33 beautiful islands to visit in Korea
Fact: If you tried to visit one Korean island a day, it would take you more than nine years to get to them all (there are 3,358 officially affirmed islands off the South Korean coast).
While most travelers in the region have most likely heard of Jeju, Korea’s most famous island and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, the seas surrounding the peninsula are peppered with lesser-known islands with spectacular views and awesome fishing.
For more information and directions to the islands, try searching for each island on the Visit Korea website, or calling Dasan Call Center (02-120) once you're in the country.
1. Seonjaedo (선재도)
Many are familiar with Moses dividing the Red Sea, but this biblical story has its own, more scientifically plausible version on Seonjaedo.
At low tide, the ocean parts to reveal a sandy path from Seonjaedo to the smaller satellite island of Mok. Who knew the city of Incheon, best known for its airport, had such a patch of natural beauty?
2. Sinuido (신의도>or 상하태도)
Sinuido, which was featured in a 2008 episode of the KBS2 channel's travel program, "1 night 2 days" (1박 2일), is the largest producer of sea salt in South Korea.
One visits this island not for the fishing, hiking or swimming -- but rather, to gawk at the surreal mounds of salt in the salterns, waiting to be harvested.
3. Hongdo (홍도)
The rocky, diminutive (6.47 square kilometers) Hongdo, with its killer sunrises and wealth of peculiar rock formations, has been likened to a flower floating on the water.
Named for the crimson light that envelops the entire island at sunset (hong is Korean for "crimson"), Hongdo's 6.47 square kilometers is home to about 270 subspecies of evergreen and about 170 species of animals.
With turtledoves and black coral, mountain goats and clean seas, it's not surprising that in the past people once (well, more than once) fought over possession of Cheongsando.
It also doesn't hurt that the fishing is superb, with abalone porridge and hoe (raw fish) as local specialties.
This popular vacation destination is the major fishery of the eastern coast -- that is, even more so than all the other coastal fishing villages along Korea's peninsular shoreline.
This, as we know by now, translates into good seafood. Ulleungdo's signature catch is the cuttlefish.
Otherwise the island is packed with dazzling little nooks -- caves, waterfalls, seaside walks and ancient trees -- all very well-equipped for visitors.
Deokjeokdo's formula of forest, mountain and shore may not be anything particularly new, but it works.
Near Incheon, this northern island of mud flats, pebbled beaches and 300-year-old pines can nonetheless hold its own in a beauty contest against some of South Korea's better-known southern beauties.
7. Uido (우이도)
We already have an island that looks like a cow (Udo). But who knew? We also have the Yellow Sea's Uido, Uido meaning "cow ear."
And while this resemblance is even more tenuous, Uido also has beaches for swimming and fishing, and a rather famous sand dune.
8. Ganghwado (강화도)
As the fifth largest island in Korea, Ganghwado, accessible via a short drive over a bridge, doesn't really feel like an island.
Its main attractions are its many mountains, rather than its beaches -- the tallest and most popular being 468-meter Mount Mani.
Not to say there aren't other activities: You can check out the 120-odd dolmen at the foot of Mount Goryeo, which date back to the Bronze Age, or roll around in the mud flats.
9. Wando (완도)
The "Wan" in Wando means "to smile broadly."
Easily done on Wando -- from hiking to the top of 644-meter Sanghwang Peak (or any of its lesser neighboring peaks) to fishing. The island, from beach to peak, is bustling and wonderfully scenic.
10. Jukdo (죽도)
While it may be a difficult and lonely place to live, lacking its own water source (water is either collected rainwater or water brought over from neighboring Ulleungdo) and difficult to come and go (the only entrance to the island is a spiral staircase of 365 steps), Jukdo's attractiveness lies in its tranquil seclusion -- its current population is two.
11. Geojedo (거제도)
With a prospering tourist industry, Geojedo, the second largest island in Korea (second only to Jejudo), while smack at the center of the beaten track, is remarkably clean and well preserved.
Representative attractions include the grassy green hill by the sea, "The Hill of the Wind," and Hakdong Black Pearl Mongdol Beach, where the beach is composed of round, black pebbles that make muted jangling noises when the waves splash against the shore.
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12. Oedo (외도)
Although but four kilometers away from Geojedo, the subtropical Oedo was once a lonely, craggy place without electricity.
Today it is one huge (over 132 square kilometers) botanical garden with over 3,000 species of exotic plant life and fetching Western-style buildings and sculptures, a regular backdrop for K-Dramas and often called a "paradise."
13. Somaemuldo (소매물도)
Somaemuldo, one of Hallyeo Hasesang (Maritime) National Park's main attractions, actually owes a great deal of its popularity to another tiny island right off its own coast.
The "Deungdaeseom" or "Lighthouse Island" is nonetheless still considered a part of Somaemuldo, much in the same way that even if you eat a cookie crumb, you're still kind of eating the cookie.
Speaking of cookies -- Somaemuldo's Lighthouse Island is also known for being featured in an advertisement for "Couque D'asse," a Korean biscuit snack.
Udo has Korea's only coral beach (Seobin Beach), black lava cliffs and a lighthouse with a view of the surrounding countryside.
It is also known for its haenyeo ("sea women") -- tough, resilient female divers who traditionally made their living (and their families' livings) by diving for abalone and shellfish.
15. Seonyudo (선유도)
Seonyudo, named for its 100-meter mountain, Seonyu Peak, which supposedly resembles two gods playing Go (baduk) with each other, packs a lot of view.
Popular sights are the sunset, the three tiny uninhabited islands tucked into a cove literally a stone's throw away, the autumn leaves of Weolyeong Peak, the sandbar shaped like a seagull, the beach in the moonlight, and Mangju Waterfull.
Bogildo, covered in evergreens, is best known as the home of Joseon-era poet Yun Seon-do and his remaining relics.
Best known amongst Yun's relics is Seyeonjeong, a pavilion in which he composed poetry, built over a pond he dug. The name means "to wash away the grime of the world."
17. Gageodo (가거도)
Gageodo is famous for its beautiful, rocky seashores and insanely good fishing.
While in some ways it's similar to the other islands along this coast, with the rocks and the fishing communities, the isolation is what sets Gageodo apart. Literally.
18. Geomundo (거문도)
Geomundo actually refers to three separate islands -- Seodo, Dongdo and Godo -- clustered tightly together in a ring, forming a lake-shaped bay in a quasi-enclosure.
The island was claimed by British sailors in 1885, but was almost immediately taken back by Admiral Jeong Yeochang. For treasure hunters: centuries-old coins and celadon have been discovered on the island..
"Eocheong" means "water mirror." Eocheongdo was named thus because of the surrounding sea, clear as a mirror, supposedly due its location, relatively far out in the ocean.
The island is also known for its rare and varied species of birds.
20. Gwanmaedo (관매도)
Gwanmaedo, with three villages and 300 residents, is an attractive island of wide, white beaches and shallow, family-friendly waters bordered by dense forests of black pines, and ludicrous (but entertaining) legends.
For example, at the north of the island is the adjacent Bangado, upon which a small rock sits balanced precariously on a hill.
Supposedly the balancing rock is a masculine emblem where infertile women can go to pray for babies.
21. Baeknyeongdo (백령도)
A mere two kilometers below the 38th parallel, Baeknyeong Island is the further north you can get by island hopping in South Korea. But the place is more than just a strategic military point.
While some of its attractions (like enormous piles of shells from our early ancestors) aren't as attractive as others (spotted seals plashing in protected habitats) there is a lot to pick from.
Such as Sagot Beach, where the hardness of the sand also makes the beach a great natural airstrip; Sagot Beach is only one of two such naturally occurring airstrips in the world (the other is in Naples, Italy), and served as a temporary runway for United Nations' aircraft during the Korean War.
Today it's just an awesome beach.
Dokdo (called Takeshima in Japan) is best known for its central role in a property dispute between Japan and South Korea that dates back to the 15th century.
Dokdo actually consists of multiple islands, with the two largest East Island (Dongdo) and West Island (Seodo) and 89 even smaller islands scattered around. And despite its heavily politicized reputation, it's actually quite important ecologically, too.
Because of its delicate ecosystem, visits to Dokdo are still limited; tourists must fill out an application and reserve with a travel agency. Call the Ulleung-gundo Administration Office for more information at +82 54 790 6645, 6646.
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23. Heuksando (흑산도)
Heuksando, "black mountain island," is where classical scholars (sunbi) of antiquity were banished when they managed to displease the higher-ups. (Like 17th-century scholar Jeong Yak-jeong, who spent his exile here writing an important treatise on fish).
But it couldn't have been that bad; Heuksando and its people supposedly so charmed these academics on time out that they were sorry to leave.
Maybe it was the local delicacy, fermented skate ray, said to taste great with a swig of makgeolli. You can taste it at any of the pubs crowding Heuksando's relatively sizable port, Yerihang.
24. Jindo (진도)
One of Korea's best-known folk songs, the Jindo Arirang, originated here; Jindo is also hometown to the beloved Jindo dog, a domestic hunting breed known for its loyalty and intelligence.
Once a year, in either February or March, the sea parts to open a 35-meter wide, 2.8-kilometer-long path between Jindo and neighboring Modo.
This tidal "miracle" is celebrated each year with a huge festival that attracts thousands of visitors.
25. Jisimdo (지심도)
This island in the south sea (namhae) is so densely packed with trees it would not be an exaggeration to call it a floating forest.
Out of Jisimdo's 37 species of trees, about 60 to 70 percent are Japanese Camellias. These "winter rose" trees bloom from early December to late April.
26. Oeyeondo (외연도)
This distant island (53 kilometers from the nearest port, Daecheon Harbor) is relatively untouched by tourist hordes.
It also has a small claim to fame in its wall art, part of a 2011 project to make the island more tourist-friendly.
Supposedly, the island is closer to the Chinese shore than to the Korean coastline, and people say that on quiet windless mornings, you can hear roosters crowing on the Chinese mainland.
27. Sado (사도)
Sado consists of seven islands that remain separate for most of the year but connect to form an angular, rough "C" shape every February when tide fluctuations part the sea to reveal natural underwater bridges.
Sado is also known for its rocks -- or rather, the tall tales surrounding them; there is one turtle-shaped lump that is said to have inspired national hero General Yi Sun-shin's "turtle ship."
28. Anmyeondo (안면도)
As the sixth largest South Korean island, this 113-square-kilometer weekend getaway spot is known for its fishing (and to those who don't enjoy this hobby, this translates into fresh, delicious seafood), its verdant pine forests and its beaches.
This finger-shaped island was actually once a peninsula, connected to the mainland by a thin band of land. During the Joseon Dynasty, however, this thin band was flooded to make it easier for ships to pass through.
In 1970 a bridge was built to reconnect Anmyeondo to the mainland.
Talk about an identity crisis.
29. Palmido (팔미도)
Besides the distinction of being home to South Korea's first modern lighthouse, erected in 1903, Palmido was also the launching point for the pivotal Battle of Incheon (1950) in the Korean War. As a militarily sensitive area, the island was also closed to the public until 2009.
Since then the island has also featured in scenes from the hit TV drama "Boys Over Flowers."
Not bad for an island that was closed for over a century.
Marado, shaped like a sweet potato, is South Korea's southernmost point (about 10 kilometers south of Jeju).
The coastline is rocky and dotted with caves, the white-painted buildings are low and pleasing and further inland (as far inland as you can get on an island of 0.3 square kilometers) there are meadows of flame grass.
31. Imjado (임자도)
With the longest sand beach in South Korea (12 kilometers), sandy plains that resemble a desert and an enviable breadth to the beach (over 300 meters when the tide has receded) that make you wonder why the hell people are still crowding to claustrophobic sweat fests like Haeundae, Imjado is, unsurprisingly, famous for its sand.
32. Soando (소안도)
With Bogildo to the west and Wando to the north, fishing community Soando is best known for being a focal point in the anti-Japanese Colonialism movement in the early 20th century.
It's always had a reputation for courageous residents defending Soando against potential intruders; the name "Soando" originates from this legendary reputation.
33. Hyojado (효자도)
Excellent fishing, pristine beaches and still relatively unknown -- Hyojado is small (two hours is enough for a full tour), with just enough community to be cozy.
The name, which comes from the Korean word for "dutiful son or child," hyoja, is supposedly a reference to the virtuous sons and daughters of the island.
The island makes good on its name, honoring one of its own with a stone monument that tells the legend of a certain Mr. Choi who cut off flesh from his own thigh to feed his starving parents.
OK, so maybe that story doesn't exactly strike us as cozy. But the fishing is still great.
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