Ulleung-do: A Guide To The Secret Island You NEED To Visit In South Korea

Set 120 kilometers off the eastern coast of South Korea, Ulleung-do, or Ulleung Island, is about as off the beaten path in Korea as you can get. While plenty of people know of the island, it’s not the easiest place to get to and many people just don’t have the time… and you’ll need some time. If you do get to this remote island, you’ll be delighted with karsts rising from the emerald blue seas, towering lush green mountains and island life rarely seen in Korea. Brave the erratic weather that surrounds the secret island and you will be rewarded with views for days and a calmness seldom felt in this fast paced country.Canola Flower Field, Ulleung-do, Korea: Hallie BradleyOften called the “mysterious island”, Ulleung-do is a trip that most Koreans wish they could take at some point in their lives. With only a tiny amount of information online in English, it means foreigners hoping to go there need to travel with some flexibility and just a bit of whimsy. You’ll have to use multiple modes of transport including a bus or a train and a ferry. As soon as you peer through the windows of the boat and finally see land after a three hour ferry ride, it’s just cliffs and peaks and you might wonder how people could possibly live on these rocky shorelines. But people do.

Quick History: Archeological evidence suggests the island has been inhabited since the 1st millennium BC. In Korean history, the first references were made to the island in 512 when the Silla general Kim Isabu conquered the island which had previously been an autonomous nation. Due to being so remote, the island was quite difficult for the rulers of yore to hold on to and suffered various calamities including devastation due to pirate raids in the 11th and 14th centuries. Finally during the Joseon Dynasty, leaders sought an “empty island” policy but it was impossible to enforce and the edict was officially rescinded in 1881 at which point the government completely flipped the narrative and decided to encourage further settlement and development of the island. Today, the island has around 10,500 residents and due to the isolation and remoteness, they’re all quite kind and helpful when they notice tourists walking, biking, or just generally lost and wandering. It’s an island worth getting lost… and then found on again.Ulleung-do, Korea(This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a certain percentage of a sale if you purchase after clicking at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.)


HOW TO GET THERE


There are no airports on the island as planes wouldn’t be able to land with such high winds, so the only way to and from the island is via ferry. There are four ferry ports that have departures to Ulleung-do. Tickets can be booked online unfortunately the websites are only available in Korean. Departure times can change so make sure your other modes of transport to arrive at the ports are flexible. If you need help booking anything on the island, check into using the concierge service Wonderful that is super helpful for tourists in Korea. Our ship was set to depart at 9:50am, but due to high winds was changed to 8:50am. This meant the KTX ticket I had booked from Seoul to Pohang also needed to be canceled and rebooked so just keep in mind that you need to be ready for adjustments. Fortunately, we did find out a few days in advance of the update time so we also had time to change the train we’d booked. Like I said, travel to and from Ulleung-do is not always easy but it’s always worth it.Ulleung-do, Korea

  • Pohang Port
    • Ships include:
      • The Sun Flower which arrives at Dodong Port and takes 3 hours and 10 minutes. Note: The Sun Flower is the only car ferry that allows you to travel with your own transport vehicle.
        • Serviced by Daezer Marine Corporation: www.daezer.com
      • The Sun Rise which arrives at Jeodong Port and takes 3 hours and 30 minutes.
        • Serviced by Daezer Marine Corporation: www.daezer.com
      • The Wuri Nuri 1 which arrives at Sadong Port from April through November and then Jeodong Port from November through March and takes 3 hours and 20 minutes.
        • Serviced by Taesung Marine Corportation: www.tssc.co.kr
  • Gangneung Port
    • Ships include:
      • The Sea Star 5 which arrives at Jeodong Port and takes 3 hours.
        • Serviced by Sea Spovill: www.seaspovill.co.kr
      • The Sea Star 11 which arrives at Jeodong Port and takes 3 hours.
        • Serviced by Sea Spovill: www.seaspovill.co.kr
  • Mukho Port
    • Ships include:
      • The Sea Star 1 which arrives at Sadong Port and takes 3 hours.
        • Serviced by Sea Spovill: www.seaspovill.co.kr
      • The Sea Star 3 which arrives at Dodong Port and takes 3 hours and 30 minutes.
        • Serviced by Sea Spovill: www.seaspovill.co.kr
  • Hupo Port
    • Ships include:
      • The Sea Flower which arrives at Sadong Port and takes 2 hours and 20 minutes.
        • Serviced by JH Ferry: www.jhferry.com

WEATHER NOTES: Ferries to and from Ulleung-do are highly effected by the weather and ferries may be cancelled for days at a time. This is not an exaggeration. It is important to check the weather before and during travel. A 2 day, one night trip can turn into a week if a storm strikes. The locals are always hyper aware of the weather so if they tell you a storm is coming and ask if you want to leave, take the ferry. Unless you have the time, then spend the week! There are no airplanes to or from the island so there is no backup plan should ferries cease travel. I noticed that somehow everyone just seemed to know that a bad storm was coming our way when we were there. While the foreigners in our group received no sort of indication or message, everyone on the island seemed to know. So, ask your hosts, concierge, and locals you meet because they’ll definitely have all of the deets.

Jeodonghang, Ulleung-do, KoreaSEA SICKNESS: The ocean can be extremely choppy on the routes to and from the island so be prepared with medicine. You can also purchase some in the ferry terminal should you forget to prepare any. We took the Sunrise, a small boat, out to the island and only my will to make myself sleep throughout the journey kept me from puking. In our group of travelers, more than half hurled on the ship and the crew very promptly passes out barf bags as soon as you set sail so they’re obviously prepared for the mess about to ensue. Take one! On the way back, we took the larger ship which still had some rocky bits, but was FAR BETTER. Try to get the larger ship if possible.


GETTING AROUND


Stop into the tourist information booth as soon as you get to the dock to get up-to-date information about the local buses which link the two main parts of the island called Dodong and Jeodong. The buses are punctual and stop at the popular attractions. The buses on the island DO stop running earlier than they do on the mainland, so be sure to check schedules vigilantly. I’d also recommend getting the business card or phone number of a local taxi driver should the need arise. Taxis can easily be hailed at Dodong and Jeodong. Should you want to take a taxi around the island for the day, expect to pay about W90,000. The taxi drivers know when the ships arrive and are waiting at the docks, so as soon as you rock up whether you’ll be taking one or not, ask for a phone number for later use.


WHERE TO STAY


Absolutely book a place to stay before you go to the island. While there are various pensions around that you could probably walk into and just get a room, I wouldn’t depend on that. If you don’t book something and then can’t find a spot, you won’t be able to just turn around, so be prepared. There are various festivals throughout the year and holiday weekends tend to be busier than others, so definitely book something. Most of the places on the island either don’t have a website or only have a Korean website that you need to use Internet Explorer to book through, but here are some options that I found on Booking.com that will make the process very smooth:

Daea Ulleung Resort, Ulleung-do, KoreaDaea Ulleung Resort: Located on the southeastern end of Ulleung-do, Daea Ulleung Resort offers ondol-style, or Korean sleeping on the floor style, guestrooms as well as western style with beds. The resort provides 24 hour front desk services. The property is one of the top-rated spots to stay.

La Perouse Resort, Ulleung-do, KoreaLa Perouse Resort: Each room at this beautiful resort has an ocean view. This is a 2-star resort and has been voted best value on Booking.com. The staff is helpful and will go out of their way to make sure you have an amazing stay.


WHAT TO DO & SEE


Haengnam Coastal Walk (행남해안산책로): This is said to be the “best coastal walk in Korea” and I couldn’t agree more. Walk from Dodong Port along the waters rocky edge, through caves and under trickling water all the way to Dodong Lighthouse and get a magnificent view out over Jeodong Port. This was my favorite part of our trip. The crashing waves that sometimes crashed high enough to make us wet and the views out to the sea with nothing to see but blue waves touching the blue sky was calming. For the parents wondering, this was also definitely kid friendly. All paths have railings and there were a couple flights of stairs that were a bit steep up and then down again but overall, kids would love this walk and the views.Haengnam Coastal Walk (행남해안산책로), Ulleung-do, Korea

Seeing the rock formations up close was amazing and along the way there are various spots Ulleung-do, Koreato stop and have food with a view. The first stop is less than 20 minutes in and if you want to have dinner, it’s a great spot right on the coast. We decided to go all the way up to the lighthouse and then on the way back, stopped at the last spot on the trail called 철수네쉼터. The owners were extremely kind and offered us pumpkin sikhye and squid pajeon, or squid and veg pancakes. The squid was fresh and pajeon was delicious.

The entire trip from the port to the lighthouse and back again with the stop to eat took us about three hours. If you were just walking it though, it would take far less time. On the way out we stopped to take photos so it took about an hour and a half to get out, but after the stop at the very end, it only took us thirty minutes to get back so you could do the whole thing in a bit over an hour if you didn’t stop at all. But do stop and stop a lot. The views are breathtaking.Haengnam Coastal Walk (행남해안산책로), Ulleung-do, Korea: Hallie Bradley

This walk is great to do just before evening falls so that on your way back you can stop into one of the seaside restaurants to enjoy the day’s catch and listen as musicians entertain the people that have gathered. Once the sun sets, you can also see the squid fisherman out in the dark seas with their bright lights on toiling away. The path does have light in the evening, but for those that may be a bit nervous walking so close to the open sea and rocks when it’s dark, I’d take a torch just in case. The walk is FREE and provides just gorgeous views. I can’t say that enough. This is a must see on the island.

Address: Haengnam-gil, Ulleung-eup, Ulleung-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do (경상북도 울릉군 울릉읍 행남길 (일대))


Dokdo Observatory & Museum (독도전망대 케이블카): Stop into a museum that showcases the history, natural environment, and vegetation that is found on Dokdo Island. From there, take a cable car to the top of Manghyangbong Peak in the Dodong Yaksu Park for a bird’s eye view of the island as well as catch a glimpse 92 kilometers out to see Dokdo Island on clear days. There are numerous peaks and views to be had on the island, but this is probably one of the easiest to access with the cable car to ride up and you get a view of the infamous Dokdo Island.

Address: Do-dong, Ulleung-eup, Ulleung-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do (경상북도 울릉군 울릉읍 도동리 도동 약수공원 내 위치)

Admission: Adults: W7,500; Children: W3,500

Hours of Operation: April – October: 8:00am ~ 6:00pm; November – March: 8:00am ~ 5:00pm


Canola Flower Field, Ulleung-do, KoreaCanola Flower Field: Visit in the spring and you will be rewarded with a gorgeous field of canola flowers too. This isn’t something you’ll find written about or promoted by Ulleung-do, but it should be. While the canola flower field on Jeju Island is often promoted as the most beautiful in the country, I think this one is definitely vying for that title. The yellow canola flowers spill down the hillside and look as though they are going to spill through a hole in the mountains ahead to fall into the ocean. It’s all sorts of gorgeous and the perfect way to welcome spring.

Address: Near Ulleung County Sports Complex in Taehari & Nanyang High School, Ulleung Island


Seonginbong Mountain (성인봉 (울릉)): Ulleung-do’s highest peak is 984 meters and hiking up is one of the must-do activities while visiting. Avid hikers head to the island to reach the peak and get amazing views. There are four different routes up the mountain and you can either start from Dodong, the KBS station, or Bongnae Waterfall which are all on the southeastern side, or from Nari Basin on the northern side. The mountain is steep and there’s no way around that but locals will tell you the easiest route, though still steep, is to start at the KBS Station and work your way up. Bloggers over at Peaks and Penguins also suggest that this is a mountain that you should go point to point, so start in the south and go up and over to the other side, or vice versa. Since we didn’t have time to do the hike on my recent trip, I’ll leave it to them to show off the mountain. Check out their post for more information about hiking Seonginbong and how to prepare.

Address: Namyang-ri, Seo-myeon, Ulleung-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do (경상북도 울릉군 서면 남양리)


Ulleung-do, KoreaJukdo (죽도(울릉)):This is the largest islet off the coast of Ulleung-do and is known as “Bamboo Island”. It can be spotted from various view points on Ulleung-do but for the really adventurous, you can take a ferry from Dodong Port. Ferries run irregularly so it’s best to check the schedule with the tourist office as soon as you arrive. If you do catch the ferry, take it out to the island that is only accessed via a 365 step snail-shaped spiral staircase. Climb the steps and have all of the views.


Hyangmok Observatory & Taeha Lighthouse (태하향목 관광모노레일): This is one of the “Top 10 Scenic Spots in Korea” and the panoramic views will leave you breathless. Take the monorail up and then enjoy a walk in the forest to get to the observatory. On the way you’ll pass by the Taeha Lighthouse so might as well stop there too, right?

Admission: W4,000

Hours of Operation: April – October: 9:00am ~ 5:30pm; November – March: 9:00am ~ 4:30pm

Address: 236, Taeha-gil, Ulleung-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do (경상북도 울릉군 서면 태하길 236)


Ulleung-do, KoreaSamseonam Rocks: These are considered one of the most beautiful views of Ulleung-do. According to folklore, three beautiful angels came down to earth and became these three rocks off the coast of the island. These are just some of the rocks you can see as you drive around the road that circles the island. Hire a taxi to make the loop around the island so you can see all of the views or take a bike ride. There are stop offs all around Ulleung-do so be prepared to get out and in your vehicle or other mode of transport and take in all of the rocky views.


Ulleung-do, KoreaCheonbu Underwater Observatory: Walk down a long pier out into the water and step into an elevator that will take you six meters down under the water where you can watch the fish and sea creatures swimming around. This is a great activity if you have little ones that want to see beneath the waves.

Admission: W4,000

Hours of Operation: April – October: 9:00am ~ 5:00pm; November – March: 9:00am ~ 4:00pm


Nari Basin, Ulleung-do, KoreaNari Basin (나리분지): Visit this traditional village that you’ll easily spot with rocks topping roofs of traditional homes built of just wood and soil. The village is surrounded by lush green farm fields that are fertilized by the ash soil left behind from volcanic eruptions 9,000 years ago. While most islanders earn a living by fishing, the residents here farm medicinal plants. When you visit this remote and untouched area of Korea, stop into 산마을식당 for a bite to eat and enjoy the tasty and healthy greens farmed right in the area. For more information on the restaurant, check down in the “What To Eat” section of this post.

Address: Nari-gil, Buk-myeon, Ulleung-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do (경상북도 울릉군 북면 나리길 (북면))


Bongnae Waterfall & Wind Cave (봉래폭포): This three-tiered 25 meter tall waterfall is not only a beautiful sight but it’s also the main source of drinking water for the residents of the island. Trek up to see the falls through a cedar forest. Walk along a wooden boardwalk built above the ground to protect the natural flora and fauna. Continue through the forest and then enjoy a drink of the waters before heading over to the nearby Punghyeol, an attraction called “Mother Nature’s Air Conditioner”. The subterranean air blows through the rock openings to provide the most refreshing stream of cold air in summer’s heat and was used as a natural fridge before the appliance we now know of ever existed.

Address: Bongnae-gil, Ulleung-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do (경상북도 울릉군 울릉읍 봉래길 일원)


Gwaneum-do Island (섬목-관음도 보행연도교): Just off the coast of Ulleung-do, Gwangeum-do was inaccessible to people until rather recently which means there is well-preserved old-growth forest. In 2012, a 140 meter long pedestrian suspension bridge was installed connecting the island to Ulleung-do and now the island provides a great spot to take a hike and get great views of Ulleung-do from just off the coast.Ulleung-do, Korea


Sillyeongsu Trail (신령수 가는 길): If hiking up the mountain isn’t your jam or if you’ve got kids in tow, check out this trekking course. The trail starts in Nari Basin and goes to Albong Basin. The course is fairly flat and covered by a dense forest and various rare protected plants.

Address: Nari Buk-myeon Ulleung-gun Gyeongsangbuk-do (경상북도 울릉군 북면 나리)


WHAT TO EAT


Ulleung-do is an island well known for its squid especially, but there are a ton of fishy treats to be had and fresh catch is easily spotted in tanks outside of restaurants. If you’re not a fish eater, there are still eats to find though because the island has some secret healthy eats, too.

Bibimbap with Mountain Greens (산채비빔밥): As mentioned earlier, the traditional village in the Nari Basin is known for farming medicinal and healthy plants and you can and should try them! Walk through the lush fields and then stop into 산마을식당 while you’re there. This isn’t the only stop where you can have these delicious greens, but this is THE SPOT while you’re in the Nari Basin area.

Address: 136-2 Nari Buk-myeon Ulleung-gun Gyeongsangbuk-do (경북 울릉군 북면 나리 136-2)

Honghapbap (홍합밥): One local fishy eat that you should try is honghapbap. Mussells sit on top of rice and then dried seaweed and sesame seeds are added. As soon as it’s on the table, mix it all together and dig in.

Knife Cut Noodles with Barnacles, Ulleung-do, Korea

Knife Cut Noodles with Barnacles (따개비칼국수): This soup is a combination of barnacle meat, potatoes, seaweed and handmade noodles. After walking up and down and all around the island the soup is really filling and refreshing. A great hydrating soup that anyone can heat.

Osam Bulgogi (오삼불고기): If you like the spicy Korean eats, try this dish. Squid and pork belly slices are mixed in a spicy sauce and grilled right on the table. It’s eaten much like ssamgyeopsal and served with leaves to be wrapped in. It’s pretty spicy so get those taste buds ready.


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