In this article, we share with you the cities you should not miss when visiting the Land of Morning Calm. From the traditional city to the modern city, there is something for everyone!

Seoul

Seoul ( /se.ul/3 ; Korean  : 서울  ; RR  : Seoul  , /sʌ.ul/4 Listen ) , officially the Special City of Seoul ( Hangul : 서울 특별시  ; Hanja  : 서울特別市Listen  ) , is the largest city and the capital of South Korea . If Seoul remains the seat of the National Assembly and the Presidency , many ministries and national institutions have been transferred to the new town of Sejong , the de facto administrative capital since 2013 .

Located on the Han River , in the northwest of the country, it has a population of approximately eleven million intramural inhabitants and 25,620,000 in its urban area (which notably includes Incheon ) 5 , which makes it the third most populous megalopolis in the world after Tokyo and Mexico City , and just ahead of New York . In addition, the city is home to nearly half of South Korea’s population. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is about 45 kilometers from the city center.

Founded two thousand years ago by the Baekje Kingdom , one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea , Seoul was the capital of the Kingdom of Joseon for more than five hundred years . At the end of the 19th century ,  breaking with a long tradition of isolation, Seoul opened up to foreigners, particularly the United States  : it was the first city in East Asia to have electricity, running water, telephone and a tram network. Occupied by Japan from 1910 to 1945 and renamed Gyeongseong , the city became the capital of the Republic of Korea upon its proclamation in1948 .

It will be seriously damaged during the conflicts of the Korean War , of which the battle of Seoul was one of the major events: the palace of Gyeongbokgung and its main gate are notably set on fire. Rebuilt in the 1960s and 1970s , with the help of the United States, it experienced strong industrialization and became the face of a modernizing South Korea . Since the 1990s , Seoul has seen its population grow significantly, in particular thanks to the influx of people from the countryside.

Headquarters of Korea’s largest corporations (the chaebol ), including Samsung , LG , and Hyundai , Seoul is considered a global city . Its very high standard of living and its GDP – the fourth in the world for an urban area after Tokyo , New York and Los Angeles – make it one of the main economic centers in the world. The trendy district of Gangnam and the Digital Media City concentrate companies in new technologies .

The city has many buildings with futuristic architecture, such as theDongdaemun Design Plaza and Lotte Super Tower 123 , which reached 555 meters in height in 2016 and surpassed N Seoul Tower . Symbol of its influence, Seoul has organized several major international events, including the 1986 Asian Games , the 1988 Summer Olympics , the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the November 2010 G20 Summit .

A major tourist destination, Seoul has three UNESCO World Heritage monuments  : Changdeokgung Palace , Jongmyo Shrine, and several royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty . Due to its high population density, more than three million vehicles are counted there, which leads to daily traffic jams , even after midnight . Finally, as the cultural heart of the country, Seoul is the birthplace of K-pop and the spread of Korean culture across the world ( hallyu ).

In 2018, Seoul joined the Fab City movement , following Barcelona Mayor Xavier Trias ‘ call for all cities in the world to become self -sufficient by 2054  .

Bukchon district Seoul South Korea city sightseeing

Cultural center of the country, Seoul has nearly one hundred museums 26 , 27 , including four national ones. The National Museum of Korea is the most representative museum in South Korea. Created in 1945 and located since 2005 in a new building in Yongsan 28 family park , this museum includes collections that cover the entire history of Korea from the Prehistory of Korea , through the times of constitution of the first kingdoms from the “Middle Ages”, but also up to the Joseon period , galleries of Korean fine arts ( calligraphy , painting and Buddhist art) and an Asian arts gallery 29 .

Two other national museums are located on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace . These are the National Folk Museum of Korea , which exhibits replicas of historical objects to illustrate the history of the traditions and daily life of the Korean people, and the National Palace Museum of  Korea . The fourth national museum, opened in 2013, is a branch of the National Museum of Contemporary Art 30 .

The Leeum (Samsung Art Museum) is a private museum dedicated to traditional Korean art and contemporary art. Ilmin Art  Museum and Gansong Art Museum , are two other private museums devoted to Korean art. Two university collections are world famous, the Seoul National University Museum 31 (ancient art and prehistory, folklore,  etc. ) and that of the Ewha Women ‘s University 32 (ceramics: celadon…, screens, paintings). Horim Museum 33has a very beautiful collection of Korean art from Seoul (old ceramics, paintings) in two exhibition spaces, the new annex, the Horim Museum Sinsa 34 which organizes beautiful temporary, educational exhibitions, in an art center brand new, and on the other hand, the original building, the Horim Museum Sillim 35 , more eccentric, much calmer too, in Gwanak-gu .

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Seoul also has history museums, such as the Korean War Memorial  , which traces the various wars involving Korea, the Seodaemun Prison Museum , a former prison built during the Japanese occupation and which serves today today’s museum and memorial dedicated to this period, and the Seoul History Museum dedicated to the city’s history since the Joseon period . Finally, Yonsei University has a small museum of Korean prehistory , of great interest, created by the founder of Korean paleontology, Professor Sohn Pokee .

Thematic museums include the Pulmuone Kimchi  Museum and the Tteok and Kitchen Utensil Museum  devoted to gastronomy, and the Seodaemun Natural History  Museum .

Suwon

Suwon ( Hangul  : 수원시 Korean pronunciation: /su.wʌn/ ) is the capital and largest city of Gyeonggi Province in South Korea . Suwon is located about 30  km south of Seoul , on the railway line named Gyeongbu . Some call it the city of Korean football, because of the club Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC , which has the most fans in South Korea. It is also called Samsung City , due to the large number of Samsung Electronics employees — around 40,000 — living and working there . Its population was 1,105,953 at the 2005 census . The city is known for its Hwaseong Fortress , listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1997.

suwon fortress seoul travel city visit south korea

King Jeongjo made an attempt to establish the capital of Korea at Suwon in 1796, building Hwaseong Fortress, which surrounded the entire city and was to guard his father’s tomb. The construction of the fortress, which still exists today, was built following the advice of the philosopher Jeong Yak-yong . It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. The strong growth of the city, which is today a suburb of Seoul, made it overflow far beyond the ramparts.

The city has many green spaces, including Hyohaeng Park. Located at the entrance to the city, it was created in 1974 in honor of French fighters in Korea . A monument was inaugurated there on July 26, 2013.

Andong

Andong ( Korean  : 안동 ) is a city in North Gyeongsang Province , South Korea . It is the largest city in the northern part of the province, with around 185,000 inhabitants. Its position is 36° 34′ North, 128° 43′ East. It is located on the Nakdong River . Andong is a market town for its area which is mainly agricultural.

Since the 1970s , Andong has grown rapidly, despite the exodus of nearly 70,000 people to Seoul and other major cities. Since the end of the 1990s it has become a center of tourism and culture. Indeed, many ancient traditions are still alive around and attract visitors, especially during the annual Andong Folk Festival. In particular the masks of the village of Hahoe 25  km from Andong are famous in Korea. They were used for ritual dances and satirical plays.

Andong National University, which specializes in Korean education and folklore, has had significant growth since the 1970s .

Andong is the best place to experience folk culture due to its commitment to preserving historical traditions. Throughout the year, you can visit the Hahoe Folk Village and watch the Mask Dance . You can also go to the Confucian school Dosan Seowon to learn more about Confucianism, an important element in Korean culture.

andong city visit south korea

Around 1 BC , the Jinhan people founded the city of Gochang, which is now Andong. During the Three Kingdoms period, this region was part of the Kingdom of Silla . The battle of Gochang in 930 opposed the forces of Hubaekje and the army of Goryeo led by its king Wanggeon, who took control of the city and gave it its current name.

Under the Joseon Dynasty, Andong became an important center for Confucianism in Korea. The region was for a long time extremely conservative and many famous Confucian scholars were trained there, such as Yi Hwang (1501-70), one of the most important scholars in Korean history. During this period, Andong and his leading families had influence in Korean political circles.

After the 16th century, Andong  lost its influence, until a marriage of the local Kim family restored it to strong influence in the royal family.

Andong was the site of heavy fighting during the Korean War in the 1950s. It was almost completely destroyed but quickly rebuilt. The Andong dam, built in 1976, was a milestone in providing it with a secure source of electrical power.

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In 1999, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom celebrated her 73rd  birthday in the city .

Gyeongju

Gyeongju or Kyongju is a city in South Korea with a population of nearly 264,000 (2012) located on the southeast of the Korean Peninsula, in North Gyeongsang Province . It was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Silla (57 BC – 935 AD ) which controlled most of the peninsula from the 7th to 9th centuries  . At that time, its population was estimated at 1 million.

A large number of archaeological and cultural sites dating from this period have been preserved. Gyeongju is therefore often presented as a “museum without walls”.

Among these historical treasures, theSeokguram Grotto , Bulguksa Temple , Gyeongju Historic Area and Yangdong Historic Village have been listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO . This is how Gyeongju has become one of Korea’s most popular tourist destinations.

gyeongju city visit south korea

The history of Gyeongju is closely linked to that of the Silla kingdom of which it was the capital. Silla was founded in 57 BC. J.-C. by the meeting of six small villages of the area of ​​Gyeongju. During this period, the city was called Seorabeol (the capital), Gyerim (the forest of the rooster) or Geumseong (the city of gold). The Samguk sagi chronicles mention the establishment of the capital market (Gyoengdosi) in March 490 under King Soji and the eastern market (Dongsi) in 509 during the reign of King Jijeung.

After the unification of the peninsula in 668, Gyeongju became the political and cultural center of Korea. It was the residence of the court and the majority of the kingdom’s elite. In 682, at the beginning of the reign of King Sinmun , the national Confucian academy was established there under the name of Gukhak . The prosperity of the city becomes legendary and is mentioned as far as Persia in the ”  Book of Roads and Kingdoms  “.

The Samguk Yusa indicates the presence of 178,936 households in Gyeongju at its zenith, a figure which would correspond to a total population of 1 million inhabitants. The majority of the city’s most famous sites date from the period of the Unified Silla(57-935). The city lost its capital status to Kaesong at the beginning of the Koryo period (918-1392).

In 940, Koryo’s founder, King Taejo , renamed the city Gyeongju. In 987, and until 1012, when adopting a system with three additional capitals, Gyeongju was designated the eastern capital. The city eventually became the seat of Yongnam Province. However, it gradually lost its importance and eventually lost its status as the provincial capital in 1601.

During this long decline, the monuments suffered many assaults. In the 13th century  , the Mongols destroyed a nine-story wooden pagoda at Hwangnyongsa . During the Japanese invasions , the Gyeongju area was a hotly contested battlefield and Bulguksa Temple was burnt down by Japanese forces. At the beginning of the Choson period, it was neo- Confucian extremists who broke off the arms and heads of the Buddhist sculptures of Namsan .

At the beginning of the 20th century, the city was relatively small and  many archaeological excavations were carried out there, in particular inside the tombs. The found objects were exhibited from 1915 in a museum, the predecessor of the Gyeongju National Museum .

In the last years of the Japanese occupation, Gyeongju found itself at the intersection of two railway lines, the Donghae-Nambu line and the Jungang line  ; the population increases and the city develops. After liberation in 1945, Korea plunged into chaos and Gyeongju was no exception. Many refugees were back, a village was built for them in Dongcheon-dong district.

The guerrillas were particularly active in the mountains. The city was relatively spared from the Korean War as it remained under South Korean control throughout the conflict. She was on the front line only for a short period at the end of 1950 during the attack of North Korean forces on theBusan perimeter .

Korea experienced significant industrial development from the 1970s, largely centered on the province of Yeongnam. In the neighboring town of Pohang , POSCO ‘s steel mills started operating from 1973, as did the Ulsan chemical industrial complex . These developments have contributed to the rise of Gyeongju’s industrial sector.

Busan

Officially Busan Metropolitan City ( Hangul : 부산 광역시  ; hanja : 釜山 廣域市 ; RR _  : Busan gwangyeoksi ), meaning “mountain-cauldron” 4 , is a port cityvery important in South Korea , which has more than 3,700,000 inhabitants. Historically known as Fousan 5 , it is the second most populous city in South Korea after Seoul . It is the economic, cultural and educational center of southeastern Korea, with its largest port in the country and the ninth largest in the world, about 190  km from the Japanese islands of Kyūshū and Honshū . The “Southeast Economic Zone” (including Ulsan and South Gyeongsang ) is now the largest industrial zone in South Korea.

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Busan is divided into fifteen major administrative districts and a single county. The complete metropolitan area, including the adjacent cities of Gimhae and Yangsan , has a population of approximately 4.6 million . The most densely built-up areas of the city are located in a number of narrow valleys between the Nakdong and Suyeong rivers, with mountains separating most districts. The Nakdong is Korea’s longest river, and Busan’s Haeundae Beach is also the country’s largest. Pusan ​​is a center of international conventions; in 2005 it hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). It is also a sports tournament center in Korea, having hosted the 2002 Asian Games and the 2002 FIFA World Cup .

With such a history and choice of outdoor activities, a day trip to Busan would be insufficient. Hiking , boat cruises, beaches , and saunas are all ways to make the most of your time here.

Make it a must to Gamcheon Culture Village if you want a unique scenery in Korea. This village, located in the Korean seaside city of Busan, is famous for its painted houses.

Busan is also recognized for its historical temples, such as  Haedong Yonggusa , which is located on the coast and overlooks the East Sea. This temple is one of the most visited in South Korea as it offers stunning views of the coastline.

busan_gamcheon city south korea visit

Jeonju

Jeonju is the capital of North Jeolla Province in South Korea . About 2  hours  30  minutes from Seoul (by KTX ), it is a tourist center famous for its culinary specialties, its historical heritage, its sports activities as well as the holding of innovative festivals.

You can also walk around the city and discover its cultural sites. Jeonju is famous for its Hanok village , a set of traditional Korean wooden and clay houses. Spend a night in Hanok accommodation to further enrich your Korean experience.

jeonju village hanok south korea city visit

Located in the fertile Honam Plain  , famous for the production of strawberries and other quality agricultural products, Jeonju has been an important regional center for centuries. The city was the capital of Later Baekje  founded by Gyeon Hwon . The city was once considered the spiritual capital of the Joseon Dynasty , due to the Yi Dynasty’s regional roots in Jeolla Province . This is where one of the first battles of the Imjin War took place in 1592.

The city was occupied by the Donghak rebellion in 1894. Jeonju was later granted city ( si ) status in 1949.

Gwangju

Gwangju (or Kwangju ) is a city in South Korea , former capital of South Jeolla Province . In 2003, it had 1,400,000 inhabitants

The city was founded around 57 BC. J.-C. , and has always been a commercial crossroads. It was one of the administrative centers of Baekje during the Three Kingdoms period .

On May 18, 1980, the city witnessed a massacre, when the army opened fire on demonstrators demanding democracy in South Korea. This is the movement for the democratization of Gwangju .

In 1986, Gwangju broke away from South Jeolla Province and became a metropolitan city . It remains the provincial capital, however, until 2007, when the seat of provincial government was moved to the suburb of Mokpo .

Today, the city is a contemporary and lively metropolis that attracts an increasing number of visitors every year. She is particularly known for her digital arts and she marvelously mixes the old and the new.

You can visit Jeungsimsa Temple and its stone pagoda, Mudeungsan Mountain National Park and Mahanji Gorge during your stay. There are also several activities to do thanks to its museums, parks, bars, cafes, shops, etc.

Gwangju South Korea city visit

The city of Gwangju has had a metro line connecting the east to the west of the city since 2004.

Jeju

Jeju ( Korean  : 제주도 , Jejudo , /tɕe.dʑu.do/ ) officially Jeju Special Self – Governing Province , is a province of South Korea consisting of an island of the same name . The provincial capital also bears the same name.

Before 1910, it was known in Europe as Quelpaert or Quelpart  . There are also the (rare) variants Chéju and Tche dju .

Jeju Island is located 85 kilometers from the Korean Peninsula from which it is separated by the Jeju Strait , and it is the only subtropical region in the country. The extinct Hallasan volcano , the highest point in South Korea, rises to 1,950 meters. An eruption of Hallasan is at the origin of the formation of the island.

The island formed the kingdom of Tamna which became a vassal of the Baekje as early as 476 and finally lost its autonomy completely from the kingdoms of the Korean peninsula in 1404.

In May 1787, the Comte de Lapérouse mapped the south coast of the island during the famous scientific expedition carried out on the frigates La Boussole and L’Astrolabe.

Jeju can be visited by public transport but if you are looking for more freedom, we advise you to rent a car! Moreover, with Cap Korea you can discover this wonderful island by car .

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