Things to do in Korea Countdown: #20-1
20) Jeonju Hanok Village / 전주 한옥마을
Jeonju’s Hanok Village is comprised of hundreds of traditional hanok houses surrounded by a very modern city. It is one of the most popular places to visit by both domestic and international visitors and for good reason. One of the more popular things to do is to rent a hanbok and roam around for a few hours. Personally, my favorite thing was roaming around the many alleys in the early hours of the morning right around sunrise for some spectacular views and a serene ambiance.
Pro Tip – Already done the hanbok thing in Seoul? Me too, so I decided to try out one of the old high school student uniforms (pictured).
19) Buyeo Baekje Land / Complex / 백제문화단지
Together with Kongju, Buyeo (formerly known as ‘Sabi’) was once the capital of the great Baekje Kingdom. In an effort to revitalize interest in this lost civilization, the Korean government decided to rebuild the last Baekje palace, the incredible temple of Neungsa (pictured), and even the first palace of its founder, King Onjo. This site was opened to the public less than 10 years ago and sadly, very few visit with lots of the concession stands remaining empty in what is probably one of Korea’s best kept secret. In 2015, sites in Buyeo, Kongju and Iksan became Korea’s 12th UNESCO site, and while this place was not included for being a replica, it definitely is the highlight of the city.
18) Sa-do Island / 사도 [TWHS]
As one of the most out of the way places in Korea, Sa-do does not get the tourism it deserves. This beautiful island is actually a set of three islets that are linked together by an isthmus. During low tide, it even links up with a fourth island a bit further out. What makes Sado incredible is that together with a few other spots in Korea’s south coast, it holds up to 40% of all Cretaceous and Jurassic period dinosaur footprints in the world.
17) Jeonju Ga-Mek / 전주 가맥
Jeonju has a fourth and final claim to fame on this list as the inventors of Ga-Mek culture. Ga-Mek is a splice of two words, Gage meaning “store” and Mekju meaning “beer.” Jeonju locals found that people love to munch on convenience store foods like ramen and chips while they had their adult beverages. While you can have drinks outside of many convenience stores anywhere in Korea, Ga-mek is more of a full bar with a convenience store inside. The best one is easily Jeonil Gabo (전일갑오) (on the map) to the north of the hanok village.
16) Tongdosa and Songgwangsa / 통도사 + 송광사 [WHS]
Buddhism is represented by three things, the “dharma” (scripture), the Buddha, and the “sangha” (community). These are collectively known as the Three Jewels of Buddhism. Korean Zen Buddhism has temples representing each of these parts of the religion. Tongdosa represents the Buddha and Songgwangsa represents the sangha. Both of these are huge, spectacular temples worth a visit on their own right. What about the third temple you say? We will talk about Haeinsa later on this list.
15) Hallasan National Park / 한라산국립공원 [WHS]
Jeju is a volcanic island that sits about an hour flight (or an incredibly long ferry ride) away from the capital city of Seoul. In the center is Mt. Halla, a massive volcano that last erupted a millennium ago. The mountain and the entire area around it are a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hikes themselves are all pretty awesome, but the crater lake at the top makes the 10 hour round trip worth while. If you like more peaceful hikes, the trails that don’t reach the summit are just as good.
14) Jeju Scenic Viewpoints / 제주 뷰포인트
You already know Jeju is known for having beautiful scenery. Where exactly should you go? Here are the 5 best places to enjoy breathtaking views.
Note: None of these are “official” names, I just made them up. Look at the map provided to find them.
a) Sunset Point – Close to the end of Olle Trail 12 is the absolute best sunset viewpoint in all of Korea. You can reach it by taking the trail or by taking a cab to Yongsuri Port and walking 300 meters south. If you find yourself in Jeju for a while, don’t be surprised if you come back more than once to see the colorful array of red and orange. Nearby café “bin2020” is the closest landmark.
b) Picnic Spot – One habit I got into in my year in Jeju was making everywhere I thought would make a great picnic spot. This is the best one. This public canopy on the road up to Sammebong Oreum overlooks beautiful palm trees, impressive rock formations on the shore, and the tiny islands of Munseom (문섬) and Beomseom (범섬).
c) Ilchulbong View – Back when I had only visited Jeju for a week, I thought Ilchulbong for sure had one of the best view points on the island. Surely, this place was famous for a reason, right? I was half right. Way more impressive than the view from Ilchulbong is looking AT Ilchulbong from Al Oreum (알오름) along Olle Trail 1. You can really appreciate the spectacle of the “sunrise peak” without the crowds that gather around to climb it.
d) Para Todos Cafe – This 3 story café/restaurant has a secret that surprisingly few patrons know about, rooftop access. In all honesty, the food isn’t that great, but the view from the top of the best beach in all of Korea more than makes up for it. You can really come at any time of the day, but the sunsets are stunning.
e) Dolphin Point – Jeju has a resident pod of Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins which frequents the south west coast. As these are wild animals, viewing them isn’t guaranteed. To have your best shot, start at Moseulpo port and head north west along the coastal road. Feel free to stop by the delicious Mibbeunjegwa Bakery 미쁜제과 to load up on goodies. Look out for cars pulled over and chances are, that they have spotted the dolphins. The dolphins were previously held captive and performing dolphin shows illegally in the Jungmun area. A court order ordered their release in 2015 and they are still hanging out in Jeju. I could go on and on, but you’re probably best watching “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” (S1E13-14) on Netflix as the protagonist’s charming obsession with these dolphins provides a lot more colorful and entertaining detail than I could provide.
13) Hallim Port, Jeju / 한림 항
If you’ve ever watched Korean shows depicting the 70s/80s and wondered what it would be like to experience Korea in that era, head over Hallim. The port of Hallim and the area immediately surrounding it feel like they are frozen in the past. I am particularly fond of the squid boats and watching the fishermen prepare for their daily catch late in the evening (pictured).
12) Bulguksa and Seokguram Grotto / 불국사 + 석굴암 [WHS]
Bulguksa is a massive UNESCO World Heritage Site temple in the city of Gyeongju. It is one of the best examples of Shilla era design and holds a number of ‘Korean treasures,’ including stone pagodas dating back to 750 CE. The early morning or the evening are the best bets to avoid the massive crowds as this too, is a favorite with the locals.
Seokguram Grotto is a satellite temple to Bulguksa at the top of the mountain and is just a short bus ride (or hour long hike) away from Bulguksa. The highlight is a solid stone Buddha in a cave which is widely considered one of Korea’s finest examples of Buddhist art.
11) Ulleungdo / 울릉도
Ulleungdo is pretty damn cool. This out of the way island on Korea’s east coast is worth the long journey. It is one of the only places in Korea, outside of Jeju, to have bright turquoise waters. The trails on the edge of the island are definitely the highlight. Ulleungdo is primarily still a squid fishing town and you would be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t eat one… or ten squid while you’re there. Ulleungdo is even host to a yearly squid festival, complete with free food.
10) Suncheon Bay / 순천만자연생태공원 [WHS]
The Suncheon Bay is one of the most ecologically diverse places in South Korea. In 2021, it finally became the UNESCO World Heritage Site along with a few other “getbol,” or wetlands. This tidal flat has a ton of wildlife along beautiful wooden trails to fill up an entire afternoon.
It is a shame my picture above doesn’t do it justice (Google it!). The views from the top of the small hill at the back end of the main trail are stunning. Look out for mudskippers, an ‘amphibious fish’ which also happens to be a local delicacy.
9) Geumneung and Hyeopjae Beaches / 금능, 협재
There are no better beaches in Korea than the twins of Geumneung and Hyeopjae. These flat and shallow beaches may not satisfy those who like to swim out to buoys, but if you like the scenery of beaches with perfect sand and turquoise waters, this is the place for you. The water is crystal clear and the temperature is perfect for a hot summer day. While it is popular, you can still find a spot to call your own quite easily and it doesn’t become the shoulder to shoulder mess of the beaches in Korea’s East Sea.
8) Gochang Dolmen Sites / 고창군고인돌 [WHS]
While you might not have heard the term ‘dolmens’ before, chances are that you are at least familiar with the most famous such site in the world, Stonehenge. The Gochang sites are not as large, but together with the sites in Hwasun and Ganghwa, account for 40%-50% of all dolmens in the world. These pre-historic Korean tombs are very well preserved and number in the hundreds. It is well worth the hassle of heading all the way south to Gochang to check them out. For those of us counting, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Korea’s least visited.
7) Haeinsa Temple / 해인사 [WHS]
Haeinsa is one of the Three Jewel Temples of Korea. Located within Gayasan National Park, getting there requires a 2km hike up the mountain from where the bus drops you off (and is half the fun). The temple itself is reminiscent of many of Korea’s best Buddhist temples, but there are two things that set it apart.
First, Haeinsa is a participant of the English version of the Templestay program. It is one of the coolest things to do in Korea where you live a day as a Zen Buddhist monk.
Secondly, Haeinsa is a UNESCO site for its possession of the Tripitaka Koreana, the oldest known flawless version of the Zen Buddhist Sutra. These 80,000 woodblocks are unreal and you owe it to yourself to see them with your own eyes.
6) Unjusa / 운주사 [TWHS]
During my Great Korean Road Trip, I came across a guesthouse owner in Busan who happened to love Korean temples as much as I do. I told her I had just visited Tongdosa and that Haeinsa was still my favorite so far. She had been to both, but insisted that Unjusa was the best. Even though I went to Unjusa on a cloudy day that turned into a storm half way through my visit, I have to agree. Unjusa is the most beautiful temple in Korea. This site has been on the Tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site list for a few years and one of the ones I really hope gets the nod soon. It’s pagodas and outdoor stone Buddha are truly unique. Unjusa is like no other temple in the country.
5) De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) / 한반도 비무장지대
For those of you who live under a rock, the DMZ is the 4 km wide line dividing the DPRK and South Korea. Despite its name, the DMZ is the most heavily guarded border in the world, separating two countries that are culturally, historically, and ethnically homogeneous, but philosophically and politically worlds apart.
Access to the DMZ is by tour only with the highlight being the Joint Security Area. Seriously, the tour is not even worth it without the JSA part. After a very intense briefing by a US military officer, you will be led to the literal line that divides North and South. It is an area on the DMZ without a fence, barbed wire, landmines, and one only needs to take a few steps to be behind enemy lines. This is where the famed blue buildings stand, the UN meeting place to broker deals between the two countries as they have no official diplomatic relations.
Pro Tip – Having visited the DMZ twice, I definitely recommend the USO tour above any other.
4) Historic and Pre-historic Sites of the Daegok Stream / 반구대 암각화, 천전리각석 and 천전리 공룡발자국화석 [TWHS]
I read about the pre-historic Bangudae Petroglyphs shortly after my visit to Chaco Canyon in the US. The striking similarity of wall carvings and paintings on the other side of the planet made this a must see site for me. When I heard of Korea’s plan to seal off the carvings for preservation, I decided the time had come to visit before it was too late.
The morning after our night in Ulsan, we headed to the Daegok Stream and uncharacteristically, forgot to eat breakfast. “We will find something on the way” we thought, but alas, that was one desolate road with nothing but terribly rated food. We settled on a place appropriately called Bandae Gukbap (반대국밥) which incidentally, has been one of the most delicious places I’ve ever eaten. After the satisfying meal, something caught my eye. Hanging proudly was a faded portait of a different petroglyph I wasn’t aware existed, the Cheonjeonrigakseok (천전리각석). “If we have time” I thought to myself, and went on my way, fully expecting to skip it for “next time.”
We made it to the parking lot and did the rather short hike to the viewpoint of the Bangudae Petroglyphs. The point where you can view them was much further from the wall, and the carvings themselves much smaller than I expected. Even with binoculars and my better than 20/20 vision, it took a little searching and a lot of imagination to make out the ancient pictures of whales that are so famous. I was satisfied but I could sense Sidney’s disappointment as she couldn’t really see them despite my efforts. On the way back from the surprisingly short trip, we saw a sign for that other Cheonjeonrigakseok petroglyph. We were already there and this was surely another very short hike, so I insisted that we try to reach it.
It took about an hour and virtually no one else from the parking lot followed us which had us a little worried. After a bit, I would see it in the distance. Much to my surprise though, the trail wrapped around and took right in front of it. Before reaching it, you had to cross this oddly shaped bedrock with thick indentations that looked like elephant footprints. A signed warned us as we approached. “Dinosaur Footprints” (천전리 공룡발자국화석). I have been to many places that claim to have dino tracks. These were the clearest ones yet and they laid here, completely forgotten and ignored by the majority of visitors. We carefully made our way across to the petroglyphs.
Upon arriving to these much more clear and impressive carvings, there was what looked to be damage by tagging. I’ve hear about this in the US. Unfortunately, tagging is a huge problem in these ancient sites. A sign nearby confirmed that this indeed was tagging, but fortunately, the vandal was known! Who was this rascal? None other than a prince of the Silla Kingdom who had taken his girlfriend to this very site over a thousand years ago and carved his name to commemorate the date. Incredible that even to the Silla Kingdom, history of even more ancient people was fascinating.
3) Dive sites of Korean Haenyeo / 해녀
The women divers of Jeju known as the haenyeo (해녀) are a source of pride to Koreans everywhere. Historically, women in Korea were ruled by a patriarchy and were bound to the confines of the home. Jeju women bucked the trend. By the 18th century, they had became bread winners and outnumbered men divers. Today, diving in Jeju to collect seafood is a women only profession and tradition. The practice was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2016. Since then, the Haenyeo Academy has actively been trying to train new women as most current divers are in their 70s and 80s, making this a tradition that could soon disappear.
I had read and seen a lot about haenyeo divers for years, but had no idea where to spot them. On the map provided are 5 locations where you’re more likely to see them. While you can observe, try to do so respectively as they are in the middle of their work. To learn more, visit the Haenyeo Museum on the north east end of Jeju.
2) Hahoe Traditional Folk Village / 하회마을 [WHS]
Korea is not as popular as Japan, China, or it’s South East Asian neighbors. It got me thinking why this is the case. I concluded that Korea didn’t really have a ‘signature attraction,’ that goes beyond the regular list of things to do. These are the MUST SEEs of a country. Japan has Kyoto, China has the Great Wall, Cambodia has Angkor, Myanmar has Bagan… you get the idea. What did Korea have? That’s when it hit me. Korea’s crown jewel is Hahoe Village.
Hahoe is a magnificent village frozen in time with unique traditions, a deep history, and truly breathtaking views. It lacks all of that glitz that sometimes ruins what would otherwise be perfectly good Korean tourist attractions, but it is that simplicity that makes it beautiful. Andong’s International Mask Festival, my favorite festival in Korea, traces is roots back here. No matter how many times I visit, I always come back. If there is one place you visit outside of Seoul, nothing beats Hahoe Village.
1) Jeju Olle Trails / 제주올레길
The Jeju Olle Trails are the single best thing to do in Korea. While Hahoe may be the best place to visit, this is by far the best activity. The set of 26 trails across Jeju are perfect for people who don’t mind a little climbing, but their idea of fun isn’t a 5 hour hike uphill. Every hike has a dynamic range of viewpoints, charming villages, cool shops, delicious food, and more than enough to keep you entertained for an entire day. Here are my top 5 olles, but but really, they are all great.
What is Kakao Map?
Korea, in general, does not use Google Maps. While the app will load, you’ll find it to be grossly outdated and directions are unavailable. In Korea, always use either Kakao Map or Naver Map. Personally, I find Kakao’s UI to be more user friendly.
How to use TravelWorldHeritage’s Map?
After downloading Kakao Map, click on the link above or on the big yellow pic below. This will take you to a map I’ve made for the top 80 things to do in Korea. On mobile, Kakao is available in English but on desktop, it is only in Korean. No worries though, he is your guide!
- Toggle the part that says “등록순” (by Date) and change it to “이름순” (by Name). This will put the list in numerical order from #1 to #80, not in the order I input them into Kakao Map.
- On mobile, you have an added option, “By Distance.” This will put this list in order of proximity to your GPS location. This is useful if you need a quick itinerary filler on the fly.
- Honorable Mention (Missed the Cut): Muuido Island, Jungmun Beach (Jeju), North Korea Abai Village, Buyeo National Museum, Gyeongju National Museum, Bigeumdo Island, Pyeongchang Ski Resort, Tomb of Sejong the Great, Damyang Bamboo Forest, Damyang Metasequioa Road, Play Doci, Fortresses of Central Korea, Gaya Tumili, High 1 and O2 Ski Resorts, Tongyeong, Mangjanggul Lava Tubes.
- Dishonorable Mention (Will Forever Miss the Cut): Nami Island, Sheep Farm, Yeosu Aquarium, Gamcheon Village
- Places in Korea I Am Aware of, But Have Yet to Visit: Hongdo and Heuksando Island, Dokdo Island, Jinju Fortress, Gochang Wildlife Reserve, Ho-Am Art Museum, Whale Museum of Ulsan
- Top 80 Things to do in Korea OUTSIDE of Seoul (2022) - September 12, 2022
- Mulu National Park Review | UNESCO World Heritage Site - August 7, 2022
- Off the Beaten Path in Korea: Beyond Seoul and Busan - July 14, 2022