South Korea isn’t known for just shopping and the Korean Wave. It also has plenty of beautiful islands and islets waiting to be explored. If we are talking numbers, the country has a total of 3,358 officially affirmed islands, called do, pronounced doe, off the South Korean coast. Some of them have been converted into protected marine national parks, while others act as working bases for fishing folk. The rest are well known for their beaches or as holiday getaways. And if you’re planning a summer vacation, island hopping is a great idea for a remarkable Korean experience. So, plan for something off the beaten track, and head to a do or three. To help you out we have compiled a list of the must-visit islands in South Korea.
Everything You Need To Know To Explore These Beautiful Must-Visit Islands In South Korea
1The Korean Hawaii, Jeju Island
The most popular honeymoon travel destination in South Korea, the Province of Jeju is located in the Korea Strait. This island paradise is just a short ferry/plane ride away from the bustling mainland of South Korea. It is also one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature. Jeju is South Korea’s largest island and is the only island listed with both an airport and ferry terminal.
This once-volcanic island is known for its tropical golden sand beaches and inactive volcanoes. It also hosts quirky museums such as PLAY KPOP!, The Museum of Sex and Health, Loveland and theme parks. Also known as the “Korean Hawaii”, Jeju Island lives up to its name with beautiful beaches, lush countryside and seaside hotels designed for luxurious rest and relaxation. With such a reputation, it has to top our list of must-visit islands in South Korea.
Best Time to Visit: Jeju is hottest from July till August. Therefore, it’s best to avoid the island during those months and go early September when the temperature dips.
2Home To South Korea’s Only Coral Beach, U-do Island
Our next island is just 3.5 kilometres off the coast of Jeju Island, named Udo (meaning “cow island” in Hanja) because of its resemblance to a cow lying down. It takes just 15 minutes to reach Udo via ferry (from Seongsan Port), and the ferries are very regular. Udo boasts fertile soil, abundant schools of fish, and scenic sights, as well as a unique local heritage, like the female divers or haenyeo, stone walls and stone tombs as well as natural attractions, making it a miniature version of Jeju Island. Don’t miss the breathtaking sight of the stone walls at night when the moonbeams shine through the stones’ gaps, which is one of the must-see things that makes Udo special.
The term haenyeo, translates to “sea woman”. There is a strong heritage of women divers in South Korea, especially around Jeju Island. These remarkable women have been diving for generations without modern equipment like oxygen tanks. Today a lot of them are elderly women who make their daily living by going on daily dives into the sea to catch fresh seafood. With an average age of 65, these female divers dive 10-20 meters without any breathing apparatus to gather seaweed, clams and abalone. They are an important part of the cultural identity of the country’s scenic southern islands, so much so that haenyeo was inscribed on the UNESCO list of Korea’s intangible cultural heritage in 2016. Among other things, these unique cultural attributes make Udo one of the must-visit islands in South Korea.
Here in Udo, you can visit the only coral beach in South Korea, Seobin Beach, fringed with black-lava cliffs and a lighthouse that offers panoramic views of the town and fields. You can cover the entire island in a day, either by driving around, renting a bike, joining a tour bus group or by hiking the Jeju Olle Trail.
Best Time to Visit: Avoid the hotter months from July to August, and visit in September when the weather is pleasant.
3The Mysterious Island, Ulleung-do Island
We will now shift to the opposite side of the peninsula to Ulleungdo Island. Situated 120 km off the eastern coast of South Korea, it is not directly connected to Jeju city, but you can take a car ferry, plane, train, or bus to reach Ulleung-do. It is 593 km away from Jeju city and is known for its majestic scenery of steep cliffs and rounded peaks along a jagged coastline crowned by soft white beaches and the deep blue water of the Sea of Japan.
This volcanic island is the major fishery of the eastern coast and lets you experience true island life which is rarely seen anywhere else in Korea. Don’t miss the Haengnam Coastal Walking Path which stretches along the periphery of the island offering the best views of Korea’s natural beauty.
Best Time To Visit: Ulleungdo Island gets good weather from May to October. On average, the warmest months are July and August.
4The Red Island, Hongdo Island
Located off the coast of South Korea’s South Jeolla province, Hongdo is a rocky, minuscule island, just 6 km long and 2.5 km wide. It is a part of DadohaeHaesang National Park and is one of the most remote locations in South Korea. It was named for its crimson or hong cliffs, caves, and jagged rock formations that are rust coloured. Ringed with islets, this island is home to approximately 270 subspecies of evergreens, including rare breeds such as the daeyoppoung, as well as 170 animal species. It is a protected nature reserve where entry is prohibited; therefore, the best way to appreciate the island and its rocky islets and arches is to take a boat tour around it.
You can take ferries from multiple ports in South Korea to Hong-do. They arrive at the ferry terminal in Ilgu village. The commentary and announcements on the ferries are usually only in Korean so you might need to ask someone for help to ensure you disembark at the correct harbour or keep your ears peeled for the name of the island. The boat tours of the island will take about 2 hours to go around the island. Hong-do’s shores are lined by cliffs, each with its own unique formation, that tower over the South Sea’s blue waters. For spectacular sunsets, you can climb Git Dae-bong hill.
Best time to visit: From May to October, when you will have pleasant weather with a little rainfall.
5The Blue City, Geoje Island
Located in the South Gyeongsang province, Geoje Island is South Korea’s second-largest island after Jeju. The island is known not only for its colossal shipbuilding industry but also its natural beauty. While it is located only an hour away from Busan, up until December 2010, access to the island was limited to just ferries or one bridge that connected the mainland at the port city of Tongyeong. Today, Geoje Island is connected to the mainland by the Busan-Geoje direct expressway link which is accessible by both express bus and car.
Although dubbed the “Blue City”, Geoje is more of an island than a city. The island’s key attraction is its coastal scenery which varies between pastoral and industrial, with the best views in and around the Haegeumgang rock formations. While there are many beaches and hiking trails, other picturesque attractions include the grassy green hill by the sea called the “Hill of the Wind” and Hakdong Black Pearl Mongdol Beach, a black pebble beach.
Best Time To Visit: Summer is a good time to visit. June through August is a fairly slow season for tourism in Geoje, so lodging and other accommodations may cost less.
6The Paradise Of Korea, Oedo Island
South Korea’s Oedo Botania Island, or Oedo Island is a marine botanical garden located in Hallyeo Maritime National Park. It is nestled off the southern coast of South Korea, just 4 kilometres away from Geoje Island which is about 20 minutes by ship from Gujora Port. Often called the Paradise of Korea, Oedo is an intricate fusion of European and Korean architecture styles in a semi-tropical island. The island offers beautiful views of the crystal-blue South Sea and surrounding landscape.
This marine western-style botanical garden was built by a man named Lee Chang-ho, who along with his wife settled on the island in 1969. Mr Lee and his wife together created the botanical garden that is now a prime feature of the erstwhile rocky and barren island. It took 30 years of careful tending to reach its current transformation. Today, the island has more than 3,000 different kinds of trees including many subtropical plants, such as cacti, palm trees, and gazanias. Adding to the scenery, are Mediterranean-style buildings and statues, that stand upon the sea and have been used as the backdrop for a number of Korean dramas. Don’t forget to visit ‘The Venus Garden’ which was modelled after the gardens at Versailles, and displays twelve sculptures and a western-style garden along with the ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ where visitors can view the beautiful garden and the ocean in the background.
Best Time to Visit: Plan your trip to Oedo-Botania in spring, in April, when the island is covered with flowers, and the weather is perfect for taking long walks.
7The Third Largest Island Of South Korea, Jindo Island
Last, but not the least in our list of must-visit islands in South Korea is Jindo. Jindo is an island in the Region Jeollanam-do of South Korea. It is the third-largest island in the country and is made up of 250 smaller islands. To reach Jindo, you can catch a bus from either Mokpo or Gwangju but the bus sometimes stops in small towns on the way. There are no non-stop buses to the island however, there are cross-country buses to and from Seoul 4 times a day (6 hours), to and from Gwangju 53 times a day (2.5 hours), and to and from Busan twice a day(6.5 hours).
Located next to Jejudo and Geoje Island, Jindo is particularly famous for the appearance of a dry road in the middle of the sea near the end of February and mid-June of the lunar calendar. The event is called The Miracle of Moses because of its resemblance to the passage in the Old Testament in the Book of Exodus. During this annual festival, visitors can actually watch the water receding, as a road about 30-40-metres wide and 2.8 km long appears. It is visible for about an hour before being submerged again. It’s actually a natural tidal phenomenon called Ganjuyuk Gyedo (Mysterious Sea Road), and while the road appears you can walk along it to reach the nearby Modo Island.
Jindo is also known for Jindo dogs, a gorgeous breed known for their unsurpassed loyalty and ‘Jindo Arirang’ Korea’s best-known folk song. The island is accessible from the mainland via a bridge or a bus across from the nearby city of Mokpo. Jindo also has an abundance of ferries that go to other islands of the Korean peninsula, such as Jeju. So, it’s the ideal location for those interested in island hopping.
Best Time to Visit: Usually in spring (late April or early May) when the temperature is warm and you can also enjoy the Mysterious Sea Road Festival.
Ready To Explore South Korea’s Natural Scenic Beauty With Its Best Islands?
By visiting some of these must-visit islands in South Korea, you will get the chance to explore more of South Korea in a different way. These stunning islands of South Korea will allow you to quench your thirst for the unknown. But keep in mind that these islands have been preserved for years by responsible locals and the government. Make sure you are respectful by not leaving any trash behind. There are trash cans located at the docks of every island, so if you have items you need to throw out, keep it in your bag first and then discard when you can.
Be a responsible traveller and keep these islands clean and pristine. These islands help us appreciate nature at its finest. Visiting these natural wonders make us marvel at and appreciate the world we live in a lot more. So take the time to appreciate nature, you won’t regret it.