Comparing DMZ Korea Tours: Border Between North and South

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When you think of Korea as a tourist destination, one of the most popular attractions for visitors is the DMZ and it’s various tours to the border. Since both the North and South of the peninsula are still technically at war, it is heavily guarded and requires people to follow some strict rules when visiting.

Since the DMZ in Korea is so popular, there are many unique tours to choose from which can seem overwhelming. With multiple attractions located at the border, all offering different perspectives on the Korean War it can be difficult to determine which DMZ tours are most suitable for you.

So while living in Busan as an expat on my working holiday visa, I made sure to visit the world’s most famous border. Due to my visits to the DMZ, I’ve tried to compare some of the most popular tours available in Korea (all leaving from Seoul.

Country:South Korea (Republic of Korea)
Currency:South Korean Won / KRW
Do you need a visa to visit as tourists?Check here

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What is the DMZ?

The DMZ in Korea (short for the Demilitarized Zone) is a heavily armed strip of land running from east to west across the Korean peninsula splitting it in half. South of this line is South Korea and in the north is North Korea. You can only access the Korea DMZ from the southern side where they hold regular tours for tourists.

The DMZ is used as a buffer zone between the two nations of Korea which was created under the Korean Armistice Agreement and the United Nations in 1953.

The entire DMZ is 160 miles long (250 kilometres) but is extremely dangerous. Much of this uninhabited land is still littered with land mines and bombs that have not yet been cleared since the Korean War. This makes the area extremely dangerous.

Civilians are not allowed to cross into the DMZ without a guide and must be supervised at all times. This is both for immigration and safety purposes. Plus, if any children (under 18) are going on a tour, they will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Korea DMZ Tours – Comparing The Most Popular

Since the DMZ is such a large area, there are a variety of different tours available, each one showcasing a few different destinations within the area. It is very difficult to find tours that tick off every sight within the touristic DMZ so I’ve taken the time to break down some of the popular options below.

All of these tours below visit the DMZ which is NOT the same as the JSA. Please don’t confuse the two otherwise you may face disappointment.

Please bear in mind that every one of the DMZ tours in Korea is guided which means you will need to be supervised at all times. You usually get a little bit of free time in between but you will need to stay within the sight of your tour group. This is not a place you will want to get into trouble.

Guided Trip to DMZ, Camp Greaves or 3rd Tunnel

Book here

This tour takes you all the way from Seoul to the famous Imjingak Park which is home to the Freedom Bridge which is a symbol of hopeful reunification between the two fighting nations. Next, you’ll head over to the refurbished Camp Greaves where you can dress as a military soldier and create your own personalised dog tags, enjoy a slow ride on the peace gondola that shows you a birds-eye view into North Korean territory. It’s an unmissable experience that allows you a glimpse into one of the world’s most secretive destinations.

Tour start time: Between 6 am – 9 am (various meeting points)

Tour end time: Return to Seoul by 6 pm

Private DMZ SPY Full day tour

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Starting from Seoul, this tour takes the group along a now-known route of a North Korean Spy Commando Infiltration Manoeuvre that has become extremely popular with visitors. You’ll also get to walk along the famous barbed wire fence that separates the two nations which has since been covered in flags. You’ll get to see what the South Korean soldiers do at one of their border outposts before enjoying some North Korean cuisine (usually barbequed duck but there are vegetarian options available too).

Tour start time: 8 am (various meeting points)

Cheorwon DMZ Border, Korean War Tour with lunch

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This tour cares a lot about sustainability and not wanting to contribute to over-tourism. This tour will take you to important places relating to the ongoing Korean War including the Cheorwon North Korean Guard Post and the 2nd tunnel (which is the closest to North Korea). Unlike many other tours that allow you time to visit the tourist shopping sites, this tour focuses on the historical aspects so you won’t have much time to look for souvenirs, but you will be deeply immersed in the geopolitical area. You’ll get to visit the Peace Observatory, military museum, Woljeongri Station and finally the Korean Workers’ Party Headquarters ruins.

Tour start time: 7:30 am (various meeting points)

Tour end time: Return to Seoul between 4 and 5 pm

DMZ Tour with Optional North Korean Defector

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What makes this tour stand out is the option to chat with a North Korean defector and ask them questions about their experience. The tour will start in Seoul and your coach will take you straight to the city of Paju near the border. You’ll get to walk through the 3rd infiltration tunnel and see what the North Korean soldiers did when trying to access the south. You’ll go to the Dora Observatory to get a glimpse into North Korean territory. Of course, visitors will also get to pay their respects to those lost to the Korean War at Mangbaedan which is the memorial park, along with the Unification Bridge and DMZ theatre

Tour start time: 7 am (meeting point is 1st floor lobby of the President Hotel Tour)

Tour end time: 3 pm

DMZ, 3rd Tunnel & Suspension Bridge Guided Tour

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Depending on your selection, this tour visits either Gamaksan Bridge or Majang Bridge in Paju which both offer different views of the region. At the first stop, you’ll get to see the Freedom Bridge and the Mangbaedan Altar used as a memorial. Next, you’ll stop by a historical steam train with bullet holes and damage from travelling through the Korean Warzone. You’ll learn about the various unification villages that still have residents to this day and your guide will walk you through the various battle locations that soldiers fought around Mt Gamaksan.

Tour start time: 7:00 am (various meeting points)

Tour end time: Return to Seoul between 4 and 5 pm

Rules to follow on DMZ tours in Korea

You must not forget that this is an international border. That means there are specific rules to follow during your visit. I’ve mentioned it above, but I’ll say it again, this is not a place you want to get into trouble.

Since you will be “leaving” South Korea to enter the internationally recognized DMZ, you must not forget your passport. If you do you will not be able to participate in any of the tours. You will be turned away. Try to avoid disappointment by triple-checking that you have it with you!

All children must be accompanied at all times. Do not let them wander off as this is extremely unsafe.

Some areas you’ll visit during Korea DMZ tours cannot be photographed. Make sure you listen to your tour guides and pay close attention to any signage you see. One example is the inside of the infiltration tunnels. You will be asked to put all valuables (including photographic devices) into lockers before entering.

Finally, and I hope this is common sense, but do not try to separate from your group and climb any fences. You must not forget that many areas outside the general “tourist” area are still part of an active warzone with mines that can cause fatalities. Not to mention that many of the armed soldiers are trained to shoot on-site anyone who crosses the fence, and those who are lucky enough not to be shot will be taken into custody.

Take this as your warning.

What to (or Not) bring

There are a few things you should take with you on your DMZ tour in Korea to be prepared and have the best experience.

  • Passport – because you will be crossing over the South Korean border into the DMZ itself.
  • Comfortable shoes – There is a lot of walking involved near the DMZ and it is a military area where sandals and flip-flops are not suitable.
  • Water – there is not much shade cover in the DMZ tourist area of Korea which can be troublesome in the summer months. Stay hydrated!
  • Phone or camera – You’ll have a few opportunities to take photos and make memories in the area. Just pay close attention to the places you can’t take them. They’ll be signposted.

If you’d like to stay connected throughout your trip, I usually recommend an Airalo eSIM that can be downloaded directly onto your phone. However please note, there are a few places you will not be able to take your device and will be required to keep them in a locker temporarily.

As well as having some things recommended to bring with you, some items are restricted on most DMZ Korea tours. These include:

  • Large bags or luggage
  • Alcohol (you will not be allowed entry if you are intoxicated)
  • The attitude of a hooligan (seriously, you don’t want to anger the military staff here)

Please note: Much of the militarized border and surrounding region is not wheelchair accessible. Some tours may be more suitable than others but please bear this in mind before purchasing a tour ticket.

Where to stay before DMZ tours in Korea

If you are planning to visit the DMZ on one of the many tours departing from Seoul then you have a multitude of options available in the way of accommodation. With Seoul South Korea’s largest and capital city, they have the most hotel and guesthouse options of any part of the country.

If you’d like to meet other travellers in low-cost accommodation during your Seoul visit, you can stay in Hostels. HostelWorld has the best selection worldwide.

If comfort and private hotels are more your speed without needing a social place to stay, you can check out Booking.com as they have a wide collection of almost every other type of accommodation.

It’s always worth seeing where your tour will be leaving from and selecting to stay at an accommodation near the meeting point. This will make it significantly easier to make it in time without rushing across the whole city at 6 am.

If you want to travel independently to the DMZ instead, you can choose to stay in “Camp Greaves” which is now a hostel but was once an active U.S. military camp located inside the Civilian Control Line.

Have you visited the DMZ yet? What did you think?

Need help planning your trip?

Check out how to plan a trip abroad & see my travel resources for more.

WayAway – Great for booking flights. They even have a cashback feature for those who fly frequently.
Skyscanner – A comprehensive comparison website showing where to purchase flights.
HostelWorld – The biggest selection of hostels & sociable accommodations.
Booking.com – The largest collection of accommodations worldwide.

Safety Wing – A travel insurance brand for long-term travellers and nomads.

Airalo – An eSIM card company that lets you stay connected during your trip.
Wise – Perfect for transferring foreign currencies.
iVisa – For applying for tourist and visitor visas.

Viator – Great for finding tours and activities worldwide.
Get Your Guide – Another company for finding activities.
Klook – Have some of the best activity deals in Asia.

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