When you think about South Korea, palm trees and beaches probably aren’t the first thing to pop into your head. But that’s exactly what you’ll find on Jeju Island – here’s your need-to-know guide.
Jeju is famed for many things: its volcanic geography means that natural wonders are commonplace; its warm climate lends itself well to outdoor activities; and the majestic Mount Hallasan is worth a visit in itself. But above all else, people come here for the coastline. Here, clear turquoise waves lap over stretches of white sand, or crash into spectacular lava rock formations creating plumes of spray. It’s no surprise that one of Jeju’s biggest draws is its beautiful beaches.
A circular coastal road runs around the whole island, meaning that beaches are all accessible by car, bike or public transport (with fantastic views along the way). The trickiest part? Deciding which one to visit.
Let this guide to Jeju’s best beaches help you with that decision.
For some of the best beach views anywhere on Jeju, head to Hyeopjae. This is one of the island’s most famous beaches, with long white-sand shores which stretch out for miles at low tide. In the distance, Biyangdo Island rises steeply from the cobalt-coloured ocean, covered in trees and greenery. During the summer months, Hyeopjae is popular with families and swimmers, as its waters are very clear (even for Jeju!) .You can get here on bus number 202, which takes around 1 hour 30 minutes from Jeju Intercity Bus Station. Don’t miss neighbouring Geumneung Beach (just as pretty, but often a little quieter) and Hallim Park, a popular attraction with scenic gardens, unusual plants and a folk village.
If you’re staying in Jeju City, one of the closest beaches is Hamdeok. You can get here on bus number 201, which takes just over half an hour from Jeju Intercity Bus Station. This is a popular place to rent a kayak and paddle out over the waves. When the tide goes out, you can explore Hamdeok’s black lava rock pools. Spend the whole day here and, when night falls, the beach and nearby buildings are illuminated. If you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s also home to plenty of sea-view restaurants.
While Jungmun Saekdal Beach is just a few minutes’ walk away from the rest of Jungmun Tourist Complex, its location at the bottom of a tall cliff makes it feel much more secluded. It’s one of the best places to surf on the island – as you’ll see from the number of surfers in the water any time from June to October, when the waves are most reliable. Rent a board on the beach to ride the waves yourself. You’ll find the Grand Hyatt hotel – and its unique chapel, made famous in the K-dramaBoys Over Flowers – perched above the beach. You don’t need to be a guest to stroll through the grounds. Jungmun is an hour and 20 minutes’ ride from Jeju Airport on the number 600 bus.
Just along the coast from Aewol’s cafes, Gwakji Gwamul Beach is a local favourite. Although it can be busy at the peak of summer, its white sand shores are usually much quieter in low seasons. The long beach is broken up by sculptures carved out of the island’s volcanic rock and scenic rocky outcrops that are covered in dark seaweed. However, Gwakji’s most unique feature is its open-air bath – also built from volcanic stone, and split into male and female sections. Gwakji Gwamul Beach is a one hour bus ride on the 202 from Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal.
Wondering why Jeju’s beaches are white and golden, when the island is covered in black volcanic rock? Most beaches on the main island are made from crushed seashells, which creates soft white sand. At Geommeolle, the sand is made from finely ground rocks, infused with trace minerals like quartz which catch the light. Its dark hue is striking both on land and under the waves, where it deepens the colour of the ocean. To get to Geommeolle from Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take the 201 bus to Seongsan Ilchulbong (just under two hours’ journey), then a boat to Udo Island (15 minutes’ ride).
Another beach with sparkling turquoise water and astoundingly white sand shores, Woljeongri is a popular swimming location. It’s also home to stylish beachfront cafes – one of the first was Will Be A Whale, which set the bar high with a large whale sculpture rising into the sky. Jeju is prone to rain; in August, the island’s wettest month, you can expect an average of 13 rainy days, but Woljeongri’s cosy cafes let you make the most of bad weather. From Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, the 201 bus takes just over an hour to get to Woljeongri.
This one is exactly as it sounds: Iho Tewoo Beach has two impressive lighthouses, one in the shape of a red horse and one in the shape of a white horse. Horses have been important to Jeju for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, so these lighthouses are an iconic sight (and popular selfie spot). In the summer, you can swim and take boat rides here. Iho Tewoo is close enough to Jeju that visitors have a choice of buses to ride: expect the journey to take around an hour.
Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak aside, Pyoseon Haevichi Beach is one of the best places to catch the sunrise in Jeju. It’s a large, circular sweep of sand facing east and lapped by clear waves. Even at high tide the water level remains fairly shallow, making this beach very safe for children to play in. Whether you depart from Jeju City or Seogwipo, getting to Pyoseon will require changing buses somewhere in the middle, and will take approximately an hour and a half. Pyoseon Beach is within walking distance of Pyoseon Lighthouse, Jeju Folk Village and two Buddhist temples.