Our top 10 places to visit in South Korea (with kids)

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We’ve lived in South Korea just shy of four years and have been on countless adventures (apparently I have 80 posts about Korea on this blog…) People always ask our favorite places to visit. Here is our top 10. Keep in mind that our entire time in South Korea, Clarissa has been five and under so a couple with no kids or teenagers may have a different list.

Please note that I am putting these in order based on location so that you could feasibly plan a trip from this list. Tim and I do think that if you did a trip to South Korea, this would give you a decent idea of cultural things though.

Seoul

There will be a post at some point about our favorite things in Seoul itself. But for now, these are our favorite places in South Korea that just happen to be in Seoul.

There are two neighborhoods that we really like and for different reasons. Hongdae (Hongik University Station exit 6) is very artsy and modern. You can buy lots of cute jewelry, art supplies, and gundam here in modern stores. On a visit there this fall, I got my ears pierced and we visited a bunny cafe.

My other favorite neighborhood is Insadong (Anguk Station or Junggak Station). It is another artsy area but very different. Here you can buy traditional pottery, silk scarves, wall paintings, and plenty of other Korean knick knacks. Some are in carts that only accept won and others are in stores that will take your credit card. While visiting this area, you can also let fish nibble the dead skin on your feet or visit a temple.

There are several different palaces in Seoul. Our favorite (and close to Insadong) is Gyeongbokgung Palace (Gyeongbokgung Station or Anguk Station). The palace grounds are huge and lovely. They even have a changing of the guard ceremony several times per day. The entrance fee is 3,000 won (less than $3 USD). If you want a different experience and to get in free, there are several shops nearby that will let you rent a traditional hanbok and walk around a few hours looking like a Korean princess.

Another cool place is visit is Olympic Park (Olympic Park Station or Mongchontoseong Station). You get to see all four seasons at this park so you may want to go more than once. There are several miles of walking trails, cool trees, monuments and sculptures, flags form all over the world, buildings from the Seoul Olympics in 1988, and even some playgrounds for the kids. If you get hungry or want to walk around in some air conditioning Lotte World Mall (didn’t make our top 10 but we do like it) is nearby and has plenty of options for eating, shopping, and a decent aquarium.

Korea has a large Buddhist population so there are temples all over the place. Many of them look similar and have architecture much like the palaces you may also visit. But, if you are going to visit a temple while visiting Seoul, we recommend Bongeunsa Temple (Bongeunsa Temple Station or Samseong Station). It is one of the largest temples that we have seen as it is a complex instead of just one building. It is pretty much across the street from Coex Mall (again not our top 10 but we like it) which also has some shopping, good food, and a decent aquarium.

Suwon and surrounding area

Clarissa refers to Hwaseong Fortress as the Great Wall of Korea. We were impressed that she did the three mile plus hike. There are several places to rest as you walk. I wouldn’t bring a stroller as you need to go up several flights of stairs, but a carrier would be fine. It isn’t a dangerous hike at all. There is a palace inside the wall, but it is not better than Gyeongbokgung that is listed above. There are several monuments and bells. There is a place to learn archery at certain times of day. You can get snacks at a convenience store. It is very pretty during certain times of year. At certain places on the wall you can see most of Suwon.

I went to several different folk villages in Korea and the best one is the Korean Folk Village in Yongin. We have been twice. There are several different houses and shops set up so that you can see how peasants and rich people and governors have lived in Korea over the years. Several times per day there are shows with horses, acrobats, or folk dancers. I grew up going to Jamestown and this was the closest thing I experienced to this. There is also a great Folk Museum that has exhibits from many countries around the world to see how indigenous peoples live. A small amusement park is attached. There is admission for the folk village and museum, and you can also add on rides at the amusement park or different experiences like pottery making for an additional cost. There is plenty of Korean food available for purchase as well.

On our first trip to the Folk Village, we went to Everland the next day. Everland is an amusement park with the same caliber rides as a Busch Gardens. There are different countries represented as well as food. Clarissa was only 2.5 so she was too small for all of the rides except Thomas the Train. But the real reason that we went there was the zoo! Admission to Everland will cover the zoo and the rides. But the zoo alone is worth the admission. It is the best zoo in South Korea because of the size and quality of the exhibits. It is also the only zoo in Korea that has pandas. There is a safari ride that takes you over land and water to see animals close up. You can also pay extra for a pony or camel ride.

If Clarissa was making this list, she would add Anseong Farmland to the Suwon and surrounding area. However, this would not be easily accessible by public transportation so it would really only be worth going if you already live in Korea and are planning to be in the Pyeongtaek area (Camp Humphreys or Osan).

Busan

People head to Busan for the beach. The water in South Korea is pretty cold in my opinion, but Busan has some very pretty beaches. Our favorite is Haeundae Beach. It is a very nice beach, but also very crowded during tourist season (July and August). You can see some pretty parks nearby or a sand castle festival in May. I like the contrast of the water with the tall buildings. There is an aquarium right on the beach, but you can skip it unless you have really young kids who need something to do.

Another cool temple is check out is Haedong Yonggungsa. You can take a bus near Haeundae Beach or you can take a taxi. It is a beautiful temple, on the side of a mountain and right on the water. There are plenty of statues and shrines inside it to see. We happened to go the week of Buddha’s birthday so it had special lanterns.

If you’re going to be in Busan and are looking for a fun park to go to with your kids, I would recommend Busan Citizen’s Park. There are so many beautiful plants and different playgrounds. Your kids will love it! It’s not super easy to get to with public transportation, so again, this would be great if you have a car.

Everland

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Tim lived in Korea ten years ago, so he has seen several things. He said that the best amusement part to go to is Everland. He claimed that the zoo alone made it worth the trip, and he was correct!

Thursday morning we woke up and headed downstairs to the breakfast buffet in our hotel. There were several options available. Some Korean flavors as well as more traditional western breakfast items.

Waze said it was a 30 minute drive to Everland from the hotel. The subway was 43 minutes, so we decided we would rather take the train and not have to deal with traffic or parking.

While switching subway lines, we had to take an elevator. It was the slowest elevator ever. We got there with several people and there wasn’t enough room for us that round. There are six minutes between trains, and it seriously took us longer than six minutes to wait for this elevator. It was two steep flights of stairs and the escalator was blocked in the middle so the stroller couldn’t go through. So we waited…

There was a shuttle bus to take guests from the bus and subway terminal to the gates of Everland. Tim ordered tickets at a discount ahead of time. On the train we realized that we forgot to bring them with us. Thankfully, the email had a barcode so that was all we needed to get in.

We attracted quite an audience while applying our sunscreen. A young college group thought that Clarissa was the cutest thing ever! They wanted to take pictures with her, but she refused. Not that she was happy about the sunscreen either.

The zoo is pretty close to the main entrance of the park. The first animals we saw were the pandas. They have two pandas at Everland and they just arrived in April so they were pretty popular. The line wasn’t horribly long though.

The girl panda is about five weeks older than Clarissa and was actually born on Tim’s birthday July 13, 2013. The boy panda was a year older and also a July birthday. They were resting when we got there because it was already at least 85 degrees. At the gift shop area, Clarissa chose a stuffed panda whom she named “baby Po” like Kung Fu Panda. She held that panda all day!

Next we went to see the birds. There were several different species including penguins and flamingos. There was even an enclosed bird area where you could pay 1,000 won (less than $1) for bird food and feed the birds yourself. Tim decided to try that. The birds did come right up to him and Clarissa really enjoyed watching the birds eat from his hand.

A lot of the larger animals we saw were asleep for lunchtime. The lions, tigers, seals, and sea lions were all visible but sleeping. The polar bear was awake though.

Then we went to monkey world. There were so many different kinds of monkeys! Clarissa was very excited about them.

After leaving the monkeys, there was a crowd of teenagers around a man holding a small animal. We were allowed to pet the fennec fox. Clarissa was very happy about this as well.

Next we saw more foxes, wallabies, and kangaroos at Ranch world before heading to my favorite part of the day, the safari. The line was about twenty minutes long, but so worth it! We climbed into a vehicle that could drive on land and water (reminded me of the duck boats in Boston). We saw camels, zebras, hippos, elephants, rhinos, and more.

A giraffe came right up to our vehicle and the tour guide fed it leaves through the window!

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By this time we were getting hungry. We weren’t thrilled with the menu at the first restaurant. While we were looking at the outdoor menu, Clarissa took a few leaves off a bush. When I looked at her she was trying to give them to her stuffed panda. “I’m feeding baby Po.”

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We decided to finish the zoo and head to lunch. There was one more bird area and a petting zoo. But it wasn’t really a petting zoo… You could pay to feed an animal with a long spoon. But you weren’t allowed to touch any animals.

Then I saw that you could pay to ride a pony or a camel. I got excited for Clarissa. She said she would ride the pony. We paid 5,000 won for our ticket and waited in line. She was fine until I accidentally called it a horse. When it was her turn, I tried to put her on the pony and she flipped out. But we were all hungry and it was naptime so it didn’t happen. Maybe after lunch or earlier in the day would have been better… Next time.

For those who are interested, camel rides are 7,000 won. I rode a camel through the desert once. Not very comfortable. But for five minutes is probably fun.

We were all in much better moods after lunch. The amusement park part of Everland reminds me of Busch Gardens with the different sections of continent themed rides and restaurants.

Clarissa was too short for most rides. But she was tall enough to ride the Thomas train around the magical garden.

All day long refused to smile for pictures but demanded that I take her picture with Percy.

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After that we decided to head back towards the hotel for dinner and some playtime before bed.

Of course, she had to open the door herself!

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