Tradition and technology
collide as soon as you step off
your airplane into Incheon
International Airport terminal.
This fabulous building is high-tech and minimalist, but its rooflines resemble those of ancient Korean temples, and you might spot traditional Korean gardens. Look out too for the airport’s futuristic and interactive Guide Robots, who provide information in multiple languages.
The airport sets the tone for Incheon, South Korea’s global hub and fast becoming the nation’s next futuristic city. The cutting edge is everywhere here, yet cultural and historical roots are well preserved. And while you can explore hotspot high-tech centres and the latest shopping districts, you can also get away, in a relaxing fresh-air alternative, to the many islands and beaches that fringe the city.
The past A look into Incheon’s rich culture and history
Gleaming skyscrapers give the impression that Incheon is new, and since the 1880s when it was open its gate to the world, the city has played the gateway to Korea.
Korea’s long history and culture lingers in delightful pockets, however. You could get an overview at Incheon Metropolitan City Museum, which displays pottery and artefacts dating back across well over a thousand years of history to Korea’s ancient Three Kingdoms period.
You’ll find Incheon’s older districts near Jayu (Freedom) Park, including its original Open Port, featuring totally unique architecture. Bustling Chinatown is full of historical buildings, small museums and great eateries; try jjajangmyeon, the Chinese-Korean fusion noodles in black-bean sauce, first created here.
Nearby is Wolmido district, with traditional gardens, an observatory, carnival entertainments, fantastic seafood restaurants and ocean-gazing boardwalks.
A temple stay is a unique Korean cultural experience. Ganghwado of Incheon was regarded as an important strategic location and called a “museum without a roof” because many historical relics.
Immerse yourself at medieval Jeondeungsa Temple, located in Ganghwado, which was built during the first period of Buddhism introduction to Korea in 381, or at Bomunsa Temple, which incorporates an ancient Buddhist grotto and 600-year-old juniper tree. Jeondeungsa Temple has witnessed over 1,500 years of history, overcoming many invasions and battles until the end of 19th century.
Enjoy a vegetarian meal, get tips on Buddhist etiquette, and learn about meditation as monks chant and Buddha statues smile serenely from behind altar candles and flowers.
The present Exploring where your feet are
If you’re the type to live in the moment, then Incheon has enough indulgences to leave you dithering over choices, whether you join a food tour, enjoy some pampering, or find adventure in the great outdoors.
Right beside the airport is Paradise City, a huge arts-and-entertainment resort whose colossal spa plunges you straight into an ancient Korean wellness experience, though in an ultra-contemporary setting. Wallow in the waters, brave the high-temperature sauna and feel your muscles decompress with a traditional finger-pressure massage.
168 islands scattered near Incheon lure fresh-air fiends. Scenic Muui Island is draped in hiking trails and lovely beaches. Ganghwa Island has soothing mountain temples and World Heritage sites dating back over four thousand years. Meanwhile Yeongjong Island is famous for its white-sand Eurwangni Beach, lined with seafood eateries.
On Seonjae Island, rice fields and vineyards merge with hillside forest. As the tide goes out sand flats are revealed, over which you can take a scenic walk to normally water-bound Mokseom Island. And on Deokjeokdo Island, Seopori Beach is backed by hiking trails with wonderful coastal views framed in gnarly pine trees.
If you don’t have time to go far, Sorae Marsh Ecological Park is right in downtown Incheon. The wetlands are favoured by migratory birds, and also presided over by three rather unexpected wooden windmills.
The future A glimpse of what’s to come
Although Incheon has rocketed from modest port town to ultramodern city and tourist hub in a century, that momentum still hasn’t faltered.
The city’s aspirations are boldly symbolised by its contemporary architecture and high-tech focus. As you zip around on the world-class transportation system, it feels as if you’re riding straight into the future.
Head to Songdo district if cutting-edge urban design is your thing. Even getting here from the airport across one of the world’s longest bridges is spectacular. The soaring arches of Incheon Bridge are fabulous, especially when illuminated at night.
Songdo, one of the world’s first smart cities, has embedded smart technologies that monitor everything from traffic and public buses to energy use. Check out the CBD’s interactive information panels before hitting the shops along Triple Street and goggling at the outrageous architecture of the Tri-Bowl cultural centre.
Songdo Central Park’s themed gardens and deer enclosure are overlooked by high-rises; nip up to the observation deck atop G-Tower for a great sunset view. Quite the contrast is Songdo Hanok Village, which recreates old Korean architectural styles.
Among the buildings is Gyeongwonjae Ambassador Incheon, a five-star, traditional Korean-style hotel, though incorporating all the latest in contemporary chic. It’s just another example of those past-and-present fusions that makes Incheon such a great place to explore.