Nowhere is the tension between North and South Korea more palpable than in the no-man's-land known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. As a divided nation, only 2.5 miles (4 km) separate the North from the South at what is the most heavily armed border on earth. The 150-mile (241-km) zone has served as a buffer since the 1953 cease-fire agreement between the United Nations and North Korea that put the Korean War on hold.
Even with its past, the area is quite safe for travelers and is one of the most fascinating day trip options from Seoul. The DMZ can only be visited as part of an organized, guided tour, during which travelers get the chance to see the Joint Security Area (JSA), also known as Panmunjom, where the North and South met for peace talks during the war. Visitors can also see both North Korean and South Korean soldiers each guarding their respective sides of the DMZ. Other common stops on the tour include Imjingak Park, the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, Freedom Bridge, and the Dora Observatory, where it's possible to look across the border into North Korea.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The DMZ is a must-see for history buffs.
- Choose a full- or half-day tour, lasting between 6 and 10 hours.
- The DMZ can only be visited on a guided tour; no independent visits are permitted.
- Don't forget your passport, as you'll need it for security check.
- Dress conservatively and avoid wearing any "commercial" military clothing.
How to Get to the DMZ
Travelers wanting to go to the DMZ must visit with a guide, and tours need to be booked at least a few days ahead of time for security reasons. Tours typically include pickup and drop-off from either your hotel in Seoul or a central meeting point, so there's no hassle with transportation to and from the various points of interest.
When to Get There
Tours to the DMZ can be canceled on short notice, so it's a good idea to book for your first full day in Seoul so you have time to reschedule as needed. For the best weather, plan to visit in spring or fall. Expect high humidity and more frequent rainfall during the summer months, and dress for chilly weather in winter—temperatures tend to hover in the 20s and 30s F.
Dress to Impress at the DMZ
The DMZ has a strictly enforced dress code, partly because North Korean soldiers have been known to take photos of poorly dressed tourists to use in propaganda "proving" that other nations are too poor to afford proper clothing. Leave the ripped jeans, sandals, and halter tops at the hotel.