Gwangju Travel Guide: What To Do and Must-Visit Attractions

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Are you planning a trip through South Korea and wondering whether you should stop in Gwangju?

Gwangju is distinguished not only by its culture and landscapes but also by tragedy. While this picturesque location is surrounded by gorgeous mountains and is recognized for its exquisite temples, this place hasn’t always been so peaceful. After all, its people bled for democracy in the 1980s. 

Gwangju is thus a must-see for anybody curious about how South Korea developed a vibrant democracy.

Continue reading to learn more about what to do in Gwangju including some popular tourist activities to try, what Gwangju is known for, as well as the top 3 places to stay during your trip and more.

What To Do in Gwangju?

Gwangju, located in South Jeolla Province, is an art and fashion-conscious city known for doing things their own way. 

That mindset has existed since the Gwangju Uprising of May 1980, when a push for democracy by the people was savagely crushed by the South Korean military. 

However, the people fought back.

As a result, this city now reflects and honors those who bleed for South Korea’s independence. 

Today, Gwangju has many popular attractions, including Gwangju National Museum, Gwangju Museum of Art, the May 18th National Cemetery, and the Asia Culture Center (ACC), making it well worth a visit. 

What Are Some Popular Tourist Activities in Gwangju?

The Gwangju National Museum

On December 6, 1978, the Gwangju National Museum was opened with the goals of advancing cultural development and fostering patriotism. 

The Gwangju National Museum’s mission is to preserve cultural values through the gathering and preservation of historically significant artifacts discovered in the Gwangju and Jeollanam-do regions, as well as to serve the community by conducting ongoing research and providing educational opportunities.

With more than 130,000 objects and a range of educational and hands-on activities, the museum aspires to be a fun cultural destination for both tourists and residents alike. 

This destination is also known to have kid-friendly attractions, so your little ones won’t feel bored while you learn more about South Korea’s rich historical past.

Gwangju Museum of Art

The Gwangju Museum of Art initially opened its doors among public art museums in Korea in 1992 to foster the development of local culture and art. 

The main building houses six exhibition rooms, a children’s art museum, a cultural center, a library, a seminar room, an outdoor performance venue, and a cafe.

The May 18th National Cemetery

In Gwangju, the May 18th National Cemetery is a representation of liberty and democracy. Seven buildings, several monuments, and 764 graves of the uprising victims can be found at the cemetery.

The Gwangju revolt was sparked by student demonstrations calling for democracy, which were comparable to but less violent than the Tiananmen Square tragedy.

Unfortunately, the total number of deaths still remains unconfirmed to this day.

The cemetery where the victims had originally been interred is also accessible after a brief stroll through the memorial garden. 

If you choose to venture through to this area, remember that it is considered sacred to the local people and respect must be shown.

The Asia Culture Center (ACC)

The Asia Culture Center (ACC) is an international art and cultural exchange organization that creates fresh, forward-thinking outcomes by combining Asia’s past and current arts and culture with new innovative ideas and concepts.

Based on the context of artistically sublimating the importance of the May 18th Democratic Movement’s human rights and peace.

The ACC is a Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism affiliated institution established to advance mutual understanding and cooperative growth with various Asian countries through education, exchange, research, and other Asian culture-related efforts.

The Gwangju National Science Museum

In order to promote science, the Gwangju National Science Museum opened its doors to both locals and visitors in 2013. 

The museum, which features a spaceship-like exterior, is devoted to science. 

Many of the exhibits have interactive components that allow visitors to utilize their imaginations to learn more about their scientific understanding.

Sajik Park

The former location of the Sajikdan Altar, a place of ceremonial prayer for harmony and prosperity during the Three Kingdoms Period, is now home to Sajik Park. 

Overall, the park has become a popular place for Gwangju residents to relax. 

Beautifully planted with a variety of trees and flower gardens, Sajik Park blooms pink and white with cherry blossoms every year in mid-April. 

During this season, the city of Gwangju sets lighting in the trees so that residents and tourists can also enjoy the flowers till late at night.

There are various playgrounds in the park, as well as sculptures of Sin Saimdang, Hwanghakjeong, Yi I, and the Municipal Children’s Library. 

Dangun Shrine and the Jongno Library are also located within walking distance.

Daein Market

Daein Market in Gwangju is a fantastic illustration of the adjustments that traditional markets have undergone to be relevant in the contemporary day. 

The market, which served as the neighborhood hub for all daily necessities before major marts arrived in the mid-1990s, started to lose a lot of its appeal. 

Since there was no longer any business, several stores started to close.

Nevertheless, the Gwangju Biennale in 2008 brought about a market recovery. 

A distinct art market was developed as a result of the rental of many of the available business premises to hold small art exhibits. 

Today, the market still has a strong bond with the art that rescued it, and the traders and artists coexist peacefully and productively. 

The market’s weekly night markets, held every Saturday, also generate a lot of attention from the local community.

The Mudeungsan Jeungsimsa Temple

The principal temple of Gwangju is called Jeungsimsa Temple, and it is located in the bottom western parts of Mudeungsan Mountain. 

One of the city’s finest and most well-known temples is this one. As a result, visitors from all around the world flock to this temple.

This structure features a single-story roof and sides that are cut perpendicularly, with three parts on the front and three on the sides. 

The structure used to have double eaves with ornamentation in the shape of ox tongues, and pillars were built on stylobates stacked with rough stones.

They were destroyed in one of the many fires to take place at the temple.

Gwangju Lake Eco Park

Gwangju Lake is an ecological park made up of numerous themed sections, including a wetland by the lake, a grass relaxation area, a natural observation garden, and an ecological learning field. 

The commute for residents is only approximately 30 minutes from downtown Gwangju. Since it was opened in March 2006,

It has served primarily as an area for locals to relax and learn about natural ecosystems.

More than 170,000 wildflowers, including rhododendron, forsythia, rose, rhododendron, and hydrangea, can be seen in the floral region. 

Along with the 3000 different tree species, at Lake Eco Park, visitors can also learn about how birds hatch and grow.

Where to Stay in Gwangju? 

Seo-Gu

Seo-Gu, which translates to “western district,” is a centrally located neighborhood in Gwangju that serves as the city’s commercial and administrative hub. 

The neighborhood has grown significantly in recent years and now compensates for more than just the city’s Downtown. 

As a result, Seo-Gu is presently regarded the most popular neighborhood to stay in for many first-time visitors to Gwangju due to its close proximity to transportation and most of the major tourist attractions.

For example, vast retail districts, an apparently infinite number of restaurants, and other modern entertainment alternatives are all available in this area, so prepare a list of things to do ahead of time!

Buk-Gu

Travelers have long been drawn to the large Buk-gu district in Gwangju’s eastern region for its rich natural beauty, which begins at the slopes of the mountain’s central Mount Mudeungsan.

The gorgeous landscape of Buk-Gu is anchored by towering peaks and broad valleys, making it ideal for a retreat. Several trails also wind through the woods. 

The mountains in and surrounding Buk-Gu also include old-world pavilions and shrines, which provide cultural and historical importance to the area.

Nam-Gu

Consider the kid-friendly Nam-Gu if you’re traveling with children. 

The Petka of Nam-Gu, a hidden treasure that will entice you with its tiny and attractive quarters, lush avenues, and stylish residences

It’s located in the southern part of the city and isn’t often the neighborhood of choice for many tourists.

The neighborhood is also home to a few small rivers and rivulets, many of which are accompanied by green areas that provide a rapid change of scenery from the primarily brick-and-mortar Downtown cityscape.

The parks are also the ideal locations for taking evening strolls or even morning strolls to start the day off early.

Nam-Gu is located near the core business center; therefore, it is not totally devoid of activity. 

All of the major neighborhood streets are lined with casual cafes and take-out restaurants, which come alive at night.

What is Gwangju Known For? 

The Gwangju Massacre of May 1980

A crucial stage in South Korea’s fight for democracy was the Gwangju Uprising of May 18–27, 1980. 

During this massacre, the people of Gwangju participated in a violent resistance against the martial government of Chun Doo-hwa.

Who had taken power in a coup, after protesting teenagers were brutally beaten by soldiers.

Overall, the final death toll of the event is still highly contested, although, most scholarly estimates put it at over 1,000. 

Although it would take another seven or more years for South Korea to have its first democratic presidential election, the uproar caused by the episode planted the roots for Chun’s collapse. 

Unfortunately, the Chun administration hid and misrepresented the reality of what had occurred in Gwangju from the beginning. 

Thus, the South Korean democracy activists who worked diligently and in great personal danger to record what transpired during the revolt and slaughter of May 1980 are largely responsible for the legacy of the Gwangju Uprising.

The Temples of Gwangju

Gwangju is home to a considerable about of beautiful temples and shrines. 

The Jeungsimsa Temple is located at the western foothills of Mudeungsan Mountain, and is considered the representative temple of Gwangju.

The temple was constructed in 517 by Buddhist monk Cheolgamseonsa Do Yun and then modified by Buddhist monk Hyesoguksa in 1094 and Kim Bang in 1443.

The temple was also destroyed during the Imjin War and rebuilt in 1609 by three Buddhist monks named Seokgyeong, Sujang, and Dogwang. 

It was restored several times again before being destroyed by fire during the Korean War.

Despite the fact that its original form was destroyed during the Korean War.

Jeungsimsa Temple is symbolic of all temples in the Gwangju region owing to its vital role in Korean history and its proximity to the gorgeous Mudeungsan Mountain.

Gwangju Is Considered An Excellent Family-Friendly Destination

Family vacations are one of the best times to bond with your partner and family, so selecting a vacation destination that meets everyone’s requirements is critical.

Fortunately, Gwangju has numerous attractions for amazing family vacations, with a blend of novelty, nostalgia, and delectable Korean cuisine to suit everyone in your family, regardless of your age gap. 

Gwangju Lake Eco Park, for example, is a terrific family-friendly day-time activity where the kids can play and explore while the adults can sit back and relax.

Final Thoughts

Gwangju is known for not only its deep-rooted Korean culture, but picturesque landscapes, family-friendly attractions, and, unfortunately, a tragic past. 

Although this attractive area is encircled by stunning mountains and is known for its exquisite temples, it wasn’t always this tranquil. 

After all, in the 1980s, its citizens shed blood for democracy.

This city today honors and represents those who shed blood for South Korea’s democracy. 

Today, Gwangju is home to a number of well-known attractions, including the Asia Culture Center (ACC), Gwangju National Museum, Gwangju Museum of Art, and the May 18th National Cemetery.

Fortunately, Gwangju also offers a wide range of family-friendly activities that will appeal to visitors of all ages. 

These attractions combine nostalgia, novelty, and mouthwatering Korean food that you won’t be able to experience anywhere else.

About The Author

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Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul over 4 years and during that time, he has experienced a lot of the city's quirks and charms. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others who are interested in learning more about South Korea.

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