Annyeong haseyo! Planning a trip to K-pop Land and want to venture somewhere besides Seoul? Opt for these underrated cities in South Korea to experience the beautiful nature and heritage this country has to offer.
Now that travel restrictions are finally easing, short trips from Hong Kong are becoming more and more popular. Although day trips and luxe staycations in the 852 are still great options, South Korea is a place you might want to mark on your map for your next vacay. Been there, done that at Seoul, Busan, and Jeju Island? It’s time to branch out to lesser known cities in South Korea. Start by marking down the hidden gems on our list!
Off the beaten track: Underrated cities in South Korea
One of the most underrated cities in South Korea is Chuncheon, the capital city of Gangwon Province. This is the perfect place to escape from the crowds and is only around 1.5 hours away from Seoul by bus. Chuncheon’s biggest tourist attraction is arguably its small river islands, particularly Nami Island, made famous by the Korean drama Winter Sonata. With trees that change beautifully with the seasons, there’s no bad time to visit Nami Island. You can walk through the Central Korean Pine Tree Lane, or take in the vibrant views on the riverside paths.
For those visiting during the colder months, try your hand at skiing, a popular activity in Chuncheon. The Elysian Gangchon Ski Resort, which is the only South Korean ski resort that you can reach by subway, is the perfect place to hit the slopes. Historically a chicken farming region, the must-try signature food in Chuncheon is dak galbi. Although directly translated to “chicken ribs”, dak galbi is actually spicy stir-fried chicken. So if you’re freezing on the slopes, just tuck into this spicy dish to warm yourself up!!
Another hidden gem in South Korea is Namwon, which is a city in North Jeolla Province. Namwon is informally called “The City of Love” due the famous Korean folk tale, The Tale of Chunhyang – a happier Romeo and Juliet-style love story. In fact, there’s a Chunhyang Theme Park, as well as a Chunhyang Festival that takes place in the city annually. The striking Gwanghallu Garden is another popular attraction that has ties to The Tale of Chunhyang in that it is known as the place where the two lovers first meet. On the other hand, an interesting place in Namwon not tied to the tale is the out-of-use Seodo Station, an old railway station that’s perfect for taking pictures and getting a glimpse of an older Korea.
Furthermore, Namwon has the particular honour of being one of the cities that borders Jirisan National Park, which houses the second-tallest mountain in South Korea. The first park to be designated a national park in South Korea in 1967, Jirisan National Park has some scenic hiking trails that shouldn’t be missed for hiking lovers!
The sixth largest metropolis in South Korea, Gwangju definitely deserves more attention!. Get yourself acquainted with the city by first stopping by Gwangju National Museum. This museum houses over 130,000 cultural relics and artefacts – and offers free entry! The Asia Culture Centre is another attraction that is worth visiting. The Centre has exhibitions and performances regularly, so check out what’s new when you visit. Want to stretch your legs after spending time indoors? Head to Mudeungsan National Park. You can find a little bit of everything there – mountains, waterfalls, and old temples – to name a few.
Although not in the city itself, your visit to Gwangju should include a day trip to the Boseong Green Tea Fields. Taking just under 1.5 hours by bus or slow train from Gwangju, the plantation is a sight to behold and definitely worth the trek out. You can grab green tea treats during your visit and take lots of pictures for your Instagram grid. Spring and summer are the best times to visit for peak greenery.
Traditionally known as “The City of Filial Piety”, Suwon is the capital city of Gyeonggi Province. One of the top historical attractions in the city, Hwaseong Fortress, directly relates to this informal name. The Fortress was built by King Jeongjo in the late 1700s, partly to house his father’s remains. For a little more modern history in the city that saw the birth of Samsung Electronics, you should check out the Samsung Innovation Museum. There, you can see the timeline of South Korea’s electronics industry and see glimpses of an exciting new future. For a museum your little ones will get a kick out of, visit the Haewoojae Museum – humorously called Mr Toilet House(!) – to learn about the evolution of toilet technology with exhibits that are fun and informative for the whole family.
Suwon is famous for its galbi (beef short ribs), so make sure you stop by a galbi restaurant to see what all the fuss is about. Stuff yourself with delicious beef then walk off the calories at the museums!
The port city of Changwon is the capital city of South Gyeongsang Province and the ninth most populous city in South Korea. It includes Masan, an administrative region of Changwon that got absorbed into it along with Jinhae. The Masan Fish Market is a fun place to visit during your trip, and is the largest fish market in South Korea. You can take a walk through the alleys and before wrapping up at a restaurant for some great raw fish. Also, the Changdong Art Village is an attraction that was born out of the need to turn a declining part of the city into an art district to rekindle commercial success. The Art Village is truly a beautiful neighbourhood, with numerous art facilities and workshop locations.
Although there are many places in South Korea to see cherry blossoms, perhaps one of the biggest and most popular is the Jinhae Gunhangje Festival. Every spring, thousands of cherry blossom trees are in bloom for the eagerly awaiting eyes of tourists and locals alike. This festival really puts Changwon on the map, but especially compared to its close neighbour Busan, the city still remains one of the more underrated cities in South Korea.