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10 best things to do in Jeonju: your insider’s guide to the city’s top attractions and experiences

Jeonju in South Korea

Embark on a scenic two-hour train ride from bustling Seoul to discover Jeonju: a charming haven for those seeking a captivating blend of Korean history, tradition and, as always, food. 

In contrast with the modernity that surrounds it, Jeonju’s picturesque ‘Hanok Village’ will take you back in time and immerse you in South Korea’s cultural heritage. Here, you can explore traditional houses and cobbled streets, trace the roots of the Joseon royal kingdom and sample the famous Jeonju Bibimbap in its birthplace. 

Want to know the best things to do in Jeonju? Here’s my essential list.

1. Rent a Hanbok and explore the Hanok village

Jeonju has one of the largest Hanok villages in Korea, situated in the middle of the city. Mainly built during the Japanese colonisation in the 1930s as a symbol of resistance, it has around 600 traditional houses in total. 

Jeongdong Catholic Church (1908) showcases two sides of the area’s history, with a Korean-style black tilted tile roof on one side and Romanesque architecture on the other. Dotted around the village are Hanbok rental shops, allowing you to dress up as a royal, noble or courtesan and imagine a past life in Joseon. No matter where you are in the village, you’ll never be short of a picturesque spot for a photoshoot. 

Hanok Village in South Korea

Image source:Jisong Seo

2. Enjoy Makgeolli Han sang

If you are a foodie, this is one thing in Jeonju you do not want to miss. Jeolla province is known for its rich soil and abundant harvest. As a result, Jeonju has a particularly advanced food culture, being a guest house for foreign delegations in Joseon. Makgeolli Hansang is a unique culture in Jeonju; when you order a pot of Makgeolli – a Korean rice wine – you get a whole table of small dishes (banchan) for free. Every time you request an extra pot of Makgeolli, you will get an additional dish. Approximately 20 to 30 plates will be laid out, including Kimchi fritters, braised pork, grilled fish and marinated vegetables. 

Try out Makgeolli Alley, a 15-minute drive from the Hanok village, and it will usually be reasonably priced at around 40 USD. The best thing is that you’ll eat and drink over a long period, giving you plenty of time to chat with your companions and listen to the stories of neighbours around you. Just be mindful when you drink Makgeolli; it is sweet and easy to drink, but you will feel every drop the following day! 

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3. Time travel to Korea in the 70s and 80s

Want to take a step back in time? If so, among the many museums in Jeonju, try out Jeonju Nanjang. Built across ten Hanok buildings, the interactive modern history museum takes you back to life after the Korean War.

You’ll experience what life was like living in the half-basement rooms featured in Parasite, but also get the chance to try retro arcades, karaoke, children’s games and even making the famous Dalgona from Squid Game. You’ll feel lost in a magical adventure until you emerge in its courtyard at the end, and are offered baked sweet potatoes from a fire drum and freshly brewed barley tea. 

Dalgona, a south Korean treat

Image source:Jisong Seo

4. Learn about the city’s history at Gyeonggijeon Hall 

One of the best things to do in Jeonju for history buffs is to take a stroll to the Gyeonggijeon Hall, which enshrines the portrait of the founding king of Joseon, Seong-gye Lee (Taejo; 1392-1398) and his six successors. Jeonju is where King Taejo’s family name, Lee, originated, and it has plenty of historical ties to the Joseon dynasty. In this 15,000 sqm complex, you will find not only the portrait museum and shrine but also a historical archive of annals of the Kings – behind-the-scenes stories recorded by royal staff. If you’re a K-Drama fan, look out for some familiar spots from ‘Love in the Moonlight’ and ‘Under the Queen’s Umbrella’.

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5. Have a quiet stroll, meditating like a Confucianist

Further inside the village is a school, Jeonju Hyanggyo, from the 14th century, where young noblemen were taught Confucianist philosophy. Named after the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius, Confucianism encompasses  tradition, religion, theory of government, and a way of life, with particular emphasis on the importance of family and social harmony.

Ginkgo trees surround the school, with their beautiful yellow falling leaves in Autumn thought to represent its students’ strong, incorruptible spirits. Walking past the shrines for Confucian sages, you can learn more about the governing philosophy of Joseon. Once again, there are some famous K-dramas filmed in these schools – try out Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) and Princess Hours (2006). 

peaceful South Korean courtyard

Image source:Jisong Seo

6. Take more photos by the murals in Jaman village

In the neighbourhood of Jeonju Hyanggyo is one of the most Instagrammable parts of the village. Originally a slum built during the Korean War by refugees, it has now transformed into a tourist attraction with vivid wall paintings and beautiful views over the Hanok village. Thanks to a regeneration project, the town showcases gorgeous artwork on every wall, ranging from traditional images to pop art and animated drawings. If you can hike up to the top around sunset, you’ll enjoy the view of endless black-tiled roofs warmly lit by the orange light. It is also easy to plan a trail route, including Omokdae and Imokdae. 

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7. Warm yourself up with Bean Sprout Soup

While Jeonju is famous for its speciality Bibimbap, this is the locals’ true favourite. Bean Sprout Soup with rice (Kongnamul Kukbap), a spicy, clear broth with bean sprouts, spring onion, garlic and rice. It will help to clear your sinuses if you’re a bit under the weather or had a heavy night, as it’s a well-known hangover cure among Koreans! Moju, a boiled Makgeoli with dates, ginseng, cinnamon and ginger, is a good pairing with the soup and its restorative qualities.

Head to the Jeonju Nambu market to find the restaurants, whose menus will often have just this one dish; you only need to choose the spice level and enjoy! 

a plate of South Korean food

Image source:Jisong Seo

8. Grab a beer like a local at a Gamaekjip (corner shop pub)

Staying on the subject of drinks, there’s a rich working class culture in the city built around its traditional watering holes. These include small corner shops with seating to stay and enjoy a beer or two. From the outside, it may look like a typical shop, but once you’re in, you’ll find a bustling bar, with patrons grabbing their own beers from the fridge. The menu is limited to one or two dishes – dried pollack or dried squid – and the kitchen staff, usually the owners, will grill them to order on a small fire pit in the corner. It’s an excellent authentic option for a pre or post-dinner drink.

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9. Staying overnight in a beautiful Hanok-style guesthouse

If you want a unique, local experience, one of the best things to do in Jeonju is to stay in a Hanok-style guest house within the village. Historically, people would sleep on the hard wooden floors, but these days you’ll also find mattresses to accommodate those who want a little more comfort. You’ll still sleep close to the ground and feel the warmth of traditional under-floor heating before waking up in the morning to a beautiful sun-lit courtyard. You may have a Korean breakfast brought to your room so that you can enjoy it with the view. Top tip: don’t forget to take your shoes off before entering any Korean house!

Hanok-style guest house in South Korea

Image source:Jisong Seo

10. Have a change of scenery 

Jeonju city is surrounded by mountainous terrain and has beautiful natural parks you can visit. Wansan Park, located south of the Hanok village across the Jeonjucheon stream, is charming in spring, bursting with pink flowers. At the base of Haksan Mountain, you will feel like you are truly away from the city. A bit closer to town, Deokjin Park has a huge lake for a nice walk, famous for its water lilies and a picturesque Hanok-style library on the shore. Head there in the summer for the perfect photo spot.

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