Gallery: 40 most beautiful places in South Korea
With these incredible travel spots throughout South Korea looking the way they do, it’s kind of hard to understand why a whopping one-fifth of the country's population lives on top of each other in Seoul.
As glitzy and glittering as it is, the capital, after all, takes up less than one percent of the entire country.
To get this list of beautiful places, we asked veteran travel photographers who know the country from tip to spine to tail and who’ve been photographing Korean landscapes and people for decades.
Photographers Seo Heun Kang, Kim Bong-Sun and Im Jay-cheon shared their favorite spots around Korea. Three or four appeared in our article 50 beautiful places to visit in Korea, but we haven’t covered most of these places before.
Which is your favorite photo? Which South Korean destination do you most want to visit? Let us know in the comments section.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is actually the royal tomb of Queen Jeongsun (1440-1521), the queen of the Joseon Dynasty’s sixth king, Danjong, who ruled for three short years before being forced to abdicate the throne by a power-hungry uncle.
“This place houses one of the most beautifully kept pine tree forests in the Seoul vicinity, where the prettiest pine trees are grown and sent to the palace gardens or other royal tombs,” says photographer Seo Heun Kang, who took this photo.
Access to the tomb area is restricted to those with “the purpose of academic research and field investigation,” reporters and guests with “the purpose of education and worship.”
Prior appointments must be made through the management office at +82 31 573 8124.
Sareung-ri Jingeon-eup Namyangju Gyeonggi Province
39. Sambuyeon Falls
Legend has it that a dragon once flew out from this 20-meter-high waterfall -- that's why the name of the nearby village Yonghwadong begins with the character for dragon.
“This is one of the eight sights of Cheorwon, and is a sight to see especially after rain when the falls swell,” says photographer Seo.
Jeong Seon, one of the most celebrated artists from the Joseon Dynasty, fell in love with this waterfall and painted it immediately.
Sincheorwon-si Galmal-eup, Gangwon Province
38. Namhansanseong Fortress
Located on Mt. Namhan, this 12-kilometer-long earthen fortress was originally built 2,000 years ago and reconstructed in 1621.
It was one of the four big fortresses protecting the country’s capital, then called Hanyang.
“It’s a great place for day excursions, as there are many hiking trails,” says Seo.
Sanseong-ri Jungbu-myeon Gwangju-si Gyeonggi Province
This UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises royal tombs of Joseon’s ninth King Seongjong, his queen Jeonghyeon and son King Jungjon.
Located among a “forest of skyscrapers” in Gangnam, Seoul, the tombs are open to visitors daily (excluding Mondays) for a fee of less than $1.
Seolleung-ro 100-gil, Gangnam-gu
36. Gobungun, Changyeong
These ancient tombs date to the Gaya confederacy of the 5th and 6th centuries.
There are approximately 180 tombs in the area, which are close to main roads and easy to access.
Changnyeong-eup, South Gyeongsang Province
35. Anapji Pond
Built in the year 674 during the Silla Dynasty, this beautiful circular pond was originally constructed inside a fortress that was later destroyed.
State celebrations were held here and it's also where Silla's most important guests were received.
Inwangdong, Gyeongju-si, North Gyeongsang Province
34. Geunjeongjeon, Gyeongbokgung
Important state affairs were once conducted in the Geunjeongjeon, the Throne Hall of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
The palace hosts a changing of the guard ceremony every day, and occasionally hosts ceremonies for major events of national importance.
The welcome ceremony depicted in this photo was held in honor of the historic return of Korean royal books that were looted by the French military 145 years before.
Gyeongbokgung, Seojong-ro 1, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Typically used as the residential palace for queens and concubines of the Joseon dynasty, Changyeonggung was built in 1483 by King Sejong, who invented the Korean alphabet, for his father King Taejong.
“The most important buildings in the palace face east, so it is best to visit in the morning,” says Seo.
Admission is ₩10,000 ($9) and the same ticket can be used at Seoul’s four palaces, Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, as well as the Jongmyo shrine, within one month.
185, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
This 338-meter-high mountain on the outskirts of Seoul offers probably the best view of the city.
Known for its hiking trails, the mountain has a number of castles that were built to protect the city from foreign invasions.
San 3-1, Muak-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
31. Jongmyo Shrine
Built by the first king of the Joseon Dynasty Lee Seong Gye, the Jongmyo Shrine is where kings came to worship and conduct memorial services.
Jongmyo Jaerye memorial service is reenacted the first Sunday each May and incorporates music and dance from five centuries ago.
157 Jongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul
30. Gochang Dolmen site
More than 400 dolmen (stone graves built during the prehistoric era) can be found at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it one of the most concentrated dolmen sites in Korea (there are approximately 30,000 such stone graves throughout the country).
There's a dolmen museum on site and a train tour departs from the museum every hour from 10:30 a.m.
Asan-myeon, Gochang-gun, North Jeolla Province
Iksan is home to numerous historic sites, including a palace site and many temples and fortresses.
The five-story pagoda at Wanggungri in Iksan is an iconic example of the refined architecture during the Baekje period (18 BCE-660 CE).
Wanggungmyeon, Iksan-si, North Jeolla Province
28. Seoul Seonggwak Fortress Wall
The 18.2-kilometer-long stone wall was erected during the Joseon Dynasty to protect the capital.
A scenic walking tour goes from Dongdaemun (home of late-night trendy shopping centers) to Naksan Mountain, stopping by the Seoul Seonggwak Fortress Wall then Naksan’s park and museum, and comes to an end at Ehwajang, where Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee, once lived.
1 Ewha-dong Jongno-gu Seoul
27. Gangneung Anbandeok-gil
Thanks to its close proximity to Seoul (approximately three hours by express bus), Gangneung is one of the most popular year-round destinations in the country for domestic tourists.
The city is known for its mountains and beaches, and also has a wealth of cultural sites including a Confucian school, museums and centuries-old hanok (traditional Korean architecture) estates.
Daegiri, Wangsangmyeon, Gangneung-si, Gangwon Province
Along with Haeundae, Gwangalli is one of Busan’s iconic beaches. It can get ridiculously crowded during summer, but has a laid-back vibe during off seasons.
Younger crowds like to come and drink in small groups on the beach.
192-20 Gwangan-2-dong, Suyeong-gu, Busan
25. Soyang Lake
Soyang Lake owes its existence to Soyang Dam, Asia’s largest rock-fill dam.
A hotspot for ice-fishing, the lake is known for its tranquility and picture-postcard scenery. Cheongpyeongsa Temple, which dates to the Goryeo Dynasty, is nearby, and hiking trails to Obongsan Mountain are popular with locals on weekends.
Buksan-myeon, Chuncheon-si, Gangwon Province
24. Upo Wetlands
As the largest natural swamps in Korea, these wetlands are home to more than 1,000 species and span 5,550 square kilometers.
The wetlands have been protected since 1998, when they became part of the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.
220, Uponeup-gil, Yueo-myeon, Changryeung-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do
While Hapcheon is known for its beautiful mountains and temples (Haeinsa is one of Korea’s three “jewel temples” and a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the terraced rice paddy fields of the area are also a wonderful sight.
"The rice paddies are the most striking on August afternoons, when they glow bright green," says photographer Im Jay-cheon.
Thin and long terraced rice paddy fields like these are called “daraknon,” a North Korean term still used in the South.
Hapcheon-eup, Hapcheon-gun, South Gyeongsang Province
The 108 steps between Cheonwang gate and Anyang gate at Buseoksa Temple represent the number of cycles it takes for redemption from agony and evil.
Built in 676 during the Silla Dynasty, Buseoksa Temple is the oldest wooden building still standing in Korea.
"Every evening at 6 p.m. they ring the bell 33 times," says photographer Im. "It's a sound that touches your heart and soaks into the land."
345, Buseoksa-ro, Buseok-myeon, Yeongju-si, North Gyeongsang Province
21. Geumsan Boriam Temple
If you pray at Geumsan Boriam Temple, your prayers will be answered -- so people say, anyway.
Like most temples in Korea, Geumsan Boriam Temple offers a temple stay program where visitors can spend the night and immerse themselves in the Buddhist way of eating, sleeping and meditation.
48 Bukji-ri, Buseok-myeon, Yeongju-si, North Gyeongsang Province
20. Dolsan Bridge
The longest cable-stayed bridge in Korea has become a local tourist attraction in itself due to the dramatic way it's lit up at night.
Nearby attractions include a temple, a replica of Korea’s most famous attack ship, “Geobukseon,” and a raw fish town.
Dolsan-eup, Yeosu-si, South Jeolla Province
19. Andong Hahoe Village
Korea’s most iconic folk village has long been a birthplace for scholars and nobles of the Ryu family.
Visitors can do a hanok stay, sleeping in a traditional Korean house and experiencing how Korean nobles lived for hundreds of years.
40, Jongga-gil, Puncheon-myeon, Andong-si, North Gyeongsang Province
Meaning “crow and magpie bridge,” Ojakgyo is the setting for Korea’s most famous love story, in which a couple is forced to live on either side of the Milky Way, only to be reunited when magpies form a bridge.
Legend has it that real-life couples who cross this bridge together will love each other for eternity and have healthy children.
Cheongeo-dong Namwon-si North Jeolla Province
This tiny island 15 minutes by boat from Jeju Island's Hallim Port is known for its summer fishing.
Legend has it that this tiny island flew to its current spot from China 1,000 years ago.
Hallim-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju Island
Poets and painters have sought out Samhwasa Temple for centuries for its incredible scenery.
The west peak of Dutasan Mountain, where the temple is located, is said to look like a phoenix and a crane, while the east peak has the shape of a tiger and a dragon.
584 Mureung-ro, Donghae-si, Gangwon Province
Hamdeok is a small seaside village located 30 minutes east of Jeju Airport.
As beautiful as they are, the fields of rapeseed flowers play second fiddle to Hamdeok’s sapphire beach, a popular kayaking destination with calm waters.
Hamdeok-ri, Jocheon-eup, Jeju-do, Jeju-si, Jeju Island
14. Hyeupjae Beach
Ask any Korean travel writer about which beach they think is the most beautiful in the country and nine times out of 10, their response will be Hyeupjae Beach.
OK, we lied. It’s 10 times out of 10.
2497-1 Hyeopjae-ri, Hallim-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju Island
While this island is relatively difficult to reach -- there’s a ferry that leaves only a handful of times each day from the south coast, at Moseulpo Harbor -- the trip is worth it for the views.
Tiny sculptures of famous lighthouses around the world stand in front of the island’s lighthouse.
There’s a jajangmyeon (black noodles) shop that delivers to anywhere on the island.
Mara-ri, Daejeong-eup, Seogwipo-si
12. Yonghwa Beach
This Samcheok city beach has a fragrant pine forest and a stream running alongside it, making for a shaded happy holiday with the choice of playing in seawater or freshwater.
Camping sites cost only ₩10,000 ($9) per night.
Yonghwahaebyeon-gil, Geundeok-myeon, Samcheok-si, Gangwon
“The road from Sehwa-ri to Seongsaneup, home of fabulous sunsets, is beloved by the locals for its pretty scenery,” says photographer Kim Bong-sun.
The nearby Sehwajang market sells fresh seafood.
Gujwa-eup Jeju-si Jeju Island
Known for its 99 peaks, this Jeju volcanic mountain has a crater spanning 500 meters in diameter that’s a sight to see, apart from all the beautiful islands in the distance.
It takes only an hour to walk to the highest peak, which is 104 meters above sea level.
Sangmo-ri, Daejeong-eup, Seogwipo-si, Jeju Island
Another satellite island off Jeju, Udo has a wicked black pork barbecue that’s worth the journey.
The island is a 15-minute boat ride from Seongsan Harbor, about an hour’s drive from Jeju Airport.
Yongduam, meaning “dragon head rock,” is a must-visit spot for Jeju Island tourists.
Rough weather makes for a dramatic shot of waves crashing against the rock.
“The best spot to see it from is about 50 meters away, rather than actually climbing the spot itself,” says Kim.
Yongdam-1-dong Jeju-si Jeju Island
7. Cheonjiyeon Falls
The beautiful waterfall takes its name, which means “the pond of the gods,” from a legend about seven heavenly attendants coming down to earth to bathe in the pond.
To honor the legend, a Seven Fairies Festival is held each May.
666-7 Cheonji-dong, Seogwipo-si, Jeju Island
When covered in white flowers in summer (this is the only place in Korea where crinum grows), this small island off Jeju is said to look like a white rabbit from a distance. Hence its name, which means “rabbit island.”
Hadori, Gujwa-eup, Jeju-si
Although the county of Yeongam in the South Jeolla province has been in the local headlines in the past few years for its controversial hosting of Korea’s first Grand Prix, the county is a pleasant, leisurely place to visit.
Local attractions include temples, ancient tombs and traditional estates.
Yeongam-gun Yeongam-eup South Jeolla Province
4. Miryang Maneosa
The thousands of floatstones around this ancient temple are supposedly fishes that were turned into stone. According to more legends, the five-meter-long rock on the temple site is the son of the dragon king who was also turned into stone.
Wishing on the rock is said to grant sons to women who could not conceive them before.
Maneosan, Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province
3. Seongsan Ilchungbong
Korea’s most famous “sunrise peak” is a 5,000-year-old volcanic crater.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site with views like this every morning, it’s a magnet for photographers from all over the country.
1 Seongsan-ri, Seongsan-eup, Seogwip, Jeju-si
The second oldest of the five grand palaces in the country, Changdeokgung (not to be confused with Changgyeonggung) is home to a number of exceptionally beautiful spots, even for a palace.
The most treasured of these is Biwon, the palace's back garden, a veritable lover's lane on any given evening.
99 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
1. Halla Mountain
The highest mountain in Korea is also Jeju Island’s most iconic landmark and home to approximately 4,000 different animal species.
The hiking trails are exquisitely developed, but the fickle weather can be daunting.
Haean-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju Island
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