What comes to your mind when you think of South Korea? Probably, K-pop, K-drama, Gangnam Style… or even North Korea? Many of you might be planning a trip to Asia, but South Korea may not be on your list. We’ll be revealing to you in this article some of South Korea’s hidden gems and hope to give you additional reasons to visit this beautiful country very soon. Enjoy reading!
1. Bike-riding along the Namhan-gang River
Only 40 minutes away from Seoul, the Namhan-gang river bicycle route is part of the newly-constructed bicycle route that runs along Korea’s four major rivers— Hangang River, Nakdonggang River, Geumgang River, Yeongsangang River— stretching 1,757 kilometers across the country.
Enjoy this 80 kilometer-long bike trail for the panoramic scenery of the river. You will pass by the three weirs constructed as part of a government project—Ipobo, Yeojubo, and Gangcheonbo. And on the Gangcheon Island, you can rest yourself and the bike on the grass field, overlooking the beautiful river on sunset.
You don’t have to be an avid cyclist to complete this bike trail. The route is totally car-free and safe for all the family.
2. Climb Seoul Wall of Fortress
Seoul’s biggest charm arguably lies in the mixture of the old and new. It has lots of nature secluded from the hustle and bustle of one of the largest Asian cities. One of the less travelled attraction in Seoul is the Wall of Fortress.
The Seoul City Government has invested significant resources in creating hiking trails around the Fortress over the recent years. The hike is not too easy, but the view from the top of these trails will take your breath away and it would be worthwhile since you “earned” that view!
The series of defensive walls made mainly of stone and wood was built to defend and show the boundaries of the old capital (called Hansung) of Joseon Dynasty. Stretching 18.6 km along the four inner mountains including Baegaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan, the Seoul Wall of Fortress consists of six walking courses that include Baegaksan/Bugaksan Course, Naksan Course, Namsan Course, and Inwangsan Course. And here are the three courses to recommend for you.
Try the Naksan Course if you want the easiest trail, yet are interested in how locals live there. The Longevity Village located outside of the wall survived the Japanese Colonial Era as shanty houses and later the redevelopment of the surrounding areas. Today, this village often appears in movies and TV soap operas.
If you are looking for an alternative to the N-Tower, Namsan Course is for you. The harmony between the skyscrapers and the old wall is beyond your imagination. You will find the harmonious view somewhat familiar as the place is one of the most popular shooting spots of movies and TV soap operas, like Naksan Course.
Although all six trails have their own merits, Mt. Inwang Course is one of the best, in terms of the scenery from the top. The mountain is only about 300 meter-high but the view over the Northern Seoul from the peak is just amazing, looking over Gyungbok Palace, Presidential House and Changduk Palace.
3. Wander in the Western village of Seochon
Seoul’s historic neighborhood of Bukchon, with Changdeokgung Palace to the east and the Gyeongbokgung to the west, is one of the Seoul’s most popular spots.
But to the west of Gyeongbokgung lies another area rich in hanok, which still have the twisted alleyways of old Seoul. Dubbed “Seochon”—meaning “western village”, the neighborhoods stretch to the eastern face of Mt. Inwangsan and the old city walls. And in terms of history, it is not less significant than Bukchon. In the old times, this area was inhibited by the jungin, literally “middle people,” a reference to their position in society between fully fledged literati and commoners. It also had vacation homes of aristocrats. Today, it became home to many artists. Enjoy the neighborhood’s unique atmosphere with boutique galleries in traditional hanok houses, artists’ studios and mom & pop shops.
4. Explore the cliff village of Andong
As the home of Confucianism in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty, Andong attracted many Confucian scholars and became a pioneering city in Confucian thought. This city also contained the highest number of private schools from the Joseon Dynasty as well as Confucian schools.
No wonder Andong still has around 26 private schools from the Joseon Dynasty. As Andong has called itself “Capital City of Korean Spiritual Culture”, it indeed has maintained old tradition of Korea throughout the city – Hahoe Village, Dosan Confucian School, Bongjeongsa Temple, Andong Folk Village, Andong Soju Museum and many more!
You can explore Andong along with Busan and Gyeongju. Don’t forget to enjoy the famous Andong Jjimdak (seasoned and simmered chicken) and Andong Soju (Korean traditional liquor made of rice) on your way back to Seoul.
5. Have a relaxing time at Daechung Lake
About less than 2 hours away by car from Seoul, Daecheong Lake is the third largest man-made lake in Korea and one of the less-touristy places you can visit in South Korea. This hidden gem is perfect for family outing with the adjacent Daecheong Dam recreational park and a recently built walking trail of approx. 220km. It also has an amazing driving course with a breathtaking view over the calm lake. The place is so beautiful that it attracts photographers all around the year. You can hone your photography skills with an established photographer through this program.
6. Enjoy mountain and sea in Gangneung
Gangneung is one of the places that citizens of Seoul head off to get away from the bustling city and hectic life. Seafood is as fresh and cheap as they can be at Jumunjin Fish Market, the biggest fish market in Korea’s east coast. Its vibrance along with live seafood attracts many travelers around the year.
You have many mountain trails to take if you become tired of the sea.
Off the beaten track, Sunjaryong Mountain offers an easy trail to walk with a picturesque ocean view at its peak(1,157m). The Mountain was named as Sunja, which means a “beautiful lady” in the old Korea for its beautiful curves like a lady’s. Starting at 840m of height, the trail is easy and family-friendly and it takes 4-5 hours to the peak. This ares is famous for its beautiful snowy scenes during winter. This tour will let you enjoy key spots in Gangneung most local way.
7. Visit the World Cup Stadium in Sangam-dong
Once known for the Nanjido, a landfill where the daily trash of Seoul was dumped for 15 years, Sangam-dong made a stunning transformation that has something to offer all around the year.
World Cup Stadium, a main stadium for the 2002 World Cup Games was the first that made Sangamdong known to Seoulites. Then six extraordinary parks came in. Sky Park, or Haneul Park, the most popular among them, draw citizens to its fields of rippling eulalia and beautiful panoramic scenery of Seoul with Mt. Bukhansan to the north, Mt. Namsan and the 63 Building to the east, Han River to the south and Hanengjusanseon Fortress to the west.
MBC, one of major broadcasting systems in Korea, only added to the already amazing wonder with its recent relocation to Sangam-dong Area.
CJ E&M Center, the broadcast and recording center of many M-net programs, also made Sangam-dong its home, too. If you get lucky, you can run into celebrities grabbing a quick bite at restaurants nearby. Spotting TV shows being shot in the neighborhood is not unusual.
After exploring Sangam-dong, you can take a stroll in Yeonnam-dong which has become one of the most popular hangouts in Seoul.
Sounds fascinating? A local guide can make your visit to these places all the more fun and easy.
8. Stay in a traditionnal Hanok in Gyeongju
As its nickname – museum without walls- indicates, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Shilla has numerous relics from a kingdom occupying more than half of the Korean Peninsula. In addition to the cultural heritage, the city’s tranquility and peace touches hearts and souls of travelers who have been tired of city life. Your stay in Gyeongju will take you back to the old times of Shilla Dynasty through tumuli, museum and temples. Explore Gyeongju along with Busan during your next trip to Korea.
Gyeungju also has nice Hanoks (Korean traditional houses) to stay.
Ragung (라궁): http://www.smpark.co.kr/sub_
Hwang-nam-guan (황남관): http://hanokvillage.hicomedia.
9. Taste an authentic Korean BBQ in Hoengseong or Trek the Chiak Mountain
About 2 hours away from Seoul by car, Hoengseong is the place to go to heal your soul with its beautiful nature and body with delicious Korean BBQ.
Surrounded by the clean nature, it has been home to many cow growers for long and it is best known for premium beef. It’s common to find beef from Hoengseong being sold in big supermarkets in Seoul as high-quality beef. If you tell your Korean friend that you’ve been to Hoengseong, the first question that they would ask is if you had beef there. It’s that famous and delicious. The cost of beef in Hoengseong is almost half of what is in Seoul.
Once you fill your stomach, heal your soul by trekking through a tranquil hiking trail, along the crystal-clear water. Chiak Mountain is one of the National Parks in Korea and the Bugok Trail is very quiet. You can totally immerse yourself into the nature only with the sound of water flowing and birds’ singing.
If you are traveling with kids, you can try to visit an animal farm called Bumsan Farm where your kids can try to milk cows and feed goats and sheep.
You can conveniently enjoy Hoengseong’s local gems with this program.
10. Explore Incheon’s Chinatown
Incheon is more than a city where an international airport is located in. Despite the fact that most foreign tourists are familiar with this city’s name, it is often overlooked. But Incheon has so much to offer – both the old and new. If you have a late night flight back home, try this full-day adventure in Incheon.
Incheon’s Chinatown area came into being with the opening of the Incheon Port in 1883. Today, the Chinese residents of Chinatown are mostly 2nd or 3rd generations of early Chinese settlers and the area still harbors many of the flavors of China.
After enjoying the delicacies in China Town, you can digest the food by walking through the Street of History and Culture where you can see Japanese style buildings and the Incheon Art Platform, old brick warehouses converted into the Incheon Foundation for Arts & Culture.
With the government plan to grow the city as one of the financial hubs in Asia, many skyscrapers and modern facilities popped up in Songdo. Songdo Central Park is an eco-friendly facility that provides places for leisure and entertainment like the sculpture park, terrace garden, artificial waterways, boat houses (water taxi) and moving stage. The Ocean Scope, an observatory made from shipping containers reflects the status of incheon as a logistics city. You can enjoy the view of the beautiful West Sea, sunsets and the Incheon Bridge from here.
We hope you have enjoyed reading this article and that it will make you want to visit those hidden gems of South Korea. For those who have already travelled there, feel free to share with us your experiences and other suggestions you may have of hidden destinations on the less travelled paths.
Article written by Travelling Owl‘s South Korea insiders.