Maps! They used to be paper. Now they’re digital. If you plan to go on bike adventures in Korea, you need one.
First, we’ll give the map rundown. You learn which maps work best in Korea. Kakao vs. Naver vs. Google. Then we’ll give you some tips and best practices.
Then we’ll link you to Korea’s official Bicycle Certification Map and other helpful bike maps.
Korean Web Map Services
What’s the world’s default web mapping service? Of course. Google Maps. From Sicily to Buenos Aires, their satellites and street view cameras scanned every road, avenue, and boulevard.
That is, until they arrived on the Korean peninsula. The Spatial Data Industry Promotion Act, first enacted after the Korean War, bars the export of mapping information. This stops Google from collecting and storing map data on overseas servers.
Why? Two reasons.
First, war! The battle with their northern neighbor never stopped. The South’s government would rather not disclose its sensitive sites — military, nuclear, industrial — to a foreign corporation.
Second, Korea likes to protect its domestic brands. They place tariffs on international mega corps with deep pockets and give local businesses greater access to government resources.
That means, if you want the most up-to-date, accurate mapping data, use one or both of the domestic web mapping services.
Kakao Maps vs. Naver Maps
Kakao Maps and Naver Maps are Korea’s two mega mappers. Similar to Google Maps, each gives you basic road (지도), satellite (위성지도), and terrain maps (지형지도). They also provide street views (거리뷰; 로드뷰) and access to CCTV cameras mounted on major roads.
The most important map feature? Glad you asked.
On both maps, tap the layers icon (two stacked squares). Select the bike icon labeled 자전거. Red lines will overlay onto the map. These are Korea’s cross-country bicycle paths.
If you zoom into Kakao Maps, you’ll see a mix of red and blue lines. The blue paths show shared bike paths — either sidewalks with bike lanes or minor roads fit for cyclists. (In Naver Maps, shared bike paths appear as dotted red lines.)
Naver vs. Kakao
To understand these maps, you need to look at their parent companies.
The messaging app KakaoTalk is their most prized branch. It’s installed on over ninety percent of the smartphones in Korea. It’s so popular that Kakao opened shops in major malls that only sell their emoji characters (Kakao Friends) merch.
A few years back, Kakao bought Daum, Korea’s second most popular search engine. This gave it access to Daum Maps, which they rebranded with the Kakao moniker.
Naver Corporation (네이버 주식회사) is the largest web and app developer in Korea. They’re older than Kakao (1999 vs. 2010) and generate twice the revenue (₩6.59 trillion vs. ₩3.09 trillion).
Like Kakao, Naver has a gaggle of divisions. Their user-generated blogs and cafes are a popular source of restaurant and location reviews.
There’s one key feature, however, that makes it more biker friendly. An elevation chart.
Pick out a route on Kakao Maps. Then click the bicycle icon. This will select biking as your method of travel.
In the results, you’ll find an elevation chart under the find the predicted time and distance. The chart will show every hill and the minimum and maximum heights of your run.
This is key to planning out your bike route. Don’t head out on a 100 kilometer ride and stumble on a 500-meter mountain halfway through. That’ll double your predicted time.
Kakao built their maps to be intuitive. Click a location and you’ll see its address, hours, website, and phone number. Most places have a few photos, reviews, and blog entries.
It’s simple to get directions on the Kakao Maps. Click a place you want to go, then tap the blue circle with diverging arrows.
Now choose your method of travel. The car icon means driving. Bus equals public transportation. Person selects walking. And the bike icon chooses cycling.
The default start is your current location. You can click on either dialogue box to retype a place name, pinpoint another spot on the map, or pick a place from your favorites.
Reverse start and end points by tapping the double arrows next to the ‘To’ and ‘From’ dialogue boxes.
When finding a public transportation route, Naver holds the advantage. Kakao Maps only displays locations in Korean. Unless you learned some Hangul, you’ll struggle to find your way.
Street & 3D SkyView
Like Google Maps, Kakao mapped out many of Korea’s roads with 360° cameras.
On the Kakao Maps, tap the webcam icon. A webcam symbol will pop up in the center of the screen. Navigate to any blue-highlighted street. Voilà! A street level view of Korea.
Here again, Naver has another Ace up its sleeve. Whereas Kakao snapped pics of highways and roads, Naver drove their cars down the major bike paths.
When you click on the layers icon (stack boxes), you’ll find a 3D SkyView option. This will display an angled view of a satellite map with raised terrain and virtual buildings.
Kakao Maps has one more trick, though. On the desktop site, click on the 스카이뷰 (sky view). The map will change to a satellite overlay. However, look under the button. You’ll see a list of years. Click 2008, 2011, 2014. Watch Korea transform before your eyes.
Naver Maps benefits from being a subsidiary of a much larger and established company. It also draws from the deep well of user-generated blogs and search connected content.
However, it doesn’t have that elevation chart. Key for planning out a cycling route.
Naver Maps works just like Kakao Maps. Click a place name and find its address, phone, and website. You’ll also get photos and blog reviews.
Most bloggers write in Korean. But a quick translation will give you enough info to work with.
Also like Kakao, Naver Maps provides a row of quick search buttons below the dialogue box. More below.
Unlike Kakao, Naver Maps writes both a location’s English and Korean names. Why is this helpful? There have been different romanizations of Hangul over the years (Pusan vs. Busan). Naver’s Korean/English pairing helps you confirm your going to the correct place.
It’s easier to find your way on Naver Maps than Kakao. Once you click on a location, you’ll find “To” and “From” buttons.
After selecting your route, you can tap the double arrows to reverse start/end points, add more stops, and pinpoint a new spot on the map.
Under the dialogue boxes, you’ll find the travel method icons: bus, car, person, bike. Choose one to select if you’re taking public transport, driving, walking, or biking.
The public transportation section displays location names and stops in English, unlike Kakao.
Street & Airplane View
Naver Maps again one-upped Kakao Maps with their street and aerial views.
Naver’s street view not only covers roads, highways, and back roads. They also sent their 360° camera equipped cars down most of the major bike paths.
So if you want to check out the surface conditions along the Nakdonggang Bike Path, Naver Maps will give you meter-by-meter pics.
To get into street view, select the circular pinpoint button (거리뷰). The pinpoint icon will appear in the middle of the map. Move it to any highlighted section to drop to street level.
What’s better than a street view? How about drone view?
In street view mode, click the airplane icon (not available everywhere). The map will whisk you a couple hundred feet above ground. You can move, zoom, and rotate the camera.
Korean Map Tips
Korean web maps work just like Google Maps with some big differences. If you’re unfamiliar with reading and writing in Korea, you must pick up a few tricks to get the most out of them.
However, if your app defaults to Korean you can change languages yourself.
In Kakao Maps, click:
- 설정 (settings) →
- 앰 설정 (app settings) →
- 서비스 설정 (service settings) →
- 언어 (language) →
- 영어 (English).
With Naver Maps, click:
- 설정 (settings) →
- 언어 설정 (language settings) →
- 영어 (English).
With the English setting set, you’ll find your map lists all locations in English. Good!
But understand, Naver and Kakao built their mapping infrastructure in Korean. They wrote the underlying attributes of every location in Korean. The English language place names are a veneer.
What does that mean?
Searching In Korean
For better results on Kakao or Naver Maps, search using Korean language characters (Hangul). This will tap into the more accurate Korean database.
Korea by Bike provides the Korean name of most places. Click them and we’ll pop you over to their listing on Kakao or Naver Maps.
And don’t worry. Even if you search in Korean, Naver and Kako maps will toss you the English language listing.
Naver and Kakao Maps offer a great tool to skip through language barriers.
Under their dialogue boxes you’ll find some quick search buttons: food, coffee, convenience stores, et cetera. Why do you need them?
Both maps may write locations in English. But they write the categories each location falls under in Korean.
For example, type “convenience store” into a dialogue box. Unless there’s a convenience store named “convenience store,” you’ll come up empty. This isn’t a category.
Now tap the convenience store quick search icon. The maps will pop 편의점 (convenience store) into the dialogue box. Wow! GS25, 7-Eleven, eMart24. They’re everywhere! Why? The maps write categories in Korean, not English.
The Spatial Data Industry Promotion Act kneecaps Google’s ability to map out Korea. They don’t have access to road construction plans, bus timetables, or business listings. While you don’t want to use Google Maps to drive or catch a train, it isn’t useless.
If you search for major spots, like Lotte Tower, you’ll receive an accurate location and a detailed listing. Why? Thank travelers and expats.
In Korea, users generate most of the info on Google Maps in Korea. Helpful adventure seekers from all over the world take photos, write reviews, and confirm key details about the places they visit.
This method produces excellent results in popular cities like Seoul. But once you get out of the major metro areas, Google Maps’ accuracy falls off a cliff.
Businesses open and close all the time in Korea. And there aren’t enough foreign Google spies to keep up with every small-time pizzeria bankruptcy.
Google Maps is best used to favorite your locations or use our Bike Certification Map.