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South Korea Guide for First-Timers

Switching gears from Africa now over to Asia, earlier this week I was invited by the Korea Tourism Organization to attend a dinner event tonight with travel partners from South Korea, the Asian destination that's second after Japan in popularity with our Nine Muses Travel community. Is South Korea on your dream list? I can certainly help with a custom-made itinerary specially designed to inspire you!  

Excerpt below from 6/1/2023 Virtuoso article produced with the Korea Tourism Organization can found here. 


While its K-pop, K-drama, and K-beauty subcultures have garnered attention (and obsession) worldwide, travelers who visit South Korea will discover there’s so much more to this multifaceted East Asian country. There’s a high-speed bullet train (KTX) along with a profusion of five-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants in Seoul, where contemporary Korean chefs meld traditional flavors with global techniques. And beyond the country’s ultra-cosmopolitan capital city, travelers can discover ancient temples, laid-back beaches, and towering natural wonders.

Whether you’re called to K-pop recording studios or historic royal residences, your Virtuoso advisor can craft a customizable Korea vacation tailored to your style. Here are a few can’t-miss sites in some of the country’s most popular destinations.

Seoul: Past Meets Present

Both classic and cutting-edge…. Travelers can step back in time while touring the fourteenth-century Gyeongbokgung Palace – one of five royal residences from the Joseon Dynasty – then embark on a shopping spree at Lotte World before ascending its 1,820-foot tower, Korea’s tallest, to spy the city’s ultramodern skyline from the Seoul Sky observatory.

Visit the Insa-dong neighborhood, where hidden alleys reveal traditional temples, galleries, and museums, and the adjacent Myeongdong Night Market, to experience some of Seoul’s buzzy nightlife. Another compelling site is the Korean Demilitarized Zone, located 35 miles north of the city. Virtuoso travel advisors can arrange the guided tour that allows visitors to see some of the DMZ’s most well-known sites while learning more about the history of the Korean Peninsula and its two neighboring countries.

For some of Seoul’s best meals, chef Sung Anh of three-Michelin-starred  Mosu recommends staying open minded and starting with the local spots. “You’ll feel the vibe of traditional Korean foods there,” he says. “And then you can try our Michelin-starred restaurants to better understand the diversity of Korea’s culinary scene.” His picks include Joo Ok (“which leans toward more traditional cooking and is my absolute favorite”) and Mingles (“one of Korea’s best restaurants”). And don’t forget Mosu: Anh’s signature tacos made with soymilk-skin shells and filled with seaweed and abalone are an essential Seoul dining experience. 

There are Virtuoso hotels in Seoul, and your travel advisor can arrange custom tour experiences in and around the city. Travelers mix traditional teahouse experiences with professionally led K-pop dance lessons. Three days in Seoul includes time for visits to the fashion- and beauty-forward Gangnam neighborhood and a stroll through the Gwangjang Market (one of the city’s oldest) to sample local eats such as ganjang gejang (soy-marinated raw crab) and bindaetteok (mung-bean pancakes).

Gyeongju: An Enlightening Destination

A two-hour KTX ride from Seoul leads to Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty and the present capital of Gyeongsangbuk-do province, Korea’s religious center. Here, travelers find a bevy of Buddhist heritage sites, peaceful parks, and vegan restaurants serving specialties such as soy bulgogi, perilla-seed soup, and radish-leaf pancakes. 

“Travelers will love Gyeongju’s beauty and history,” says Melisa Novick, an executive with Remote Lands. “Our guests especially enjoy the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple.” The grotto, which is located on the seaside Mount Toham, shelters a meditating Buddha statue, while the nearby temple complex represents his paradise. 

Gyeongju’s other gems include Daereungwon, where Silla Dynasty tombs rise like giant wombs from the earth, and the Golgulsa Temple, home to monks skilled in sunmudo, a martial art blending yoga and meditation. Spend a night at the temple for plant-based meals and sunmudo lessons.

Busan: Coastal Cool

Korea’s largest port is Busan (less than three hours by KTX from Seoul. Those vistas are particularly stunning from the forested paths along the Taejongdae Cliffed Coast and the Igidae Coastal Trail. Beaches such as local-favorite Haeundae and surfing hot spot Songjeong also offer accessible stretches of coastline. 

Beyond Busan’s shores, travelers will find bustling Yongdusan Park, a popular filming location for K-dramas such as Decision to Leave, and the sprawling Jagalchi fish market. Artisans of Leisure offers circuits of Jagalchi to taste sashimi and other seafood staples on its private, six-day culinary-centric tour of South Korea. Be sure to stroll through the Seomyeon district for local dishes such as milmyeon (wheat noodles) and dwaeji gukbap (pork soup). BTS fans can also make a pilgrimage to Magnate, a café owned by vocalist Jimin’s dad.

Jeju Island: Natural Wonders

Just over an hour’s flight south of Seoul lies volcanic Jeju Island, one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Its golden beaches and crystal-clear waters call for unwinding, but active adventures come just as naturally. Outings on a weeklong family-themed South Korea private tour with Artisans of Leisure, for example, include two nights on Jeju, with a spelunking excursion in the Manjanggul Cave and a chance to scale South Korea’s highest peak in Hallasan National Park, the location for the opening credits of Crash Landing on You.

For some literal cultural immersion, look for Jeju’s traditional haenyeo, a band of female divers who earn their living by gathering sea life sans breathing equipment – travelers on Remote Lands’ private eight-day South Korea summer tour can also delve into Jeju’s underwater realms on guided dives. And a visit to the Jeju Haenyeo Museum is a must.

Additional culture fixes can be found at Jeju Stone Park, home to ancient Easter Island-esque monoliths, and Seongeup Folk Village, whose treasures include fortress ruins, Confucian shrines, and centuries-old zelkova trees. Plan to wake up extra early on at least one morning: Sunrises from Jeju’s 600-foot-high tuff cone, Seongsan Ilchulbong – formed thousands of years ago by hydrovolcanic eruptions – are especially sublime.



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Founder & President


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