The Best of Japan and South Korea

The Best of Japan and South Korea

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 16 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers


Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●○○○○

Tour Pace


Tour Highlights

● The vast metropolis of Tokyo
● The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park
● Asuka farm homestay
● Gyeongju City, the capital of the 1,000-year-long Silla dynasty
● The the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Joint Security Area (JSA)

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of hotels and 1 night home stay

Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.

Group Size: Maximum of 12

Start Point: Tokyo

End Point: Seoul

Transport: Minibus, ferry, trains, local public transport

Countries: Japan, South Korea 


Tour itinerary notes 

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used. 

Tour Guide 

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. On this tour we use different guides for Japan and South Korea and depending on group size may use a different guide in eaach area. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip in the same country but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.

Day 1 – Arrive in Japan

Arrive at Narita Airport and you will be welcomed by an English speaking assistant who will help you transfer to the hotel using a shared minivan. The rest of the day is free at your leisure. Overnight at the Park Hotel Tokyo or similar 


Tokyo is one of the most interesting cities in the world, simultaneously mixing old and new, high tech with centuries of tradition. It's a fast paced city where psychedelic pop culture thrums alongside serene ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Officially Tokyo Metropolis, it is the capital of Japan and one of its 47 prefectures. The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world and is the seat of the Emperor of Japan and the Japanese government. Prior to 1868, Tokyo was known as Edo. A small castle town in the 16th century, Edo became Japan's political center in 1603 when Tokugawa Ieyasu established his feudal government there. A few decades later, Edo had grown into one of the world's most populous cities. With the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the emperor and capital moved from Kyoto to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo ("Eastern Capital"). Large parts of Tokyo were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and in the air raids of 1945. Today, Tokyo offers a seemingly unlimited choice of shopping, entertainment, culture and dining to its visitors. The city's history can be appreciated in districts such as Asakusa, and in many excellent museums, historic temples and gardens. Contrary to common perception, Tokyo also offers a number of attractive green spaces in the city center and within relatively short train rides at its outskirts. 

Day 2 - Tokyo

After breakfast we explore Tokyo with our guide, using the city’s famous public transport systems. On this full day tour, you will visit the Meiji Shrine, the Imperial Palace Plaza, the Tokyo Tower, Hama-rikyu Garden, Sumida River, Asakusa Kannon Temple and the Nakamise Shopping District. This is a great introduction into one of the world’s busiest and most intense cities. Overnight at the Park Hotel Tokyo or similar (BL) 

Day 3 – Tokyo

Continue our exploration of this marvellous city when we will visit Tsukiji Outer Market, Ueno District, the nostalgic district of Yanesen and the Kagurazaka area. Once again today we will use public transport to navigate the city with our guide. Overnight at the Park Hotel Tokyo or similar (BL) 

Day 4 – Tokyo to Kyoto

We leave our hotel after breakfast and take a taxi to the Tokyo train station. Here we board one of the famous JR Shinkansen high-speed trains (also known as the Bullet Trains) and travel to Kyoto. Our guide will accompany us on the journey as we travel in tourist class at speeds of up to 200mph. We arrive in Kyoto at 11:20 and transfer to the hotel before having lunch at a local restaurant. This afternoon we will explore Kyoto on bike with an English speaking cycle guide (this tour is not exclusive to Undiscovered Destinations clients). You will visit the Miyagawacho (geisha) and Gion districts, the Shirakwa river and the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park. Overnight at the Mitsui Garden Hotel or similar (BL) 

Please note: Your luggage will be transferred separately from Tokyo to Kyoto on the same day. Limit of 1 bag per person. 


Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is a city on the island of Honshu. It's famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. It’s also known for formal traditions such as kaiseki dining, consisting of multiple courses of precise dishes, and geisha, female entertainers often found in the Gion district. Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain. Many tourists visit Gion hope to catch a glimpse of a geiko or maiko on their way to or from an engagement at an ochaya in the evenings or while running errands during the day. However, if you spot a geiko or maiko, act respectfully. Complaints about tourists behaving like ruthless paparazzi are on the increase in recent years. 

Day 5 – Kyoto

Today we will explore Kyoto with our guide using Kyoto’s public transportation. You will visit Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto Imperial Palace / Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine, Heian Jingu Shrine and the Sanjusangendo Temple. Lunch is taken at a local restaurant. Overnight at the Mitsui Garden Hotel or similar (BL) 

Day 6 – Farm Homestay, Asuka

After breakfast we take the Kintetsu Limited Express Train to Kashihara Jingu (Tourist Class). The journey takes about 1 hour 25 minutes. On arrival we will visit the Rice Terraces, Ishibutai Kofun Burial Mound and the Oka-dera Temple before having lunch at a nearby restaurant. This afternoon we head to the farm where we will be staying the night with a local family. Here the family will give us a demonstration of Japanese home cooking where you will be taught how to cook like a local! Overnight at the Minshuka Homestay in Asuka or similar (BLD) 

Please note: Your luggage will be transferred separately from Kyoto to Asuka on the same day. Limit of 1 bag per person. 

Day 7 – Asuka to Nara and Kyoto

After breakfast at the farmstay we will transfer to the Kashihara Jingu Station by taxi. A short ride takes us to Miwa station where we will visit the Omiwa shrine, which protects Mount Miwa. One of Japan's oldest shrines, legend has it that a white snake is one of the gods protecting and residing in the mountainside. The sweet aroma of the Japanese cedar trees from the forest surrounding the Shrine is wonderful. We then visit the local Sake brewery and get to sample, or even buy the sake from Japan's longest continuously operating sake maker - Imanishi Sake. After lunch we set off again by public transport to Nara and visit the Todaiji Temple, Nara Deer Park, Kofukuji Temple and the Naramachi District. A half hour train ride then takes us back to Kyoto for the evening. Overnight at the Mitsui Garden Hotel or similar (BL) 

Day 8 – Kyoto to Hiroshima

We transfer to the Kyoto station after breakfast to take the JR Shinkansen high-speed train (tourist class seat) to Hiroshima. On arrival, your guide will accompany you as we travel to Miyajima via public transport. Miyajima Island, one of the most scenic spots in Japan and once we have taken the ferry across to the island, we will visit Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima Ropeway and Mt. Misen. Overnight at the New Hiroden Hotel, Hiroshima or similar (BL) 

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) is the only structure left standing near the hypocenter of the first atomic bomb which exploded on 6 August 1945, and it remains in the condition right after the explosion. Through the efforts of many people, including those of the city of Hiroshima, this ruin has been preserved in the same state as immediately after the bombing. Not only is it a stark and powerful symbol of the most destructive force ever created by humankind, it also expresses the hope for world peace and the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons. The inscribed property covers 0.40 ha in the urban centre of Hiroshima and consists of the surviving Genbaku Dome (“Genbaku” means atomic bomb in Japanese) within the ruins of the building. The 42.7 ha buffer zone that surrounds the property includes the Peace Memorial Park. 

Day 9 – Hiroshima and Fukuoka

This morning we will explore Hiroshima with a half day city tour using public transport. You will visit Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Memorial Park with the ‘A-bomb’ Dome. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome – ‘A bomb’ Dome) was the only structure left standing in the area where the first atomic bomb exploded on 6 August 1945. We have lunch at a nearby restaurant before we leave Hiroshima for Hakata, Fukuoka by JR Shinkansen high-speed train. On arrival, we will transfer to our hotel and the rest of the afternoon is free at your leisure. Overnight at the Hotel Monte Hermana or similar (BL) 

Day 10 – Hakata, Fukuoka to Busan, South Korea

We have our breakfast at the hotel before we transfer to Hakata Port by taxi with our guide. We leave the guide at the port and board the high speed Hydrofoil from Hakata for Busan, South Korea. The journey takes approximately 3 hours and there is no accompanying guide on the Hydrofoil. On arrival at Busan Port, you will clear customs and immigration before meeting our South Korean guide. Our first visit is to the Gamcheon Art village and Beomeosa Temple. Transfer to the hotel and check in at the hotel. Overnight at The Mark Haeundae Hotel or similar (B) 

Gamcheon Art village and Beomeosa Temple

Gamcheon Culture Village is formed by houses built in staircase-fashion on the foothills of a coastal mountain, earning this village the nickname of "Machu Picchu of Busan." The many alleys cutting through this community are vibrantly decorated with murals and sculptures created by the residents. Beomeosa Temple is located at the edge of Mt. Geumjeongsan, a famous mountain in Busan. About 1,300 years ago it was constructed by monk Ui Sang in the 18th year (678) of King Munmu (reign 661~681) of the Silla Kingdom (the kingdom mainly occupied the Gyeongsang-do Province region in 678A.D.). In the geography book 'Donggukyeojiseungram' the origin of Beomeosa Temple is written as follows: "There is a well on the top of Mt. Geumjeongsan and the water of that well is gold. The golden fish in the well rode the colourful clouds and came down from the sky. This is why the mountain is named Geumsaem (gold well) and the temple is named 'fish from heaven'."  

Day 11 – Busan to Gyeongju

We take breakfast at the hotel and check out before heading to the Jagalchi Fish Market. We then depart for Gyeongju City and the Gyeongju Historic Area. Registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in November 2000, this is an area that embodies the time-honoured history and culture of Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom (57-935). Enjoy lunch in a Local restaurant. We will visit Golgulsa Temple and watch a demonstration of Korean Spiritual Martial Art called Sunmundo. Note: Visiting the temple is a uphill hike. Visit the Royal Tumuli park and in the evening visit Anpji Pond during sunset. Overnight in at The Suites Hotel or similar (BL) 

Day 12 – Gyeongju to Sokcho

An early morning visit to Bulguksa and Seokguram Grotto (it opens at 7.30am and we aim to be there by 8am). Seokguram, located on Tohamsan Mountain, is the representative stone temple of Korea. Bulguksa Temple is the representative relic of Gyeongju and was designated as a World Cultural Asset by UNESCO in 1995. The beauty of the temple itself and the artistic touch of the stone relics are known throughout the world. We continue to Seorak National Park and hope to travel up Seorak Mountain to admire the breathtaking view. Stop for dinner in Sokcho at the fish market - great for seafood (meal not included – payable locally) before travelling a further 20 minutes to Sokcho. Overnight at the Maremons Hotel or similar (BL) 

Note: From Gyeongju to Seoraksan is about 4 ½ hours. The last cable car is at 5pm in Seoraksan but every day the time is updated depending on the weather conditions. Therefore, it is important to try to arrive as early as possible. The earlier we start the day the more chance there will be to take the cable car up. If we miss the cable car or it is not operating, we can take a walk in the park. 

Day 13 – Sokcho to Seoul

This morning we will drive back to Seoul and visit Gwangjang Market and have lunch there. We continue with a tour of the highlights of Seoul, including Gyeongbokgung Palace and folk museum, a walk to the Bukchon Hanok Village and then a visit to Jogyesa Temple and Insadong Antique Street. Overnight in at the Centermark Hotel or similar (BL) 

Gyeongbokgung Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village

Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is also commonly referred to as the Northern Palace because its location is furthest north when compared to the neighboring palaces. Gyeongbokgung Palace is arguably the most beautiful, and remains the largest of all five palaces. Bukchon Hanok Village is home to hundreds of traditional houses, called hanok, that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. The name Bukchon, which literally translates to "northern village," came about as the neighborhood lies north of two significant Seoul landmarks, Cheonggyecheon Stream and Jongno. Today, many of these hanoks operate as cultural centres, guesthouses, restaurants and tea houses, providing visitors with an opportunity to experience, learn and immerse themselves in traditional Korean culture. 

Day 14 – DMZ & Panmunjeom Village

An early start as you make your way to the Lotte Hotel for 8am (you will need to take a taxi from the hotel to Myeongdong which is not more than 5,000 won - about 5$) to join the specialised mixed group tour to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) & Panmunjeom Area. The tour covers Imjingak, the bridge of Freedom and the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, the DMZ Theatre and Exhibition Hall, the Dora Observatory, Dorasan Station, Camp Bonifas (with a slide show & briefing) and the Joint Security Area (JSA - Freedom House, Conference Room, Bridge of no Return). On your return to Seoul, why not take the opportunity to explore the Myeongdong Area which is right across from your drop off point at the Lotte department store. Transfer back to the hotel on your own. Overnight in at the Centermark Hotel or similar (BL) 

Korean Demilitarized Zone

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) splits the Korean peninsula in half creating a buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea. Roughly following the 38th parallel, the 150-mile-long DMZ incorporates territory on both sides of the cease-fire line as it existed at the end of the Korean War (1950–53). The areas north and south of the demarcation are heavily fortified, though skirmishes between the two sides are rare. Located within the DMZ is the “truce village” of P’anmunjom, about 5 miles (8 km) east of Kaesong, N.Kor. It was the site of peace discussions during the Korean War and has since been the location of various conferences over issues related to North and South Korea, their allies, and the United Nations. 

Day 15 – Suwon and Yongin

After breakfast, this morning we will drive to Suwon City and visit Hwaseong fortress. This impressive structure from the latter part of Joseon Dynasty, is designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. We will have lunch in the area at a local restaurant before be continue the drive to Yongin to visit the Korean Folk Village. Minsok village is a living museum where you can experience the traditional culture from the late Joseon period. The village has a farming area, Confucian academy, seodang (village school), and a village street as well as a nobleman’s house and traditional workshop. We drive back to Seoul and the highlight of the evening is our stay in a traditional Korean house. Overnight in a Hanok traditional house. 

Day 16 – Depart Seoul

We transfer to the airport for your departure flight.


Tour Inclusions:

Arrival and departure transfers

Transport throughout as described

All accommodation

Services of English speaking guide / tour leader

Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)

Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary



International flights

Any airport taxes

Travel Insurance