Written and photographed by Lea Moreau
Gwangju is perhaps Korea’s most underrated city. Living here for more than a year and half, I’m still amazed by its bursting energy, its culture, and its impactful history. I can proudly say there are tons of great places to visit nearby! Gwangju has more to offer than most people realize and as a travel specialist and globetrotter, I can tell that The City of Light sits apart from the rest of Korea. I found in the city an incredible tourism potential with magnificent historical cultural treasures, numerous attractions, and amazing personalities. And now, I’d like to share with you my “Top 5” favorite places you should add on your bucket list when coming to Gwangju.
Let’s start with the Hotel Mudeung Park Lift, known to be the only cable car in Mudeung Mountain National Park. It’s the perfect place for a date, and this is, as well, a non-touristic attraction that many will enjoy and feel refreshed by. Next to the Mudeung Hotel, you will easily find the office where you can buy a ticket for the cable car.
Gwangju’s Hotel Mudeung Park Lift was created in 1984 and it was called an extreme cable chair ride in the old days. When reaching the top, you can climb a little bit further up to access an observatory. There, Mudeungsan offers its magnificent view of the city. It’s a scenery you can’t forget, and it allows you to understand fully how the city was built through the years. You can also just stop there, and enjoy the traditional drink, makgeolli, with some pajeon (Korean egg pancake).
My second recommendation is Cheongchun Balsan Village. Opposite Gwangjucheon Stream, Balsan Village was used to welcome the Jeonnam Textile Factory and was considered as one of the poorest parts of Gwangju in the 1970s. Young people in search of jobs from all over the country were working at the factory, and to find a cheap place to live, they climbed up the hill where no one was living. Recently, young artists have come into Balsan Village and have started to make gardens as well as street art! This makes the entire village so interesting, and it doesn’t have anything to envy of Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan!
In third position, is Yangnim-dong! The best adventure is to stroll through the small neighborhood in the evening. Not only can you find nice coffee shops, but you will be able to admire the picturesque traditional hanok (traditional Korean houses) aside some of the missionaries’ western-influenced houses! It’s a perfect place to highlight the change between Korean modern history and the late Joseon Dynasty.
Yangnim-dong offers a unique atmosphere, and what I particularly love to do is to walk up the hill to reach the Sajik Park Observation Tower and admire the sunset. Also, you have to know that you can enjoy the 1930 Salon de Yangnim event on the last Wednesday of every month, which is organized for people to enjoy cultural events, music, and different art activities.
Now, let’s get off the beaten track and discover the Jeungsimsa Temple area. Not only is the temple beautiful, but I particularly like the surroundings! The best way to access this place is to take a bus from downtown. From there, you will have different options!
You can take a walk to the temple or enjoy a picnic near the closest mountain stream. You can also admire the view from the rooftop of the Starbucks café, located near the bus stop. Finally, after a nice hike in Mudeungsan National Park, my best tip is to visit Sujata, the best vegetarian buffet of your life! This Buddhist vegetarian restaurant is run by monks and is located at the foot of the mountain, surrounded by beautiful scenery. For 7,000 won, this is an all-you-can-eat buffet, which is sure to become your new paradise!
Last but not least, for every travel addict, I would recommend the Voyagers Rooftop Cinema. It’s a project I’ve been working on for more than a year, and I finally could make it real. Voyagers Café (in Ssangchon-dong) organizes a free cinema night every Friday starting in September. It’s on the rooftop of the building and offers an amazing experience. All you have to do is to buy a drink (ALERT: There is wine!) and you can watch a travel movie under the stars! It’s a great opportunity to meet new travelers and locals based in Gwangju. I highly recommend you to visit Voyagers Café on Friday night!
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Lea is a French travel specialist currently based in Gwangju. She has traveled to 27 countries so far, and has also created her own YouTube chanel in order to share her passion for travel and tourism, giving useful tips and advice.