Expats just arriving in Seoul may struggle to see why someone would want to leave the city. With such a variety of trendy cafés, shows, eateries, and cultural events, Seoul can certainly keep any expat satisfied.
That said, the thrill of exploring local neighbourhoods may subside after a while. Expats could find themselves needing a break from the crowded streets and air pollution that comes with living in the city.
Luckily, heading out of Seoul for the weekend is easier than ever due to South Korea's many transportation options. The country is well connected with buses and trains, making it possible for visitors to cross the country in as little as three and a half hours. Without much effort, expats can visit beaches, traditional cities, or even Japan.
Weekend breaks from Seoul
As the second-largest Korean city, Busan is a popular weekend destination for many expats. The city is known for its beaches, seafood markets and cultural villages. Being in the south, Busan also boasts great weather.
Those travelling on a budget can get to Busan by taking an inter-city bus. There are various buses to choose from, with the most expensive being the ‘premium buses’. That said, even the priciest bus ticket is still cheaper than taking the high-speed train, which takes less than three hours to get to Busan. Buses typically depart from Gyeongbu Bus Terminal and the trip takes about five hours, with stops along the way.
Top expat destinations in Busan include Gwangalli and Haeundae Beach, with the aquarium at Haeundae Beach being a highly recommended spot for expats travelling with children. Expats seeking cultural experiences can visit Haedong Yonggungsa, the only seaside temple in Korea, and Gamcheon cultural village. Foodies should definitely stop at the Gukje Market for a true taste of Korean street food, or the Jagalchi Market to experience seafood Korean style.
Expats hoping to learn about South Korean history will find the ancient capital, Gyeongju, fascinating. A day trip to Gyeongju allows them to learn about the culture and traditions of the ancient Silla Kingdom. This is a great getaway for those wanting to unwind and escape the skyscrapers and noise of the larger South Korean cities.
The town’s historic area was designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2000 and has since been referred to as “the museum without walls”. Some top sites in Gyeongju include the Donggung Palace, Wolji Pond, Gyochon Hanok Village, and Bulguksa temple. While Gyeongju is easy to navigate on foot or by bicycle, sites that are further away can be accessed by taxi or by taking a local bus.
Jeonju is the birthplace of the traditional dish bibimbap, which is made with raw beef, rice and seasonal vegetables. In 2012, the city was designated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Aside from food, however, Jeonju also has many historic sites to see.
The main attractions in Jeonju are largely located in one area, making the city manageable by foot. To reach Jeonju, the fastest but priciest way to travel is by taking the KTX high-speed train from Seoul, a journey of less than two hours. Alternatively, expats who aren't in a rush also have the option of travelling by bus, which will take just under three hours.
A trip to Japan is definitely one of the most popular travel options for expats in Seoul. This is especially true for long weekends or extended public holidays, such as Chuseok (the annual harvest festival that usually takes place in September or October).
What makes travelling to Japan so easy is the fact that many expats won’t need a visa. Expats from the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are entitled to 90 days visa-free and will get their passports stamped on arrival. It is advisable for expats to double-check whether they would need a visa before planning this trip.
One popular Japanese city that is easily accessible from South Korea is Fukuoka. Flights from Seoul to Fukuoka take about an hour and a half and can be relatively cheap. Expats who have more time on their hands should consider taking a ferry. The ferry from Busan to Fukuoka takes around three hours, is cheaper than flying and is a unique adventure.
Fukuoka is known for its parks, shrines and castles. There are also many shopping options and a robot museum.