A city of science and technology at a meeting point in South Korea’s road and rail networks, Daejeon was announced to the wider world in 1993 by an international exposition.
Expo ’93 showed off Daejeon’s innovative side with ultra-modern pavilions, a maglev train and solar-powered vehicles.
The venue, Expo Park is still here and connected to the rest of the city by the Expo Bridge, which is pretty in lights when the sun goes down.
Daejeon’s reputation as a forward-thinking city is still underscored by a national science museum, and Sky Road, a pedestrian street in the old city centre sheltered by a mesmerising LED canopy.
There are picturesque mountainscapes on all sides of Daejeon, where people go for days out.
Daejeon O-World is three family attractions rolled into one, and Gyejoksan is a peak that you can climb on a barefoot trail through soft red clay.
1. Yuseong Hot Spring
Something that might catch you off guard in Oncheon-dong’s built-up urban environment is the sight of an outdoor spa lined with Chinese fringetrees.
The alkali Yuseong Hot Spring bubbles up from a depth of 200 metres at a temperature of between 27 and 56°C.
At the public space, which is free to enter, there’s a pair of foot baths accommodating up to 80 people, as well as a cute little waterway.
Yuseong Hot Spring is the oldest to be developed in Korea and its soft waters contain potassium, calcium, sulphur, zinc, silicic acid, carbonic acid and even a trace amount of radium.
Healing properties have been ascribed to the spring since for many centuries.
According to the ancient chronicle Donggugyeojiseungnam, Taejo of Joseon, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty bathed here in 1393 while looking for a site for his capital.
The spring’s fame spread on the back of a legend about a 7th-century soldier recovering from his wounds in the spring.
He was treated by his mother who got the idea after watching a crane dipping an injured wing in the water to cure it.
2. Expo Park (wiki)
The 1993 Daejeon Expo, showcasing cutting-edge technology and hosting cultural events, was the first exhibition accredited by the BIE (Bureau International des Expositions) to be held in a developing country.
Over the course of four months more than 14 million people came to the Expo Park on the north bank of the Gap River, and more than a million still pay a visit each year.
Over a quarter of a century later the site and its many futurist pavilions still makes an impression.
The main landmark is the 93-metre Hanbit Tower, sused as an observatory and equipped with absorbing science exhibits.
The Daejeon Expo Memorial Hall recounts the event, and 200 years of exhibitions around the world, and the Daejeon Traffic Culture Institute has child-friendly exhibitions dealing with road safety and the history of transport.
3. National Science Museum
The first-class National Science Museum, over the road from Expo Park deals with many different strands of science and technology.
The permanent exhibition has galleries for Korean natural history, industrial technology, the cosmos, human biology and many more, as well as an interactive experience hall.
Complementing these are displays for weapons, folk instruments and ceramics.
A real high point is the rideable magnetic levitation train, created for the ’93 Expo and illustrating the development of this technology.
Also outside is a Möbius strip, a Korean War-era F-86 Sabre fighter jet, models of herbivorous dinosaurs, a steam engine and a Cheomseongdae, a weather device going all the way back to the Goryeo period, some one thousand years ago.
Under the humungous dome of the Astronaut Hall is Korea’s top planetarium, with 242 seats and a timetable of shows all day long for a small fee.
4. Hanbat Arboretum
Another of the many attractions clustered around the Expo Park is the largest urban arboretum in Korea, fully opened in 2009 and unfolding over 37 hectares.
The Hanbat Arboretum is on the south bank of the Gap River, linked to the park by the modernist Expo Bridge.
Dowon (West Garden) is home to a small art museum and opened its doors in 2005, while the Dongwon (East Garden) came a little later, in 2009, and consists of 19 individual spaces, like the Medicinal Herb Garden, Fruit Garden, Rose Garden, Rock Garden and Magnolia Garden.
The Tropical Garden is a stand out for its 9,300 exotic plants from 198 species.
Perusing the arboretum you’ll come across a spacious grass plaza, a lake with a pavilion, a mangrove forest and big collections of pines, maples and other hardwood trees.
5. Ppuri Park
Translating to “Family Root Park”, Ppuri Park at the base of Mansung Mountain on Daejeon’s southern margins is dotted with 136 sculptures to remind Koreans of their lineage.
The park is intended to kindle a feeling of filial piety, and each work represents one of Korea’s last names, with a short history of the name on the front, and an explanation of the meaning of the sculpture on the back.
The Samnam Memorial Tower here symbolises the harmony between Korea’s ancient western Honam and eastern Yeongnam regions.
There are other sights, coded with traditional symbols, like the Deep-rooted Spring with 12 branches, one for each of the jisin (gods of the earth), and a sasindo (a mural of the four guardian deities). You can amble in the park’s recreational forest, and on the water there’s a line of duck boats to rent.
6. Sung Sim Dang Bakery
Unique to Daejeon, because they refuse to expand beyond three locations in the city despite crazy demand, Sung Sim Dang Bakery goes back more than 60 years and brims with delicious looking treats, carefully arranged to tempt you.
If there’s one thing Sung Sim Dang is known for, it’s twigim soboro, a fried streusel bread with a crunch cookie casing and a sweet red bean paste filling.
Some of the items might seem a little out of the ordinary, like pantalon boochu, which is a bun filled with chopped Korean chives, egg and tofu.
You can stick to more conventional flavour profiles, like the choco puff roll (like a pain au chocolat), double-decker macarons, or the decadent cacao soonjung, a sweet chocolate bread with a dark chocolate ganache filling and a topping of chocolate-covered walnuts.
The main location is on Daejong-ro at the heart of the Jung-gu area, a brief walk from Jungangno Station.
7. Daejeon O-World
This integrated amusement park is three attractions in one, all ensconced in beautiful nature on Daejeon’s mountainous southern side.
Zoo Land is inhabited by 600 animals from 160 species, including Bengal tigers, giraffes, elephants, Korean wolves, zebras and black bears.
Flower Land is a botanical attraction where you’ll find a line-up of whimsical fountains and greenhouses accompanied by a Rose Garden, Maze Garden, Herb Garden and Four Seasons Garden.
Joy Land meanwhile has theme park rides like a giant drop, log flume and swinging Viking ship.
A recent arrival is Bird Land, where there are aviaries and enclosures for Humboldt penguins, flamingos, emus and more.
8. Sky Road
In the middle of Daejeon’s central shopping area, beginning at Jungang-ro and heading south, is a youthful and neon-coated pedestrianised shopping street with cosmetics, fashion, jewellery and electronics stores on the ground floors and bars, karaoke spots (noraebang), restaurants and cafes above.
In 2013 an LED canopy structure was constructed here, 214 metres long and to a height of 20 metres.
After dark there are colourful animations overhead, always changing, from advertising to eye-popping art depicting butterflies, planets, flowers, fireworks or abstract shapes.
9. Gyejoksan Mountain Red Clay Trail
There are a few reasons to make a trip to the 429-metre Gyejoksan, a mountain on Daejeon’s east shoulder.
This is the scene for Gyejoksanseong Fortress, at a height of around 280 metres, and dating to the 4th century CE, from the time of the Three Kingdoms.
Between spring and autumn, the best way to tackle the mountain is on the Red Clay or Hwangtogil Trail.
Suitable for families as it has a light incline, this is a broad 14-kilometre path, one side of which is laid with wet red clay.
Walkers are encouraged to walk at least a portion of the path barefoot through the clay.
After twisting through fragrant pine forest for an hour or two you’ll have a view to behold of Daejeon and the fortress.
There’s a place serving makgeolli or soju at the top, and occasional live entertainment to enjoy while you soak your feet to remove the clay!
10. KIGAM Geological Museum
This museum, west of the Expo Park, came a little later, in 2001, in a building designed to resemble the breastbone of a stegosaurus.
KIGAM is the first and only stand-alone museum in South Korea dedicated to geology.
The first thing you’ll see inside is the Main Hall, which has a massive globe depicting suboceanic topography, as well as whole fossil skeletons for dinosaurs like, Tyrannosaurus, and Maiasaura and Edmontonia.
The First Exhibition Hall has yet more fossils, and displays relating to geological surveys, evolution and tectonic plates, while the Second Exhibition Hall classifies the rocks of the Earth’s crust and has a dazzling display of minerals and gemstones.
The high-tech Discovery Room is a hands-on area where children can solve a dinosaur bone puzzle, investigate a fossil dig and swipe across many millions of years from one geological period to the next.
Lastly, the Science Room lets you peer through microscopes at rocks and minerals gathered in Korea and overseas.
11. Daejeon Jungang Market
Extending right the way from Daejeon Station to the Daejeonchon river in Dong-gu, Daejeon Jungang Market is a gigantic central market made up of loads of smaller trading areas at covered streets and indoor halls.
As you make your way through this maze you’ll find fresh fish, hardware, produce, cosmetics, electronics, herbal medicine, ceramics, hanbok (traditional attire for women), kitchen utensils and clothing, not to mention street food and little eateries with stools in front of a bar.
In an untouristy city like Daejeon, the market is aimed at locals, which makes it all the more interesting to browse.
There are more than 30 vendors specialising in sundae, a popular blood sausage, often filled with dangmyeon (transparent noodles). Other Korean classics to investigate are mandu (fried dumplings) and pajeon, a scallion pancake with a variety of toppings.
12. Jangtaesan Recreational Forest
This restful natural attraction is in a lush valley beneath Jangtaesan, a short way south of Daejeon proper.
There are 12 kilometres of walking trails here, including a barefoot trail, through mature and newly planted swathes of ginkgo and bald cypress.
You can linger by the banks of a large reservoir, stroll in the botanical garden, climb the Sky Tower for panoramas of the mountain and negotiate an elevated treetop walk.
Throughout the recreation forest there’s outdoor gym equipment and playgrounds for little ones.
For a weekend away you can go camping or book a cabin via the forest’s website.
13. Daecheong Dam
Impounding the Geum River to the north of Daejeon, the Daecheong Dam was completed in 1980 to prevent flooding, generate hydroelectricity and create the 73-square-kilometre reservoir, Daecheong Lake.
Cradled by beautiful low-lying mountains, the lake is a popular destination for a scenic drive or walk and is the setting for Cheongnamdae, the president’s summer home, recently opened to the public for tours.
There’s an observatory at the Palgakjeong Service Area, with an arresting view of the water, while the Water Culture Center on the dam’s left bank holds an aquarium and will tell you all you need to know about this 72-metre-tall construction.
Take a peaceful walk along the Daecheong Lake Trail and pause at a local restaurant where local preparations like marinated grilled eel and freshwater fish stew are a point of pride.
In early-spring be sure to drive South Korea’s longest cherry blossom road, meandering for more than 26 kilometres beside the lake.
14. Expo Bridge
Designed by Hui Lee Shun, the footbridge over the Gap River, south of Expo Park is on an axis with the Hanbit Tower and was also built for the exposition in 1993. With its tall arches, this structure has a look that holds up well considering it is now more than 25 years old.
The Expo Bridge really comes into its own at night when illuminated, and you can watch the diaphanous water jets of the fountain flanking the crossing.
The banks of the Gap River are a hangout spot in summer, when you can rent a paddleboard, canoe or bike for a gentle ride next to the water.
15. Currency Museum
The Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation (making ID cards) is based in Daejeon, so you could take the opportunity to learn more about the Won at this free museum at Gwahak-ro, Yuseong-gu.
There are more than 120,000 pieces to check out, set up in three main exhibition halls, for the history of coins, the history of banknotes and an intriguing exhibition about anti-counterfeiting measures down the years.
In the former, one of the most exciting exhibits is Geonwonjungbo (996), the first metal coin minted in Korea, and the Sangpyeongtongbo, the most widely circulated currency during the Joseon Dynasty.
You can view the world’s first alloy coin, from Lydia in 670 BCE, as well as a wealth of charms, commemorative coins and amulets.
In the banknote gallery is the first Won note, printed in 1902, together with details about the modern printing process and currency in North Korea.
The anti-counterfeiting displays include forged notes, tricks for spotting fakes, a run-down of the history of anti-counterfeiting in Korea and high-tech devices to detect if a note is genuine.