Jeju City, South Korea

At the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula is Jeju Island. Its beaches and resorts make this a popular destination for vacationing Asians plus honeymooners. In the north facing the Korean Strait is Jeju City, a frequent port for cruise ships. This travel guide showcases places to see for day trippers.

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1 Lighthouses Welcome You to Jeju City, South Korea

The two Sanji Lighthouses welcome your ship as it enters Jeju Harbor. You will soon arrive in Jeju City, South Korea. Jeju-si is located south of the Korean Peninsula on the northern coast of Jeju Island. The island is 45 miles long and 15 miles wide and has been marketed as the “Hawaii of Korea” and “Honeymoon Island.” Much of it is defined by the Hallasan volcano and dense forest. It is also popular among vacationing East Asians for its summertime subtropical climate, beaches and resorts. Two thirds of the island’s 620,000 residents live in Jeju City.

108-1 Sarabongdong-gil, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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2 Dol Hareubang, Symbol of Jeju Island in Jeju City, South Korea

Meet Dol Hareubang, the symbol of Jeju Island. This basalt stone statue has bulging eyes, a bulbous nose and a slight smirk below a mushroom-shaped hat. Believed to be created in 1754 by Kim Mong-gyu, a magistrate of Jeju, the Stone Grandfather was seen in pairs guarding the gates of the island’s castles. This one still serves as protector at the entrance to Jejumok-Gwana. Want to see more of these charismatic yet somewhat mysterious statues? That is easy. There are 48 of them on the island with nearly half in the city. You can also visit Bukchon Dol Hareubang Park. Reproductions are also available in every gift shop and souvenir store.

30-1 Samdo-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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3 Gwandeokjeong Pavilion Outside Jejumok-Gwana in Jeju City, South Korea

Gwandeokjeong Pavilion is the oldest structure in Jeju City. Built in 1448 by governor and pastor Sin Suk-Cheong, the magnificently decorated wooden structure was used as a training ground for soldiers during the Joseon Dynasty. The word Gwandeok implies the need to train and discipline the mind and body with righteous virtue. Registered as National Treasure Number 322, Gwandeokjeong Pavilion stands in front of Jejumok-Gwana.

43-3 Samdo-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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4 Historical Overview of Jejumok-Gwana in Jeju City, South Korea

The Joseon Dynasty was an absolute monarchy that ruled Korea from 1392 until 1897. Beneath the king was a highly-organized government. The territory was divided into eight provinces; each was managed by a governor (gwanchalsa). During this period, the island was called Jejumok and was part of Jeolla Province comprising much of southwest Korea. This historic site in Jeju City was the seat of the local government. Jejumok-Gwana (Gwana means village) is a complex of administrative and military buildings reconstructed in 2002. The originals were destroyed during the Japanese Colonial Period (1910 – 1945). In the foreground is the Middle Gate with a view down a long promenade toward Manggyeongru, a structure designed for military officers.

43-3 Samdo-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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5 Architecture at Jejumok-Gwana in Jeju City, South Korea

The Joseon Dynasty shed Buddhism in favor of Confucian dogma. This impacted their architecture. It was characterized by practicality and frugality and arranged in harmony with nature and the environment. This adherence to pungsu principals is evident in the structure and layout of the ten buildings at Jejumok-Gwana. They are simple, open and wooden yet enhanced by elongated, patterned gray tiles above ornately painted crossbeams. The columns and façades are a bright vermillion and affixed to stone platforms. They are laid out in a grid pattern with three gates and an equal number of courtyards. The official buildings are in front and the residences are in back. This is Yeongjuhyeopdang. It served as the Yeong military building for 15 officers.

43-3 Samdo-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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6 Scenes Portrayed at Jejumok-Gwana in Jeju City, South Korea

Your self-guided walking tour of Jejumok-Gwana is enhanced by the descriptive signs in front of each building in multiple languages including English. You will also enjoy seeing the mannequins dressed in traditional clothes and posed in settings reflective of the time period. This scene in the Yeongjuhyeopdang building is a good example. It portrays the lodging for female slaves who were controlled by the local government. To learn much more, take time to visit the Jejumok History Museum.

43-3 Samdo-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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7 Manggyeongru at Jejumok-Gwana in Jeju City, South Korea

Adherent to the principal of sammun samjo, residential and important structures in Joseon Dynasty complexes were located in the rear and faced toward Seoul, the king’s capital city. This is where you will find Manggyeongru. The two-tier structure served as the office for the highest ranking officials. Manggyeongru was originally constructed in 1556 by Governor Kim Su-mun and then rebuilt in 1668 by Governor Park Jong-ju.

43-3 Samdo-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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8 Wooryeondang Reflecting in Pool at Jejumok-Gwana in Jeju City, South Korea

Two other common elements in official compounds during the Joseon Dynasty were the presence of extensive gardens and fish-filled lotus ponds. The ones at Jejumok-Gwana are very modest compared to the Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul. In the background is Wooryeondang. This pavilion was used for banquets and official ceremonies.

43-3 Samdo-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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Culture of Jeju City, South Korea

A reward of traveling is learning the culture of other countries. It is enjoyable and educational to observe and interact with locals, especially those not in the tourism industry like these two women gardening. Here is what you might find while visiting Jeju City. Although the 500 year rule of the Joseon Dynasty ended in 1897, its enforcement of Confucian principles has had a lasting impact on South Korea’s culture. Social customs stress harmony and respect for each other, especially towards the elderly and people of seniority. Family is of utmost important yet arranged marriages still occur. Although they rarely smile, often seem pushy in crowds and maintain traditions like bowing, they are generous and warm people. Jeju Island is less patriarchal than the mainland because of the lingering influence of female divers (haenyeo) and shamanic shrines honoring women goddesses. Some of these characteristics are slipping away because of Western influences and technology.

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9 Beach Recommendations near Jeju City, South Korea

Several sections of Jeju Island’s seafront are noted for their incredible scenery with crashing waves such as this section of the Tabdong Coast. If you prefer to swim, the closest ones to downtown Jeju City are Iho Tewoo Beach and Samyang Black Sand Beach. In the northeast are Hamdoek and a little further away Woljeongri. Along the northwest shore are Hyeopjae Beach and its neighbor, Geumneung Euddeum Beach. Both are very popular for their white sand and gentle surf. This is just a starter list. Sand and turquoise water are two of the main reason Jeju Island is such a highly-visited destination.

434 Yongdam 2(i)-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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10 Yongyeon Bridge in Jeju City, South Korea

Yongyeon is a narrow wooden pedestrian bridge spanning tree-lined cliffs over a fresh water inlet just before it empties into the sea. Yes it shimmers and shakes. When lots of people cross at one time, or some moron decides to prove his diminished mental capacity by jumping up and down, the whole platform sways. But the Yongyeon Cloud Bridge is exhilarating to cross.

Yongyeon Bridge, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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11 Yongyeon Pond in Jeju City, South Korea

When you muster up the courage to look down while crossing Yongyeon Bridge, you will be treated with the picturesque serenity of Yongyeon Pond. According to legend, this deep, still basin was formed when rainwater fell from a dragon while flying to heaven. Hence its name: Dragon Pond. Suddenly, your eye will catch a motion. Then a splash. Soon other flying fish will break the surface, spin, and dive back. Delightful! If your camera is ready but your courage is not, then you can savor this view from a red pavilion perched at the upper edge of the ravine.

Yongyeon Pond, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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12 Dragon Head Rock in Jeju City, South Korea

Dragon represents different things in different cultures. To some, they are terrifying and menacing. To others, they mean imperial power. In Korean folklore, the yong is benevolent. The creature lives in the sea or deep ponds and is a master over rainfall. At Jeju City, this dragon’s name is Yongduam. Translated to mean Dragon Head Rock, this coastal formation was born by a volcanic eruption two million years ago. After the lava cooled and solidified, it was carved into a 33 by 67 foot dragon by millenniums of pounding waves. Or you can believe this was the dragon Yimugi who was slayed by the God of Mount Hallasan and then petrified along the shore.

15 Yongduam-gil, Yongdam 2(i)-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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13 Tribute to Haenyeo Sea-divers in Jeju City, South Korea

This untiled mermaid statue is located adjacent to Dragon Head Rock. This is likely a tribute to haenyeo, the Korean name for female sea-divers. While in the water for hours at a time, and able to hold their breath for up to three minutes, they catch a host of fish and marine life for sale to local markets. These incredible women are not an aberration on Jeju Island. Instead, during the 19th and 20th centuries, it became a female-dominated industry. The highly-paid career made them the primary income earner in many local households while their unemployed husbands stayed home. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these women are now over 50 years old. In another decade or two, they may become a historic memory.

15 Yongduam-gil, Yongdam 2(i)-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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14 Arario Museum in Jeju City, South Korea

The former Tapdong Cinema’s bright red façade grabs your attention among its bland neighbors. The Arario Museum was founded in 2014 by Kim Chang Il, chairman of the Arario Corporation. This self-made millionaire began collecting art in the late 1970s. He is now ranked among the world’s largest curators with over 3,700 pieces of contemporary art from Asian and European countries. The artists include notables and emerging talents. Cl Kim manages several galleries and private museums across South Korea and China. His three museums in Jeju City display dramatic sculptures, paintings and eclectic works.

1261-7 Samdo-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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15 Tapdong Seaside Concert Hall in Jeju City, South Korea

The name Tapdong Seaside Concert Hall is a perfect description for this outdoor amphitheater located near the coastline. The performing arts venue comes alive with concerts showcasing all types of music, from rock to orchestra. They also host dances and shows. During the Summer Arts Festival, all 2,500 seats are typically occupied with people who enjoy the seaside breeze while being entertained.

1262 Samdo 2(i)-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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16 Mysterious Road in Jeju City, South Korea

At this signpost, put your car in neutral and take your foot off the brake. Then giggle in amazement as your vehicle slowly travels uphill for over 300 feet. The same phenomenon happens with a bottle or when you pour liquid on the street. They all seem to defy gravity by moving in the wrong direction. These are the curious acts performed by the Mysterious Road or, as the locals call it, Dokkaebi Road. It is actually an optical illusion. The road has a three degree slant but appears to go up because of the elevated surroundings. Hopefully, this explanation does not spoil your amazement.

2894-63 1100 Cheonbaek-ro, Nohyeong-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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17 Desire Sculpture at Loveland in Jeju City, South Korea

Desire is a 29.5 foot long, gilded woman arched in ecstasy. She is one of 140 explicit statues at Loveland, an erotica theme park. The artwork was created by Hongik University students and ranges from comical to explicit to overtly graphic. This sculpture park would be an oddity in any country. It is especially surprising to find it in South Korea where, by tradition, discussions of sex were taboo, sex education was limited and pornography is illegal. Curious voyeurs are satisfied in about an hour. If you are squeamish, then skip it.

2894-72, Cheonbaengi-ro, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
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18 Jeju Museum of Art in Jeju City, South Korea

The outdoor sculpture park and reflection pool promise an enjoyable experience as you walk up to the Jeju Museum of Art. This modern building was designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando and opened in 2009. On the first floor are two exhibition halls, the Chang Ree-suok Memorial Hall, Citizen’s Gallery plus a museum shop. One level up is the permanent collection and an outdoor gallery. Many of the contemporary works were produced by local artists –especially Chang Ree Suok – and reflect the island’s beauty. There are also displays of art by and for children while other pieces date back to 1865.

680-7 Yeon-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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19 Red Horse Lighthouse in Jeju City, South Korea

Fans of lighthouses will love visiting this one shaped like a red horse. Iho Hang visually dominates the west breakwater leading into Iho Harbor. This unique, 39 foot beacon – along with an identical white horse deungdae (Korean for lighthouse) on the opposite side – is located on Iho Tewoo Beach. This 500 foot stretch of sand along the Korea Strait is a popular spot for the locals to swim, sun and fish during the summer when the temperature averages in the 80s °F.

375-18 Ihoil-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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