From traditional homestays and late-night game arcades to the humbling art of “earthing”, nowhere juxtaposes history and tradition with the ultra-modern quite like South Korea. On a single day you can go from complex urban environments to stunning natural spaces, and witness South Korea’s fascinating dichotomy of spell-binding commotion and wonderful calm. But to really experience a country’s culture, you must do as the locals do. Here are five experiences to add to your itinerary next time you visit.

Experience city nightlife in Seoul and Busan

Modern South Korea’s cultural hallmark may be K-Pop, but as a visitor you’ll find loads of other entertainment keeping its cities alive late into the night. Partying in Seoul’s famous Itaewon district or its Busan equivalent, Seomyeon, is always a good idea, but there’s plenty to do at night beyond street snacks and soju. Both kids and adults spend countless hours hitting up multi-level game arcades, dressing up and posing with friends in photo booths or strolling the pumping streets of Seoul’s Hongdae and Myeongdong districts to indulge in late night-shopping. Book a karaoke room to realise your own K-Pop dreams and then grab a midnight snack in the form of dalgona coffee (remember that craze?) and strawberry red bean tteok (rice cakes), fluffy grape-flavoured sponge cakes or bingsu (shaved iced desserts topped with fruit) in one of South Korea’s countless dessert bars.

Stay in a traditional Hanok or Buddhist temple

Seoul is home to many impressive royal palaces, temples, and the 600-year-old Bukchon Hanok village,where you can glimpse early social life and architecture from the Joseon Dynasty of the 1300s. But consider visiting the regional “slow” city of Jeonju for a more unique stay. Jeonju’s riverside village of over 600 traditional residences is a popular destination for locals, who stay overnight in a family-owned hanok (a traditional Korean house), dress in traditional Hanbok attire to roam the cobblestoned streets, visit museums and drink in quaint tea houses. Further afield, Buddhist temples across the country have opened their grounds to visitors who want to experience a day in the life of a South Korean monk. Through Templestay you can book a night in a centuries-old temple in the mountains or by the sea, learn the sunmudo (Korean Buddhist martial art), meditate, and try archery or horse riding.

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Soak and steam in a bathhouse

South Korea’s bathing culture is becoming popular in Australian cities, but there is nothing like stepping into an unassuming local jjimjilbang (bathhouse) and soaking in the hot mineral pools here. Usually around $10 cash entry, these public, all-age, gender-specific bathhouses are simultaneously social and a space for ritual and calm. The specific facilities vary, but usually feature showers for a thorough wash, heated tiled pools, a cold plunge, a steam room, or a dome-shaped kiln sauna rich with the smell of burning pine. The piece-de-resistance is receiving an exfoliating scrub from the in-house masseuse while lying on a bench. This service in local joints is first-come, first-served at an extra fee. There are some snacks that can only be ordered at bathhouses, such as Maekbanseog eggs or Korean sauna eggs, which can be roasted, smoked or covered in charcoal. For a drink, grab an iced misugaru (a multi-grain drink) or try a rice punch called sikhye.

Visit the local markets

Most towns and cities in South Korea have a unique traditional market. As commercial and cultural hubs for residents, they’re places for buying and selling household supplies, electronics, dried ingredients, fresh produce and apparel. And – best of all for visitors – they’re filled with exceptional street food to try. Walking through the likes of Namdaemun Market in Seoul is a sensory experience that you should not miss. Get swept up in the cacophonous, colourful world of Kalguksu Alley, where you’ll eat bowls of steaming kalguksu noodle soup while squished beside your neighbour on a small stool. Or make the rounds of street vendors selling tteokbokki or hotteok to eat while you hunt for handbags or new shoes. In regional towns, stop by the local market for a guaranteed excellent meal, or pick up regional specialties – kimchi and sweets – to try at your leisure.

Walk in a national park or ecological garden

A growing South Korean trend is “earthing”: walking barefoot on the ground. In a country where footwear etiquette is sacrosanct, it’s a curious phenomenon yet understandable given Korea’s admiration for nature. Mountains make up 70 per cent of the landscape and have immense cultural and spiritual importance. It’s practically a rite of passage to stay in a mountain lodge and summit the spectacular, craggy cliffs of Mount Seorak on the east coast for sunrise, or to spend a day wandering through brilliant auburn and gold forests during autumn in Naejangsan National Park. Or to visit an ecological park like Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve in South Jeolla Province to witness thousands of birds flocking and capture photos of the blooming reed fields during their annual Reed Festival. Many practice “earthing” here.

Recreate your favourite K-dramas

K-dramas are – unsurprisingly – filmed in Korea, so if you want to visit the sites of some of your favourite shows, you can find them all over the country. A tour of the DMZ will get you closest to where Captain Ri met Yoon Se-ri in Crash Landing on You, seaside drama Hometown Cha Cha Cha was filmed in Pohang; historical dramas like Kingdom, Goblin, My Sassy Girl and The Moon Embracing the Sun, were shot in Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung Palace; and Busan is the backdrop for Reply 1997, The King: Eternal Monarch and Fight For My Way.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Korea Tourism Organization, T’way Air and Sydney Airport.