Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Archaeology Travel guide South Korea

From megalithic 1st millennium BC tombs to 14th century AD palaces and shrines in Seoul. From these dynastic royal residences to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. South Korea, and its 24-hour hi-tech capital city Seoul, is an intriguing blend of the ancient with the futuristic. Soon after the partition of the Korean peninsular in to North and South, South Korea developed from being one of the poorest countries in Asia to one of the world’s fastest developing and richest nations. With everything from ancient cultures to K-pop, mountain trails to self-service karaoke, Seoul has much to offer.

Reasons to Visit South Korea

Dolmen of table type called Dosan-ri symbol of the city of Gochang in Gochang-gun dolmens site South Korea

Megalithic Dolmens,

Sinheungsa Buddhist temple in Seoraksan National Park, Seoraksan, South Korea

Buddhist Temples,

Scenic view of Injeongjeon Hall at Changdeokgung Palace on blue sky background in Seoul, South Korea. Pavilion of traditional Korean architecture. Seoul is a popular tourist destination of Asia.

Royal Palaces,

Gyeongbokgung Palace at sunset, Autumn seasons in Seoul, South Korea.

… and Spring Blossoms &  Fall Colours.

Interesting Things to Know About South Korea

Parts of Europe have their own well-known stone dolmens, but nowhere has such an impressive collection of these monuments as South Korea. Over 30,000 examples are known from the country, having probably been erected as burial markers between the 2nd and 3rd millennia BC/BCE. Three main clusters of these megalithic monuments, at Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa, now collectively form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Buddhism arrived in Korea during the 4th century AD/CE and has subsequently exerted a major influence on Korean culture. Several Buddhist temples in the country are now recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, perhaps most notably the Bulguksa Temple and accompanying Seokguram Grotto, where a statue of the meditating Buddha was carved in the 8th century.

Having arisen in China, Confucianism has also had a significant impact in Korea, emphasising fealty to the established order to ensure social harmony. Several of South Korea’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites reflect the Confucian influence, whether it be the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty or Seoul’s Jongmyo Shrine where Korean monarchs venerated their ancestors.

One of South Korea’s most famous heritage attractions, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the Changdeokgung Palace Complex in its capital city, Seoul. King Taejong of the Joseon dynasty ordered construction of this new palace in the early 15th century, setting out the buildings and gardens in accordance with traditional geomantic principles.

Having been occupied since 1910, Korea secured independence from the Japanese Empire in 1945, but was soon torn into two halves by competing ideologies. In 1948, the split between a Marxist-governed North Korea and a capitalist-oriented South Korea was formally recognised, with the subsequent Korean War of 1950 to 1953 failing to resolve the divide. Reunification is an ideal still embraced by many Koreans.

Find Places to Visit in South Korea

Featured Destination

What to See & Do in 5 Days

So you have five days to spend in Seoul. And of course you want to make the most of the city’s historic sites, and more? Never fear, because there is plenty to see and do in this buzzing metropolis that never seems to sleep. From 14th century dynastic palaces to the contemporary K-pop scene. The hard part will be deciding what you have to miss out. Or what to leave to a second visit.

Archaeology & History Sites in South Korea

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung is the oldest of the five main royal palaces in Seoul. After King Taejo established the Joseon Dynasty in the late 14th century, he oversaw Gyeongbokgung’s creation in 1395. Taejo may have chosen this location because Baegaksan Mountain looms to the north, providing a dramatic background for his palace. In 1592, Japanese invaders laid waste to Gyeongbokgung, which remained ruined until the Regent Heungseon Daewongun ordered its reconstruction in 1867. The Japanese again destroyed it in the early 20th century, although since 1990 much of it has been rebuilt.

Hwaseong Fortress

The Hwaseong Fortress surrounds the heart of Suwon City. King Jeongjo, the 22nd monarch of the Joseon Dynasty, oversaw its construction in the 1790s. Its purpose was to encircle the new tomb housing the remains of Jeongjo’s father, Crown Prince Sado, who had been executed on the orders of his own father, Yeongjo. The fortress walls stretch for almost 6km and incorporate four main gates as well as artillery towers and bastions. Reflecting that these walls survive in good condition, the Hwaseong Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Museums & Art Galleries in South Korea

National Folk Museum of Korea

Artefacts gathered from across the peninsula vary from farming implements to grave goods, texts to masks, amulets to musical instruments. All convey an impression of life for ordinary Koreans in the centuries before extensive urbanisation. Among the most memorable artefacts are several historic jangseung, large timber posts carved with anthropomorphic faces that were once placed at the entrances to Korean villages to scare off harmful spirits. Life-size dioramas show what Korea was like in the past, while several historic buildings have been preserved in the open-air museum.

National Museum of Korea

One of the finest archaeological museums in East Asia, the National Museum of Korea showcases not only an impressive array of material from both halves of this politically divided nation, but also artefacts from other parts of the continent too. Housed in a sleek, purpose-built modern structure located within attractive grounds in the city’s Yongsan-gu area, the National Museum brings together archaeological evidence from the Old Stone Age right through to recent periods. Its collections include fabulous Buddhist statuary, exquisite jewellery, and delicate ceramics.