-Written by Max at damecacao.com/–
If you’ve heard of Gangneung and you’ve never lived in South Korea, you probably heard of it thanks to the 2018 Winter Olympics. Held in both Gangneung and Pyeongchang during February and March, the games brought a flood of both foreigners and locals to the small coastal city of Gangneung. Even afterwards, the cities are expecting a bump in domestic and international tourism for years to come, in part thanks to great public transportation and improved English signage throughout the country. Having lived here for nearly two years now, I believe that I speak for all of us expats when I thank you for your unknowing service.
The city of Gangneung has long been a popular domestic destination, however, and many Seoulites come here for a leisurely weekend away from the unbearably tall buildings of Seoul. It’s especially popular in the summer, so the best time to visit Gangneung is in the spring or fall. The main sites of the city can be seen in just one long day, as well, so I’ve included a day trip up north. Feel free to switch the order of the days, and on behalf of all its residents, I wish you a welcome to Korea. Here’s how to spend a weekend in Gangneung.
Best Things to do in Gangneung, South Korea in 2 Days
Daytrips in Yangyang, Sokcho, and Goseong
Despite Korea’s great public transportation system, there is not a constant flow of direct buses from Gangneung to each small town nearby. So I recommend that you rent a car for the time you spend in the city. This allows you to take advantage of all the parking now available and the numerous daytrips you can take with Gangneung as your base. It also gives you more flexibility in where you stay. You can avail of the guesthouses and Air BnBs outside of downtown Gangneung, many of which got their practice during and just before the Olympics. Most places include breakfast of the American or Korean variety, as well.
Morning // After munching on breakfast in your guest house, hop into a rental car and head up the coast to Yangyang. After about 20 minutes of driving, stop by the sea to take pictures of the beautiful Korean coast and see some of the really rural areas in Gangwon Province. Yangyang is also a popular surf spot in the summertime, though the beaches are not great for sunning. Next, continue up north to Sokcho.
Now that you’ve arrived in Sokcho, walk around town and enjoy the beach. From the late spring to early fall period, locals flock to the Korean beaches to lay out on the sand and spend some quality time as a family. Even in the winter, when the beaches are abandoned, the view of the sea from Sokcho Beach is spectacular. Grab street food at Abai Village for lunch, and then a coffee if you want to rest for longer. Abai has become famous for its local liquor sold in phallic bottles, and its squid sundae (squid stuffed with blood sausage; pronounced “soon-dae”). Take the ferry across the way to the Sokcho Fish & Tourist Market to see some of the local products consumed every day in Korean households.
During May & June you might catch the Hani Lavender Festival, just 20 minutes north of Sokcho in Goseong County. The 3 week event features games, educational activities, and lots of gorgeous flowers. It’s the perfect spot to grab an afternoon coffee or lavender lemonade. There is also a blueberry festival in the summer and a winter festival in January. No matter what brought you to Gangneung, a festival is the best way to immerse yourself in the culture. All Korean festivals sell food, too, so it’s a smart way to taste local specialties on the cheap and all at once.
Afternoon // If you can’t avail of the flowers, pick up some snacks at the closest convenience store and head over to Seoraksan National Park. Spread out across northeastern Korea, there is an entrance to the Park just outside Sokcho. Pay the 3,500 won entrance fee (~$3.25USD) and check out the map to decide which route are best for your schedule and endurance level. No matter how high you so, be sure to soak in that Korean mountaintop view. There’s a reason they say that hiking is Korea’s greatest past time. It’s truly a family bonding activity here, and you’ll notice how serious they are from the color-coordinated outfits.
Evening // After all that exercising (posing for selfies does count— this is vacation, after all), head back into downtown Sokcho and grab a box of gangjeong chicken for dinner. Sokcho is famous for this sticky, sweet fried chicken, and I have to agree that they do it best. Topped with peanuts, it’s the perfect food to refuel with before your triumphant return to Gangneung. Stop by one of the dozens of spots in Sokcho, keeping an eye out for the words 닭강정, the name in Korean. Sokcho is definitely a beach town, so after dark it quiets down considerably.
Night // At this point you have a few options. You could return to your hotel for a solid night’s sleep. Or you could stop in at a noraebang (노래방, singing room) for a wind-down performance; it’s basically Korean karaoke. Or, my personal favorite, head to a cafe and settle in for a couple of hours of chatting and sipping on lattes. Most Korean cafes are open until 10 or 11pm, likely because they don’t begin slinging lattes til noon.
Exploring the City of Gangneung
If you so choose, this route can be done by bus and you can return the rental car after just one day. Otherwise, this highlights reel of Gangneung encompasses what most parents do with their kids on the weekend. Korea is generally a very child-friendly country, so on the weekends, especially when it’s warm out, kids take center stage. It can become crowded on the buses, though taxis are cheap and abundant. Some of the attractions just outside of the city, such as Daegwallyeong Sheep Farm, aren’t even reachable by public transportation, however. I cannot stress how beneficial it is to rent a car if you have just 48 hours in Gangneung.
Morning // Gobble down a quick breakfast and then head over to Gyeongpo Lake to walk around. If weather permits, take a boat out onto the water and get an up-close look at the tiny islands in the middle of this famous lake. Walk around the shore a little, and enjoy the changing scenery of the season. Once you’re back on dry land, head over to Gyeongpodae, the big pavillion on top of a hill along the lake’s shore. It offers a different perspective on the lake, and has the beautiful colors of traditional Korean temples.
Just southeast of the lake is Chodang Dubu Village, a neighborhood reknowned throughout the country for its fresh sundubu (handmade tofu). For a lunch break, grab a cup of tofu ice cream, a plate of fresh tofu with a bevy of side dishes, or a bowl of spicy dubu jeongol, a hearty stew with the local tofu playing a starring role.
Afternoon // Assuming you’re now stuffed, it’s no big leap to recommend a bit of exercise. Walk on over to Gyeongpo Aquarium, just a few blocks from Chodang Dubu Village, for an afternoon with animals. Depending on whether or not you bring kids, you could spend thirty minutes to two hours here. In case you’re seriously interested, all of the exhibits have decent English translations of the animals and their history. At ₩16000 per person (~$14USD), this is not a budget activity, but there are discounts for residents of Korea and for those who show a used ticket. Before starting your self-guided tour, take a picture of the feeding times for the penguins and otters and seals, to coordinate a more interactive visit with some of the animals.
The attractions start with colorful fish & flora from Gangneung, and continue with the opportunity to feed tiny turtles for just ₩1000. In true Korean fashion, there are several picture stations scattered throughout the building, and multiple coffee shops. Once you reach the second floor, the more interactive exhibits begin. There are tanks where you can touch starfish (in the water) and have tiny fish bite the dead skin off of your hands (in “Dr. Fish” fashion), though both of those things have freak out written all over them. Approach with caution. Don’t miss the waddling penguins at the end of the hall, featured conveniently before the gift shop.
Evening // Have I mentioned how much Koreans love coffee? Gangneung even hosts a massive coffee festival every fall. After exiting the aquarium, head back to your car or to the main road to hail a cab. A taxi to most anywhere else within Gangneung should cost anywhere between ₩3,000-10,000 (~$2.75-9USD) and can hold up to four people. I recommend grabbing your 5 ‘o’ clock coffee (or tea) at one of the establishments on Coffee Street, the stretch of coastal cafes along Anmok Beach. If you get a to-go cup, you can even walk along the beach and out to the lighthouse on the pier. Although Gangneung is known for their sunrises, and thousands flock to the city on New Year’s to watch the first one of the year, if you can get out far enough into the water, the sunsets are also undeniably gorgeous.
Night // If you haven’t already headed back to the biggest city of Seoul, look for anything with seafood in it for dinner. Jumunjin is a neighborhood with lots of quality seafood restaurants, and it’s where I’d recommend you head after the beach. Some local delicacies are maeuntang (매운탕, spicy fish stew with fresh veggies), mulhoe (물회, raw fish stew often served with noodles), and ojingeo (오징어, squid; often served in a stir fry with many side dishes). You are in one of Korea’s largest port cities, after all.
Getting to Gangneung
The fastest way to reach Gangneung is by train on the new Gangneung KTX bullet train line (Gyeonggang Line) which is less than 2 hours each way. For prices and schedules check the Korail website.
Gangneung is about 2.5 hours drive by car from Seoul.
For those short on time you can also book a day trip to Gangneung from Seoul on viator.com.
Where to Stay in Gangneung
These are my top picks for the where to stay in Gangneung for every budget:
SEAMARQ Hotel. If you are looking for a luxury hotel, SEAMARQ Hotel is one of the best hotels in Gangneung. It is located beachfront and most rooms have an ocean view. Amenities include a pool, spa, fitness center, room service free Wi-Fi internet and free breakfast. Click here to see the latest prices.
Haslla Museum Hotel. This is a very unique hotel that art lovers would love. Rooms and various parts of the hotel are decorated with artwork and sculptures similar to a gallery. All rooms have an ocean view and free parking is included. Click here to see the latest prices.
Soo Motel. Beachfront hotel offers excellent value with free wi-fi, free parking and refrigerator in room. Click here to see the latest prices.
Helpful Korean Words & Phrases
Although many Koreans will be able to speak basic English, especially in Gangneung, sometimes you’re just not that lucky. Be sure to download a translation app, like Google Translate, and a Korean keyboard so that people can type responses. But in case you want to live more like the locals do, here are ten helpful phrases to up your Korean game.
Hello // An-nyeong-ha-se-yo. 안녕하세요.
Thank you // Gam-saahm-ni-da. 감사합니다.
How much is it? // Eol-ma-yeh-yo? 얼마예요?
Do you speak English? // Yeong-aw jal-hae-yo? 영어 잘해요?
It was delicious, and I ate well // Jal meok-guh-seum-ni-da. 잘 먹고습니다.
Americano, please // Ah-meh-lee-kah-no ju-se-yo. 아메리카노 주세요.
Latte, please // Kah-pay la-dday ju-se-yo. 카페 라떼 주세요.
One of these, please // Ee-gaw ha-na ju-se-yo. 이거 하나 주세요.
One beer, please // Maek-ju ha-na ju-se-yo. 맥주 하나 주세요.
Where is (this place)? // (Name of place) eo-di-ay ee-seo-yoh? (Name of place) 어디에 있어요?
Max is a fervent chocoholic and incessant traveller, currently living the expat life as a teacher in South Korea. You can find her chocolate city guides and tips for around-the-world travel on her site, damecacao.com. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
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