Header image courtesy of Dae Jang Geum Park
As with any other television show, K-dramas make us feel all sorts of emotions, but possibly the hardest to move on from is the strong sense of wanderlust they give our travel-hungry souls. In this day and age, where itineraries are increasingly being crafted as pilgrimages to popular filming locations, our bucket lists inevitably become dominated by places we thought only exist on the small screen. While the world is still on pause, we make waiting for your next South Korean adventure a little more bearable with five local destinations that played a crucial role in your favourite K-dramas of the year. Warning: K-drama spoilers ahead!
Perhaps the most iconic scene from Crash Landing on You, a phenomenal television series that swept the world away, is the paragliding accident that literally inspired the drama title. A conglomerate heiress (Son Ye-jin) finds herself at the Korean Demilitarised Zone, in a chance encounter with a North Korean army captain (Hyun Bin) after an unexpected tornado sets her off-course. But unknown to many, the rainforest happens to be nowhere near the North Korean territory.
It is actually set at the Hallasan National Park (한라산국립공원) in Jeju Island (제주도), a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Natural Heritage Site surrounding Mount Hallasan, the highest point in South Korea. If you’re up for an adventure, tackle one of its two hiking trails that take you to the summit, where the mountain’s crater lake sits. Be prepared for sudden drops in temperature as you reach higher elevations, and pace yourself to keep to the strict ascending and descending times along the trails. The climb’s difficulty can vary depending on the season, but the flourishing scenery never gets old no matter what time of year!
Hallasan National Park (한라산국립공원), 2070-61, 1100-ro, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
Disguised as the passageway to a parallel universe, Ahopsan Forest (아홉산숲) is one of the main filming locations of The King: Eternal Monarch. A modern-day emperor (Lee Min-ho) of a fictional kingdom is frequently shown riding his majestic white stallion through the forest, but the most memorable scene involves a feisty detective (Kim Go-eun), whom he believes to be his saviour. In an effort to convince her that the two worlds exist, the emperor brings her along through the mysterious portal for the first time.
The privately-owned Ahopsan Forest in Busan (부산시) has been kept away from the public for about 400 years, which explains why, despite the threats of world wars and invasions, it remains a well-preserved natural beauty. Journey through the nine mountains, where its name is derived, as you stroll along paths densely lined by towering bamboo stalks. Aside from being home to protected trees, the forest also features an abundance of wildlife, and you’re most likely to come across an animal or two during your visit.
Ahopsan Forest (아홉산숲), 37-1, Midong-gil, Cheolma-myeon, Gijang-gun, Busan, South Korea
Where does one go when life gets too hard and happiness seems so far away? The answer can be found in It’s Okay to Not be Okay, a psychological drama that brings to light the struggles with mental illnesses, traumatic pasts, and emotional healing. On one instance, an orphaned caretaker at a psychiatric ward (Kim Soo-hyun) decides to embrace freedom by impulsively taking a nature trip with a famous children’s book author suffering from an antisocial personality disorder (Seo Ye-ji).
The place he has always wanted to visit is none other than the Sogeumsan Suspension Bridge (소금산출렁다리) in Wonju (원주시), the longest and largest pedestrian bridge in the country. Built with a latticed steel walkway, it connects two mountain peaks between a distance of 200 metres. This hanging bridge is definitely not for the fainthearted—you may feel it slightly swaying with the wind, especially when loaded with hundreds of other tourists, but the 360-degree views should be enough to keep you going. Alternatively, you may appreciate the surrounding landscape from the Salt Mountain Skywalk situated right next to the bridge.
Sogeumsan Suspension Bridge (소금산출렁다리), 12, Sogeumsan-gil, Jijeong-myeon, Wonju-si, Gangwon-do, South Korea
Mystic Pop-up Bar is a webtoon-based fantasy drama that presents a rather unique perspective to the concept of the afterlife and reincarnation. The story begins some 500 years ago when a young girl with dream-catching powers is called to cure a crown prince haunted by vengeful spirits. Their paths cross again in the present, now reborn as the owner (Hwang Jung-eum) and manager (Choi Won-young), respectively, of a mysterious pojangmacha (a South Korean commercial establishment based out of a small tent).
There is no more fitting location to recreate the Royal Palace than at the Dae Jang Geum Park (용인 대장금 파크), an outdoor film set in Gyeonggi Province (경기도) that features life-size replicas of traditional buildings from South Korea’s earlier dynastic kingdoms. If you are one to binge-watch historical dramas, it might be worth your while travelling out of Seoul for this immersive experience. Don’t pass up the opportunity to wear royal costumes, and take photographs not only against drama backgrounds, but also alongside cardboard cut-outs of your favourite leading actors!
Dae Jang Geum Park (용인 대장금 파크), 25, Yongcheon Drama-gil, Baegam-myeon, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
Seoul’s ancient city wall seems to have been a silent witness to confessions of love in Itaewon Class, another webtoon-based drama that follows the revenge of an ex-prisoner (Park Seo-joon) against the father-son duo behind a large food corporation. He once bared his heart and soul to his long-time love (Kwon Na-ra) as they were walking the paths, but in a complex turn of events, he is finally able to acknowledge his true feelings for his pub manager (Kim Da-mi) at the exact same place.
Surrounding the present-day capital, Hanyangdoseong (서울 한양도성; the Seoul City Wall) runs 18.6 kilometres along the ranges of the Bugaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan mountains. The historic fortress, predominantly made of stone, was built as a line of defence against invaders, and thus incorporates rising slopes that now double as windows to panoramic city views. For a scenic hike, especially at night, we recommend that you take the Namsan Mountain trail, so you can witness the N Seoul Tower light up the sky from a distance. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes—the trek can be as tiring as it is rewarding!
Seoul City Wall, 622-83, Changsin-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea