Compact South Korea
Our eight day Compact South Korea holiday makes the most of SK's efficient high-speed rail network to offer a comprehensive introduction to this underexplored slice of Asia, from the bright lights of Seoul to the temples and tombs of Gyeongju.
At a glance
- Tuck into bibimbap on Seoul’s side streets
- Gaze out over the city from N Seoul tower
- Get close to history in the Demilitarized Zone
- Walk through Gyeongju in the footsteps of kings
- Step from seafood stalls to skyscrapers in Busan
Seoul - 3 nights
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a sprawling metropolis that, like Tokyo, has enjoyed rapid post war expansion and is now one of the most densely populated cities in the world. A 24-hour metropolis of glittering skyscrapers, searing neon and K-pop culture, Seoul also holds the rich history of an ancient and traditional city, where Buddhist temples, Joseon dynasty palaces and wooden ‘hanok’ houses share the space. Weave through the night bars and eateries of one of Asia’s ‘cities that never sleep’, and feed the next morning’s weary body with a comforting bowl of bibimbap.
Day 1 - Arrive Seoul
On arrival in South Korea, you'll be met by your private guide, who will accompany you to your Seoul hotel.
Welcome to Selective Asia! This level of personal service (such as private transfers, private tours etc) is what you can expect throughout your trip. A few services (eg boat cruises) will be shared, but we'll always make sure you're aware of these.
The rest of your day is at leisure to start scoping out the best spots for dinner and drinks.
Day 2 - 'Old & New' city tour
Sample Seoul’s key highlights with your guide, travelling in local style on the subway. Start at the imposing Gyeongbokgung Palace for a behind-the-scenes glance at the royal guards in traditional costume, rehearsing before the morning’s changing ceremony. Walk ten minutes to the contrasting Bukchon Hanok Village: home to around 900 Joseon dynasty homes, built using wood and clay, with their distinctive curved roofs. Stroll through the narrow streets, stopping for a famed bibimbap one-pot wonder lunch. Visit UNESCO-listed Jongmyo Shrine (Korea’s oldest and best preserved royal Confucian shrine) to see the ‘spirit tablets’ of ancient kings and queens. In the early evening, head out with your guide to get panoramic sunset views from N Seoul Tower - the highest point in the city. With your mind full of Seoul’s wonders, return to your hotel where your evening will be at leisure.
Day 3 - DMZ tour, bibimbap cooking class
Head out early for or a tour of Korea’s infamous DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). Created in 1953 to separate the North from the South, and location of the landmark leaders’ meeting in May 2018, this 160 mile strip of land is the most heavily militarised border in the world. Get an introduction to the DMZ and its history in the briefing room before boarding an official bus to be guided through this highly sensitive area. Stop at the Bridge of Freedom, crossed following the signing of the Armistice Agreement, and visit the fascinating (and slightly surreal) Third Tunnel of Aggression under the DMZ that was built by the North, apparently in preparation for an attack. In the afternoon, learn how to cook colourful one-bowl bibimbap under the watchful eye of an experienced local chef. With a full belly, return to your hotel where the rest of your day will be at leisure.
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Gyeongju - 2 nights
Often referred to as South Korea’s cultural heart, Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla dynasty for close to a thousand years and contains more temples, tombs, pagodas and palaces than anywhere else in the country. The area is well known for its abundance of ‘tumuli’ (huge grassy mounds under which lie ancient royal tombs from the Silla era), and the 7th century Cheomseongdae Observatory is reputedly the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia.
Day 4 - Train to Gyeongju, cave temple, Bulguksa Temple
Take the KTX Express train to Gyeongju, and head straight to Seokguram Grotto on Mount Toham, overlooking the sea. This UNESCO-listed cave temple houses a 11.5 feet tall, seated Buddha made from white granite, and other incredibly well preserved sculptures. Walk back downhill to the unusual, 6th-century Bulguksa Temple - a complex of wooden halls, pagodas and shrines built on raised stone terraces, which is still a practising place of worship and home to Buddhist monks. Following an insightful tour, continue to your hotel where the remainder of your day is at leisure.
Day 5 - Gyeongju temples, tombs & historic sites
Start your tour at Daereungwon Tomb Complex (also known as Tumuli Park), where over two dozen large tombs, said to hold ancient kings, can be found. Step inside Cheonmachong tomb, the origin of astonishing treasures including a gold crown, to see impressive wall paintings of horses. Move on to the 7th century Cheomseongdae Observatory, reputedly the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia, then on again to Banwolseong, the site of the palace fortress during the Silla dynasty, and now an attractive park area with a handful of atmospheric ruins. The nearby Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond were originally part of the palace complex, and a treasure-trove of ancient relics, from exquisit roof tiles to gilt bronze Buddha figures, have been discovered beneath the waters. Finally, stroll through Gyeongju’s excellent National Museum, viewing archaeological treasures and royal artefacts that bring South Korea's history to life.
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Busan - 2 nights
Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, is famed for its beaches and seafood, and frequently referred to as ‘Seoul by the sea’. Though rich with historic sites, buzzing markets, ultra-modern high rise architecture and plenty of chic soju bars, Busan enjoys a more laid back vibe than its capital cousin in the north. Head to Haeundae beach and try some fresh seafood snacks, or marvel at the colourfully illuminated suspension bridge across the bay from Gwangalli sands, before finding peace amid the city’s temples and enjoying a night on the town.
Day 6 - Drive to Busan via underwater tomb & observatory
Depart south towards Busan, making stops along the coast as you go. Pause to explore the Underwater Tomb of King Munmu where Silla’s ancient ruler requested his ashes to be scattered on the offshore rocks, believing he would transform into a sea dragon able to protect the country’s coastline. Pass the dramatic Jusangjeolli rock formations:unusual hexagonal-shaped, columns created by volcanic lava. In the seaside town of Ulsan, visit the Observatory from where you can enjoy views over the sea, the city and its famous Hyundai Motor plant. Arrive in Busan and spend the rest of your day at leisure exploring the town’s waterside buzz.
Day 7 - Tour of Busan’s highlights
Set out early for Beomeosa Temple on the picturesque slopes of Mt. Geumjeongsan to explore this designated National Treasure, still home to around 150 monks, and soak up the tranquil atmosphere. In contrast, your next stop is the Jagalchi Fishery Market: a noisy, frantic place full of a mind-blowing array of freshly caught seafood, where you can stop for lunch at an eatery recommended by your local guide. Pause at BIFF Square, the original location for the prestigious Busan International Film Festival, then take a high-speed lift up the 390-feet high Busan Tower to enjoy panoramic views over the city. Your last stop of the day is Taejongdae, where you can stand on the rocky clifftops and gaze across the sea towards Japan’s Tsushima Islands.
Day 8 - Fly out from Seoul
Spend the morning at leisure in Busan, until it’s time to catch the KTX Express train to Seoul for your onward flight.
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We only provide privately guided holidays - meaning that you will not be expected to share guides or transport for the duration of your visit. You can also start on any day you choose.
Please click on the hotel category buttons below to view hotel details. These are recommended properties only - we have many alternative options for you to choose from if you would prefer. You can mix hotel categories throughout your holiday.
|Hotel class||Price per person (based on total # travelling)|
|2 persons||3 - 4||5 - 6|
Crown Park HotelThe Crown Park is a hotel with the feel good factor, as part of its profits are reinvested in providing scholarships for Korean students, through the Kwanjeong Educational Foundation... See more
Gyeongju GG HotelThe Gyeongju GG Hotel enjoys a central location near the tumuli park region, within walking distance of shops and restaurants. See more
Ibis Ambassador BusanThis is an ideal choice if your goal is to get out and explore the city of Busan. It’s reasonably priced and centrally located, without all the bells and whistles of the more costly city hotels... See more
Courtyard Marriott Namdaemun HotelThis contemporary city hotel boasts one of the best locations in Seoul for travellers wishing to visit attractions such as Namdaemun Gate and the Seoul Museum of Art. A short walk from the nearest metro... See more
Commodore HotelThe Commodore makes a comfortable base for exploring the historical city of Gyeongju, boasting an enviable location on the edge of Lake Bomun, within easy access of the Silla tombs and Gyeongju’s other historic sites... See more
Avani Central Busan
Newly opened in 2019, the Avani Central Busan offers excellent value for money...See more
The ShillaThe Shilla’s location in a quiet area of the bustling city of Seoul couldn’t be more convenient and is one of its many appealing factors. The hotel may be set within Jangchungdan Park... See more
Hilton GyeongjuWhat makes the Hilton Gyeongju stand apart from its competition is its focus on art. The expansive lobby showcases a dramatic Miró canvas stretched right across it; artworks grace the walls ... See more
Paradise Hotel BusanThis large, luxury hotel certainly lives up to its name. There’s the sands of Haeundae Beach on its doorstep, a dedicated play areas for kids, a casino for the high-rollers, and an infinity pool with ocean views... See more
Solo travellers are always welcome - please contact us for a tailored quote.
These prices are shown in GBPUSD.
Selective Asia is a UK-registered company, but our client-base spans the globe, so we bank in both GBP and USD and can therefore provide a fixed price in either currency.
We also have payment facilities in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the EU, and can typically offer better-than-bank exchange rates on the date of payment in these currencies (against a booking priced in GBP).
Whilst many clients are happy with of our recommended itineraries in the current form (and at the price quoted), there are those that wish to personalise their holiday in some way, whether it be a change of hotel, an additional destination or even start from scratch. This is when our tailor-made specialists come into their own; with many years of experience both living and working in the region they are ideally equipped to advise on alternatives and to facilitate any necessary changes.
The important stuff
Please note: South Korean hotel contracts are extremely seasonal in comparison to most of their Asian counterparts and therefore you should expect surcharges at various times of the year, including weekends, not just festive periods. Your consultant will be happy to advise you of these.
- English speaking, local guide
- All accommodation listed
- Land transportation by private air-conditioned vehicles
- Any domestic flights listed (unless marked otherwise)
- Any train journeys listed (unless marked otherwise)
- All admission fees at attractions, temples and activities as mentioned in the itinerary
- All meals listed (B: Breakfast, L: lunch, D: Dinner)
- International flight reconfirmation.
- Flights to/from Asia. We are an ATOL bonded operator and can arrange flights for all our clients, regardless of whether you are departing from the UK or from almost any other worldwide destination.
- Entry visas
- International airport departure taxes
- Any meals not listed in the itinerary
- Drinks, other than water on activity days
- Personal expenses (laundry, telephone, drinks, tip...)
- Travel insurance
- All other services not listed in 'inclusive'
Please note: All prices are correct at the time of publishing. They are liable to change and can only be confirmed upon submitting an enquiry.
FlightsWe will arrange all internal flights used within our holiday itineraries. We can also arrange discounted flights from all UK airports to Asia and we are a fully bonded ATOL operator. If you would like a quote for your international flights then please complete the required section on the enquiry form.
VisaYou will not require a visa to enter South Korea. Your consultant will be happy to advise you on visa requirements.
PassportPlease ensure that you have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity remaining after your return date. You will also need at least one blank page for each of the countries you are visiting.
InsuranceYou will require a comprehensive travel insurance that covers you for medical costs associated with hospitalisation, emergency travel and repatriation back to your home country. We offer our customers a specially discounted insurance policy, ideally suited to the needs that a trip such as this creates. Tick the insurance box in the enquiry form and we will send you a quote to suit your needs.
Vaccinations and Malaria PreventionYou will undoubtedly require vaccinations for your visit to Asia. Please consult your doctor or a vaccination clinic for the most up-to-date advice. They will also be able to advise you of the most suitable anti-malarial medication if required. It is important that you do this well in advance of your departure date.
Booking ProcedureOnly once you are completely happy with any holiday itinerary we create for you will we ask for a payment. In order that we can secure availability for your booking we would typically require a deposit of 20%.
Travelling ResponsiblyWe care about the places and the communities that you will travel through. It is important to us that we travel as responsibly as possible throughout Asia and that we are giving something back to the regions and the people that make these journeys so special. Full details on our approach to responsible travel can be found on a dedicated section of this website.
Our tailor-made service costs you no extra
This itinerary is designed to work straight off the peg, but we'll happily tailor it until it's a perfect fit for you, to ensure we’re making the absolute best of your time and funds. All you need to do is ask...
Your own private guides & drivers
You'll typically have your own private guides & drivers throughout your trip. When you will be sharing a service (eg a boat cruise) with others, we'll always let you know.