- Chapter 1General Information
- Chapter 2Korea Theme Travel
- Chapter 3Regions & Cities
- Chapter 4Traveler’s Essentials
- Geographical Location
Korea is situated between China and Japan, and as a peninsula, is surrounded on three sides by ocean waters. Due to its geographical location, Korea has served as a bridge between its neighboring countries, rising in importance as a hub for international trade. Its location in the mid-latitudes in the Northern hemisphere gives it four distinct seasons and a beautiful natural landscape. Its total surface area is 100,033 square kilometers, which is a third of the size of Germany and twice the size of the Netherlands. As of April 2015, the total population of Korea was approximately 51 million.
- Time Difference
The standard time in Korea is 9 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+9), the same time zone as Japan. Daylight saving time is not observed in Korea. The local time in Seoul, the capital of Korea, is 14 hours ahead of the local time in Washington D.C. and 9 hours ahead of London.
Hangeul - An alphabet that makes sense
Hangeul's original manuscript was registered in UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. Pearl Buck, Nobel Prize-winning author of novel "The Good Earth," which received the Pulitzer Prize in 1932, praised hangeul as the simplest alphabet in the world, and that the 24 letters allow for phonetic combinations which can accurately express the most sounds of all oral language. She even likened King Sejong, the promulgator of hangeul, to a Korean Leonardo da Vinci.
History of Hangeul
In 1446, King Sejong the Great of the Joseon Dynasty took pity on the common people who were illiterate in hanja, the Chinese-derived orthography. He then commissioned the design and dissemination of hangeul, a simple alphabet that would be phonologically consistent with Korean oral language, making it easier for citizens to become literate.
Brilliance of Hangeul
Hangeul is a simple and intuitive writing system. So much so, that any person can learn to write their name in hangeul in the space of a morning. Because of its simplicity, hangeul has helped in fostering a near 0% illiteracy rate in Korea. Every year, UNESCO assists in the work of governments, agencies and NGOs who are particularly effective in the fight for literacy through the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize.
A New Phase in the Korean Wave
With rising interest in Korean culture, hangeul has become a new center of the Korean Wave. The Sejong Hakdang (King Sejong Institute), which was launched to promote hangeul worldwide, now has 130 institutes across the globe. It comprehensively provides its ardent Korean learners with an integrated study of Korean language and culture.
- Hansik (Korean Food)
Hansik (Korean Food)
Harmony of body and mind – Good food is the best medicine
Korean cuisine has evolved in various ways throughout its 5,000 years of history. Eating Korean food is one of the best ways to learn more about Korean culture. One New York-based food critic said that it is a wonder why such excellent cuisine has taken so long to be known. Korean food is characterized by the belief that good food is the best medicine. In ancient Korea, food was more than just a meal. Food was considered to have medicinal power to prevent or heal sickness.
Kimchi, Korea’s most well-known food, is a fermented food eaten throughout the entire year. The beneficial lactobacilli that develop during the fermentation process make kimchi a great cancer-preventing food. Various Korean dishes like bibimbap (a nutritious rice dish topped with vegetables, egg, meat, and red chili paste), japchae (Stir-fried glass noodles and vegetables), and samgye-tang (Ginseng chicken soup) are made with both flavor and health in mind.
- Hanok (Traditional Houses)
Hanok (Traditional Houses)
Staying in a traditional ‘hanok’ house
Where you plan to rest your head at night can greatly change your perception of the country in which you are traveling. Therefore, staying a night in a traditional house can be a great opportunity to learn about local tradition and culture.
A hanok is a traditional Korean residence made of natural materials like wood and soil, which allows lodgers to become familiar with the sentiments of Korea's ancestors. Its environment-friendly features promote ventilation and natural lighting. Instead of using concrete or nails, the structure's beams are connected by hollowing out grooves in the wood so they fit snuggly together like the pieces of a puzzle. This makes hanok solid and resistant to external force.
The ondol structure (a subfloor heating system) is an efficient way of heating buildings even in the coldest of weather. It is another way to see the wisdom of the nation’s forebears.
24-hour shopping in traditional markets and fashion malls
Korea offers a variety of shopping centers, department stores, duty free stores, and traditional markets where visitors can have great shopping experiences. Especially Seoul, the capital city of Korea, is home to many of these shopping centers.
The Dongdaemun Shopping Center, a great place to practice your bartering tactics, is occupied by a large number of fashion stores and is open until the early hours of the morning. Insa-dong features various antique goods and furniture. Just browsing this area is a cultural lesson in itself. The area of Itaewon is known for its international cuisine, including Turkish, Greek, French and Indian. It is also considered the home of Seoul's foreign expatriate community.
At the various traditional markets scattered throughout Korea, visitors can purchase diverse gifts for souvenirs and wind down from a long day by eating delicious yet affordable street foods from various vendors. Korea has also made its shopping culture even more enticing by combining these traditional features with modern elements into one environment.
- Entertainment (Hallyu)
Korean entertainment rising to the world stage
Starting with TV dramas, movies, and K-Pop, the Korean entertainment industry has become a vast industry that has also garnered incredible international acclaim.
As for TV dramas, Korean shows often portray the love and affection between friends and romantic relationships. Shows like Winter Sonata and Dae Jang Geum, which became extremely popular in Japan, China, Thailand and other East Asian countries, marked the beginning of hallyu, the Korean wave. Filming locations of these popular TV shows have become tourist attractions of themselves for fans to see where there favorite show was filmed. Also, Korean films have been recognized and won awards at such international film festivals as the Cannes Film Festival and Berlin Film Festival.
With their modern style and cool, fast-paced dance moves, it’s easy to see how some of the top K-Pop idol singers have become so popular. Groups like TVXQ, Girl’s Generation, and Super Junior have already become sensation stars in Japan, and every new album sees chart-topping hits that climb the music billboards. Not just in Asia, but other countries like France and England have had K-Pop fans perform flash mobs that have become popular. With pop star Psy’s 2012 international hit “Gangnam Style,” which was the first ever YouTube video to reach 1 billion views, as well as reaching number 2 on U.S. music charts, worldwide music fans caught a glimpse of Korean music as it makes its steady rise to the international stage.
Performances like concerts, plays, musicals and operas have steadily been developing in variety and number. Places like Seoul Arts Center, Sejong Center and Olympic Stadium have hosted numerous global pop stars every year, making it a mecca of popular entertainment. Seoul’s Hyehwa (also called ‘Daehangno’)area, with its density of playhouses and theaters, has become a hugely popular place for people to catch a play in their spare time.
Korea also has many homemade performances that have moved on to the world stage. MISO: Baebijiang-jeon, an internationally acclaimed performance featuring traditional Korean dance, music and other customs, was selected to perform at a UNESCO World Heritage event, the Shanghai Expo closing ceremony, Korea-Japan Festival Hanmadang, a G20 Summit celebratory performance and various other international events across the globe.
Using only kitchen utensils, the non-verbal performance Nanta has been performed to over 680,000 people annually. Making its international debut and garnering top reviews at the 1999 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, audiences of all cultures and ages can enjoy this powerful performance. In February of 2004, it became the first Asian performance to perform on New York’s Broadway stage.
Jump, a performance revolving around the martial arts Taekwondo and Taekkyeon, includes high level acrobatics combined with comedy, making it an amusing and thrilling performance to see. It has been performed around the world in countries such as the U.S.A., Singapore, Thailand, China, and even was ranked number one at the box office at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
- Temple Stay
Relax your body and mind through a temple stay
For people caught up in busy, urban lifestyles, getting out into nature for a temple stay is a great way to get in touch with one’s inner peace. Temple stays are run specifically for people exhausted with the daily grind. By following the instructions of the Buddhist monks residing on the temple grounds, guests can experience authentic Buddhist religion.
The temple stay has events like bowing to the Buddha’s statue, meditation, tea drinking, and other ceremonial events. A temple stay is an invaluable time that allows guests to clear their heads and find peace in the midst of Korea’s beautiful natural surroundings.
Taekwondo - Korea’s Olympic martial art
Have you ever witnessed real Taekwondo athletes participate in an intense bout?
Taekwondo is a martial art that uses only hand and feet to administer attack and defense tactics. It is a ancient sport that not only trains the body but also the mind. Debuting as an official Olympic sport at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, the number of practitioners worldwide now reaches almost 70 million across more than 200 countries. This full body workout is also good for people of all ages.
Mountains and hiking in every corner of Korea
Hiking is one of Korea’s top national pastimes. Almost 80 percent of the country is covered in mountainous terrain, although only a tenth of that exceeds elevations of 1,000 meters, whereas 40 percent falls between 200 and 500-meter elevations. With so many small mountains and large hills, it’s easy to find great mountain hiking spots wherever you go.
However, it’s important to dress accordingly and bring supplies for Korea’s more famous and difficult trails. Also, with Korea’s distinct seasonal changes, the mountain forests change brilliant colors – bright green in the spring and summer, and yellow, orange and red in the autumn – providing visitors with gorgeous scenery all year long. Even during the winter, hikers can find amazing panoramic views worth gearing up for the cold temperatures. Korea’s most-visited mountains are Bukhansan Mountain, Jirisan Mountain, Hallasan Mountain, and Seoraksan Mountain.
- Korea’s Mountains
The DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) ecosystem, a vast expanse of protected land
Korea’s demilitarized zone (DMZ), which was created on July 27, 1953, after the Korean Armistice Agreement of the Korean War, is an enormous stretch of nature completely untouched for over 60 years. The DMZ stretches 248 km from Korea’s east to west coasts, and at 4 km in width along its entire length, it occupies a total area of 992 square kilometers.
The geography of the DMZ includes just about everything: mountains, valleys, rivers, flatlands, wetlands, fresh water and salt water. This unique ecosystem makes it an incredibly important area for geological study. The area is also home to many preserved and endangered species, as well as other natural elements and threatened wildlife. It has even become a well-known temporary habitat for water birds and Japanese cranes as they migrate, making the area even more important on an international level.
- Medical Tourism
A country advanced in both Western and Oriental medicine
Korea has made incredible advances in the medical industry. In both practiced medicine and in academia, Korean medical advancements have been garnering recognition both domestically and in the international medical community. In 2011, revenues in through Korea’s medical tourism industry reached as high as $116 million, nearly double that of $59 million in 2006, and has been steadily growing since then.
Korea is not only well-equipped and trained in the latest Western medicine, but also traditional Korean medicine, which uses naturally occurring medicinal drugs and employs procedures such as acupuncture to relieve various ailments. The unique thing about this traditional medicine is it can be tailored to each individual patient’s physiological conditions, allowing doctors to prescribe precisely customized treatments for each patient based on scientific examination. Through this unique method, patients can receive effective treatments without intrusive and dangerous operations.
- UNESCO World Heritage
UNESCO World Heritage
Over 5,000 years of ancient tradition
Korea’s long history of 5,000 years is full of remarkable artifacts and ancient heritage. From the Three Kingdoms Period, the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties, right up to Japanese occupation, Korea has had a long past filled with ups and downs, but despite all this, retains beautiful natural landscapes and invaluable relics and architecture scattered throughout the country.
Korea is now home to a total of 12 UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage sites, including Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks, as well as Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple, and even the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. Also, there are currently 17 elements of Korea’s traditional culture on UNESCO’s Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage, such as pansori epic chant, the royal ancestral ritual at the Jongmyo Shrine, and the lyrical folk song Arirang. Not only that, but there are also 13 items listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, such as the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, the Donguibogam, or Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine, and the Hunminjeongeum Manuscript, which was the foundation of hangeul, the alphabet of Korean.
- Festivals & Events
Festivals & Events
Fun-filled festivals for every month of the year
Despite Korea’s distinct change in weather through the seasons, there are dozens of great festivals happening all year long. In April and May, numerous canola flower festivals, as well as the Hampyeong Butterfly Festival, are excellent choices. In the middle of the summer, check out the Boryeong Mud Festival for dozens of fun beachside festivities.
In the fall months in Gyeonggi-do’s Icheon, Yeoju, and Gwangju is the Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale. Established in 2001, the festival is spread across three cities and attracts pottery and ceramics enthusiasts from around the world, where they can partake in numerous experiential activities and purchase all kinds of beautiful ceramic works.
The city of Andong in Gyeongsangbuk-do is host to the annual Andong Mask Dance Festival. The city is home to many houses built using traditional architecture, but also many intangible heritage elements as well, including the art of mask dancing, particularly featuring hahoe and gaksi masks.
One of winter’s main events is the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the frozen lakes of Hwacheon to fish for sancheoneo (a species of trout) either with ice fishing rods or one’s bare hands. Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival was featured on CNN’s list of 7 Wonders of Winter in 2011.
2018 Winter Olympics
Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics
Located at an elevation of 750 meters, about 84 percent of the city of Pyeongchang consists of mountainous terrain. Its natural terrain makes it a perfect place to experience nature at its best. Over 150,000 international visitors frequent the area from countries like Japan, China, and other nearby parts of Asia to partake in all the winter sports it has to offer.
Coinciding with the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics opening here, the city has begun construction of many new state-of-the-art facilities. There are sports arenas and tracks located nearby for optimal access during the games, in order to allow athletes to focus more on their events and not on getting around.
Additionally, in keeping with the promises to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the city has been developing its infrastructure immensely, and has been operating the Dream Program, which helps youth and young children in developing countries come and experience winter sports in Pyeongchang.
In 2010, nearby Alpensia Resort was completed along with seven of the 13 venues slated for completion. There is also a railway between Wonju, Gangneung and Seoul being constructed, which will decrease the time it takes to get to Pyeongchang to one hour and fifteen minutes.
Seoul, where present meets past and future
Seoul’s astonishing transformation throughout the years is remarkable by any standards. Just 50 years ago, the Korean War left the city in total ruins, but since then, it has become one of the fastest growing and developing cities in history. However, even walking throughout the city today can leave one with the same feeling that its ancestors had over 600 years ago. The year 1392 was when the leaders of the Joseon Dynasty established Seoul as its central administrative city, and fast forwarding to present day, Seoul is Korea’s center of politics, economy and education. With the economic revival of the 1960s, Seoul has grown incredibly in a short time and now has a population of over 10 million, making it one of the largest cities in the world.
Seoul’s Top Spots
Gyeonggi-do, Where city meets country
At 17 times the area of Seoul, Gyeonggi-do is a province composed of 28 cities 3 smaller counties that envelop the capital city of Seoul. It has unique attractions like the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border of North Korea, the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, and Suwon’s Hwaseong Fortress. It even boasts great coastal views and beaches along its west coast.
Attractions in southern Gyeonggi-do are primarily historical in nature, while in the north they are more ecological or natural. Some of the other major attractions of Gyeonggi-do include Gapyeong’s Petite France, Imjingak Resort, Yongin’s Everland Theme Park and Yangpyeong’s Dumulmeori Lake. Some popular events and festivals in Gyeonggi-do include the DMZ’s Documentary Film Festival and araseom International Jazz Festival, held every year.
Gyeonggi-do’s Top Spots
Gyeongju, city of cultural heritage
Once the capital of the Silla Kingdom, the Silla Dynasty lasted here for almost a thousand years from 57 B.C. to A.D. 935. The year A.D. 676 of the Silla Dynasty saw the first time in history that the Korean Peninsula was united as one, and remnants of this once flourishing dynasty can still be seen and experienced in the area of Gyeongju today.
A part of the city became a UNESCO World Heritage in the year 2000, eventually giving rise to its nickname as “the museum with no walls.” The city has been a hugely significant source of archaeological discovery throughout the centuries. Crown jewels were discovered at Geumgwanchong and Cheonmachong Tombs, and are now on display at the Gyeongju National Museum.
Gyeonju’s Top Spots
Ulsan, Korea’s industrial powerhouse
Located on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula, Ulsan is famous for whale watching, rocky cliffs, and beautiful beaches.
Its major landmarks include Ganjeolgot Cape, over which the sun rises during parts of the year, Daewangam Park and Gajisan Provincial Park.
Also, thanks to its location, the city has been emerging as a center of industrialization and maritime commerce. It is home to the world’s largest automobile assembly plant and largest shipyard, which are operated by Hyundai Motor Company and Hyundai Heavy Industries, respectively.
Ulsan’s Top Spots
Busan, Korea’s number one port city
Even in the middle of winter, Korea’s southern coast experiences milder temperatures. The city of Busan doesn’t just boast beautiful coastal views, but also a vibrant market community and bustling cityscape. The city runs festivals all year long, making it a source of fun during any season. The Busan International Film Festival, Asia’s largest film festival, is held here annually, and attracts not only Korean film stars, but actors and moviemakers from around the globe.
Busan’s Top Spots
Jeju-do, an island of natural beauty
Jeju Island is both Korea’s largest and southernmost island. It is famous for its wind, rocks, and female divers called haenyeo. Stretching in an oval shape east to west, it measures approximately 73 km long and 31 km wide, and the bulk of the island is formed by a shield volcano called Hallasan Mountain in the center, which reaches an elevation of 1,950 m. The island itself and its seven natural elements – island, volcano, waterfall, beach, park, cave, and forest – became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve as of 2002, a World Natural Heritage site in 2007, and part of the Global Network of National Geoparks in 2010.
Also, as the wetlands on Hallasan Mountain and in its crater are home to many rare species of plants and insects, it was registered as a protected area by the Ramsar Convention. Due to the lush natural environment resulting from this volcanic island, Jeju has become known as a “volcano museum” for all its unique geological and ecological features.
Jeju’s Top Spots
- Korea Visas & Passports,
Korea Visas & Passports, Customs Allowances, Arrival Procedures
Passports and Visas
Foreign nationals planning to enter Korea must present a valid passport and visa upon arrival. Visas can be applied for at Korean embassies or consulates in one’s home country, although those carrying special visa exemption papers or other government-certified visa waiver agreements may enter without a visa. As of April 2015, there are 102 countries allowed to enter Korea for 90 days without a visa, including England, Germany, France, and Spain. Please click on the link below for more information.
All persons arriving from foreign countries must prepare and submit a customs declaration form. Those with nothing to declare may pass through the duty-free line, but may be subject to customs inspections depending on circumstances. Those with items to declare go to the customs clearance line, where upon paying duty charges, may pass through to the arrival terminal. Items that must be declared include alcohol, foreign currency, agricultural products, livestock, weapons, etc.
- 1330 Korea Travel Hotline
Korea Travel Hotline and Tourist Information Center
The 1330 Korea Travel Hotline, operated by Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), is a special telephone hotline designated for providing tourism information within Korea. The call center is open 24 hours per day all year long, and operators speaking English, Japanese and Chinese are available. It is recommended for visitors experiencing difficulty in planning or during their travels throughout Korea.
- Visit Korea Mobile App
Visit Korea Mobile App
Official Tour Guide – VisitKorea App
KTO provides useful and timely travel information about Korea through its official website visitkorea.or.kr. In addition to the online service available, the organization has added more tourist friendly service through mobile application "VisitKorea."
This mobile app provides Korea travel information for foreign independent travelers in English, Japanese and Chinese languages. With constant updates on tourist attractions, dining options, transportation and other useful travel information, the app serves as a great reference for travelers who are planning their trip beforehand or when traveling freely around Korea.
The VisitKorea app is available for free download from both of the iPhone App Store or Google Play Store.
- KTO Branch Offices
KTO Branch Offices
- Tap new and potential markets overseas
- Customize marketing strategies for specific geographic markets
- Leverage hallyu trend to develop and promote tourism commodities
- Sponsor invitationals to travel agents, media, industry personnel etc.
- Promote Korea through events, expositions, public marketing strategies
- Attract tourists through massive incentive programs, e.g. MICE
- Produce and distribute overseas TV advertisements
- 31 Overseas Promotional Offices are available as of October 2015
New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, New Delhi, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney offices and more