Seoul is a bustling metropolis that fuses modernity with tradition and it’s no wonder it’s the stop that people tend to spend most, if not all, of their time in when they visit South Korea. From round-the-clock shopping and 24-hour food joints to historical sites and traditional crafts, you can find everything in the city — and most of it at any time.
However, South Korea has so much more to offer than its capital. To get a full understanding of the country’s rich culture and history, as well as fill up on delicious regional cuisine, heading out of Seoul is a must. Here are three lesser-known cities that you should definitely make time for while in South Korea.
The ancient capital of Korea during the Silla kingdom (the longest period of reign in the history of Korea), the city of Gyeongju is akin to a “museum without walls”. This is because of the many historical sites scattered throughout the city. The Gyeongju Historic Area has a total of 52 designated cultural assets.
When in Gyeongju, you may come across mini humps covered in grass. These aren’t just part of Gyeongju’s landscape — they are tombs from the Silla kingdom, the final resting places of rulers of that era. One tomb is open for the public to enter. See what lies beneath in the Dareungwon Tomb Complex – the Cheonmachong. You can also see precious artifacts from that time period. Keep in mind, these are replicas – the real deal and many other historical gems can be found at the Gyeongju National Museum.
Another not-to-be-missed site is the Bulguksa Temple, one of the first sites in South Korea to get UNESCO World Heritage status. It is considered a masterpiece of Buddhist and Silla architecture. A few kilometers away lies the Seokguram Grotto, home to a three-and-a-half-meter seated Buddha statue and a treasure trove of Buddhist art. It is also a great spot for viewing sunrise.
If you like bibimbap, a Korean dish comprised mainly of vegetables and rice, Jeonju’s version of the dish is considered by many to be one of the best in the country. There’s even a bibimbap festival held there every year in October.
The town is also known for its makegeolli, a Korean fermented rice liquor – it produces one of the three most well-known varieties of the drink in the country. If you have the time and the stomach space, definitely partake in the Jeonju hanjeongsik, a meal fit for royalty with over 30 dishes.
You cannot leave the city without strolling through the Jeonju Hanok Village, where many traditional structures have been preserved. Other than admiring the beautiful structures, you can also participate in hands-on cultural activities such as fan-making and brewing your own bottle of liquor. You can also spend the night in one of the hanoks and experience traditional Korean living.
For a souvenir, grab a roll or two of hanji paper. This traditional paper is made from the bark of mulberry trees and more information about it can be uncovered at Jeonju Hanji Museum, along with the tools used in traditional paper making.
Visit this quiet naval city in spring during cherry blossom season and Jinhae is filled to the brim with visitors flocking here to admire the pale pink flowers.
Cherry blossom trees cover every part of Jinhae, from the city’s sidewalks to the mountains. And when the wind blows through, a rainfall of pastel pink petals come billowing down, a perfect photo opportunity.
The town is also home to two of the most beautiful spots in South Korea. The tracks on either side of Gyeonghwa station are filled with cherry blossom trees, forming a cherry blossom tunnel of sorts and every time a train passes through, the gust from the movement causes multiple petals to flutter down, forming a picture-perfect scene.
Similarly, the Yeojwa stream, which is also lined with cherry blossom trees, is a must-see (and must-photograph). The pale pink rows are contrasted with bright yellow rapeseed flowers, framing the stream beautifully. Go towards the evening to see the sunset and the stream lit up.
The Jinhae Gunhangje Festival is held annually to showcase the cherry blossoms alongside music, performances, dancing and streets of delicious local delights, including some inspired and made with the cherry blossom flower.Search for flights to South Korea
What’s your favourite place to visit in South Korea? Share with us in the comments.
Main image: istockphoto/pitr134