There’s a good balance to be found in South Korea somewhere between the sprawling modernity of Seoul and the charming rural areas found just beyond city limits. We have traveled this country extensively during our time abroad and wanted to share some of our favorite rural destinations in South Korea. We’ve already written about some of these locations in separate blog posts, but wanted to collaborate with some of our friends to make a list of the top places to visit outside of Korea’s major cities.
We hope you enjoy and are inspired to get out there!
No list of rural Korea would be complete without suggesting Andong. We might sound like a broken record, always droning on and on about this town, but there’s a reason we keep going back. The folk village is a wonderful place to see a different side of Korea and experience this country’s cultural past. When Queen Elizabeth visited Korea she wanted to visit a city representative of traditional culture and you can guess where they took her: Andong. This was one of our first cross-country bus experiences when we moved here, and we’ve visited several other times on an almost yearly-basis. Located in North Gyeongsang Province, you’ll be about as far from a major city as is possible in this country and the harmony of nature and tradition you’ll find in Andong is second to none. Easily reached by bus, Andong should be near the top of any list of cities to see in South Korea given enough time to venture outside of major cities.
We have been to Andong many times, so be sure to check out our guides!
Namwon is a true, blue gem, and I’m always amazed that it’s not more well known. Known as the city of love, it’s the setting for a famous love story, Chunghyangjeon, and it’s a base for Jirisan, one of Korea’s three most important mountains. Tucked away in the southern part of Jeollabuk, it’s an incredibly charming city. I mean, its logo is a heart, and it takes its “city of love” reputation very seriously. Bonus, if you visit during cherry blossom season, you’ll get a whole river of them in full bloom, and I’ve been told by Koreans that it’s even prettier than Jinhae. Make sure to walk around Gwanghallu for some traditional culture, and cross the river and climb a bit to get view of the city.
To see more from Sam’s travels around Korea and the world, check out her blog:
Living in Seoul with 10 million other people can urge you to want an escape away from the crowded subways and city streets. Pocheon is an easy answer for Seoulites as it is located in northeastern region of Gyeonggi province making it easily accessible. Here you will find gorgeous mountains, clean and clear air, and fun activities to enjoy. We recommend visiting Pocheon Art Valley, an old rock quarry turned into a sculpture park for a perfect afternoon out of the city. The views from here are breathtaking and it’s also a great place to try the local makgeolli, which is one of our favorites, and just relax. If you’re looking for more of an adventure then you can also check out Pocheon’s most random theme park over at Herb Island or even a family restaurant dedicated to penises.
For more information about Pocheon and things to do in the area, check out these posts by Bobo & Chichi
Known for it’s bamboo forest and metasequoia-lined road, Damyang is a beautiful little town outside of Gwangju. Nature is the main menu item for people visiting Damyang and it’s endlessly photogenic. Being right outside of a major city, it’s hard to imagine this suggestion as being as peaceful and serene as it actually is, but we always feel like we’ve been transported to some far-off destination when we visit. This small town has several parks apart from the two main attractions, but none of them will disappoint. After visiting the bamboo forest, a walk along the main river is a perfect way to unwind. Several restaurants have platforms built overlooking the river for a picnic-esque snack or meal in the shade. Damyang is an excellent place to visit and earns additional points for being located so close to a major city, granting easy access.
For a guide to all things Damyang, check out our Off the Beaten Path guide:
Just East of Seoul, on the Han River, is a small island that defies understanding. Nami Island claims to be a sovereign state in Korea that uses its own currency and under its own rule. In reality, this island is a tourist Mecca that is steeped in cultural popularity, as many TV programs have filmed romantic scenes on this photogenic island. If TV dramas aren’t your cup of tea, the island is known for its ostrich farm, beautiful tree-lined paths, and the zipline that accesses this magical place. This place is a romantic’s dream, and easily accessible from Seoul. While ticketed as a foreign country accessible only by ferry or zipline, this secluded bit of river real estate is an excellent day/weekend trip outside of Seoul, especially for couples.
For more information about the how to get to Nami Island and how to zipline to the island check out Roxy’s post:
If you are wanting to see some of the famous Korean Cherry Blossoms in Spring, but you don’t want to get in another fight with a selfie-stick-brandishing local, then why not make your way to a small temple of Gaeamsa in Jeollabuk-do? Simply make your way to the bustling farm town of Buan, and from there you can easily take a bus that will stop at Gaeamsa. You can then take a leisurely walk up the winding road that is covered with the stunning cherry blossom trees. Once at the temple, there are a few restaurants for you to nibble on some Korean specialties, or you can just wander around the temple and gardens and enjoy the tranquility of it all. The best time to go is probably during the week (if you can), as a few local crowds do tend to gather on the weekend.
For more information and amazing photos of the cherry blossoms in Buan, go to Komodoness:
7. Byeonsanbando National Park
Located just West of Buan, Byeonsanbando Marine National Park is a gorgeous mixture of mountains and, arguably, some of the best beaches in South Korea. We love visiting this park not only for its awesome hiking, but also for camping on Gosapo Beach. This national park isn’t the largest or most famous, but offers a rural tranquility that most fail to realize. Generally less crowded but equally beautiful, Byeonsanbando National Park is an excellent destination for anyone looking to experience nature with the option of camping on the beach. We constantly recommend visiting this area to friends and people asking for advice on getting out of the city, and any time spent in Byeonsanbando will easily explain why. Buses can get you to this park, but a car or taxi is advisable for anyone wanting to go between the mountains and the beaches.
For more pictures and information about the Byeonsanbando Maritime National Park, check out our two posts:
8. Daedunsan Mountain
For all its beautiful mountains, I’m still always shocked how little Korea does to promote its hiking destinations to those visiting from outside of the country. Seriously, nature lovers, despite the city image Korea props up, it’s the mountains and hikes that are the best. Daedunsan, while a little more popular with Koreans, is still relatively unknown. Tucked away in Jeollabuk, you can climb or take a cable car up to the top and cross a suspension bridge. When the weather is clear, the sights are gorgeous, but it’s there’s an eery beauty with some intense fog as well. An easy hour or so from Jeonju, it is definitely worth a day trip there. It’s particularly gorgeous with the fall leaves or after a winter snow.
For information about how to get to this beautiful park, check out Sam’s post:
9. Hajodae Beach
If you’re looking for a beach getaway away from all the hoards of crowds in popular coastal spots like Busan, then we highly recommend Hajodae Beach. Located on the northwestern coast, this chill beach town does not have a lot going on other than a gorgeous beach and even surfing! Hajodae was one of the more attractive beaches we’ve seen in Korea. Not only is the water a gorgeous deep turquoise color, but the sand is white, and most importantly, Hajodae is very clean. You’re welcome to even pop up a tent and sleep right on the beach if you desire!
Head over to Bobo & Chichi to see more pictures and information about this awesome east coast beach!
10. Ganghwado Island
After moving to Korea, our first adventure outside of Seoul was to Ganghwado. After researching this fortress island’s history and place in Korean lore, we decided to hop on a bus out of Seoul and see this often overlooked destination. Located very near the division between North and South Korea, Ganghwa Island is off the coast of Incheon but is very removed from Korea’s third largest city. Essential for Korea remaining secluded and withdrawn for so many years, this island hosts several military outposts used for centuries as a defensive “cork” to sink ships attempting to enter the Han River. Without access by water, thanks to this island, Korea was able to remain somewhat shut-off from the outside world for a really, really long time. Ganghwa Island is a fascinating place to visit for anyone wanting to learn a bit about old-Korea in a beautiful natural setting.
For a complete guide to exploring this island at the mouth of the Han River, check out our guide:
11. Namhae Island
Called the “Treasure Island of Korea,” Namhae is an island separated from the mainland by a short bridge around 6 hours from Seoul. Located just east of Yeosu, this island is on Korea’s southern coast and littered with beaches and beautiful scenery. Notable attractions include the German Village where Koreans returning from work in Germany after the 1970s resettled in a European-styled village, as well as beautiful terracced, coastal rice paddies. Crossing the mock-replica of the Golden Gate Bridge toward Namhae is just the first beautiful sight visitors see, but never the last. This island/peninsula is covered in landscapes that are sure to mesmerize anyone who ventures to this quaint destination.
For a detailed account of how to camp and explore Namhae Island, go to Roxy’s post:
Looking for adventure and a thrill? Want to see Korea at 60 mph while traveling down a 3,900 ft zip-line? Then Jeongseon is the place to go! The Jeongseon zipline is an awesome experience that allows you to see Korea’s beautiful mountains and valleys from a different perspective. Operation hours are from Tuesday to Sunday and getting there from Seoul is pretty simple whether you are traveling by bus or train. As this is a major tourist attraction, be warned that there will be tour busses packed full of people also looking for a thrill. However, the Jeongseon zipline crew are so efficient that the lines moved smoothly and you probably won’t have to wait very long for your turn. Be sure to check out the Sky-Walk and grab a bite to eat before going down the zip!
To see more photos and information about the Jeongseong Zipline, check out Jenna’s post on her blog:
13. Gokseong Train Village
Gokseong is a little town in Jeollanamdo provience, and a good bus ride away from any major city. Recently it’s gotten some more attention, sharing the same name as a big Korean movie, but over all it remains a pretty sleepy place. However, there’s a month during the year where it shines, and that’s in May when all the roses are in bloom at its train village. Within the village, there is a large section dedicated to all sorts of roses from around the world, and it’s quite the sight to see. Bursts of color fill the area, and it’s fun to see everyone out and enjoying the warm weather. Definitely worth a trip if you’re headed around the Jeolla provinces in May.
More pictures and information about the Rose Festival in Gokseong can be found on Sam’s site:
One of the most rural and out of the way towns nestled in the Jirisan Valley, Hadong is a beautiful retreat from city life. While it may look to have very little to offer by way of attractions, Hadong makes up for any disappointment with stunning natural beauty and a no-frills entrance into “life away from it all.” In the spring Hadong is known for its stunning plum tree festival where hillsides come alive with budding trees and flowers. Several parks line the winding mountain river that flows through Hadong, and camping in the valley is an absolute pleasure. There are tea shops located in the town itself, and a massive rice field filling a nearby valley that redefines beautiful agriculture.
Want to see more? Check out our Off the Beaten Path guide to Hadong!
15. Naksan Beach
Naksan Beach is another beautiful, laidback beach town located on Korea’s northwest coastline. This ended up being our favorite beach in Korea thanks to it’s cleanliness, clear blue water, the gorgeous Naksansa Temple overlooking the sea from a cliff, and it’s close proximity to Seoraksan National Park. When you’re not looking off at the horizon over the ocean, you can enjoy the view of the Seorak mountains behind you. The best part would have to be the lack of crowds in this area even during the peak of summer. Because of this, we consider Naksan to be one of Korea’s most underrated beaches.
Need more reasons to see Naksan Beach?! Check out Bobo and Chichi’s 6 Reasons Naksan is Korea’s Most Underrated Beach:
16. Boseong Green Tea Fields
Best known for its green tea plantations, Boseong is a lovely little town in South Jeolla Province. Anyone who has ever visited Boseong in this century has made a trek to the green tea plantations that have earned this town the title “Green Tea Capital of South Korea.” While tourist hot-spots might not be our favorite places, Daehan Dawon plantation is an exception. It is stunningly beautiful and worth braving the crowds. Since the specialty of Boseong is green tea, visitors to any of the plantations should sample the green tea infused ice creams, noodles, and drinks while touring. Apart from the green tea fields, Boseong also has Yulpo Beach nearby which is large and beautiful for anyone wanting to get their toes wet after trapsing around the plantations.
Roxy’s Boseong post with tons of information and beautiful images can be found here:
Another thing Korea needs to promote more are its islands! It has hundreds of them around it coasts, particularly down south. Tongyeong is one of the major port cities that lets you visit these islands, and it’s filled with its own interesting history. A major base to Joseon Dynasty war hero, Yi Sun Shin, and a hub for artists through the decades, Tongyeong is rich in culture and nature. Plan a southern coastal tour, and make time to stay here for a few days (significantly better if you’re renting a car!). You’ll get islands, history, and art all in one place. You can also stay in Dongpirang Mural Village and get a nice view of the port.
Sam recently put together a guide to all things Tongyeong! Check out the full post on her site:
There is obviously a lot of fun to be had in South Korean cities, but they can sometimes be overwhelming. A quick trip for the weekend or longer to any of the places listed above is sure to reconnect any overburdened or burnt out city-dweller or tourist looking for something a bit more authentic. Sure you might not find a Starbucks or 7-Eleven at all of these places (strike that, you’ll still probably find a 7-Eleven) but you’ll find yourself in the heart of this wonderful country with a better perspective on Korea: past and present.
Also, we want to thank our friends for contributing to this post with their suggestions, words, and images. Be sure to check out these awesome people by visiting their websites!