Jeonju is the home of the popular South Korean dish called bibimbap and a huge Bibimbap Festival is held in the city every year. That was about all I knew about Jeonju before I visited the city. I guess that was enough to know what the city can offer in terms of food, and it made the anticipation of my visit all the more exciting. And once I got there, I fell in love with not only its gastromic delights (you can read about it here); but also the beautiful hanok village and its historical buildings, and the calm and peaceful atmosphere of this slow-paced city.
I was traveling on my autumn trip to South Korea with the Discover Korea Your Way – DKYW 2019 coupon booklet. It offers many discounts to a variety of tourist attractions and restaurants around the country, and Jeonju (전주) is one of the cities available. The booklet is available for free for Malaysians traveling to South Korea, and is a great help if you’re on a lower-budget holiday! Click here for more information.
My partner, Fong and I spent 4 days Jeonju; the capital and the largest city of the North Jeolla province (Jeollabuk 전라북도, also know as Jeonbuk). We were based in the heart of the city at the Jeonju Hanok Village — and because most of the attractions in Jeonju are located within the vicinity, we didn’t have to travel out much (or take any public transport). The only day we ventured away from the village was to visit the Naejangsan National Park to see the autumn foliage. Will write about that soon!
So after my visit to Jeonju, here’s sharing with you my top 10 most memorable experiences and must-do’s when you visit this city. I got to witness so much beauty, learn some South Korean history, indulge in the local culture, take tons of insta-worthy pictures, and best of all, had all the delicious mouth-watering food!
1. Jeonju Hanok Village (전주한옥마을)
Jeonju Hanok Village (전주한옥마을) is the city’s most popular tourist destination and overlaps Jeonju’s Pungnam-dong and Gyo-dong districts. During our entire stay in Jeonju, we were only in the village — so to me, Jeonju is RIGHT HERE! The Jeonju Hanok Village is made up of almost 800 traditional hanok buildings, as well as temples and shrines. I really felt as if I was transported back in time when we stepped into the village — the place is so historical, so traditional, and so charming. It was designated as an International “Slow City” in 2010, further confirmed by a local resident who told us that we shouldn’t rush about to see everything in the village. He said that the best way to enjoy the Jeonju Hanok Village is by holding both your hands behind your back and taking a slow stroll to enjoy the scenery. He was most definitely right — but we also ended up cycling and riding on an electrical bike… and it was so fun!
The rest of the places in this list are located within or around the Jeonju Hanok Village.
2. Gyeonggijeon Shrine (경기전)
The Gyeonggijeon Shrine (경기전), or Palace, is the jewel of the Jeonju Hanok Village. It was built in 1410 during King Taejong (third king)’s rule over the Joseon Dynasty, and now houses the portrait of the founder of the Joseon Dynasty — King Taejo. There are also portraits of a few other kings, as well as historical artefacts displayed at the Eojin Portrait Museum in the vicinity. The current structure was remodeled in 1614, after most of the palace was destroyed during the Japanese Imjin War at the end of the 16th century.
We spent a lovely afternoon walking about the vast grounds of the Gyeonggijeon Shrine. During autumn, the trees in the palace were a beautiful shade of orange, red and yellow. Other than the main portrait shrine and the museum, there are also a few other buildings in the area that showcase everyday life during the Joseon Dynasty. We even got to play a round of ‘throw the sticks into the wooden jar’. Entrance to the shrine costs KR₩3,000 (US$3).
3. Jeondong Catholic Cathedral (전동성당)
Another significant historic sight in Jeonju (and located at the entrance of the Jeonju Hanok Village) is the Jeondong Catholic Cathedral (전동성당). It was built between 1908 and 1914 during the time of Korea’s Japanese rule — on the very spot where hundreds of Christians were martyred during the Joseon Dynasty in 19th century Korea. Constructed in the Byzantine and Romanesque architectural styles, it has a red and grey-bricked exterior with green roofs; and considered one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in the country.
The cathedral is open for mass services at certain times of the day. At other times, the public is free to walk about the grounds, and admire the interior of the cathedral from the outside.
4. Jeonju Hyanggyo Confucian School (전주향교)
The Jeonju Hyanggyo Confucian School (전주향교) is a school established during Korea’s Joseon Dynasty in the 15th century. It was originally built on the grounds of the Gyeonggijeon Shrine, but after being destroyed during the Japanese Invasion, it was later relocated to its present site in 1603. There are several buildings within the Jeonju Hyanggyo grounds — amongst them are the Daeseongjeon, which is the main Confucian Shrine Hall that houses the tablets of Chinese and Korean Confucian scholars; and the Myeongyundang Lecture Hall in the rear that still holds educational programs today.
I heard that the Jeonju Hyanggyo is most beautiful during autumn with the yellow leaves forming a carpet on its grounds — but the 400-year-old giant Gingko trees (there are 5 in total) were still green during our visit mid-autumn. Still, I enjoyed the peace and calm of walking around the school in the early morning (opening time is at 9am) when it was still empty, and quiet. No wonder it was used as the set location for many popular K-dramas. Entry is free.
5. Omokdae and Imokdae Shrines (오목대와 이목대)
Located on top of a hill in the Jeonju Hanok Village, Omokdae (오목대) is a significant spot in the city as it was where King Taejo, the first king of the Joseon Dynasty, stopped by on his way home after his victory against the Japanese invaders. Just next to Omokdae (linked by a pedestrian bridge on the other side of the road) is the site of Imokdae (이목대). It is believed to have once been a home to the ancestor of King Taejo.
I visited Omokdae for its beautiful elevated scenery of the Jeonju Hanok Village. There is not much to see at the site itself — a pavilion house erected in 1900; and a tablet with the engraved writings of King Gojong, the second last emperor of the Joseon Dynasty. Getting to Omokdae involves walking up several flights of stairs; and there are many entrances. Take the one from the road that leads to the Omokdae Tourist Information Centre. It offers views of the village on the way up, and you can also stop by the centre before or after your visit to Omokdae to send a postcard home through their Slow Travel Postbox. For free!
6. Jaman Mural Village (자만벽화마을)
The Jaman Mural Village (자만벽화마을) is located outside (and just next to) the Jeonju Hanok Village; so one afternoon, we took the opportunity to rent a double bicycle and cycled over. However, the entrance was the furthest we could get to on a bicycle — because from there it was an uphill walk into this colorful village on a hill. And such a pretty village it is! I loved all the colorful murals drawn on the walls all along the Jaman Mural Village — decorating the simple houses, cafes, souvenir shops, and guesthouses that line its winding alleyways. From cartoons and anime characters, to artistic artpieces and interactive drawings; it was so fun taking tons of photos at every single corner.
Somewhere in the village, we came across an extremely colorful cafe called the Kkojittappong Cafe (꼬지따뽕), so we decided to stop for coffee. The cafe offers nice views of the village and the Jeonju Hanok Village — and is so pretty that it made me so happy to be amidst all the colors, and patterns, and cushions, and bean bags, and parasols. So adorable!
7. Nambu Traditional Market (남부시장)
If you’re looking for places to do some souvenir or foodstuff shopping — there’s no place better than the Nambu Traditional Market (남부시장) in Jeonju. The biggest market in the Jeollabuk Province and the oldest one in the city, this 200-year-old market is located in the city centre just outside the Jeonju Hanok Village and next to the iconic 18th-century Pungnam Gate (풍남문).
I visited the market as it opened in the morning, and browsed through the many shops selling everything from dried food and live seafood, to furniture, clothing, and everyday household items. Too bad I was visiting on a weekday; or I would have been able to join in the street food fest that happens during the weekends nights on Fridays and Saturdays — at the Nambu Market’s Night Market.
8. Experience a Stay in a Hanok (한옥)
It was Fong’s first time to South Korea — and I knew that he’d enjoy the experience of staying in a traditional Korean house, called a hanok (한옥). After all, we were in one of the most beautiful hanok villages in the country, so where better than to stay right in the center of all the attractions, the restaurants and the action! The Jeonju Hanok Village has tons of hanok homestays all over the village, and I managed to book one that was smack in the middle of the entire area. The Heungbuga Hanok (흥부家) is located just next to the Gyeonggijeon Shrine, one street away from the main stretch of the village.
We had a lovely stay at the hanok. The owner, Mr.Oh Yun Sik was such a friendly and accommodating host. Upon arriving, he settled us into our double-room hanok and sat me down to find out about my plans during our stay. He introduced some of the best (and his favourite) restaurants to us, and followed us out to the main road to hail a taxi for us whenever we needed one (to get to the bus stations). Every morning, we had cup noodles, a plate of cut fruits, and coffee for breakfast. The only problem with the stay though — the mattress was a little hard. Still, a fun experience, and so convenient!
9. Walk around in a Hanbok (한복)
I think this was my favourite experience during my entire stay at the Jeonju Hanok Village. I have always wanted to do wear a hanbok (한복) and walk around — but the last few times I was in South Korea, I either didn’t have the time, or the weather just wasn’t right. This time, I made it a point wear a hanbok in Jeonju. I wasn’t the only one… Fong wore one too, and so did almost every visitor in the village!
There are hanbok rental shops (and photography studios to take pictures of you in costume) ALL over the Jeonju Hanok Village — on every single street, in every few shops. You’ll be spoilt for choice with all the selections. You get to choose from traditional hanboks, fusion hanboks, lacey hanboks, Emperor outfits, scholar outfits, student outfits and many many more; and there are even Western 19th-century costumes that seem to be one of the popular choices too! We rented ours at Hanboknam with KKday; and spent 4 hours in our selected fusion hanbok (it costs KR₩40,000~US$40 at the shop, but KKday gives better rates). It was so fun, and we took so many pictures everywhere!
Book your experience (and other travel adventures as well) with KKday, and if you apply the code “SWTW5” during check-out on the KKday Website — you get 5% OFF anything!
10. Enjoy all the Jeonju Food (전주 음식)!
Jeonju was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2012, so you know you’ll be spoilt for Korean food choice when you’re in the city. It is also home to the famous Korean dish, bibimbap; has the best choco-pies in the country; lets you drink makgeolli rice wine and dine on delicious traditional food passed down for generations; and have all the street food you can eat. Isn’t this the foodie dream?
During my visit to Jeonju, I had such a great time dining at some of the most awesome restaurants in the city. I had my taste of bibimbap at the Hankookjib (한국집) that gives an additional 20% discount with my DKYW 2019 booklet; it also gives a 10% off at the Poongnyeon Bakery (풍년제과) for choco-pies. Other famous eats in Jeonju are the kongnamul gukbap and Imsil cheese; and great places to go for Korean street food are the Jeonju Hanok Village and Nambu Night Market. More about Jeonju food in my post here:- Mynn’s Top 10 Things to Eat in Jeonju.
*She Walks the World went to South Korea under the banner of the Korea Tourism Organization of Malaysia, to promote the DKYW 2019 coupon booklet and encourage free and easy travel in South Korea to Malaysian travelers. As always, all opinions stated here are my own. For more information, visit www.visitkorea.com.my.
* My hanbok (traditional Korean dress) experience was sponsored by KKday. Don’t forget to apply “SWTW5” during check out on the website to get 5% OFF for anything!