Yongsan Observatory, photos by Hyemin Lee

Yongsan Observatory, photos by Hyemin Lee ()

Suncheon City in South Korea’s southern region is well-known for its rich ecological diversity. With its two iconic destinations, Suncheonman Bay Wetland and the National Garden, the city has earned the nicknames “Ecological City” and “Garden City.”

Beyond these attractions, Suncheon City offers a number of unique and exciting sights, including a Korean drama set, a 600-year-old folk village and beautiful mountain temples. The city shows the true beauty of Korea with a blend of culture, nature, and history.

Most of the attractions are conveniently located within a 20- to 40-minute drive from one another, making it a great road trip destination. Even if you don’t have a car, the public transportation in the area makes getting around easy, so backpacking is also an option.

For nature and ecology enthusiasts, Suncheon City promises to provide some of the most captivating scenes in Korea, particularly during the fall season. If you want to plan a special trip this autumn, I highly recommend adding Suncheon City to your bucket list.

Let’s check out the major destinations you shouldn’t miss when visiting Suncheon City!

Suncheonman Bay Wetland Reserve

Suncheonman Bay Wetland Reserve is home to the most beautiful coastal wetlands in Korea. In 2021, they were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wetlands are where land and sea meet, and in Suncheonman Bay, the vast tidal flats feature harmonious landscape blending with picturesque reed fields. This wetland serves as a stunning natural habitat, hosting a variety of sea creatures such as crabs and mudskippers, as well as over 230 species of migratory birds that visit each year.

A highlight of the visit is witnessing the sunset over the Sunehonman Bay from the Yongsan Observatory. If you plan to explore both Suncheon Bay Wetlands and the National Garden in a single day, start by exploring the garden and save the wetlands for later in the day to catch the sunset.

Address: 513-25, Suncheonman-gil, Suncheon-si, Jeollanam-do, Naver Map Hours: 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. (Sept. to Apr.) / 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. (May to Aug.) Ticket: 15,000 won ($11) for Suncheon Bay Wetland & National Garden together Parking: 3,000 won ($2.20)

For those using public transportation, check out this website (Change the setting to English).

Recommended trip course

Course: The entrance > Natural Ecology Center > Reed Field Trail > Yongsan Observatory > Return to the entrance Duration: 2-3 hours

Natural Ecology Center The center offers educational values and interesting insights into the ecology of Suncheonman Bay. Visitors can enjoy informative explanations from guides and participate in various experience programs. Visiting the center will help you gain a deeper understanding of the wetland and its diverse inhabitants.

Hours: 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Reed Field Trail Surrounded by lush mountains, the reed fields shimmer in shades of green and gold under the sun. The expansive reed forest sways gracefully in the wind, and as you walk through, you’ll spot crabs scattering below and migratory birds resting in their temporary residence.

This sight is so breathtaking that it is a favorite amongst photographers looking to capture stunning nature shots. Though the trail is beautiful year-round, in the fall, the reeds transform into golden hues worth a trip to see for yourself.

Yongsan Observatory After walking through the reed fields, and crossing a short bridge, you’ll arrive at a small mountain where Yongsan Observatory stands. There are multiple directions on the reed field trail, so keep an eye out for signs to ensure you’re headed in the right direction to reach the mountain.

The hike is easy, and you can reach the observatory in about 20 minutes. Most importantly, during sunset you’ll be able to witness the most breathtaking views of Suncheonman Bay. As you climb the hill, you might encounter creatures scuttling about. But don’t worry, they’re crabs, not spiders. Just be cautious not to step on them.

Boat tour If you have extra time, try the Ecological Experience Boat tour, which can give you a chance to enjoy a close-up view of huge tidal flats and reed fields. Departing from Daedaeseon Pier and traveling along the canal to the S-shaped tidal flats at Suncheonman Bay, this round-trip journey takes approximately 30 minutes, covering a distance of 6 kilometers.

Please note that the boat doesn’t operate on Mondays. Also, operating hours may vary due to tidal conditions, so inquire with the staff about the schedule when purchasing your ticket. Also, passengers must have their ID to board.

Fee: 7,000 won (Adults) / 3,000 won (Teens) / 2,000 won (Kids)

Stroll Korea’s first national garden

Take a walk to appreciate the beauty of the Suncheonman Bay National Garden. The sprawling grounds of the garden were established to preserve the bay area and are home to a variety of flora and fauna.

Due to the National Garden’s close proximity to the wetland reserve, both attractions are considered as one destination for travelers to the area, making Suncheon City an ecological city.

The National Garden features a variety of beautiful gardens, including a traditional Korean garden and other sections representing 11 different countries from around the world. The garden is filled with an abundance of tulips, azaleas, irises, chrysanthemums, and thousands of other flowers, trees, and plants.

Whether you visit during the day or night, spring or fall, the National Garden always offers breathtaking views to behold. As you explore the grounds, you will be captivated by their grand scale, innovative designs, and splendid beauty.

Remember to wear comfortable shoes and check the weather as a visit to the National Garden takes about three to five hours to complete. With numerous things to see and plenty of photo opportunities, you might lose track of time.

There are restaurants and cafes inside, but outside food is also allowed. On weekends, the garden hosts exciting events depending on the season such as live music and festivals.

Recommended trip course Start from the East Gate, visit the World Gardens, indoor gardens, and stroll through Suncheon Lake Garden. Cross the Dream Bridge to access the Wetland area, zoo, Korean Garden, and Royal Azalea Garden. Following this route will help you explore the entire garden and visit all the main sights within 3-4 hours. Besides these gardens, there are other attractions to check out, including the Rose Garden, Rose of Sharon (Mugunghwa) Garden, Hooded Crane Maze Garden, and more.

Address to the East Gate: 152-55 Gukukjeongwon 1ho-gil, Suncheon-si, Naver Map • Recommended for those who want to start by visiting the main attractions and then explore the entire garden.

Address to the West Gate: 47 Gukukjeongwon 1ho-gil, Suncheon-si, Naver Map • Families with children who want to see adorable animals and water birds first, are recommended to start their tour from the West Gate.

Hours: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Ticket: 15,000 won (Includes admission to the Wetland Reserve) Parking: Free Note: After the Suncheonman International Garden Expo, held until Oct. 2023, the National Garden plans to temporarily close starting Nov. 1. Reopening is planned for some time in 2024.

Top 5 sights at Suncheonman Bay National Garden

1. World Gardens

The World Gardens of 11 different countries showcase the unique traditional styles, beauty, culture, and heritage of each nation. These include the British Garden, Dutch Garden, German Garden, French Garden, Italian Garden, Spanish Garden, American Garden, Mexican Garden, Thai Garden, Japanese Garden, and Chinese Garden.

- Dutch Garden

As the Netherlands is often called the garden of Europe because of its picturesque landscapes with windmills and flower fields, the Dutch Garden shares the beauty of spring in Suncheon City with tulips and a big windmill, which is one of the landmarks.

2. Suncheon Lake Garden

Surrounded by six hills symbolizing the six mountains of Suncheon, the lake garden is famous for being the most artistic garden in the National Garden. The lake formed by drawing water from the Dongcheon River, signifying the connection between the old town and the new downtown of the city. It offers the most stunning landscape in the National Garden.

- Bonghwa Hill

Within Suncheonman National Garden, Bonghwa Hill is the highest point among six hills where visitors can see panoramic views of the entire garden.

3. Suncheonman Bay WWT Wetland & Waterfowl Playground

This wetland is home to various aquatic plants and water birds. The Waterfowl Playground allows you to observe beautiful birds such as flamingos, swans, and herons.

4. Korean Garden

The Korean Garden recreates traditional Korean garden landscapes from the past, including palace gardens, scholar’s gardens, and folk gardens.

5. Royal Azalea Garden

Suncheon City is the home of 60 percent of the royal azaleas produced in Korea. With over 1,000 rare species of royal azaleas planted along the hillside, this garden is simply blooming with beautiful flowers.

Soothe your soul in the ancient temples of Mt. Jogyesan

Jogyesan Provincial Park is known as one of top 100 famous mountains of South Korea. The park is home to two significant temples that have been preserved for over 1,000 years.

Mt. Jogyesan

A visit to one or both temples can guarantee you a deeply therapeutic experience. The trail leading to these ancient temples is peaceful and easy to navigate. Midway through the journey, as you meander through the green forests, you can take a moment to dip your feet into the refreshing waters of the cool stream for some relaxation. The harmonious scene of the majestic forests, stream, and temples creates an atmosphere where you can forget worldly worries and soothe your soul.

Songgwangsa Temple

Songgwangsa Temple was built in the late Silla period during the 10th century and is one of the three principal Buddhist temples in Korea. This temple stands as the center of Korean Buddhist history as it has produced 16 National Masters, or Guksa, which are the highest rank a monk can attain. Many Buddhist practitioners around the world come here to cultivate their minds and participate in their temple stay programs.

Address: 132-2, Sinpyeong-ri, Songgwang-myeon, Suncheon-si, Naver Map Hours: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Apr. to Oct.) / 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Nov. to Mar.)

Seonamsa Temple

Seonamsa dates to the 6th century and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. In particular, the temple’s Haewuso Hall is a must-visit place which houses many important Buddhist cultural relics.

The temple is also famous for the stunning views of the surrounding landscape, stream and Seungseon Bridge.

Address: 771-9 Jukhak-ri, Seungju-eup, Suncheon-si, Naver Map Hours: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Things to know

- Entrance to the temples is free. - Due to the proximity to Nakan Eupseong Folk Village, many travelers include these destinations on the same trip route. - There is a hiking trail that allows you to visit both temples within 2-3 hours. You can start at either temple and follow the trail leading to the other. For more details, ask staff at the entrance of a temple and pick up a map. - Planning to visit only one temple due to limit of time? Try visiting Seonamsa Temple if you’d like to enjoy the landscape of Seungseon Bridge and wild tea. If you want to appreciate a magnificent temple in harmony with nature, head to Songgwangsa temple.

Wild Tea House Along the way to Seonamsa Temple, stop by the Wild Tea House for a nice cup of tea and traditional snacks in a lush forest setting.

Address: 450-1 Seonamsa-gil, Seungju-eup, Suncheon-si, Naver Map Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Closed on Mon.)

Travel back in time at Suncheon Open Film Set

Suncheon Open Film Set is a famous filming location, recreating Korea from the 1960s to the 1980s. It’s been the backdrop for over 70 movies and dramas, including “Pachinko” and “Bread, Love and Dreams.”

Visiting this open set will allow you to travel back in time, experience an era of struggles with the aftermath of the Korean War and the period of rapid economic growth.

While enjoying various activities and photo zones here, you will fully soak into the retro sentiment of Korea’s past. Many visitors enjoy taking unique and entertaining photos with their friends here and Koreans who actually lived through the period often feel a visit is like reliving their youth. Don’t miss the chance to experience scenes of Korea’s modern history and make sure to capture some of unforgettable photos!

Address: 24 Biryegol-gil, Suncheon-si, Jeollanam-do, Naver Map Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Ticket: 3,000 won (If you bring your Suncheon National Garden/Wetland ticket, you can get a discount) Parking: 1,000 won to 3,000 won depending on the size of car (all day) Duration of trip: 1-2 hours

Try a 1970s school uniform!

Price: 5,000 won for 1 hour / 1,000 won for additional accessories

At the entrance, head to the shop that looks like an old classroom. Here you can rent a classic Korean grade school uniform for some great pics on the K-drama sets.

There are two types of school uniforms from the 1960s to 1980s. One is the ordinary national school uniforms which you can choose between summer and winter versions. Another option is the training uniform, which Korean high school students wore during military training, in case they were called upon to serve in the military during this tense period. Various sizes of uniforms are available, and the staff will kindly assist you as needed.

Places to explore

When you purchase your ticket, don’t forget to ask for a map to help you navigate the three districts here:

Suncheon Downtown in the 60s

The downtown street features a comic book store, police station, marketplace, and more. The small stream that flows past the marketplace is famous as a filming location for movies and is also renowned as a photography spot due to its unique scenery.

70s Shanty Town

Walking up the hill, you can find a 1970s neighborhood called “Daldongne.” In Korean, “Dal” means moon and “dongne” means town. “Daldongne” is a term that refers to a shantytown with densely clustered housing for poor people on the high ground of the city during a period of explosive population growth and rapid urbanization.

The outskirts of Seoul in the 80s

The district houses some trendy hangout spots among Korean youth in the 70s and 80s, including cafés for dates, an old-fashioned dance club, and movie theater.

Transport to the Joseon Dynasty at Nakan Eupseong Folk Village

Nakan Eupseong Folk Village is my favorite place among all the wonderful destinations in Suncheon City. Exploring this village makes me feel like I’ve traveled in a time machine to the Joseon Dynasty 600 years ago.

The walled town was built during the late Goryeo and early Joseon Dynasty to defend the village against frequent invasions by Japanese pirates. This is neither a theme park nor movie set, but an authentic folk village that has existed and preserved its original form to present day.

Unlike Hanok villages where aristocrats lived in tile-roofed houses, Nakan Eupseong Folk Village retains a cluster of the thatched-roof houses where commoners lived. This is truly a peaceful place preserving the indigenous values of old Korea as if time stopped here hundreds of years ago. Even today, Suncheon locals live in the thatched-roof houses in Nakan Eupseong Folk Village.

While wandering through this picturesque village, enjoy your time as a time traveler to old Korea.

Address: 6-4 Pyeongchon-ri, Nakan-myeon, Suncheon-si, Jeollanam-do Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Parking: Free Ticket: 4,000 won (Bring a ticket of the National Garden & Wetland Reserve to get a discount)

Things to do

Experience lifestyle of Joseon people

Visitors can experience the lifestyle and culture of common people in the Joseon era through various experience programs, including a traditional wedding, funeral ceremony, playing traditional instruments. Most of the activities are run by locals and free of charge!

It’s highly recommended to visit during the weekends if you’re interested in enjoying experience programs, folk festivals and watching traditional performances. Sometimes, local staff may cancel programs earlier if there aren’t enough visitors.

Hours: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Many programs are closed on Mon.)

Stay at local’s thatched-roof houses If you want to create a memorable experience in Suncheon, I strongly recommend staying overnight at this folk village. Many locals in the village run homestays where they rent out their own houses to tourists. During your stay, you can enjoy a garden BBQ party and take a nighttime stroll to stargaze and experience the folk village on your own.

- Five Kong Thatched House Stay

This place provides spacious and clean beds while most others run by locals offer only flat blankets instead of beds. Also, it’s unmanned with a self-check-in and check-out system for more privacy. It’s a bit pricier compared to other accommodations around the village, but definitely worth it for its cleanliness, comfort and beautiful exterior.

Price: 100,000 won ($74) to 170,000 won ($126)

Capture the best view at the top of the town wall To get a panoramic view of the entire village, climb up to the southwestern part of the fortress wall, where a signature photo spot awaits. Walking through the fortress usually takes only 10-20 minutes, making it perfect for a leisurely stroll. Whether you visit in the morning or at sunset, you can find one of the most distinctive sceneries in Korea here, so make sure to capture the moment with a photo!

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