Bukhansan National Park
What The most-visited national park in the world (the most visitors per square foot, anyway) is mountain-peaked and blanketed with trees, and has hikers coming from all over to traverse its pine-covered pathways.
Where Bukhansan is just 25 minutes by subway from Seoul Station to Gireum Station or 35 minutes to Gupabal, followed by a 20-minute bus ride. You won’t believe you’re so close to Seoul’s hundred-storey skyscrapers.
Go for Gorges, awe-inspiring slabs of granite, neat Buddhist temples, ancient fortress remains, crystalline brooks, and views of the faraway city in miniature.
Don’t forget To set the alarm. Take advantage of the park’s most undisturbed hours to hike before the hottest hours of the day and explore the mountains at their quietest.
What about eats? There’s nothing to buy in the park itself so pack a picnic lunch. After a wearying day of hiking, settle in for a feast of Korean comforts at Cheongsujang restaurant, specialising in Korean barbecue and located right at the park’s entrance.
What With a population just topping one million, Yongin is a less hectic Seoul. The main draw here, though, are the thrills. There are ’coasters at Everland, water slides at Caribbean Bay and movie sets at Daejanggeum Park, an outdoor film studio where several Korean period dramas have been shot.
Where Just southeast of Seoul, 35 minutes by car, metropolitan buses or the Bundang Line subway.
Go for The Korean Folk Village, where you are free to roam among old-world Korean homes in a reconstructed historical hamlet, with traditional dance and costumes. It’s like diving headfirst into a history book of traditional Korean culture.
Don’t forget Everland is Korea’s largest amusement park featuring T Express: the world’s steepest wooden rollercoaster.
What about eats? It’s not just the Japanese who eat sushi – stop off for a bite at O and Sushi for dainty sashimi elegantly assembled on wooden platters.
What A tranquil half-moon-shaped island for lovers of gardens and wildlife, or just those looking for an Instagram opportunity.
Where Just 30 minutes from Seoul by ferry – but the adrenaline-hungry can get there by a hair-raising over-water zip line from Gapyeong. At 940 metres, it’s one of the longest in Asia.
Go for Intoxicating strolls through the elaborately named Garden of Morning Calm – thought to be Korea’s oldest park – and the Maple Lane of True Love, a tree-lined avenue slung with lanterns, best seen in the autumn.
Don’t forget Korea’s largest light festival, which blankets the island with countless multicoloured glittering lights glowing on snowy banks from winter to early spring.
What about eats? Go for a chilled-out vibe and local ingredients at the best Korean restaurant on Nami, Nammoon.
Pocheon Art Valley
What An abandoned granite quarry transformed into a kitsch artist’s haven. Sculptures are dotted around the park and there’s a viewing platform overlooking a mirror lake, framed by jagged, dramatic cliffs.
Where About an hour north of Seoul by car or via various group tours from the city.
Go for A meander between exhibits and murals from local artists, including enthralling sculptures, performances at indoor and outdoor concert halls, local stone creations, and crafts featuring mother-of-pearl inlay.
Don’t forget To craft your own souvenir at workshops throughout the park that offer lessons in soap-making, pottery and glass-blowing, among others.
What about eats? Grab some authentic Korean sharing plates on low wooden tables at Seokcheon Garden.
Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ)
What The 4km-wide demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, and possibly the latter’s most popular tourist attraction – though you’ll have to go with a tour group as visits to the site are with a guide only.
Where Just a few kilometres north of Seoul, accessible with safe and secure tour groups.
Go for A taste of adventure and the unknown, and a glimpse of the stoic enemy guards standing face to face at the Joint Security Area, as well as nature such as Asiatic black bears and overgrown grasslands and forest taking over the abandoned space.
Don’t forget To explore the infiltration tunnels near the Dora Observatory, built by North Korea following the peace treaty with the intention of springing a surprise attack.
What about eats? After a history-filled afternoon at the DMZ, sit back and satisfy your appetite with homemade Korean dishes such as tofu soup and bean curd stew at Tongil Village Jangdan Bean Restaurant.