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, trains, and high-speed 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 most expensive bus ticket is still cheaper than the high-speed trains. 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 great spot for expats travelling with children. Expats looking for cultural experiences can visit Haedong Yonggungsa, the only seaside temple in Korea, and Gamcheon cultural village. Food-driven travellers 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 will allow expats to learn about the cultures and traditions of the ancient Silla Kingdom, as well as it being 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 of the 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 bicycle, sites that are further away can be accessed by taxi or by taking a local bus.
While in Gyeongju, expats can sleep in traditional houses or rooms called Hanok, and it is also the perfect place to book a photoshoot while wearing Hanbok (traditional Korean dress).
Jeonju is the birthplace of the traditional dish bibimbap that is made with beef, rice and seasonal vegetables. Jeonju is particularly famous for its raw beef bibimbap. 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 mostly situated in one area, making the city manageable by foot. To reach Jeonju, however, the fastest but most expensive way to travel is by taking the KTX high-speed train from Seoul. 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 passport stamped on arrival. It is advisable for expats to double-check whether or not 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 or who live in the southern provinces, however, 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.