Skip to main content

20 best things to do in South Korea on your first trip

N Seoul Tower with cherry blossom or sakura flower with blue sky at Namsan Mountain in Seoul City, South Korea.

Welcome to bustling South Korea. Is this your first time here? Well, don’t you fret, our South Korea Soul trip is a newcomer as well, so we can discover together! (Though of course that’s a lie, we’ve meticulously planned every part of this dazzling itinerary and already know South Korea like the back of our collective Contiki hand…) 

From trying on traditional Hanbok dresses, to catching a baseball game; from learning how to make Kimchi, to touring the streets of Busan, South Korea is a world like no other and rich in unique cultural experiences. It’s almost dizzying how much there is to do, but to make it easier we’ve compiled the 20 best things to do in South Korea on your first trip. These are though must-sees and no-brainers that you can add to your bucket list.

Spoiler alert: You’ll definitely be itching to go after reading this, so why not just save time and book South Korea Soul now? 

1 – Dig into a proper Korean BBQ

First things first, it’s important to sit down for a meal and get your energy up. After all, all the best exploring is done on a full stomach. Korean BBQ has kind of taken the world by storm recently with viral videos on how to get that thinly sliced beef, and gochujang flying off the shelves. But nowhere does it better than the hometown and founder of it. 

Korean BBQ is meant for sharing, as are many meals here, so grab your pack of friends and settle around a grill for an evening of good conversation and good food.

8 South Korean foods you need in your life

8 South Korean foods you need in your life

by Jennie Kim Dec 14, 2017

2 – Marvel at Seongsan Ilchulbong

Regarded as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and known as ‘sunrise peak’, Seongsan Ilchulbong is a part of the very beautiful Jeju Island and a popular viewing point. The name means “hill shaped like a castle”, and from its majestic sloping form, we’d say it’s a pretty appropriate name. You can hike to the top and stare at the ocean like you’re the King/Queen of the world, or you can stare at it from below. Your choice, but catch it at sunrise for that extra special moment.

3 – Enjoy tea at a Buddhist Temple

One of the best things to do in South Korea is to embrace the Buddhist lifestyle and slow things down. How does a traditional tea ceremony sound? Included on South Korea Soul is a very special visit to a Buddhist Temple in Seoul where you’ll be able to make tea and partake in some Sutra script writing.

Open your mind to a new way of life and keep it zen before taking on some of South Korea’s more dynamic activities…

4 – Discover traditional Hanok architecture

Outside of Seoul and the big cities, South Korea is quite rural, and Hanok villages are the perfect example of this. With their charming curved tiled roofs, white walls, and exposed beams, Hanok architecture is really unique and a quintessential part of eastern Asian culture. Similar styles can be found in Japan and China as well, but what makes Korean Hanok villages unique is that these houses are specially designed for cooling the interior of a house. 

Why? Well… make sure to ask when you tour the endless twists and turns of Bukchon Hanok Village!

Bukchon Hanok village old village in Seoul city South Korea

Image source:Contiki

5 – Unlock your inner child at Lotte World Amusement Park

Had enough serenity? Now it’s time to get your heart pumping at the biggest indoor theme park in the world. Indoor? Yeah, you read that right, and that means that you can partake in all this colourful and childish fun no matter the weather, any time of year! 

It’s like walking into a fairytale town with little shops, roller coasters, magic shows, and ‘real’ hot air balloons floating around. This is the perfect for a day trip full of laughs. 

6 – Visit the DMZ

Dividing North and South Korea is the DMZ, which stands for Demilitarised Zone. While this may seem a little daunting, this is actually a really incredible experience. Take a Peace Tour with a local guide and discover the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, the Dora Observatory, as well as the Unification Village. If the weather allows you may even be able to peek into North Korea. A trip here is slightly sobering, but it’s an amazing experience. Definitely high on the list of best things to do in South Korea for all those history and culture buffs out there.

5 Contiki food experiences you can’t leave Asia without doing

5 Contiki food experiences you can’t leave Asia without doing

Dominic Oliver
by Dominic Oliver Jan 14, 2019

7 – Witness true natural beauty at Changdeokgung Palace

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Changdeokgung Palace is a true beauty and a half and one of five palaces built during the Joseon dynasty. What really makes it stand out is that fact that it doesn’t: the palace was built in such a way that it would work in harmony with the nature around it. As a result, it has almost an ethereal aura about it – like a cool forest temple of old.

While you visit you must make sure to take a tour of the Biwon, Secret Garden. You’ll stroll through 56,000 unique tree specimens, and if you catch it in spring, you’ll be blessed by many falling cherry blossoms. From white oak, to maple, to plum trees, the colours are gorgeous and it feels like a magical other world.

8 – Continue to gawk at Gyeongbokgung Palace

Another palace? Yes. And this one is just as stunning as the last. But where one has all that soft natural magic, this one is filled with empirical grandeur. Also built as one of the five palaces during the Joseon dynasty, Gyeongbokgung Palace is the most ornate of them all and really boasts all those majestic elements. 

Decked out in beautiful red and emerald colours, as well as gold trimmings and that classic sloping tiled roof, we recommend taking a tour at night when the palace lights up and glows like a jewel. And if the sky is clear, you’ll be able to peep up at the stars for that extra special moment.

9 – Take a cooking class

Once you’ve tried real traditional Korean food, you’ll never want to go back to that pre-made store-bought stuff. Some things just taste better with the added labour of love, and kimchi is one of them. A Korean delicacy of slightly spicy fermented cabbage, learning how to make it the authentic and traditional way is a cultural experience that you can take home and share with all your friends! 

South Korea has a cheese theme park because dreams do come true

South Korea has a cheese theme park because dreams do come true

by Danielle Kirk Jul 15, 2018

10 – Walk Seoul and visit the N Seoul Tower

Of course, visiting Seoul is a no-brainer when in South Korea. You’ve got to visit the capital city, and there’s just so much to do here that you’ll never get bored. But what we recommend is that you start out slow and get to know Seoul at your own pace.

Experience all the sights and sounds and smells of this bustling city while you travel on foot. It’s bright, dynamic, and the perfect place to lose yourself for a day. Wander over to the N Seoul Tower by taking a cable car up Nam Mountain located in the middle of Seoul, and get both a view of the city below and the tower. The tower is widely considered a South Korean landmark and it’s definitely worth the trek up.

11 – Feast on some street food

Funnily enough, Korean street food is one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Korea. The trip is almost entirely worth it just to get a mouthful of all that spicy and gooey goodness!

You’ve got Tteokbokki, rice cakes that can be fried and eaten with spicy ramen or on sticks; there’s Gimbap, rice rolls stuffed with veggies and made into beautiful little designs; Mandu, which is Korea’s take on the delicious dumpling, and many, many, more! Here’s an idea, why not challenge all your new Contiki friends to an eating contest?!

How to budget for 2 weeks of travel in South East Asia

How to budget for 2 weeks of travel in South East Asia

Dominic Oliver
by Dominic Oliver Oct 31, 2018

12 – Pick a team and watch a baseball game

If you thought baseball was purely American, you’d be wrong. Baseball is HUGE in South Korea, it’s kind of like a religion, and catching a game is hands down one of the best things you should do in South Korea, if not THE best! 

The best way to experience this with your travel buddy is to choose a game, each pick a team (that you presumably know nothing about) and watch in total anticipation! Loser has to buy the other a round of Chimaek: fried chicken and beer, the official meal of South Korean sports games.

13 – Visit the gilded temples of Busan

Only a short bullet train ride away from Seoul is Busan where you can relax and take a breath. Here you’ll find beach resorts as well as the ethereal Beomeosa Temple. Enjoy the morning calm here, surrounded by nature, and explore the temple’s beautiful interiors. With colourful murals, gold trimmings everywhere, and many offerings of fruit, Beomeosa Temple is the perfect destination for a serene day out.

14 – Bust a move at a K-Pop dance class

I mean, how could you not…? When in South Korea, a sweaty and energetic K-Pop dance class has to be on your bucket list, otherwise what’s the point of even going? Probably one of the most unique experiences on any of our trips, South Korea Soul will take you and your Contiki fam to an exclusive studio to whip you into professional shape!

Led by K-Pop experts we’ll get you moving and dancing and having the time of our lives. Whether you’re a natural or have two left feet, it’s an absolute laugh and you’ll be kicking yourself if you choose to forgo this activity.

Asia For First Timers: Tips, Tricks and Experiences with Instagrammer Sam Earp

Asia For First Timers: Tips, Tricks and Experiences with Instagrammer Sam Earp

Natalie Siagian
by Natalie Siagian Nov 08, 2015

15 – Spend a night performing your best karaoke!

Get ready to stay up all night frying your vocal chords and proving to your friends that you could score yourself a record deal if you really tried. Korean Karaoke is an absolute must and you’d be a fool to miss out. Book a room, order some food, maybe a few drinks if you’re feeling like you really want to party, and put on the show of your life. With all those trendy dance moves you’ve just learnt there’s no reason to be shy…

16 – Discover Gangnam with Style

I know, I know, the title is so corny, but it had to be done. Gangnam District leapt in foreign popularity because of Psy, but it’s been a local staple for many years. Known to be the main hub for many K-Wave stars, a day trip here promises some celebrity sightings and other interesting experiences. Have your coffee served by a robot, order some drinks from a street vending machine, and of course pose in front of the giant golden Gangnam hands!

Gangnam Hands in Gangnam, South Korea

Image source:Floren / unsplash

17 – Take a stroll through the Botanical Garden Island

What started as a simple island off the coast of South Korea soon became one of the most lush and stunning botanical gardens in the country, and it’s all thanks to one husband and wife. I know, how adorable! This couple lived on this island and saw the potential, and together they nurtured it into a luscious green paradise.

Oedo Botania is open year-round to visitors who wish to take a peaceful stroll and admire some unique European Rome-style architecture and sculptures that dot the garden and add some interesting focal points.

18 – Shop ‘til you drop at Myeongdong Shopping Street

Famous for its beauty and skincare products and designer stores, Myeongdong Shopping Street is the place to be if you’re in the mood to splash some cash! Head there early to avoid the crowds and do some shopping in peace, stay for lunch and grab a bite at one of the many street-vendors’ stalls, and hang out until the evening to catch a show from one of the many street performers and artists.

Like a local: 5 ways to get around Asia with Contiki

Like a local: 5 ways to get around Asia with Contiki

by Jaye Hannah Aug 27, 2018

19 – Try on traditional Korean Hanbok

If you want to feel extra regal and special while visiting some of South Korea’s palaces, then why not rent a traditional Hanbok? Hanbok are a beautiful part of Korean culture: composed of a jeogori (top) and a chima (skirt) for women or baji (trousers) for men, these garments are bell-shaped and are made of the finest silk. 

Wearing one of these will give you the appearance of floating on air and fuel you with all the confidence to strut through the palace grounds. If you do choose to rent a Hanbok, just remember to be respectful; culture is not a costume and we want to spread positive vibes all around.

20 – Party in Busan on a yacht

And last, but certainly not least, on our list of best things to do in South Korea is a banging Contiki party on a yacht in Busan. We’ll treat you to many things on South Korea Soul, but perhaps one of the best and brightest experiences is hitting the harbour and admiring Busan’s late night city lights aboard a gorgeous party boat. 

Decked out with local beers and snacks, we’ll float on by taking in the twinkling view and having a spectacular time amongst new friends and family! What a way to celebrate being in South Korea living our best lives!

Up next

Stop dreaming and make sh*t happen!