Despite being South Korea’s fourth-largest city after Seoul, Incheon, and Busan, the southeastern city of Daegu was relatively unknown to foreign visitors until 2002, when it hosted the FIFA World Cup, and again in 2011 when it welcomed the IAAF World Championships in Athletics.
Since those two major events, the city has gained notoriety, thrusting its museums, parks, and historic sites into the tourism limelight. Only two hours south of Seoul on the KTX high-speed train, Daegu has what it takes to earn a spot on your South Korean itinerary.
Visit the Daegu National Museum
Featuring more than 30,000 artifacts, the Daegu National Museum showcases key archeological finds that have helped researchers understand the unique history of both Daegu and the Gyeongsangbuk-do province. History buffs will enjoy exhibits that span from the Neolithic era to the peninsula’s Three Kingdoms Period, and the more spiritually-minded will revel in the vast collection of Buddhist artworks on display.
Admission and parking are free, there are English language signs and interpretation services, and a wide range of activities is offered for visitors age 6 and above.
Taste a Korean Delicacy at Anjirang Gopchang Street
Gopchang is the grilled intestines of pork or cattle, and is Daegu’s traditional dish. The best place to try this delicacy is Anjirang Gopchang Street, which is well regarded as the city’s most popular gastronomic destination. Plastic chairs and tables line the sidewalks fronting over 50 eateries, all proffering steaming bowls of gopchang. Add a bottle of soju and you’ll fit right in with the locals.
Spend a Day With the Family at Daegu Safety Theme Park
More of a learning center than a theme park, this unusual attraction is meant to train children how to handle emergencies such as subway accidents, or disaster situations like earthquakes and floods. Through an array of hands on activities, kids can simulate escaping from a crowded cinema or subway, and learn best practices to use should they ever experience a natural disaster.
Ride the Daegu Monorail
Daegu’s newest metro line is actually South Korea’s first monorail system. The picture windows and nearly 15 miles of elevated tracks make it the perfect vantage point from which to view the city, Geumhogang River, and the surrounding mountains. Not only does the monorail stop at 30 stations, making it a convenient transportation option, but at 1,400 won per ride, it’s also the most fun and least expensive way to sightsee in the city.
Walk the Grounds of Daegu Stadium
Built in May 2001 in preparation for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was hosted by South Korea and Japan, Daegu Stadium is the city’s pride and joy. The massive event space holds 66,422 people, is South Korea’s third-largest stadium, and was graced by track star Usain Bolt who won the men’s 200-meter race during the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in 2011.
Though it still hosts events regularly, most visitors to Daegu Stadium simply stroll the manicured grounds, grab a coffee at one of the nearby cafes, or explore the Daegu Sports Museum, which features memorabilia from sporting events held in the stadium.
Ride the Cable Car
For a laid-back, nature-filled afternoon, grab a cable car up Palgong Mountain. The ride provides picturesque views of the mountain’s craggy peaks and valleys, plus fiery autumn foliage, and bouquets of flowers in the spring. At the top is a simple restaurant, as well as viewing platforms from which to take in Daegu’s cityscape. There’s also a network of hiking trails crisscrossing the mountain, including one that leads to Dongwhasa Temple and the famed Gatbawi Buddha, a stone statue dating to the 7th century.
Wander Seomun Market
Despite enduring a tragic fire in 2016, Seomun Market is back in business and better than ever. Since 1920 this massive market has specialized in textiles, but over the years has added stalls hawking fish, kitchenware, and row after row of colorful hanboks (Korean traditional apparel).
Across the street from the original market is the lively Seomun Night Market. Offering street food from more than 65 vendors, it’s South Korea’s largest night market where you can find specialties such as kimchi mandu (dumplings), twigim (battered and fried vegetables or seafood), and seafood pajeon (pancakes).
Daegu has joined the ranks of many other major world metropolises that offer city tours via iconic red double-decker buses. For 10,000 won, you can hop on in front of Dongdaegu Train Station and ride the bus to the city’s top attractions such as the Daegu National Museum, Apsan Observatory, Suseong lake, and even to Daegu International Airport.
The ticket price allows hop on and hop off privileges from 9 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. on the same day.
Visit Korea's Oldest Herbal Medicine Market
This massive traditional medicine market is one of Korea’s oldest, dating from 1658. It’s thought that Chinese medicine first came to the Korean peninsula in the 10th century, but it wasn’t until the start of the Joseon Dynasty in the 14th century that the practice became a popular aspect of Korean culture. To this day, dozens of shops sell ingredients such as ginseng, dried mushrooms, and even deer antlers, and medical clinics offer cupping and acupuncture.
Curious visitors can also learn more about the history of traditional Korean medicine at the Daegu Yangnyeongsi Museum of Oriental Medicine, or at the annual Daegu Yangnyeongsi Herbal Medicine Festival, which takes place each May.
Pay Respects to the Gatbawi Buddha
One of Daegu’s main attractions is Gatbawi, aka the Stone Hat Seated Medicine Buddha, a 7th-century stone statue of Buddha set on Mount Palgong. Each day scores of people make the pilgrimage to this distinctive statue with a flat stone perched on its head, as this particular Buddha is said to grant one wish to each visitor who prays there. Unsurprisingly, visits to the deity spike during Korea’s annual college entrance exam period in late November, so expect crowds during that time
Enjoy Nature at Daegu Arboretum
If you need a break from city sightseeing, head for the serene green surrounds of Daegu Arboretum. An extensive green space built on a former landfill, filled with 60,000 trees, as well as various cacti and flowers, it’s hard to believe that the area was built on land that was once a garbage dump. The arboretum is filled with walking paths, picnic benches, and ample fields, so come prepared to spend a day out in nature.
Visit the Daegu Art Museum
Set in a sleek building in east Daegu, the Daegu Art Museum features modern and contemporary art through the specific lens of the city’s history and culture. Bright exhibition spaces mix the works of local and domestic artists with international pieces brought in through overseas exchanges.
Lectures and programs are available for all age groups, and there’s also an Art Information Center to lounge in while perusing art-related books.
Hike, Bike, or Relax at Suseong Lake
Despite being set in the midst of South Korea’s fourth-largest city, the man-made Suseong Lake happens to be one of the most peaceful destinations in all of Daegu. While you can rent a bike or paddleboat during the warmer months, it’s still a nice place to visit in cold weather, as various cafes surrounding the lake offer a warm respite, hot drinks, and tranquil water views.
From May through October, Suseong Lake is also the site of a nightly fountain show featuring music and flashing lights.
Tour the Grounds of Donghwasa Temple
Set on Palgong Mountain, Donghwasa is Daegu’s largest and oldest Buddhist temple. Although it was originally founded in the year 493, the current temple building dates from 1732. The temple grounds are known as the city’s most beautiful, and feature brightly painted traditional pavilions, as well as stone artifacts, and a 56-foot tall stone Buddha statue.
If you’re looking to dive deeper into Korean Buddhism, Dongwhasa offers temple stay retreats and programs that allow visitors to experience life as a monk through meditation, tea ceremonies, and cooking classes.
Get a Bird's Eye View of the City
One of the best views of downtown Daegu is from Apsan Park. Reached either by cable car or a heart-pumping one-hour hike, the summit features a viewing platform and a modest Korean restaurant. It’s worth noting that this area is known for its spectacularly colorful leaves in the fall, so plan accordingly.