Jeonju is a slow city in South Korea that was named a UNESCO city for Gastronomy in 2012 (that may be 10 years ago now, but it’s still relevant). The name Jeonju literally means “Perfect Region” (from the old style of Korean writing Hanja 全 (전; jeon) for perfect, 州 (주; ju) for region).
It’s definitely not a well-known destination to visit if you’re on a short trip to Korea as a tourist, but if you have the time I would definitely put it on your list. The Jeonju Hanok Village is probably the most famous part of Jeonju, it’s a traditional-style village housing over 800 traditional “hanok” style buildings. Here are 6 things that you must do in Jeonju.
#1 Eat Bibimbap
Bibimbap is a Korean rice dish that is definitely on your radar if you know anything about Korean food. Jeonju is most the famous place for Bibimbap in Korea. Here it’s usually topped with quality Jeonju soy bean sprouts, hwangpo-muk (yellow mung bean jelly), gochujang (chilli pepper paste), jeopjang (fermented soy sauce), and seasoned raw beef topped with a raw egg yolk.
I tried this in a restaurant called Gogung, which is usually the place to go in Jeonju to eat bibimbap. It was good, and I would recommend that you also order the seafood pancake and some Makgeolli to go with it.
#2 Pedal a Rail Bike at Jeonju Rail Bike
This was a lot of fun, but also more of a workout for your legs than a leisurely activity. It costs ₩20,000 ($16, €14, £13) for two people to pedal a 4-seater railbike. The course is on an old railroad and it takes 30 minutes to complete. Do be aware that there are certain time slots for it throughout the day. So if you arrive just after a slot has passed, you may have to wait 40 minutes for the next time slot.
#3 Drink Makgeolli
Makgeolli is Korean rice wine, which looks milky, it tastes slightly sweet, tangy, and bitter. Chalky sediment gives it a cloudy appearance. It has been referred to as Korean Buckfast (Buckfast is a popular tonic wine if you don’t know). In Jeonju, there are lots of Makgeolli bars where you can get it served in a ridiculously large kettle, and you drink it from a metal bowl. I tried a bar called Yetchon Makgeolli, where you can order a kettle and some delicious food to eat alongside.
#4 Get some gelato in Cafe Tomorrow
Gelato isn’t something that is known to be Korean but this café was somewhere that we found, and it had amazing views and great gelato. It serves coffee, beer, cake and gelato. So I would recommend you walk up the tiny spiral stairs, grab a seat and look out at all the beautiful roofs of the hanok village. You won’t be disappointed by the panoramic view and the delicious ice cream.
#5 Stay in a Hanok Guesthouse
This is a must-do when in Jeonju. These traditional-style houses or Hanoks, are equipped with ondol (an underfloor heating system), which means that you sleep on the floor, on a specially designed mat. This might not seem luxurious, or something that you would want when staying in a guesthouse, but it’s surprisingly comforting. If it’s wintertime, it’s especially nice and cozy. Below is a nice affordable Hanok Guesthouse to stay in, it’s in a great location within walking distance of everything.
#6 Try the chocolate cake in O’s Gallery Café
This is another extremely specific food suggestion, and this place is technically not directly in Jeonju. O’s Gallery is a gorgeous, aesthetic art gallery and café a few km outside of Jeonju, but the chocolate cake is worth the trip. Do you ever just have a cake, or coffee or something that’s just so delicious that you spend days/weeks/months/years thinking about it? And you don’t know why it’s so good but at the time it was just hitting different.
Well, the chocolate cake in O’s Gallery is just one of those things. This café is super nice and boujee, concrete walls, abstract art, and a beautiful view of a reservoir. What’s not to like? Go here, order the cake and let me know if it’s as good as I thought it was.