I may be a little biased, but I’ve always thought if you really wanted to fall in love South Korea, you need to leave the big cities. After 3 years of living in the Korean countryside, I’ve picked some of my favorite spots!
I know I’ve said this in other posts, but one of my biggest regrets about my first visit to Korea is that I never left Seoul. I really almost never left the Hongdae/Sinchon area where I lived either!
So when I went back to teach, I specifically requested to be in the Korean countryside. I had no idea where I’d be placed and just how much I’d fall in love with the country! Between two years in Namwon, one year in Suncheon, and so far at least one visit back, here are all the beautiful, underrated places I’ve been!
22 Places to Visit in the Korean Countryside
Considering all the attention Jeonju got in 2016 when Lonely Planet named it a must-visit destination, it seems like a good place to start! I have so many fond memories of Jeonju considering I popped in frequently when I lived in Namwon. In fact, it’s kind of how I kicked off my whole time teaching in Korea. On, quite literally, my first weekend, we happened to have a teachers’ workshop in Jeonju Hanok Village, so I got to spend two days there.
Beyond the hanoks and shopping in Gaeksa, I still have a few things I’d like to see more of in Jeonju, like Jaman Mural Village and Deokjin Park. Plus, it’s near Maisan, which is a hike I’ve been meaning to do for ages!
If you’re visiting Jeonju from Seoul, try these tours:
- Jeonju Hanok Village – Offers the chance to also add in a traditional dessert making or cooking class
- Weekend Shuttle Bus Package – Most budget-friendly option, also includes a 2D1N package.
- Private Tour to Jeonju – Good if you’re going in a larger group
My home city for two years <3 How can you not love the city of love? Namwon is such a beautiful city, and I loved walking and biking around it through the seasons. Explore Gwanghallu and learn more about Namwon’s biggest claim to fame — Chunhyang, Korea’s “Romeo & Juliet” but better. Walk all along the river, climb up to the pagoda, and then get a coffee in what we nickname the Buddha Cafe (pictured up above).
And, my goodness, get ready to eat. Namwon has some of the best restaurants in all of Korea, and most people don’t even realize it. My favorites are the 뼈다귀탕 at 25시 and the naengmyun across the river.
3. Naejangsan National Park
Naejangsan is by far one of the most popular places to visit to really see fall foliage at its richest and most colorful and has been for centuries. Situated on the border between Jeollabuk and Jeollanam, you can either hike it or, like me, take the cable car! It’s been a few years since I rode the cable car, but I remember one of the best parts was that they kept the windows open, so you didn’t have to compete with a dirty window to see all the fall foliage from above.
Tours to Najangsan:
- Ktourstory Autumn Day Tour – Leaves from Seoul at 6 am and returns by 7:30 pm at the earliest
- SA Tour to Naejangsan – Similar schedule, but it offers a VIP Luxury Bus option.
- From Busan to Naejangsan – Along with other fall foliage options, you’ll have a similar schedule as the Seoul tours.
- Jeonju & Naejangsan Combined Trip – This combo trip will give you about 2 1/2 hours in Naejangsan and 2 1/2 hours at the Jeonju Hanok Village
Damyang is home to Korea’s bamboo forest, which is always fun to walk around. I feel like I’ve never seen quite see all of it, even though I’ve been now 4 times! Beyond the forest, there are a lot of other cool things to do, which I cover in my Damyang travel guide!
If you’re visiting from Seoul, try this combined Damyang and Jeonju Hanok Village tour.
Okay, I think Mokpo is actually kind of underrated! I visited a friend there a few times, and while the city is a little run down, it actually features quite a few gems. Its biggest attraction is the fact that it’s the closest port to Jeju if you want to take a ferry, so most people stop in and leave within 24 hours.
However, Mokpo has quite a few pretty aspects if you want to stick around for a little longer! Hike up Yudalsan for views across the city and sea, head down to their sort of boardwalk, and pop into one of the few vegetarian restaurants outside of Seoul! It’s also the closest city to the next spot on my list…
Wolchulsan is one of my favorite hikes in Korea, and I didn’t even summit. I like that getting to the bridge is fairly easy for a hike, and it takes maybe an hour. The bright orange bridge looks stunning with all the mountain backdrops, especially if you go in the fall. I hiked it in late September on an overcast day, and it was lovely!
7. Gokseong Train Village
Okay, I’m going to be honest, I’ve been to Gokseong a handful of times, and it really is best during the rose festival. The town is tiny, and truthfully, I haven’t seen much of anything I want to explore beyond the train village. I may be wrong, so if anyone is from Gokseong, send me some recommendations!
Anyway, the Gokseong Train Village is split into a sort of amusement park and a huge garden area. For a few weeks in May, the garden area is full of roses, and it’s absolutely stunning. They’ve definitely stepped it up too because the last time I went, there were even more cute set-ups than before. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going outside of the festival. I went in April once, and it was meh.
Gurye is such a cute town, and I want to visit it more! Before I lived in Suncheon, I’d only gone once around my first Christmas in Korea. Elyse, one of the girls who lived in the villa, organized an overnight hanok stay for a bunch of us, and it was an absolute blast. Looking back, it’s one of my fondest memories, and I’m a little sad I don’t really keep in touch with most of the people who were there.
Anyway, the next time I went was for the early spring Gurye Sansuyu Festival. This whole rural area in Gurye, which is already quite rural, is full of these little yellow flowers! There’s also a gorgeous temple called Hwaeomsa and a cliffside temple called Saseongam. If you’re in town, look up Cafe Teeut (카페 티읕)! Super cute, eco-friendly cafe.
9. Boseong’s Green Tea Fields
I love these fields so much. I think I’ve said this in every other post I’ve included Boseong in, but these are my favorite in terms of green tea fields in Korea. The one in Jeju is nice, but it’s flat whereas this one is elevated, and I think it’s more expansive than the ones I’ve seen in Hadong-gun.
Check out the tea fields, get ready for a hike up to the sea view, treat yourself with some ice cream, and then eat a nice meal with something green-tea infused!
My second home city! I’ll admit, I wish I had liked living in Suncheon as much as I loved Namwon, but I guess I’ll chalk it up to both of them being very different times in my life. Suncheon itself is amazing with so much to do and see in one area, and the public transportation is modern and top notch.
11. Naganeupseong Folk Village
I separated Naganeupseong mostly because it’s not that close to Suncheon, and it really feels like its own little place. While the phrase “hanok” refers to all traditional Korean houses, I’ve noticed Korea differentiates between giwajips and chogajips by calling the former “hanok villages” and the latter “folk villages.” Giwajips are more of what you’ll find in Jeonju and Bukchon in Seoul — they have the tiled roofs and belonged to the upper classes. Other places, like Naganeupseong and the more popular Andong, feature chogajips, which have roofs made of rice straw. It makes for quite a different view, doesn’t it?
12. Jogyesan Provincial Park
Another place that’s kind of close to Suncheon but not really is Jogyesan! It’s a beautiful hike between two temples — Songwangsa and Seonamsa. We started our hike at Seonamsa, but I’ve heard many people start theirs at Songwangsa and it’s supposed to be a bit easier. Songwangsa has more of a detailed design to its buildings, and it’s one of the “three jewels of Seon Buddhism” with Togdosa and Haeinsa. Seonamsa has more of a simpler design and looks quite a bit older. I recommend doing a little tea experience here!
I’ve been to Gwangyang a handful of times but always for a specific reason, so I’ve never really explore the city. The main thing it’s known for is the maehwa festival in early spring, around the same time as Gurye’s sansuyu one. This one area just comes live with these delicate, white-pink blossoms, and it’s one of the first signs of spring’s arrival.
14. Jirisan National Park
Jirisan, with Hallasan in Jeju and Seoraksan in Gangwon-do, is one of Korea’s most important mountains. While it’s the 2nd tallest mountain, its park is actually the largest in the country and spans 3 provinces including both Jeollas and Gyeongsangnam-do.
When I lived in Namwon, I had easy access to quite a few trails in Jirisan, and I went… once ha! To be fair, there’s a mini-trail in town that’s technically part of Jirisan, and I climbed that one a bunch. But yeah, in terms of famous trails… I only ever did the Baemsagol Valley one. I think that one kind of scarred me and scared me off of ever doing another one.
Anyway, there are a ton of trails for Jirisan. In the spring, the most famous one is Baraebong for all the azaleas, and the highest point is Cheonhwangbong.
Hands down one of my favorite places ever for cherry blossoms. I mean, you can’t really beat nearly 4 miles of pink blooms! Because of its countryside setting, it’s much more rural than other popular blossom spots, so even though it can get quite crowded during the festival weekends, it’s not too bad visiting during the week!
16. Seoraksan National Park
I really have not had a chance to explore Gangwondo, but even I managed to find myself in Seoraksan at least once! Namwon’s education center took us on a field trip here, and while I most remember being stuck on a long bus ride, I do remember this beautiful place! We took the cable cars up to the top and took in some serious views. I definitely need to get back to properly visit since we only had an hour or two, and it was nearly dark and freezing!
I have spent so much time in Yeosu considering I never lived there! Between visiting for the first time in Namwon and going frequently when living in Suncheon, I have such a soft spot for this fun city. There’s a lot to do, and it’s quite spread out, so give yourself at least a weekend, and maybe rent a car or be prepared to pay for taxis because the public buses take forever.
While you’re there don’t miss checking out the islands, the beaches, and more! Head all the way to the opposite end of Dolsan Island to check out Hyangiram, and then check out the park to see the bridge light up at night. A lesser known spot my friends took me to is Yeongchwisan Valley, where they serve possibly my favorite jeon. When it’s hot out, you can hangout in the water!
I’ve only been to Daedunsan once, and it was during quite a dreary, foggy day in the fall. It was still quite beautiful in an eery sort of way, but I would like to go back when the sun is out! While you can hike up, there’s also a cable car, which we took, and its most famous feature is the Geumgang suspension bridge and Samseon stairway that leads to the summit. While we crossed the bridge, I didn’t climb the stairs because we quite literally could not see more than 2 feet in front of us, and I was not in the mood to die in the Korean countryside!
It’s funny, I sometimes forget I’ve been to Namhae because the trip was such a blur! It was another education office trip, and we were randomly told about it one June day.
I remember thinking it was beautiful but also having no clue where we were or what was going on for most of it! The big thing I do recall is the beautiful seaside temple, Boriamsa, which also had some of the worst stairs, and the very random German village.
20. Naesosa in Naebyeongsan
Oohhhh this temple. For yet another education office trip (our office really both spoiled and befuddled us in turn!), we did a temple stay at Naesosa. It was pouring rain the whole time, and while our temple stay was… interesting, we did have some free time where we hiked up and took in the views! Let me tell you, while rain can be a bit of a downer, there’s something quite breathtaking just how rich the green of the trees and plants get.
Arguably the most famous cherry blossom festival in Korea! It’s kind of funny, though, because technically it’s a festival to celebrate Korea’s military not just the blooms. Unlike Hwagae, which is really, really rural, Jinhae is actually a small city, so the cherry blossom trees are sort of woven in all around! It quite literally looks like the whole city is covered in pink when you go.
Ahh, Gyeongju is on my list to go return to! There’s a lot to see in this one area from Anapji pond to Bulguksa Temple to Cheomseongdae and more. When I went, we spent maybe 3 days in total, and wound up paying a taxi a ton of money to kind of stick with us the whole day since it was hard getting around otherwise!
While many places in Korea are focused on the Joseon dynasty, Gyeongju is actually more focused on the Silla Kingdom, which pre-dates Joseon Korea. It was the capital of the Silla Kingdom from 57 BC to 935 AD, and you can see evidence of this role throughout all its architecture and landmarks.
And there you have it! All my favorite places in the Korean countryside. Stunning, huh? There are still a lot of places on my list, but I figure I have time to see them! I know I’m already visiting Naju next, and Andong has been on my list for ages!
Have you been to the Korean countryside? What did you think?
General Korea Tips
I’ve got loads of posts on Korea if you want to flip through and find more inspiration and advice. If it’s your first time visiting, I recommend reading my giant post with 50 Korea travel tips and my trip planner guide which has all the logistics. Plus, all the apps I actually use when I visit since things like Google Maps or Uber won’t work!
Also if you’re planning on getting a SIM card, book it ahead as it’s much cheaper. Trazy has the best deal when I looked for 30 days.
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