There are, of course, many more historical sites, little towns, and cultural places you can visit in the province, but here are a few places that I think are particularly noteworthy, if you happen to be passing through or just want to make a special trip from Seoul. For more information, check out the province's website at http://english.gg.go.kr.
Located in the southern valley of the Han River, this county, with its neighboring city of Icheon, is known as one of the centers of Korean contemporary ceramics. It is also home to the tomb of Korea's most popular emperor, the great King Sejong (Sejong Daewang), who developed the written Korean language, Hangeul. The tomb of King Sejong, the fourth ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, is a wonderful example of those from that era. The Yeongneung Royal Tombs (Royal Mausoleum of King Sejong), 83-1 Wangdae-li, Neungseo-myeon, Yeoju-gun (tel. 031/885-3123), is open 24 hours Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is W500 adults, W300 teens and military, free for children and seniors. King Sejong and his wife, Queen Soheon (Soheonwanghu), were buried together. Legend has it that, because the tombs face south, a spirit can oversee a country from this site for 10,000 years.
Nearby at the Nyeongleung Royal Tombs are the burial sites for the 17th Joseon emperor, King Hyojong (Hyeojongwang) and his wife, Queen Inseon (Inseongwanghu).
Yeoju is also the Birthplace of Empress Myeongseong, 250-2 Neunghyeon-li, Yeoju-eup, Yeoju-gun (tel. 031/887-3575), the 26th ruler of the Joseon Dynasty. Her childhood home and memorial hall can be visited daily from 9am to 5pm (except Lunar New Year and Chuseok). Admission is W500 adults, W400 teens, W200 children.
Built along the ridgeline of Pasasan is the relatively well-preserved fortress, Pasa-seong, San 9 Cheonseo-li, Daeshin-myeon, Yeoju-gun. The mountain's peak is at its center and some of the walls remain intact. From certain spots along the fortress walls, you can get a pretty nice view of the southern Han River. It takes about an hour to circle the fortress walls.
Worth a special trip to the area is the scenic Shilleuksa, 282 Cheonsong-li, Yeoju-eup, Yeoju-gun (tel. 031/885-2505). Originally founded during the Shilla Dynasty, it is the only lakeside temple in South Korea. Rumor has it that famous Shilla Monk Wonhyo founded this temple during King Jinpyeong's reign (A.D. 579-632), but there are no relics or historical data supporting that myth. Although its actual founding is unknown, it became famous in 1376, during the second year of Goryeo Dynasty's King Wu's reign, when the monk Nawung came here to meditate. Flowering trees make this a beautiful site in the spring, while the yellowing ginkgo trees add to its autumn beauty. The most famous structure here is the multitiered stone pagoda. Admission is W2,000 for adults, W1,000 for youth. Buses to Shilleuksa run hourly from the Yeoju Bus Terminal.
While you're in town, don't miss the Moka Buddhist Museum, lho-li, Gangcheon-myeon, Yeoju-gun (tel. 031/885-9952). Founded by Pak Chan-su (whose pen name is Moka), the museum was created to uphold the traditions of Buddhist art and the traditional processes used in woodcrafts. An unusual combination of traditional and modern architecture, the three-floor building houses everything from paintings and calligraphy to wooden sculptures. With over 6,000 pieces in its collection, its outside sculpture garden displays some historic pagodas and Buddha statues. It's open daily from 9:30am to 6pm (until 5pm Nov-Mar). Admission is W3,000 adults, W1,500 students, W1,000 children. Take Yeoju city bus no. 10 or 10-1 bound for Gangcheon-myeon and get off at the museum.
To reach Yeoju by bus, from Seoul's Express Bus Terminal take the bus to Yeoju-gun's Bus Terminal. Buses to Shilleuksa run every hour, but you can walk to the temple from Yeoju city center in about 30 minutes. By car, take national road 37 from Seoul. Yeoju is about 70km (43 miles) away.
Most people have heard of this small city south of Incheon only because the U.S. Air Force has a major air base here (it's actually between Osan and Pyongtaek). There isn't much here as far as history and culture, but the American military has fueled the growth of the main street outside the base, now called Shinjang Shopping Mall, a pedestrian street closed to car traffic. The area is full of souvenir shops, clothing stores, restaurants, and clubs, many run by foreign women and military wives. On weekends, the area is packed with military personnel and expats who make the trek down from Seoul to hit the wide selection of restaurants and bars that cater to Western tastes. From Osan, take bus no. 2 to Songtan. To get to Osan, take bus no. 300 or 301 from Suwon or catch an Osan-bound bus from Seoul's Nambu Terminal.
Sometimes spelled "Euijeongbu," this small satellite town just north of Seoul attained its own city status in 1963. Now a bustling city, it has many military bases and is home to foreign workers from poorer parts of Asia. This is also the town in which the fictional troops of M*A*S*H were stationed (although the show was shot largely in Southern California), and actual U.N. troops were stationed here during the Korean War. The U.S. armed forces brought about a new city specialty, budae jjigae (Spam stew, which is exactly what it sounds like), made from the canned meats available from army camps when food supplies grew scarce during the war. You can still try this American-influenced dish at Budae Jjigae Golmok (Alley) at such joints as Boyeong Sikdang, 214-127 Uijeongbu 1-dong (tel. 031/842-1129), or Euijeongbu Budaejjige Bonjeom, 220-31 Uijeongbu 1-dong (tel. 031/846-9977). To get to the famed alley, take the Seoul subway to Ujseongbu Station. Once outside, walk toward the police station and the Halla apartments, and you'll see a blue arch (it's written in Korean) that marks the start of Budae Jjigae Golmok.
Unfortunately, most of the town was destroyed during the war, but there are a few cultural relics and some restored buildings around today. From the center of Seoul, it takes about 40 minutes to get to Uijeongbu by subway. There are five stops in the city off of Seoul's subway line 1. The city's official site is www.ui4u.net/site/english.
Between Uijeongbu and Pocheon is the Gwangneung Sumeogwon (Korea National Arboretum), 51-7 Jikdong-li, Soheul-eup, Pocheon-si (tel. 031/540-2000; www.kna.go.kr), a peaceful nature preserve with original trees and dense undergrowth. Because of the fragility of the landscape, you must make a reservation a week in advance. It's worth it, especially if you're a nature lover or bird-watcher, since various fowl pass through during different seasons. Open Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 6pm April to October, until 5pm November to March, the arboretum is closed on weekends and national holidays. The last entry is 1 hour before closing. Admission is W1,000 adults, W700 teens, W500 children, free for seniors and kids 5 and under. Take Seoul's subway line 1 to Uijeongbu Station, then take bus no. 21 to Gwangneung-nae. It'll cost W1,250 and the bus leaves from Uijeongbu at 10 and 40 minutes past each hour, and at 15 and 45 minutes past each hour from the arboretum. If you're driving, it'll be W3,000 for parking.
Northeast of the Uijeongbu (about a 30-min. bus ride) is Pocheon, another satellite city in Gyeonggi-do. Since the city is so close to the border, it's popular with Korean military; however, it's still largely undeveloped and can be a nice getaway from Seoul. A relaxing visit could include a stop at the Idong Jaeil Yuhwang Oncheon, 663 Hwadae-li, Idong-myeon, Pocheon-si (tel. 031/536-6000). Open 24 hours; a soak costs W6,000 for adults and W4,000 for children.
After a good soak, you can fill up on the city's famous galbi and makgeolli (milky rice wine). So famous is the dish that there is even a "village," the Idong Galbi Maeul (tel. 031/532-6135), a cluster of restaurants where the galbi is grilled over oak charcoal. A couple of good options in the area are Idong Galbi, 216-3 Jangam-li, Idong-myeon, Pocheon-si (tel. 031/531-4459), and Ijo Garden, 852 Yunheon-li, Naechon-myeon, Pocheon-si (tel. 031/532-6466).
Soyosan (Mt. Soyo)
Soyosan and its associated Tapdong Valley are called the "Mujugucheondong," the prettiest mountain valleys in Gyeonggi-do. A nice day trip away from the insanity of Seoul, there are steep slopes, deep valleys, several waterfalls, and a small hermitage, the Jajae-am. Across from the Soyosan Train Station is the entrance to Tapdong Valley. Jajae-am is about a 30-minute hike up, past Wonhyo waterfall. The hermitage is said to have been founded by the famous monk Wonhyo.
It's easy to get there via Dongducheon. From Seoul's Suyu-li, take bus no. 36 or 136 to Dongducheon Bus Terminal. From there, take a bus bound for Dokgoli. If you're driving, take road 3 toward Uijeongbu. Then, take local road 334 at the Dongducheon Yurim four-way (sageoli).
Yongmunsan (Mt. Yongmun)
Called the "Geumgangsan of Gyeonggi-do," Yongmunsan is well known for its rocky valleys and hiking trails. The hiking entrance begins at Yongmunsa ("Dragon Gate Temple"), where you will see a huge ginkgo tree. The temple was originally built in A.D. 913, but expanded in 1392. It was burned down, like many of Korea's temples, by the Japanese in 1592, but rebuilt. It was burned down by the Japanese again in 1907. The current main hall was reconstructed in 1984 entirely by hand. The village below the temple was also rebuilt while the temple was being constructed.
Open all year, the Yongmunsan Resort (tel. 031/773-0088) is popular with vacationing families in the fall. Admission is W1,800 adults, W1,200 students and military, W800 children. There are recreational facilities and campsites nearby.
At the entrance to the resort, there are numerous restaurants that serve the fabulously delicious sanchae bibimbap (mixed rice bowl with wild mountain greens) as well as dishes made from other local vegetables and wild mushrooms. This is also a great place to enjoy homemade rice wine after a long day of hiking.
By bus, from Seoul's Sangbong Bus Terminal, take the bus bound for Yongmun, which runs nine times daily. At the Yongmun Bus Terminal, take the nonstop bus to Yongmunsa. By subway, take the Jung-ang line and get off at Yongmun Station. Then, take the nonstop bus to Yongmunsa. By car, from Yangpyeong, take state route 6 toward Hongcheon for 14km (8 2/3 miles). Then, take local road 331 for about 6km (3 3/4 miles).
Located east of Seoul along the Han river, at the foot of Yongmunsan, lies the county of Yangpyeong. During the warm months, a visit to Semiwon, Yangsu-li, Yangseo-myeon, Yangpyeong-gun (tel. 031/775-1834; www.semiwon.or.kr), is an excellent way to see acres of waterlilies and watch the sun set over the Han River. It's open Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 6pm March to October, until 5pm November to February. Admission is W3,000 and only 500 people are allowed per day. To get to the park, take bus no. 2228 toward Yangsu-li from Cheongnyangni Station (Seoul subway line 1) and get off at the last stop. You can also take bus no. 2000-1 toward Yangpyeong from Gangbyeon Station and get off at the park (the bus runs only once an hour).
Nearby is the KOFIC Namyangju Studios, 100 Sambong-li, Joan-myeon, Namyangju-si (tel. 031/579-0605), a working TV set and film experience center, open to visitors. The studios are open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm March to October, until 5pm November to February. Admission is W3,000 adults, W2,500 teens, W2,000 children. To get here, take bus no. 2228 from Cheongnyangni Station and get off at Yangsu-li or take bus no. 2000-1 from Gangbyeon Station and get off at Jinjung 3(sam)-geoli. From there you'll have to take a local bus or taxi to the studios (about a 5-min. ride).
A better place to enjoy the Hangahng is Dumulmeoli (which translates to "where the two waters meet"), Yangsu-li, Yangseo-myeon, Yangpyeong-gun (tel. 031/770-2068), where the north and south sections of the Han River meet. What used to be a quiet refuge for lovers has become a popular spot after being featured in a couple of TV dramas and films. Even on crowded weekends, it can be a nice place to walk along the water. To get here, take bus no. 2228 from Cheongnyangni Station (subway line 1) and get off at Yangsu 4(sa)-geoli. Alternatively, take bus no. 2000-1 or 2000-2 from Gangbyeon Station and get off at Yangsu 4(sa)-geoli (the first stop after crossing Yangsu Daegyo (bridge).
A nice place to stay in the area is the Yangpyeong Hanhwa Resort, 141-5 Sinbok 3-li, Okcheon-myeon, Yangpyeong-gun (tel. 031/772-3811; www.hanwharesort.co.kr), a Korean "condo-style" facility with over 400 rooms and plenty of recreational sports facilities for the family. There are hiking trails, a swimming pool, outdoor hot springs, and great slopes for sledding in the winter.
Mt. Myeongseong & Sanjeong Lake
East of Uncheon in Yeongbuk-myeon is Sanjeong-ho, a beautiful lake at Mt. Myeongseong (whose peaks are reflected in the lake's still waters). Myeongseongsan straddles the border between Gyeonggi-do and Gangwon-do and is covered with thick pine forests and large rock formations that look their best in the midst of the autumn foliage. Although Sanjeong is a small lake, Deungryong and Biseon waterfalls enhance the beauty of the area. It used to be a quiet mountain region, but with increased tourist development (they've built a snow sledding area and an ice-skating rink, and a tourism complex with swimming pools and saunas), its quiet charm has almost disappeared. A small temple, Jainsa, Sanjeong-li, Yeongbuk-myeon, Pocheon-si (tel. 031/533-1075), sits at the foot of the mountain.
From Seoul's Sangbong Bus Terminal, take a bus bound for Sincheolwon and get off at Uncheon. From there, you can take a bus to Sanjeong-ho (lake). Buses run every 15 minutes and take about 80 minutes. If you're driving, take road 43 from Suyu-li in Seoul toward Uijeongbu. Pass Pocheon-eup, and go straight toward the Manse-gyo (bridge). Make a right at the Seongdong three-way (sam-geoli), and then a left at the checkpoint three-way. Turn right at the Bunam four-way to get to the lake's parking lot.
Gwacheon-si is one of the many small cities surrounding Seoul. Accessible by Seoul subway, south of Gangnam, it has a number of mountains and good parks.
One of the main attractions in the city is the National Museum of Contemporary Art, 209 Gwangmyeong-gil, San 58-1 Makgye-dong (tel. 02/2188-6000; www.moca.go.kr). The museum's design encompasses elements of old fortress walls and traditional houses, and is made to work with the landscape. Exhibits include works by both South Korean and international contemporary artists and include an outdoor sculpture garden. Take Seoul subway line 4 to Seoul Grand Park Station (exit 4) and take the museum shuttle bus. (Be sure to buy an admission ticket to the museum from the ticket machine at the subway station.) The shuttle runs every 20 minutes, 9:40am to 5pm Tuesday through Friday and until 6pm Saturday and Sunday during the high season from March to October, and daily from 9:40am to 4pm in the off season of November to February. The last bus leaves from the museum at 4:50pm off season, and 5:50pm high season. The museum is open in the high season Tuesday through Friday 9am to 6pm (until 9pm Sat-Sun and holidays), and in the off season until 5pm Tuesday through Friday (until 8pm Sat-Sun and holidays). Ticket sales end 1 hour before closing. The museum is closed Jan 1. Admission is W1,000 adults, W500 youth, free for seniors 65 and older and kids 6 and under.
Nearby is Seoul Grand Park (tel. 02/500-7335; http://grandpark.seoul.go.kr). With a lake at its center, the park includes a zoo (which has a fun dolphin and seal show), botanical gardens with a pleasant walking trail, and an educational center for children. Admission is W3,000 adults, W2,000 teens, W1,000 children. Tickets for the dolphin show are W1,500 for adults, W1,000 teens, W500 children. The park is open daily from 9am to 7pm April to September, and until 6pm October through March. Last entrance is 1 hour before closing. Take Seoul subway line 4 to the Seoul Grand Park Station (exit 2).
In the same area is the amusement park Seoul Land, 121 Seoul Land, Makgye-dong (tel. 02/509-6000; www.seoulland.co.kr). It has 40 different rides, including roller coasters and water rides, as well as movie theaters and other amusements. They hold a tulip festival in the spring, rose festival in the summer, chrysanthemum festival in the fall, and snow light festival in the winter. Hours are 9:30am to 9pm weekdays, 9:30am to 10pm weekends and holidays. Nighttime admission starts at 5pm and the park closes at 11pm from the end of July to mid-August. Admission is W15,000 adults, W12,000 teens, W10,000 children. Additional fees apply for certain attractions. Take Seoul subway line 4 to the Seoul Grand Park Station (exit 2).
Also great for children is the Gwacheon National Science Museum, 100 (Gwacheon-dong), Daegongwon, Gwangjang-gil, Gwacheon (tel. 02/3677-1500; www.scientorium.go.kr). There's everything from a planetarium to a little area where visitors can interact with live insects. Give yourself at least a couple of hours to explore the exhibitions and the grounds. Hours are 9:30am to 5:30pm Tuesday to Sunday with the last admission 1 hour before closing (closed Chuseok and Lunar New Year). Admission is W4,000 adults, W2,000 children and seniors 65 and older, with a separate admission for the Planetarium at W2,000 adults, W1,000 children and seniors. Take Seoul subway line 4 to Seoul Grand Park Station (exit 5).
For horse-racing fans, the Seoul Racecourse, 685 Juam-dong, Gwacheon-si, offers races every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5:30pm. Admission is W800 and betting starts from W100 and can go us high as W100,000. Bring your passport, since you'll need it to get in. Take Seoul subway line 4 to the Seoul Racecourse Station (exit 3).
If you have a Saturday free and you're visiting sometime between April and October, don't miss the Anseong Namsadang Nori, 31-3 Bongsandong, Anseong-si (tel. 031/676-4601; www.baudeogi.com), where they offer a variety of free performances all day. Namsadang was Korea's first popular performance troupe, which used to travel around markets and villages singing and dancing for the people during the late Joseon period. The troupe usually had about 40 to 50 members, most of whom joined voluntarily, though parents sometimes brought their children to the troupe because they were too poor to feed them. The program includes tightrope walkers, exorcism rituals, a puppet show, dancers, drummers, musicians, and more.
While you're in Anseong, you can visit Mahno Art Center, 34 Bokpyeong-li, Bogae-myeon, Anseon-si (tel. 031/6767-8151). You can't miss the building, which is an upside-down house. There are hands-on programs for both children and adults. The art center has some galleries, an Italian restaurant, and a shop, and is open daily 10am to 10pm. Admission is W2,000 for adults, W1,000 for those 17 and under.
If you're in the area, stop in at the Seoilnongwon, 389-3 Hwabong-li, Injuk-myeon, Anseong-si (tel. 031/673-3171; www.seoilfarm.com), a farm where they make fermented soybean paste, dwenjang, the old-fashioned way. You'll see rows and rows of clay pots filled with the paste fermenting. They also have an on-site restaurant.
To get to Anseong, take a bus from the DongSeoul Bus Terminal. There are 25 departures daily from 6:45am to 9:10pm. The ride takes about 80 minutes and costs around W4,200. From the Anseong Bus Terminal, you'll have to take a taxi to the Namsadang performance. It's about a 10-minute ride, but be sure to ask your driver to pick you up at the end of the performance, since public transportation is scarce.
About an hour and a half northeast of Seoul is Gapyeong-gun (Gapyeong County), which rests on the border of Gyeonggi-do and the mountainous province of Gangwon-do. The most popular destination in the area is Cheongpyeong-ho, the lake created by the construction of Cheongpyeong Dam in 1944. A popular resort for water-skiing and camping, it gets crowded with Seoulites especially during the summer. Gapyeong's tourist info can be reached at tel. 031/580-2066 or -2067.
To get to Gapyeong by rail, take the train headed for Chuncheon from Seoul's Cheongnyangni station and get off at Gapyeong. Buses to Gapyeong can be taken from the DongSeoul station or Sangbong Terminal. Take a bus headed for Chuncheon and get off at Cheongpyeong Dam. The bus and train terminals are about a 5-minute walk from each other.
Garden lovers will enjoy the nearby Garden of Morning Calm, a picturesque garden in the quiet of the mountains. With over 4,500 plant species, this is a nice place to see native Korean plants as well as colorful flowers imported from other countries. Admission prices vary depending on the season: W4,000 for adults December to February, W5,000 March and mid- to late November, W6,000 weekdays April to mid-November, and W8,000 weekends. Admission for teens is W1,000 less than adults, and admission for children is W2,000 less than adults. Local buses from Cheongpyeong Bus Terminal run at 10:20am, 10:50am, 11:20am, 1:20pm, 2:20pm, 4pm, 4:30pm, and 6:30pm. The ride lasts about 30 minutes and costs W1,200. A taxi to the garden will cost about W12,000 to W15,000.
Located northwest of Seoul, the city of Goyang has expanded as housing needs in Seoul expanded to the surrounding province. A climb up Daegyangsan affords a nice view and a visit to the Haengjusanseong (Haengju Mountain Fortress), San 12 Haengjunae-dong, Daegyang-gu, Gyang-si (tel. 031/961-2580). This fortress, which was mostly likely built during the Baekje period, was instrumental in defending Korea against the invading Japanese army some 4 centuries ago. The Haengju Great Victory Festival is held here every March 14 to commemorate the victory. The fortress is open 9am to 6pm March to October, 9am to 5pm November to February. To reach Daegyangsan, take Seoul subway line 3 to Hwajeong Station, then take a shuttle bus to the fortress. You can also take bus no. 88 from Seoul City Hall or bus no. 921 from Sinchon. Drivers should take road 23 and follow the signs to the fortress.
In the Ilsan district of Goyang-si sits the Ilsan Lake Park, Janghang-dong, Ilsan-gu, Goyang-si (tel. 031/906-4557), the largest artificial lake in Asia. Its paths are perfect for joggers, bikers, or casual walkers. The musical fountains and cultural performances draw crowds on weekends. To get to the park, take Seoul subway line 3 Jeongbalsan Station (exit 2). The park is about a 10-minute walk. You can also take bus no. 77 or 903-1 from Sinchon.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.