NEWS - What do you think of when you think about South Korea?
Maybe you love the high energy and precision of K-pop's music and dance. Perhaps you think of kimchi, South Korea's iconic fermented cabbage dish. Or, you might be reminded of the East Asian country's well-deserved reputation for technological innovation.
Whatever you think of, there's a good chance that you did not think of an island getaway! But guess what? South Korea is full of surprises, and the beauty of Geoje Island is one of the best. In fact, it was featured as one of the five most Instagrammable Korean island getaways on the Style/Leisure pages of SCMP. Conde Nast Traveler calls it one of the "most beautiful places in South Korea."
Located just off the southern coast of South Korea, Geoje-do is known for its towering mountains, gorgeous beaches, and booming shipbuilding business. About 30 miles from Busan, it's a popular vacation spot for many Korean people. Geoje's east coast is home to Korea's third largest shipyard (Daewoo Shipyard in Okpo), and this gives much of Geoje a distinctly international flavor that's different from the rest of the country.
In addition to its shipyards and international influence, Geoje Island is also home to some of the most beautiful places in South Korea. It's part of an archipelago that contains 60 other smaller islands, only 10 of which are inhabited. Every island, even the inhabited ones, is full of forests, mountains, and wildlife ranging from small squirrels to huge waterfowl.
A Personal Guide From Me To You
I had the great opportunity to spend a year teaching English on Geoje Island in 2021. I called the western side of the island home and spent my days teaching elementary and middle school kids at an afterschool academy and exploring this gorgeous island whenever I could.
So, I'm here to share some of my insider information and advice with you! This article contains personal recommendations of where to eat, sleep, and what to do in Geoje. This includes some exclusive locations and tips that you probably won't find anywhere else! To give you an even more vivid picture of what to expect if you visit, I'm also sharing a few videos I made during my year on Geoje.
A quick note - in Korean, the suffix denoting an island is -do. You'll see me refer to Geoje as Geoje Island, Geoje-do, or simply Geoje interchangeably throughout this article.
So what are we waiting for? Pack your bags, grab your passports, and get comfy for your long-haul flight, because we're going to Geoje!
To get the best possible deal on your flight, check out our article Click It To Book It: The Best Travel Apps For Booking Flights For 2023 to see some of our favorite options.
Calling A Taxi
To call a taxi without speaking Korean, you can use the app Kakao Taxi, also called KakaoT. It works a lot like Uber or Lyft, except that you're calling a taxi driver, and it completely eliminates the need to communicate verbally. Although typically you need a Korean phone number or credit card to use the app, this guide shows you how to pay without either one.
If you know some Korean or are comfortable trying to communicate using Google Translate or Papago, you can approach a taxi driver. Just be prepared to show your destination's address written in Korean!
How To Get To Geoje Island
If you're coming to Geoje-do from Busan or Seoul, your best bet is to travel there using a combination of the KTX train and a bus or taxi.
Seoul to Busan
If you're coming from Seoul, you can buy your KTX train tickets either at Seoul Station or online at this website. A roundtrip ticket is about $140-$150. The bullet train is a fun adventure in itself, as it zips through the 201 miles (325 km) separating the two cities in just 2 hours and 15 minutes. Make sure to pull out your map app and watch the dot for a visual of just how fast you're really moving! You'll get off at Busan Station.
Busan to Geoje
If you're taking the bus to Geoje, you'll next need to get from Busan Station to Sasang Bus Terminal. The least expensive route is taking the metro. You'll ride the Line 1 subway train from Busan Station to Seomyeon Station, then transfer to Line 2 and get off at Sasang Station. From there, it's a 5-minute walk to the Busan Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal. This takes around half an hour and costs about $2.
When you get to the bus terminal, go up to the counter and ask for a ticket to Geoje-do. This costs about $7 and takes you to Gohyeon Bus Terminal in 1 hour and 10 minutes. The buses are outside on the other side of the building, and each one has its destination on a sign in both Korean and English. After you've boarded the bus, sit back and enjoy the beautiful bridges and coastal views!
If you have a lot of luggage or don't feel like bothering with public transit, you can also take a taxi. At anywhere between $70-$100, this is a bit more expensive but could be worth it. If you're taking the bus to Geoje, you can also take a taxi from the train station to the bus terminal to save some time.
Gohyeon Bus Terminal To Your Destination
Gohyeon Bus Terminal is located downtown on the western side of the island. No matter where your accommodations are located, the easiest way to get there is probably with a taxi. This typically will cost between $5 and $10.
Geoje's bus system connects the majority of the island, but it isn't always reliable or easy to navigate in English. However, if you'd like to use the bus, you can download the app KakaoMap. It works much better than Google Maps in Korea, you can select English, and it shows you bus numbers and bus stop locations.
Where To Stay On Geoje Island
Vacation Rental Homes (Airbnb, Vrbo, etc)
One of the most fun things about visiting Geoje-do is the fact that Airbnbs tend to be very plentiful, well-equipped, and inexpensive! Many one to two-bedroom vacation rentals are between $30-$80 per night. South Korea also has a great appreciation for beautiful aesthetics, with lots of sunlight and charming decorative touches. All of the Korean vacation rental homes I've stayed in were lovely, well-kept, and full of modern conveniences.
We stayed near the shipyard in Okpo when we first arrived in Geoje, and I highly recommend that location! It has ocean views, is close to great hiking spots like Okpo Coastal Trail, and is also near lots of restaurants, convenience stores, and grocery stores. It would make a great base of operations, although you could also stay in Gohyeon on the west side of the island, or in one of the more rural areas.
As is the case in all countries, make sure to carefully read the reviews before making a booking. Since Geoje-do is a more rural part of South Korea, you also might want to cross-check the location on KakaoMap before making a decision. You probably don't want to get stuck out in the countryside with limited options for food, transportation, and things to do.
Finally, don't be afraid to contact your host if you need help! South Korea has a great culture of hospitality, so hosts are typically happy to be as helpful as possible. This is especially true when they know their guests don't speak much or any Korean. Don't hesitate to reach out if you need help calling a taxi, need to know where to buy something, or just want some restaurant recommendations.
Since I lived there, I didn't have the chance to stay at any hotels on Geoje Island. However, here are a few with consistently great reviews and in good locations.
Samsung Hotel Geoje
As Geoje's top-rated, upmarket hotel, Samsung Hotel Geoje overlooks the shipyard and ocean just west of downtown Gohyeon. You can expect views of the ocean, mountains, and city, a swimming pool and gym, and several dining options, including a bar with live music. It's also less than 10 minutes from the nearest bus stop, making it a convenient hub for seeing the area. And, since it's near the 7-story shopping mall, no worries if you forgot to bring an essential item!
Sono Calm Geoje
I've driven past this hotel on the way to Gujora Beach, and if I needed to pick a hotel to stay in on Geoje, this would be the one! It's technically a mini resort, with a waterpark, arcade games, and yacht or boat ride options. With so many activities, it's a great option for families, and it's also close to many destinations on the east side of the island. Plus, it's right on a large, quiet bay, so the views are stunning.
Please note that although the website is in Korean, you can translate it using the Translate option on Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge.
Hotel Riviera Geoje
Also located near Okpo on the east side of Geoje-do, Hotel Riviera Geoje is right on Wahyeon Beach. In addition to great views and beachfront access, it has a sauna, gym, and restaurant with a bar. The rooms are spacious and many have hardwood floors and balconies. It's a highly-rated place to stay, especially for couples!
For a quick refresher on common hotel room terminology, check out our article 11 Types Of Hotel Rooms Every Traveler Should Know. That way, you can avoid any uncomfortable floor or couch-sleeping scenarios!
Travel Like A Local
Geoje-do is a very popular spot for Korean people who want to get out of the city and enjoy some fresh air and sunny beaches. So, if you want to experience a more authentic side of South Korea, Geoje is a must-see!
You might notice that some of Geoje's best-known attractions, such as Oedo Botania and Hakdong Black Pebble Beach, are missing from the following list, and I'll tell you why.
First, I wanted to spotlight some of Geoje's hidden gems so you could enjoy places that aren't overrun with tourists. And second, I lived in Korea during the pandemic, which meant that unfortunately, many of the bigger attractions were closed. Since I wanted to share only personalized, first-hand accounts with you, I only included places I've either visited myself or heard about from someone I know.
So, without further ado, here are some of the best places to enjoy Geoje's natural beauty!
1. Gujora Beach
While I was living in South Korea, one of my favorite day trips was taking the bus to Gujora Beach, hiking the nearby trails, and then picking up some food at the convenience store and eating it by the beach. After being surrounded by high-rises and traffic in the more heavily populated parts of the island, listening to the water lapping against the sand was the therapy I needed.
No matter where you are on the island, you can easily get to Guora Beach by bus or taxi. Searching for Gujora Beach on KakaoMap or KakaoT should work, or you can try 500-1 Gujora-ri, Irun-myeon, Geoje-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea. If you arrive by the city bus, you'll get off at the 삼정경로당 bus stop (your app will notify you). From here, you have two options, and options are one of the best things about Gujora Beach!
If you want to go directly to the beach, turn right. You'll walk through a quiet residential neighborhood full of hilly, narrow streets threading between colorful homes with ornate gates. Eventually, you'll make your way to a paved path called Gujorahaebyeon-gil that leads you down to the water - it's the first place I walk through in the video below!
Exploring Gujorahaebyeon-gil And The Forest
As you can see in the video, the water at Gujora Beach is almost unbelievably blue! It's one of the many coves carved into the coastline of Geoje-do, and you can see Yundol Island Evergreen Forest in the middle.
Now, you have another choice. You can either turn right and continue down toward the sandy beach, or you can turn left and head toward Gujora Waterside Park. In the video above, we decided to turn left, and we did not regret our decision.
As you walk down quiet Gujorahaebyeon-gil, you'll see intensely green, forested hills and mountains rising up behind you, extending all the way down to the water. On a weekend or holiday, you might see people with pop-up tents behind their parked cars, quietly playing music, cooking on camp stoves, and taking a well-deserved break from their busy lives. You may hear dogs barking, or see a farmer working on a hillside.
Finally, you'll find a trail winding up the mountain when you reach the end of the street. If you're anything like us, you'll take one look at it and say "Let's go!" That's where we found the mountain spring you can see in the above video! You can see more views of the mountain trail in the video below.
White Sands And Blue Water
Now, let's rewind and take the other option - turning right on Gujorahaebyeon-gil to head toward the beach. Gujora Beach has soft white sand, sparkling turquoise water, and is lined with pensions and cafes. The most popular of the cafes is Oedo Nursery, which is a cafe housed in a huge greenhouse that's overflowing with plants. You can have your drinks and pastries inside the cafe, or outside on the deck overlooking the beach.
If you're feeling up for another walk, you can find the Gujora Observation Deck nearby. It's a great place to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of mountains, beaches, and the ocean, and get some Insta-worthy selfies!
Now, let's rewind again, this time all the way back to the moment you got off the bus. This time, you're going to walk straight down Gujora-ro. Gujora Beach is on a narrow peninsula. Last time, you explored the left side of the peninsula, and now you'll explore the right.
The Pier, Changbongseong (Gujora Fortress), And Sujeongsan Observatory
The first thing you'll see on your left is a pier which, during the spring and summer, is often full of people fishing. Walking all the way to the end gives you a fun new perspective of the water! You can get a better look in the video above.
After you've checked out the pier, keep walking down Gujora-ro. The street will take you down the peninsula, past stunning views of another of Geoje's ocean coves, this one lined with a rocky beach. The mountains rise to your right, and evergreen trees drop needles and pinecones into the water. You can even stop and take a break in a beautiful little gazebo near the shore. Check it out in the video below.
Another spot that's along the trail further into the forest is Sujeongsan Observatory. It's an observation deck overlooking the ocean with more of Geoje's tiny, forested islands rising out of the water. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to visit here either, but please do if you get the chance! There's even an archway on the observation deck that looks like the perfect spot for taking photos.
Where To Eat
To end your day at Gujora Beach, have dinner at Gujora Seafood Restaurant or Country of Origin, which are both Korean restaurants just off Gujora-ro. Or, keep it simple and budget-friendly by picking up some kimbap (I recommend a roll or buying a 2-pack of the triangles!), a cup of fruit, some snacks, and a bottle of brown rice tea, and eating by the water.
2. Okpo Coastal Trail
Okpo Coastal Trail is one of my favorite places I visited on Geoje-do. I went there for the first time shortly after we arrived on Geoje because our Airbnb was very near it. Maybe I'm biased because I love Okpo, but it's undeniable that the coastal trail is a magical little spot that also leads to other beautiful locations.
There's a few ways to access Okpo Coastal Trail, but the spot I usually used is at the end of a street called Okpo-ro 2-gil. You can see it in the photo above. As you walk down the street, you'll see the boardwalk in front of you leading toward the water. Side note for any K-drama fans - this place was featured in the show When My Love Blooms/The Most Beautiful Moment in Life. You can see the boardwalk in the video below!
As you can see, the boardwalk winds along the coast, providing gorgeous views of the harbor and ocean to your right and forested mountains to your left. It's a very accessible walk even for small children or the elderly, as the boardwalk is smooth and has stairs that help make the hills a little easier to travel.
If you're feeling adventurous, there's a few trails into the forest that you can check out! Be warned, the terrain gets significantly more challenging, but gorgeous views of the ocean peeking through the trees make it worthwhile.
Whether you take one of the wooded trails or stay on the boardwalk, you'll end up at a large park at the top of a hill overlooking Okpo. There's a large, brightly painted gazebo with a stunning view of the ocean, spots to picnic and play, and a great view of the city of Okpo.
One of my favorite things about Okpo Coastal Trail is that it keeps you so close to the city, but the forest and mountains insulate you from the noise. Also, real talk - South Korea often has a lot of air pollution, but at the top of the mountain, most of it is blown away and you can enjoy the fresh air.
3. Gyeryongsan And POW Camp
Towering over the city of Gohyeon, Gyeryongsan is one of the highest points of Geoje-do. The hike to the peak of this impressive mountain is about 2.6 miles (4.3 km). One of the most popular routes is also the beginning of the Great Ridgeline Trail, an 18.6 mile (30 km) trail that leads you through numerous mountaintops all over the island.
I unfortunately never went to Gyeryongsan, but I've heard from friends and coworkers that it is a wonderful hike, especially when the trees change color in autumn! Plus, you have lots of options to get to the peak! You can hike from a number of trailheads, or, if you'd rather give your legs a rest, you can take the monorail.
To buy tickets for the monorail, you'll need to go inside the POW Camp museum. This historical attraction outlines the history of a POW camp that held about 300,000 North Korean and Chinese prisoners during the height of the Korean War. You'll find exhibits, arcade games, VR experiences, and food, all designed to educate the viewer.
After you've checked out the museum, hop on the monorail. It travels just slightly faster than walking pace, so your ride to the top of the mountain will be calm and comfortable . On the way, you'll get a close view of the trees, rocks, and birds, along with a sometimes exciting ride through steep parts of the mountain!
When you get to the top, you'll be greeted with a stunning view of Geoje-si to the east and to the west, the city of Gohyeon, the harbor, and the island of Tongyeong in the distance. From here, you can either hike down the mountain or take the monorail back to the POW camp museum.
If you decide to hike Gyeryongsan, you might come across the remains of another ancient fortress. Since Geoje lies between Korea and Japan, it has been used for military operations for hundreds of years. You may also see the gazebo toward the mountain's peak, or Gyeryongsan Temple near the base of the mountain.
4. Windy Hill
This iconic Geoje-do attraction consists of a big, classic-style windmill right on the southeastern coast. It's near a tiny fishing village where you can find a few restaurants, one cafe, and lots of beautiful, brightly-colored murals on the walls of the houses.
I unfortunately never made it here, either, but I've heard that even if you've heard it's overrated, you shouldn't miss it! It's well-named, so be prepared for lots of wind when you get near the coast. You can also find cute benches to sit on and an observation deck where you can take in breathtaking views of the ocean and surrounding islands.
Again, if you're a fan of K-dramas, this is another location you might enjoy visiting. It's been featured in multiple shows, including Secret Boutique, Just Dance, and Merry Go Round/Wooden Horse Carousel. But even if you're not, it's still worth a visit for the fun photo ops and stunning views.
5. 동부면 산촌 간척지 (Sanchon Gancheogji in Dongbu-myeon)
This beautiful spot is definitely off the beaten path, and I've actually never seen it mentioned on other websites about exploring Geoje. We found it completely by accident one autumn day when we were trying to take the bus to a nearby beach. After missing our stop, we decided to just stay on the bus until we ended up somewhere near the coast that looked interesting!
You can either take a taxi or the bus to Sanchon Gancheogji. To make it easy to find on KakaoMap or Kakao Taxi, the exact street address is 761 Sanchon-ri, Dongbu-myeon, Geoje-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea.
After getting off the bus or taxi, you'll walk through a few blocks of quiet homes with huge gardens. Eventually, you'll see a paved path called Sanchon-ri on your left.
As you walk down Sanchon-ri, you'll see mountains, trees, and a few tiny farms rising to your right. On the left is a quiet marshland, full of reeds, silver grass, and migratory birds. If you're lucky, you'll see and hear cranes, herons, egrets, and other water birds.
Sanchon-ri makes a large loop all the way around the marsh. At the first turn, the path will lead you along the coastline. The water is clear and blue, and you can see other parts of the Geoje archipelago in the distance. Feathery silver grass lines the iconic blue-and-white Geoje-si railing, and strategically placed platforms and benches are the perfect place to have a picnic. It's also a wonderful spot to watch the sun rise and set over the water.
Your next left turn leads you up the other side of the marsh. This side is flanked on the right with peaceful homes, and on the left with small trees lining the marsh. The final turn takes you on a narrow street through the marsh and farm fields. In the late summer and fall, it's ablaze with the glowing yellow of rapeseed flowers.
I didn't even know the name of this beautiful place, but there's a great story of how I learned it! While working on this article, I shared some photos on the South Korea subreddit and asked if anyone knew what it was called. A kind and eagle-eyed Redditor (thank you!) found it on a map and told me it's called Sanchon Gancheogji in Dongbu-myeon. This roughly translates to "Mountain Village Reclaimed Land in Dongbu-myeon".
Where To Eat On Geoje Island
Speaking of food, let's talk about where to eat on Geoje-do! I'll be honest with you - since I was in South Korea during the pandemic, I actually didn't eat out while I was there! However, I sourced some great recommendations from a fellow ESL teacher and friend of mine who lived there longer than I did. So, without further ado, here are his top three restaurants in Geoje!
Hello India - Al Waha
Hello India is a restaurant in Okpo that serves both Indian and Lebanese food. Although I never ate here on Geoje, I ordered from the Busan location and can confirm that they serve some of the best Indian food ever! The lunch set is an especially good option because you get rice, naan, salad, curry, and chicken, all for under $10. I also highly recommend the fish tikka (very spicy but delicious!) and dal makhni.
Additionally, it's a great place to try if you're vegan or traveling with vegans. Since Korean food typically has a lot of meat, this is very helpful!
Address: 177 Okpo-ro, Okpo-dong, Geoje-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea
こく天 巨済店 (고쿠텐 거제점, or Gokuten Geoje)
If you're looking for a delicious spot in Gohyeon, Gokuten Geoje has fantastic Japanese food. It specializes in tendon, which is tempura (panko-battered food) on rice. This restaurant is well-loved by locals and visitors alike for its tasty food and peaceful, Japanese-inspired interior. It's also within walking distance of the POW Camp Museum, so this would be a great way to end your hiking expedition. Plus, they have a very cute cat!
Address: South Korea, Gyeongsangnam-do, Geoje-si, Gyeryong-ro, 116 고쿠텐 거제점 경동하우스 1층 1층
For a truly authentic experience (and helpful if you're traveling on a budget!), try shopping at grocery stores and eating in a night or two during your trip! If you're at an Airbnb, you'll most likely have a full kitchen, and many hotels offer at least a hotplate for cooking. Most grocery stores primarily carry Korean-style groceries with limited international options, but you can get creative and maybe even try some new recipes!
Here are some of my favorite grocery stores:
Located in the basement of a seven-story shopping mall in Gohyeon, Homeplus is a great one-stop shop. I'd say the American equivalent of this chain is probably Walmart, although the overall quality and style are closer to Target. The store is split into two levels, with clothing above and food and home goods below. You can find a great selection of fresh fish, vegetables, snack food, and even a few international items, like seasoning.
Address: South Korea, Gyeongsangnam-do, Geoje-si, Jangpyeong-ro, 12 KR
World Mart is a great little hole-in-the-wall grocery store in Okpo that offers international food from a variety of countries. It mostly has selections from South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia, but there are a few North American foods to be found as well. It's a small store, but fairly easy to find as it's right across the street from the (much larger) Lotte Mart.
Address: 3730 Geoje-daero, Geoje-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea
GS THE FRESH
Located just a few blocks from the shipyard in Okpo, GS THE FRESH is a great basic grocery store. It has lots of fresh vegetables, a decent selection of international food, and easy-to-prep foods like instant noodles and frozen food. In addition to food, it also has lots of other everyday essentials.
Address: 533-3 Okpo-dong, Geoje-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea
And, of course, any discussion of where to eat in South Korea would be incomplete without mentioning convenience stores! The usual suspects are 7-Eleven, GS25, CU, and emart 24. They all have their own quirks and specialties, and half the fun is visiting all of them to find out what you like! Personally, I usually preferred the prepared food at CU and GS25, but 7-Eleven has a great variety of snack foods.
Convenience stores throughout East Asia are typically much nicer than their American counterparts. In addition to the usual snacks and drinks, they have a wide variety of freshly-made prepared food. In South Korea, that's usually kimbap rolls or triangles, dosirak lunch sets, ttoekbakki (spicy rice cakes), hobbang (steamed dumplings), or hot bars (sausages or fish cakes on skewers).
Most convenience stores have small tables inside or outside so you can sit down and eat. Plus, they typically have microwaves so you can heat food or prepare ramyun (instant noodles). You can also find a huge variety of both hot and cold drinks, and even necessities like socks, facial care products, and pet food.
I hope this guide to visiting Geoje-do, South Korea has inspired you to go a little bit off the beaten path on your next trip to South Korea! Although big cities like Seoul and Busan have their charm, there's nothing like experiencing the hidden corners of a country. After calling Geoje home for a whole year, it will always have a place in my heart, and I hope it captures your heart, too.