This story was first published on 1 November 2018. It is now updated with the latest information on travelling to South Korea under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL).
In the five months I lived in Seoul, South Korea, I had my fair share of wonderful adventures from visiting a total of nine cities, and the country has won a special place in my heart! Although I was a non-Korean speaking foreigner coming to South Korea for the first time, no language barrier could stop me from soaking in some of the country’s most beautiful spots. These places are easy to get to, safe (even in the current circumstances), and totally worth the visit!
If you’re planning to fly to South Korea under the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme and want to explore its many gorgeous places, this article may just help you plan the perfect itinerary! Let me hold your hand to some of the most beautiful, must-see spots in Busan and Incheon, the second and third most popular cities in South Korea.
Start-off your holiday right with a fun day at the beach!
Living in Seoul was so much fun, but the one thing that the city lacks is a good beach (or any beach, really).
Hanagae is a beautiful beach off the coast of Incheon, on the island of Muuido. The beach showcases unique mudflats that go so far into the horizon that you could walk out for half an hour in the direction of the sea before coming back to the beach. When the tide is right, some say that you could even walk to the next island — a theory I was too chicken to test!
Disease prevention measures for beaches are in place across South Korea. The country has maintained strict social distancing measures with different categories for different risk levels. In the greater Seoul area, which includes Incheon, the measures are at Level 4.
So don’t be surprised to see lifeguards patrolling frequently along Hanagae Beach — they’re just checking to make sure visitors are wearing masks at all times. Private gatherings of more than 8 people are banned too.
Visitors will also have to wear special waterproof temperature stickers on the back of their hands; these change colour when the temperature goes above 37.5 degrees Celsius. On less crowded days, visitors who’ve had their temperature checked will be given wristbands to wear as a safety marker.
You can easily spend a whole day at Hanagae to enjoy the view and the hiking trails before heading back to mainland Incheon to rest after the sun goes down. Alternatively, try one of the many seafood restaurants and cafes that can be found near the beach!
How to get there: From Incheon International Airport, take bus 222 or 2-1 to the jetty, then take the ferry to Muuido Island. When you alight, take bus 1 to Hanagae Beach. It is quite a journey to get there, about 1.5 to 2 hours from the airport, but it is well worth it, easy to navigate and the locals here are most friendly and helpful.
The quirkiest mini theme park and culture street at the famous Wolmido Island
I fell in love with Wolmido Island at first sight. The area is a brightly coloured, happy little place which features a small but exciting theme park surrounded by a culture street, along with many cafes and restaurants serving fresh seafood to be enjoyed with a sea view.
Travellers of all ages and group sizes could be found here – from families with little children to groups of teenagers, solo 20-somethings like me to elderly couples. Fun shops along the culture street include street artists who can draw caricatures of you on the spot.
Even just walking around the island to enjoy the cool sea breeze brings great pleasure — it is truly a place anyone can enjoy. Just remember to abide by the rules and keep your facemask on at all times, even on the amusement park rides!
How to get there: From Incheon Station, take bus 2, 15, 23 or 45 bound for Wolmido.
A beautiful cultural village on a coastal mountain in Busan
Busan is my favourite city in South Korea. Even just as a short-term student here, I could really feel the difference between this city and busy Seoul. It is a coastal city, so it is near the sea. The people are super warm, and the air is fresh and void of a city’s pollution. Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan, is a famous area in this city and for good reason. Of course, the main attraction is the beautiful and classic view of the group of colourful houses on the foothills of the coastal mountain.
I had a lot of fun walking around the alleyways and roads of the village, visiting the cafes and small museums.
The village is dotted with interesting and fun trinket shops. There were many independent artists selling their creations that were interesting to browse. There is even a Craft Experience Program for tourists, so if you’re keen in art and craft, you definitely ought to make a trip to visit. My favourite was a shop where you could have stainless steel jewellery engraved on the spot – I made a ring with my initials as a really cute keepsake that is still shiny till today!
However, do note that there is currently limited access to certain facilities till further notice due to Covid-19, so don’t expect everything to be open. Busan runs on the Level 3 social distancing measures, which allows for gatherings of up to 10 fully vaccinated people. As always, masks have to be kept on.
How to get there: From Goejeong Station, take bus Sakha 1 or Sakha 1-1. From Toseong Station, take bus Sakha 1-1, Seogu 2 or Seogu 2-2. Alight at the Gamcheon Elementary School bus stop which is right in front of the entrance to the village.
Sightsee at the beautiful sapphire coastal area and sea
Taejongdae, Busan, is perhaps the most popular attraction in the city aside from Haeundae Beach. The two colours to describe Taejondae would definitely be a startling blue and warm green, for its beautiful seas and trees basking in the sunlight.
My favourite area was a lighthouse surrounded by a rocky beach with a view to die for, as pictured above.
Aside from this area, I went to visit Gumyeongsa Temple as well. It was small, but the place is very peaceful and inspiring. Speakers aired the sound of calming prayers, adding to the ambience as you walked around.
Other than the lighthouse, there’s also an observatory, a plaza, and a park, can be seen in Taejongdae too. No worries about being too tired to travel from point to point – they are all connected with a convenient hop-on-hop-off train course with different routes of your choice.
How to get there: From Busan Station, take Bus 88 or 101 and get off at Taejongdae Cliff bus stop.
Things to note while travelling in South Korea
- Different regions in South Korea hold different coronavirus regulations (which are updated often), so regularly check the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare website for the latest updates.
- The Greater Seoul area is under the toughest social distancing restrictions at Level 4 while the rest of the country is at Level 3. Refer to the latest social distancing system in South Korea here.
- Masks are compulsory for everyone, including those who have been vaccinated.
- Restaurants and cafes are open for dining until 10:00pm. After which, only take outs and deliveries are allowed.
- South Korea’s version of contact tracing is implemented by way of Electronic Entry Logs. Entry log records are required at most places you visit, so travellers will need to present a personal QR code, which can be generated by using Kakao Talk or NAVER on your mobile phone.
South Korea offers plenty of beautiful sights and fun activities for first-timers, seasoned travellers, and the many of us who have been starved for overseas holidays. If you’re looking to experience an entirely different country while still keeping safe, be sure to check out these places for your long-awaited vacation!
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Best time to visit
The best times to visit are in spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November), when the weather is cool and mild, and there will be less tourists.
Both cities have extensive transportation systems. Visitors will mostly make use of trains and then buses to reach their destinations. Purchase a T-money card (Korea’s version of Singapore’s EZ-link) from any convenience store around the area, and you will be able to use it for all buses and trains. Top-up is possible at any train station.
There are a few ways to reach Busan from Incheon. However, the best value for time and money would be to take the train from Incheon to Seoul (an hour on the express train) and then taking another train from there to Busan (about two and a half hours). This breaks up the journey time for comfort and would allow you to visit the very famous capital city of South Korea as well! Tickets can be reserved at http://www.letskorail.com/.
It is important to note that each option would bring you to different areas in Busan, so be sure to first and foremost check the location of your first destination there!
Korean Won (KRW). Make sure to change money in the city so you have enough cash on hand before you visit these areas.
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The boards at the bus stops in South Korea do not usually have English translations for each stop. Some buses will announce the names of the stop in English and Korean at each stop, but to make sure you are on the right track, learning the Korean alphabet ‘Hangeul’ is recommended. It is very easy and would not take more than 2 hours to master. Even if you do not speak the language, just knowing how to read is very helpful as you will be able to pick out names like “Wolmido” and “Taejongdae” or “Hanagae” when taking buses.