Seoul's Five Grand Palaces
The Five Grand Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty are located in the Jongro District of Seoul, the capital city of Korea Republic. Built more than 600 years ago, these five palaces – Gyeongbokgung, Gyeonghuigung, Deoksugung, Changgyeonggung, and Changdeokgung – preserve a great deal of history from Korea's past. Gyeongbokgung was the first to be built and remains the most notable today. Lee Seonggye, also known as King Taejo of Joseon, founded the palace in 1395, but his magnificent construction would burn down during the Japanese invasions of the late sixteenth century. This damage prompted Emperor Gojong, the last ruler of Joseon, to initiate reconstruction and renovation efforts. Unfortunately, the Japanese Occupation and the Korean War would eventually destroy most of Gyeongbokgung, but its symbolic buildings (Geunjeongjeon, Gyeonghwiru and Gwanghwamun) have survived to this day. The remaining four palaces are all notable in their own right, with Changdeokgung, for example, which lies to the east of Gyeongbokgung, named a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site in 1997 for its outstanding gardens.
Haeundae Beach, located at the south-eastern tip of the peninsula, attracts more than ten million summer vacationers each year. At 1.5km long and 50 metres wide, this symbolic Busan landmark boasts an incredibly beautiful coastline. It stages a festival to coincide with the first full moon of the year, in addition to a 'polar bear' swimming contest held every winter. In the Haeundae area, there is always something to see, whatever the time of year. Notable attractions in the vicinity include Dongbaek Island, Oryuk Island, various aquariums, and even a yacht club. To the west there is Centum City, an enormous shopping facility, as well as the Busan Exhibition and Convention Centre (BEXCO), where the Final Draw took place to decide the groups ahead of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™.
The Gyeongju Historic Area
Ninety kilometres north of Busan lies Gyeongju, the capital of the Silla Dynasty. Known as Seorabeol during that era, the city preserves traces of its ancient past through countless royal tombs and major cultural landmarks such as Cheomseongdae Observatory and Hwangryongsa Temple. On the south-eastern outskirts of Gyeongju, the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto rest atop Toham Mountain. Bulguksa not only contains the essence of Silla Buddhist culture, but also houses seven of Korea’s National Treasures. Seokguram, meanwhile, enshrines a seated stone Buddha considered one of the most beautiful statues of its kind in the East.
Jirisan National Park
Legend has it that a foolish person can become wise after a stay at Jirisan, the mountain of wisdom. In 1967, the area around Jirisan was established as the nation’s first national park and remains the largest even today. Some truly majestic scenery can be found at the mountain’s countless streams, waterfalls and other notable attractions, such as Cheonwangbong (the second highest peak in the country), Banyabong peak, and the Nogodan Sea of Clouds. There are also many large Buddhist temples at Jirisan, including Hwaeomsa, Ssanggyesa, and Daewonsa. At the boundary of Gyeongsang and Jeolla Provinces lies the Hwagae Market site, renowned for its cherry blossom festival. For hiking enthusiasts, the trail from the highest peak Cheonwangbong to Nogodan is 25km long and takes a strenuous two days to complete.
The Jeju Olle Trail
In Jeju dialect, the word olle refers to the narrow path from the front door to the larger village. The Jeju Olle Trail, founded in 2007, is a long-distance walking trail that runs clockwise around Jeju Island. The first-ever trail began at Seongsan, located at the eastern edge of the island, and by 2013, 20 more had been added. Time restraints – many trails take five to six hours – mean most visitors will need to select the landmarks they wish to see, although in recent years a sizeable number of people have successfully completed all 21 trails totalling 425km.