8 ways to experience Tongyeong, South Korea's coastal gateway

Story highlights

  • Tongyeong is located on South Korea's southern coast
  • Part of the Hallyeo Maritime National Park, it's a popular weekend destination for South Koreans
  • The city is a great base for those wanting to explore the nearby islands

(CNN)The city of Tongyeong, located on South Korea's southern coast, is a popular weekend getaway destination for Koreans year-round.

Its lures?
    Fresh seafood, picturesque seascapes and quaint fishing village charm.
    Part of the Hallyeohaesang National Park, this hilly city serves as a base for exploring the nearby islands.
    It's easily reached by express bus -- a four-hour ride from Seoul or an hour from Busan, Korea's second-largest city.
    Showing off the pristine coastal charms of South Korea, it's the perfect place to kick off an island-hopping journey.

    1. Gangguan Port

    Most of Tongyeong's traditional markets, restaurants and shops are located in and around Gangguan Port.
    Dusk is a great time to take in the lively vibe of this fishing port.
    Once the sun starts to go down, the evening lights illuminate the area and nearby fish markets and restaurants come alive to prepare for the dinner rush.

    2. Traditional fish markets

    For the freshest catch of the day head to Jungang Traditional Market, located across the street from Gangguan Port.
    It's lined with stalls that kick things off in the afternoon and stay busy well into the evening.
    You can pick out your own fish, which will be cleaned on the spot.
    For a small fee, diners can grab a table nearby and enjoy a traditional Korean raw fish meal. The price includes a spread of condiments, such as dipping sauces, and greens for vegetable wraps.
    For early risers, Seoho Traditional Market is bustling at dawn.
    This is the place to enjoy shirakguk, a hearty radish leaf soup and rice eaten by local fishermen and fishmongers for breakfast.
    You'll find fresh fish at both markets, although the smaller Seoho Market has a bigger selection of dried seafood.

    3. Dongpirang Village

    Dongpirang: A village saved by art.
    When this hillside working-class village behind the Jungang Traditional Market was marked for demolition back in 2007, art students were commissioned to take matters into their own hands.
    This village was soon filled with beautiful wall murals -- too beautiful to tear down.
    It's since become hugely popular and is packed with tourists on weekends.
    The tight alleyways are filled with colorful, quirky murals, sculptures and art studios.
    There are cozy cafes at the top of the village offering views of Gangguan Port.
    Korean drama fan? The village was used as a set in "Padam Padam" and "The Innocent Man."

    4. Mireuksan Mountain

    For a stunning 360-degree view of Tongyeong and Hallyeohaesang National Park, which is dotted with islets, take a 10-minute cable car ride up to the top of Mireuksan Mountain.
    There are different viewing points.
    During the summer months, it's a popular destination to take in the area's golden sunsets.
    After you return to the foot of Mireuksan Mountain, it's worth visiting Donghwasa Temple.
    Originally built in 632, it was reconstructed several times in the 19th century after being destroyed by avalanche and fire.

    5. Jeon Hyuck Lim Museum of Art

    Tongyeong is home to some of South Korea's most famous contemporary artists, including novelist Pak Kyongni, poet Yu Chi-hwan and composer Isang Yun.
    From the foot of Mireuksan Mountain, a five-minute walk takes you to the private art museum of painter Jeon Hyuck Lim (1916-2010), a celebrated Tongyeong artist referred to as "magician of colors, painter of the sea."
    The museum was built on the grounds of the painter's house, where he lived for 30 years.
    It's covered in 7,500 ceramic tiles featuring motifs of works by Jeon Hyuck Lim and his son.

    6. Island hopping -- on foot?

    To truly appreciate the beauty of Hallyeohaesang National Park's marine ecosystem, visit one of the nearby islands.
    Somaemuldo Island, a 1.5-hour ferry ride from Tongyeong Ferry Terminal, is famous for its striking seascape views.
    There's a coastal hiking path that leads to its tiny neighbor, Deungdaeseom Island (Lighthouse Island).
    But there's a catch.
    The 150-meter-long trail appears for only for a few hours, twice a day, when the tides ebb.
    Other nearby islands worth visiting include Bijindo, Jangsado and Hansando.
    Pro tip: Visit the ferry terminal the day before your trip to check the schedule as it changes daily due to weather conditions.

    7. Yi Sun-Sin Park

    Admiral Yi Sun-sin's monument.
    Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598), who led battles against the Japanese navy to victory on the Korean peninsula's southern coast, is a highly respected national hero.
    Tributes to Admiral Yi are found everywhere in Tongyeong and surrounding areas, from shrines to shops named in his honor. There's even a replica of his turtle battle ship in Gangguan Port.
    Yi Sun-sin Park is worth a visit for anyone who enjoys beautiful coastal views -- there's a nice walking path -- or has an interest in Korean history.
    Admiral Yi Sun-sin's monument is located a short but steep walk from the parking lot.

    8. The flavors of Tongyeong

    In addition to that aforementioned raw fish market meal, there are plenty of restaurants serving local specialties such as sea squirt (meonggae) bibimbap, grilled fish and spicy hairtail stew -- all served with sides of seasonal, local produce and seafood.
    If you're taking an early morning ferry to a nearby island pick up some chungmu kimbap -- mini rice rolls wrapped in seaweed with a side serving of spicy calamari salad and big chunks of radish kimchi.
    This local specialty is found in about a dozen shops by the ferry terminal.
    Lucky enough to be in Tongyeong with a group of people who can hold their drink? Try the "dajji" style of dinner.
    You pay a set price per person for beer and soju, which comes with an array of fresh seafood and side dishes.
    Need a sweet treat? Try ggulbbang, a local specialty. It's basically "honey bread" -- doughnuts dipped in syrup and filled with a sweet paste of red beans, peas, yuzu or sweet potato.