The evenings are getting cooler and the days shorter. While summer’s impending end may make you feel blue, here’s a thought that could pick your spirits right back up: it’s time to chase the beautiful colors of fall! Let’s start planning!
South Korea is a great place for an autumn holiday. There are plenty of spots to enjoy the beauty of autumn, and even within its capital city, Seoul, you’ll find plenty of parks and open spaces boasting the radiant colors of fall. This itinerary takes you in and around Seoul, then guides you to venture out into the countryside where you’ll see South Korea’s best spots for autumn.
Top spots to see autumn in South Korea – an itinerary for leaf-hunters
Much of this itinerary is best done with a rental car. While the public transportation system is efficient in South Korea, this itinerary features several offbeat destinations that are a bit harder to get to and around using the buses and trains. Here’s everything you need to know about driving in South Korea.
But don’t fret, non-drivers. I included information on how to get to these places using the public transportation so you can decide which places you can fit into your itinerary.
The quest for autumn begins right in the vibrant capital of South Korea: Seoul. City lovers can do their shopping, cultural sightseeing, and food tripping all under the bright red and orange canopy of trees. The Korean Tourist Organization lists Seoul’s best foliage spots here – or for easier planning, follow the 2-day itinerary below.
Day 1 in Seoul – culture and the colors of fall
Start the day by making your way to Samcheong-dong – a cultural road lined with art galleries, shops, and restaurants. It’s the perfect setting for a laidback day, and it’s even more beautiful during fall.
To get there, make your way to the Anguk Station on Seoul Subway Line 3. Take Exit 1 and walk straight for about 5 minutes. From the Gyeongbukgung Palace, make your way to the National Folk Museum, then end your stroll at Samcheong Park. While you’re in the area, you might want to visit the historic Bukchon Hanok Village for a glimpse of traditional Korean houses – maybe complete your cultural adventure by parading in a traditional hanbok or creating your own personalized souvenirs? These would certainly make for great photos and memories.
For food, check out Samcheongdong Sujebi (삼청동 수제비), an immensely popular traditional restaurant. The ‘sujebi’ or hand dough soup will surely keep you warm in autumn. If you’re craving for French pastries and coffee, check out Wood and Brick in Bukchon.
Exploring Samcheong-dong and Bukchon Hanok Village can take from a few hours to a whole day, depends on how much you love to wander off. There are plenty of shops and restaurants to check out along the road, and really so much to see.
If you still have more time, though, you can hop over to the Deoksugung-gil, a road that goes along Deoksugung Palace, lined with yellow ginkgo trees. To get there, make your way to the City Hall Station on Seoul Subway Lines 1 and 2. Take Exit 2 and walk straight to the end of the palace wall and then turn right. Make your way to the Jeongdong Theater, which is about 1 kilometer away. You can stop by the Seoul Museum of Art as well as the Kyunghyang Art Hill for a glimpse of the local arts and culture scene. If you love shopping or local street food, end the day with a trip to the sparkly Myeongdong shopping area and the Namdaemun traditional market.
Day 2 in Seoul – forest bathing
Yes, you read that right: FOREST BATHING. As it turns out, East Asia has elevated hiking through forests to a luxurious form. If you’ve always associated hiking and forests with bugs and dirt and decaying leaves, it’s time for a rethink. Forest bathing is as relaxing and as leisurely as it gets: fresh air, birdsongs, beautiful scenery, and phytoncide – a compound released by plants that can decrease stress and improve your immune system.
So if you’re up for some natural aromatherapy on your second day in Seoul, wake up early and head to Seoul Grand Park. Make your way to the Seoul Grand Park Station on Seoul Subway Line 4. Take Exit 2 and walk for about 5 minutes toward Seoul Grand Park Zoo until you get to the entrance of the forest bathing area. There are many courses you can take with varying length. Here’s a map of the area.
If that extra boost of terpenes makes you crave for more of the forest, you can continue your fall frolic in the Seoul Forest. Make your way to the Seoul Forest Station on Seoul Subway Bundang Line, take Exit 3, and start your walk. You can make your way from the Seoul Forest to the Ttukseom Han River Park. To complement your new healthy lifestyle, try the fresh and healthy dishes at Sobang Life.
Where to stay in Seoul
- Check out this neighborhood guide to Seoul to find the best place for you to stay in – if you’re a Seoul-newbie, the quiz will definitely help you pinpoint the perfect neighborhood.
- If you want quick suggestions: stay in Myeongdong if you like to shop, in Hongdae if you love quirky and artsy neighborhoods, and Jongno if you want to be amidst culture and history.
- If you’re looking for great accommodations at bargain prices, you’ll find real-time hotel deals in Seoul here.
Practical tips for your stay in Seoul
- If it’s your first time visiting, spend at least 2-3 days in the capital. The itinerary above is already pretty full, so you can spread it out to 3 days if you like to travel slow.
- If you have an extra day and would like to see more of Seoul beyond its autumn-viewing spots, go on a cultural sightseeing tour – this tour will take you to Seoul’s best palaces, temples, and markets in one day.
- Don’t get your rental car yet while you’re staying in Seoul. It’s far more efficient to travel around using the subways, plus traffic and parking can be a pain. Get it when you head out instead.
- You can get around Seoul mostly by subway and buses. Getting a T-money card, a transportation card that you can load up with credits, is really convenient as you don’t have to buy tickets each time you ride. You can get this from convenience stores and from ticket vending machines inside the stations, and use it on subways, buses, taxis, and in some retail shops.
- If you prefer to travel comfortably and conveniently, you can also get a private car charter around Seoul – you can use the car to visit nearby places around Seoul as well, including Nami Island, which is the next fall destination.
- You can pick up a WiFi device at the Incheon airport or any of the international airports – really handy for planning on the go and keeping in touch.
After getting acquainted with Seoul, it’s time to hit the countryside! South Korea is best explored with a rental car – you can find out everything you need to know about driving in South Korea here.
There’s no better time to visit Nami Island than in autumn. It starts with the one-hour drive from Seoul through the beautiful countryside. A five-minute ferry ride then brings you to the half moon-shaped isle, where you can spend a nice day walking along tree-lined pathways, relaxing in open fields, and keeping an eye out for animal encounters. In autumn, the metasequoia path is especially gorgeous.
Nami Island is also a venue for several cultural exhibits and art galleries, so you can spend some time popping in and out of these shops to look for unique souvenirs. And, the island is also the setting of a popular TV series, Winter Sonata, so expect lots of couples trying to recreate scenes from the series.
By car – Pick up your rental car in Seoul and set the GPS to navigate to Nami Island Ticket Office / Nami Island Dock (also try setting with this phone number – +82-31-580-8114 – but verify with another map). Nami Island is 63 KM away from Seoul, about an hour’s drive. You can park at the Namiseom Dock Parking Lot then ride the ferry into the island.
By public transportation – The nearest subway station to Nami Island is the Gapyeong station, which you can reach via the Gyeongchun Line and the ITX-Cheongchun. The Gyeongchun Line is cheaper while the ITX is faster. From Gapyeong station to Nami Island, it’s about 1.9 KM or 20 minutes on foot.
Subway from Seoul – Find your routes using the Seoul Metro’s website. You can just input your departure and arrival station, and it’ll give you detailed information – where to change trains, the total time and distance, as well as the cost. Here’s an example for how to get to Gapyeong from Myeong-dong – you’ll see that it takes 87 minutes, costs 2250 won, and you’ll have to transfer in Dongdaemun and Mangu. (You can also try an app like Subway Korea.)
By shuttle bus – This is another convenient way to get to Nami Island from Seoul. You can find more information on routes and fares, as well as book your tickets here.
By private car charter – If you don’t want to drive but would like the convenience of having your own car, get a private car charter. You can get to destinations around Seoul conveniently – including Nami Island, Petite France, DMZ, Everland, and more. It’s particularly useful if you want to cover a lot of destinations in one day, as you won’t need to worry about parking or navigating. This is a great option for big groups who can share the cost.
Essential information for your visit to Nami Island:
Sokcho and the Seoraksan National Park
From here on, we’re checking out of Seoul and heading deep into the countryside.
Mount Seoraksan in Sokcho City, Gangwon Province is the autumn destination for serious leaf-hunters. The national park is a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve in the east-central region of South Korea, and is the best place in the country to view autumn leaves.
The rocky landscape offers lots of scenic mountain peaks, waterfalls, and streams, and during autumn, the following sites are particularly beautiful: Cheonbuldong Valley, Osaek Mineral Spring, Osaek Jujeongol, and Baekdam Valley. Allot at least 2-3 full days to hike as much as possible of the many hiking trails. Most of the trails are marked and well-maintained with signs indicating the distances and directions in Korean and English. You can also pick up a free map from the National Park Visitor Center.
The national park is spread across 4 cities and counties: Sokcho, Inje, Goseong, and Yangyang. Of these, the best way to access the park is via Sokcho, which also happens to be a coastal city with good tourist facilities and great seafood dinner options. Here you can also enjoy wonderful evenings of post-hike hot springs dips (check out the Seorak Waterpia).
By car – Pick up your rental car in Seoul and set your accommodation’s phone number as a guide for your GPS. For general directions: from Seoul, take the Yeongdong Expressway, then the Hyeonnam IC, and exit at Hangyeryeong. This drive takes about 2-3 hours.
Here’s a list of phone numbers for park facilities that you can use for your GPS when getting around the area.
By public transportation – From Seoul, you can go by bus to Sokcho via the Dong-Seoul Terminal or the Seoul Express Bus Terminal. The ride from Seoul to Sokcho is about 3 hours, and from Sokcho you need to take a local bus to your accommodation or into the park.
- Getting to the Dong-Seoul Bus Terminal in Seoul: Make your way to Gangbyeon station on Metro Line 2 (green line). Take exit #4 and cross the road to the Dong-Seoul Bus Terminal. Buy a ticket to Sokcho and get on the next departing bus.
- Getting to Seoul Express Bus Terminal in Seoul: Make your way to the Express Bus Terminal metro station on Lines 3, 7, and 9. Take exit #1 or 2 and look for the ticket booth for Sokcho. The buses from this terminal to Sokcho are direct buses so if your accommodation in Seoul is close to Gangnam, this is your fastest option.
Getting around Sokcho and Seoraksan by local buses – From the Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal or Express Bus Terminal, go to the local bus stop. You can flag down bus 7 or 7-1 and show the driver your hotel and address (best if it’s in Korean characters) and he can let you off right outside your hotel. You can also use this bus to get to Seoraksan National Park, as well as back to the intercity and express bus terminals.
Where to stay:
It’s best to stay in Sokcho for at least a night or two.
- ★Travelers’ Picks: Highly-rated accommodations in Sokcho include: Casa Seorak Bed and Breakfast (rooms start at USD 120) and Goodstay Smile Resort (rooms start at USD 40). The budget hotels and hostels listed below also offer private rooms and suites.
- For budget hotels and hostels in Sokcho, check out: Sokcho & Guesthouse (beds start at USD 20), The House Hostel (beds start at USD 20), and Egg House Sokcho Guesthouse (beds start at USD 17)
Can you go to Seoraksan as a one-day trip from Seoul?
Technically, this is possible, but not recommended. There is so much to see in Seoraksan and the round-trip travel time alone will eat much of your time. However, if you only have one day and would really like to see Mt. Seorak, this day tour is your best option.
Jecheon is the perfect stop-over from Seoraksan to the next stop, Naejangsan National Park. It’s a great one-stop tourist spot where you can appreciate the colors of autumn and learn more about South Korea’s culture, arts, and architecture.
Go straight to the Cheongpung Lake Monorail and head up the mountain to get a great view of the surrounding countryside, or for the daredevils out there, go paragliding for that heady rush.
The Cheongpung Cultural Heritage Complex is also a great stop, as it gives you a glimpse of traditional Korean culture. You can also learn more about oriental medicine here.
If you have a bit more time, visit the neighboring Danyang, which is also a great place for nature-lovers, thanks to its meandering rivers and stunning mountain ranges.
By car – Use your hotel’s telephone number to set your GPS destination. If you’re doing this as a day trip, you can start your tour of Jecheon from the Cheongpung Cultural Heritage Complex (phone number +82-43-647-7003) or the Cheongpung Lake Monorail (+82-43-653-5121). Always make sure to double check with another map if your GPS is going the right direction.
By public transportation – From Seoul, go to the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal or Seoul Express Bus Terminal and take a bus to Jecheon Intercity Bus Terminal or Jecheon Express Bus Terminal. Board the bus to Cheongpung (no. 90).
Where to stay:
If you’re going to stay in the area for 1-2 nights, you can stay in a neighboring city, like Danyang, which is just about an hour’s drive from Cheongpung.
★Travelers’ Picks – Danyang: Us on Earth is an amazing hotel in the middle of Danyang’s gorgeous scenery (double rooms start at USD 44). Check out also the chic Factory G. Ssang (double rooms start at USD 35) whose industrial vibe gives that hipster feel and contrast to the surrounding natural landscape.
Naejangsan National Park
Last but not the least, we come to the Naejangsan National Park in the province of Jeollanam-do. The name Naejang means “many secrets,” and true enough, the mountain is home to several majestic waterfalls, legendary temples, and — the obvious draw for any fall-lover — a tunnel of multicolored maple trees. You can explore the area through many hiking trails with varying difficulty levels. Don’t miss the nearby misty lake of Seryang-Je.
The Naejangsan National Park is also worth visiting on other seasons – azaleas and cherry blossoms bloom in spring, while different kinds of wild flowers bloom year round.
By car – Set your GPS to go to the Jeongeup Naejangsan Special Tourist Zone (+82-63-539-5193). You can start your hikes from here.
By public transportation – From Seoul, you can ride the train from Yongsan Station to Baegyangsa Station or the bus to Jangseong. You can find more information on public transportation to Naejangsan here.
Where to stay:
The nearest city where you can find accommodations for your visit to the Naejangsan National Park is Jeonju. It houses the Jeonju Hanok Heritage Village where you can experience first-hand how it’s like to live in a traditional Korean house.
★Travelers’ Picks – Jeonju: For a taste of Korean traditional culture, stay at these hanok guest houses – Ginkgo Tree Guesthouse (double rooms start at USD 44), Hanok Story Guesthouse (family rooms start at USD 40).
Map – South Korea’s best autumn destinations
Here’s a Google map showing all the destinations in this autumn in South Korea itinerary.
You can also download a PDF guide here which you can easily follow while you book your trip.
South Korea’s Fall Foliage Forecast for 2017
Here’s the foliage forecast for autumn in South Korea for 2017 from Kweather.
|Seoraksan National Park||September 27||October 19|
|Odaesan National Park||October 1||October 17|
|Chiaksan National Park||October 7||October 22|
|Jirisan National Park||October 11||October 24|
|Woraksan National Park||October 13||October 25|
|Bukhansan National Park||October 15||October 29|
|Hallasan National Park||October 17||October 31|
|Palgongsan Natural Park||October 18||October 28|
|Gyeryongsan National Park||October 19||October 30|
|Naejangsan National Park||October 20||November 8|
|Mudeungsan National Park||October 23||November 5|
South Korea is a great destination in every season. You can find all the South Korea guides here, but here are my quick suggestions:
- Get quick ideas and tips from these neighborhood guides to South Korea’s major cities: Seoul, Busan, and Jeju.
- Read everything you need to know about driving in South Korea.
- Here are some offbeat destinations you might want to check out: Gyeongju, Udo Island
- You’ll find all my free PDF guides here – they’re guaranteed to make your trip-planning a lot easier!
I still have a lot of blog posts to write about South Korea, so if you’re looking for something specific and can’t find it on the website yet, send me an email – I’ll be happy to help!
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Enjoy your autumn escapade in South Korea! If you found this post helpful, please bookmark and share with your friends or anyone you know who’s headed to South Korea.
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