Gangneung is slowly gaining popularity on the tourist map. I’m not surprised. I’ll help you plan a perfect getaway lounging on the beach, grilling up fresh BBQ, and finding the best spots for selfies along the way.
Gangneung is an ancient city in northeastern South Korea, with roots dating back to around 100 BC.
You’ll understand why when you look in from the banks of the East Sea at the beautiful rolling hillsides dotted with fragrant pine forests. The city perfectly offers the perfect balance of land and sea.
What was once a fairly well-kept secret is slowly becoming a must-visit for many travellers touring South Korea. I just got back from a couple of days there, and it was a highlight of my trip.
The food scene alone is worth a visit. I found great local and international cuisine, most of which was surprisingly affordable.
Browsing Gangneung Jungang Market and selecting the catch of the day or taking a bike rail bike ride along the waterfront showcases the treasures the oceanside city offers.
But there are less obvious surprises, like the mesmerising immersive exhibits at Arte Museum Valley and an entire village dedicated to coffee shops (Coffee Street) that make this a surprisingly exciting destination to visit.
So what are you waiting for? I’ll tell you why Gangneung is somewhere you need to visit right now.
Things to Do in Gangneung
Ride the Jeongdongjin Railbike
Taking a ride on the Jeongdongjin Railbike is a must when you’re in Gangneung. It’s short but sweet, and the 45-minute ride goes a whole lot faster than you’d think.
So, what exactly is it like? Hop onto a sit-down covered bike, and you’ll set off on the rails to see a different side of Gangneung. It’s at once scenic and exhilarating.
The semi-powered bike is set up on an old railway, and honestly, the machine does a lot of the hard work for you.
You’ll cruise along the beach, taking in the coastline and nearby Sogeumgang Mountain. The spectacular views offer a nice juxtaposition of natural and urban landscapes. Oh, and if you think you see a giant cruise ship beached on the hillside, it’s actually the Sun Cruise Resort & Yacht.
You can do the ride one way or both ways, but I’d suggest the latter. You get a little break by Jeongdongjin Beach before you hop back on.
The beach itself is quite nice, and you’ll want to check out a sunrise before your bike ride if you can – seeing it slowly ascend over the city around dawn is magic.
Gangneung Jungang Market
To get to know a market is often to get to know a city.
You can learn local customs, explore fresh ingredients, and (especially in South Korea) you can eat some of the most delicious street food ever.
Gangwon-do started as a traditional market in 1980 as a pretty standard neighbourhood market and slowly evolved into what it is today.
Upstairs, you’ll find street food, clothing vendors, and places to grab coffee. Downstairs, you’ll discover fresh and dried seafood of nearly any type imaginable. Go to both
It’s a great place to try all kinds of traditional Korean food, but be sure to get some Korean fried chicken from Baenni. Why? The burst of flavours and textures was incredible and one of my favourite memories in Gangneung.
But you’ll also want to save room for a few other items while you’re here. Stands selling fried shrimp and fish cakes (odeng (오뎅)) are the most popular.
Arte Museum Valley
South Korea has a wonderful tradition and history of art that spans centuries and mediums and is quickly making itself a name in the international art world. Visiting Arte Museum Valley paints a clear picture of why that is.
The immersive art gallery features large-scale digital art. I mean really large scale. There’s lots of movement and colour, and the originality of the interactive exhibitions makes for a pretty cool experience.
So what should you see when you’re here? The nature exhibits are particularly cool – the museum showcases the wildlife and natural setting of Baekdu Mountain Range while dedicating around a dozen individual exhibits to its lakes, valleys, and pine forests.
The visual and audio effects combine for a trippy experience that reminds me a bit of Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s a bit of a sensory overload, but I’m here for it.
Head there around opening, the museum fills up later in the day, and it’s a lot more fun to do when you have the room to yourself
Coffee culture is strong in South Korea, and the first coffee shop opened in Seoul at the turn of the 20th century. Since then, locals have been sipping coffee in cosy cafes for decades, and it has evolved into a thing to do for tourists, as well.
Gradually, trends shifted a bit, slowly transforming from more formal tee-house experiences to cafes more similar to what you find in Western cultures. But still with some uniquely Korean decor.
Nowadays, the coffee in South Korea is wonderful, and there’s an energy buzzing through the cafes in big cities and small towns alike. Gangneung takes this reputation to new heights by boasting its very own “Coffee Street” on Changhae-ro near Anmok Beach
Because most of the local cafes roast their own coffee beans and have experienced baristas, you’ll have quite a few excellent choices to decide from. While Starbucks is available, do yourself a favour and try a local option.
Terarosa is a popular spot with seating upstairs and in the basement. The cappuccino art game is strong, the space is beautiful, and there’s even a coffee museum on-site you can visit for around £7 ($9).
Order an iced Americano if you want to sip what the locals drink.
After you grab a cup of joe from nearby Coffee Street, the next thing you’re going to want to do is hit up Anmok Beach.
Located just north of the Gangneung Ferry Terminal, the golden sands peer out at deep, blue waters that offer a scenic start to your day.
Selfie opportunities are strong here, from the rocky coastal shores to clever art installations like a giant coffee mug balancing 3 blue eggs and another that you can use as a life-sized photo frame. I had fun just seeing what photo-op was next when exploring the beach.
There’s lots to do in the area on land and water (I’ve heard the speed boat tour from the nearby harbour is great), but it’s most famous for the nearby coffee street.
This beach is trending on all the socials right now and, as such, gets really busy. Go during the week to avoid crowds.
Daegwallyeong National Recreational Forest
One thing that Gangneung is well known for is the beautiful nature that surrounds the city, with over 200,000 residents. The most popular areas downtown reside between the ocean to the east and mountains and forests to the west.
If you get the chance to head inland for a hike while you’re in Gangneung, don’t pass up on the opportunity.
Where should you lace up and hit the hills? Daegwallyeong National Recreational Forest is the place to do it.
You’ll hike the gentle mountain trails under hundreds of pine trees, some stretching well above your head and providing much-needed shade in the summer. The area is well-maintained, and there’s a tourist centre where you can grab a coffee and a snack before your hike.
You can choose from several hikes, all with wooden signs clearly indicating the distance. You can also study a map at the trailhead, giving you a better idea of where you want to go.
None of the trails take much longer than an hour, so you can combine several if you want a more strenuous hike.
Best Places to Eat and Drink in Gangneung
Gangneung has some of the best seafood dishes in South Korea, which is no surprise as the East Sea is the backdrop for many of the most popular hotels and restaurants.
Korean pancakes (Pajeon) are the thing to get when you’re here, which are a crispy blend of seafood and vegetables served with a soy and sesame-based dipping sauce.
Korean BBQ is also delicious here, with assorted meat options you can grill right at your own table.
Owole chodang Korean Pancake Restaurant 오월에 초당
Owole Chodang Korean Pancake Restaurant 오월에 초당 was one of my favourite stops in Gangneung.
Why? The succulent Pajeon were absolutely packed with ingredients and flavour.
The crispy-crunchy omelettes came with veggies and fresh seafood, which really hit the spot after a day at the beach. Each comes with large rings of squid and julienned scallions, and it was cooked perfectly, with an addictive layer of crisp covering the top.
But this restaurant has another trick up its sleeve. The noodles here are sneaky divine. I chose a brothy concoction with seaweed, sesame, fresh veggies, and just enough heat. Drool.
Not to mention, the space itself is comfortable and charming. There’s a beautiful garden out back, and some succulents and flowers adorn the hardwood interior inside.
It’s casual and inexpensive, making it a perfect option for a late lunch or early dinner. You’re welcome, friend.
Chodang-Og Japanese Restaurant
I stopped by this Japanese hotspot specialty restaurant to order Sukiyaki for lunch. I’m so glad I did. Both the quality and quantity were excellent value.
This spot is just south of Gyeongpo Lake and Arte Museum Valley, making it an excellent place to refuel before you spend an afternoon exploring the beaches or heading to the railbike in the afternoon.
What’s the vibe like? When you walk through a wooden pavilion, you’ll stroll through a garden of young trees leading up to the restaurant. Step inside, and the smells of fresh veggies and tender meats waft through the air of the unassuming interior.
I ordered the beef in a large hotpot with mushrooms, sprouts, and tofu. You put it into the simmering broth and then top it with raw egg, sesame oil, and spring onions. Honestly, it was mind-blowingly delicious.
Gangnamchon KBBQ Restaurant
This was a surprise find that I’m lucky I stumbled on during my most recent visit. It’s a fabulous KBBQ restaurant located right off Nambu-ro road.
When you sit down at your table, you’ll find your own personal grill, which you’ll soon be taking full advantage of with delicious cuts of raw beef and pork ready for you to stick on the BBQ. Everything I had was excellent, but the pork ribs were the star.
Once your meat is cooked up, dig into the bonchon, which includes pickled and fresh veg, rice, and kimchi. Yum.
My favourite touch was the ample raw garlic. It featured large cloves you could cook at your table for fresh-grilled garlic to enjoy with your meal.
Service was friendly, the prices were right, and it was one of the best meals I had on this past South Korea itinerary.
Seafood Restaurant 팔도전복해물뚝배기
If you’re at Gangmun Beach, you won’t need to walk far to get some of the best seafood in Gangneung. Head to 팔도전복해물뚝배기, where you can try the famous bowl of soft tofu, and seafood broth served with piles of prawns, abalone, clams, and mussels.
The seafood is incredible, but it’s actually the soft tofu that’s the main draw. It’s a neighbourhood specialty in Chodang-dong, and you’ll know why when you taste the velvety, briny goodness in the piping hot broth.
The tofu is made in-house, and many think the secret to its texture and flavour is ocean water from nearby.
Pair the stew with each and every bonchon on the table, which adds crunch, spice, and a depth of flavour to the dish.
This is an extremely popular spot with locals. Arrive during off-peak hours in the late morning or late afternoon to avoid the long lines.
Know Before You Go: Practical Tips to Plan Your Gangneung Trip
- Eat at as many restaurants as you can; Gangneung features a treasure trove of restaurants.
- Avoid January to March, as temperatures are too cold to appreciate the beaches.
- Keep your eyes open for K-Drama film locations, there are a few. Jumunjin Beach was the location of Goblin.
Typical Cost of Travelling
You can get by in Gangneung for £80 to £118 ($100 to $150) per day with lodging and food.
How Long to Visit?
The beaches and pine forests offer a relaxing respite from city life, but there’s still a lot to do. Go for at least 2-3 days.
Best Time to Visit
Visit Gangneung in May or September for great weather and better hotel rates.
Where to Stay in Gangneung
Stay by the beaches for ocean views and close proximity to the best food and landmarks.
Hotel Tops 10 (Mid-Range)
Located high on a hill in Sanchaeglo Park, this property features a popular breakfast, 2 pools, and a fitness centre a short walk from Geumjin Beach.
Skybay Hotel Gyeongpo (High-End)
Beautiful and modern hotel right on the beach with a trendy rooftop infinity pool. Rooms are spacious and stylish, with insane ocean views.
How to get There?
You can get to Gangneung from Seoul on the KTX in about 2 hours. Tickets start around £28 ($35).
Day Trip to Gangneung
Coffee Street – Anmok Beach – Art Museum Valley – Gangneung Jungang Market
This day trip will give you a small sample of the coffee, art scene, and food that make Gangneung a popular stop on the tourist trail.
Beaches and BBQ
Jeongdongjin Railbike – Anmok Beach – Gangnamchon KBBQ Restaurant – Gangmun Beach – Owole Chodang Korean Pancake Restaurant
Spend 1-2 nights exploring the beaches and cuisine in Gangneung.
Pine Forests, Markets, and Sightseeing
Daegwallyeong Natural Recreation Forest – Beaches and Railbike – Art Museum Valley – Gangneung Jungang Market
Spend 2-3 days exploring the top destinations and some hidden gems in Gangneung.
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