Is Seoul — the birthplace of Gangnam Style — a K-pop powerhouse, or is it a hallowed center of culture, home to sprawling temples and charming customs? Is Busan a modern architectural marvel and glitzy beach town, or is it the gateway to the ancient capital of Gyeongju and Korea’s remarkable past?
For the independent traveler, South Korea is all these things and much more. Home to a World Design Capital (Seoul), it’s a cultural marvel, a foodie paradise and East Asia’s most surprising destination.
Click through our slideshow to explore 12 of South Korea’s most remarkable experiences — like ringing in the New Year on the beach, walking a “great wall” and basking in the glow of a lantern festival. And don’t miss our tips for where to stay and how to get around.