Wellness travel: five ways to relax and reset in South Korea

While Seoul is known as a fast-paced and often frenetic city, the rest of South Korea also offers plenty for those wishing to slow down and seek out more peaceful pursuits. Here’s our pick of five ways to focus on wellness while visiting.

Many Buddhist centres around South Korea run temple-stay programmes, allowing visitors to stay for a night or more.

Photograph by Hiking trails crisscross Jeju Island, weaving through dappled forests and snaking up mountain paths.
By Korea Tourism Organisation
Published 27 Dec 2021, 12:00 GMT

From temple stays to teahouses, this East Asian destination is an ideal place for visitors with wellness on their minds. In recent years, the country has built up an industry dedicated to self-improvement, with spas and health resorts up and down the peninsula welcoming guests. Rural areas also offer a rich bounty of natural attractions, which include tranquil islands, mountain hiking trails and hot springs to help clear the mind and soothe the soul.

One of the best ways to rejuvenate mind, body and soul is to head to Jeju Island, a volcanic landscape with hiking trails that crisscross the island and snake up to the top of Mount Hallasan. 

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Live like a Buddhist monk for a weekend

Seek solace and enlightenment by experiencing life from a monk’s point of view. Many Buddhist centres around the country run temple-stay programmes, allowing visitors to stay for a night or more and participate in prostration, chanting, meditation and traditional Buddhist arts and crafts, such as folk painting or making temple lanterns. One of the highlights is the food, which is always fresh, vegetarian and sustainable, with some temple stays focusing on foraging and cooking. Accommodations are simple and typically communal, although some have private rooms.

Find out more: One-night temple stay, including meals, from KRW100,000 (£63).

2. Float at a wellness resort

Indulge in spa treatments at one of the country’s legendary wellness resorts, with programmes that target physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Nestled in the pine forests of scenic Jeju Island, at the foot of Mount Hallasan, South Korea’s tallest peak (6,400ft), The We is one of South Korea’s premier wellness complexes, with a focus on water-based treatments such as hydrotherapy. The water that fills the resort’s indoor and outdoor pools comes from volcanic bedrock and is rich in health-boosting minerals. Rooms are pumped with oxygen to enhance sleep and food is organic, delicious and nutritional.

Find out more: Rooms, offering views of the Pacific Ocean and Mount Halla, from KRW165,000 (£104) a night. 

Tea has played a prominent role in the nation’s history, from trade to religion and health. 

Photograph by Korea Tourism Organisation

3. Sip and soak in a teahouse

Coffee shops may dominate the West, but Koreans, like other East Asians, are traditionally more fond of tea. This special brew has played a prominent role in the nation’s history, from trade to religion and health. South Korea is home to countless varieties, and Tea Therapy, a Seoul teahouse situated in the birthplace of former president Yun Posun, is an ideal place to sample a pot. Guests can take a short test that matches them with their ideal tea type and then sip a cup while also indulging in a relaxing footbath. 

Find out more: From  KRW 7,000 (£4.40).

4. Indulge in a beauty treatment

Korean beauty products are a hot commodity around the globe, gaining a reputation for quality and effectiveness. Luxury spas throughout the country harness these popular creams and ampoules in their treatments, and no wellness trip to Korea would be complete without sampling the restorative magic of a skin and body care experience. Located in Seoul’s stylish Gangnam district, Sulwhasoo SPA Flagship Store offers rejuvenation treatments of all kinds, including its signature ‘Intense Ginseng Journey’, which utilises products from its Intense Ginseng line.

Find out more: Facials and body treatments from KRW150,000 (£94). 

Hiking trails crisscross Jeju Island, weaving through dappled forests and snaking up mountain paths. 

Photograph by Korea Tourism Organisation

5. Go wild in the great outdoors

One of the best ways to rejuvenate mind, body and soul is to head to Jeju Island, a volcanic landscape with hiking trails that crisscross the island and snake up to the top of Mount Hallasan. Feel a serene strength flow through your bones as you stand on the summit and take in the otherworldly views of rice fields and extinct mini volcanoes below, while the azure stretch of the Pacific serves as a backdrop. After a day’s hiking, treat aching muscles to a soak at the Sanbangsan Mountain Carbonate Hot Springs. The ‘healing’ waters are said to enhance blood circulation and lower blood pressure.

Find out more: Admission to the hot springs is KRW12,000 (£7.55) for adults, KRW5,000 (£3.15) for children.

Essentials 


Getting there: Average flight time is 10h15m, with direct flights from Heathrow to Seoul Incheon Airport operated by Korean Air and Asiana Airlines (on a slightly reduced basis due to Covid-19).

For more inspiration on how to have a wellness trip in South Korea go to english.visitmedicalkorea.com

Published in the December 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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