Ulleungdo Travel Guide, South Korea. The ultimate off-the-beaten path Korea travel experience. Battle the waves on a three hour ferry to see the disputed region of Dokdo, visit the farm-to-table restaurants in an ancient caldera, and circle this rocky outcrop in the sea while snacking on their famous squid and pumpkin treats.
- What to See and Do
- Best Daytrips
- Typical Costs & Budget
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat
- General Tips for Korea
- Other Places to Visit in Korea
Check out the details to plan your trip in this Ulleungdo Travel Guide.
Top 5 Things to Do in Ulleungdo
1. Dokdo Island Ferry (60,000krw)
Ok, so the ferry itself is not the highlight (it’s primarily open ocean water for 4-5 hours round trip) but it is the only way to get to Dokdo Island. Dokdo is the main reason that Koreans come to Ulleungdo. This is the disputed territory between Japan and Korea.
It’s frequently at the center of many an international controversy such as when Donald Trump was supposedly served Dokdo shrimp at a summit. Cue the outrage! Japan claims Dokdo is theirs, Korea says they have claim to it, it’s been a contentious dialogue ever since Korea threw off the shackles of Imperial Japan after WW2.
If you’re wondering where to stand on this issue, I think it’s pretty clear even if one leaves out the politics and the historical documents.
Who, after all, is selling ferry tickets to visit the island? Korea. Who maintains a semi-permanent military base on the island? Korea. Whose people are continuously decked out in Dokdo sunglasses, T-shirts, masks, hats, and more? Korea. Whose subway features advertisements and dioramas of Dokdo? Korea. And whose children have elementary school projects and assignments centered around these rocks in the sea? Korea. Korea has won, folks.
While the rocks of Dokdo are rather pretty and inspiring, they are no more so than any other of the rocky outcroppings Korea has hundreds of. What’s worth the visit is seeing the almost religious experience that Koreans have when they view the island. Many Koreans have a life dream of visiting these islands, and the furious flag waving and occasional tear is something to behold. So, don’t push yourself to the front to snap the best photo, just take it all in!
And try not to throw up on the ferry back to Ulleungdo.
Note: You can occasionally dock on the islands but more often than not this does not happen due to the riskiness of the endeavor.
2. Explore a Traditional Japanese House (Free!)
This is an interesting spot. Not well advertised (you can find the address for the Ulleungdo Japanese House here) is and important look into the history of the island. Ulleungdo was a vital strategic annexation by Japan, but unlike many areas of the mainland, the Japanese and Korean people seem to have co-existed fairly equally and peacefully here.
Interviews with elder townsfolk reveal complete bafflement over the horrors of Japan’s colonization and how their island was a strategic point in the Russo-Japan war. This house, which blends aspects of Korean and Japanese architecture, is a reminder. Most of the exhibits are in Korean, but this house was owned by the Japanese governor of the island and is worth a stop.
3. Squid Market (Free!)
While the smell and the…abundance of free-floating eyes was a bit much for me, witnessing the squid market of Ulleungdo is one of the most memorable moments of a trip here. The squid fishing boats, with their fascinating array of lamps, are the culprit of the winking lights seen out at sea in the dead of night.
Ulleungdo is famous for its squid, which are caught and dried before being sold in local shops or shipped abroad. While they used to be seen in side dishes (known as banchan) on Ulleungdo and the northeast coastal cities, the squid are in decline. Chinese fishermen are known to be illegally fishing for the squid, which is increasing the price of squid and contributing to overfishing.
If eating dried or fresh squid isn’t really your speed, I recommend the ice cream. Yes, that’s right, the ice cream. Korean ice creams are known for their inventive and surprisingly delicious flavors – squid ink being one of them. It’s got a kind of…spicy chocolate flavor, and I wish I’d gotten another cone before I left (but it was October!).
The Squid Market happens most early mornings once the catch has come in for the day. The annual Squid Festival is held in July and the squid are said to practically leap into your hands at this time. It’s not held in the main area of town, but in the Jeodong-hang port that’s a quick 10 minute bus ride that comes frequently. Jeodong-hang is well worth a walk around as well!
If you don’t fancy the bus, the Coastal Walk takes you to Jeodong-hang if it’s not currently under construction after a storm. The views are spectacular and quaint.
4. Island Circle Tour (Price Varies)
Ulleungdo is a land of tunnels. And no trip to Ulleungdo would be worth the ferry ticket price without making sure you actually circle the island.
While there are public buses for the low price of 1,200 per ticket, the time tables are generally difficult to figure out if you’re trying to get to more remote parts of the island. Unless you speak Korean very well or you’re on a tour, I recommend hiring a private taxi for a few hours. It likely won’t run you more than 80,000krw and it’s well-worth it to be able to stop where you like, hop out and explore, and get back on.
This is one of the best ways to see all the fun rock formations, the stunning bridges, pumpkin fields, the daunting tunnels (this place is basically one giant rock!), and the “beaches” consisting primarily of painful rocks.
5. Have Lunch in the Caldera
This might take some planning ahead or some strong Korean skills. But, it’s pretty fantastic fresh farm-to-table food and the area is stunning. Get the hot-stone bibimbap to really capitalize on the fresh veggies and legumes. It’s hard to capture in photos, but you can actually tell you’re in the middle of an extinct volcano as the walls rise suddenly.
This is where the only farmland is in Ulleungdo, since the rest of the island is sheer cliffs and rock. The weather here can be brutal, with the farmers being snowed in for several months out of the year, unable to leave.
There are some ultra-traditional style wood buildings nearby to explore what life would have looked like a few decades ago for these farmers.
Other Things Do in Ulleungdo
- Enjoy the Eastern Sea Beaches: Most of the beaches are….not what I would call beaches. They are rocky and cold. And yet, after doing tons of walking, it can be a nice way to cool off. Be aware that the sea can be *very* rough, I do not recommend going out very far as there are no lifeguards.
- Get Awesome Views on a Bridge: The suspension bridge connecting Ulleungdo to Gwaneumdo is spectacular. Some of the best pictures can be taken from here (although be careful of the lighting! It can get very bright here). It’s fun to walk across, and there’s some hiking on Gwaneumdo for the even more adventurous.
- Cable Car Over a Temple: The Dokdo Observatory Cable Car provides a nice backup if you’re not interested in the 4 hour ferry to the island itself. Frequently, Dokdo is visible from the top of this cable car – it will be pretty small but clear days will light it quite nicely. The cable car ride itself is lovely as it takes you over a brightly painted temple.
- Explore the Tunnels: A bit of a weird one! Perhaps my strangest, yet fondest memory of Ulleungdo was when a German girl on my tour joined up with me to walk from the Gwaneumdo suspension bridge to one of the beaches on the east coast. The walking journey primarily took place through the tunnels – it was like something out of a weird dream! Kind of surreal but fun, especially as drivers would look so confused!
- Coastal Walk: I didn’t mention this as a main point to do, since you’ll probably stumble on it yourself without issue. This walk goes from the main port-town of Dodong to Jeodong, giving you glimpses of the cheerfully painted buildings, the interesting squid boats, and black volcanic sand (that still doesn’t really coalesce into a beach). It will probably only take you 20 minutes each way, but it’s frequently under construction after monsoon season and you might not be able to go the whole way.
Best Daytrips from Ulleungdo
- Dokdo: Given that you are completely isolated so many miles out to sea, there is kind of the only option!
Ulleungdo Travel Guide Basic Costs
- Local Bus: 1,200
- 10 Minute Taxi Ride: Around 5,500
- Entrance Fees: Most attractions are free
- Coffee: 5,000
- Meal: 6,500 and up
- Hotel Room: 60,000
Budgeting for Ulleungdo Travel Guide
Estimates are for a 3-day weekend in Ulleungdo, the minimum the Ulleungdo Travel Guide recommends for seeing this beautiful place. Just for dealing with the ferries alone, there’s a reasonable likelihood that they will cancel one of them so you might have less time than you’re expecting (or more). The Korean exchange rate is currently around 1,150krw to 1usd. Unfortunately, just with the cost of getting to Ulleungdo there is almost no way to do a backpacker budget. However, since most things in Ulleungdo are close by, it’s kind of the only big cost (although there are no hostels so you’ll have to pay for a hotel or guesthouse).
- Ferry ticket to Ulleungdo: 60,000
- Hotel/Guesthouse: 60,000 a night (2x nights 120,000)
- Local buses: 2,400
- Food: 30,000
- Activities: Free
- Ferry ticket to Ulleungdo: 60,000
- Guesthouse: 80,000 a night
- Local Taxis: 80,000
- Food: 40,000
- Activities: 60,000
If you want to do everything you should just take a tour
I recommend Adventure Korea, which costs around 390,000 for a 4-day trip. Of course, they only have this trip once or twice a year, usually around Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) time. The Dokdo trip is not included and would be an additional 60,000. I found this price to be completely worth it, and I made some lovely friends!
Where to Stay – Ulleungdo Travel Guide
Unfortunately, none of these properties are list are consistently available online. There is a high likelihood that if you just show up in Ulleungdo, you’d be able to find reasonably priced accommodation. And if you’re on a tour, then they will provide a good place to stay. If you like the comfort of knowing where you’ll rest your head at night, then there’s really only one consistent (if expensive) option.
If you find something else available to book online, make sure it’s near one of the main ports on the south-east side. Otherwise you’ll have a really hard time getting around due to infrequent buses.
- Daea Resort ($80-145 a night depending on the room you choose and the time of year)
A very nice and pretty place to stay (likely the best on the island). It’s a little out of the way but not too much. Many of the rooms are Korean style (so sleeping on the floor) so be prepared. Free Korean-style breakfast is included.
Where to Eat – Ulleungdo Travel Guide
Understandably, there are not a ton of options on the island. But, there are a few good options listed below:
Norangtongdak Fried Chicken
Average $: 23,000won (normally shared between 2-3 people)
Fried chicken is ubiquitous in Korea, but this was some pretty great chicken and a nice cozy venue. The main selling point is how late it’s open – being open until midnight made it a great gathering point for the other tourists. They’ve always got some kind of Korean game show on, and they sell alcohol (so that’s a great combo).
Nari Bunji (나리분지 야영 장식당) Caldera Restaurant
Open: Unknown, but likely from lunch time to 5 or 6. Remember, this is a seasonal restaurant that will not be available in deep winter.
Average $: 10-15,000won
This is the best bibimbap I’ve ever had. The ingredients were so fresh, and some of them were pretty unusual. I wound up stealing my friends mushroom-like bits they were so good. I wound up seeing these same fungi at a Michelin Star restaurant in Seoul a few months later!
It is definitely pricey for bibimbap – but you’re paying for a stunning location and quality food.
General Korea Tips
There are two main apps for getting around Korea; Naver and Kakao. Google Maps does not work. I recommend Kakao as the romanization spellings are more consistent and the features are generally better in my opinion.
You may need to type in Korean to find some destinations so make sure you download a Korean keyboard.
When you go to catch a bus, it will tell you when the bus is arriving and how many stops you have. If you hit the bell icon in the upper right hand corner it will highlight which bus stop you’re currently at, and it will alert you when you need to get off. It’s amazing.
What to Pack
Depending on the season, Korea is either hot and humid or chilly and humid. In general, just take out the winter clothes for summer and add some leggings and a coat for winter. For more details, check out my What to Pack for Korea Guide!