South Korea: 10 day itinerary

10 day itinerary for Busan, Jeju and Seoul

Korea hadn’t been on my travel list but my husband really wanted to go so we went there for our ‘mini moon’ after our wedding in June 2019. We were able to get good value flights with Finnair, which I reviewed in this post.

I don’t know why Korea wasn’t on my radar because it was completely awesome. Korea really has something for everyone; beaches, cities, mountains, nature, shopping, food, food…more food. It’s also clean and easy to travel around with moderate prices for food and accommodation. This post only covers some of the major sights: Busan, Seoul and Jeju Island – clearly there is loads more to see in Korea so I’m not pretending this is a comprehensive itinerary but it’s a good starting point to get a taste of the country.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Full disclosure; I haven’t done this exact itinerary. This is pieced together from my trip, a second trip my husband went on with his parents and some extra research. When I visited Korea I went without much of an agenda and took a pretty relaxed approach to the holiday as it was my honeymoon (both because I wanted to relax and because I was too busy planning a wedding to plan a holiday!), but if I’d taken my usual action-packed approach I think this would have been achievable for a 10 day holiday.

I’ve recommended food where I found something I thought was particularly good but there are just so many places to eat and a lot of the fun is in finding and trying them so you’re better just to follow your nose in most cases.10 days in Korea

Korean 10 day itinerary at a glance

Arrive at Incheon and take the KTX train to Busan

Day 1 Busan

  1. Gamcheon Culture Village
  2. Jagalchi Fish Market
  3. Gukje Market
  4. BIFF Square
  5. Yongdu-san Park and Busan Tower

Day 2 Busan

  1. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
  2. Haeundae Beach

Day 3 Busan

  1. Beomeo-sa Temple
  2. Geumgang Park cable car
  3. Seokbul-sa
  4. Geumgang Park and Fortress

Day 4 Jeju-do

  1. Fly to Jeju-do
  2. Nightmarket Jeju-si

Day 5 Jeju-do

  1. Hallasan National Park – hike Mount Hallasan
  2. Manjang-gul cave
  3. Eat Jeju black pork

Day 6 Jeju-do

  1. Seongsan Ilchubong Peak (Sunrise Peak)
  2. Seongeup Folk Village
  3. Jeongbang and Cheonjiyang waterfall
  4. Daepo Jusangjeolli Cliff

Day 7 Seoul

  1. Fly to Seoul

Day 8 Seoul

  1. Gyeongbokgung Palace
  2. Jogyesa temple
  3. Bukchon Hanok Village
  4. Walk along Cheong-gye-cheon
  5. Namdaemun Market

Day 9

  1. Changdeokgung Palace
  2. National Museum of Korea
  3. Gwangjang Street Food Market

Day 10 Seoul

  1. Tour the JSA / DMZ
  2. Lotte Tower and Lotte World
  3. Evening in Gangnam

Detailed Korea itinerary

Arrive Incheon

Train to Busan

You can get to Busan direct from Seoul Incheon Airport on the KTX train. There are 6 trains a day (leaving every 2 – 3 hours between 7am and 8:30pm) and the journey time is roughly 3.5 hours. Standard class costs 72,100 KRW (around £48) and first class 100,900 KRW (around £67).

We took the train straight off of our flight in from Helsinki so I slept most of the journey! They give you a little snack pack to eat in first class, but it’s just snacks rather than a proper meal. I think mine had a cookie, some nuts and a towelette.

You can buy tickets in advance on the Korail website or from machines or counters in the train station. We booked first class tickets in advance since we were coming straight off a long flight. On the way back we wanted to change the train we took to an earlier one which we did at the station counter the day before and was no problem. First class had comfortable seats with foot rests and power sockets as well as luggage storage. There’s a small vending machine that dispenses free bottles of water.

When we arrived in Busan we took a cab to our hotel (which was not all that straightforward, the guy seemed to take ages to work out where to take us!)

The streets of Busan

The streets of Busan

Day 1 – Busan

Gamcheon Culture Village

This residential area had a makeover in 2009 and now it’s a cute hillside town of cafes and galleries. I didn’t find there was anything there of great interest, but it’s very pretty to walk around and somewhere to grab a bite to eat and get some souvenirs.

A narrow alley in Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan

A narrow alley in Gamcheon Culture Village

Get there by taking the metro, line 1, to Toseong-dong, crossing the street and getting the number 2 or 2-2 bus up the hill to the village. It is also walkable depending on where in Busan you’re staying.

Colourful houses in Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan

Colourful houses in Gamcheon Culture Village

Jagalchi Fish Market

8am – 10pm daily (closed 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month)

This is Korea’s largest fish market so if you’re going to visit a market then this is the one. You’re going to be paddling in a bit of fish waster so wear appropriate shoes. Once you buy a fish there’s seating on the second floor where you can have your food prepared and served.

Gukje Market

Another great alternative for lunch. You can get lost for hours in this market which sells just about everything. The food area is probably one of the best places to eat in Busan. We had amazing pajeon (spring onion pancake) and a Cass beer from stall 5A-21 (marked on the map).

The delicious pajeon stall in Gukje Market

The delicious pajeon stall in Gukje Market

Pajeon and Cass

Pajeon and Cass

Taejongdae Resort Park

4am – 10pm; Metro line 1 to Nampo then take the 8, 30 or 88 bus or take a taxi.

The park has well kept walking trails which overlook Busan’s coastline. There’s also a train (with a small fee) that will take you around the main sights. It makes a great sunset spot if you time your trip to get there in the afternoon.

BIFF Square

BIFF Square is the place to be for street food, especially at night.

Hotteok in BIFF Square

Hotteok in BIFF Square

Day 2 – Busan

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

This Buddhist temple was built in 1376 but destroyed in the 16th century during the Japanese invasion of Korea and rebuilt in the 1930s. The temple is unusual in Korea in that it is set by the sea. It’s a really beautiful complex of highly decorated temples set in a rugged coastal landscape.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

You can either get a taxi here (about 20 minutes from Haeundae) or take the metro line 2 to Haeundae Station and then take the 181 bus and get off at Yonggungsa Temple stop (about a 30 minute ride). It’s then about a 10 minute walk from the bus stop to the temple.

Haeundae beach

Take metro line 2 to Haeundae for Korea’s most famous beach. There’s plenty to eat nearby and the beach is huge (although it gets busy in summer). There are toilets and changing rooms so bring your swimming stuff.

Haeundae Beach

Haeundae Beach

Day 3 – Busan

Head out of the city to Geumjeong-san, which is still reachable on the metro. Unfortunately I did not visit this part of Busan on my trip but when researching it for this post I realised it was a big mistake. I’ll likely to go back to Korea in the not too distant future so will definitely put this on my itinerary next time around.

Beomeo Temple

8:30am – 5:30pm; Metro line 1 to Beomeosa then catch bus 90 or take a taxi to the temple entrance.

The temple was founded in the 7th century but the present day temple buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries. If you visit in May you will see the wisteria bloom. Note that the area can be busy on holidays and at weekends as locals visit the surrounding hiking trails.

Geumgang Park cable car

9am – 5pm; Metro line 1 to Oncheonjang

This is your quickest route to visit Seokbul temple (or you can enjoy the hike up instead on your way to Geumjeong Fortress ). The cable car affords great views out over Busan.

Seokbul Temple

7am – 7pm

It’s a small but beautiful temple built into the sides of sandstone cliffs on Geumjeongsan. Beautiful reliefs are carved into the side of the cliff.

Geumgang Park and Fortress

9am – 5pm

The fortress is now just four gates and some stone walls on the top of Mount Geumjeong. It’s a beautiful place to hike and popular with locals with most starting their route at Beomeosa (about 8.8km to the South Gate) or the cable car (about a 20 minute walk).

Where and what to eat in Busan

In a word, everywhere. I didn’t arrive with any fixed ideas about restaurants or street food stalls I wanted to try but I did have a list of the types of foods I wanted to try. For Busan my key foods were fish cake or ‘Eomuk’ (Busan is famous for its seafood) and ssiat hotteok (the Busan variation).

Hotteok is everywhere in Korea, it’s a tasty, stodgy, filled pancake. The filling is typically sugar, honey and cinnamon but in Busan you’ll get a selection of nuts and seeds in there too. The best one we found was in BIFF square. I have no idea whether the stalls have names but right at its epicentre was an especially busy stall with a rather eccentric owner who liked organising the huge queue of people into a neat line (she will pull you around – be warned!). This was the best hotteok we had as it was flavourful and gooey but without being overly greasy.

Hotteok stall, BIFF Square

Hotteok stall, BIFF Square

Fish cake is a big deal in Korea. It’s not like European fish cake where potato and fish are mashed together and fried or baked, this is usually boiled although there are loads of variations. Some of the more famous places are Goresa in Haeundae which is on the main road from the station to the beach and hard to miss as it has some huge fish cake sculptures on the side of it, and Samjin, which you can find a Busan station. Both have been in business over 50 years. Typically you take a tray, select your seafood (much of which is on skewers) and then take it to the counter where you pay and they heat it up for you.

Some other tasty places we found were the pajeon at stall 5A-21 in Gukje market, an amazing (but pricey) BBQ place called Busan Sutbal Galbi, near to Gukje and we loved the chimaek at Outdark chicken (various locations).

Busan Sutbal Galbi

Busan Sutbal Galbi

Busan Sutbal Galbi

Busan Sutbal Galbi

Chimaek, or fried chicken (chikin) and beer (maekju) is what the locals eat on a night out and it’s omnipresent in Korea with a number of chains specialising in chimaek. Fried chicken had been a ‘thing’ in Korea since the 60s but chimaek took off in a big way following the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup when the term ‘chimaek’ was first used.

Outdark Chicken chimaek

Outdark Chicken chimaek

Another street food to look out for is Tteokbokki; stewed rice cakes often with eggs, fish or meat in typically either a spicy or mild sauce (get the spicy one) but there are lots of variations. It’s not hard to find in Busan.

We also loved the food court in the Lotte Department Store in Nampo. This is actually a great way of trying loads of foods (and being able to sit down while you do it) and there are great noodle and mandu (dumpling) places there. It’s definitely worth a visit for the food.

Delicious mall food

Delicious mall food

Day 4 – Jeju-do

Fly to Jeju-do. Various airlines fly the route, including Korean Air and flights are cheap (typically under £50 per person) and take about an hour. There are many departures a day giving you more than one flight an hour to choose from.

Jeju-do is Korea’s largest island and a holiday destination for Koreans and foreigners. It has beautiful beaches as well as countryside to hike. Jeju-do is pretty small (just over 70km in length) so the easiest way to see it is to stay in one of the larger towns, like the capital Jeju-si, and hire a car to get around. It is possible by public transport but a car is far easier.

Spend your first evening getting to know Jeju-si including grabbing a bite to eat in the nightmarket.

Day 5 Jeju-do

Hiking in Hallasan National Park

Gwaneum-sa trail is the longest and most scenic at 8.7km (taking around 5 hours to complete) but there are plenty of others to suit different itineraries and levels of fitness. This is also the steepest route so probably not suitable for anyone with knee problems! According to my guide book (I haven’t been to Jeju) some recommend hiking up the Seongpanak route and down Gwaneum-sa (the only two trails that go to the 1950m peak). If you want to research the other 5 trails they’re called: Yeongsil (5.1km); Eoseungsaengak (1.3km); Donnaeko (7km); Eorimok (6.8km); Seokgul-am (1.5km). Free maps are available from the information centres  at the main trail entrances but paths are clearly marked. Trails open from 6am and, as with all hiking, you should be finished by sunset (so make sure you start early) and prepare for sudden changes in weather.

Hallasan National Park

Hallasan National Park

Manjang-gul cave

The world’s longest system of lava tubes caves is in Jeju! They are 7.4km long in total and have ceiling heights up to 23m. It’s cold in the caves (duh) so take a jacket and make sure you have the right shoes for the uneven, wet paths.

Manjanggul

Manjanggul

Manjanggul

Treat yourself to a well deserved meal of Jeju’s famous black pork. My husband and his parents ate at Donsado in Jeju-si which has great reviews and which they really enjoyed.

Black pork at Donsadon restaurant in Jeju-si

Black pork at Donsadon restaurant in Jeju-si

Day 6 Jeju-do

Jeju Olle Trail

There’s more hiking to be had on the Jeju Olle trail with various routes from 5 to 23 km in length. Most are coastal routes and there are 21 main routes with 5 sub routes to choose from.IMG_2832

Seongsan Ilchulbong

One hour before sunrise until 8pm

This is an extinct volcano shaped like a huge bowl and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It only takes 20 minutes to walk up to the crater; many people do it for sunrise (so don’t expect to have it to yourself). He nearby Ilchulbong beach has a haenyeo (traditional female free-divers) run restaurant and put on a performance at 1:30pm and 3pm every day. You can also hire speedboats here to take you out to sea to look back on Ilculbong

Seongeup Folk Village

A former provincial capital, people still live in Seongeup, unlike other folk villages on the island. Here you can see traditional houses with lava rock walls and thatched roofs.

Jeongbang and Cheonjiyang waterfalls

There are many waterfalls in Jeju-do but these two are particularly nice and close to each other just outside Jeju-do’s second largest city, Seogwipo. Seogwipo would would also make a good alternative base to Jeju-si, especially if you’re into scuba diving and hiking. Cheonjiyang is a 22m high waterfall and is on Jeju Olle Trail 6 and is walkable from the town. Jeongbang is 23m high and a 15 minute walk east of Seogwipo town centre. It is apparently the only waterfall in Asia that falls into the ocean! A number of waterfalls and other sites can also be seen by taking the Seogwipo City Tour Bus.

Jeongbang waterfall

Jeongbang waterfall

Daepo Jusangjeolli Cliff

This is a volcanic rock formation of a similar type to the Giant’s Causeway.

Day 7 – Seoul

Fly to Seoul. There is a ridiculous choice of flights between Jeju and Seoul with fares running from the ridiculously cheap to a bit more punchy depending on the airline so you can find something to suit any timetable and any budget. Flights arrive at Gimpo International Airport, not Incheon, which is why I designed this itinerary with Seoul last as Gimpo is nearer the city and doesn’t leave you with an awkward transfer between the two airports on your way home.

Day 8 – Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace

9am – 5pm daily (closed Tuesdays and with later openings in Spring and Summer); changing of the guard 10am and 2pm.

Gyeongbokgung Palace - changing of the guard

Gyeongbokgung Palace – changing of the guard

You can easily spend a half day here, maybe more, as the complex itself is huge. I recommend arriving at the main gate, Gwanghwamun, just before 10am to watch the changing of the guard (which is extremely colourful and loud) before grabbing your ticket and heading in. The palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty (housing the place and government), originally built in 1395 but destroyed repeatedly through its history (most recently by Japan in the early 20th century). It is gradually being restored and looks pretty spectacular.

Inside Gyeongbokgung Palace

Inside Gyeongbokgung Palace

Jogyesa temple

Open 24 hours

Jogyesa contains the largest Buddhist worship hall in Seoul, decorated with scenes from Buddha’s life. You can also visit the Central Buddhist Museum (9am – 6pm, Tue-Sun).

Bukchon Hanok Village

This is a traditional village in Seoul of small alleys and old traditional Hanok houses (around 900 of them) which were first built in the 14th century. It’s free to walk around and there are various museums, galleries shops and cafes to mooch around. Some of the houses are open to the public, including the Bukchon Traditional Culture Centre; 9am – 6pm, Mon-Sat)and there’s also accommodation in the village allowing you to stay in one of these traditional houses.

Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village

Cheong-gye-cheon

This stream-cum-art park is a relaxing walkway of bridges, art, waterfalls and benches.

Namdaemun Market

24 hours

Namdaemun Market is the oldest and largest market in Korea and stands next to the Great South Gate, from which it takes its name. It dates all the way back to 1414 and still sells all manner of goods, although Restaurant Alley is the big draw. The nearest station is Hoehyeon, line 4.

Day 9 – Seoul

Changdeokgung Palace

9am – 5:30pm, Tue-Sun (hours are longer in Spring and Summer).

Built in the 15th century as a secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung but destroyed in the 1590s. When it was rebuilt it became the primary royal residence until 1872. The complex is huge and will take at least 2 or 3 hours but you could easily spend more time chilling in the vast grounds. There’s also the Huwon, the secret garden (separate ticket).

Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung Palace

National Museum of Korea

Daily 10am – 6pm, until 9pm Saturday and 7pm Sunday

Does what it says on the tin…Korean history by the bucket load.

Gwangjang Street Food Market

I didn’t visit but my husband did and was even able to stop at Cho Yoonsun’s kalguksu (knife-cut noodles) stall which was featured on Netflix’s Street Food Seoul Episode. The market is famous for bindatteok (fried mung bean pancake) where mung bean is mixed with beansprouts, onions and pepper and then deep fried.

Cho Yoonsun's kalguksu stall

Cho Yoonsun’s kalguksu stall

Day 10 – Seoul

DMZ / JSA tour

One of the really special experiences Korea is the ability to visit the DMZ and / or JSA. Although an armistice was signed in 1953, no peace treaty has ever been agreed so the two countries are technically still at war. Efforts have been made in recent years to work towards a conclusion.

Make sure you know what you want to visit and book the right tour. The demilitarised zone (DMZ) is the 4km wide buffer between the two countries and tours here will usually involve visiting the DMZ museum / exhibition, Imjingak Park, the third infiltration tunnel, the Dora observatory (where you can see into the North) and Dorasan station (where the line – but no trains- runs to Pyongyang). You WILL NOT go to the Joint Security Area (JSA) where South and North Korean soldiers face off outside some blue huts. It’s usually easier to get DMZ tickets than JSA tickets.

The view into North Korea

The view into North Korea and its record breaking flag pole

A JSA tour WILL take you inside this area and you will get to go inside the conference rooms where meetings between the two countries are held. Inside the conference room you are technically wandering between South and North Korea (amazing). Unfortunately we couldn’t get JSA tickets (book ahead, people) but the DMZ tour was still super interesting and I highly recommend doing anything you can to get on a tour.

Dorasan Station

Dorasan Station

Note that these are strictly controlled areas so you can only enter on an organised tour, there’s a dress code (yep), you need a passport and due to the demand vs. numbers that can be accommodated (because each tour gets a military escort) you get shoved around all the sights at break neck speed – I had to sprint back to the bus on more than one occasion.

A half day tour of the DMZ (c. 8am – 1:30pm) costs around £40 per person and a full day tour of both the DMZ and JSA costs around £90 per person. Book well in advance as the tours can be few and far between depending on the current political environment and even once you’re booked they can be cancelled without notice or terminated early during the tour if tensions rise for any reason. For this reason, unless you’re happy to wander Seoul for the day (I think you will be) then it’s worth having a back up plan for this day. A good alternative (and something to do anyway if you have more time) is to visit Bukhansan National Park, just north of Seoul. It’s where Seoul goes to hike (around 5 million people visit a year!) so it can get very busy on the main routes. There are plenty of blogs out there with more information on how to get that and what routes to take.DSC05448

If you have 2 weeks to spare (or more!) I would simply add on a temple stay at Baekyangsa Temple where you can stay for 2 nights and take the cooking with Jeong Kwan programme (yep, the Buddhist nun of Chef’s Table fame). I really wanted to do this but the courses only run on certain days and didn’t match our dates, so make sure you plan ahead.

Lotte Tower and Lotte World

Daily 9:30am – 10pm

Lotte World is a huge recreation complex including the world’s largest indoor theme park, an outdoor theme park, a hotel, folk museum, malls, movies theatres and a bunch of other stuff. It’s basically a big Korean Disney. I didn’t visit but probably would if I went back. I did however visit the Lotte Tower which is the tallest building in Korea and 6th tallest building in the world.

The Lotte Tower

The Lotte Tower

The Lotte Tower

The view from the Lotte Tower

Evening in Gangnam

Gangnam is a place for shopping, eating and partying. I stopped off briefly for some chimaek but didn’t really ‘get it’ – possibly because (apart from eating) most of what’s there isn’t of interest. There are also some parks to visit, including the Olympic park so you could easily spend a day here wandering around. If you want to look a total muppet then there’s a special area for you to get in the Gangnam Style pose for the ‘gram.

Gangnam style

Gangnam style

Mountains of chimaek in Gangnam

Mountains of chimaek in Gangnam

Where and what to eat in Seoul

Akira Back – Four Seasons Hotel

My husband booked this for our last night in Seoul. It was nice to go up market after a week eating largely off the street. Service was great and the food was top notch. Get the signature tuna pizza, sounds weird but is super delicate and delicious.

Tuna 'pizza' at Akira Back, Seoul

Tuna ‘pizza’ at Akira Back

Kyochon chicken – various locations

This is a chain restaurant founded in 1991 and now with stores in the US and Malaysia. The chicken is so delicious that we ate there twice; just be warned that if they tell you something is spicy they mean it’s really spicy. We eat a lot of spicy food and this was absolute fire (but we ate it anyway because it was still delicious).

Born and Bred

A butcher’s shop (how it started life) and restaurant, born and bred is owned by Jeong Swang-won. It offers three different dining concepts, a ‘fancy’ option with accompanying tasting menu on the top floor, a more casual restaurant on the second floor and the first floor ‘butcher lounge’. They serve only Hanwoo beef, a similar concept to wagyu, and it is a (pricey) beef feast.

Beef at Born and Bred, Seoul

Beef at Born and Bred

In the basement there’s an even more exclusive omakase experience. It’s not straightforward to get a reservation – some persistence is needed (or knowing someone who knows someone). My husband ate in the casual restaurant and had the tenderloin katsu sandwich and a bunch of other stuff (he asked the waiter to bring a selection). Food and service was amazing (he said he’d fly back just to eat there).

Katsu tenderloin at Born and Bred, Seoul

Katsu tenderloin at Born and Bred

Isaac Toast

You can’t really go to Korea and now have Isaac Toast. These delicious toasted sandwiches come in various flavours (although nearly all include grated cabbage?) and make a great, if greasy, breakfast. There are various locations in Seoul and across Korea.

Isaac Toast menu, Busan

Isaac Toast menu, Busan

Isaac Toast

Isaac Toast

 

 

One thought on “South Korea: 10 day itinerary

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