best places to live in south korea

From Islands to Cities: The 6 Best Places to Live in South Korea

There’s a legend about how Korea began.

At the beginning of time, a heavenly prince named Hwanung peered through the clouds and saw the Korean peninsula. He was so enchanted by the beautiful land that he decided to move to Earth to rule as this area’s king.

Hwanung descended to Earth with his retainers, assistants and hundreds of loyal followers. Together, they began building kingdoms in Korea.

If you explore modern-day South Korea, you can probably understand why people still talk about this legend today. Korea is much more than just Seoul tourist attractions. It’s full of mountains, islands and friendly locals. No wonder Hwanung wanted to live there!

If you also want to live in South Korea, you might be wondering where to go. Where are the best places to live in South Korea?

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Why live in South Korea?

For years, South Korea was overshadowed as an expat destination by China and Japan. But now it’s finally getting the attention it deserves! Visitors come for short-term trips, work holidays and gap year stints. It’s not uncommon to stay and become a long-term resident.

Hosting the Summer Olympics in 1988 was a pivotal decision that started attracting tourists to South Korea. People started to realize the culture, language and cuisine of South Korea are distinct from anything else in Asia.

It took some time for Korean food to reach an international audience. Now the whole world knows about the country’s healthy and delicious diet. The cuisine is what initially draws many tourists to South Korea!

Korea enjoys four distinct seasons and a diverse geography. You can find mountains, hills, farmland and deciduous forest throughout the country. Regardless of your hobbies or travel bucket list, South Korea has plenty to offer.

Hangul, the Korean writing system, is unique throughout Asia and is renowned for its simplicity. Even the most introverted foreigner can learn to read and write this script with relative ease.

Maybe you’re just starting the process of moving to South Korea. Or maybe you’ve been there for years and are trying to find your next city to explore. Regardless of where you are in the process, it’s never too late to start learning how to read, write and speak Korean.

Try FluentU free for 15 days to get a firm grasp on the Korean language. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized Korean language learning lessons.

These authentic videos give you the chance to hear native accents and read along in Hangul. And you can hover over the Korean characters to see the English translation.

Best of all, learning with real-world videos will teach you all about local culture. Wherever you settle in South Korea, you’ll learn more and more about your neighbors and their culture with FluentU.

The 6 Best Places to Live in South Korea (There’s More Than Just Seoul!)

All Korean cities enjoy a high standard of living that includes public and intercity transport, government and social services, universities and language schools. Even the smallest cities in South Korea have technologically advanced features like public Wi-Fi and a healthy ratio of green spaces.

The following choices for the best places to live in South Korea are medium-to-large cities with an equal balance of urban and rural advantages.

However, keep in mind that you can choose an even larger urban center or a smaller rural town according to your preference without sacrificing convenience, transportation or basic utilities.

Incheon

est places to live in south korea

Incheon is a suburb east of Seoul, close to the coast. If you live here, you’ll enjoy life away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. You can live in Seoul without having to actually live in Seoul.

That doesn’t mean you’ll lack things to do here, though. Incheon is an autonomous metropolitan center in its own right!

Incheon is home to the country’s major international airport and a modern seaport. The city itself was carefully planned out as a collection of pleasant green spaces, paved walkways, outdoor and indoor shopping locations and community projects.

The city is one of South Korea’s seven Free Economic Zones. The construction of the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) began with extensive land reclamation and development of the nearby coastline. The zone includes an amusement park, numerous places to shop and eat, and plenty of parks in addition to the international banking and business venues.

Pohang

best places to live in south korea

Pohang is a prosperous, blue-collar city.

It’s home to POSCO, the world’s second-biggest steel company and the region’s major employer. The massive company hires engineers, designers and scientists from around the globe to work in their steel mill. They even gave their name to the local soccer team, the Pohang Steelers.

The POSCO facilities also include extensive learning centers and communal spaces for employees and their families. This means the company’s staff includes ESL teachers, childcare workers and translators, in addition to factory or office employees.

The result is an eclectic international population that includes American and Korean military personnel, teachers, seafarers and steelworkers. You’re sure to find people to connect with!

But there’s much more to Pohang than the steel industry. The scenic city is by the sea, and it’ll keep you busy.

There’s a wide variety of local hiking trails and public sports venues, along with shopping options that include both traditional markets and upscale malls.

The city’s location is conveniently close to several important historic places. The Gyeongju Historic Area and Seokguram Grotto are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and both are only a short bus ride away.

Jeju Island

best places to live in south korea

Koreans will constantly ask if you’ve been to Jeju-do (Jeju Island), a popular tourist destination off the southern coast. The weather and flora here are almost tropical, making it an ideal spot for vacations.

Jeju Island rivals famous destinations like Niagara Falls and Paris for honeymoons.

Don’t let the island’s small size give you the wrong impression. This is hardly a sleepy little network of fishermen’s huts and seaside villages. Visit for unique tourist attractions that include the kinky amusement park Love Land and stay for the weekly 벨롱장 (Bellongjang) — Shining Light Field Flea Market.

Jeju Island is home to an international airport and several upscale resorts and hotels. Living here would be ideal for those with jobs related to the hospitality or travel industry.

Gwangju

best places to live in south korea

Gwangju, also spelled Kwangju, is centrally located on the peninsula. This has shaped its history as an artistic, political and cultural center, second only to Seoul on a level of national importance.

Contemporary art and culture are important points of interest in Gwangju. The Asian Cultural Center is a cultural meeting point not only for this city but for much of the country. The multi-use facility combines a museum, theater, library and extensive archive storage space.

The pro-democracy uprising of 1980 had its genesis here. Memorial Park, the crown jewel of the local parks system, commemorates the event with dramatic bronze sculptures and tree-lined pathways.

The city and surrounding region are famous for their rural beauty, wildlife, springtime fauna and historic artifacts.

Just to the east of the city is 무등산 (Mudeungsan) — Mudeung Mountain National Park. The park includes high rock formations, a rebuilt sixth-century temple and a stone pagoda that dates from the Silla Dynasty.

Jeonju

best places to live in south korea

A medium-sized city famous for its rural surroundings, the name jeonju actually means “perfect region” in Korean.

The agricultural land here is ideal and has been a major influence on the city’s long history. History buffs flock to Hanok Village, a part of town that retains its medieval architecture and traditions.

Tourism is the city’s main draw, with historians, foodies, music lovers and art aficionados equally represented. Annual events include a film festival and the International Sori Festival, which is a celebration of songs and musical performances from around the world.

Jeonju is an exceptional destination when it comes to food. In a country where food is already highly rated, that’s saying a lot! It’s been designated as a Creative City for Gastronomy as part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.

Jeonju is where some of the most popular Korean cuisine was born. The famous dish known as 비빔밥 (bi-bim-bap) — mixed rice, a bowl of rice and mixed vegetables with a spicy sauce that often includes a fried egg, traces its roots to this town.

Cheongju

best places to live in south korea

An important city for political issues in ancient and medieval times, Cheongju still retains a high status as a national administrative center.

The town is home to a number of colleges and secondary schools, including the Korean Air Force Academy and several national universities. Apparently, the Korean President even has a summer home here.

Cheongju is a city of rivers. The downtown traffic is integrated with several bridges and overpasses that give the bustling city a peaceful, rural ambiance. The Geum and Musimcheon Rivers meet in the city center. Several other rivers’ tributaries connect in the northern part of town.

Pivotal military battles dating from the 16th-century Japanese invasion took place in Cheongju. Several dramatic ruins still stand from this period and have been restored and preserved as part of the historic landscape.

The main street is named 성안길 (Seongan-gil) — road inside the fortress. Today it’s lined with colorful market stalls and shops. You don’t even have to leave town to hike up a rugged mountainside and visit 상당산성 (Sangdangsanseong) — Sandang Mountain Fortress.

 

The cities on this list are ideal for expats who want to live in places that are both authentic and comfortable.

However, if you want a more rural environment or a giant metropolis, South Korea is still the place to be! If you appreciate amazing food, fast internet, reliable public transit and cultural festivals galore, then you can feel at home almost anywhere in South Korea.

Hwanung may have been mythological, but we can certainly see why he thought Korea was so special. Hopefully one of these best places to live in South Korea becomes just as special to you.

 


Kristy Ambrose has been writing professionally since 2010. She dabbles in various genres, including everything from short blog posts to serialized novels. Her inspiration comes from gamers, beachcombers, foodies and of course her fellow travelers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Victoria.

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