Ulsan, situated in the southeast of Korea long wears the crown when it comes to being a true industrial hub. But what many people are not aware of is this seaside metropolitan city’s far gentler and exquisite side of things. While Ulsan hardly tops any tourist guides, it is quite remarkable in its own tender ways. Serving as the inlet to the Yeongnam Alps, its eye-catching rocky cliffs, extensive stretches of beaches, and its roots in whaling heritage are only a few of the pegs you get to witness here. In this guide, we list some of the best things to do in Ulsan.
Explore the verdant trails of Daewangam Park
This seaside park is situated on the east coast of Ilsan-dong. After traversing a 1-km long trail that abounds with pines, apricot trees, forsythia, cherry trees and magnolias, you will reach the seashore which is beautifully littered with windswept rocks. This scenic headland thrives in its picturesque woodland and finishes with Ulgi lighthouse that stands over the potent rock-strewn outcrops.
The park also bears the address of Daewangam Island, an outsized rock isle that appears like a dragon mounting up into the skies. The isle is joined to the mainland with the help of an iron bridge and is capped with an observation tower from where you can have a view of Ulsan and its coast.
Escape the chaos at Ulsan Grand Park
If you want to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind for a while, consider paying a visit to Ulsan Grand Park, an ecological park on the western side of Nam-gu. Set up in 2006, following the order of Chey Tae-won, this park spans across a whopping 369 hectares. With a compact water park, over four ponds and a petting zoo, you will never run of things to see and do here. The park also has an outdoor stage, numerous flowerbeds and good picnic spots. If you are someone who is into golf, the park offers a nine-hole pitch. The visitors can even take up a golf course if you want to learn more about the sport. If you’re visiting with children, make it a point to visit the playground which is actually an action-packed trampoline park. For additional fun, consider renting a bike from the main entrance.
All this being said, the real standout of this park has undoubtedly got to be the Rose Festival that is celebrated in May, when the entire park is embellished with gleaming lights in the evenings.
Behold the stunning views of the city from Ulsan Bridge Observatory
Standing at 203m above the sea level, it is safe to say that the Ulsan Bridge Observatory is fast emerging to be one of Ulsan’s most emblematic landmarks. This popular tourist destination can be easily reached by driving through the downtown Ulsan to Dong-gu District. Offering a wide panoramic view of the petrochemical, automotive, and shipbuilding compounds, along with the breathtaking views of the mountains of the city, this place should not be missed. In addition, this observatory looks across the Ulsan Bridge, the longest bridge in Korea. The best time to visit is after the sunset when you can witness the endless lights that spread out in front of you.
Right at the entrance of the observatory, you are greeted by Ulsan Bridge Promotion Center where the visitors are enlightened about the many details of the bridge including its construction. The tourists can also indulge in several fun hands-on activities here. After that, make sure to head to the outdoor platform on the fourth floor. Here, you will get to witness a glazed space with numerous screens and information boards that cover Ulsan’s rich history.
Stand mesmerized at the Taehwagang River Grand Park
This aisle of verdure borders the Taehwa upriver from the city’s large-scale production industries. Dotted with eateries, parks, and pavilion, the Taehwagang river grand park is definitely not to be missed. Owing to constant deluge and consequent flooding, the banks of the park has been rendered free of massive expansion or development. The visitors have the luxury to have a peaceful moment of contemplation by the river and the low mountains that map out the river basin.
On what might be described as a gorgeous expanse spanning from Samho and Taehwa Bridge, you get to experience this park in all its glory. This verdant bamboo grove is believed to be planted somewhere around the first decade of the 20th century to prevent the flooding. While you are here, you can have a fun time biking- you can make use of the rental facilities like Jung-Gu Bicycle Cultural Center. If you’re visiting the town sometime around spring to autumn, watch out for the flower festivals.
Swim in the pristine water of Ilsan Beach
Ulsan’s hustle and bustle will seem like a world away at the Ilsan Beach. Cosseted to the south by Daewangam Park’s promontory, This clam-moulded bay is positioned on the seaward front of Ilsan-dong. With an impressive 600 m coastline that spreads out in soft, golden sands.
Over recent years, a lot of restaurants and cafes are springing up in the surrounding areas. Close to the beach, a new beachside amusement park has been constructed. So if you are digging some excitement, do consider visiting it. The best time to visit the beach is towards the end of July- during this time you will be met with summer festivities following live music, firework displays and much more.
Geek out at Ulsan Hyundai Motors Plant
Now, who wouldn’t want to miss out on the chance to be shown around the largest motor plant in the world! Quite one of the tourist hotspots, the visitors can book in advance with the help of the company’s official website. If you ever get a chance to be here, you will be amazed by the scale of operations that happen here on a daily. With over five factories and a massive workforce, somewhere around 6000 vehicles are manufactured here a day. The giant testing station is also worth a visit. It is interesting to note that the tour of the plant begins with educating the visitors on a brief history of Hyundai. The guides will also provide you with factual details that outline the factories’ state of the art production processes.
Go on a whale-watching cruise at Jangsaengpo Whale Culture Village
As the only attraction of its kind in the Republic of Korea, this one is definitely worth a visit. Until the ban on commercial whaling in 1986, Jangsaengpo was a major whaling port. While you are here, it would be quite interesting to note the history of the fleet of whaling ships by the 1970s. What was once Korea’s top whaling port, is fascinatingly also for its historic village and the Prehistoric Whale Experience Garden. You can follow along the path of Whale Story Trail and witness the many artefacts including harpoons, models of whales, their skeletons and other whale-related relics. Two of the most mesmerizing attractions here undoubtedly have to be the 5D theatre and a whaling ship that you can tour.
From April to October, Jangsaengpo is open for a whale-watching cruise. These trips that go as far as 20 km into the East Sea give you a chance to see minke and grey whales. If you are looking for a shorter cruise, they got you covered too- the 90 minute trip along the coast will help you get the feel of the astounding magnitude of the Ulsan Industrial Complex.
Reach new height at Gajisan
Undoubtedly, the Gajisan offers phenomenal views from atop. This iconic mountain is a cult favourite among the hikers when in Ulsan. Positioned in the Yeongnam Alps, hiking this mountain would be a truly unique experience and is suitable for intermediate to advanced hikers as the whole process could be strenuous. That being said, if you are an enthusiastic beginner, don’t lose heart. You can always attempt the hike with a trained person who is potent to guide you up the trail. As a word of advice, if you are looking forward to completing the entire loop in daylight, we highly recommend starting the hike no later than 9 am.
Pay your respects at Seoknamsa Temple
Positioned on the underside of the eastern gradient of Gajisan is this stunning temple. The temples roots go back to as early as the reign of 9th century Heondeok of Silla. Following the Japanese invasions of Korea, the structure was rebuilt in 17th century. You will easily find here several of the remaining monuments following the yet another raze in the Korean War. Few of the most noteworthy relics include the three-storey pagoda leading to the main hall.
The temple has a handy trailhead with a number of well-labelled paths if you want to explore the surrounding spaces a lot more. On your walk here, be sure to grab a soothing cup of rice wine from the makgeolli vendor who can be generally spotted from spring to autumn. The trail directs you through verdant timberland, which thins out as you draw near the weather-beaten, barren limestone pinnacle for a four-hour round-trip. If you keep hiking, you will reach on to Unmunsan by passing through the Araetjae Pass.
Hike at Sinbulsan
Alongside Gajisan, Sinbulsan is the most hyped hiking destination in the Yeongnam Alps. Standing at a height of 1,209 metres, it is also the highest peak in the alps. The main ascent is slow and steady Once you emerge from the woodland, you will find yourself mesmerized by the Ganwoljae Flame Grass Road-a path along the bristle of a ridge. During the late-summer days, you will catch the ends roughly gleaming when they catch the rays of the sun. All through autumn, the reeds craft a stunning rustle in the breeze. To look after these grasslands, the pathway is hoisted on boardwalks and wooden stairways, which facilitates easy climbing to the top of Sinbulsan.
Take in the beautiful view of Paraeso Falls
In Sinbulsan’s western slopes stands the scenic Paraeso falls. This 15-metre waterfall is magnificent and is a spot that you ought not to miss. The waterfall stands atop a three wooden stairway that plunges over serrated limestone. Very close by, the riverside trail abounds with rare flora and fauna. Therefore, if you are someone who enjoys bird watching, do pay a visit to this spot. When you’re here, there is a very high chance that you’d be greeted by the many chipmunks. Although swimming itself is prohibited on the falls, look out for the little pools where you can wade in.
Travel back in time at the Ulsan Museum
This strikingly modern museum with its theme on past, present and future first opened in 2011. In what may be described as a stunningly exquisite structure, this museum offers a compelling chronology of the city from prehistoric times to the modern. Edged by reflecting pools, the sight of the museum itself rouses awe and wonder in the minds of the tourists.
The Industrial gallery gives the visitors a practical insight into big industries of Ulsan that helped the city to be what it is today. Additionally, you will be quite amazed by the masses of the information displayed regarding prehistoric accessories such as ritual implements, ceramics among many others. The multitude of products mass-produced at the city like the 1975 Hyundai Pony is also exhibited here. Over recent years, the museum has really topped its game when it comes to temporary exhibitions. Some of the notable ones include Ancient Egyptian objet d'art and the inventions of Thomas Edison.
Take a tour of Ganjeolgot
To the south of Ulsan stands Ganjeolgot, a rock-strewn headland, lined up by a lighthouse is well-known for being the foremost place touched by the sun on the eastern coast. There is even an admired meeting point at dawn on New Year’s Day to timepiece the first sunrise of the year. You will find a walkway atop the promontory, which if explored, leads you to a series of exquisite monuments and a bunch of sculptures. But throughout the year, people throng here to have the breathtaking views of the acacia that bloom along the coast. When you are here, don’t forget to pen down your wishes on postcards and drop them on the second-largest postbox in the world. We bet it’d be a fun experience. In addition to that, look out for the endearing replica windmill that has become a set for a number of Korean TV shows and has now been transformed into a coffee bar and gallery.
Embrace the onggi tradition at Oegosan Onggi village
Onggi, a kind of pottery constructed in an extended tube-like kiln is hugely authentic to Korea and dates back to over 5,000 years. Available in a multitude of shapes and sizes, these earthenware enjoy a number of tradition utilities- from cooking rice to container for serving drinks to fetching water from wells.
In 1975, it was the pioneering efforts by Heo Deok-man, who was a renowned master potter that resulted in setting up a shop to keep the craftsmanship and largely the tradition alive. Shortly after this, skilled man from all across the country joined hands to create quite a remarkable progress in this regard. It is now the centre where half of the nation’s traditional ceramics and stonewares are produced.
If you are looking to know more of the history or marvel at the expertly crafted remains, including the largest onggi port in the world, the place to be is at the Ulsan Onggi Museum. If by any chance you’re visiting in October, do not miss out on the four-day Onggi Festival where you can witness live demonstrations in addition to several other perks.
Have a taste of rice wine at Boksoondoga
If you ever plan an excursion into the Yeongnam Alps, we highly recommend stopping at Sangbuk-myeon. Why you ask? And the answer is simple- for its additive-free winery making makgeolli. Their Korean rice wine is to die for. Prepared from locally harvested rice, Korean yeasts along with handmade onggi, they are loaded with richness. Interestingly, these are quite similar to champagne; they have fizz and have a cloudy appearance.
Here at the vinery, they tender a display space wherein models explain in great lengths how the wine is prepared. If you are interested, you can tour the fermentation chamber and even have a look at the paddy where rice is full-grown. If you want to grab hold of a few souvenirs or keepsakes, it does not get better than a decanter of makgeolli.