14Mar

No – this isn’t Rome, it’s one of Korea’s many cafes that seem to have been MADE for instagram – there are so many for you to add to your Ultimate Korea Bucket List!

If you know anything about me, it’s that I have the worst case of FOMO you’ve probably ever encountered. Because of this, whenever I go to a new destination, I obsessively plan everything out so that there’s no chance that I miss the opportunity to do something, especially if it’s seasonal. So when I moved to South Korea to teach English for a year, I went full type A and made a list of everything I needed to do in the calendar year, fittingly naming the note in my phone: The Ultimate Korea Bucket List.

Whether you’re living in Korea for a year to teach English, or simply trying to decide the best time of year to visit, I’ve decided to publish this Ultimate Korea Bucket List for your convenience. It isn’t a travel itinerary, and is definitely geared to people who are either studying or teaching here for a year! After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to live somewhere for a full year, and not take full advantage of it? For convenience’s sake, I’ve started with September, as that’s when most English teachers arrive to Korea, but feel free to skip to whatever month you’re arriving (or visiting!) in. Let’s dive right in.

The Ultimate Korea Bucket List:

Whether you’re living in Korea for a year to teach English, or simply trying to decide the best time of year to visit, I’ve decided to publish this Ultimate Korea Bucket List for your convenience. It isn’t a travel itinerary, and is definitely geared to people who are either studying or teaching here for a year! After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to live somewhere for a full year, and not take full advantage of it? For convenience’s sake, I’ve started with September, as that’s when most English teachers arrive to Korea, but feel free to skip to whatever month you’re arriving (or visiting!) in. Let’s dive right in.

The Ultimate Korea Bucket List:

September

Exploring your new home!

Because you’re probably just settling in as an English teacher or a student, chances are you won’t be super adventurous, as you’ll be so preoccupied with surviving your first month in Korea. In light of this, I just suggest doing some of the main tourist attractions in the city that you’re living in. This also helps you familiarize yourself with public transportation and build confidence in doing things alone. Whether it be Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, or a smaller city in Korea, there are lots of things to do no matter where you are.

Personally, I chose a job in Busan so that I could live in a city and be by the ocean, and I’ve not regretted my decision once! My first month, I Hiked the Igidae Coastal Trail, visited Gamcheon Culture Village and explored the famous temple by the sea, Haedong Yonggungsa. I hauled my tripod with me, as I hadn’t made friends yet, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me!

Chuseok Holiday

*** Also something to note is that the Korean Thanksgiving holiday (called Chuseok) happens in September, and I had a 5 day weekend! This would be my third longest break as an English teacher, and even though I didn’t have friends, I made the trek up to Seoul and explored on my own! I took advantage of this time to wear a Hanbok on a traditional Korean holiday – and wearing a Hanbok is, in and of itself, an item that should be on your Korea Bucket List! Traveling alone was very freeing, empowering, and a travel opportunity that shouldn’t be missed if you have holidays off at your job or school. If you’re based in Seoul, Consider coming to Busan, as the weather would still be warm enough to relax on the beach!

Another great location to spend Chuseok during September is Jeju, as the flights are cheap and the weather is still definitely warm enough to lounge on the beach and play in the crystal clear water.

 

October

Ulsanbawi hike – Seoraksan National Park

If you’re into hiking, October in Korea is a dream. if you’re not into hiking, it’s still a dream and you’re just going to have to give hiking another try! The main hike that I was dead set on doing was the Ulsanbawi hike in Seoraksan national park. It is a beast of a hike, and although not long, was straight up stairs the entire time. The view at the end, was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in Korea, and if you have the opportunity to take a weekend and spend in in Seoraksan National Park, it will be well worth your time.

Nami Island

Another thing I knocked out in the same weekend, was visiting Nami Island. Since, I’ve been two more times, and although I’m a bit “Nami’d” out, it is still a really special place to see, especially in the fall. The Ginko trees (all the little leaves that I have all over my blog are Ginko leaves!) turn Neon yellow, and although I went to early for the leaves to be covering the ground as well as the trees (timing is tricky!) it was still an incredible day trip.

I took a tour with the company Enjoy Korea (the best tour company in Korea ever), and we knocked out Nami and Ulsanbawi in the same weekend. They made it very accessible and they’re definitely something to check out if you want to take all these adventures but are intimidated by logistics.

Daedunsan Hike – Cloud Bridge

A hike that I was dying to do in October was Daedunsan Mountain. They have an incredible suspension ladder as well as a suspension bridge they’ve nicknamed “The cloud bridge”. The fall foliage that time of year is absolutely incredible, but by the time I had a free weekend to visit, the trees were already bare and It didn’t seem worth it. I’m still hoping to get this hike checked off the ultimate Korea Bucket list before I leave, but the weather is warming up and it’s not looking like it’s going to happen!

November

Naejangsan National Park

This is something that you’d want to accomplish either in October or early November, as the main draw for this is, once again, the fall foliage. Once again, figuring out the transport logistics would’ve been crazy, but I looked into it and there were tons of tours offering day trips from my city! Defnitely check out Viator for some affordable options if this is something you want to do. I didn’t end up making the trip, and I’m kicking myself for it, as I won’t be staying another year!

It’s definitely hard to fit in everything you want to do, and while I did my best there’s still boxes left unticked 🙁 Do a better job at planning than me!

Temple Stay 

Another perfect thing to do as the weather is cooling off but before it gets too freezing, is to attend a temple stay. Living with real Buddhist monks for 2 days and going through their daily routine is an incredible experience that you shouldn’t miss!

I have yet to do this, and summer is approaching, so I’m definitely going to be sweating profusely for my two days, as I’m not entirely certain of the state (or existence) of the air conditioning in Buddhist temples to be completely honest.

Still, it’s something I’m not willing to leave Korea without doing, so I will complete this tick this item off the Ultimate Korea Bucket List and report back shortly. Stay tuned.

December

Christmas Break

Chances are, you have at least a week off for your Christmas break. What you do with this is completely up to you! Because I was visiting while there was still a mandatory 14 day quarantine upon entry to Korea (meaning I couldn’t leave the country during my holidays:( , I didn’t venture too far! Again, I was based in Busan, and had only been to Seoul once, so I used this time to really explore Seoul deeper than I had been able to over Chuseok. Oh, and I had friends with me this time, which definitely made things better!

One thing that I didn’t get to do that you should NOT miss is to visit the DMZ! you can actually set foot inside North Korea, and I’ve heard great things about the tours – plus you get bragging rights LOL!

Use this time to either travel somewhere tropical, or if you want to stay in Korea, go somewhere new! There are plenty of cities left for you to explore, or even day trips to be taken from your home city. December is a choose your own adventure kinda month!

January and February

Lunar New Year

Obviously, South Korea has some pretty brutal winters. There’s not that much that you can comfortably do in January, besides trying out lots of new restaurants, going to all the aesthetic cafes that Korea has to offer, or going to different exhibits and galleries! There’s nothing pressing for you to do in January, to be quite honest, except towards the end! Typically, the Lunar New Year holiday falls towards the end of January or the beginning of February, and most schools give you a long, typically 4 day weekend. With this short little holiday theres a few things I suggest you doing:

Garden of the Morning Calm

This is probably the best place to see Christmas Lights in all of South Korea! The Garden of the Morning Calm is the biggest private Garden to put on a light show like this, and although the weather at night when the lights turn on is absolutely freezing, all you need to do is grab some spiked hot chocolate to keep you warm while you take in the beauty! It really feels like you’ve fallen into a magical fairy forest with all the lights everywhere. It’s something I’m really glad I didn’t miss!

Ski Resort

Korea is famous for being an extremely mountainous country, and between that and the brutal winters, it makes for some really excellent skiing and snowboarding! There are many to choose from, but I personally went to YongPyong Ski resort through a tour company, and it made getting there and renting gear super easy! I had never snowboarded before, but they gave me a small lesson and the bunny slopes made it really easy to learn!

YongPyong has a few olympic hills that you should definitely try out if you get the chance, and regardless of you’ve ever done anything like that before, I think it’s definitely worth a shot while you’re in the country.

March

Weekend Trip

While the weather is still pretty cold in March, you’ll probably get a fake little spring where you get a really warm weekend! When I was here in March, we took advantage of that by going to Daegu for the first time, and it was awesome! It’s definitely important to get out of your comfort zone and go experience something a little different from the usual routine, so I say take as many weekend trips as you can while living in Korea! Whether you visit Pohang, Daejeon, Daegu, Busan, or even Seoul for a weekend, the odds of you coming back to Korea after your study abroad or your teaching contract are probably slim so it’s important that you don’t let opportunities like this slip by.

Jjimjilbang

Another thing that’s perfect for the tail end of winter is going to a Jjimjilbang. a Jjimjilbang is a traditional Korean bathhouse, where there are loads of different saunas, pools, hot tubs, and areas for you to relax. The real kicker of these bathhouses is that you generally have to strip naked for them! Although it sounds intimidating, it’s just the way things are done so no one really looks twice.

If you happen to be in or near Busan, there is a massive Jjimjilbang in Centum City called Spaland, where they have at least ten different sauna rooms made of different materials, ranging from mosaic tile to pink Himalayan salt blocks. They have cold plunge pools and hot tubs, and you can even pay a little extra to get scrubbed head to toe. This activity is perfect for winter, as it’s super relaxing, it warms you up, and it adds in a little self care during the months that are a little bit extra hard on all of us.

April

Jinhae cherry blossom festival

Without a doubt, the greatest thing to do in South Korea, and maybe top item on the Ultimate Korea Bucket List, is to see the cherry blossoms come to life. There are so many different places you can do this, and there are incredible places to view the cherry blossoms, especially in major cities like Seoul and Busan, but if you’re committed to the cause, the 100%, hands-down, best place to see these gorgeous flowers is by attending the famous Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.

I’ve never quite seen something like that in my life, and while it was very crowded, everyone was very respectful of everyone else’s photos and experiences, and there were so many iconic places to capture views of the cherry blossoms. If you can make it happen, as it is fairly out of the way, definitely do so; you won’t regret it.

May

Biseulsan Azalea festival in Daegu

Although I missed my chance to visit this festival, I’ve heard incredible things about it! Flowers in South Korea are absolutely no joke, and during the springtime, it seems as if every two weeks another gorgeous flower seems to overwhelm the entire country, and in May, azaleas blanket not only the countryside but also the cities. There are a few mountains just outside of Daegu that are completely covered in azalea shrubs, and for two weeks in the beginning of may, it turns the mountains completely purple.

Still kicking myself for missing this one, but it is truly an incredible sight to see if you get the chance!

Buddha’s birthday

Another absolute TREAT that happens in South Korea during the month of May is Buddha’s birthday. It is a national holiday and a nearly month long celebration, where cities hang up lanterns along major roads and Buddhist temples absolutely COVER the grounds with scaffolding that makes it seem as though you’re walking through tunnels that are made completely of colorful lanterns. Wherever you are in Korea, be sure to visit your local Buddhist temple to partake in the festivities, but if you happen to be in Seoul or Busan this month, some of the best temples to see are Beomosa, Samgwangsa, and Jogyesa.

June

Beoseong green tea fields

One of the greatest things I go to see in Korea, and definitely something that you should add to your ultimate Korea Bucket List, regardless of how far away it may be from you, is to see the Green Tea Plantation in Boseong. You can see these mountains covered in lush green tea bushes between the months of late May to August, although I recommend going in the first few weeks of June before the intense heat that is so characteristic of Korean summers rolls in. All the different shades of green were just absolutely LUSH, and as my favorite color is green, I was living my very best life.

Obviously, be sure to try not only the green tea itself, but also the green tea ice cream, and whatever you do, ~DON’T~ skip out on the green tea churros.

Temple Stay

Another thing you should be sure to tick off your list before leaving Korea is participating in a temple stay. You can do this at most Buddhist temples for a fairly inexpensive price, and I’ve heard it’s some of people’s absolute favorite things to do while in the country. Apparently it’s a really eye opening experience: getting to participate in rituals and Tai Chi and having tea with Buddhist Monks sounds like an unforgettable experience, and while I haven’t been able to experience it just yet, I’m hoping to squeeze it into the three months that I have left in South Korea – and if I do I will be sure to update you!

July and August

Beaches and Boats

If you aren’t already familiar with the climate in South Korea, the summers are SWELTERING. The humidity is very high, and some parts of the country get unusually hot. It’s difficult to do a lot of things outside, unless you’re at a beach – so that is just what you should do during the summer. It definitely helps if you’re living somewhere that you have access to a beach, but if not, be sure to make the most of your weekends by traveling to places that do! Take surf lessons, go paddle boarding, or my personal favorite – charter a boat! As long as you have a big group, chartering boats in a place like Busan is very simple, and it’s a fun, inexpensive way to elevate your summer experience.

This is also another great time to visit Jeju island! Crystal blue water, waterfalls, more green tea fields, and pristine beaches can be found all over the island of Jeju, and if you’re not traveling internationally for your summer vacation from work or school, Jeju is the perfect place to unwind and relax.

That concludes the Ultimate Korea Bucket List!

Of course, there are endless things to do in South Korea – especially if you’re really into hiking! I don’t have a lot of hikes on this list, because although I am very into hiking, I know a lot of people aren’t! And I haven’t found many friends that also enjoy hiking so that’s definitely put a damper on my exploration of the mountains here. Additionally, there are so many more smaller cities that have so many hidden gems that are just waiting to be discovered.

Whether you’re trying to decide what month to visit South Korea, or trying to figure how to maximize your time as an English teacher or a student living here for a year, hopefully this comprehensive bucket list helps organize your schedule and gives you ideas for how to explore this lovely country.

Authors

Emma is a lover of beautiful things, adventure travel, learning new languages, and Lady Gaga. She finished a year of living in South Korea and 3 months backpacking Southeast Asia!