Jeju Island has never been more popular, and rightly so. It’s an idyllic island with dramatic coastlines formed from volcanic rock, a good mix of beaches, the country’s biggest mountain, and a pleasant, subtropical climate – think pines and palms alongside groves of citrus trees. But Jeju is also much bigger than most visitors realize, and it can take a long time get around. To get the most out of a trip to Jeju, consider staying in Seogwipo. Located in the middle of the island’s beautiful south coast, Seogwipo is close to all the sights but is as easygoing and charming as an island town should be, with a mix of interesting sights and natural features well worth exploring.

At first glance, Seogwipo looks like any other seaside Korean town – old love motels with tacky fixtures and neon signs, run-down old businesses, a harbor bound in concrete. But Seogwipo also has lush gardens and citrus farms bordered with black rock fences. Streets are spacious and clean, dotted with parks and little square houses. The whole town rolls lazily down to the harbor, and is small enough that you can walk across it easily. And it has a lot to offer. Here’s what makes Seogwipo the perfect base for exploring Jeju, and a great destination in its own right.

 

Waterfalls

Jeju Island boasts several great waterfalls, and two of the best are actually in Seogwipo itself. Walking downhill towards the sea the Cheonjiyeon waterfall is to the right, tucked round a bend where the stream meets the harbor. The Jeongbang waterfall is to the left. Here, signs proudly proclaim that this 23-meter waterfall is the only one in Asia that falls directly into the sea. Both waterfalls are impressive sights, mere minutes from the town center, and popular with the Chinese tour buses – visit early if you dislike crowds.Seogwipo-Waterfall

 

Lee Jeong Seop Art Village

Korea’s beloved painter Lee Jeong Seop fled to Jeju in the chaos of the Korean War. A kindly couple took him in, and he lived in a small room in their hut in Seogwipo, where he painted many of his best works. Though his life was filled with tragedy, the Lee Jeong Seop Art Village is a cheery little cluster of cafes, restaurants, and arty shops built around a museum complex (admission W1000) with a garden and a replica of the hut where Lee stayed. The streets are decorated with signs based on Lee’s most famous paintings, and there are also market stalls on Saturdays. Located in the middle of town, it’s a pleasant place to stroll for an hour or two. The rooftop of the museum has a pretty good view of the town looking down to the harbor, too.Seogwipo-Museum

 

Walk

Over 200 kilometers of Jeju has been opened up for exploration via a series of marked routes called ‘Olle trails.’ The word olle comes from the Jeju dialect, referring to the narrow paths connecting houses to the street. It connotes a feeling of welcome and intimacy, and the Olle trails were conceived as a means of opening up the island for exploration by visitors. Seogwipo is located in the middle of Olle trail 6, and is very near the start of the popular Olle trail 7, a winding trail that takes in coastal cliffs and impressive rock formations. To find these trails, look out for blue arrows, and thin blue ribbons tied to trees and posts featuring the Olle symbol: a stick figure animal made of two squares.Seogwipo-Tassels

 

Hike

If walking is too easy, try a hike up the mighty Mount Halla, South Korea’s highest peak. The physical and spiritual heart of Jeju, the mountain has completely different weather to the coastal lowlands below. Down there it may be muggy beach weather, but at the base of the mountain the weather could be chilly and shrouded in mist. The effect is something like travelling from the Mediterranean Sea to the Bavarian Alps inside of thirty minutes. Mount Halla’s most popular trails are best reached from Jungmun or Jeju City, but the Donnaeko trail is a long forested valley walk that sees less tourists, and starts just outside Seogwipo.Seogwipo-Cliffs

 

Museums

Glancing at a map or road sign, Jeju seems to be suffering from an outbreak of museums. Most of them are terrible tourist traps that dot the landscape, bearing ridiculous names and ridiculous exhibits: World Seashell museum, World Eros Museum, Jeju Teddy Bear Museum. And then there’s the Museum of African Art, a giant replica of the Great Mosque of Djenne, which looks as out of place in Jeju as… a Greek Mythology Museum. Which Jeju also has. If faux museums are your thing, then Seogwipo is close to a lot of them, but thankfully the worst offenders are in neighboring Jungmun.Seogwipo-Safari

 

Dive

Jeju is as varied and beautiful below the water as it is above, and its warm subtropical waters support a wide variety of marine life. Though Seogwipo town itself has no beach it does have some of the island’s best dive spots.Seogwipo-Scuba

 

Eat

Jeju is famous for its delicious black pork (the pig is black, not the meat) and seafood. Seogwipo has plenty of restaurants serving both, though seafood is the mainstay. Five people can feast on raw, grilled, and fried seafood for less than 200,000₩. Abalone is a local specialty, as is sea cucumber (go on, give it a try). Handily, Seogwipo has ‘Chilsimni Food Street,’ a designated eating zone that runs in a long loop west to east along the harbor, and contains various types of restaurants, including tamer noodle and soup options for the non-seafood eaters.Seogwipo-Food

 

Getting Around

While everything within Seogwipo itself is walkable, places further afield requires a bus or a taxi ride. The main bus routes to Jeju City and Jungmun pass through Seogwipo at stops outside the market behind the Lee Jeong Seop Art Village and Jungang Rotary in the middle of town. Most fares are 1000₩, and you can use your T-money card too. Taxis from Jeju Airport to Seogwipo take less than an hour and cost about 40, 000₩. There is also a limousine bus service. For larger groups of travellers, taxi vans are also common, but are best booked a day ahead.Seogwipo-City

 

There you have it. More rugged and charming than Jeju City’s urban sprawl, and far more laidback and down-to-earth than twee, touristic Jungmun, Seogwipo is a great place to stay in Jeju, especially if it’s your first time on the island.

Photo Cred: Richard Whitten

Have you been to Seogwipo on your trip to Jeju? Let us know.

About The Author

Richard Whitten

Richard was born in Sydney, Australia, and lived there his whole life until moving to Seoul. Though he's lived here for four years now and is happily married, he hasn't quite lost that 'Wow I'm in Korea!' enthusiasm.