Best day and weekend trips from Seoul, by season

Best day and weekend trips from Seoul, by season

We love the world's most wired city, but sometimes we need a break. Preferably an amazingly scenic, easily accessible one

There's just so much to see in Seoul, it may take a few trips to the Korean capital before a traveler's mind turns to seeing places outside the city. 

Apart from the terrible traffic on weekends, traveling around Korea is not as daunting as it may seem, with government-launched initiatives such a foreigner-only national bus tours, and convenient high-speed trains from central Seoul.

So when the city's fast pace and crowds get too overwhelming, some time away might be just the thing. Here are nine great day and weekend trips, according to season. 

Fall

1. Heyri Art Valley, Paju

The flowers are definitely a lovely respite from Seoul's steel and concrete. Just north of Seoul is a valley officially described as “the loveliest village on earth/all artists are dreaming.” It's an ambitious statement that seems believable once you’re actually there.  

In Paju, nearly 400 artists have contributed to one of the most carefully created villages in Korea. What was once a desolate and conventionally ugly expanse of land has now become a haven for artists.

Visitors can see firsthand how the painters, photographers, musicians and other creatives who live and work there create and thrive, and can even join in and learn a few crafts themselves. 

But those who aren’t too good with their hands can still find plenty to enjoy. There are enough museums, book stores, cafés and restaurants to occupy even the most left-brained.

How to get there

Head to Hapjeong Station (Line 2) and get on bus #200 or #2200 from Exit 2 and get off at Heyri First Gate. 

Approximate travel time from central Seoul: 90 minutes 

Approximate cost: ₩2,100 (US$2)

More on CNN: 5 reasons to visit Paju Book City 

 

2. Busan

The second largest city in Korea, Busan isn't exactly a pastoral getaway. But it's not just a smaller Seoul -- it has the advantage of the sea. This southern city is one of Korea’s most well-known locations outside of Seoul. Some travelers even choose Busan as their primary destination for a Korea vacation, but that doesn’t mean that the trip can’t be done in just a day, thanks to the incredibly convenient KTX, Korea’s express train.

With good planning, a plane trip to Busan may cost only a little more than the KTX, shaving even more off the travel time. 

And though Busan is famous for its beaches, there are plenty of sights to see and things to eat not involving getting stuck in a crowd of sun-fearing beachgoers. 

You can eat hoe at the Jagalchi Fish Markets and then head to the Haeundae district, where you will find the famous Haeundae Beach, the Busan Aquarium, Dalmaji Hill, Jangsan Mountain and Shinsegae Centum City for shopping. 

Given the relatively long travel time, a weekend trip may make more sense. 

How to get there

Take the KTX from Seoul Station (Line 1, 4, A’REX, Gyeongui) to Busan Station. 

Approximate travel time from central Seoul: 2.5 hours by train, four hours by car. 

Approximate cost: ₩110,000 (US$100) for KTX roundtrip.

More on CNN: Pocket guide to Busan: 11 best eats and sights  

 

Winter

1. Jisan Forest Resort

Instead of a crowded club in Seoul, this could be your Saturday night. Jisan Resort may be better known for its summer bash Jisan Valley Rock Festival, but the sloping green hills that turn into stages for international musicians are actually more regularly used as ski slopes.

While no ski resort that’s close to Seoul is going offer very challenging runs, Jisan Forest Resort is perfect for a quick ski/snowboarding fix.

There are almost 10 slopes and five lifts, and lessons (in Korean and English) are available. Food is available inside the resort, but the area surrounding the resort has plenty of supermarkets and restaurants as well. 

How to get there

Shuttle: reserve a spot on the free shuttle bus via the website or call +82 31 644 1552. 

Public transportation: head to Express Bus Terminal (Line 9) and take the bus to Ichon Terminal (이촌종합터미널) and take bus #12 or a taxi to Jisan Resort.

Approximate travel time from central Seoul: 40-60 minutes

Approximate cost: ₩35,000 (US$32) for bus and taxi roundtrip

More on CNN: Seven dazzling days in Korea 

 

2. Bearstown Resort

If you're looking at these kids and thinking, "Amateurs!" you're probably right. Bearstown is more about bunny slopes and safety. But that just makes it perfect for curious beginners.Bearstown is another resort that won’t offer much in the way of challenges for experienced skiers/snowboarders, but it is an option for those looking to just have a fun snow day. 

The resort not only has 11 slopes and nine lifts, but also offers several sledding slopes as well as lessons and inexpensive rental equipment.

As it is a beginner friendly resort, there may be an excess of youngsters and snow bunnies, but if the slopes get too crowded, Bearstown also has an indoor pool, tennis court, sauna, bowling alley and more.

How to get there

Shuttle: free and paid shuttle buses are available and reservations can be made online or by calling  +82 31 540 5000.

Public transportation: take the #11 bus from Gangbyeon Station and get off at Bearstown Resort. 

Approximate travel time from central Seoul: 90 minutes

More on CNN: 7 best ski and snowboard resorts in Korea 

 

Spring 

1. Boseong (Green Tea Fields)  

Boseong green tea fields The tea fields at Boseong have been the backdrop for many a love story, both real and fictitious. Boseong's green tea fields may be a little too obscure to dedicate a full vacation to, while far enough from Seoul to deter enough travelers from making a quick trip.

But while the travel time is long for a day trip, as long as you depart early, there’s enough time to go and be back in time to make the last subway train home. We recommend a weekend trip, however. 

The fields are beautiful and the trip is a nice breather -- literally, since the fresh scent of tea is everywhere. Visitors can walk through the seemingly endless fields of the Daehan Plantation for a small admission fee.

The surrounding restaurants offer plenty of green tea-flavored goodies, including green tea samgyeopsal, ice cream and rice cake soup.

The annual Green Tea Festival takes place in the spring, when visitors can pick their own tea leaves, make tea and other products, as well as view several exhibitions. 

For those with enough time, Yulpo Beach is 10 minutes away by bus, where a green tea-themed spa features deep seawater mixed with green tea. Transportation back to Boseong Terminal also tends to be easier from Yulpo Beach.

How to get there

Bus: from the Express Bus Terminal, take the bus to Boseong Beolgyo Express Terminal and take a bus headed to Yulpo Beach or take a taxi to the green tea fields for approximately 10,000 (US$9). 

Train: take the KTX from Yongsan Station to Gwangju, and then transfer from the Gwangju Bus Terminal and take a bus headed to Boseong Beolgyo Express Terminal. From the terminal, transfer to Yulpo Beach-headed bus, or take a taxi. 

Approximate travel time from central Seoul: five hours

Approximate cost: ₩70,000 (US$64) for KTX and taxi roundtrip, ₩55,000 (US$50) for bus and taxi roundtrip

More on CNN: 50 beautiful places to visit in Korea 

 

2. Jinhae

Jinhae may have more than just cherry blossom trees, but judging by this photo, cherry blossom trees are reason enough to go. Jinhae is another place that’s a little far for a day trip, but on the flip side, it is also one of the best places in the world to see the cherry blossoms in the spring. 

Of course, this naval city is home to a lot more than just cherry blossom trees, but the Naval Academy and museum are only open to the public during the annual Jinhae Naval Festival, a festival commemorating one of Korea's biggest heroes from history, Admiral Yi Sun-shin. 

But be warned: the festival, combined with the allure of the cherry blossoms, means that there will be swarms of tourists, so unless it's a personal must, long lines are only a waste of time.

Hardier tourists can also walk up Mount Jangbok, which has been paved with stairs, and be rewarded with a view of the 300,000 or so cherry trees in blossom.

How to get there

Bus: take a bus from Seoul Express Terminal to Masan Express Terminal and take a bus to Jinhae, or take a bus from Nambu Bus Terminal to Jinhae Bus Terminal.

Train: take the KTX from Seoul Station so Miryang, and transfer to the Saemaeul train to Jinhae.

Approximate travel time from central Seoul: three to five hours, depending on traffic and mode of transportation.

Approximate cost: 100,000 (US$91) for KTX roundtrip50,000 (US$46) for bus and taxi roundtrip

More on CNN: Beyond Seoul: 9 provinces, 19 attractions 

 

Summer

1. Daecheon Beach (Boryeong)

A roomier alternative to claustrophobically crowded beaches like the more popular Haeundae in Busan. Boryeong is famous for its mud festival, but getting dirty isn’t the only thing that the city offers. The city’s Daecheon Beach is three kilometers long and filled with people actually playing in the water and the sand, rather than hiding out under umbrellas (although those are available as well).

The tide comes in early during the summer, and the lifeguards will clear out the beach for a few hours. 

Once that happens, you can head out for an early dinner as there are restaurants a-plenty selling seafood all along the shore. There's also the Daecheon Fish Market, which is about a five-minute cab ride away, where visitors can choose from an assortment of fish for fresh hoe and seafood stew. 

How to get there

Train: take a train from Yongsan Station headed to Daecheon Station and transfer to a bus bound for Daecheon Beach or take a taxi (approximately 10 minutes).

Bus: take a bus from either Express Bus Terminal or Nambu Bus Terminal headed to Boryeong Bus Terminal and transfer to a local bus to Daecheon Beach or a taxi.

Approximate travel time from central Seoul: three hours

Approximate cost: ₩40,000 (US$37) for bus and taxi roundtrip

More on CNN: Top 7 hotels to wrap up the summer in Korea  

 

2. Nami Island

With avenues like these, we suspect Nami Island would have been popular without its Korean drama fame. This tiny island is the final resting place of General Nami but most visitors come not to pay their respects to the famous Joseon Dynasty general, but to see the location of the mega-hit Korean drama, Winter Sonata. But if that latter fact is a deterrent, rather than an incentive, there’s more to see than just signs pointing out the filming locations of a decade-old drama.

The island, which declared its cultural independence in 2006, offers bike rentals as well as an electric car tour, but also has cleared out walking paths, all of which help the island stay environmentally friendly.

The island also has a small theme park with merry-go-rounds, not roller coasters, a sky-bike where pairs can "cycle" on a track five kilometers long and six meters aboveground, a large outdoor pool and other activities.

How to get there

Shuttle: reserve a spot online or call +82 2 753 1247 for a bus from Insadong or Jamsil Station. Approximate cost: 15,000 (US$14) roundtrip

Train: take the subway to Gapyeong Station and take a bus or taxi to Gapyeong Wharf (Nami Island)

Bus: take a bus from East Seoul Terminal to Gapyeong Bus Terminal and take a bus or taxi to Gapyeong Wharf (Nami Island).

From the wharf, take a five-minute ferry ride to the island or take a one-minute zipline from Nami Skyline Zipwire Ziprider Tower (38,000, approximately US$35).

Approximate travel time from central Seoul: three hours

More on CNN: And the most beautiful village in Korea is ... 

  

3. DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)

At Dora Observatory, you can try to squint across the DMZ to catch a glimpse of North Korea, or you can enjoy the greenery of the wildlife haven that is the DMZ itself. The world’s most heavily militarized border in the world is an odd place to become a top tourist destination, but somehow it’s the most popular -- among foreign travelers, anyway.

As there are few other places in South Korea where visitors can get so close to North Korea, the DMZ, at the 38th parallel, continues to attract hundreds of thousands of tourists despite numerous border conflicts.

South Korean citizens are not allowed near the border, and even foreigners must go as part of an official tour. The USO (United Service Organization), Korail and Incheon International Airport, among others, all run tours to the DMZ and back. 

Depending on the tour, visitors can go inside a North Korean infiltration tunnel, stand on the Freedom Bridge and access the Odusan or Dora Observatory, the Joint Security Area and more.

The atmosphere lends itself to a mostly obedient crowd. It's a good idea to check for permission before taking photos, unless you are prepared to risk the ire of the soldiers on guard. 

How to get there

Book a tour (USO Incheon Korail). 

Approximate travel time from central Seoul: one hour

Approximate cost: ₩70,000 (US$64) for a booked tour. 

More on CNN: DMZ: Road trip to the world's most heavily armed border 

Los Angeles-born Elizabeth Eun is a journalist who currently works at CJ E&M.  She lives on the Internet and in cafés.

Read more about Elizabeth Eun
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