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Maps!

A guide to Korea’s online maps and links to maps with certification centers, bike paths, and more.

Maps! You’re going to need one if you plan to go on exploring Korea by Bike.

First, we’ll give a breakdown of the most useful web maps in Korea. (Kakao vs. Naver vs. Google.) Then we’ll give you some tips and best practices.

Finally, find a handful of maps listing Korea’s Certification Centers (red stamp booths) and bike paths.

Southward ho!

Korean Web Map Services

What’s the world’s default web mapping service? Google Maps. From Sicily to Buenos Aires, their satellites and street view cameras have scanned almost every road, avenue, and boulevard in the world.

Almost? Which countries haven’t been photographed by Google? Iran? North Korea?

South Korea. 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?

A picture of a military outpost on Korea's east coast.
Small outposts line the Korea's east coast, reminding you of Korea's past and present.

First, war! South Korea’s battle with their northern neighbor never stopped. So the government would rather not disclose its sensitive sites — military, nuclear, industrial — to a foreign corporation.

And South Korea likes to protect its domestic brands. They place tariffs on international conglomerates and give local conglomerates greater access to government resources.

That means, if you want the most up-to-date, accurate mapping data, use one or both of South Korea’s domestic web maps.

Link button to Kakao Maps Highlights.

Kakao Maps vs. Naver Maps

The logo for Naver Maps.

Kakao Maps and Naver Maps are the nation’s two mega mappers. Similar to Google Maps, each gives you “road” (지도), “satellite” (위성지도), and “terrain maps” (지형지도). They also provide street views (거리뷰; 로드뷰) and access to CCTV cameras mounted on major roads.

Bike Paths

Both Naver and Kakao let their users overlay “bike paths” over their web maps.

Just tap the layers icon (two stacked squares). Select the bike icon labeled 자전거 and red lines will overlay onto the map. Behold! Korea’s cycling paths.

Zoom into Kakao Maps and find those thick red lines shift into a mix of red and blue lines. Red lines are bicycle-only roads. Blue lines show shared bike paths — either sidewalks with cycle lanes or minor roads fit for cyclists.

(Naver Maps uses solid red lines for cycling lanes and dotted red lines for shared bike paths.)

Naver vs. Kakao

vs.

To understand these maps, let’s examine their parent companies.

Naver runs Naver Maps. Kakao operates Kakao Maps. Both are Korean tech companies that develop web and smartphone applications.

Kakao Corporation

Kakao Corporation (주식회사 카카오) is an online and app focused company with many limbs.

KakaoTalk is Kakao Corp’s flagship bit of software. Similar to WhatsApp, you can find this messaging app installed on over 90% of South Korea’s smartphones. It’s so popular, Kakao opened mall stores that sell only KakaoTalk merch, like their Kakao Friends dolls.

Kakao Corp has over twenty more subsidiaries, including KakaoStory (social media), Kakao T (transportation app), Kakao Pay (payment app).

A few years back, Kakao bought Daum, Korea’s second most popular search engine. This gave it access to Daum Maps, which they rebranded as Kakao Maps.

Naver Corporation

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).

The Naver search engine is the company’s prized child. In Korea, they beat out Google. In fact, their dominance on the peninsula makes them the fifth most used web portal in the world.

Like Kakao, Naver has a cornucopia of divisions. Their user-generated blogs and cafes are a popular source of restaurant and destination reviews.

Line is a messaging app similar to KakaoTalk, though not as dominant. Like Kakao, Naver opened mall shops selling Line Friends branded merch.

Link button to Kakao Maps Highlights.

Kakao Maps

Compared to Naver Maps, Kakao Maps is a young upstart. Though it’s catching up, it lacks Naver Maps’ catalog of blogs and reviews.

One key feature makes Kakao more cycle-friendly than Naver. An elevation chart.

Elevation Chart

After selecting your route on Kakao Maps, press the bicycle icon to designate “cycling” as your method of transportation.

Find an elevation chart under the predicted time and distance. It details all of the route’s hills, as well as its minimum and maximum elevation.

For trip planning, this key feature elevates Kakao over Naver Maps. It lets riders know a planned route’s true difficulty.

Sixty kilometers doesn’t seem too hard until you spot that 500-meter mountain in the middle.

Interface

Kakao Maps’ interface is intuitive. Select any location and you’ll see its address, hours, website, and phone number. Many locations have photos, reviews, and blog entries.

Though written in Korean, blog entries give helpful tips and info. Use a translation app like Papago (Google Play; App Store) or Google Translate (Google Play; App Store).

One more important tool. Below the search box lives a horizontal list. Its icons link to place categories, like restaurants, accommodations, and convenience stores. More on this below.

Directions

How can I get directions using Kakao Maps?

A screenshot of the Kakao Maps app.
Red lines on the Kakao Maps app show Korea’s official bicycle paths.

Simple. Tap where you want to go. Then press the blue arrow circle at the bottom of the screen.

Now choose your method of travel. The car icon selects driving. Bus icon equals public transportation. Person icon for walking. And the bike icon chooses cycling.

Kakao Maps will select your present location as a default starting point.

Click on either departing or destination search boxes to re-select either. You can also drop a pin 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’ search boxes. 

When searching for a public transportation route, Naver Maps holds the advantage. Kakao Maps only displays locations in Korean. Unless you learn Hangul, you’ll struggle to find your way.

Street View

Like Google Maps in the rest of the world, Kakao Maps sends cars with 360° cameras down almost every Korean road.

On the Kakao Maps, tap the webcam icon on the screen’s top right corner. A pinpoint icon will pop into the center of the screen. Navigate to any street highlighted in blue on the map. Voilà! A street level view of Korea.

Here again, Naver Maps has Ace up its sleeve. Whereas Kakao stuck to highways and streets, Naver drove their cars down Korea’s bike paths.

3D SkyView

Now click on the layers icon (stack boxes) on the screen’s top right. Tap the 3D SkyView option. 

This switches the map to a satellite image and tilts the angle of your view to reveal raised terrain dotted with virtual buildings.

Kakao Maps has one more trick. On its desktop site, click “스카이뷰” (sky view) in the screen’s top right corner. A satellite map will pop up, as well as a dropdown menu listing years.

Start in 2008 and click year-after-year until the present. Watch Korea develop before your eyes.

The logo for Naver Maps.

Naver Maps

Naver Maps benefits from being a subsidiary of the larger and more established Naver Corp. It also draws from the deep well of user-generated blogs and search connected content.

However, it doesn’t have an elevation chart, vital for planning a cycling route.

Interface

A screenshop of the Naver Maps app showing bicycle paths.
Red lines on the Naver Maps app signify the Korea’s bicycle paths.

Naver Maps works just like Kakao Maps. Click a place name and find its address, phone, and website if available. 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 search box. More below.

Unlike Kakao, Naver Maps provides a location’s name in Korean and English.

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 heading to the right place.

Directions

Naver Maps makes it slightly easier to find your way than Kakao.

Click a location on the map and spot “To” and “From” buttons.

After selecting your route, tap the search boxes to change departure and destination locations or pinpoint a spot on the map. You can also reverse directions and add more stops.

Under the search boxes, select your travel method: bus, car, person, and bike icons.

The public transportation section displays location names and stops in English, unlike Kakao.

A screenshot of Naver Maps'app's airplane view.
Naver Maps’ airplane view gives you a detailed view of popular places in Korea.

Street View

Naver Maps one-upped Kakao Maps with their street views. Not only did it photograph roads, highways, and back roads, it also sent their 360° cameras down 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.

(Check the year (년) and month (월) at the bottom of the street view. Photos of some distant locales can date back a decade.)

To get into street view, select the circular pinpoint button (거리뷰). Then tap any highlighted road or path to drop to street level.

Airplane View

What’s better than a street view? How about “airplane view?”

While in street view mode, click the airplane icon on the screen’s top right. It’ll whisk you a couple hundred feet above ground to an overhead shot captured by either an airplane or drone.

Just like the street view, you can move, zoom, and rotate the virtual camera 360° while in airplane view.

(You won’t find this feature in the countryside. And some pics are a decade old.)

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Korean Map Tips

Korean web maps work just like Google Maps, with some big differences. Programmers built their foundations in Hangul (Korea’s written language). Not English.

Can’t read and write Hangul? No problem. Find tips and tricks to using Korea’s web maps below.

Default Language

Once you install Naver or Kakao Maps, the apps will detect the language setting on your phone and adjust.

However, you can change languages yourself if your app defaults to Korean.

In Kakao Maps, click 설정 (settings) → 앱 설정 (app settings) → 서비스 설정 (service settings) → 언어 (language) → 영어 (English).

With Naver Maps, click 설정 (settings) → 언어 설정 (language settings) → 영어 (English).

Location Searching

You set your map to English? Good! Now all the location’s names are in English.

One slight hiccup.

Naver and Kakao built their mapping infrastructure in Korean. English is just a slapped on veneer. Programmers wrote every place’s underlying attributes in Hangul.

What does that mean? 

Search for a major attraction in English — N Seoul Tower, for example — and it’ll pop up without a hitch. 

Now try searching for “bibimbap restaurant” in English on the far-flung Saejae Bike Path. You’ll come up empty.

Searching In Korean

For better results on Kakao or Naver Maps, search using Korean (Hangul). You’ll return much more accurate search results because it taps into the more expansive Korean database.

Translation apps like Naver’s Papago (Google Play; App Store) or Google Translate (Google Play; App Store) help a lot.

Even if you search using Korean, Naver and Kako maps will present locations in English.

Korea by Bike provides the Korean name of most places and links to their location on either Kakao or Naver Maps.

A picture of crab restaurants in the town of Yeongdeok in Korea.
Crab restaurants in the town of Yeongdeok in Korea.

Quick Links

Naver and Kakao Maps also offer a great tool to skip through language barriers.

Under their search boxes, find a row of quick-search icons: food, coffee, convenience stores, et cetera.

These buttons help you skip the translation step by auto searching categories in Korean.

For example, type “convenience store” into a search 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 under the search box. It’ll pop in “편의점” (convenience store).

Wow! GS25, 7-Eleven, eMart24. They’re everywhere! Why?

Kakao and Naver Maps write categories in Korean, not English.

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Google Maps

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, Google isn’t useless.

If you search for well-known locales and landmarks, like Lotte Tower, you’ll get an accurate location and a detailed listing.

Why?

Thank travelers and expats.

In Korea, Google’s users generate most of their mapping info. Helpful adventurers 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 drops off.

Businesses open and close all the time in Korea. There aren’t enough Google spies to track every closed mart and bankrupt pizzeria.

Google Maps is best used to bookmark your favorite places or navigate using the Bike Certification Map.

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Korean Bicycle Maps

Official Certification System Map

Click the picture above or here to download a PDF copy.

Certification Centers on Google Maps

Certification Centers on Kakao Maps

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Route Maps

Bicycle Path Maps