Best known as the site of the 5.18 democratic uprising of South Korea, the city of Gwangju is an underrated vacation prospect waiting to be explored. The southern city is home to a bustling city centre, food streets that are beginning to draw attention towards awe'll burgeoning gastronomy as well as a lush suburban landscape that serves as the perfect getaway locale.
So whether you're looking to try out endless variants of the South Korean rice roll or exploring the region's vast outdoors or marvelling to old-world shrines and pavilions, Gwangju has you covered. And all of that, without even dropping a mention of major draws include the the 5.18 Memorial Park, the National Museum and the Kia Champions Field!
Gwangju is an expansive city, but an extensive road network and the Gwangju Metro ensure that no part remains inaccessible. The hassle-free commute alpa widens your options in terms of choosing a neighborhood to stay in. But we have come with a comprehensive guide to help you make the right choice. Here, we have listed some of the top neighborhoods of Gwangju and what they might have in store for you traveler!
Although translating to the “western district”, Seo-Gu is a centrally located neighbourhood that serves as the business and administrative capital of the city. The neighborhood has undergone exponential growth in the last few years, and today, make up for the Downtown part of the city. Resultantly, it is the go-to choice for many first-time travellers flying into Gwangju.
One of the best ways to start your city tours from has to be with a trip to the government-run Asia Culture Centre; looked after by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the venue is your one stop for all the insights into the region’s vibrant culture.
Among the other major landmarks are the Gwangju World Cup Stadium, venue to 2020 FIFA World Cup matches and 2015 Summer Universiade; the National Museum, housing relics that date back to the old Joseon and Goryeo periods; and the Gwangju Culture and Art Center, a popular performance venue.
Seo-Gu also offers the perks that come along with most Downtown locales. Vast shopping districts, a seemingly-endless list of restaurants and other modern entertainment options are all in plenty so make sure you make a list of to-do things beforehand!
The neighbourhood is also home to some of the most prominent food streets, making Seo-Gu one of the best places to indulge with Gwangju’s burgeoning gastronomy. Starting from the Korean Sausages to variant of rice rolls including mayak gimbap and tteokbokki to other seafood specialties, the neighbourhood streets have you covered!
Seo-Gu is located right in the heart of Gwangju, so it is a great place for travelers looking to avoid long commutes. The Gwangju station and Gwangju Songjeong Stations of the high-speed rail Korea Train Express are the major transportation hub, and most of the neighborhood's main hotel and accommodation options are concentrated around them.
While technically still a part of the bigger Seo-Gu, the compact neighbourhood of Chipyeong-Dong definitely warrants a separate mention of its own. It is in this central subdistrict that you will find the 5.18 Memorial Park, which was built at site of the Democratic Uprising to commemorate the event.
The Memorial Park honours the memory of the people who lost their lives during the Uprising. The centrepiece sculpture stands tall in the lush 208,000m2 park and is an absolute sight to behold. It is accompanied by a cultural hall and museum outlining the events that took place during the 1995 movement.
Also in the neighbourhood, you are likely to come across a few majestic-looking Buddhist shrines. And the one spot that you do not want to miss out on is the Mugaksa Shrine, an urban temple with a traditional tea salon and a book cafe of its own! Fairly easy to find, the shrine is your best shot at experiencing a touch of what life in the region looked like during the simpler times.
As is lies in the heart of the business centre, Chipyeong-Dong is one of Gwangju’s prime locations. Access is easy as all public transport systems including a bus route running along the central thoroughfares and Gwangju Metro (with Uncheon being the closest station to the 5.18 Memorial Park). Hotel options are also in plenty and among some of the finest that the city has to offer.
Next on the list of neighbourhoods is the family-friendly Nam-Gu. Situated in the southern part of the city, the neighbourhood isn't always the top choice for a lot of travelers. But wait till you actually discover the petka of Nam-Gu, a hidden gem of sorts that will lure you in with its quaint and charming quarters, leafy avenues and stylish homes.
Small rivers and rivulets meander through the neighbourhood and are often accompaied by green spaces that offer a quick change of scenery from the largely brick-and-moratr Downtown cityscape. The parks are also the perfect venues for getting an early start to the day with morning walks or even for the most casual evening strolls.
Nam-Gu lies adjacent to the central business district so it’s not completely sans activity. There are a few university complexes in the western end of the neighbourhood and the area naturally draws in a lot of the city’s Gen Z crowds. Casual eateries and take-out joints dot all the major neighborhood streets, which come really alive in the evenings.
Nam-Gu is serviceable at the namesake metro station, along with a couple of other major stations in the vicinity. The neighborhood's location - only slightly south of Downtown/the city's central business district - makes it a great place to stay for travellers looking to avoid the city crowds without having to travel too far out.
Onto the city’s vast outdoors then! The expansive Buk-gu district - which lies in the eastern end of Gwangju - has drawn travellers to its lush natural landscape for a long time and it all starts at the foothills of the central Mount Mudeungsan.
The picturesque setting is anchored by high peaks and sweeping valleys, offering the perfect opportunity for a getaway. Several trails meander through the woods and you can choose to spend most of your days around the wilderness. You can also challenge yourself to some of the more challenging hikes at offer in the vicinity.
The mountains in and around Buk-Gu are also home to old-world pavilions and shrines that add a certain cultural and historic value to the region. Drop by the likes of the stunning Wonhyosa Temple or the Hwanbyeokdang Pavilion/Pungamjeong Pavilion and you’ll have several stunning facades that you can sit back and marvel at.
And if you can find any time to spare from the hikes and the outdoor trips, you can always find time to tour the Gwangju National Museum, known for its vast collection of relics from around the region and a section dedicated to the art of calligraphy. The Folklore Museum, which lies at a stone’s throw, is just as impressive.
Families and children also enjoy trips to some of the other major entertainment hubs including the Uchi Park Complex, its accompanying zoo and picnic grounds; Gwangju Family Land, a popular amusement park; and the Gwangju Kia Champions Field, home to the city’s pro baseball team - the Kia Tigers.
Buk-Gu is the easternmost of all the districts on the list, so it might come across as a little farther out than the other mentions. But the neighbourhood is by no means difficult to access as most public transport runs services in the locality. And given the unique location and plenty of quaint accommodation options to choose from, you might want to make that extra drive after all.
And for the last neighbourhood on the list, we bring to you the eclectic Dong-gu. Located in the southeastern corner of Gwangju, the neighbourhood brings together the natural bounties and artsy side of the city like no other.
Dong-Gu is also built around the slopes of Mount Mudeungsan and offers plenty of scenic trails and hikes. That said, the main draw around here has to be the mountain’s namesake National Park. Home to rare animal and plant species including flying squirrels, this is the place that you want to be at to be able to best appreciate the region’s diverse ecosystem.
Several Buddhist shrines - the best known amongst which are the Gwangju Yaksaam, the Jeungsimsa Temple and the Wongaksa temple - dot the trails that run throughout the mountainous terrains. Guarded by ornate gates that stand tall in the backdrop of the vast foresta, the shrines make for quite the picturesque setting. So make sure you are always on the lookout or risk missing out!
But that’s not to say that Dong-Gu has nothing to offer beyond the natural landscape. The presence of such artsy venues as the Asia Culture Centre, which hosts several exhibitions and festivals and the Gwangju Art Street, home to open-air modern art exhibits lends an alternative vibe to the neighbourhood that remains unmatched elsewhere in the city.
You can get a cab from downtown to drive you to Dong-Gu, which can be reached by taking the central thoroughfare of Nammun-ro. The Hak-dong station of the Gwangju Metro also offers easy connectivity ot the rail network. Hotels and homestays in and around Dong-gu are some of the most reasonably priced that you are likely to come across in the city, another positive to look forward to, especially for backpackers.
And that's our complete list from Gwangju. Take a look and have a great time planning your next vacation; the South Korean haven awaits!