Korean Cities: Incheon 인천

Most visitors to Korea pass through Incheon on their way to/from the airport, but it's not exactly a tourist hotspot. Nevertheless this city has a special place in my heart! I lived there for a year when I first moved to Korea.


Located to the west of Seoul and well connected to the capital by bus and metro, Incheon (인천) is a city of just under 3 million people, but is made up of many smaller districts. There isn't one main 'downtown' or central area, but rather a variety of different areas that are somehow all grouped togther to form a city.

Guwol-dong
The area I used to live in was near the City Hall (인천시청) in Guwol-dong (구월동), a clean and modern area with a lot of new building and excellent public transport connections to central Seoul (around an hour by bus or metro). In fairness, it was a very nice, convenient location. Not only was it peacefully quiet, but I also lived 2 minutes walk from a park, 5 mins from the CGV cinema and 24-hour Home Plus supermarket, and 15 mins from the inter-city bus terminal. The area around the bus terminal had a square with a few bars and shops, a big department store and the city's arts centre. So there was pretty much everything you might need! But man, was it dull. The whole place had about as much character as a potato. A shiny, scrubbed-clean potato, but a potato nonetheless.


Bupyeong
A much busier area of Incheon in terms of nightlife and shopping is Bupyeong (부평 with a 'boo'). I used to go there a lot for the giant underground market at the station, or for drinks in the Western bars, where you can always find a lot of expats. Transport wise, it's a great place to be in because the metro station is at the intersection of the Incheon line and the Seoul line 1 which goes directly through to Yongsan and Seoul Station. And if you fancy a more exciting night out, an express bus to Hongdae takes less than an hour.

Chinatown and Jayu Park
On the other side of the city, and quite a contrast to the places I've already mentioned, is Incheon Chinatown. Now, being located SO close to China, you might think the Chinatown in Incheon would be quite impressive. Unfortunately, it's not really worth a day out. It may be that a lot of Chinese people live there, but the place is not geared up for tourists or for those looking for an experience comparable to the Chinatowns of other major cities around the world. However, it's very close to the lovely Jayu Park (자유공원), a tree-covered hill with a really pleasant vibe on summer evenings. To get to both places, take the metro all the way to the end of the line, Incheon station (인천역).


Wolmido
Just a little way from Incheon Station, right on the edge of the coast, is Wolmido (월미도). It is my personal belief that EVERYONE needs to experience Wolmido at least once. Especially if you live in Incheon anyway. OK, maybe only if you live in Incheon anyway ... but still. Much of the area is taken up by the large and beautiful Wolmi park (월미 공원), around a hill called Wolmisan. The first time I went there was a gorgeous summer day. As I was wandering through the flower beds and ponds, I heard the sound of gongs and singing, and realised I had stumbled upon an outdoor performance of fantastic traditional Korean music. Unfortunately, it might be hard to find information about when events like this are taking place in the park, but summer weekends are a good bet. The hill offers a nice little hike with some views of the port.

However, it's not the park that most people come to Wolmido for, but rather for the area along the coast that consists entirely of everything that says 'seaside'. Raw fish restaurants? Loads. Fairground rides? You got it. Glistening sandy beach? Oh, wait, no, not that one ... but you can't have it all now, can you? It's tacky, run-down, and has a noticeable lack of coffee shops, but in its way Wolmido has a certain kind of charm. Why not get a cupful of squid sticks and take your loved-one on the Viking ship?



Incheon Grand Park
Well worth a visit is Incheon Grand Park (인천대공원) . The area seems to extend for miles, and you can bring a picnic and enjoy a whole day there. Beyond the central lake and landscaped part of the park is a large wooded area, and a hill that's easy to ascend if you want a bit of a walking work-out. Tree-lined pathways are beautiful in all seasons, whether covered in pink blossom, lush green foliage, tumbling autumn leaves or delicate frosty layers of snow. It may not have the attractions of its counterpart in Seoul, but it's a great escape from urban life.

Update: Check out our Incheon Grand Park vlog on Youtube!:



What else is there?
I'm not sure what else Incheon has to offer to visitors ... other than a way out of Korea, of course. The international airport is really easy to get to, and there is also the option of travelling by sea, as ferry services from Incheon port go as far as Jeju island and even to China.

There are also a number of small islands nearby that can be reached by boat on a day trip from Incheon. I've never visited any of these myself, but have heard some of them are very pretty and worth a visit.

All in all, there isn't an awful lot to Incheon that would make anyone want to go there as a tourist. But as a place to live, it's really not bad at all, and its proximity to Seoul means you've always got more exciting things an hour or two away. Incheon always seems to be in a state of construction and development, so I'm sure the city will change a lot in the next few years.

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