Up to 2010, Changwon in South Gyeongsang Province was actually three distinct places.
The port towns of Masan and Jinhae sat either side of the original Changwon, a planned city built from scratch in the 1970s.
The three were recently merged and all lie on a stretch of steep, zigzagging coastline on the East China Sea.
Jihae is known for its naval base, and every April puts on South Korea’s biggest cherry blossom festival, coinciding with military parades and flight displays.
Roosting on precipitous terrain, Masan has the largest fish market in South Korea, down by the water, and a labyrinth of alleys further up, where you’ll find an excellent museum to the 20th-century artist Moon Shin.
1. Masan Fish Market
One of the prides of Changwon is the largest fish market in South Korea.
There are more than 1,200 stores at the Masan Fish Market, set right on the bay and selling fish and seafood caught off the coast of Geoje, Masan and Tongyeong.
Mostly under a canopy and along narrow alleys, the market is divided into sections specialising in things like dried fish or salted fish.
For a peckish visitor the best of these is hoetjip, a whole stretch dedicated to nothing but restaurants for raw fish.
You can continue your shopping trip at the mammoth Lotte Department Store , a few blocks in from the waterfront.
2. Changdong Art Village
Masan’s once thriving commercial core was losing its sheen a decade ago when businesses started moving out.
To reinvigorate this warren of alleys, artists were invited to set up shop in the abandoned stores, turning a tired part of the city into a dynamic art district.
Spruced up with murals, installations and lots of plant pots, Changdong Art Village has a bohemian feel for its cafes, ateliers and galleries on tight lanes.
The three parts to check out are Ecole de Chang-dong Alley, Masan Mountain Trail Art Alley and Moonshin Art Alley.
Make sure to drop by the Changdong Art Village Art Center, which hangs work by international artists and also gives tips on what’s going on around the village.
3. Burim Market
Joined to Changdong Art Village is Masan’s main traditional market, which has been trading daily since 1926 and became separated from the Masan Fish Market with the opening of Happo-ro street in the 1970s.
Burim Market is for fruit and vegetables, tableware, clothing, dry goods and the like.
It is also well known in Changwon as a place to come if you’re planning a wedding, and there are lots of stores with hanbok (traditional Korean dress) to rent or buy.
When it comes to street food, Burim Market’s forte is tteok-bokki, stir-fried spicy rice cakes.
4. Changwon Garosu-gil
Lifting its name from the famous Sinsadong Garosu-gil thoroughfare in Seoul, Changwon’s Garosu-gil (tree-lined street) is a picture-perfect road flanked by rows of healthy metasequoias parallel to Yongji Park.
An Italian restaurant opened here a few years ago, opening the floodgates to a slew of trendy cafes, design shops, specialty food stores, flower shops and art galleries, all attracting a young, hip crowd.
Garosu-gil is best known to Changwon’s expats as Cafe Street, and in spring and summer there are terraces on the sidewalk.
The view is pretty too, as the mountains east of Changwon peek between Garosu-gil’s canyon of trees.
5. Changwon Marine Park
Off the very south of Jinhae, Changwon Marine Park is a cluster of maritime attractions on an island linked to the mainland by the 250-metre Eumji Bridge.
What you’ll see long before anything else is the crooked outline of the Changwon Solar Tower, a combined radio mast and observatory, 120 metres high.
You can go up for the best panorama of Changwon, its mountains and indented coastline.
You could easily pass a day at Changwon Marine Park, calling in on attractions like the Marine Life Theme Park, charting the world’s marine ecosystems, and the Naval Battle History Hall, documenting South Korea’s naval heritage.
You can round off a day on the island by watching the sun going down behind Jinhaeman Bay.
6. Moonshin Art Museum
The much-loved sculptor and painter Moon Shin (1923-1995) spent some of his childhood in Masan, which had been the home town of his father.
After a career flitting between Paris and Seoul he returned to Masan in 1980 and started work on this museum, which was 14 years in the making and opened in 1994, just before he passed away.
He donated some 3,900 pieces to the museum, which looks back at his life and the distinctive phases of his career.
Moon Shin’s art took inspiration from the symmetry in nature, and among the works there’s sculpture in plaster, bronze, ebony and pine, as painting and drawings.
The museum has a cafe and terrace blessed with great views over Masan Bay.
7. Gagopa Kkoburang-gil Mural Village
You can get to this hillside neighbourhood on foot, venturing through the scurrying alleys north of the Moon Shin Art Museum.
Covering around 30 homes Gagopa Kkoburang-gil Mural Village is decorated with murals inspired by Changwon’s seascapes and old city scenes, as well as the Pop Art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
Every so often you’ll be struck by a wonderful view of Masan harbour, and there are bits of history to hunt down, like a century-old well.
Gagopa Kkoburang-gil Mural Village is a residential neighbourhood, so does need to be enjoyed with the peace of its inhabitants in mind.
8. The House of Changwon
A rare glimpse of traditional Korean culture in Changwon’s modern cityscape, the House of Changwon is a hanok complex dating back around 200 years.
This assemblage of 14 buildings not far from Changwon Jungang Station is free to visit and was the residence of the Late Joseon Period scholar, Ducheol.
Monitored by imposing gates, the site consists of a pond, two mills, two pavilions and fine hanoks housing a Farm Equipment Museum, master suite, Folk Culture Education Center, a Korean Heritage Museum and a suite for guests at the very middle.
The larger of the two pavilions is a handsome octagonal structure known as a palgakjeong.
The House of Changon is set off by sumptuous grounds, with trees, lawns and hedges all trimmed to precision.
9. Yongji Lake
This well-known body of water is a manmade lake approximately 400 metres long and 200 metres across, and edged to the south by some of Changwon’s most representative buildings.
There’s a paved trail on its banks, around 1.2 kilometres long, with gorgeous views of the distant mountains from the south shore.
The path is trimmed with cherry trees, the blooms of which are all the more beautiful in April for their backdrop of evergreen vegetation.
Every night from April to the end of November (weather dependent) there’s a light, water and music show on the lake, lasting half an hour.
10. Jinhae Gunhangje Festival
Parks in every major Korean city have a cherry blossom festival in spring, but none are as big as the citywide festival in Jinhae, which draws two million visitors each year and has scenes to leave you lost for words.
The roots of the event go back to a festival set up to commemorate Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598), the naval commander who came to the fore during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598). For ten days at the start of April, Jinhae is flecked with white, and there are lots of picturesque places for photos.
At Gyeonghwa Station the tracks run through a ravine of trees, and you can snap the parked trains against the blooms.
Jehwangsan Mountain Park is gorgeous for its mix of cherry blossom and forsythia; come to climb the 365-step stairway (the one-year stairway) and to ride the futuristic monorail.
For these ten days only, the Korea Naval Academy and the Naval Base Headquarters open up to the public to show off their cherry trees.
And to remind you of the event’s military origins, there are parades, a fireworks display and a display by the ROK Air Force’s stunt team, the Black Eagles.
11. Anmingogae Hill
We’ve run out of space to tell you about the many unforgettable places to see cherry blossoms during the Jinhae Gunhangje Festival.
Anmingogae Hill, on the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Tunnel that snakes through the city, is a winding nine-kilometre road that sets off from Taebaek-dong and delivers you to Anmin-dong in the west.
For two thirds of the way Anmingogae Hill is tunnelled with cherry trees, paired with scenic vistas of Jinhaeman Bay and peaks like Ungsan Sirubong and Cheonjabong, all above 500 metres.
If you’re determined to hike the length of Anmingogae Hill there are benches at 100-metre intervals.
Something special to keep an eye out for is the Anmin Ecology Bridge, decked with vegetation to allow wildlife to migrate between the mountains, Jangboksan and Ungsan.
12. Yeojwacheon Stream
The Jinhae Gunhangje Festival has made many appearances in Korean popular culture, but the most famous was in 2002 when two lead characters from the MBC TV series “Romance” first met on the quaint wooden bridge over the Yeojwacheon Stream.
Charming at any time of year, the Yeojwacheon Stream is uncommonly pretty during the festival, under an awning of snowy blooms.
Throughout the ten days there’s a special light installation along the stream, known as the Starlight Festival.
In 2019, the stream and Romance Bridge were aglow with lasers and LED strip lights, and in previous years there have been umbrellas, hearts, stars, fairies windmills and bicycles.
13. Junam Reservoir
A few kilometres north of Changwon is a massive reserve for migratory birds, spanning three reservoirs.
This environment is a key wintering site for white-naped cranes (standing 1.3 m tall!), Eurasian spoonbills and Baikal teals.
Of the 150 species to frequent the reserve, 20 are endangered.
The portion that you can visit is the Junam Reservoir Ecological Habitat, well-served by buses from Changwon.
There are bird-watching hides, as well as a visitor centre with an exhibition hall with multimedia detailing the many birds and their ecology.
You can book a guided bird-watching tour, and visit a path skirted by wildflowers and an enormous field of lotuses in summer.
Bicycles are also available from the visitor centre, free of charge for up to two hours.
14. Sang Sang-gil
In an initiative by the Korea Tourism Organisation, this street in Changdong Art Village was turned into a sort of walk of fame, but for everyday people.
When the campaign was launched in 2015 millions of people signed up for the chance to have their very own nameplate, from which 23,000 winners were chosen.
These tiles were laid alongside slabs signed by a few Korean stars, like Krystal Jung, and the members of K-pop groups Kara and 4minute.
If you were one of the millions to sign up you’ll be able to look up your name in the commemorative book on the first floor of the Changdong Art Centre in Changdong Art Village.
15. Changwon Marine Drama Open Film Set
When Korean TV producers need to shoot a period drama in a maritime location, the obvious choice is this purpose-built set south of Masan, reachable via the 63, 64 or 65 buses.
The Marine Drama Open Film Set is on a little isthmus between two sheltered coves, where the hilly indented coastline is cloaked with dense woodland.
The set, composed of a wooden waterside village, was built for the 2010 MBC series “Kim Su-ro, The Iron King”, starring Ji Sung and Park Gun-tae and based on the life of Gim Suro, the 1st-century founder of the city state Geumgwan Gaya.
Embellished with a pier, smithy, stable, market stalls and historic vessels, the set has since been used by more than a dozen productions by major broadcasters, MBC, OCN, KBS and SBS.