South Korea’s fourth largest city is a pleasant and progressive place with a fascinating traditional-medicine market, some excellent eating options and a humming downtown that’s good fun to explore. The city is a popular place for exchange students and English teachers, and the large student population gives Daegu a young and carefree feel.
Jeju-do’s second-largest city is beautifully situated on a rocky volcanic coastline dotted with lush parks, a deep gorge and two waterfalls. The clear blue waters and mild ocean temperatures make Seogwipo Korea’s best scuba-diving destination and it’s also an ideal base for hiking. The town centre (up a steep slope from the harbour) is full of motels and hotels.
South Korea's third largest city, this expanding metropolis and industrial port – 36km west of Seoul – is the place where Korea opened up to the world in 1883, ending centuries of self-imposed isolation. In 1950, during the Korean War, the American General Douglas MacArthur led UN forces in a daring landing behind enemy lines here.
Around 30km south of Seoul, sprawling Suwon is the largest city in Gyeonggi-do province. It's most known for its World Heritage–listed fortifications built by Joseon dynasty ruler King Jeongjo, who had the idea of moving the capital from Seoul to Suwon in 1794. The fortress wall that surrounded the city was constructed but the king died and power stayed in Seoul.
Jeonju, the provincial capital of Jeollabuk-do, is famous for being the birthplace of both the Joseon dynasty and Korea’s most well-known culinary delight, bibimbap (rice, meat, egg and vegetables with a hot sauce). Centrally located, the city is the perfect base from which to explore Jeollabuk-do, as it’s the regional hub for buses and trains.
Eastern Jeju-do includes the coastal area along Rte 1132 from Gimnyeong to Pyoseon, some inland sites and the ferry to Udo. Most of the coastal destinations can be accessed by bus 701 (₩1300 to ₩3300, every 20 minutes from 5.40am to 9pm) as it shuttles between Jeju-si and Seogwipo.
While it’s surrounded by gorgeous mountains, the charms of Gangwon-do’s capital are mostly artificial: shimmering lakes created by dams, the fiery chicken dish dakgalbi, and well-loved (if schmaltzy) settings for the enormously popular TV drama Winter Sonata. Still, it’s a good base for outdoor activities and its proximity to Seoul makes it a popular weekend getaway.
Home to Korea’s busiest international airport, Yeongjongdo’s best western beaches aren’t disturbed by air traffic. Eulwangni Beach (을왕리 해수욕장) is the most popular. Despite its commercial setup it’s an attractive place framed by hillside pine forests, which can get busy on weekends. Next to Eulwangni’s Youngjong Sky Resort is a spa and water park.
Buyeo (www.buyeo.go.kr) is home to several Baekje-era sites and relics. King Seong, a statue of whom presides over the roundabout in the town centre, moved the capital here in AD 538, when it was known as Sabi. It lasted till AD 660, when the combined Shilla-Tang army destroyed it.
The molar-shaped, port city of Yeosu is halfway along Korea’s steep, island-pocked and deeply indented southern coast. Its bustling city centre is nothing special, but its shoreline, peppered with cliffs, islands and peninsulas, is spectacular. The local hero is Admiral Yi Sun-shin (1545–98), who repelled Japanese invaders with his 'turtle ships'.
Famous for bibimbap (rice, egg, meat and vegies with chilli sauce) and its role in the Japanese invasions of the 16th century, Jinju is a laid-back city with a park-like fortress by the Nam-gang (Nam River). It's the largest city in the area and a convenient transport hub from which to explore the province’s western region.