South Korea Bucket List: 40 Quirky & Cultural Things To Do

South Korea bucket list

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Following my recent trip to South Korea, I can safely say there’s nowhere else quite like it. I’m here to share my South Korea bucket list so you don’t look back in the future and think ‘Oh I should have gone there!’

It’s not just the specific destinations in South Korea that make it a fantastic place to visit but the weird and wonderful experiences you can have.

KOREA ESSENTIALS

Accommodation: Booking.com / Hostelworld

Activities: Viator GetYourGuide

Getting there: air (Kayak) 

Getting around: Train (Trip.com) / bus

Pre-book private airport to hotel transfer

Read next: 30 South Korea travel tips

From karaoke booths to naked spas and unique accommodation options, they are countless ways to experience South Korean culture. If you’re keen to get immersed during a 2 week South Korea trip, get stuck into my bucket list for South Korea…

SEOUL BUCKET LIST

Here’s what to do in Seoul for a fun and lively first visit.

Useful links for visiting Seoul:

1. Party in Hongdae

Party people need to get themselves to Seoul pronto because it’s one of the best places for a night out in Asia. What I really liked was that you can party with locals, unlike some destinations (Thailand, looking at you) where the popular clubs are taken over with tourists.

Much as I like meeting people who look and talk like me, I prefer getting to know the locals in a new destination and seeing what they do for fun. In Seoul’s crazy Hongdae district, that’s drinking and dancing until 6am.

My friends and I spent several evenings at Thursday Party but there are so many places to go out in Hongdae.

Tip – you can wear whatever you want to go out in Hongdae and I kept it pretty casual. However, you can also dress up to the nines and you’ll see lots of locals doing the same. They look awesome!

2. Buy a beauty product in Myeongdong

Busy street Myeondong Seoul bucket list
Add beauty shopping to your Seoul bucket list

No Korea bucket list would be complete without indulging with a face mask or two. The South Korean beauty industry is the biggest in the world, worth a staggering $13 billion. I was blown away by how groomed and glamourous the locals looked, making me feel like such a scruffy backpacker in comparison.

In the Myeongdong district of Seoul, you can browse literally hundreds of beauty stores and even get free gifts for going inside. The weirdest thing we saw was snail face masks. Apparently, they’re great for the skin but I’m not sure I want snail goo on my face, thanks.

3. Eat Seoul street food

I wasn’t blown away by the street food in the rest of South Korea but this all changed in Seoul. It’s truly a foodie capital of the world with lots of food markets including Hongdae Food Stands, Dongdaemun Night Market, Namdaemun Market, Tongin Market and more.

Read next: where to eat Seoul street food

4. Find the Netflix Street Food lady

Netflix Street Food lady Gwangjang Market

I’m almost as much of a sucker for spotting a celeb as I am seeking out the best street food. I’m constantly following Anthony Bourdain recs, pinning food blogs and generally getting FOMO if I miss something. So when I watched Netflix’s Street Food documentary, I knew Gwangjang Market needed a spot on my Seoul bucket list.

If you haven’t seen the Netflix Street Food documentary, it follows a different legendary local in each episode. In Seoul, you meet Cho Yonsoon who set up a stall serving knife-cut noodles when her family were struggling to get by. Nowadays, her food is known around the city, especially since the Netflix doc has aired.

5. Visit Nami Island

Nami Island bucket list Seoul bucket list

After visiting Seoul for a few days, it’s recommended to leave the city to explore the quieter areas. A quick 40-minute train ride will take you to Gapyeong to see Nami Island, Petit Prince and the Garden of Morning Calm. This is a tranquil place to unwind with gorgeous mountains and views of the Han River. 

Nami Island is the main attraction due to its picturesque landscapes with seasonal hues from the trees and flowers. Take a short boat ride from the mainland or take a zip wire to the island. Afterwards, walk or ride a bicycle through various areas to see the beautiful areas with ginkgo, cherry blossoms, pine trees and more.

Along the way, you’ll observe wildlife such as ostriches, squirrels and rabbits walking around. If you’re a fan of watching Korean movies, the island has snowmen decor to represent scenes from ‘The Winter Sonata’ series. 

After spending a couple of hours at Nami Island, continue to explore the other Gapyeong attractions such as Petit France, a small theme park with influences from The Little Prince book and the Garden of Morning Calm, a well-manicured garden with seasonal plants and flowers.

Entry submitted by Jackie from Life of Doing.

Related activity: Nami Island day tour from Seoul

6. Hiking in Bukhansan National Park

Bukhansan National Park

Outdoor types should add hiking to their Seoul bucket list. The most popular hike to the top of the Baegundae peak offers stunning 360 degrees views from the top. You will also probably meet some cute mountain cats along the trail.

Hiking in Bukhansan National Park is a popular day trip from Seoul because you can easily reach the beginning of the trail by public transport and you can catch the bus home from the end of the trail. There’s no entrance fee to the National Park making it a free and fun day out.

The hike is not hard, however, it’s also not for absolute beginners. You will experience some steep and strenuous parts. Be prepared for a lot of stair climbing with steel cables at the highest part of the trail. Plan at least 4-6 hours to complete the full hike. In the summer season, it’s more like six hours because there are crowds on the trail.

What to bring with you? Definitely take some raingear and wind jacket. The weather can change quickly. Having a hat and sunscreen is a good idea because there is not much shade at the top and the sun can be very strong. There’s no place to refill water on the hiking trail so bring enough with you.

Entry submitted by Matěj from Czech The World.

Related activity: Bukhansen day tour from Seoul with hiking instructor

7. Poop Cafe in Seoul

Poop Cafe Seoul bucket list
A weird one for your South Korea bucket list

Visitors to South Korea looking for an unusual experience won’t find much weirder than the Poop Cafe in Seoul. The name says it all – this is a cafe celebrating the wonderful world of poop.

Of course, it’s not as dirty as it sounds. In fact, the cafe is really cute and you’ll find yourself in love with the squishy brown poop characters before you leave. 

In the Poop Cafe, you can order a delicious rose or mint latte, served in a toilet-shaped bowl. If you’re hungry, be sure to order some poop bread shaped like the name suggests and filled with chocolate sauce. For those brave (and still hungry) enough, there’s also curry served in an Asian-style squat toilet. Gross? Maybe, but definitely an unforgettable experience for your Korea bucket list.

Located on the 4th floor of the Ssamziegil Art Mall in Seoul’s Insadong district, home to many other, more traditional, tea houses and cafes, this is the perfect place to relax after exploring Seoul’s royal palaces, Jogyesa Temple and other nearby sights. There are loads of poop-related paintings and accessories to pose with. You’ll get some hilarious photo opportunities at the Poop Cafe.

Submitted by Joel from Joel’s Travel Tips.

8. More cafe-hopping in Seongsu

Cape hopping Seoul
Quirky Baesan Cafe

Coffee shops in South Korea aren’t only used for drinking a cuppa Joe, they’re also meeting places, workspaces and even double as a recovery area after a night of partying.

While the megachains like Starbucks, Coffee Bean or Ediya are ubiquitous, sometimes several of them on the same block, South Korea has now focused on destination coffee shops that combine art, design, architecture and a focus on fair trade coffee. One of the most popular spots for your South Korea bucket list is gentrified Seongsu, an area that people are calling the Brooklyn of Seoul.

Factories have been given a second life, being reborn as third-wave coffee and dessert cafes. All the most famous coffee shops are in walking distance – from eccentric Baesan and spacious Daelim Changgo (대림창고) to minimalist Cafe Onion or Grandpa Factory (할아버지공장 카페에) complete with a treehouse.

Even international chains like Singapore’s Mellower have found their way into Seongsu. And if you’re not much of a coffee drinker, Seongsu is still highly recommended as the photo-friendly cafes are geared toward Instagram. The delicious desserts are another reason to pop in: some of the best sweets you’ll try in Korea without a doubt.

Submitted by Cal from Once in a Lifetime Journey.

9. Walking Seoul City Walls

Seoul City Wall Kores

You may not realise that Seoul is completely surrounded by an 18.6km long ancient 6-8 meter high city wall called Hanyangdoseong which was constructed in 1396 during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). There were originally eight gates in the wall of which six remain standing. Walking Seoul City Walls is a must for your Seoul bucket list because it provides a great alternative view of the city with a real sense of history.

You can either hike along sections of the wall or walk the entire route with no costs required. Since sections of the Seoul city wall include many mountainous areas, you should check before you set off. The best map of Hanyangdoseong can be found at this link and includes details of each section and how to get there using public transport.

You can begin the easily accessible Naksan Mountain Trail from the Hyehwamun Gate, journeying 2.1km to the Heunginjimun Gate located in Dongdaemun. This will take approximately 2 hours to allow for stopping and enjoying the views and attractions along the way.

Along the route, you will enjoy walking along the wall and seeing all of the different construction techniques, as well as the view over Seoul from 124m heights of Naksan Park. 

Submitted by Anne from Pretraveller.

10. Namdaemun Market

Namdaemun Market, Seoul

Namdaemun is a great place to go at any time of the year. Sure it might be snowing during the colder months, and the market is outside, but if you can brave the cold weather, then this is a fun place to pick up everything and anything you want to take home with you. 

Wander through this market to discover affordable jewellery and watch the shopowners first hand make the jewellery in front of you. Some shop owners will only sell in bulk, but a lot will sell retail also, so it pays to ask. You can also discover everything from local handicrafts to stationery and everything in between.

There’s a flower market, toy market, clothes stalls, handbag market, stationery market and toy market. Beware – on busy days you will find a lot of pushing and shoving going on.

You can easily get lost inside the buildings and down the streets, but the locals are friendly, so ask, and they will try and help! Otherwise park yourself down at one of the many stalls selling delicious street food and watch the world go by as you munch on many of the treats Seoul has to offer. 

Submitted by Paula from Truly Expat.

11. Look over the DMZ towards North Korea

DMZ bucket list South Korea

Visiting the DMZ is something you shouldn’t miss especially if you’re interested in history, culture or world issues. And honestly, if you’re not into any of them, why are you travelling?

Read next: What to expect when visiting the DMZ from Seoul

The only way to visit the DMZ is on a tour from Seoul. While I’m not usually a huge fan of organised tours, this one is a great opportunity to learn from a local guide. Ours told us that her grandmother lost family members when the DMZ was put in place and part of their family is nowadays uncontactable in North Korea.

The most interesting part of the day for me was using binoculars to look out over the DMZ and the fake Peace Village built by the North Korean government to give the illusion of all being well. The whole situation is bizarre but I valued the opportunity to see and learn about it for myself.

Related activity: DMZ tour from Seoul

12. Quaint teahouses in Insa-dong

Tea House bucket list Korea
Korean treats at Old Shin Tea House

This traditional part of Seoul is worlds away from hipster Hongdae and high-rise Myeong-dong. Not only is this neighbourhood full of authentic street food and shopping markets but it’s known for its traditional teahouses that date back centuries.

Tucked away down a small alleyway, Shin Old Tea House is the perfect place to escape the busy Seoul crowds and step back in time. Tea lovers will be in heaven but don’t expect an Earl Grey – traditional Korean teas are sweet and rich flavoured with plum, chrysanthemum and other fruit flavours.

As well as admiring the ancient wooden architecture and period wall art, you can try traditional Korean snacks and desserts. Prices are a little inflated because it’s popular with tourists but it’s worth the extra pennies for a peaceful experience and insight into Seoul in days gone by.

13-18. Museum-hopping in Seoul

Visiting museums around Seoul is a unique way to add to your bucket list. By learning history and culture, you’ll be amazed at how a country with such a tragic past rose to global popularity and become a great country known in the entertainment and cosmetic industries.

South Korea shows its love for tradition through efforts to preserve their past and educate locals and foreigners. Exploring the museums helps you appreciate South Korea in a more meaningful way. 

The best museums in Seoul include:

– National Museum of Korea
– National Folk Museum
– War Memorial of Korea
– National Palace Museum of Korea 
– Seoul Museum of History
– National Museum of Korean Contemporary History.

National Folk Museum Seoul bucket list
National Folk Museum 

You can easily navigate your way to these museums as they are marked as important landmarks. You can take the subway, bus or walk if you’re around the neighbourhood. All the museums mentioned above are free to enter. Simply head inside and get to know South Korea!

Entry submitted by Mikaela from Low Maintenance Traveler.

19. Jogyesa Temple

Jogyesa Temple Seoul
Chrysanthemum Festival, Jogyesa Temple

Jogyesa Temple is a real haven of peace and quiet right in the heart of Seoul. Its Daeungjeon, or the Main Dharma Hall, is the largest temple building in the city, and the temple’s history dates back hundreds of years, although it was relocated to its current position in 1937.

The best time to visit is during one of the temple’s big festivals, namely the Chrysanthemum Festival and the Lotus Lantern Festival. The Chrysanthemum Festival takes place from mid-October to mid-November.

For several weeks, the grounds surrounding the temple are filled with sculptures made out of chrysanthemum flowers. It’s quite a lively atmosphere, with performances of traditional music and fun activities organised for kids. 

Another good time to visit the temple is during the Lotus Lantern Festival or the ‘Yeon Deung Hoe’ in Korean. This festival celebrates the Buddha’s birthday and takes place on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, which usually falls sometime in May. On this occasion, paper lanterns decorate the whole courtyard.

Directly across the street from the temple is Balwoo Gongyang, a Michelin-starred restaurant serving Buddhist temple cuisine. Like in Japan, the Buddhist monks at the temple are vegan, so this is a vegan restaurant that offers a unique fine-dining experience.

Entry submitted by Wendy from the Nomadic Vegan.

REST OF KOREA BUCKET LIST

20. Eat bibimbap in its birthplace (Jeonju)

Bibimbap Jeonju South Korea

Bibimbap will be your best friend in South Korea especially if you’re travelling Korea on a budget. Reasons to eat in include:

– It’s basically the one thing vegetarians can eat in South Korea
– It’s one of the only ways to get vegetables during your trip
– Often it’s the cheapest thing on the menu
– It’s delicious!!

Eating this tasty mixed rice dish should be on every Korea bucket list but you get bonus points for trying it in its birthplace of Jeonju. You could technically visit as a day trip from Seoul but I’d suggest staying overnight so you can also add staying in a hanok house to your list (keep reading for more about this).

Visit Family House in Jeonju for the best bibimbap of your life plus a generous 12 side dishes! For just 12,000 won (£8), I couldn’t believe how cheap this was.

21. Meet the Haenyeo women divers of Jeju Island

Haenyeo women divers Jeju island South Korea

Meeting the Haenyeo women divers was both inspiring and moving. It’s something you should add to your South Korea bucket list as a priority. Why?

The sad truth is that this incredible group of women may not be around in 10 or 15 year’s time. If you haven’t heard of the Haenyeo already, these women make their living by catching oysters and shellfish by hand as they dive to depths of up to 20 metres.

They do this without oxygen tanks or diving equipment, simply holding their breath as they gather produce to sell to the local market.

As tourism has developed on Jeju Island, the young generation has come to favour easier and better-paid job opportunities. With no one taking on the Haenyeo profession, the average age has increased. Now, the youngest diver is 50 and the oldest in her 90s. I can’t even imagine how challenging this must be.

The Haenyeo profession is now protected by UNESCO and sadly set to become a thing of the past. If you visit Jeju Island, be sure to attend the Haenyeo show and learn about these hardworking and courageous women.

Related activity: East Coast Jeju tour including female divers show

22. Visit Loveland, Jeju Island’s fertility theme park

Ahh, how to describe Loveland without getting my website blocked by Google?

Visit Jeju and you’ll quickly learn that the island has a mascot relating to umm… fertility. These suspiciously-shaped statues are built all around the island, apparently dating back to days when newlyweds would honeymoon on Jeju and rub their noses to wish for a baby boy.

Loveland takes it to a new level. With over 140 statues engaged in… activities, Loveland is somewhat refreshing in otherwise conservative Korea. And also somewhat creepy. There’s nowhere else quite like it. Probably for good reason.

23. Gamcheon Culture Village

Gamcheon Culture Village South Korea

If you’ve seen photos of lots of colourful buildings in South Korea, they’re probably of Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, a must-visit place in South Korea.

Gamcheon Culture Village initially seems like an Instagram tourist hotspot. While the colour and quirkiness do make good Instagram photos, the neighbourhood never used to be this bright. The history is part of the reason you should visit.

Back in the 1940s, Gamcheon was a slum and one of the poorest areas of Busan. In 2009 the Ministry of Culture and Tourism stepped in with the idea to revive the area. Artists painted the homes and installed lots of different artwork and these days it is a top Busan tourist attraction with restaurants, cafes and shops run by the locals who live there.

Gamcheon Village is free to enter but be sure to get a bubble tea and some Korean street food so the many vendors can benefit financially in return for opening up their neighbourhood to you!

Gamcheon Village is a bit far out of the centre of Busan but it’s easy to get there by metro and bus. Here’s more information on how to visit Gamcheon Culture Village.

Entry submitted by Ellie from the Wandering Quinn.

24. Andong Mask Dance Festival

Andong Mask Dance Festival South Korea

Andong is not on many travellers’ Korea bucket lists but it should be. Rumour has it that when Queen Elizabeth came to visit South Korea in 1999, she asked to be taken to the ‘most Korean place in Korea’ and was subsequently taken to Andong.

The annual Mask Dance Festival is a great way to immerse yourself in the traditional folk culture of Korea and see a side of Andong (and South Korea) that not many people do. During 10 days in late September or early October, the usually quiet town of Andong comes alive with tons of activities, performances and festivities taking place all around the city.

The best place to visit is the Mask Dance Park. Entrance to the park is free, although there are some paying shows at night. At the park, you can see a ton of free performances, eat local fare, dance, partake in games and even make your own mask. It’s a great place to entertain kids. 

Getting to Andong is fairly easy. You can take a 3-hour bus ride from Seoul or a 2.5-hour ride from Busan. You should spend 2-3 days in Andong to take it all in and explore a few of the other sights around the city. Accommodation is limited, especially during the Mask Dance Festival so make sure to book ahead of time. 

Entry submitted by Carine and Derek from We Did It Our Way.

25. Boryeoung Mud Festival

For one week in late July, the Boryeoung Mud Festival in South Korea offers people of all ages the opportunity to get ridiculously messy. You can shoot down mudslides, wallow in mud pits and play all kinds of mud-related games. And since it’s Korea, there are mud beauty products too!

The site of the event is located on a beach so, if you feel the need to wash off all the mud, you can hop right into the water. Food, drinks and other goods are also available as well as musical entertainment. But really, the highlight is playing the mud. How often do we get to do this as adults? Not nearly enough, plus it’s great for the skin.

To get to Boryeoung, take a 2.5-hour bus from Seoul, independently or with an organised group. If you want to stay the night, make sure to book in advance. Tickets are KRW 12,000 for adults during the week / KRW 14,000 on the weekends and can be purchased online or in person. Just leave your favourite clothes at home…

Entry submitted by Jennie from Where Jennie Goes.

26-28. Other quirky festivals

Elvis Presley sandcastle South Korea
Is an Elvis sandcastle on your South Korea bucket list?

I’m in awe of the wholehearted enthusiasm of the South Koreans. Rather than just enjoy their favourite food, they’ll turn it into a festival. Instead of building an average sandcastle, they’ll bring in artists and hold the world’s biggest sandcastle competition. Why do anything by halves?

Awesome South Korean festivals to time your visit around include:

  • Sandcastle Festival – late May (Busan)
  • Kimchi Festival – March to April (Gwanju)
  • Chicken and beer festival – late July (Daegu).

29. Summit Mt. Hallasan on Jeju Island

Reaching the highest point in the country should be on every active traveller’s Korea bucket list. Mt. Hallasan is located in the centre of Jeju Island, reaching 1,950m. With four trails reaching the summit, each taking only a day to summit and return, it’s an accessible rooftop of Korea.

Summiting Mt. Hallasan is a challenging adventure but can be achieved by all active travellers. The best trail to hike Mt. Hallasan is also the most gradual: about 10 kilometres up and 9 kilometres down. Expect it to take a full day and pack food and water accordingly.

You’ll be rewarded with stunning views over Jeju Island, as well as a beautiful forested walk over rivers and rocks formed by the same volcanic activity that formed Jeju Island itself. It’s well worth the muscle soreness after you’ve returned to town. 

Entrance to Hallasan National Park is free. Hiking is a popular hobby in Korea so it’s common to see elderly locals and families out for a morning hike. Strap on some sneakers and don’t stop until you reach the top! 

Entry submitted by Erika from Erika’s Travelventures.

Related activity: small group Hallasan hiking tour inc lunch

30. Ganghwa Island

Temple Ganghwa Island Korea
Jeondeungsa Temple, Ganghwa Island

One of the best excursions in South Korea with numerous sights and things to do is the country’s fourth-largest island: Ganghwa Island. It is also known as ganghwado. The South Korean island lies at the mouth of the Han River, which separates the island from Gimpo on the mainland to the East and from Gaeseong in North Korea to the North. 

No wonder Ganghwa Island played an important role in the Incheon Korea war, among other wars of course. The immediate proximity to North Korea is noticeable on Ganghwa Island when arriving from Incheon. The strategically important location of Ganghwa Island can be felt and seen. This is exactly where Korea has defended itself against attacks from Japan, Russia, France and the United States for many decades. 

That is why many historical places are among the best sights of Ganghwa and are also recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Sights you shouldn’t miss on Ganghwa Island are the Jeondeungsa Temple which is located on top of a hill, the Gwangseongbo fortress, the Ganghwa Catholic Church and definitely the Hwamunseok Cultural Centre, where you can learn how to make traditional South Korean necessities for daily life.

If you have enough time, make sure to visit the Sochang Fabric Experience Center, where true experts teach you a life lesson of South Korea’s textile history.

Submitted by Clemens and Anne of Travellers Archive.

31. Mount Jirisan

View from the top of Mount Jirisan

A mountain in the southern part of South Korea, Mount Jirisan is a stunning place to hike for lovely mountains vistas and waterfalls. There are mysterious temples tucked away in the valleys of this mountain which is the second-tallest mountain in the county (after Jeju Island’s Mt Hallasan).

Mount Jirisan is the highest mountain on the South Korean mainland and is located within Jirisan National Park, which was the country’s first national park. It borders three regions: Jeollanam-do, Jeollabuk-do, and Gyeongsangnam-do and became a national park in 1967.

The mountain is considered as a sacred mountain and locals flock here to hike the trails. If you love nature, this is a stunning area of biodiversity with close to 5000 different kinds of flora and fauna to see along the way, including temperate forest and wildlife like elk and wildcats. The Nogodan Trail is a short trail most people of average fitness can handle.

Another thing to do is to visit the monks of the Cho-ge sect at Hwaeomsa Temple, who often hike the trails before dawn. Staying at the temple is a peaceful experience and a great way to learn more about Buddhism. 

There are three main entrances to the park and the Gyeongsangnam-do has two temples. If you’re planning on staying at Hwaeom-sa temple, take the train or a flight from Seoul to Gurye in Jeollanam-do. From Gurye, you can get to Jirisan National Park by bus or hire a car. 

Entry submitted by Christina of Travel2Next.

ANYWHERE SOUTH KOREA BUCKET LIST

The below items can be done in various towns and cities; it’s more about the experience! For some, I’ve included the location I did them.

32. Bathe in a jjimjilbang (naked spa)

By Western standards, these sound a little awkward. I shouldn’t have worried: jjimjilbangs have been part of Korean culture for centuries and they’re anything but creepy. These public bathhouses have split gender areas where you can strip off and simmer in hot pools of varying temperatures. There was something quite liberating about it!

The hot pools are the only area of a jjimjilbang where guests are nude. You’ll be provided with a pair of pajamas on entry which should be worn in other sections, for example the foot spa and saunas. My favourite area was the TV room with a heated floor where you could lie down, eat ice cream and watch K-Pop videos and Korean dramas. Indulgence at its peak!

While there are jjimjilbangs all over Korea, I’d highly recommend Spa Land Centrum City in Busan. Arrive by train into Centrum City station and find the spa in the connecting shopping mall.

33. Stay in a traditional hanok house

Interior of hanok house South Korea bucket list
Hanok in Jeonju

One of my best South Korea bucket list experiences was having an adorable hanok all to myself for 2 nights. Traditionally, houses are more than just places to sleep in Korea. They’re built with symbolism in mind, traditionally facing a river with a mountain behind. Staying in one is a great alternative to the modern high-rise apartments in the cities today.

From the outside, hanok houses are gorgeous, usually made with dark wood and boasting elegant carvings. Inside, they’re very minimal. If you choose to stay in one, your bedding will be neatly folded in one corner for you to make into a floor bed. I can’t lie, it wasn’t overly comfortable to sleep on but it was a cool experience for my South Korea bucket list.

There are plenty of places to do this in South Korea although I’d recommend Jeonju. This small city has some of the best-preserved Korean houses in the country including my Happiness Full Hanok Guesthouse where I stayed. If you don’t have time to visit Jeonju, you can find some beautiful hanoks 30 minutes from Seoul in Bukchon Hanok Village.

34. Tuck into a Korean barbeque

Korean barbecue in Seoul South Korea

While there are lots of lesser-known (but equally delicious) foods to try in South Korea, the most famous is a Korean barbeque.

Korean barbeques are life. Make sure to have at least during your stay but obviously it’s better if you can have 2, 3, 7, 20, 100…You get the picture.

Solo travel woe – Korean barbeques are weirdly hard to have by yourself as they’re such a communal affair. If travelling solo, ask a few places if they’ll serve you solo and they’ll often just add a small surcharge to the bill. Annoying but worth it for all the meat.

The best bit about Korean barbeques is that you cook them yourself at your table. The most common meats to find at a Korean barbeque are red meats like beef and pork but you can also throw some fresh vegetables on the grill to make it a balanced meal.

35. Attend a K-Pop audition

K-Pop is taking the world by storm thanks to bands like BTS. In addition to attending a K-Pop concert or catching some live music in Seoul’s Hongdae district, you can attend a K-Pop audition!

There are plenty of K-pop auditions from different entertainment companies across Korea, especially in Seoul. Some are one-time events and require pre-registration but there are also regular ones where you can just walk in and perform. The SM Entertainment Weekly Audition takes place every Saturday at the SM Coexartium in Seoul and is open to anyone.

No pre-registration is required. Simply arrive between 11am and 2pm and sign in. You can audition for either dancing, singing, acting or modelling. For singing and acting, you prepare your own songs and dialogues (not necessarily in Korean) but for dancing, you freestyle to a random song.

So, why bother auditioning for a big label if you can neither perform well nor desire to actually become a K-pop idol? Firstly, you’re bound to make new travel friends. Auditioning can also be a huge confidence boost and the ultimate Korea bucket list experience, especially for Hallyu Fans.

For more information about the SM Weekly Audition, check out the label’s official website.

Entry submitted by Arabella from The Spicy Girl.

36. Hire a karaoke booth with friends

On the topic of music and performance, why not step up behind the mic during your time in South Korea? Karaoke actually originated in East Asia, specifically in Japan. It’s just as popular in South Korea with plenty of places to hire a booth and sing with your friends.

Personally, I much prefer this approach to singing on stage at karaoke bars at home. Let’s face it, my tuneless wailing should be heard by as few people as possible.

A karaoke booth in South Korea usually includes your own jukebox and set of mics so you can control the music and sing as a group or solo. Karaoke venues stay open all night in Seoul so you can even put on a 6am performance after a night out. Just make sure none of your friends record the event!

37. Stay inside a temple

Haeinsa Temple South Korea bucket list

To truly experience the culture of South Korea, one of the essential experiences you should add to your South Korea bucket list is a temple stay. There are many temples all around the country that offer the opportunity to stay overnight, including many programs that run in English for foreigners.

One option is Haeinsa Temple located in a remote mountainous area of southern Korea, a couple of hours on a bus from Daegu. Despite its remote location, it’s actually one of the country’s busiest Buddhist shrines due to its importance. It has been UNESCO World Heritage-listed due to it housing the Tripitaka Koreana, a collection of Buddhist scriptures carved into woodblocks from the 13th century.

One of the important components of a temple stay is learning about monastery etiquette, including the importance of staying quiet. Other highlights include drumming sessions which take plan after dinner and again at 4am, as well as morning meditation complete with tea and chats with the monks.

Despite the age of the temple, the facilities are new and modern with single bedrooms for all participants. The vegetarian fare for dinner and breakfast is purely functional so this isn’t a top spot for foodies! Luckily, a temple stay is not that expensive: the cost for two is around double that of a private room in a hostel.

Submitted by Shandos from World Heritage Journey.

38. Sip (or shot) soju

Three soju shots South Korea

As I mentioned above, the South Koreans love to party. Honestly, we were always going to get on. I was worried it would be expensive to go out in South Korea but I was pleasantly surprised by drink prices in bars. However, the cheapest way to get merry in South Korea is by drinking soju.

This distilled spirit was once made with rice (like other rice wines in Asia) but this was banned in the 1970s and potato starch was used instead. Nowadays, it can be drunk neat or as a flavoured beverage. The 7-Eleven sells bottles of grape and apple-flavoured Soju at 13%. If the neat stuff is too potent, sip on one of these before hitting the bars of Hongdae.

39. Take a Korean cooking class

Cooking class Korea bucket list

Taking a cooking class in Korea is a wonderful way to learn about the most common ingredients and the history behind the country’s most important dishes. Not only will you get to learn about the country’s cuisine, but you’ll also get a delicious meal and a recipe that you can recreate for your friends and family. Some may say it’s a souvenir that keeps on giving!

While you can find cooking classes in some of the country’s major cities, Seoul offers the most variety. Choose from classes that focus on one dish, like how to make different types of kimchi or how to make tofu from scratch. Or take a course that goes over all sorts of different dishes.

Some classes include a market tour while others incorporate beer and Korean spirit tastings. Another great thing about cooking classes in Korea is they tend to be pretty affordable, with prices averaging around $50 USD per person. 

Whether you’re looking for a vegetarian-friendly class or one that walks you through the steps to making the perfect Korean fried chicken, you’ll find a cooking experience that’s suited to your taste. 

Submitted by Two Wandering Soles.

Related activity: Korean cooking class in a local home

40. See cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms Seoul bucket list

If there is one thing that should be on your bucket list for South Korea, it’s seeing the cherry blossoms. These little blossoms get a lot of attention and deservedly so.

The only tricky part about seeing cherry blossoms is timing your trip to South Korea. Early April is the general time they appear but the exact dates change every year and they vary in every region. They’re only in blossom for a very short time so you somewhat need to get lucky or book your trip at the last minute.

The good news is that if you get the timing right, seeing them is not hard. You’ll spy them simply wandering the streets or you can visit specific locations like the Children’s Grand Park and Yeouido Park, both in Seoul. The latter even holds a cherry blossom festival.

It doesn’t cost anything to enjoy the cherry blossoms and it’s an experience you’ll never forget.

Submitted by Sharon from Dive into Philippines.

Liked this? Check out my other bucket list guides:

Southeast Asia bucket list / Mexico bucket list

South Korea essentials

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See you next time,

Rose

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South Korea bucket list

VISITING SOUTH KOREA?

These are my trusted resources:

Getting around by air – it’s easy. toget between cities by flight. I use Skyscanner and Kayak.

Buses – buses are comfy and efficient. It’s tricky for foreigners to book online so it’s best to turn up on the day.

Trainsuse Trip.com, partner of Korail (the official railway network of Korea) to book your tickets in advance. The website accepts international payment options, unlike Korean rail websites.

Driving in Korea – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals. Hiring a car will be especially useful on Jeju Island.

Confused about visas? I use iVisa to check visa requirements and apply for visas online

For hotels in Korea, I use Booking.com – they also have self-catering apartments. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.

Browse South Korea tours and activities on GetYourGuide. I also check Viator and Klook in case they have a better price.

For food tours with passionate local chefs and foodies, check out EatWith.

Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance. 

Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and tips!

2 thoughts on “South Korea Bucket List: 40 Quirky & Cultural Things To Do

  1. Bernara | Fifty Flights says:

    Your post reminded me of my trip to South Korea 1,5 years ago, I did almost everything you mentioned here except going to Jeju. That fertility park alone seems like a good reason to go back hahaha

  2. kate says:

    This is such great advice! I’ve been wanting to visit South Korea!!

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