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.

Busan and Beyond

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Is it really the end of June?

Clarissa and I have had a great month of exploring and making friends.

Our going to base routines have also changed. My friend Lingsze and her baby Hanna have started going to story time. They have a car and live in our building, so we have been riding with them. It makes my life so much easier because we go to the commissary after and I don’t have to worry about splitting my commissary run in half or bringing everything on the bus. Plus, Clarissa loves baby Hanna and I look forward to my Thursday morning with Lingsze.

Clarissa and I were invited to our first birthday party last week. Clarissa was a little clingy at first, but before we left she actually did the bouncy thing on her own for about twenty minutes! I was impressed.

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On Friday, we spent the day in Busan. Tim spent a lot of time there in his Air Force days, so we decided to check it out. We decided that we need to go back for a weekend or something because the things we wanted to see were pretty spread out so we didn’t get to everything in our day trip. Clarissa did really well considering she missed her nap that day!

We took the KTX train to Busan which took about 45 minutes. That seemed really short because when we go to Seoul it takes two hours. We went to Shinsegae Department Store in Centum City, the largest department store in the world. Department stores in Korea are really like malls in the USA. They have several different shops with different brands and a food court as well. This one actually had an ice rink near the food court.

The Smoothie King had tables that look like Tayo. Tayo is a little bus that has his own tv show with his friends. Clarissa loves that show so we had to take a picture. She actually posed for me!

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After lunch we took the subway to Haeundae Beach. Clarissa didn’t want to sit, so we ended up walking the length of our car and started talking to two guys. One is Canadian and the other is from Daegu but actually lives in Montreal. We walked to the beach with them.

Along the way someone was doing a photo shoot with balloons in front of a store. Clarissa of course wanted a balloon and I explained that she couldn’t have one. So a minute later as I am holding her walking down the street, she gets really happy and I realize that someone ran after us to give her a balloon. She of course wanted to hold this balloon herself, which I knew would be a problem. At one point on our walk, the balloon flew out of her hands and went into the street. She was upset but got over it. And as she is moving on, this lady runs up behind us to hand her said balloon.

We also saw this gem on the way to the beach.

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I have eaten at a Sharkey’s in Blacksburg, but I can’t remember if it is spelled like our last name or this way.

The beach was beautiful! We decided that we will go back for Clarissa’s birthday since tourist season runs from Tim’s birthday to hers.

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We probably spent half of our time at the boardwalk chasing after that balloon. It lasted the hour or so we were down there. I wasn’t paying attention when we grabbed a drink at GS25 and it touched the cold door. Pop!

 

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Since we were celebrating Tim’s birthday early, we went to an electronics market. He found what he was looking for and Clarissa enjoyed running from stall to stall and trying to touch all the buttons.

On Saturday morning we went to the Camp Walker Library to sign up for the summer reading program. Clarissa and I received matching shirts. She also got a book to go with the shirt. We decided to go out to Father’s Day dinner on Saturday night. Tim wanted Thai and so we tried an Asian Fusion restaraunt. It didn’t have a huge Thai menu, but it had a few things to try. Clarissa looked so grown up eating with us. She of course tried a pepper and that didn’t go very well. Rice is always a hit though.

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Last week Clarissa made Tim a Father’s Day card. On Sunday morning, I handed it to her to give to him. She took it and ran. She proceeded to take all of the stickers off of it. Later she handed him a wad of stickers, but no card. But we had a great morning playing at the playground with another dad and his son. Clarissa had a great time playing with the boy (four years old) and chasing after bubbles.

This week, Clarissa received a package in the mail. This truck is now her favorite toy. I took it out of the box on base because the box wouldn’t fit in my bookbag. She had to carry “man” on the train and the bus. Yesterday, he had to go down the slide. Today he went to story time.

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Clarissa had her first official play date on Tuesday. We met a little girl from story time at Burger King. The girls played well together at the playground and shared their French fries. I enjoyed chatting with her mom. The dads even got to meet at the end and get along well too. We set up another play date for next week.

We spent most of the morning at our playground yesterday. Clarissa and I played about an hour before a little girl and her puppy came outside. Clarissa enjoyed petting the puppy. Then, her friends from upstairs came out to play. We haven’t played with them since it was cold outside, but they had been in the States for two months. Clarissa had a great time playing with her friends. The girl is about two months older than Clarissa and the boy is three and a half. They played really well together for about an hour and a half. They would have played longer but it was nap time for all three of them. Silly mamas enforcing naptime…

Story time was crowded today, I guess because school is out. Clarissa has already earned two of the three prizes from the summer reading program. I guess we read a lot of books!

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