50 unmissable things to do in South Korea
South Korea is a marvel of a destination. Modern, sleek and extremely clean, it’s also culture rich and a food-lovers paradise. It may not be as popular as other Asian destinations. However, it’s quickly gaining popularity and will provide you with an adventure like no other. The culture and quirks of South Korea are unlike any other country on earth.
If you’re planning a trip to the country and want some travel inspiration, read on for our comprehensive list of the 50 things to see, do, and try in South Korea. From captivating palaces and temples with fascinating history, to fun evenings out at a karaoke bar and sampling some of the finest foods at a local street food market; there’s something for all interests.
Grab a notepad and pen, as you’ll not want to miss these! Read on for 50 things to do in South Korea.
1. Climb a tower
Each of South Korea’s big cities has a tower where you can take the elevator up high for some amazing panoramic views. Towers are definitely the best way to see the cityscape! Busan, Daejeon, Seoul or Gwanju; they all have a unique tower attraction. We climbed Namsan Tower in Seoul and were presented with some incredible views of city from the mountain above.
2. Visit a palace
South Korea’s palaces are a tribute to the country’s rich history, boasting a grand design, beautiful gardens and interesting stories. They’ve housed Korean royalty for decades! During your visit, we highly recommend visiting at least a few palaces. The top attractions to visit are Gyeongbukgung and Changdeokgung, both located in Seoul city centre.
WATCH OUR VIDEO ON 50 OF THE BEST THINGS TO SEE, DO & TRY IN SOUTH KOREA
3. Visit a temple
Buddhism was introduced in Korea in the 4th century and 16% of South Koreans still follow the religion to this day. As such, the country has a good collection of traditional Buddhist temples, with some being more impressive than others. Our favourite by far is Yonggungsa Temple in the beach town of Busan. Located right on the cliff face, it features stunning views of the sea, providing a romantic setting that’s best enjoyed during sunset.
4. Enjoy a drink at a themed cafe
Are you a coffee lover? Do you love a sweet treat? If so, you’re in luck, as South Korea is home to some of the best themed cafés out there! From Harry Potter-décor coffee shops to cartoon cafés, cafés with railway tracks running through them, and even a poo themed café, there are plenty of cool places to enjoy a drink. Visiting a themed café is of the most fun things to do in South Korea.
5. Have a red bean treat
Koreans (and also the Japanese) love a tasty paste make from red beans. Red bean rice cakes, bakery treats, ice creams, you name it! It’s absolutely everywhere! It’s mild in taste and not overly sweet, making it the perfect option for a post meal treat. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to try at least one red bean treat on your travels in South Korea.
6. Visit a Korean bakery
The bakery culture in South Korea is like no other we’ve ever seen before. There’s a bakery on every single street, full of delicious freshly baked cakes, pastries, and bread. Locals love to grab a sweet or savoury treat for breakfast, or for a mid-afternoon snack with a coffee. The bakeries rival Paris for variety and quality, making them a must-try during your visit.
7. Check out a traditional tea room
Afternoon tea is popular in the UK, but it’s also in South Korea. You’ll come across cool and quirky tea rooms across the country, but it’s most popular in the capital. Enjoy a luxurious afternoon tea inspired by European high living, or go for a traditional Korean tea with floor seating.
8. Write a message on a lantern
In Korea’s temples, you’ll find rows of hundreds of coloured lanterns on display. It’s common to write a message on a lantern and hang it up, particularly for major Buddhist festivals. It could be a wish, a prayer, or a request for good luck; the choice is yours. It’s a unique thing to do in South Korea and is a great way to immerse yourself into the local culture.
9. Try Korean street food
South Korea hands down has some of the best and tastiest street food in the world! From traditional foods such as kimbap, japchae and spicy rice cakes, to the more modern foods like meat skewers, fried chicken and various sweet treats. You’ll find street food stalls in cities, villages and at events everywhere you go. Trying street food is very safe and it’s always cheaper than eating in restaurants.
10. Visit a market
Asia is full of bustling markets, full of fresh produce such as meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, clothes and other household items. South Korea is no different! Have a wander through a local market and see what bargains you can find. Markets are one of the best things to do in South Korea to immerse yourself in the local culture.
11. Visit a Beach Town
When you think of South Korea, you probably imagine the modern cities. Many people completely overlook its stunning coastal town, Busan. Locals flock here in the summer months to enjoy the holidays and tourists visit to sample the many attractions on offer. Busan is a beach escape much unlike the rest of the country and is well worth a visit.
12. Get lost in a big city
There’s something fun about finding your way around a big city, avoiding Google maps and simply seeing where your path takes you. South Korea has some huge cities that are waiting to be explored. Seoul is the immediate choice, but all of Korea’s largest cities will provide you with endless things to see and do.
13. Sample the local nightlife
The Korean nightlife scene is a lot of fun! It’s common to go for after-work drinks no matter the evening of the week. You’ll also find late-night karaoke bars, K-pop bars and full-blown nightclubs in the big cities. Nightlife in South Korea is unique compared to other countries and you’ll soon learn to love it.
14. Buy some cute accessories
Korea is the land of all things cute and colourful. You’ll see locals with sweet phone charms, sparkly hair clips, necklaces and keyrings and anime or cartoon characters are everywhere to be seen. From teddy bears and Pokémon characters to Hello Kitty, there’s so many unique accessories you’ll find in Korea. If you can’t beat them, join them. Live like the locals and glam up your look.
15. Shop for the latest Korean fashion
If you’re into fashion, be prepared to shop until you drop in Korea! The country is known for its unique and trendy fashion scene, especially amongst the younger generation. Think K-Pop stars, oversized t-shirts and quirky character slogans! Head to an underground mall for more affordable fashion items, or one of the huge department stores for higher ends wares. You’ll also find high street stores such as Nike and Adidas, which are pretty affordable compared to other countries.
16. Try Kimchi
You can’t survive without water, and Koreans can’t survive without the spicy fermented cabbage, also known as Kimchi. It’s a staple in a Korean diet and a side dish is a must try at least once during your stay. It’s a bit like marmite, but I love it!
17. Cook your own Korean BBQ
If there’s only one meal you try when visiting South Korea, it has to be Korean BBQ. It’s a great cuisine to have with friends or family and is much more than a delicious meal out; it’s an experience. Traditionally served with pork belly, or sometimes beef, show off your cooking skills on the table BBQ!
18. Visit a traditional Hanok village
If you’re into culture and fancy exploring the ‘real Korea,’ head to one of the many Hanok villages. These historic villages can be found in cities and countryside areas throughout Korea. The traditional wooden buildings have been preserved and they provide an insight in the Korean way of life of the past. Narrow alleyways, paper walls and pointed roofs make these villages instantly recognisable.
19. Dress up in traditional Hanbok
Another great thing to try in South Korea is to dress up in traditional clothes, also known as Hanbok. You’ll see lots of tourists wearing these colourful traditional garments, instantly standing out from any crowd. ‘Hanbok’ rental stores can be found outside major attractions. Some attractions such as Gyeongbukgung Palace grant you free entry if you wear Hanbok.
20. Try lots of drinks
South Korea is known for their delicious and quirky drinks. Locals love to walk around with an their favourite beverage at any time of the day and it’s rare to see someone without a drink in their hand. Head to a café, market stand, or even 7 Eleven, and try an unusual drink. Korea has lots of drinks and brands you wouldn’t have tried before.
21. Try a unique dessert
As you’re sipping on a cool drink, why not get yourself a cool snack to go with it? There’s so many interesting treats, snacks and desserts to choose from in South Korea. Again, you probably haven’t seen many of the desserts you’ll come across We recommend heading to a food market or a themed café to find the most unique sweet treats. Hotteok and Bingsu are two of our favourites.
22. Get served by a robot
South Korea is known for its hi-tech ways. Technology is integrated into every part of everyday life and everything from the cars to the TV’s and doors is a league above the tech on offer elsewhere. A unique representation of South Korea’s technology are the self-serve robots. Some coffee shops and restaurants have introduced these robotic servers to make drinks, bring customers meals and more. It’s a unique experience and so fun to watch.
23. Visit an off-the-beaten-track City
Most tourists visit the country’s capital, Seoul, or the beach town of Busan. But have you heard of Daejeon? It’s the third largest city in South Korea but remains very local and not many tourists go here. There’s plenty of cool things to see and do and it provides a unique experience of South Korea. Other off-the-beaten-track cities worth checking out are Gwanju and Daegu.
24. Play a traditional Korean Game, as seen in Squid Game
If you haven’t got on the Squid Game bandwagon yet, what are you waiting for? Squid Game was released in 2022 and was a global hit on Netflix. Re-enact one of the scenes from this deadly game and try your best to cut out the umbrella. You’ll find lots of street market vendors selling these sweet treats called, ‘dalgona,’ so be sure to give it a try…if you dare!
25. Try a hi-tech toilet
The next thing to try in South Korea may sound a little strange, but it’s a must! Many, if not all homes in Korea have hi-tech toilets with many buttons and functions that do all kinds of things. Some restaurants and cafés may also have these hi-tech toilets, so if you come across one, don’t be shy and give it a try!
26. Ride the KTX bullet train
Like Japan, South Korea is known for its punctuality and serious delays on transport is very unlikely. If you’re looking to travel around Korea and want to get from A to B as quickly as possible, book tickets for the bullet train, also known as the KTX. With speeds of up to 190mph, riding the train is a thrilling experience that you must try at least once.
27. Watch a baseball game
Even if you’re not a sports lover or an athlete, we recommend heading to a local baseball game when in South Korea. Locals love baseball and the atmosphere at any game is awesome. It’s great seeing all the locals cheer on their favourite team, no matter how big or small they are! The food stands at baseball games is particularly excellent, and it’s very cheap, all adding to the experience.
Next up on our list of 50 things to do in South Korea is a fun activity that’s best enjoyed with friends or family. Koreans love singing to their hearts content after a long day at work. With a karaoke bar on almost every street, there’s plenty of opportunity to try it for yourself. You’ll be allocated your own private booth, so you don’t need to worry about getting embarrassed (too much!) Dress up, use the props provided, grab a mic and sing away!
29. Visit a Korean spa
If there’s one thing that Koreans love, it’s spa treatments. Korean beauty and looking after one’s skin is a must for anyone, and the local spas will help you do exactly that. City spas have multiple levels with various hot, cold, steam and treatment rooms. They’re the perfect place to relax and wind down after a day of sightseeing.
30. Use metal chopsticks
You may be a pro at using wooden chopsticks, but have you used metal chopsticks before? They are used by everyone in Korea and are quite difficult to grasp at first, but persist and you’ll soon become a pro.
31. K-pop concert
Stars such as BTS, Black Pink and PSY have taken the music world by storm and have given K-pop a place on the music map. If you get the chance, head to a K-pop concert for a completely unique music experience. Fans are dedicated, there’s a lot of cheering and screaming and you’ll feel very welcome. We watched PSY (singer of ‘Gangnam Style’) during our first day in South Korea and enjoyed every minute. K-pop concerts are one of the best things to do in South Korea, even if you think you won’t like the music.
32. Try Korean Chimaek
Next up on our list of 50 things to do in South Korea is one that can’t be missed. If you’re a lover of fried chicken, and also like a beer, you need to try the famous, ‘Chimaek.’ The Korean word is an abbreviation for chicken and beer and is one of the most popular fast foods. It sounds simple, it looks simple, but it tastes divine. The best fried chicken we’ve ever tasted was from the popular chain restaurant, ‘Moms Touch,’ so be sure to give it a try!
33. Take pictures at a themed photo booth
South Koreans love all things cute and sweet, and one of their favourite things to do at the weekend with friends is to head to a photo booth. These booths are everywhere in the country! They provide costumes, hair accessories and props, so you can go all out in your private booth to take that perfect selfie.
34. Learn Korean phrases
One way to really get to know the locals is to learn the language. English isn’t very widely spoken in Korea, and even in the touristic places, English is very limited. Locals will truly appreciate you speaking their language, even if it’s only ‘Annyeonghaseyo,’ (hello) or ‘Joh-eun halu bonaeseyo.’ (have a nice day).
35. Check out an arcade
Gaming is popular no matter where you are in the world, but it has long been a favourite Korean past time. Arcades are a big thing in South Korea, with your typical arcade games, AR booths, private karaoke booths and even computer rooms, all within the same space. They’re a lot of fun no matter the time of day! Find a large arcade to take advantage of countless games and activities.
36. Explore beautiful Korean gardens
It’s often difficult to find a calm and relaxing space in a bustling city like Seoul or Busan, but Korea is full of beautiful gardens. They’re a welcome escape from the busyness of towns and can be found in all major cities. Botanical gardens, manmade flower parks and nature parks are alternative places to add to your itinerary.
37. Attend an evening light show or drone show
South Korea’s cities are full of fun evening shows, events and festivals. Locals love going out on an evening and you will too! During your visit, we recommend checking out a light shows, laser show, or our absolute favourite, a drone LED show. We’ve already mentioned to the excellent tech in South Korea; this is evident in its unique night-time show. We personally loved the Busan Saturday drone show, Expo fountain show in Daejeon and Banpo Bridge fountain show in Seoul.
38. Sample Korean country life
South Korea has a rich history of farming and working in the countryside. Though the country may now be prosperous and full of modern city metropolises, you can still experience country life, just like it was many years’ ago. Head away from the city and into rural South Korea to experience rice fields, local villages and lots of friendly locals. We had the opportunity to visit my grandma’s rice field and helped farm some crops.
39. Meet the locals
South Koreans are extremely warm-hearted, friendly, and are always willing to talk to you. Take some time out of your day to meet locals when you’re out shopping, at a food market, or ordering a drink in a café. Try your best to ask them questions (in Korean if you can) and they’ll absolutely love it!
40. Go on a hike
After you’ve eaten your weight in Korean street food, you might want to burn off all those extra calories. A hike is perfect for this! South Korea has very mountainous terrain, and even in the cities, there are some nice places to escape the crowds. We visited Gyejoksan Red Clay Trail Park in Daejeon and is was a highlight of our trip.
41. Try Soju
Next up on our list of 50 things to do in South Korea is one for those who enjoy tasting the local alcohol delights. Soju is a classic Korean rice spirit that’s taken as a shot, mainly during mealtimes. It has a very strong taste and has a high percentage of alcohol – you have been warned! It also comes in a variety of fruity flavours; perfect for those who aren’t keen on the strong alcohol taste of the original.
42. Visit an outdoor art exhibition
We have never been to a country that’s so clean and well presented as South Korea. Not only is there no litter or graffiti, local communities have went a step further to create unique art exhibits. You’ll find them throughout all of South Korea’s cities, each with different themes, characters, plants and stories. The art exhibitions we saw in Korea were so unique and some of the best we’ve ever seen. Be sure to have a look online to see what exhibitions and events are happening during your stay.
43. Visit South Korea’s island paradise
Unknown to many, South Korea has an island just of its south-west coast known as Jeju Island It’s the top choice for locals for a vacation and is quickly gaining appeal to tourists. Crashing waves, lush mountain terrain and stunning beaches and national parks set the scene for this island paradise. We actually consider it South Korea’s version of ‘Hawaii’ in the USA! It’s completely unlike the rest of the country. You can get there on a short flight from most major cities.
44. Connect to the free Wi-Fi
This next point may not be as interesting as the others on our list, but it’s an important one, especially if you want to be connected 24/7. High speed Wi-Fi is readily available in everywhere you go in South Korea. You’ll find it on public transport, in shopping malls, cafés, restaurants and bars, and is all free of charge. They’re known to have one of the best networks in the world.
45. Sample Korea’s famous skincare and beauty products
Many tourists come to South Korea for its delicious food and culture, but many others visit to experience the top-of-the-range skin care. Korea is known for its crazy 10-step beauty routine, and many want to know the true secret of achieving that ‘glass skin.’ Shops like Olive Young, Innisfree and Etude House are to be seen everywhere. They’re shops where you can get your hands on some great skin care. I personally love the Korean face sheet masks. They’re so refreshing and hydrating on the skin!
46. Visit a national park
As we’ve explained, a visit to South Korea isn’t all about the city life. One of the best things to do in South Korea is to explore some of its rural nature parks. Vast mountain terrain, epic views, lakes and forests provide a completely different view of the country. We personally recommend visiting Dadohaehaesang, Bukhansan or Jirisan, but there are plenty more.
47. Relax in a library
If you’re working remotely and fancy catching up on some work on your travels, head to a library in South Korea. The most popular, and most visited library is Starfield Library, located in the trendy area of Gangnam in Seoul. It’s known to be one of the world’s most beautiful libraries.
48. Buy some snacks at 7 Eleven
If you’ve travelled to Asia before, you’ll know that streets are full of the famous American convenience stores, 7 Eleven. It’s the go-to spot for treats, desserts, cool drinks and any other miscellaneous things such as toiletries and instant noodles. It’s also a great place to stop by to try some unique snacks and drinks.
49. Try the local dishes
One of the best things about visiting South Korea is sampling its delicious cuisine. Open your mind and don’t be afraid to try unusual dishes. Our favourite dishes include Dolsot Bibimbap, Kimchi Jiggae and Bulgogi. Check out blog on the top 20 foods to try in South Korea here.
50. Have fun in a theme park
We’ve included plenty of cultural and unique things to do in South Korea. However, if you just want a fun day out, why not check out one of Korea’s many theme parks? There are some weird and wonderful parks to check out across the South Korea, including Vivaldi Park Ocean World, one of the world’s largest water parks. There’s also the action-packed Lotte World in Seoul or Busan and plenty of smaller parks.
We’ve finally made it to the end of our list of the top 50 things to do in South Korea. No matter if you’re visiting for a few days, one week, two weeks, or even more than a month, there’s plenty of unique things to do, see and try in this wonderful country. If you have any questions about any of the items we’ve featured or have your own recommendations, be sure to leave us a comment down below. 😊
BY SUSIEAuthor bio:
I’m a passionate traveller that loves a sunny beach holiday, but also appreciate the cultural side to a trip and checking out undiscovered destinations. I’m the go-to Toucan Traveller for great holiday stories, cool photos and foodie recommendations.