Situated between North and South Korea, the Demilitarized Zone (or the DMZ), is a no man's land, stretching four kilometres in width and stretching across the border between these two very different nations.
The DMZ was first put in place in 1953 when the Armistice Agreement was signed, and today it stands as a historical and political tourist destination. The tension between the two nations is highlighted by attractions such as monuments, Imjingak Peace Park, and the JSA (political tensions permitting).
There’s also a great range of other exciting things to see here, from peering out over North Korea from Dorasan observatory to exploring the third infiltration tunnel. Visiting the DMZ is a remarkable experience and one that is an easy addition to a visit to Seoul.
Tourists can visit Imjingak independently, however, most areas are only able to visit as part of an organised trip. If you choose to visit without a tour guide, you must be aware that it can be difficult to get around.
Access to most of the DMZ is limited, so travelling as part of a tour is without a doubt the best way to see all the most important and impressive sights.
So if you’ve been thinking of taking a trip to Korea’s Demilitarized Zone, read on to find out what you can expect.
One of the most notable aspects of Korea is its division, and what better place to explore this than at Korea’s Demilitarized zone, where the tension between these two nations is palpable, and the prospect of peace seems within reaching distance?
Whether you’re a history buff or not, the DMZ is well worth the visit. It not only educates visitors on the ongoing tension between the two nations but also provides a great insight into the potential unification of the Koreas. Hopefully you'll leave with hope for the nation’s future.
If you’re hoping to visit the DMZ, it must be noted that you can only visit as part of an organised tour. These tours can be booked with a range of providers online and include hotel pickups and drop-offs in Seoul city centre.
You can book to visit the DMZ on a full-day tour or a half-day tour. Both of these are very similar, with the main difference being that on a full-day tour, a visit to the JSA (Joint Security Area) is also included as part of the trip when the area is open to tourists.
The first thing that takes place on your tour will be the pickup. When booking, be sure to put down the name of your hotel so that your driver can come and collect you.
You can expect an early morning start for this, both times I have personally visited, the pick-up time was just before 7 am, so you’ll want to ensure that you get a good night's sleep the night before your trip.
Your tour guide will come to collect you from outside the hotel reception at the allocated time slot in a minivan or small bus, where you will join the other visitors on the tour group and head to the DMZ.
Imjingak Park is a tranquil and spiritual area and is usually the first stop on the trip. Here, modern art, created to inspire peace, and the stunning nature fuse to create a truly beautiful atmosphere, which helps set the scene for the day and inspires hope and positivity in visitors.
The park stands as a symbol of the peace and reunification efforts between North and South Korea. It gives visitors the opportunity to reflect on the history of the two nations and pay tribute to all of those affected by the war.
This historic landmark was originally built to enable South Korean prisoners to be able to return home after the height of the Korean War, hence the very fitting name, The Bridge of Freedom.
It still stands today, as a symbol of freedom and those for those held captive in North Korea during the war.
Depending on your tour, you may visit the bridge of freedom, or you may be told about it as you observe it from afar.
One of four tunnels originally built by North Korea as part of a plot to infiltrate South Korea, the third infiltration tunnel still stands today, and visitors can actually put on a hard hat, and go into the tunnel, to walk in the footsteps of Korean soldiers.
Being able to experience firsthand the conditions they faced as they walked through this tunnel is something a visit to a museum simply cannot teach, and for this reason, it became my favourite activity on a visit to the DMZ.
The Dorasan Observatory, also known as Dora Observatory, is a modern addition to the tour. At this observatory, visitors can look out across the Demarcation Line, and into North Korea using the high-powered binoculars.
Looking out at North Korean territory is a truly unnerving, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so if you’re still deciding whether or not a trip to the DMZ is worth it, then this unique activity may just be the thing that helps you make up your mind.
If you’re visiting on a half-day tour, then the last stop you will make is likely to be at Dorasan Station.
This is the last train station in South Korea before the border, and stands as a symbol of peace and re-unification, boasting that should unification ever occur, it would be the first train station to run transport between the two countries, enabling families on either side of the border to eventually reunite.
Be sure to pick up a fake ticket to North Korea’s capital city of Pyeongyang and get it stamped whilst you’re there!
Depending on when you choose to visit Korea, you may or may not be able to visit the JSA or Joint Security Area /Panmunjom.
Occasionally, if political tensions are too high, or there are a lot of conversations taking place between different nations and the North Korean Government, the Joint Security Area will not be open for the public to visit.
Public tours to the JSA have been suspended since mid-2023 when a US soldier ran across the border while on a tour. It has not been confirmed when tours for tourists will start again.
If you do get the opportunity to visit as part of a day trip to the DMZ, then this destination is well worth the trip. Being the closest point a tourist can get to North Korea, it’s a highly notable spot that is often seen in the news and on various films.
These blue buildings are instantly recognisable and are a great once-in-a-lifetime sight to behold.
Note: tourist tours to the JSA are currently suspended.
Tours to the DMZ are held all year round, so you can technically book a trip whenever you’ll be visiting Korea.
If you’re moving to the country, or planning your trip with this experience in mind, however, it may be best to wait until a time when the JSA is open for tourists to visit.
As mentioned above, that will depend on the political situation, so keep an eye on the news. The area is usually closed on Sundays, Mondays, and public holidays.
If a visit to the JSA isn’t at the top of your list, then I personally recommend visiting during the springtime, and early summer months.
This is because the majority of the attractions are outdoors, and whilst South Korea doesn’t typically see much rainfall, summers can be very hot, and winters can be very cold. Visiting at a time when you won’t get too sweaty, or freeze to death, is usually the best choice.
It is highly recommended to take a trip to the DMZ as part of an organised tour, which departs from Seoul.
This method of travelling can guarantee a stress-free and safe experience, particularly when it comes to visiting such a highly guarded area.
Of course, if you speak Korean, and wish to visit the DMZ of your own accord, there are a couple of ways of getting there.
If you live in the country or plan on renting a car for your stay in Korea, it is possible to drive to the DMZ. There are also shuttle buses departing from Musan Station to Imjingak, from where you can join a tour company.
It’s important to emphasise that you’re only able to see everything on the list if you travel as part of a tour group. Booking your visit this way means that not only will you be able to see everything you set out to see, but you’ll also get back to Seoul safely.
Tickets for day trips to the DMZ must be booked a few days in advance of when you plan to travel, no matter which tour operator you choose to book with. Also keep in mind that tours to the DMZ may be cancelled if not enough people join.
There are a variety of tour operators you can travel with. I personally found independent tour groups on Viator, such as this one both times I visited, and they were absolutely amazing. You can also find a suitable tour via Get Your Guide.
If you want to visit the JSA, it's best to book a tour which specifically includes JSA / Panmunjom. As mentioned above, these are not currently available.
Tours to the DMZ usually leave from Seoul. Prices vary depending on which tour you choose to take, the time of year you choose to travel, and the individual tour operator.
You can expect to pay around $60 USD for a half-day trip, and around $120 USD for a full-day trip including a visit to the DMZ.