I’ve been a solo traveler since I was able to legally live by myself. This option is great for those who like slow mornings, quiet walks, and scribbling down their thoughts to the quiet whispers of a half-filled cafe. And while this option is certainly attractive, there’s also a thrill and comfort to having a guide. You have an expert to drive you, lead the way, and teach you things you would discover by reading a sign. I was fortunate to get this opportunity with Hana Tour ITC, one of the leading tour companies in Korea. On a quiet Sunday morning at 9am, me and a close friend set out with our private guide (in our private car) to explore the beauty of Ganghwa-do, or Ganghwa Island. And we certainly found it.
In this article, I’ll be sharing and reviewing the full 1-Day itinerary to Ganghwa Island with Hana Tour ITC. The island is located just an hour outside of Seoul and requires no hotel stay. Pricing and budget tips are available at the end of the article!
Pickup & Dropoff
On the website, Hana Tour advertises that guests will be picked up and dropped off at their hotels in Seoul for one-day trips. This was not the case for a sponsored trip, so they asked me to arrive at the Hanatour office in Insadong at 9AM on Sunday. This is not something that will happen if someone were to purchase the trip themselves; Hana Tour ITC will pick you up and dropped you off in a timely and safe manner. And I’ll just say this now: props to my driver, who was very cautious and safe the entire trip.
Another thing worth noting is the car itself. Seven people can fit in the car and the seats are as comfortable as the lounge seats of a high-end cinema. I fell asleep as soon as our driver put the pedal to the metal, and I don’t regret a thing. It was warm, quiet, and also equipped with a phone charging station. It’s the little details that win over travelers, and Hana Tour ITC has done this well.
Our guide was also happy to let us head to the convenience store before heading off. Food and drink were happily consumed in the van, and any bathroom ‘business’ breaks were not rushed. It was a great start to what would be a great day.
1. Seaweed Making Experience
Our first stop was a mysterious one. We planned to make our way to the Demilitarized Zone near the border of North Korea, but due to heavy fog, we made our way down countryside roads to a quiet little farmhouse. In the driveway stood a friendly ahjumma, a Korean auntie, who ushered us inside a makeshift kitchen. It’s safe to say that at this point, my friend and I had no idea what was happening.
This was a pleasant surprise albeit unexpected, as this experience was also not included on our original list. We got an extra experience for free, and boy… was it delicious! The owner of the farm introduced her business over a delicious cup of turnip tea: Farm Story, known as Walsunajimae (왈순아지매) in Korean. She happily told us about her family, her life on the farm, and her passion for food.
Following the chat, we learned how to make fried vegetable and seafood snacks from seaweed, dried pumpkin, dried turnip, dried pollock, and dried lotus root. Strapping on our hairnets and gloves, our host taught us to lightly brush chapssal 찹쌀 – sticky white rice – over the surface. We then left them to dry (this takes up to 6 hours, so we got to fry ones that she had made the day before). While my friend was too afraid to get near the boiling oil, I gave it my best shot. The result was incredible – a slightly crunchy and salty cracker made from food that the owner had grown directly in her backyard.
It was a wonderful way to start the day. It felt even better knowing that it was a truly authentic experience, with a final result that was equally as wonderful as our kind-hearted teacher.
Address: 인천 강화군 강화읍 월곳리 171-1 | 171-1 Wolgot-ri Gwanghwamun-eup Gwanghwamun-gun Incheon
Opening Hours: By reservation
2. Joyangbangjik Cafe & Museum
Easily my favorite part of our trip, Joyangbangjik Cafe and Museum is a wonderland unlike any other. I’ve been to my fair share of cafes in Korea, but this really puts the icing on the cake. Formerly a textile factory, the run-down warehouse grounds are composed of five main buildings and several other outdoor installations that have now been turned into an antique museum, modern art gallery, and a cafe.
The cafe was packed by 11:30AM, but the spacious indoor and outdoor seating options means that you don’t have to worry about bumping into anyone. To start off, a coffee purchase of up 7,000 won ($7) is included for travelers. Any cakes or fancier coffees will have to be purchased by the traveler (or the difference made up). As we sipped on our tasty and warm drinks, we found it hard to resist taking a wander around.
We spent the majority of the time peeking into every window, lurking around every corner, and popping over every crumbling wall. And while the place likely held a dark and hard history for its workers, you couldn’t find a trace of that darkness today. There’s nothing haunted here – just a unique day trip for couples, friends, solo travelers, and families. This is an absolute must-see during your trip to Ganghwa Island.
Address: 인천 강화군 강화읍 향나무길 5번길 12 | Incheon Ganghwagun Ganghwaeub Hyangnamugi 15 gil 12
Opening Hours: 11AM – 10PM (Weekends), 8PM (Weekdays)
3. Ganghwa Food Market
Our next stop was only just up the road at the traditional food and ginseng (인삼) market. You can also come here for grains, herbal remedies, and bunches upon bunches of radish kimchi. That’s just the shopping part – but if you make your way up to the second floor of the main hall, you’ll enter a world of delicious smells. This is the dining hall, where local farmers show off their unique recipes using local island flavors. They’ll push and pull you to eat at their stall; don’t feel pressured to eat somewhere you don’t want.
Considering Ganghwa is an island, one of the most popular menu options is seafood. However, being a vegetarian, our guide made sure that I had something healthy and filling to each. I really appreciated his patience towards my dietary needs. We ended up finding warm sesame noodles, which tasted out of this world. Every meal comes with a plethora of side dishes, including Ganghwa’s famous turnip kimchi.
The meal is included in your tour purchase, and any specific dietary requirements should be told to the company before you set out on your trip. They will be happy to accommodate you to the best of their ability.
Address: 인천 강화군 강화읍 중앙로 17-9| 17-9 Jungang-ro Gwanghwamun-eup Gwanghwamun-gun Incheon
4. Sochang Experience Center
You might be wondering what this is just by looking at the name. Sochang (소창) is a local textile; a thick cotton-like fabric that was used for packaging, baby diapers, table mats, handkerchiefs, and more. There was a time when you could see sochang draped from every laundry line, particularly in the 60s and 70s. While there used to be 60 factories on the island, only 10 remain.
You won’t actually be making the sochang – there are 100-year-old machines on site taking care of that – but what you can do is design a stamped handkerchief. To do so, your guide will show you to a table reminiscent of kindergarten classrooms, fully prepared with a box full of stamps and colored ink. The staff showed us properly design our textiles, and we were off. I stuck with traditional island imagery such as turnips, Rose of Sharon flowers, and ginseng. My friend went a bit more ‘cottagecore’, as she decorated hers with flowers, foxes, and polar bears. It was an enchanting, peaceful atmosphere, complemented by the 1930s hanok that we were working in.
Two other buildings on the grounds are home to a traditional tea house and small museum. While all of this is very interesting, the hanok buildings themselves really steal the show. Originally constructed in 1938, the stunning red pine was collected in what is now North Korea. One of the staff informed me that such a creation is likely never to happen again without reunification.
Experience hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10AM-6PM
Stamping: 20 minutes
Making products: 1 hour (Reservations required in advance)
5. Goryeo Emergency Palace
You can learn a lot by a name, as was the case with our next destination: Goryeo Emergency Palace. The Goryeo dynasty lasted from 918 until 1392, when the Joseon Dynasty eventually took over. And while many people continue to study the Joseon dynasty in great detail, Goryeo was equally significant. It was a time of sublime Buddhist art, Korean celadon wares, and the inspiration behind the name ‘Korea’.
The Goryeo Emergency Palace marks the site where the people of the kingdom resisted Mongolian invasions for nearly 40 years. King Gojong was encouraged by his advisors to relocate the capital to Ganghwa Island for its natural advantages. The capital moved back to Gaeseong after the signing of an official peace treaty. Although the palace has a dark origin story, more tragedy came in 1637 when the Qing dynasty overtook the castle. The French navy also burned the palace during a raid in 1866.
Despite this negative introduction, many positive things took place on these grounds. For one, the Waegyujanggak National Library (외규장각) was constructed here that held royal protocols among other important texts. Additionally, it remains a symbol of national pride and resistance.
The palace grounds are much smaller than they originally would have been by about 60%. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking in scenic sights. Standing at the top of the hill, you can look down the foot of the mountain and to the majority of the island. Straight ahead is another mountain, although not too tall so as to distract from your view. Your guide should arrive at golden hour, making the experience all the more breathtaking.
Be sure to ask your guide about the history rather than relying on signs. Our guide was able to tell us far more interesting stories of the tragic palace and in a much swifter amount of time. Entrance to the palace is once again covered by your reservation.
Address: 인천 강화군 강화읍 강화대로 394| 394 Ganghwa-daero Ganghwa-eup Ganghwa-gun Incheon
Opening Hours: 9AM-6PM
6. Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Peace Observatory
A truly grand finale, although one that left me feeling sorer than it did rejuvenated, is the DMZ. The DMZ is one of the most contentious borders in the world that stretches across the entire width of North and South Korea. The most popular way to reach this area is Paju (파주), another city just an hour outside of Seoul. However, the Paju route is the most populated as well, and one that’s flooding with tourists and natives alike all year round.
If you’re longing for a more reflective opportunity, I couldn’t recommend anywhere more than Ganghwa Island. Located at the western tip of the island, this small pavilion is home to a three-story tower. Inside is an observation deck, the Reflection Aspiration Hall, a lounge, and a restaurant serving North Korean delicacies. You can attend a 20-minute lecture in both Korean and English. For a full schedule, check their website, and inform your guide that you would like to stay and listen.
It’s worth 500 won to use binoculars on the observation deck (not supplied by Hana Tour ITC). North Korea is incredibly close to Ganghwa Island, with only a thin stretch of the Han River blocking the warring countries. I was able to see several North Korean farmers working in their fields, a young boy walking his bike, and several people running out the door before dinner time.
How can I explain how it felt to look into this private life? I have North Korean refugee friends and connections, all of whom I have so graciously shared their hardships and successes with me. Some of them are in the public eye while others are not, but I know that many of them miss aspects of their former life. Not the regime, but rather their hometowns, families, music, farms… Watching life in North Korea simply pass before my eyes really put the situation into perspective. This is real. And it’s happening now.
Address: 인천 강화군 양사면 천산리 산6-1| 6-1 Cheolsan-ri Yangsa-myeon Ganghwa-gun Incheon
Opening Hours: 9AM-6PM
The island of Ganghwa was even more beautiful and exciting than I could have dreamed. Thanks to Hana Tour ITC, I opened my eyes to the incredible sights and opportunities these people have to offer. Additionally, although it’s located only an hour outside of Seoul, the warm-heartedness and welcoming nature of the local residents stayed with me long after the trip.
If you’re pressed for time or would like to come for only a single day trip, the package deal with Hana Tour ITC is easily the best option available. Travel in comfort, style, and get paired with an expert guide. You won’t have to break a sweat or double-check your map, and why would you want to in such an amazing place?
For more day trips from Seoul, check out our guide here.