With winter already nearing I feel nostalgic about my last trip to Seoul earlier this year. Though my trip was focused on visiting new parts of Korea (i.e. Jeju-do and Mt. Taebeksan) I made a promise to re-visit a few of my favorite places during my next trip to Korea and off course weather permitting (ㆆᴗㆆ)
For any foreign expat readers, Korea travelers, or visitors interested in learning about a few of my favorite towns/ cities in Korea here my top 5 favorite places to check out. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed in spending half a day or a few days exploring these towns/cities.
1) Chuncheon(춘천) & Gapyeong(가평), Gyeonggi-do (경기도)
Just a 1-hour subway or car ride away from central Seoul, Chuncheon & Gapyeong are two towns located within Korea’s Gyeonggi-do province. Chuncheon is most famous for being the city where dak-galbi (닭갈비), a well-known spicy marinated chicken dish originated. In addition, it is also the home of Namiseom Island (남이섬), a man-made island nestled within a luscious mountain terrain. Chuncheon became one of my favorite towns because of its beautiful landscapes. Being so close to Seoul it is a great town to visit for half a day or even a short weekend.
Gapyeong is a countryside town located just a few kilometers away from Chuncheon. Its majorly hilly terrain provides ample desolate locations for backpackers and/or groups of friends, MT university classmates, or couples looking to rent a pension house close to or nearby a picturesque lake basin. Gapyeong, is also home to Korea’s Garden of Morning Calm (아침고요수목원), a private garden conceptualized as a representation of Korea’s natural beauty, and Petit France (쁘띠프랑스), a miniature European-like village nestled on a hillside. Only a 30 min KTX Korail train ride, 1 and a half hour subway ride, or 1 hour car ride away from Seoul, Gapyeong is a great area to visit for a weekend or weekday escape from the city.
I have personally visited the Chuncheon/Gapyeong area at least 5x since I lived in Korea. Being so close to Seoul and easily accessible via car, bus, taxi, train, or subway I often joined close friends/ classmates on short day excursions to Gyeonggi-do.
2) Paju (파주), Gyeonggi-do (경기도)
Paju is located close to the North Korea-South Korea border in the northwestern most part of Gyeonggi-do province and is home to the famed Demilitarized zone(DMZ). Here tourists and Koreans alike can visit Paju’s Imjingak Nuri Peace Park, a park that pays homage to the armistice agreement signed between to the two Koreas, the Joint Security Area, which shows the continued divided peninsula, the 3rd tunnel, which the North Koreans dug when tried to invade the South, and even Unification Hill, which houses an observatory deck where civilians can take a glance into a countryside village located across the Northern border.
Surprisingly, I did not visit Paju and/or the DMZ area until my final 2 weeks in Seoul back in Fall 2015. But, even then, I only got to visit Imjingak’s Nuri Peace Park along the DMZ. When I visited Paju last year we decided to tour other areas instead. The areas we visited included Provence Village (프로방스 마을), a small Western themed village with a lovely French restaurant, European bakery (식빵의달인), and dozens of small chic boutique shops.
Not too far from Provence and another area we got to visit was Paju’s Heyri Art Village (헤이리 예술마을), an art village constructed by the local community of artists, writers, architects, etc. living in Paju. Heyri Art Village is home to private residences, workrooms, art galleries, restaurants, themed shops, theatres, and museums. In addition to Heyri Paju is also recognized for its growing Book City (출판도시문화재단), a permanent home for many Korean publishers. Within this designated area, visitors can visit dozens of bookstores & enjoy the city’s unique book cafes. Finally, Paju is one of the go-to cities for locals or Seoulites who would like to visit and shop at Paju’s Premium Outlet (파주 프리미엄아울렛) Shinsegae Simon mall; the closest Premium Outlet chain to Seoul that comprises of 165 shops.
3) Seoul (서울), Special Capital City
The capital and most high tech & wired city in the world, Seoul is a state of the art city. Possessing remnants of old hanok chibs, traditional one-floor houses (i.e. Bukchon Hanok Village) immersed within new 21st century architectures (i.e. DDP) creates a unique experience for newcomers, Koreans, and foreigners alike. What I fell in love with most throughout my 2 and half years living in the capital were a few areas/neighborhoods/ shopping centres, and parks. I highlight my favorite ‘seoul spots’ in my blog post Finding Seoul (소울 멋진 장소 서울에서 찾기).
For this post I’d like to highlight a few more places that definitely should be explored in Korea’s capital. Depending on which season you are in Seoul, visiting the Hangang River (한강) is a must. The Hangang is a main river that flows directly through Seoul. It basin holds many picnic, park, retreat, and camping sites for Seoulites and tourists throughout the year, but primarily Spring – Fall. Among Hangang’s many parks my no.1 favorite is Banpo Hangang Park (반포한강공원). Banpo Hangang Park, is a river park located on the southern side of the Hangang River. It is also the location of the well-known Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain (반포대교 달빛무지개분수) and also Sevitseom (세빛섬), a floating island that hosts venues for performances, shows, conferences, exhibitions, exclusive parties, etc. For those wishing to enjoy Hangang a different way I recommend touring Hangang on one of the hangang river ferry cruises (한강유람선) managed by Eland Cruises. I have toured Hangang on an evening cruise and loved the experience.
Further west up the Hangang is Yeoiudo Hangang Park, which is only a brief walk away from Yeoiudo’s famous 63rd Building that boasts an array of themed floors and the popular IFC Mall, where Koreans and expats can find their favorite global fashion brand store outlet, if not found in Myeongdong or the Lotte World Malls. If shopping is an interest for you then be sure and visit Sindorim’s D-Cube City Mall (디큐브백화점). D-Cube City is a fairly new mall built-in southwestern Seoul. The D-Cube mall is home to various domestic & global brand stores, a hotel, themed restaurants, a cinema, cafes, and a roof-top sky park. I frequently visited D-Cube for dates due to living 10 minutes away back in 2015.
Last, but certainly not least a highly recommended place to visit to feed your lust, appetite, or simple curiosity is visiting Seoul’s Sinsa-dong district area, but more specifically Garosu-gil (신사동 가로수길). Garosu-gil is not only known for its high-end Seoul location, but for its posh & trendy atmosphere for Korean youth & celebrities. Housing some of the more high-end clothing stores, boutiques, and restaurants Garosu-gil is a must visit area for either an hour or even a full day.
4) Gyeongju (경주), Gyeongsangbuk-do (경상북도)
Located in North Gyeongsangbuk-do province in the southeastern region of Korea, Gyeongju was once the historic capital city of Korea’s ancient kingdom Silla (57 BC – 935 AD). Due to its southern location Gyeongju’s historical remnants & architecture were preserved throughout the centuries including Korea’s Joseon Dynasty period (1392–1910), Japanese colonial period (1910-45), and even Korean War period (1950-53). After learning about Gyeongju’s rich historical & cultural preservation I backpacked alone to the ancient city for a brief weekend in summer 2014. Spending my entire time touring the city, I visited Gyeongju’s famed Bulguksa Temple (불국사), a UNESCO World Heritage site & the location of many of Korea’s national treasures.
After visiting Bulguksa Temple, I boarded a city bus bound for Seokguram Grotto (석굴암), which is also located on Mt. Tohamsan and only 4 kilometers away. The Serokguram Grotto is perched on a mountainside that overlooks the East Sea and the lush landscapes of the surrounding region. The grotto represents the symbolic work of Buddhist art during the golden age of Buddhism worship at the time the of the Silla Kingdom. After completing my visit through Mt. Tohamsan I returned to the inner city areas to visit Gyeongju’s Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond (경주 동궁과 월지, 안압지). Once a former palace complex Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond are presently located within Gyeonju’s National Park (경주국립공원). The pond and park area houses many relics and wondrous architecture.
The best way to tour Gyeonju’s National Park is either by bike or on foot(*on foot is highly recommended). During my stay I toured most of Gyeongju on foot. On my walking tour I passed by fields of lotus plants & rape flowers, passed by Gyeongju’s Seokbinggo (석빙고), a traditional Silla era ice storage house, and took selfies next to Cheomseongdae (첨성대), an astronomical observatory that is the oldest of its kind in the world. By the evening time I passed by a few ancient tombs, stopped by a Gyeongju Bulguk Chalbori Ppang (불국빵 찰보리빵) Bread shop to buy sweet barley filled breads, and finally toured Gyeongju’s tumulis at the Daereungwon Tomb Complex & Cheonmachong Tomb (대릉원 – 천마총), where 23 large royal tombs of kings and nobles are located.
Gyeongju is a must visit city due the abundant amount of history that can be seen in present day. I fell in love with the city for being able see, walk around, and even capture the beauty of Gyeongju’s historic shrines, burial tombs, temples, and palace relics.
5) Busan (부산), Gyeongsangnam-do (경상남도)
Located on the southerneast coast, Busan is the second largest city in Korea after Seoul. Busan, is a sea-coast city and home to the cultural, economic, and educational centers in the Gyeongsangnam-do province. Busan is easily accessible by plane, bus, car, taxi, train, or even boat. I have visited the city 2x before and traveled conveniently by bus direct from Seoul. During my first visit to Busan I toured the city and outer city regions with my Sogang classsmates. The second time I visited with one friend and we spent our time eating delicious seafood and relaxing.
What makes Busan stand out aside from being Korea’s second most populous city is Busan’s growing diversity and sea-coast lifestyle. This can be seen when visiting Busan’s famed International Market (국제시장), Jagalchi Market (부산 자갈치시장), and Haeundae Market (부산 해운대시장).
The first place I visited on both occasions and a must for anyone new to Busan is Haeundae. For anyone not familiar Busan’s no. 1 beach during the summer season is Haeundae beach. Here you will find Korean seafood restaurants that specialize in gomjangeo (꼼장어구이), a freshly sliced sea eel dish and Busan delicacy; and you can tour the scenic Dongbaekseom Island (동백섬), which connected by walking bridge with Haeundae beach.
As a foreign expat I visited Busan to explore its unique temples, cultural villages, markets, and enjoy some r+r during my trips. From my stays I was able to visit Busan’s Beomeosa Temple (범어사), located at the edge of Mt. Geumjeongsan and constructed during Korea’s Silla Kingdom, as well as, Busan’s sea cliff-side Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사), located in the outskirts of eastern Busan. I also got to visit Busan Tower at Yongdusan Park(부산타워 용두산 공원), tour the UN Memorial Cemetery in Korea (재한유엔기념공원), where 2,300 UN troops who served and died during the Korean War are remembered, visit Busan’s Shinsegae Centrum City mall (신세계 센텀시티), one of the largest shopping complexes in the world, enjoy an escape from the cold by relaxing at Centrum City’s Spa Land (스파랜드), a spa house with multiple sauna rooms and gender-separated jjimjil-bangs, and explore Busan’s Gamcheon Culture Village (부산 감천문화마을), Busan’s famed colorful hillside mural village.
On my r+r nights in Busan I enjoyed a night out at Gwangalli beach, eating chicken and drinking Korean beer with classmates. For my second stay, my friend & I spent the night touring Busan’s International Market, where we visited the famous 꽃분이네, a real store shown the 2014 Korean film Ode to My Father. We toured Jagalchi Market, which is the largest fish market in all of Korea, ate dinner at a tuna-sushi restaurant (참치병장), and got to visit the late-night hour Bupyeong (Kkangtong) Market (부평시장) (aka Busan Night Market), which is open from 19:30-24:00 KST.
As previously mentioned Busan is the second largest city in Korea. Therefore there is certainly lots to see, eat, do, and explore. Having only visited only twice I keep Busan at the top of my list for future visits, especially around Busan’s International Film Festival (BIFF) week.
These are my 5 favorite towns/cities in Korea. With that said please be sure to read my follow up blog post about My Top 5 Least Favorite Cities in Korea(한국에 내 5개 싫는 도시), which I had the opportunity of visiting, touring, and exploring while residing in Korea.
Out of my top 5 favorite towns/cities in Korea, which is your favorite? Have you been to all 5? If not, then I definitely encourage you to check out these places on your next trip or stay in Korea! o(^▽^)o
*Note: All pictures posted are owned by the Yeppunshikan author, usage of these pictures without the owners consent is strictly prohibited.