After a year and a half of exploring South Korea I’ve been to a lot of places. I went to all the places that you will never find in a guidebook. Many places in Korea are still fairly undiscovered and lack English information. In places like Mokpo I was asked why I was there. The answer? It was one of the only places left. And some of those out of the way places became my favorites!
So let’s jump into the monster post in alphabetical order.
A quick note: I rank these places on ease of access.
- 1 is very easy to visit with limited Korean skills and without a car. 13 Places.
- 2 might require careful itinerary planning and a car would make it easier. 18 Places.
- 3 means public transport is very limited as are English guides for what to do. 10 Places.
- 4 is largely impossible to do outside of a tour or without a car. I will provide tour company links. 5 Places.
Andong is known for it’s Traditional Masked Dance Festival, which occurs in October every year. This festival is absolutely worth a visit. However, if you are coming during any other time there isn’t much to do in Andong proper. You’re going to want to head out to Hahoe Village, which is around an hour and a half away by bus (and the bus comes only every hour or so).
It’s worth the visit as the entire village is an open air museum. Rare thatched roof buildings, museums, a stunning cliff and river view, and regular masked dance demonstrations. It was chosen as the village to best exemplify Korea’s historical culture. I recommend staying in the village if you can, although it is more expensive. If you are staying in Andong, Kim’s Hostel is a good cheaper choice and well located near the festival grounds.
Level 2 Destination. Getting to the village can take a surprising amount of work if you aren’t familiar with reading bus schedules in Korean. But, you shouldn’t have too many problems, you’ll get there in the end. Make sure to check out my guide to 8 Eye-Opening Things to Do in Andong!
If you’ve seen the tea fields of China or Japan, you’ll probably be surprised by what you see here. Korea is not known for its tea, but it is known for it’s tendency to do everything as big and better as they can. The tea fields are simply gorgeous, and that’s what you’re here for. Flowering trees are interspersed among rows of tea plants leading up the side of a hill. At the base of the hill towering pine trees reach up. If you can climb all the way to the top you will be afforded views of islands floating in sky blue water in the distance.
A single caveat is that the tea itself isn’t that amazing if you are a tea aficionado. One of the only places to get good quality Korean tea is from Hadong. Korea just doesn’t have the history of growing tea like the surrounding countries, so the tea in Boseong is somewhat one note. But the delicious tea foods are abound such as green tea noodles, ice cream, and chocolate. Check out my Guide to Boseong!
Level 2 Destination. While fairly easy to get to, there are no real options for accommodation outside of the expensive tea resort which books up quickly. Luckily, everything is clustered in one area and easy to explore.
Korea’s second largest city is always worth a visit. Something is always happening in Busan, from art exhibits to drag shows. Because it is located in the south it makes a great home base to explore outside of it. Busan is an eclectic city, with something for everyone. Nice beaches, great cafes like Bibibidang, book alleys, the Gamcheon cultural village – you don’t really need me to sell you on visiting Busan. Just go! Check out my guide to the Top 10 Free Things to Do in Busan.
Level 1 Destination. Anyone can get here and get around. Be aware that Busan proper and Haeundae are essentially two separate cities and it can take around an hour via public transport to go between them. If you’re there for a few days, dedicate one to each side of the city to save on time.
Buyeo is close to Daejeon and makes an easy daytrip if you base yourself there for a couple of days. If you’re interested in Korean history, then Buyeo is one of the best places to learn about the Baekje Kingdom from the Three Kingdoms period in Korea. There isn’t a ton to do here, so it’s worth combining it with Gongju just a half hour away.
Ancient tomb mounds, Gumgnamji Pond is surrounded by lotus flowers, the Buyeo National Museum is excellent (and free), and Baekje Cultural land for an amusement park. Buyeo is about 3 hours from Seoul. While not a priority for an itinerary, it is still a great weekend trip if you have the time! You can check out what to do in Buyeo in my post here.
Level 2 Destination: It’s not difficult to get to, it just takes a bit of time and it’s best to base yourself in Daejeon (which is its own interesting place!).
I lived for a year and a half in Changwon. There is not a whole lot to do here but you might be here on business as it’s the capital of the province and the back-up capital in the event that some things need to move away from Seoul. The Changwon House is one of the only historical things to visit. It’s close to Masan which is a little more interesting, along with Jinhae which hosts the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. I will say, it’s many foreigner friendly bars are hard to beat outside of Seoul and Busan so be sure to head downtown to Next Bar, O’Brians, or KOB for some fun any night of the week. If you’re headed to Changwon, I have a pretty comprehensive guide for getting around.
Level 1 Destination. Easy to get to there’s just not much to do here.
Cheongju is a nice place to visit if it’s on your path but it’s a little out of the way. The middle and north east of Korea often feel like the last destinations tourists get to. There’s things to do, but nothing unmissable, and other places like Gyeongju or Suwon have more to offer. Cheongju is known for its delicious soy marinated pork BBQ. The Suamgol Village is one of the better mural villages I’ve seen in Korea, offering excellent views of the city from the observatory area. There is the early printing museum and Seongan Road, which are highlights. Although, I personally think both are a little overrated. The walking course along the road has a great mix of history, shopping, and food.
Level 2 Destination. Not super hard to get there but will take some research to know what to do there.
Chuncheon is most known for it’s tourist towns, much like Paju. Nami Island and the Garden of Morning calm are frequent tours from Seoul. Neither is particularly worth it in my opinion. The garden is lovely but Nami Island is built entirely for tourists and nothing feels entirely…real. If you’re looking for absolutely stunning Korean gardens, head to Suncheon. However, if you don’t want to spend too much time worrying over figuring out buses and trains on your own, a tour here is a nice compliment to a Seoul-based itinerary. It’s also great if you don’t have a ton of time to go somewhere, as it can easily be seen in a day.
Level 2 Destination. It’s a tad complicated if you want to see everything in the area, so a tour is best. I recommend staying at Bunk Hostel in Seoul, the owner provides reasonable priced tours to Nami Island and he’s fun!
A highly underrated destination in Korea. If you don’t live in Seoul, or live in the Southern areas, Daegu is a far better city for nightlife than Busan. Also, something every one of my friends has pointed out – for some reason the people here are really attractive! But there’s more than that of course, you can check out some tomb mounds, one of my favorite cafes in Korea, cable cars, and E-World amusement park. Architecturally, it’s one of the most interesting cities in Korea with a strong Christian influence resulting in unusual (for Korea) massive churches dotting the city.
Level 1 Destination. Very accessible from just about anywhere in Korea with many options for eating and sleeping!
Getting to Daejeon is easy but if you mention to any Korean person that you’re going you’ll inevitably hear, “But why?” Apparently, there’s nothing to do in this city. I don’t agree! There are some great museums, historical parks, a variety of foreign food from around the world, and nice nightlife. The Shabu Shabu is some of the best I’ve had and just minutes from the train station. If you have time in Daejeon, day trips to Buyeo and Gongju are also worth planning!
Level 2 Destination. Incredibly easy to get to however there is next to no good information on what to do anywhere. Even Koreans are convinced there’s nothing to do here but they’re wrong!
I’ll admit, I was underwhelmed with Damyang. It’s quite far from Seoul and mainly only worth visiting if you are already seeing Gwangju. The bamboo forest Damyang is known for is stunning, perhaps the best in Korea (and it’s certainly less crowded than Kyoto, Japan’s famous Arashiyama forest) but I’m not entirely sure the trip is worth it just for that. There is some excellent food on offer from a deokgalbi restaurant – although be prepared for a several course meal! But the other tourist attractions such as the village and meta sequoia tree walk are not worth the trip. So, if you just pop in to eat and walk in bamboo it’s great, but don’t expect more from it!
Level 3 Destination. Buses are infrequent and you’ll likely have to resort to taxis. Luckily, nothing is too far away. There’s also not a ton of information available about this city, and you’ll generally be going here as an add-on to a Gwangju itinerary.
Initially I thought this city didn’t have much to do and it was difficult to get to. Boy was I wrong! Danyang has a huge variety of fun activities. It’s perhaps best known for its paragliding, which is a shockingly relaxing and not at all scary activity! Gosu Cave will have you winding through echoing, dripping caverns and maybe spotting a bat or two. It’s also a much better location to base yourself in if you’re interested in taking the V-Train. The V-Train is a tourist train that winds through scenic valleys, stopping in small villages, with operational windows to let in that fresh mountain air. It leaves from Buncheon and Danyang is the most interesting place to base yourself in. Danyang also has a wonderful and friendly local market with tons of delicious options for food!
Level 2 Destination. It’s rather difficult to do anything outside this area without a car. Buses are infrequent and not on Kakao/Naver Maps. There’s also very little information available in English on what to do.
If you’re a fan of all things Korea, this is something of a boss level destination. For many Koreans, visiting the disputed islands is a lifetime goal. Koreans are somewhat obsessed with Dokdo, which has taken on a symbolic representation of all things related to the Korea-Japan conflict. It seems quite clear to me that Dokdo belongs to Korea both by historical documentation, and more modern reasonings (Korea is the one selling tickets to visit, not Japan). But you’ll still see Koreans sporting Dokdo sunglasses, shirts, and masks. There are exhibits in Seoul subways and a frequent elementary school essay topic is on Dokdo. The excitement of the Koreans on the ferry will give you a real insight to just how much these islands mean to the people of Korea. They may not look like much but they mean so much to the country.
Level 4 Destination. In order to get here you almost certainly will want to be on a tour. Ferries are the most confusing mode of transport in Korea and Dokdo is very, very out of the way.
Gangneung is a beautiful seaside town. It can get pretty expensive in terms of housing so if you’re only going to relax, head to Sokcho instead. There are more things to do in Gangneung besides relaxing on beaches though. Make sure to check out the Tofu village for absolutely delicious tofu gelato. There’s also an adorable sheep farm not too far from Gangneung which is a fun and very Korean feeling kind of trip. The historical areas of Gangneung are also worth a gander. This city is one I wish I had been able to spend just a little more time in!
Level 1 Destination. As long as you are leaving from Seoul you should have pretty direct routes via bus or train. It can get a lot more complicated if you’re leaving from southern cities.
The name refers to the entire island, which has some rather spread out attractions. Windy Hill is famous for it’s views, although I think the views from the rocky cliffs just across the street are a little better! The highlight is the ability to head to Oedo Island, an island completely dedicated to being a botanical garden. The stunning views over the gardens are worth an entire trip to Geoje. It also has some nice beaches, but I wouldn’t come just for those.
Level 3 Destination. Rather confusing to get to as there are two bus terminals, neither of which are listed as “Geoje.” Local buses are infrequent and rarely show on Kakao or Naver maps. You’ll probably have to talk to locals in order to find where they’ve changed bus stops to as several are obsolete.
Gimhae is a surprisingly fun stop on your way across the southern half of South Korea. It has a lot of hidden historical gems such as King Suro’s tomb, ensconced in one of the most peaceful parks I’ve found in Korea. It also has what I would guess is the highest foreigner population outside of Seoul. There are simply tons of different options when it comes to delicious food. Lastly, Gimhae has a ton of Gaya history, which is absolutely fascinating and frankly forgotten by even the Korean population as it gets overshadowed by the Shilla in Gyeongju. Make sure to give Gimhae a chance!
Level 1 Destination. Everyone can get here and everything to do is well concentrated in one area. There’s not a ton of information available online but if you show up and walk around you’ll be able to see things 🙂
I’m going to say it. This is the most underrated destination in all of Korea (Ulleungdo is a strong second but terribly difficult to get to). Are you a fan of Stonehenge? Ancient history? UNESCO sites? Wildlife and hiking? This place has a lot of options. This place is so impressive, and barely busy at all. Hundreds of dolmens, or massive stone ancient grave sites like Stonehenge are just scattered everywhere across the side of a low sloped hill overlooking the valley. The history the museum can tell you about is absolutely fascinating. If you have more energy than I did at the time, you can take the short hike to visit a reservoir famous for its wildlife on the other side of the hill. This is one of the coolest places I’ve been to. Go!
Level 2 Destination. While the bus to Gochang is not too difficult to find, the sites you will actually want to see are a bit further outside of town and you will probably want to take a taxi. There aren’t a whole lot of places to stay but it can be done as an exhausting day trip from Seoul if you’re as crazy as me!
Golguksa is pretty special among temples in Korea as it has its own form of martial arts called sunmundo. You can sign up to learn the basic forms and get in quite the workout! It’s perhaps not a journey I would make if I wasn’t planning to stay the night as there are more impressive temples, however it has a real charm. A narrow valley pass leads up the main temple building where martial arts demonstrations are put on frequently. They also offer horseback riding and archery!
Temples in Korea are often pretty far from any real town or city, making them something of their own ecosystems. Often they have their own cafes or nearby restaurants, and frequently they have some kind of accommodation. Most accommodation can be found through a temple stay, where you can choose to just relax at the temple with included meals or sign up to experience the life of a monk.
Level 3 Destination. While the temple is easy enough to book via templestay.com the bus routes are not posted anywhere. They come every 15-25 minutes but you’d only know that by calling the temple and asking for the schedule. Luckily this is easily done. You essentially have to go to Gyeongju first, which is what lands it in a Level 3.
This is a complimentary city to Buyeo, and I personally liked Gongju a little bit more. Both are full of Baekje history, have UNESCO Heritage sites, and have excellent temples and tombs. Gongju however has a beautiful fortress that is lovely to roam around and a fascinating museum about their tombs (which I also found a bit more impressive than the Buyeo ones). I recommend basing yourself in Daejeon and taking day trips to visit these two cities. Both can be seen in the same day, as I did, but you might want more time to explore each in depth.
Level 2 Destination. Pretty easy to get to, there’s just not a ton of clear information on how to visit all the sites. I also found housing to be generally more expensive than basing yourself in Daejeon.
Gunsan is a cute place that you should only visit on the way to other places. AKA, don’t go three hours out of your way like I did! Keep in mind everything to do here is small, but Gunsan has some of the only on-display Japanese influence in all of Korea (the other main place would be Mokpo). Japanese restaurants, a Japanese house, and a Japanese temple are all on display. It’s interesting to see how that all fits into a Korean setting. It doesn’t feel quite the same as many places in Korea, with wider lantern-lined streets and pocket sized parks interspersed. Most of the main sites can be seen in a couple of hours and time yourself carefully as most restaurants will close from around 2-5PM.
Level 2 Destination. There used to not be much information available in English, but Cari Cakes on Youtube has a very informative video on the attractions in Gunsan!
I’m talking about the Gwangju in the south, not in the north. Gwangju is the site of an Independence Movement massacre in the 1980s. Visiting Gwangju and the museum was eye-opening for me. I had learned of Korea’s sudden rise as a force to be recognized in a politics class in college. Korea’s turn from authoritarianism to democracy is generally glossed over as having been easy – apparently it couldn’t have been further from the truth. The stereotype of Gwangju citizens being lazy or slow still lingers from the propaganda of the authoritarian regime. The city is fascinating, but does suffer from things to do other than museums.
Level 2. Very easy to get to but if looking for more to do than fairly good eating and museums, Gwangju doesn’t have a whole lot going on.
Ah, my favorite place in all of Korea. I love Gyeongju so much I’ve been there at least 7-8 times. It’s the intersection of history and landscape. Just picture, giant golden crowns of kings and queens unearthed from huge mounds that intersperse themselves among buildings and parks. Seeing the daily interaction of the people whole live among the mounds is just fascinating – normal lives, but ancient history so visible all around them. As though the pyramids were actually *in* Cairo and everyone just went about their day. Also, the food situation which Gyeongju is notorious for being sub-par in, is improving! Tons of archaeological digs are ongoing, so as more time passes there will be more to see. Make sure you head here as soon as possible on your Korea itinerary!
Level 1. Gyeongju is very well laid out and perfect for any easy itinerary.
Perhaps the most underrated destination in all of Korea. It is, however, horribly expensive to get around if you don’t have a car as the buses are very infrequent and long. Everyone is incredibly friendly here – we had more people than I’ve ever encountered in Korea ask if they could help us find anything (apparently foreigners must be lost if they’re in Hadong). Hadong is known for its green tea fields, which are far older than the ones in Boseong and consequently, perhaps, has significantly better tea.
But Hadong is not only green tea – crazy stone palaces, idyllic temples, and views over the valley from a historical estate. If you get the chance, it’s not a place to miss!
Level 4. Awful to get around. Either it will take forever to get somewhere or you will spend 40,000krw+ to get to any of the points of interest. Renting a car or finding a tour is the best way to go, but be aware driving to many of the sites involves some rather narrow and winding mountain roads.
If you can only visit one temple in Korea, make it this one. It is popular, but still retains its peaceful atmosphere. It actually feels used by Koreans who travel there, and familiar with foreigners. At most temples it feels awkward to enter the incense-scented rooms to attempt to join in with prayers or listen to the chanting. But not here! If you can manage to go for a temple stay, I highly recommend it. The night beside the rushing waterfall was incredible and the fog-laden morning even more so. You get the opportunity to experience the complex with few people, and eat some shockingly good Buddhist vegetarian fare.
Level 3. Somewhat confusing to get to, and a fairly long journey as you generally have to head to Daegu first if you don’t have a car.
Now, I’ll be honest, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Incheon. But it is worth a look if you have some time a day before your flight or something. Incheon has the only Chinatown in all of Korea and consequentially some awesome Chinese food. There’s also an interesting temple, a nice beach, and some markets (if you hadn’t seen enough during your time in Korea). All-in-all, don’t rush to explore here but if you happen to be passing through it’s worth the stop.
Level 2. You would think this would be an easy place to explore given it’s next to the airport. It’s mainly the lack of information for what to do.
There’s pretty much just one thing to do in this town, and that’s the reservoir. It is the oldest man-made reservoir in Korea, which is a very specific title. However, it is very beautiful and worth the stop on the way to Danyang to walk around it, which will take you about an hour if you stop to enjoy yourself in the shade of the pines. Danyang is a much better place to base yourself in the area, but I’m glad I stopped in.
Level 2. The buses run surprisingly well in this town, but be aware there are not a ton of things to eat and the train station doesn’t have lockers for backpackers (we stashed ours in a janitor area and it worked fine though!) which is the only people this town should attract.
26. Jeju City
If you have the time you should absolutely not miss Jeju, and Jeju City is a surprisingly nice base to jump off from! Housing is simply going to be cheaper here, and it benefits by having some excellent food (such as Michelin star BBQ). From here it is easier to find the buses which often are not on-schedule to take you to the UNESCO Lava Tubes, the O’Sulloc Tea Farm, and the famous northern beaches. In Jeju City itself there may seem to be not much to do, but I encourage you to walk around the old-school style city and run in to fun shops and cafes!
Level 1. The main struggle is finding things to do. Most people immediately leave for all the other attractions. But I think it’s worth considering Jeju City as a base for your adventures, especially if you have a fair amount of time in Jeju. This city feels the most robust and “walkable” of the options.
This should simply be a place that is on your Korea itinerary. It has two main things to make it attractive. One, it has the largest hanok village in Korea so you can find tons of amazing and historical accommodations right in one of the coolest and most walkable parts of the city. Two, it’s known as a foodie haven, with the claim to fame as the origin of bibimbap, or mixed rice with vegetables. Other Korean delights are well on hand. If these two aren’t enough, never fear as a Confucian Academy, fabulous nature walks, and tombs are also on offer. You could easily fill several days here.
Level 1. Very easy to get to and has great amenities for any trip.
Jindo is known for exactly only two things. The famous Korean dog breed that hails from the region, and the famous sea parting festival. Taking place around March or April, in the morning the waters between coastal Jindo and the island of Modo recede, allowing people to walk across the ocean floor from one to the other. It’s one of the coolest experiences to be had anywhere, so it might be worth timing your visit around this!
Level 3. Very difficult to get to with infrequent buses not labeled on Kakao or Naver.
It may seem that there isn’t much to do here but I genuinely love this city. It’s just beautiful and super walkable, perfect for a day trip or a weekend jaunt. Around September-October they have the Lantern Festival, which often coincides with a bit of Oktoberfest, and it is truly a trippy experience that isn’t to be missed if your visit coincides. However, even without the festival, the fortress and museum are great to walk around, and there are several idyllic cafes (and the best dim sum in Korea). I highly recommend you plan a stop here to chill out on your next Korea trip!
Level 1. Very walkable and easy to get to city. It’s also on the way to a ton of places so it’s easy to stop in.
30. Masan & Jinhae
Masan and Jinhae are right next to Changwon, in fact, they’ve been incorporated into the same town. Here, there is a a chill, almost hipster vibe, with some of the more authentic Korean nightlife. There is also the “Art Village” which is worth a look for some of the decorated alleys and the museum. Along with this, it also has a good mix of foreigner food such as Italian, Vietnamese, and Thai. Jinhae is the site of the Cherry Blossom Festival – I think the blossoms are best viewed in Jeonju or Gyeongju instead. This place has some cute tourist train tracks that are excellent for photos, and some atmospheric cafes. Jinhae is a little hard to get to with some seriously infrequent and lengthy buses from Masan or Changwon, but it’s doable.
Level 1. Not tons of information available online for what to do, but it’s a nice enough city.
Mokpo is easily in my top 10 of the places I’ve been to in Korea. I just loved this town. It’s the most out of the way city on the mainland, with only a slow train available to take you to the southwestern corner. Mokpo had an important role to play in independence movements against the Japanese colonizers, and city retains a bit of its Japanese influence. The museums are some of the best in the country, especially the Maritime Museum. The combination of technology and overwhelming amounts of pottery and other finds from sunken ships was beyond cool to see. It’s also very beautiful, with ocean views and weird storied rocks. So, if you can, try to squeeze in a trip to Mokpo!
Level 3. While only a little difficult to get to simply in terms of time, there is almost no information on what to do available online.
Namhae is probably one of the prettiest places to go in Korea. The stunning natural scenes and landscapes never seem to end. It’s the only place where you can see terraced rice fields in Korea – and right against the ocean too! Namhae is the fifth largest island in Korea and its attractions are very spread out. If you can, time your visit for October to hit up the Oktoberfest in the German Village. I highly recommend taking a tour to Namhae as it will give you the chance to experience things on a more local level. You’ll have the chance to stay with a local Korean grandmother where she’ll serve your traditional dinner and breakfast.
Level 4. Due to the spread out nature of the attractions and almost entirely lacking local buses, you either need a car or to take a tour. Adventure Korea offers tours every 2-3 months to Namhae.
This is often the jumping off point to head to the DMZ (the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea). However, there are some things to see in Paju as well. Be aware that most of the things to see are made only for tourists. You won’t exactly be getting an authentic experience and much is rather fake. The Haeri Art Village is primarily a collection of cafes loosely tying themselves to the art theme. But, there is a nice small museum dedicated to traditional and historical jewelry. The Provence Village has some lavender plants and is pretty Instagram ready (while looking nothing like Provence, France). The Book Village has a really great, massive, bookstore but everything will be in Korean.
Level 2 Destination. It is very easy to get to, but Paju is spread out into many “tourist” villages which can get a little confusing. The Haeri Art Village and the Provence Village are somewhat within walking distance, only taking about 25-30 minutes by foot.
Everything to do in Samcheok is very spread out and you should primarily focus on just one thing – seeing the sunrise. That’s what Samcheok is all about, with expensive pensions built right along the ocean. I’ll admit, I thought the sunrise was better in Sokcho and significantly cheaper. It is also the final stop on the Sea Train, a tourist train running along the coast from Gangneung. It’s a convenient place to stop and enjoy the ocean air. If you’re willing to go further afield, there are two cave complexes to explore in the same area about an hour away by bus. They’re absolutely fascinating, and in my opinion worth the trip to Samcheok alone. I had such fun learning about the cave systems and being spooked by the eerie quiet.
Level 3. There’s a struggle to find things to do and it can be a bit more complicated to get to if the Sea Train isn’t running.
35. Seogwipo City
Seogwipo City is the more interesting city to base yourself in while in Jeju. Cafes and delicious restaurants abound with stunning views of the ocean. If you’re interested in hiking Hallasan, Seogwipo is a good jumping off point. It’s also close to some of the top attractions in Jeju, such as the waterfalls, Bomunsa Temple, and the incredible Daepo Jusangjeolli lava cliffs. All-in-all visiting Jeju is better seen as a whole rather than what each individual city has to offer since you probably won’t be spending tons of time in the cities. Jeju is all about the nature!
Level 2. Buses on Jeju can have weird schedules but getting here and finding things to do isn’t super difficult.
This is, perhaps, the most famous mountain in Korea after Hallasan in Jeju. It’s the third highest in Korea and a tentative UNESCO site. It’s also beautiful. Even as someone who doesn’t super enjoy hiking I found the waterfall path both gorgeous and rewarding. Part of my issue when hiking in Korea is that it’s often near vertical on stairs and the mountains are so covered in trees you can’t really see anything else. Frequently there isn’t even much of a view at the top. Seoraksan isn’t like that! There is a variety of scenery and cool rock formations to take in, as well as three main hiking paths with differing levels of endurance required. If you’re not up for hiking then simply take the cable car you’ll be rewarded with stunning views and fun rocks to clamber over and take those Instagram-y shots.
Level 4. If you really want to see things you’re almost certainly going to need a car or to go on a tour. If you choose to do only a part of the attractions as a daytrip from Sokcho it’s only a 3.
Of course this is going to be on any list – it’s somewhat hard to bypass this mega city. And you shouldn’t. Seoul is one of the most incredible cities in the world. Something is always happening somewhere – and in my opinion it’s the true city that never sleeps. A frequent sight on weekends is people only leaving bars at 8 or 9AM! But it’s not all about partying, although if you’re interested I think Seoul has the best clubbing in the world. There’s also incredible history with six palace complexes. Delicious street food around every corner and cafe hopping on the regular. I don’t think I need to tell you more, but give Seoul a good amount of time on your trip to really slip into the culture.
Level 1 for obvious reasons. Just don’t think you can see this city in a couple of days as it’s massive!
This was a delightful surprise of a city! At first it might seem like there’s not a ton to do – but that’s kind of the point! Sokcho is about relaxing in cafes with ocean views, walking along the beach searching for shells, and letting the breeze ruffle your hair. Sokcho is also quite a bit cheaper than the other cities along the eastern coast like Gangneung or Samcheok. There is a North Korean village, although I’ll admit it didn’t seem like much. I would go purely for enjoying the views and don’t expect more!
Level 3. You can’t take a train here, so it’s a little slow. Things to do besides the beaches are a little spread out and there isn’t much.
Ah. The weirdest city I’ve been to in Korea. Incredibly modern, this planned eco-city was built on endangered marshland. The buildings are all very new and tall, but spaced oddly as though they were recently dropped from alien visitors. There isn’t a whole lot to do here, but there’s enough if you’re stopping on the way to or from the airport. The Central Park area is beautiful, especially in the evenings as the light glints over the water. There are a few museums and a cute “Art Park” area which is worth a stroll. All in all, there’s no reason to go unless you’re on your way to something else!
Level 2 simply for finding things to do. It’s also much further from the airport than you might think.
Another one of my favorite places in Korea. It just represents a core tenant of modern Korean culture – they’re very “extra.” And if they’re going to do something, they’re going to do it in the most grand possible way. Suncheon used to be primarily known for its beautiful endangered marshes – which are certainly lovely! But because of all the tourism, the marshes were beginning to suffer. So, instead of simply rerouting people or upping the price, they built the most massive national gardens in front of them. Now the tourism is split and the buses aren’t parking right in front of the marsh and harming them with their fumes. And Suncheon now has another incredible attraction, with garden displays from around the world.
Level 1. Generally good buses and easy to find attractions.
This is one of my favorite cities in Korea. There’s just something about walled cities that do it for me, especially when the town works to stay within their confines. There are regulations for how high buildings can be in the city center and its so cool to be able to look out at the larger city from within. Also, there’s excellent food, vintage vibes, and a palace to visit. Suwon is an easy 40 minute trip from Seoul and perfect for a change of scenery. Any Korean itinerary should have Suwon as a stop!
Level 1. One of the easiest places to get to and to wander around.
I grew to love Tongyeong. The first time I went I wasn’t convinced by what I saw as being worth the trip. The second time, with a better itinerary, I had a fantastic time. Not only is Tongyeong a fantastic place to jump off from for island hopping, it has its own fascinating history. After visiting some of the historical sites that will explain the Japanese Invasion in the 1600s, make sure to take the cable car up to get an incredible view. The story comes to life as you picture all the Japanese boats sailing into Tongyeong. Super beautiful, with a relaxed harbor vibe, I wish I’d been able to visit it more.
Level 2 because it’s a little spread out and things to do seem to be almost local secrets among expats.
43. Udo Island
Udo is a fun day trip I recommend to anyone traveling to Jeju during the cooler months. You can rent bicycles and take them around the island in a day, stopping in at the beautiful beaches and cute cafes. I don’t personally recommend you go in summer as it will be too hot to bike. The tour buses that go around the island are very confusing and don’t always stop where they’re supposed to. Make sure you hope on one of the speedboats to tour the crazy island rock formations, and head to the peanut cafe to sample peanut jam – which is surprisingly delicious!
Level 3. Ferries are expensive and confusing and the buses on Jeju are already less punctual than the mainland.
This is in my top 3. Without a doubt this is one of the most incredible trips I took in Korea. In a way, I have Covid to thank for getting here – I never would have had time to go if I’d been doing all of the international trips I had planned. Ulleungdo is a crazy rock far out in ocean on the east side of Korea. Only a few thousand people inhabit the island, which is primarily famous for it’s squid, pumpkins, and as a jumping off point to visit Dokdo. But it’s so much more. Just unparalleled views, seaside walks, and adventure. As a bonus, it’s the only place in Korea that has cafes open by 7AM! It is really difficult to get to, with a three hour ferry there and back. I highly recommend you take a tour as it will help you get around the island to all the coolest spots.
Level 4. I took a four day tour with Adventure Korea, which I cannot recommend enough. Absolutely, I would try to time it for a four day option, rather than three. I felt I had the chance to relax and fall in love with Ulleungdo with that extra time.
Ulsan is another slightly odd city. Everyone here is edgy, more people have tattoos here than I’ve ever seen in Korea, and everything closes early. Make sure you eat early as we had trouble finding anywhere after 8PM and wound up wandering the streets for hours until we settled at McDonalds. The river is beautiful, there are new gardens which have lovely fields of purple and red flowers. There are some very cool walks along the oceanside and, most importantly, the Bangudae Petroglyphs and dinosaur footprints. They’re quite a ways out of town and the buses are very infrequent. We were able to take a taxi who kindly waited for us while we took an hour to see the very cool footprints and the incredible scenery. The petroglyphs can be a little difficult to see but once you spy some of the images the picture becomes clear!
Level 2. if you’re just visiting the city, Level 3 if you’re heading to see the petroglyphs.
Yeosu is another good option if you’re looking to island hop. This island area is much better connected than Tongyeong in that area, as you can typically just take an infrequent local bus. I highly recommend the cable car in Yeosu, I think it afforded the best views of any cable car I’ve taken in Korea as you drift along above the water and harbors. If you can, time your visit for around November and you’ll get the chance to see Camellia flowers exploding across Yeosu. There’s even a Camellia Island that’s not far away and worth a small hike to see.
Level 2. Fairly easy to get to but infrequent local buses can be annoying when trying to plan an itinerary.
47. Yokjido & Yeonhwado
These are two islands off of Tongyeong. I’m not even recommending these two in particularly. However, I think it is worth a trip to see any of Korea’s smaller islands. Yokjido is one of the bigger islands to hop to with many things to do. Hikes, cool rail cars to take you up mountains for more stunning views, and some tiny hidden temples. Just bring food with you, often times the local restaurants follow strict schedules that don’t make sense and I’ve been left hungry more than once.
Level 3. Navigating the ferry terminals is a pain, and it’s shockingly expensive to travel via ferry compared to local bus or trains.
The Things I Didn’t See
I maintain that I think I saw 99% of the things worth seeing in Korea. However, there are a couple things I missed. The biggest is the final UNESCO Heritage Site, the Namhansanseoung fortress and walls just below Seoul. The next is Songgwangsa, the final of the three Jewel Temples most important to Korean Buddhism. I also did not see the Upo Wetland, which is on the tentative list to become a UNESCO Natural Site. So, if you somehow manage to make it all the way through my list, feel free to check out these and tell me what you thought!