South Korea has been on my wish list of places to go because of Jeju Island. Several years ago, during a layover at Incheon Airport, I tried a cup of Starbucks green tea. My taste buds were overjoyed and I bought a box. I learned that it’s Jeju green tea made by Teavana. Once back in America, running out of said tea, I discovered American Starbucks doesn’t sell it and it’s $60 a box on Amazon. I vowed to one day go to South Korea just for Jeju tea.
While the dream of Starbucks green tea may have brought me to Jeju Island, I found so much more. It’s one of few places in my travels that I’d consider living full-time. The people are welcoming and you’ll fall in love with the stone guardians and smile at many people wearing ornaments of oranges in their hair! Here are some of my favorite experiences from my time on Jeju Island.
1. O’Sulloc Tea Museum
This is the place one goes for green tea. It’s not the Teavana I came for, but it’s also delicious. You can taste different tea varieties and the famous green tea ice cream in their café. You can purchase all their teas in the gift shop. They also offer tea classes; not all in English though. I suggest calling O’Sulloc before you visit to find out if you can take one of their tea classes, which requires a reservation.
The other attraction is the Innisfree Jeju House duty-free shop, located steps away from the tea shop. If you love Korean skincare and want to appreciate it on a budget, this brand is made with ingredients sourced from Jeju Island. Helpful staff will recommend what you should buy, and if you bring your passport, you’ll get a great discount.
2. Black Pork Barbecue
I’ve long loved bulgogi and dak gui — Korean barbecue. Jeju Island is known for its black pig, so-called because its fur is black.
Pro Tip: Black pork is served with the gristle still on. If you cook it yourself, brown it a bit and then cut off the entire piece of gristle before cutting it up into finger-sized strips to eat.
3. See The Women Divers
Jeju is also known for its women divers, called Jeju Haenyeo. What makes them so fascinating is the combination of diving without air tanks, reputedly holding their breath underwater for up to 3 minutes, and the ages of the divers — often in their 60s and 70s. They dive for seaweed, abalone, and other small mollusks that they sell. I got to witness the catch one day in Seogwipo but couldn’t understand how to order anything. With people paying about $50 USD for a plate of chopped mollusks, I regrettably left them untasted. I later found out they’re salty and chewy, so I’m glad I didn’t!
4. Themed Museums
I was surprised and amused at how many themed museums there are on Jeju. There’s a Teddy Bear Museum, a Museum of Sex and Health, and an Alive Museum to name a few. I went to the Hello Kitty Island museum for fun. While it certainly isn’t a place you’ll spend long amounts of time, it was quite amusing. If you’re looking to put a smile on your face, explore at least one of these fun museums.
5. Seogwipo Olle Market
Seogwipo is a city in the southwest of Jeju Island, and it became my favorite. While Jeju City is more built up, Seogwipo has a blend of small-town charm, oceanfront vistas, and even more beautiful views. The food market comes to life at night and offers the opportunity to try many different foods. One of the highlights for me was finding a woman who made a traditional seafood pancake, called haemul-pajeon. I was lucky that one of the merchant’s two tables freed up when my food was ready, so I grabbed a seat and ate it fresh. It was delicious. The only thing that made it better was the Korean couple I met at the other table giving me a taste of their makjeolli — a slightly sweet, low-proof alcohol that paired perfectly with dinner.
6. Drink Orange Juice
Jeju is known for its many varieties of oranges, which is why you’ll find so many souvenirs with the fruit. Make sure to try some while you’re there. While many places sell it in plastic bottles, I recommend waiting until you find a place that serves it freshly squeezed. Depending on which season you go, this may take some effort, but it’s worth it.
7. The Artist District In Seogwipo
One of my favorite streets in Seogwipo is Lee Jung Seop Street. It’s named for the artist that used to live there and is full of quirky shops and art. I happened into an arts center where I could have sat down and joined people painting. There’s also a museum full of Lee Jung Seop’s artwork. Unfortunately, it was closed the day I had planned to visit.
Pro Tip: Make sure to check opening days and times for any museum you plan to visit on Jeju. They may not be what you expect.
8. Hallim Park
I’ve loved bonsai plants for years. To me, they are miniature trees about the size of your hand. Here on Jeju, there’s a park where they grow full-sized bonsai trees; they’re enormous and fascinating to see if you’re used to the smaller ones. There are also two caves to walk through. One of them has a pillar that — allegedly — makes you smarter if you walk around it. I’m confident that my amble around it made me infinitely more intelligent.
9. Cheonjiyeon And Jeongbang Waterfalls
Two of my favorite afternoons were spent at waterfalls. They are 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) apart, so it’s easy to visit both in a day. Cheonjiyeon offers a breathtaking vista of the layers of trees in the distance, as well as a beautiful bridge. Jeongbang is the only waterfall in Korea that drops directly into the sea. It offers lovely views and I enjoyed sitting on a rock in the Sun and relaxing during my time there.
Pro Tip: Eat at the small restaurant when you exit. It has some of the best seafood soup I had in South Korea.
10. Saeyeongyo Bridge And Saeseom Island In Seogwipo
One of my favorite activities was my walk to the famous bridge located in Seogwipo. The bridge itself is beautiful, and on the other side, there’s a path to Saeseom Island. I walked around the island and met many friendly passersby. I enjoyed the nature, water, and views of the island and happily spent about an hour here. The walk is easy, even if you have knee challenges.
11. Hyeopjae Beach
It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the color juxtaposition in the sand meeting the sea while gazing out at Biyangdo Island in the near distance. As you walk along the beach, you’ll find beautiful rocks and some statues of the powerful women that are so important to Jeju’s history.
12. Hwanguji Coastline Walk
The view is one of the most stunning I’ve seen on all of Jeju. I recommend walking from the Saeyeongyo Bridge (if you’re able to handle a fairly steep uphill walk) and stopping off at Blossom for a coffee or snack on your way. If you do, make sure to head upstairs for some stunning views of Mount Hallasan while you enjoy your coffee. From here, it’s a 10-minute walk to Hwanguji. The natural rock formations combined with the beautiful water color will leave you speechless.
Pro Tip: The walk down to the rocks is steep.
There’s so much more to see on Jeju Island, it would take a novel to cover everything. Suffice to say, Jeju Island is well worth the trip and should be put on your list of must-see destinations.