Following its miraculous development over the last 50 years, Korea is now a modernized vibrant nation that still maintains its traditional culture. Learn all about this fascinating country!
Often referred to as the “Land of the Morning Calm,” Korea has a population of over 48 million people and a cultural legacy that reaches back five millennia continues to thrive, re-energized by the vibrant Korean spirit and treasured by locals and visitors alike.
Nowhere is such history and tranquility more in evidence than at the nation's UNESCO World Heritage and Natural Heritage sites. More than landmarks, these sites mark the crossroads of nature, history and culture.
Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon
Engraved on 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248, the Tripitaka Koreana holds an important collection of Buddhist scriptures. The Temple of Haeinsa Janggyeong Panjeon, was masterfully constructed to preserve and house the woodblocks, which are also revered as exceptional works of art.
Changdeokgung Palace Complex
An exceptional example of Far Eastern palace architecture and design dating to the early 15th century, Changdeokgung Palace is ingeniously adapted to uneven topography in a setting of indigenous tree cover.
Gyeongju Historic Areas
Inspiring examples of Korean Buddhist art, including sculptures, reliefs, pagodas and the remains of temples and palaces, these areas bear testimony to the cultural achievements of the Silla dynasty, which ruled the Korean peninsula for nearly a thousand years.
Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong
The newest (2010) of Korea’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, Hahoe and Yangdong are historic clan villages that reflect the distinctive aristocratic Confucian culture of the early part of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Set in a landscape celebrated for its beauty by 17th and 18th century poets, the villages include residences of varying styles, pavilions, study halls and Confucian academies for learning.
Suwon Hwaseong Fortress
Massively walled and magnificently gated, with bastions and artillery towers, this late-18th century fortress remains an outstanding example of early modern military architecture, incorporating sophisticated features from both East and West.
Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple
Bulguksa Temple is a masterpiece of the Silla culture. While most of the wooden buildings have been rebuilt over the centuries, all of the stone bridges, stairways and pagodas are original. Seokguram Grotto is one of Asia’s greatest Buddhist shrines – an architecturally stunning granite dome in which a serene Buddha is surrounded by Bodhisattvas and guardian deities.
Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes
Also known as the “Island of the Gods,” Jejudo or Jeju Island, off Korea’s southern coast, was designated a World Natural Heritage site in 2007. In legends and folk songs, Jeju Island has been characterized as the island of Sammu (lacking beggars, thieves and locked gates) and Samda (an abundance of wind, rocks and women). At the center of Jeju Island, Mt. Hallasan (Korea’s highest peak) sits in a lava landscape of smaller volcanoes, odd-shaped rocks and caves, ponds, volcanic humps and craters, dry lands and great fields of grass. Networks of trails lead to and from Baengnokdam Lake inside Hallasan’s crater.
A sandy beach, bluff and waterfall face the sea. Mt. Hallasan alone houses 1,565 species of plants and 1,179 species of animals.
Elsewhere on the island, attractions include Jeju Folk Village, which recreates Korean architectural and cultural traditions and includes a number of cottages that are two to three hundred years old. A typical mountain village, Seongeup folk village contains about 3,000 thatched-roof houses with stone and clay walls; many are still occupied. The island’s museums also offer an intriguing look into Korean life and history – as well as diversions, such as the amusing Jeju Teddy Bear Museum.
Visitors to Korea may wish to immerse themselves in the culture with a Temple Stay – a program designed to help people better understand Korean Buddhism and the lives of monks. Temple stays offer various practices, such as Yebul (ceremonial service involving hanting), Chamseon (Zen meditation), Dahdoh (tea ceremony) and Balwoo Gongyang (communal Buddhist meal service).