Seoul is a claustrophobic, frenzied must-see that will make your head spin. Catch your breath from Korea’s capital city with a day trip or two out of it: there are types to suit just about every mood. Here are three of the most popular.
For defense architecture nerds, head to Suwon, the capital of the Gyeonggi province that surrounds Seoul, to see Korea’s only remaining walled city. Stretching nearly 6 kilometers around Suwon and fortified with artillery towers, Hwaseong Fortress was built in the 1790s, when King Jeongjo moved his father’s tomb from Seoul to what he hoped would become Korea’s next capital. Today, Hwaseong Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site that features martial arts performances and royal guard ceremonies. Walk the perimeter and stop in at the fortress’s four gates, which face in each Cardinal direction. (If you’re short on time, the north gate Janganmun is the largest and most impressive.) Inside the fortress, be sure to check out Haenggung, the sprawling royal palace.
Getting there: To get to Hwaseong Fortress, take Seoul Subway Line 1, marked dark blue, to Suwon Station, then transfer to Bus 2, 7, 7-2, 8, or 13 and hop off at the Jongno 4-geori stop.
Known in Korea for its idyllic tree-lined paths, Namiseom, or Nami Island, draws lovers seeking romance — if you’re a Korean drama fan, you might recognize it for its popular scenes in Winter Sonata. Located about 60 kilometers northeast of Seoul on the North Han River, Nami Island is also home to a slew of adventure activities, including ziplining, waterskiing, and a shooting range. For those searching for something a little more low-key, there are art galleries and gardens, too.
Getting there: Nami Island is accessible by both bus and ferry. From Insadong (Jonggak Subway Station, exit 3) or Namdaemun (Sungnyemun Bus Stop) in Seoul, get on a shuttle bus. Or make your way to Gapyeong Bus Terminal, take a taxi to Namiseom parking lot, and hop on the ferry from there.
For a day trip to an alternate universe, there is the incomparable Demilitarized Zone. The buffer dividing the two Koreas, the DMZ was established at the end of the Korean War in 1953, and going there feels in some ways like stepping back in time — that is, if you ignore all the selfie sticks, goofy grins, and gift shop items. There are a number of sightseeing options along the border, but the most popular tour packages include the Joint Security Area, where North and South Korean soldiers face off, the Third Tunnel of Aggression, and Dorasan Subway Station. The third tunnel — there are four in total — gives visitors a tour inside of where the North infiltrated the South, and Dorasan shows off the transit line in place to connect the two countries should they ever reunite.
Getting there: The best way to access the DMZ is by booking a trip with a tour operator like JSA Tour. Make sure to wear nice clothes and bring your passport. Note that children under 10 are not allowed at Panmunjom, where the JSA is located.