In the five months I lived in Seoul, South Korea last year, 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, and totally worth the visit!
So if you’re like me, travelling ‘Seoul-lo’ to Seoul and are interested in exploring more cities, or simply looking for the best places to visit in South Korea, 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. The beach showcases unique mud flats 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!
Activities include zip-lining, ATV, horse riding, clam catching, hiking trails around the beach, and great seafood restaurants. I tried the zipline and watched the whole stretch of the beach fly past underneath my feet.
You can easily spend a whole day there and go back to mainland Incheon to rest after the sun goes down. But for a special experience, opt to sleepover in a beach hut facing the sea after enjoying a gorgeous view of the sunset.
However, don’t expect the amenities of a hotel here – there’s no WiFi, and you will have to pay 2,000 won (~SGD $2.50) to use the showers. Not to worry though – you’ll be sure to enjoy some peace and quiet away from civilisation as the beach huts are comfortably packed with bedding and pillows, quilts, and a heater for the cold seasons.
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, with the cool breeze from the sea brings great pleasure, it is truly a place anyone can enjoy.
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!
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.
South Korea offers plenty of beautiful sights and fun activities for first-timers and the most seasoned traveller. If you’re looking to experience a new culture and city without being too far away from Singapore, definitely check out these places for your next 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.
Asiana Airlines, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines and Scoot fly to Incheon from Changi Airport several times a week. You also now fly directly to Busan on SilkAir and Jeju Air. Search for airfare deals and book your tickets now!
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.