For good looks: Seobin, Udo
Udo, off the coast of Jeju, is affectionately known as Peanut Island, thanks to the locally grown nuts that are ground into almost every foodstuff. A scoop of peanut ice cream pairs perfectly with blissful Seobin Beach, with its bright white sand and gin-clear water spanning a Pantone colour chart from topaz to turquoise. It’s South Korea’s only coral beach — the sand is actually tiny particles of the stuff.
For surf: Hajodae, Gangwon
With its perfect waves, this two-mile stretch isn’t nicknamed ‘Surfyy’ beach for nothing. There’s an array of surf shops, and the laid-back vibes continue at Singlefin Aleworks, where you can admire the water with a local craft beer in hand. Clinging to the clifftop above the beach is a pavilion that dates back to the 1300s, while Hajodae lighthouse, overlooking the beach, is worth the rocky climb for its views.
For urban excitement: Haeundae, Busan
Haeundae is South Korea’s blockbuster beach. Busan International Film Festival takes place here each October, with some events hosted right on the sand, and it backs onto the zippy neighbourhood of the same name, meaning you’ll never be short of entertainment. It’s incredibly popular, so get there early to bag a spot under an umbrella — or join the crowd to ring in the new year at the Busan Sunrise Festival.
For families: Hamdeok, Jeju
With its shallow, crystal-clear water and sheltered rock pools, Hamdeok (pictured) is perfect for young swimmers. The soft sand is as pristine as you might find in Hawaii — and there are even a few palm trees along the shoreline too. This isn’t somewhere to live out your Robinson Crusoe fantasies, though; Hamdeok is well-stocked with cafes and places to rent a kayak or book a banana boat.
For day trips: Eurwangni, Incheon
It may only be minutes from the ultra-busy Incheon Airport, but Eurwangni is a beautiful crescent with shallow water perfect for paddling. When the tide washes out, clams, crabs and trumpet shells appear from the mudflats; no surprise, then, that there are plenty of seafood shacks — ideal for preflight shellfish snarfing. It’s popular with Seoul day trippers, too, hoping to catch a spectacular sunset.
Published in the South Korea guide, distributed with the November issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)