Wondering what to do in Suncheon, Korea? Here are all my favorite places and tips from a year living in this little city!
While I wouldn’t call myself a local per se, I did live and travel around Suncheon for a year, so I think I get a little credit! I am not the person to ask for the latest and hippest happenings (if Suncheon has those things), but I can give you a bit of a first timer’s guide to the area and some tips on where to eat or get around.
I really did enjoy living here for a year, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a slightly bigger city life than most countryside areas. There’s a lot to do right in the city and county, plus it’s really close to a lot of big, beautiful Jeollanamdo places. I’m kind of bummed only the bay is included on tours for foreigners, and even then it’s just one stop on a bigger tour!
Before I dive into what to do, here’s a little bit about the city and what to expect.
Why Visit Suncheon
Where is Suncheon?
Suncheon is in Jeollanam-do and about 4-5 hours south of Seoul. It’s also 40 minutes from Yeosu, a major port city in Korea.
What is Suncheon Known for?
Suncheon is known as a rising eco-city in Korea because of Suncheon Bay and, now, the Suncheon Bay Garden. Its mud flats were even featured in a BBC documentary on Korea’s nature!
What to Do in Suncheon
And now here are all the different things to do in Suncheon! I had a year to make my way around all of these places, but you can easily fit them into a few days. There is a Suncheon city tour bus right outside the train station, but I’m not 100% sure how it works.
Walk around the Suncheon Drama Set.
If you ever wondered what Korea was like in the 1950s-70s, then pop over to the drama set! I wrote more about it here, but it’s been used in a lot of period piece dramas an movies, and it’s also just a cool reminder of how much the country has changed in only 50 years.
Visit Suncheon Bay
Of course! The Suncheon Bay is like the crown jewel of this city. When big tour companies visit Jeollanam-do, they skip a lot of places in Suncheon but definitely not this bay. Those interested in ecology will especially not want to miss! For more on what to expect, check here.
Suncheon Bay National Garden
So the garden was designed quite recently to help pull traffic pollution away from Suncheon Bay. Instead of just designing a parking lot with some shuttle buses, Suncheon designed a massive garden that’s worth a visit all on its own. I swear you could walk around for hours and still not see the whole place! For my own version of a tour, you can read through this post.
Seonamsa’s origins date all the way back to 529 when a monk built hermitage here. It’s played a big role in Seon Buddhism and is generally just a gorgeous temple that has been restored to look as it did in the 11th century. Besides wandering around the temple, there’s also a really lovely tea place where you can get a traditional tea service for only 3,000 KRW/person.
Another big temple to visit near Suncheon is Songgwangsa. It’s actually considered one of those most important temples in Buddhist Korea, along with Tongdosa and Haeinsa.
Hike between them.
There’s a really lovely hike up Jogyesan between Seonamsa and Songgwangsa that’s pretty moderate if you’re not much of a hiker! I went Christmas weekend, and it was still really lovely even if everything was pretty dead. It’s actually nice because I worked up enough of a sweat that I was in a T-shirt, so I don’t know how I’d do it in a warmer season!
The hike is sometimes called the Philosopher’s Path, but I didn’t see any signs or anything that called it that. Read here for more on the hike and what to expect.
Visit Nageupseong Folk Village
Naganeupseong, as we see it today, was designed as fortress village (sometimes it’s translated to castle, but that’s a little erroneous) to help defend the county against Japanese pirates. These villages were the center of life in a county, and Nagan is one of the few left in the country and the only one left in Jeollanam. For a walking guide, check this post.
Lesser Known Things to Do in Suncheon
While the above are the top things to do, and often included on big tours, here are some lesser known things you might be interested in, especially if you live around the area!
Visit Hwapo Beach
I stopped by Hwapo Beach with a friend the Friday before I left Korea! It’s not a huge area, and it’s definitely not a beach in the sense that you come to lay out and sunbathe. But it’s a pretty area by the sea, and I heard the seafood restaurants nearby are some of the best.
Visit the Suncheon Mudflats
These are the mudflats featured in the BBC doc! After we went to Hwapo, we drove over to Waon Beach (와온해변) to see them. Unfortunately, we got there as a giant rainstorm came, so we didn’t see anyone in action. It was still cool to see, and the Waon Beach area actually had a few pensions nearby, so it might be a good choice for a weekend escape in the summer. Naver has some much prettier images than the one I managed to get!
Walk along Dongchun River
Dongchun River is a really pretty walk, especially when all the cherry blossoms are out! My students pretty much always told me they were spending the weekend walking along Dongchun in nicer weather.
Hike up Bonghwasan
Bonghwasan is kind of the main mountain Suncheon in the sense that the city is built around it. It took me a while, but I finally found a trail entrance near my old apartment and spent about five hours hiking around and listening to an audiobook. I took Autumn on a shorter hike when she visited, and it gives you some really beautiful views of the city!
In theory, you can hike all the way around the mountain and hike over it from one side to the other, but I never managed to figure either of those trails out.
Wander around Munhwauigeori
Munhwaauigeori is an art street in Suncheon. I’ve been a few times, and it’s a really cute area! Just a warning, when I went on a Sunday most things were closed. I remember going the first time I ever visited Suncheon and getting some sort of drink mix to take back to Namwon with me.
Eat and wander around Araetjang
One thing you can do that I never managed to make my way over and do is walk around the big outdoor market in Suncheon– Araetjang. I assume there are a bunch of food stands mixed in with the typical fares.
Other Places to Note in Suncheon
These are some places to be aware of, but you might not plan on visiting if you’re not living here. They’re good to know about regardless!
Jungang is kind of central, downtown Suncheon, so if you want to go shopping, go here. I like to think of it as Myeongdong or Gwangju-lite in that there are often similar items but it’s not nearly as massive or extensive as those shopping areas. I used to grab the bus back from my apartment by Jungang, so if I had a long wait I’d find myself window shopping!
Suncheon has two (or three?) universities, but the big one is Suncheon National University, down the road from Jungang. I don’t know that much goes on besides classes, but there are some cool coffee shops nearby and it’s a good landmark to know if you’re trying to get around on this side of Bonghwasan.
On the other side of the mountain, EcoGrad Hotel is a good landmark if you’re staying in that area (or, hey, at that hotel). It’s a super tall, uniquely shaped building, and I’m actually surprised I don’t have a single photo of it!
Jorye Lake Park
Jorye Lake Park is a nice little park area with a lot of good restaurants, many foreign. It’s not particularly close to any of the big landmarks, though, so you might not feel the need to visit. If you live here or nearby, though, it’s a nice place for a picnic or to go for a run!
Where to Eat in Suncheon
I’m going to be honest, I don’t really know great places for Korean food in Suncheon. I had it a few times here, and not to be biased, but it was way better in Namwon. I tried a few times at different places and I just never found anywhere I loved (besides when my friend cooked for me, that was the best). But here are some places I liked eating!
Joryedong is a bit restaurant district in Suncheon, or at least it felt that way because that’s where I lived! There are a ton of Korean restaurants with classic dishes like BBQ or kalbitang.
Mckenzie’s House (맥킨지하우스)
Favorite place for American breakfast hands down. I liked it so much, I remembered its name two years after going the first time! I mean it’s also my sister’s name, so it wasn’t that hard, but still. Order the Pancake Lover’s breakfast, and don’t forget you get a free refill on your coffee!
McKenzie’s House is in Jorye Lake Park, so if you’re not there for breakfast or into brinner, then some other places I ate at were Emoi, a Vietnamese franchise, and a sushi place that opened next to Olive Young towards the entrance to the park.
- Address: 14-18 Wangji-4-gil, Suncheon-si
- Korean Address:전라남도 순천시 왕지4길 14-18
Suncheon Lamb Restaurant (순천 양꼬치)
Only a five-minute walk from my apartment, there was this lamb place called 순천 양꼬치 that was so freaking delicious! Of all the restaurants I went to in Suncheon, this is the one I went to repeatedly. The lamb skewers were the best, and don’t miss a side of the eggplant dish. It’s not the cheapest meal you can have (two lamb dishes and the eggplant were around 40,000 KRW), but it’s totally worth it. The owner was also nice enough to make some recipe books in English with photos, so you can see what you’re getting.
- Address: 242 Sangga Bonghwa-ro, Suncheon-si
- Korean Address: 전라남도 순천시 봉화로 252 상가
Hamheung Naengmyeon (함흥 냉면)
So Hamheung (함흥) is actually a city in North Korea. Since naengmyeon originated in northern Korea way back in the day, you’ll see a lot of restaurants around South Korea using NK city names in their restaurants — kind of like you’ll see a lot of “Jeonju Bibimbap” names as well.
Anyhow, my students took me here twice, and it’s one of my favorite places to naengmyeon. They even make their own mandu, so definitely stop by here in the summer or in warmer weather to enjoy the cold noodle goodness.
- Address: 2 Hadaeseok-gil, Suncheon-si
- Korean Address: 전라남도 순천시 하대석길 2
Cafes in Suncheon
Aloha Cafe (에이로하)
If you’re a vegan, then you’ll LOVE this place. It’s a healthy juice/drink cafe, and they even have kale smoothies. The owner is super sweet, and he even has cooking classes on occasion. I haven’t been in ages, and I feel like a lot has changed based off their instagram, so check there for more info. I want to say there’s a whole other location with more food than drinks, but you’ll have to see!
- Address: 93 Honam-gil, Suncheon-si
- Korean Address: 전라남도 순천시 호남길 93
Memory Cafe (메모리)
After my students took me to lunch we went over to this cafe. It’s really cute, but it’s not quite close to much!
- Address: 20 Seongjuk-gil, Suncheon-si
- Korean Address: 전라남도 순천시 성죽길 20
Cafe Villain (빌런)
Near one of my old workplaces, this was a cute cafe I worked from once in a while when I had my old schedule. It’s not a cat cafe, but they have two cute kitties who hang out around the place. The white one kept me company when I was working!
- Address: 36-55 Suncheondae-1-gil, Nadong, Floor 1
- Korean Address: 전라남도 순천시 순천대1길 36-55 나동 1층
There are two cat cafes that take in rescued cats, but I found out one of them isn’t the best of places. The one in Joryedong, though, is still great as far as friends have told me. All you have to do is order a drink and then you have the whole room to hang out with the cute cats. It’s very cozy, and the cats are pretty friendly.
I can’t seem to nail down an address, but if you go to the Homeplus in Joryedong, walk up the street. It’s about a 5-minute walk, and you’ll see a sign for a Nail and Cat Cafe called “Kiss Cat” or 키스캣. If you’ve gone up to the tall apartment buildings, you’ve gone too far. She does have a Facebook page, so you can try messaging her with some translator help!
If you want to base yourself in Suncheon and visit other places, definitely do! It’s quite a nice location in Jeollanam-do, and I’ve fully taken advantage of how close it is to some stunning areas!
Gwangyang is maybe 40-minutes by local bus and even less by car. It’s its own city with a ton of stuff to do, but I visited mainly for the plum blossom festival and to see a lavender farm. You know spring has come to Korea when this festival begins!
Boseong Tea Fields
The famous tea fields! I have a whole post on them, but if there’s one place you don’t want to miss in Korea, it’s Boseong. It’s only an hour or so by bus from Suncheon.
Because my closest friends lived in Yeosu and the city is only a 30 minute train ride, I went there a ridiculous amount of times over the year! It’s a beautiful city with sea views and so much more.
Gurye is one stop over on the train from Suncheon. It’s a countryside town that I believe is even smaller than Namwon. It’s mostly known for the pretty sansuyu festival in the spring and its main temple, Hwaeomsa, which is near one of the Jirisan hiking trails. If you’re in town, there’s a super cute cafe called Cafe Teeut or Fun Coffee Teeut (잼있는커피 티읕) — the owner even uses reusable straws!
The next stop on the train is Gokseong, which is famous for its rose festival in May. The area isn’t really that pretty without all the roses, so if you’re tight on time and not here in early-mid May, then you may want to skip it.
Suncheon Quick Guide
Get to Suncheon
Suncheon has both a train station and bus terminal, so it’s pretty easy to get in either way. It is also possible to drive, and I know of a lot of foreigners who own cars after their first year. The traffic lights are maddening, but it’s not such a huge city you’ll be panicking all the time.
Getting Around Suncheon
The easiest way to get around Suncheon is through its local bus system, which is really extensive and pretty modern. Almost all the bus stops and all of the buses have wifi and some of the stops even have chargers. If you can read Hangul, download the 여순광 버스 app to really track where everything is.
There’s also a bike system set up if you want to rent bikes, but I never used them, and I don’t necessarily recommend biking everywhere in this city!
As for taxis, you should be fine using them. They can get pretty pricey if you want to visit the temples or Naganeupseong because they’re a bit farther out.
Where to Stay in Suncheon
Because of how spread out the major sites are, your best bet is to stay somewhere near the train station. Eco Grad is in Joryedong, but it’s not in the most convenient spot for sightseeing. I always saw a few hotels or guesthouses near the train station, so definitely check them out.