A surprising nation in many senses, South Korea is a joy to explore for travellers with a keen interest in both ancient and modern history, culture and unusual cuisine. Thanks to the turbulent tensions with the North beginning to show signs of easing, this nation of contrasts is gaining in popularity thanks to its spectacular scenery, futuristic cities and a food culture that's taking off around the world. Home to ten World Heritage sites and a climate that creates beautiful colours in the spring and autumn, this tour is the perfect choice if you're looking to experience something a little different in Asia.

• Seoul: 3 nights
• Busan: 2 nights
• Seoul: 2 nights

8nights Escorted Small Group Tour
NATURE
CULTURE
ACTIVE

A surprising nation in many senses, South Korea is a joy to explore for travellers with a keen interest in both ancient and modern history, culture and unusual cuisine. Thanks to the turbulent tensions with the North beginning to show signs of easing, this nation of contrasts is gaining in popularity thanks to its spectacular scenery, futuristic cities and a food culture that's taking off around the world. Home to ten World Heritage sites and a climate that creates beautiful colours in the spring and autumn, this tour is the perfect choice if you're looking to experience something a little different in Asia.

• Seoul: 3 nights
• Jeju Island: 3 nights
• Busan: 2 nights
• Gyeongju: 1 night
• Seoul: 2 nights

13nights Escorted Small Group Tour
NATURE
CULTURE
ACTIVE
 
 
ITINERARY

Day 1: UK to Seoul Depart the UK on your overnight flight to Seoul.

Day 2: Seoul On arrival, transfer to your hotel where you're guaranteed an early check-in. Freshen up and spend the rest of the day at leisure. You’ll meet your group and tour leader  this evening for dinner at a local restaurant. During the return to your hotel, you’ll make a brief stop at Naksan Park; famous for its far-reaching night-time views of the city. Stay: Grand Ambassador (or similar). D.

Day 3: Seoul It’s a full day tour of the city today, starting with a photo stop at the Blue House, the official residence of the President of the Republic of Korea. Continue with a walking tour at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, a reconstruction of the main 14th-Century royal palace of the Kingdom of Joseon. While here, you’ll have the chance to see a re-enactment of the changing of the guard ceremony and you’ll also visit the National Folk Museum to learn all about the history and culture of the Korean people. Carry on the tour in the Insa-dong neighbourhood, where you’ll have your first introduction to traditional Korean cuisine. Get hands on in a cooking class to learn how to make Kimchi – a national stewed vegetable dish – or try the barbecued beef dish Bulgogi. Have your creations for lunch ahead of a leisurely stroll down Insa-dong Antique Shop Alley. Stop at a teahouse for a traditional tea tasting before continuing to Bukchon Hanok Village; a trendy part of town that was once home to the nobility and government officials in the Joseon Dynasty. Alongside the hundreds of traditional Korean homes still around, today it’s full of craft shops, restaurants and cool bars and cafés. Visit ‘rice cake alley’ to taste Tteok, one of the most popular street foods in South Korea, and pay a visit to the beautiful Buddhist temple of Jogyesa. Your penultimate stops include two of the city’s environmental renovation projects; the open public square of Gwanghwamun Plaza and the tranquil Cheonggyecheon Stream that runs through downtown Seoul. End the day at the observation deck of North Seoul Tower – a landmark that looks over panoramic views of the city. Stay: Grand Ambassador (or similar). B, L.

Day 4: Seoul After breakfast, depart the city for the historic walled city of Suwon (approx. 1¼ hours from Seoul). Explore the UNESCO-listed Suwon Heritage Fortress, one of Korea’s most important historic sites built in the 18th Century. The fortress’ wall stretches for approximately three miles, with four gates and various artillery towers and bastions along its length. Try your hand at Korean archery before continuing to a local restaurant to try traditional Chimaek – essentially a meal of fried chicken and beer! On the way back to Seoul, you’ll stop at the Korea Folk Village in Yongin; a living replica of a village from the Joseon period which showcases traditional life as it once was. Stay: Grand Ambassador (or similar). B, L.

Day 5: Seoul to Busan Transfer to the station where you’ll board the high-speed KTX train to Gyeongju – the ancient capital city of the Silla Kingdom. Head to Family Choi's House and try some Korean rice wine before continuing to Yoseokgung, one of the city's best restaurants for a traditional Korean lunch. This afternoon you'll set out on a guided tour of the city. Highlights include a visit to Tumuli Park – home to more than a dozen burial mounds of ancient kings – and the Anapji Pond, located in the grounds of an ancient palace complex in Gyeongju National Park. Carry on towards the historic Bulguksa Temple – a beautiful Buddhist UNESCO site on the slopes of Mount Toham. This evening head south to the port city of Busan where you'll stay two nights. Stay: Haeundae Grand Hotel (or similar). B, L.

Day 6: Busan Head out for a guided tour of the city, starting with a visit to the Haedong Yonggung Temple. Built in 1376, this ancient temple is a great photo spot thanks to its picturesque setting alongside a secluded rocky coastline. Continue to the modern Nurimaru APEC House – a memorial hall that overlooks superb views of the bay – and stop at the UN Memorial Cemetery, in remembrance to the soldiers of the United Nations who lost their lives during the Korean War. Before returning to the hotel, have a stroll along the Songo Skywalk; an impressive ocean walkway that offers spectacular views of the coastline. The rest of the day is free to spend at leisure – there are plenty of bars and restaurants within walking distance as well as the sun-baked golden sands of Haeundae Beach. Tonight, re-join the group for dinner at a local restaurant. Stay: Haeundae Grand Hotel (or similiar). B, L, D.

Day 7: Busan to Seoul This morning, visit Busan Tower before heading to the fish market of Jagalchi. Korea’s largest fish market is a real highlight for foodies; you’ll gain a fantastic insight into local Korean staples and have the chance to see a number of not so familiar delicacies fresh from the sea. Continue to nearby Gukje Market, originally formed by refugees from the Korean War. At this downtown market you’ll have the chance to taste some delicious local dishes like Eomuk (fishcakes) and Hotteok (sweet pancakes). Later, head to the station for your rail transfer back to Seoul. This evening sit down to watch a Nanta show – a unique non-verbal comedy show that debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Approx. journey time: 2¾ hours. Stay: Grand Ambassador (or similar). B, L.

Day 8: Seoul Your final day is a real highlight of the tour. From Seoul, the group will transfer to Paju, a city in the far north of South Korea. From here you'll embark on a tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a truly surreal yet captivating experience. This two-and-a-half-mile wide and 155-mile-long buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea was established following the 1953 ceasefire in the Korean War, and is today controlled by the United Nations. Your first stop is Imjingak Park, home to several Korean War memorials and even a tiny amusement park. From the park’s observation platform, you’ll be able to see the Bridge of Freedom; famously the route home for many released prisoners following the end of the war. The tour will continue by coach, passing through Unification Village – a small  village set up to maintain peace on the border – and past the ultra-modern Dorasan train station that’s served by trains from Seoul that can proceed no further north. The coach will then head up to the peak of Mount Dora. It's from here that you’ll overlook North Korea and the fascinating ‘settlement’ of Kijong-dong, referred to as ‘propaganda village’. If you want to, head underground to explore the Third Infiltration Tunnel, one of four known tunnels that pass under the border and which were dug up by the North Koreans to infiltrate an attack on the south. For those not afraid of enclosed spaces, you can descend even deeper into the tunnel to find the spot where the North and South meet. Depending on the schedule and availability, you may join a United Nations tour into the Joint Security Area (JSA) and to Panmunjeom. This is a part of the border, or military demarcation line, where negotiations between the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) occasionally take place. A visit here provides an incredible opportunity to actually step foot over the border into North Korea. In the event of this tour not being available, you’ll return to Seoul where you’ll have some time at leisure. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with the group. Stay: Grand Ambassador (or similar). B, D.

Day 9: Seoul Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the UK. B.


Stay longer

Highlights of South Korea can be easily combined with our both our Essential China and Essential Japan tours.

Day 1: UK to Seoul Depart the UK on your overnight flight to Seoul.

Day 2: Seoul On arrival, transfer to your hotel where you're guaranteed an early check-in. Freshen up and spend the rest of the day at leisure. You’ll meet your group and tour leader this evening for dinner at a local restaurant. Stay: Fraser Place Namdaemun (or similar). D.

Day 3: Seoul It’s a full day tour of the city today, starting with a photo stop at the Blue House, the official residence of the President of the Republic of Korea. Continue with a walking tour at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, a reconstruction of the main 14th-Century royal palace of the Kingdom of Joseon. While here, you’ll have the chance to see a re-enactment of the changing of the guard ceremony and you’ll also visit the National Folk Museum to learn all about the history and culture of the Korean people, and visit the interesting Insadong Antique Alley which represents the traditional culture of Korea. Then take a pedi car ride through the historic Bukchon Hanok Village; a trendy part of town that was once home to the nobility and government officials in the Joseon Dynasty. Alongside the hundreds of traditional Korean homes still around, today it’s full of craft shops, restaurants and cool bars and cafés. You will also have tea time with a monk at Jogyesa Temple (this activity may be substituded with lotus lantern making at the Temple Stay Centre). End the day at the observation deck of North Seoul Tower – a landmark that looks over panoramic views of the city before heading to a local restaurant for dinner. Stay: Fraser Place Namdaemun (or similar). B, D.

Day 4: Seoul After breakfast, depart the city for the historic walled city of Suwon (approx. 1¼ hours from Seoul). Explore the UNESCO-listed Suwon Heritage Fortress, one of Korea’s most important historic sites built in the 18th Century. The fortress’ wall stretches for approximately three miles, with four gates and various artillery towers and bastions along its length. Try your hand at Korean archery before continuing to a local restaurant to try traditional Chimaek – essentially a meal of fried chicken and beer! Return to Seoul after lunch to spend the rest of the day at leisure Stay: Fraser Place Namdaemun (or similar). B, L.

Day 5: Seoul to Jeju In the morning you will transfer to the airport for your flight to Jeju (approx. 1 hour). The island province of Jeju is a premier tourist destination, boasting mild weather and scenic beauties of beaches, waterfalls, cliffs and caves. After checking in at your hotel you will get your first taste of the island with a visit to Dongmun traditional market to get a feel for local life, then head to the beautiful and tranquil Spirited Garden before enjoying a traditional Korean BBQ dinner. Stay: Jeju Suite Hotel (or similar). B, D.

Day 6: Jeju This morning walk the Eoseungsaengak Trail, one of the shortest mountain trails (1.3km, approx. 30 minutes). This easy hike begins at the Hallasan National Park Visitor Centre and finishes atop Eoseungtaeng Oreum, with sweeping views of the Jeju plains and the peak of Hallasan. Hallasan volcano stands proudly at the centre of Jeju Island and is perhaps the island’s most memorable landmark. In the afternoon visit Osulloc Green Tea Plantation and Museum where you will learn about the history of tea in Korea and the traditions surrounding it. Finally visit the Yongmeori Coastal area famed for its rock formations and quiet beach. Stay: Jeju Suite Hotel (or similar). B.

Day 7: Jeju Today experience one of the true highlights of Jeju Island, the Women Diver Show, this is a group of women who to this day, fish in the traditional way of free diving. Later get back to nature by visiting Manjangdul Cave which is one of the finest lava tunnels in the world and is a designated natural monument, and Seongeup Sunrise Peak formed by a volcanic eruption more than 100,000 years ago. Then continue to the impressive Jeju Stone Park which is set in a large primeval forest. The park features around 160 sculptures made by 109 famous Korean artists in the theme of the "Meeting of Nature, Art, and People." Each of the sculptures is set to harmonize with its natural surroundings. Your final stop will be the relaxing Bijarim Forest made up of over 2,800 nutmeg trees. Stay: Jeju Suite Hotel (or similar). B.

Day 8: Jeju to Busan Transfer to the airport for a morning flight to Busan where you will embark on an afternoon city tour which will start with a visit to Busan Tower before heading to the fish market of Jagalchi. Korea’s largest fish market is a real highlight for foodies; you’ll gain a fantastic insight into local Korean staples and have the chance to see a number of not so familiar delicacies fresh from the sea. Continue to nearby Gukje Market, originally formed by refugees from the Korean War. At this downtown market you’ll have the chance to taste some delicious local dishes like Eomuk (fishcakes) and Hotteok (sweet pancakes). Stay: Commodore Hotel (or similar). B, D.

Day 9: Busan This morning drive to Gamcheon Cultural Village which is known for its colourfully painted houses and winding streets, before returning to Busan for a guided tour of the city, starting with a stop at the UN Memorial Cemetery, in remembrance to the soldiers of the United Nations who lost their lives during the Korean War before continuing to the modern Nurimaru APEC House – a memorial hall that overlooks superb views of the bay. You will then visit the Haedong Yonggung Temple. Built in 1376, this ancient temple is a great photo spot thanks to its picturesque setting alongside a secluded rocky coastline. Before returning to the hotel, take the opportunity to enjoy the sun-baked golden sands of Haeundae Beach. Stay: Commodore Hotel (or similar). B.

Day 10: Busan to Gyeongju This morning begin your journey by road to Gyeongju – the ancient capital city of the Silla Kingdom. On the way stop to visit coastal Ulsan Daewangam Park famed for its pine forest, Ulgi Lighthouse and Daweangam Island which is connected to the mainland by an iron bridge. Upon arrival in Gyeongju head to Tumuli Park which has given rise to Gyeongju being described as an open air museum as the park is home to a large number of grassy burial mounds. You will also visit the Gyeongju National Museum and Cheomseongdae Observatory, the oldest existing astronomical observatory in Asia. End the day at the beautiful Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond which is spectacularly lit in the evening. Stay: Commodore Hotel (or similar). B, D.

Day 11: Gyeongju to Seoul Before journeying to Seoul, you will visit two UNESCO World Heritage sites; Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple, considered a masterpiece of Buddhist art in the Far East and a religious architectural complex of exceptional significance. After the tour, head to the station for your rail transfer back to Seoul. This evening sit down to watch a Nanta show – a unique non-verbal comedy show that debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Stay: Fraser Place Namdaemun (or similar). B.

Day 12: Seoul Your final day is a real highlight of the tour. From Seoul, the group will transfer to Paju, a city in the far north of South Korea. From here you'll embark on a tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a truly surreal yet captivating experience. This two-and-a-half-mile wide and 155-mile-long buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea was established following the 1953 ceasefire in the Korean War, and is today controlled by the United Nations. Your first stop is Imjingak Park, home to several Korean War memorials and even a tiny amusement park. From the park’s observation platform, you’ll be able to see the Bridge of Freedom; famously the route home for many released prisoners following the end of the war. The tour will continue by coach, passing through Unification Village – a small village set up to maintain peace on the border – and past the ultra-modern Dorasan train station that’s served by trains from Seoul that can proceed no further north. The coach will then head up to the peak of Mount Dora. It's from here that you’ll overlook North Korea and the fascinating ‘settlement’ of Kijong-dong, referred to as ‘propaganda village’. If you want to, head underground to explore the Third Infiltration Tunnel, one of four known tunnels that pass under the border and which were dug up by the North Koreans to infiltrate an attack on the south. For those not afraid of enclosed spaces, you can descend even deeper into the tunnel to find the spot where the North and South meet. (In the event of this tour not being available, you’ll return to Seoul where you’ll have some time at leisure.) You will then return to Seoul and visit Namdaemun Market, which is the largest traditional market in South Korea and the perfect place to pick up a souvenir. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with the group. Stay: Fraser Place Namdaemun (or similar). B, D.

Day 13: Seoul Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the UK. B.


Stay longer

Highlights of South Korea can be easily combined with our both our Essential China and Essential Japan tours.

ABOUT THIS TOUR

Is this for you?

With an intriguing recent history and long-held traditions, South Korea is perfect if you’re looking for something a little different in Asia.

Good to know

• For guests over 16 (unless travelling on a private journey, where the minimum age is 12)
• Average group size of 12 guests
• A maximum of 16 guests
• Journey times do not take into account stops or traffic conditions
• We recommend travelling with no more than one suitcase and one day bag
• A good level of fitness is required
• Tipping is not expected in South Korea

What to expect

• Special diets, including vegetarianism and gluten free, are not widely understood and cannot be adequately provided for in South Korea
• There are no porters in South Korea so you will be expected to handle your own luggage on and off the trains
• Passports need to be taken on the tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
• Depending on current security conditions, tours of the DMZ can be subject to alterations or cancellations at short notice. The DMZ tour does not operate on Mondays or public holidays.
• This tour is not suitable for those with walking difficulties
• Please be aware that the DMZ tour includes a visit into the Third Infiltration Tunnel – this is not recommended for those with fears of confined and enclosed spaces

Accommodation on tour

Having developed rapidly in recent years, hotels here tend to combine international standards with a touch of local character. We’ve selected quality hotels that offer plenty of facilities, but which are also conveniently accessible to the cities if you’re keen to experience more of the local culture. In Seoul, you’ll stay in the city’s main shopping district while in Busan, your hotel is located close to the golden sands of the city's famous Haeundae Beach.

Solo travellers

Sole-use room from £3932

Is this for you?

With an intriguing recent history and long-held traditions, South Korea is perfect if you’re looking for something a little different in Asia.

Good to know

• For guests over 16 (unless travelling on a private journey, where the minimum age is 10)
• Average group size of 8 guests
• A maximum of 16 guests
• Journey times do not take into account stops or traffic conditions
• We recommend travelling with no more than one suitcase and one day bag
• A good level of fitness is required
• Tipping is not expected in South Korea

What to expect

• Special diets, including vegetarianism and gluten free, are not widely understood and cannot be adequately provided for in South Korea
• There are no porters in South Korea so you will be expected to handle your own luggage on and off the trains
• Passports need to be taken on the tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
• Depending on current security conditions, tours of the DMZ can be subject to alterations or cancellations at short notice. The DMZ tour does not operate on Mondays or public holidays.
• This tour is not suitable for those with walking difficulties
• Please be aware that the DMZ tour includes a visit into the Third Infiltration Tunnel – this is not recommended for those with fears of confined and enclosed spaces

Accommodation on tour

Having developed rapidly in recent years, hotels here tend to combine international standards with a touch of local character. We’ve selected quality hotels that offer plenty of facilities, but which are also conveniently accessible to the cities if you’re keen to experience more of the local culture.

Solo travellers

Sole-use room from £3932

DATES AND INCLUSIONS

Tour dates

2020 Oct 23

Included in price

• Quality accommodation
• Insightful local tour leaders
• Hand-picked itineraries
• Flexible arrival times
• Small groups
• Meals where most convenient (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
• All specified flights

Upgrade your tour

Private tour Upgrade to a private tour with a local tour leader on the same itinerary, departing on the date of your choice from £5371 per person.

Tour dates

2021 Apr 3; May 15; Sep 25; Oct 23

2022 Apr 2; May 14; Sep 24; Oct 22

Included in price

• Quality accommodation
• Insightful local tour leaders
• Hand-picked itineraries
• Flexible arrival times
• Small groups
• Meals where most convenient (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
• All specified flights

Upgrade your tour

Private tour Upgrade to a private tour with a local tour leader on the same itinerary, departing on the date of your choice from £5371 per person.

Kuoni highlights

South Korea is unlike anywhere else in the world and with tensions easing, now is the time to see many of the nation’s iconic highlights. You’ll stay in its bustling capital and experience a trip into the DMZ, and you’ll visit a historic UNESCO-listed fortress. There’s also a real focus on the nation’s unique food scene; sample local delicacies in ‘rice cake alley’, join a hands-on cooking class in Seoul and try the Korean pastime of Chimaek in Suwon.

Kuoni highlights

Marvel at women divers Watch in wonder as these legendary women divers go through their pre-diving ritual before they dive into the water without any breathing equipment and bring back their catch.

Get a taste of history Take a pedicab ride through the historic Bukchon Hanok Village and enjoy the sights of the traditional houses and local life.

Find serenity at Wolji Pond Visit Donggung Palace and the "pond that reflects the moon" at night to see the palace beautifully lit and reflected in Wolji Pond.