Jeju Island was way bigger than I expected and way more sprawled out — we didn’t even scratch the surface in terms of things to do. Because we ‘planned’ everything so last minute we weren’t able to rent a car, which would have been a lot more convenient than taking the bus everywhere. We chose the location of our hotel based on its proximity to the water and, because we had an early out bound flight, its proximity to the airport in Jeju City. Besides Halla-san (a nearly 2 hr bus ride, followed by another 30-45 min hike TO THE START OF THE TRAIL), we tried to plan our excursions around where we were staying on the Northwest side of the island. While I don’t know if we checked off much, if anything, on the proverbial Jeju Island must see/to do bucket list, I felt like we got a pretty good feel for the island, met a lot of friendly people, ate a lot of good food, and explored a quieter, less-traveled side of Jeju-do.
6. LAVA TUBE CAVES
We visited the lava tube caves at Hallim Park because they were conveniently located near the beach. Caves and lava caves and all kinds of cool lava formations are everywhere on Jeju. While the ‘one that everyone visits’ is located in the Northern part of the island, many smaller, less crowded ones can be found all around Jeju. They are fun and easy to explore and, if it’s hot outside, a great way to escape the heat..
5. QUIRKY SMALL TOWNS
I really loved all the little sleepy beach towns and one-time farming villages peppered throughout the island. There were so many unique non-chain places to stay too — from an “Italian Villa” to a UFO to a container house to beach camping to log cabin resorts to caravans. Jeju Island definitely had a different vibe than other Korean cities we have visited so far == laid back friendly people, modern (and quirky) architecture, and lots of unique museums, statues, and attractions.
4. CAFÉS BY THE SEA
One of my favorite aspects about living in Korea is the huge cafe culture, and Jeju was no different except that cafes often came with an awesome view of the ocean. We loved eating at simple waterfront cafes with unobstructed million dollar views, something I feel that is sometimes lost in US beach towns that have been overly developed and homogenized. At night we often found ourselves at a cafe, sipping on tea or coffee, eating a dessert, and watching the sunset. It was the perfect way to wind down at the end of the day.
3. SUNSET HIKES ALONG THE OLLE TRAILS
In my opinion, the best way to see Jeju is by hiking the Olle trails. Though not the most practical way to get around, hiking the trail every night from our hotel to grab a bite to eat was one of our favorite evening rituals. Another bonus: there were benches and picnic tables all along the coastal trail — perfect for picnicking or catching the sunset together.
2. HIKING THE YEONGSIL TRAIL ON HALLASAN
The Yeongsil Trail is probably our favorite hike (so far) in Korea and ties with Hyeopjae Beach as our favorite thing we did while visiting Jeju. Even if you don’t feel like hiking the Yeongsil Trail, I highly recommend visiting Hallasan National Park. The most popular trails are probably the ones that lead to the summit, but there are so many more less-traveled and/or short/easy trails worth exploring. Hallasan is a beautiful park — it actually did remind me a lot of Hawaii.
1. A DAY AT HYEOPJAE BEACH
It’s hard to beat a relaxing day at the beach. What was so great about. Hyeopjae Beach was so laid back and intimate — even with a lot of people it didn’t feel overly crowded. The town itself was artsy and vibrant with such cute places to eat and stay. And will you check out that view from the beach? Stunning. Order food, rent a parasol, and spend the entire day by the water. Next time we come back, we definitely want to stay here!
This photo taken at the Jeju airport didn’t really fit anywhere else, but I love piggies so I had to include it! Jeju is known for it’s black pigs and Korean airports are apparently known for wall mural photo zones, like this one.
A FEW MORE TIPS //
+ Rent a car. You can get around by public transportation or cab if you plan everything just so, but Jeju is quite large and sprawled out so even with a car and traffic it will take time to get places, but double the time on a public bus. It would have been so much easier to jump in a car to go somewhere instead of relying on the (slow) bus.
+ Plan for enough time or limit the amount that you want to see. A lot of people want to “do Jeju” in a weekend and, according to our hosts, spend all their time driving around trying to see everything in just two days. I think it’s fine to visit Jeju in a couple days– we certainly plan on coming back over a summer weekend — but don’t expect to see or do everything at once. If you plan on visiting Jeju only once in your life, I’d probably plan for more than 2 days and 1 night. Otherwise, pick a few things you really want to do and then choose your lodging based on it’s proximity to those activities.
+ Bring cash. This is especially true if you plan on venturing outside of the major cities. ATMs aren’t always easy to find! Also — bring cash on your hike. You can always find something good to eat at the top of the mountain!