Of course, there are a virtually unlimited number of things to see and do in Seoul itself. With some 10.5 million residents, there are literally hundreds of thousands of restaurants, parks, museums and other attractions.
That said, sometimes you might feel an itch to venture outside of South Korea’s capital. On those occasions, thankfully, Seoul is surrounded by many other worthy places of interest.
So for this post, I suggest three great day trips from Seoul – Incheon, Suwon and Gwacheon!
The first of our three great day trips from Seoul begins due west of the capital in Korea’s third largest city, Incheon (인천시).
Probably best known as home of the nation’s and world’s number one Incheon International Airport (인천국제공항), Incheon is much more than Seoul’s western satellite.
In fact, the former fishing village once called Jemulpo became Korea’s first “open port” in the late 1880s.
Today, charming old buildings from that era – including Korea’s only real Chinatown and other historic foreign settlements remain big draws for tourists.
What’s more, Incheon is home to the futuristic Songdo International City, a $40 billion project to build a 1,500-acre city from the sea.
Finally, for a few perfect summertime getaways, the pseudo-island of Wolmido (월미도) offers a seaside, carnival-like atmosphere, while small (and strangely shaped) ferries connect Incheon with 100 nearby islands.
From Seoul’s western neighbor to its southern one. In the late 18th century, Korea’s King Jeongjo tried to do something very bold by moving the capital to Suwon to escape Seoul’s big city drama.
In the late 18th century, Korea’s King Jeongjo tried to do something very bold by moving the capital to Suwon to escape Seoul’s big city drama.
While that wasn’t successful, the modern Suwon is a city of one million that can lay claim to two UNESCO-recognized treasures – the Hwaseong Suwon Fortress (화성수원) and the Yunggeolleung Royal Tombs (융걸릉).
The former is one of Korea’s most spectacular sites, thanks to nearly six kilometers of beautiful, yet imposing stone walls topped with 48 pavilions, gates and sentry towers.
Completed in the late 1700s, the fortress represents a unique and outstanding example of integrating eastern and western architectural styles.
Not far away is another worthy site for your Suwon itinerary. Suwon Hyanggyo (수월향교) is a Confucian academy that dates from the 13th century.
We will wrap up our list of three great day trips from Seoul in another southern suburb. In fact, many of Gwacheon city’s most popular attractions bear Seoul’s name.
For example, Seoul Grand Park (서울대공원) begins at the base of Cheonggyesan mountain (청계산) and is home to the country’s largest zoo and botanical gardens.
Not far away is Seoul Land (서울랜드). Opened in 1988 to coincide with the Summer Olympics, it features a number of roller coasters and other kitschy theme-park amusements.
Amidst all of this fun are two more educational destinations. The first is the Gwacheon National Science Museum (국립과천과학관).
The second is the remarkable National Museum of Contemporary Art (국립현대미술관).
The collection of over 4,000 items is dominated by Paik Nam June’s 18.5-meter tall “The More The Better” media installation that’s made from 1,003 televisions surrounded by a winding ramp.
So, despite all the attractions within Seoul city’s limits, why not venture a few kilometers outside of them with these three great day trips from Seoul?
About Matt Kelley
Matt Kelly is native of the US Pacific Northwest and is half-Korean by ethnicity. He lived in Korea for five years and has written hundreds of travel guides for Wallpaper, TimeOut, the Boston Globe and Seoul Magazine and was a host for several different variety shows on Korean radio and television.