I think.) There are a few temples in Seoul as well; while I do have more interest in Buddhism than maybe the typical FtB reader, I think the atmosphere, architecture, and landscaping makes any temple worth it. Bongeunsa is maybe my favorite, plus it’s close to the COEX aquarium. The COEX aquarium is not a science enthusiast’s aquarium, but it’s worth it for the weird/touristy/gimmicky stuff.

    And go for the street food: the red bean fish pastries and the tteokbokki (rice cakes in a thick, mildly spicy/sweet sauce) are my favorites. If the weather’s nice, get some fried chicken and beer and hang out in one of the parks by the Han.

  6. says

    Oh, and: be sure to visit a sauna (jjimjilbang) while you’re there. A popular/huge one is the Dragon Hill Spa at Yongsan, but there are a bajillion others. Some are sketchy (basically places for drunk students/businessmen to crash overnight after subways close) and some are more…refined…but all are very, very Korean. Probably what I miss most from the peninsula!

  7. Eridius says

    Jeju Loveland. It’s basically an outdoor sculpture park all about sex, featuring not just sculptures of people in various sex positions, but also things like phallus statues, stone labia, and some interactive exhibits as well. It’s a pretty interesting place. And Jeju Island itself is an interesting place. Besides Loveland, it also has a volcanic tuff cone that you can climb up (lots of stairs) for a great view, and there’s an 8km lava tube with a 1km accessible portion, and a folk village and whatnot.

  8. silencio says

    to add to eridius :) jeju is a ~1hr flight from gimpo airport, so if it’s only a week in korea it’s a bit tight to plan. we did a couple days there on a similar length trip and managed to do all the stuff he listed tho. you can rent a cab for the day for around $100 and get a fair amount of sightseeing done.

    i would say street food + hanging out somewhere along cheonggyecheon (a 7-8mi long park built around a creek in seoul) is a nice way to spend some time, not just next to the han river.

    n seoul tower and namsan park if you want some great views of seoul. i went to gyeongbokgung last august and there was still a little construction/restoration going on then, but not too much, and is recommended if you’ve never been. namsangol hanok village is a nice little folk village to check out if you dig historical/architectural things. namdaemun and dongdaemun markets for a little shopping – don’t forget to haggle. insadong for a more touristy/upscale shopping experience (including hand-carved seal stamps). nanta theater if you want some fun for a couple hours. i think coex aquarium is a nice way to spend time, but it is not a very memorable one if you’ve been to any decent ones in the us. all the museums are highly recommended, if only because usually in the US, “asian” exhibits tend to be like, a single room of like 2-3 korean items. heh. so it’s different.

    my hands down favorite is the food though. definitely street food – blood sausage and fish cake soup with some tteokbokki and a bottle of beer or soju in the middle of the night is deliciousss. imo don’t bother with a fair number of restaurants especially in american-heavy areas like itaewon, many are just mediocre fusion or something you can easily eat in the US. chains might be worth visiting for the country-specific food (bulgogi burgers, mmm). a couple of my favorite restaurants: 새벽집 (saebyok-jip – in gangnam) for their beef soup and raw beef bibimbap, 칼 삼겹살 (kal samgyeupsal also in gangnam, ha) is all about pork belly, 담장 옆에 국화꽃 (damjang yeope guk-hwa-kkot -http://damkkot.com/) has some tasty shaved ice (bingsoo) and other korean desserts. but hard to go wrong with a lot of holes-in-walls too and random restaurants you come across, really. check out mangoplate for suggestions too – it’s a yelp-like service in korea.

  9. ayarb003 says

    Hiking! My husband and I worked in Daejeon, South Korea last summer and we were able to go to a different park/mountain almost every weekend (all just a short bus or taxi ride away). Hiking also seemed to be a regular pastime for locals. Also, we loved the super colorful hiking gear the Koreans sported (I’m now the proud owner of some purple hiking boots I purchased while there)
    As for specific parks/mountains to visit, Seoraksan was recommended to us though we never made it there. I can only really recommend the places we went in Daejeon (Gyeryongsan was awesome!)

  10. surprisesaplenty says

    Seoul has palaces and historic sites aplenty. It wouldn’t be terrible if you stayed in or near the capital the whole week.
    The DMZ anywhere is fascinating but the Panmunjeom tour is the best – and close to Seoul.
    In good weather – and all of May will have good weather – rent bikes or quadcycles and ride along the Han River.
    The historic markets are slowly modernizing (maybe not that slowly) and if you plan to visit one, don’t bother making it a big event. As little as ten years ago, atmospheric shops lined the narrow path at Insadong and sold antiques. Now, it is a wide street lined by government approved shops that sell souvenirs. Not terrible but only as authentic as the shopping arcades in airports.

    I think you’ve had some health concerns so YMMV but the hiking is good in Korea and there are a few cable cars – one in Seoraksan National Park, which someone else here recommended.
    Seoraksan is around 3hrs by bus or car, though. You might even just want to travel by express bus to see how comfortable that mode of transportation can be. If you do go to Seoraksan, there is a lot to enjoy on the east coast. Another view of the DMZ at South Korea’s northernmost point, traditional farming villages and an abandoned North Korean submarine, among other sights. Eridius commented here suggesting LoveLand in Jeju – it is a remarkable place especially in a relatively conservative country like SK but Jeju requires a flight. There are a few penis parks on the east coast; not as good as LoveLand but still somewhat amusing. I’d say choose Jeju or the east coast but don’t bother with both if you have only a week.

    Kyeongju is an ancient capital of Korea, a little like Japan’s Kyoto. I enjoyed it but if you’ve traveled the world, it may not stand out. For someone new to Asia, I would put it as a third day attraction but if you’ve traveled in Asia before, it might drop back to seventh or eighth day material. It has natural walking and hiking areas as well as a thousand years of history so you could spend a few days there to relax and meet your daughter-in-law and be sufficiently entertained.

  11. astro says

    if you’re there for the wedding, find out if you get to participate in the paebaek – the traditional wedding ceremony for the family. they usually don’t do it for daughters, though, which is unfortunate for you. but if they do, it’s a fun ceremony.

    definitely go to Gyeongbokgung, the main palace. i was there a few years back and they were building a court cuisine restaurant (dae jang geum). the best korean restaurant i’ve ever been to does court cuisine, and it’s an extraordinary experience (albeit not cheap). i’ve never been to Changdeokgung, but my kids are in seoul for spring break and they had a good time there. namsan tower, day or night. good hiking in the park around it, and great views up in the tower.

    noryangjin seafood market, south of the river and east of gangnam, is worth a trip just for the nakji. chew fast! if you go to insadong, don’t expect to find good food there, except for a place that makes and sells “dragons beard” candy, which is worth the trip. street food is pretty good anywhere.

    but the best advice i can give is to find out from your son what his wife and her family like to do and eat, and tell them that you would like to try it.

  12. zbeeblebrox says

    Watch the Food Channel’s Judy Joo. There are wonderful scenes of the markets in and around Seoul. She has great tips on what to buy.
    Uijong-bu is just up the road. You’ll pass through it if you go to the DMZ. the 4077th was just outside this town. I was stationed at Uijong-bu 1969-1970. The patches on our uniforms were tha same ones you see when you watch M*A*S*H. I loved my tour in Korea. I am actually making kimchi as of this writing.

  13. says

    Come down to Gunsan and hang out with me. I can treat you to my long, rambling stories about the far more interesting people I’ve met during my life as an expat while eating 물 냉면.

    Otherwise, everyone has given you heaps of good suggestions for all of the touristy stuff. If you get off at Jonggak Station, as seen here in this Google Maps link, you can pretty much just pick a direction to walk in and you’ll find something nifty to gawk at.

  14. says

    We talked with my son tonight, and it sounds like we’ll be in Seoul only a day or so, and then we’ll be in Daegu most of the time. Anything near Daegu we should see?

    And yes, the food. I plan to eat everything.

  15. says

    Daegu, eh? Always have a bottle of water on hand because I found that place sticky and swampy in both of my short visits. Maybe bring your best B.O. buster too. (Deodorant since antiperspirant lasts about 2 seconds here.)

    There is a KTX (high speed rail) station there and Busan and it’s famous beaches are just a day trip. Since you’ll be there before the summer rush you may be able to find a patch of sand to dig your toes into that doesn’t have a beach umbrella on it already. I personally prefer Gwangalli beach to the more famous Haeundae, but Haeundae has more attractions and better pubs.

    Eating tips: No one will be offended if you skip on some of the side dishes that come with every meal. So if you can’t handle kimchi, pass it up without guilt.

    If you do eat mul naengmyeon (물 냉면) drink all the icy broth because that’s the best part IMHO.

    Soju and Makgeolli, popular types of booze here, have a tendency to make you as merry as a Hobbit. Then spend the next day kicking you in the head and yelling in your ear, like an Orc. Be careful when you partake.

    Coffee here tends to be mostly of the Starbucks Drinkable Ice Cream variety, or instant coffee from sketchy-looking machines with paper cups. But there are millions of little coffee shop dotting every city with baristas who put a lot of love into what they do.

    And now I’m hungry and will go get lunch.

  16. astro says

    closest i’ve ever been to daegu is gyeongju, which has some good museums and historical sites, but may be too far out of the way.

  17. says

    Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon is a nice 6km walk. You can get there from Seoul via the metro system. The castle encircles part of the city and you can see the entire castle from anywhere along the path (excepting curves). Like Paris, construction inside the castle is legally limited to a certain height as not to block the view.


    Lucky you, South Korea has seriously cracked down on smoking (places where it’s allowed, taxes on cancer sticks, etc.) since I left in 2005. Now it’s pretty much only allowed at home, though there are still more smokers per capita than Canada or the US.


    Avoid soju. Do not believe the lie that it has anything to do with Japanese sake. Soju is for getting drunk, not for savouring. It has more in common with Taiwanese kaoliang.

  18. thebookofdave says

    I wish you peace and great satisfaction on your Seoul-searching expedition.

  19. David Eriksen says

    I’ve been living in Seoul for about 5 months now and haven’t seen most of the things people have mentioned here. I’ll certainly be bookmarking this thread. If the wedding is being held at the aforementioned Dragon Hill (a pretty popular spot) I might accidentally show up. I live across the street from where they hold the out door weddings.

    Several people have mentioned the 4077th M*A*S*H but I’m afraid you won’t find them here anymore. Nowadays, you can stop by the 121st CSH. I’ll be in the lab.

    Re: williamgeorge @18
    I found the “instant coffee from sketchy-looking machines with paper cups” to be perfectly drinkable but didn’t really care for the buckwheat tea. Of course, I’d been drinking MRE coffee for a couple weeks by the time I sampled it.

  20. tbp1 says

    I concur wholeheartedly about the National Museum. For me it’s probably the one indispensable sight to see. The two palaces mentioned are grand, too, but since time seems to be limited, probably just one of them.

    Unless I missed it, on one has mentioned Insadong yet. Great area to roam around in, especially on weekends when the main streets are closed to cars and it becomes pedestrian only. Lots of great little shops and wonderful street food.

    Also in Insadong is a terrific traditional restaurant that serves temple cuisine. It’s called Sanchon. They serve a strictly vegetarian multi-course tasting menu that is fabulous. There is a folk-dance show as well.

    There are more coffee and tea shops in Seoul than anyplace else I have ever been, both traditional and of the Starbucks variety (sometimes there will be two Starbucks literally across the street from each other; one block near Yonsei University had three Starbucks and a couple of independent coffee shops as well). For some reason, though, drinks in general are disproportionately expensive. A cup of tea or a coffee can cost as much as an entire lunch in a nice restaurant.

  21. nezzeraj says

    Wow I actually live in Daegu! I hope if you have any free time we can meet up one day, I’d be honored to take you and your family to dinner.

    For sites in Daegu, I would recommend the Daegu Arboretum, Donghwasa Temple, Apsan Mountain Park, and the Oriental Medicine Museum. The Arboretum is a beautiful place and has specific greenhouses for some exotic plants here like cacti. Donghwasa is the largest temple complex in Daegu and is very beautiful. Apsan Mountain has a cable car you can take to the top and hike down several paths, each of which have temples and shrines along the way as well as some caves. The Oriental Museum covers a lot of the origin and development of Eastern medicine through the ages, as well as an area for how it is practiced today. If you have any questions let me know!

  22. adrien says

    If you go to Busan, you should eat in Jagalchi fish market (in the little restaurants in the open air part, not in the min building). I had the best barbecue fish in my life there!