With a population of 1.5 million people, Gwangju is South Korea's sixth largest city. While it is indeed a big city, it feels very small if you visit after spending time in Seoul. There is only 1 subway line that runs through the city, and the streets do not get nearly as congested as the ones in Seoul. It is a pleasant city to visit for a few days if you are looking for something other than Seoul yet still with the conveniences of a big city.
The Reason To Go
Gwangju provides a nice change of pace from Seoul while keeping many of the comforts that can be found in a large city. Gwangju's main claim to fame is its reputation of being a center of dissent from the rest of the country. There was a large student uprising here during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Also, a well-known protest that ended violently took place here and turned into a crucial catalyst in Korea turning into a true democracy.
Make it a point to visit the sites related to the 5.18 Uprising. Spend time learning about this sad, yet inspiring, moment in South Korea's history.
Then, balance out those solemn, studious moments with ventures out into Gwangju's great sports and outdoor recreational scene.
The Kia Tigers are the most successful team in the history of the Korean Baseball Organization, or the KBO. They have won 10 championships, most recently in 2009.
The team moved into a new stadium in 2014, and it is a superb ballpark. In many ways, it may remind visitors of newer ballparks in North America. A lot of the facilities seem to be very family-friendly oriented. For example, the seating beyond the outfield is a grassy hill that is perfect for enjoying a picnic while watching the game. Tickets are cheap, too! Many of the tickets will cost you only around 10,000 won.
Gwangju has plenty of parks in and near the city. Some of them are quite small. Some of them are dedicated to the ubiquitous 5.18 Uprising. There is even a national park---Mudeungsan National Park---right outside the city limits.
5.18 Memorial Park
This scenic park in the middle of the city has several sculptures, monuments, and buildings dedicated to the 5.18 Uprising.
Bamboo Forest (Damyang)
A bamboo forest is about 45 minutes north of Gwangju. It is a great place to visit during the day or in the evenings.
After visiting the Bamboo Forest, rent a bike and cycle over to Garusu-gil. This scenic stretch of road has made several television appearances.
This river links the Bamboo Forest with Garusu-gil. Biking trails make exploring this scenic stretch of water very easy.
Pungam Lake Park
Pungam Lake Park is near Gwangju's World Cup Stadium. There is a nice walking trail that loops around the lake.
Gwangju Lake Ecological Park
This scenic spot is hard to get to without a car. If you do have a car, head here in the morning for a very peaceful experience.
How To Get There
The quickest way to get to Gwangju from Seoul is by high-speed train. The KTX takes about 1 1/2 hours. Tickets are about 50,000 won.
Buses also run regularly to and from Gwangju. Riding a bus takes about 3-4 hours on average and the fare is around 20,000-30,000 won.
Where To Sleep
Gwangju is fairly compact. There is only one subway line that runs through the city. Stay anywhere near the subway line between Kim Daejung Convention Center Station and Namgwangju Station, and you should be fine.
Where To Eat & Drink
The area in front of Joseon University is a bit of a younger and more lively area. There are plenty of restaurants and various night spots.
See the Gwangju Photo Album to see more pictures of the area.