Daegu is a metropolitan city in Gyeongsangbuk-do Province (southeastern part of Korea) close to the cities of Gyeongju and Andong. Nestled into a valley with mountains on practically every side, Daegu was once notorious for its sultry summer weather. In an effort to rectify this naturally sticky situation, the city government planted numerous trees along the city streets, improved the river flow, and built parks and fountains throughout the area. Though still rather muggy in the summer, Daegu has the image of being a clean and environmentally-friendly city.
Though not as widely publicized as the capital city to the north, Daegu is a big city with a large population. With the exception of beaches, the city offers practically everything you could ever want in a Korean travel destination—mountains, temples, historical sites, and a beautiful natural landscape. The city has an advanced textile and fashion industry and is known for its medical tourism and Oriental medicine. Daegu's advanced textile and fashion industry has made the city a forerunner in fashion and its downtown commercial districts is filled with young fashionistas strutting their stuff and showing off in the latest fashion ensembles. The city is so well known for its fashion forward thinking that it is the first place fashion designers go to gauge consumer reactions to new styles and products.
Walking along the unique streets and alleyways of Daegu is an adventure in and of itself. Cultural relics are tucked between modern buildings and there’s plenty to see and do. The modern culture tour that traces the city’s last hundred years of history draws a large number of visitors every day.
Daegu offers so many attractions that it cannot be defined by one color or flavor. So if you’re looking for a smorgasbord of sightseeing, head to Daegu for a rainbow of diversity.
Daegu simultaneously offers a big city experience and a calming, mountainous vibe. This sometimes odd combination of nature and modernization means that there’s plenty to do. Whether you head to the mountains for a hike, tour the temples or historical sites, or simply wander the popular streets or traditional markets, you’ll never run out of things to do.
Built in 493 at the foot of Mount Palgongsan, Donghwasa Temple was named after the paulownia that blossom in the wintertime (‘donghwasa’ literally means ‘temple of blooming paulownia’). Once inside the temple, you’ll find Daeungjeon and Geungnakjeon (ancient buildings which are designated provincial cultural assets), Maaebuljwasang (the rock-relief seated Buddha), the three-story stone pagoda, and the Dangganjiju stone pillars. The 33 meter-high Tongil-daebul Buddha Statue was built in 1992 as a symbol of hope for reunification and is a landmark of Donghwasa Temple.
Surrounding the northern part of Daegu like traditional folding screen, Palgongsan Mountain (1,192 meters at its highest point) is abundant with unique rock formations and carpeted with lush foliage. Its valleys run with clean, clear waters and the mountain as a whole provides visitors with perfect hiking conditions. Running east to west, Palgongsan is the center of Buddhist culture in the region with 50 or so temples and hermitages like Donghwasa, Pagyesa, and Buinsa. Numerous Buddhist statues and pagodas are scattered throughout its valleys. The mountain divulges a new kind of beauty during each of the four seasons and is full of attractions, making it a popular getaway for locals and tourists throughout the year.
Yangnyeongsi has been known for its quality oriental medicinal herbs for the past 400 years, ever since the Joseon Era. In its heyday, the market was so prosperous that its fame spread to the far reaches of Japan and China. The Yangnyeongsi Oriental Medicine Cultural Center displays the history of Yangnyeongsi, the origin of the ‘yakjeon streets,’ (loosely translated ‘pharmacy streets’), and Oriental medicinal herbs. At the center, visitors can take part in a hands-on program to get an Oriental health check-up or take a break with an oriental foot bath.
Established in the mid-Joseon Era, Seomun Market was named for its location at the west of the fortress of Daegu (‘Seomun’ meaning ‘west gate’). This gigantic traditional market has about 4,000 stores divided into eight districts. Its textile stores, in particular, are renowned nationwide. Visitors will find a cluster of about 400 hanbok stores and vendors touting blankets, containers, dried goods, fruit, and other food.
The Bangjja Yugi Museum is the first museum in the world to be dedicated to Korean bronzeware (known as ‘bangjja yugi’). This elegant metal tableware is composed of copper and tin and, according to traditional production methods, is heated, hammered, and shaped by several craftsmen working as a team. The museum features 1,500 or so bronze items (musical instruments, containers, and housewares)—all of which are made using traditional processing and manufacturing methods. Also housed at the museum are a store and a reproduction of a traditional bronze workshop.
Located near Mount Palgongsan, the Museum of Natural Dye Arts has on display naturally dyed artwork, utensils, folk materials, and antique artwork. Groups of 10 or more (with reservations) are invited to try naturally dyeing handkerchiefs, T-shirts, scarves, or hanji papers. Fees vary depending on which article your group decides to dye.
Nokdongseowon is a landmark that is just as well known in Japan as in Korea. Housed within this solemn building are the memorial tablets of General Kim Chung-seon (1571-1642), a Japanese citizen who defected to Korean during the Imjin War and later became a naturalized Korean citizen. Interestingly enough, it is said that there are no historical records of General Kim Chung-seon in Japan. Outside the building are Hyangyangmun Gate and a stone monument. At the Korea-Japan Friendship Hall visitors can follow the general's footprints via a video presentation.
Amidst the natural beauties and historic treasures, visitors to Daegu will be surprised to find a few very quirky sites, such as the Daegu Safety Theme Park. This hands-on theme park combines safety education with real-life simulations of natural disasters such as fires, earthquakes, and subway accidents. A visit to any of the ‘galleries’ in this very special museum (Life Safety Gallery, Subway Safety Gallery, and Earthquake Safety Gallery) will leave you feeling anything but bored. The program takes about two hours and includes an orientation on safety and how to survive each natural disaster. Participation in hands-on programs is free, but visitors are asked to make reservations in advance.
The local food of Daegu is spicier and more daring than any other region. If you don’t mind a little pep to your food, make sure to try the jjimgalbi and blowfish bulgogi, delicious treats that are worth enduring a little spice.
Unlike Seoul-style galbijjim (steamed short-rib dish) that is seasoned with soy sauce, the jjimgalbi of Daegu is seasoned with hot red peppers and garlic. Its bold taste is said to be so spicy that it will numb your tongue. The dish was first served in Dongin-dong, Jung-gu in the early 1970s and today has become one of Daegu’s signature dishes. Jjimgalbi has become so popular that there is an entire street in Dongin-dong that is unofficially dedicated to jjimgalbi restaurants.
Bogeo bulgogi is prepared by deboning blowfish and grilling it bulgogi style with bean sprouts and spicy condiments. Like most representative foods of Daegu, the dish is extremely spicy, but the blowfish meat is very tender. Bogeo bulgogi is served in special fuku restaurants along the street of Beomeo-dong Deuran-gil where there are many upscale restaurants.
Flat dumplings called napjak mandu are found only Daegu. These half-moon shaped dumplings are made by stuffing very thin dumplings with dangmyeon noodles (made of potato or sweet potato starch) and vegetables. The dumplings are boiled, grilled, and then eaten with a splash of seasoning. The amount of filling in each dumpling is so small that it has almost no taste of its own, but bursts with savory flavor when mixed with hot, spicy tteokbokki or crunchy vegetables.
Gopchang and makchang are edible parts of a cow's stomach that are grilled on charcoal briquettes to bring out the meat’s chewy texture and nutty flavor. The dish first gained popularity in Daegu and later spread to other parts of the nation. Even today, this high-protein dish is most commonly paired with soju. To try this local dish at a reasonable price, head to the Gopchang restaurants of Anjirang Market.
Daegu Yangyeongsi is an old market of Oriental medicine that has been around for more than 400 years. Along the street of Namseongno, which stretches about 650 meters, are 350 Oriental medicine stores, clinics, and restaurants. The Daegu Yangyeongsi Herb Medicine Festival is held in early May every year, offering various hands-on programs to help visitors experience Oriental medicine.