Gyeonggi Province

Take a quick tour around Korea’s most populous province.​

Gyeonggi Province (경기도) is the most populous province in Korea. Why? The name says it all, translating to “the area around the capital.” But the province not only surrounds Seoul City (서울특별시; Seoul-si), the largest city. It also cuddles up to Incheon (인천시), Korea’s third largest metropolis.

Much of Gyeonggi’s population feeds off the capital. Skyrocketing real-estate prices and tight quarters continue to send residents to the outer province. It’s “suburban” satellite cities offer cheaper apartments and greener spaces.

The Stats
  • Gyeonggi Province (경기도; Gyeonggi-do)
  • 10,195 km² (3,936 sq mi) — 5th among 9 provinces
  • 13,479,798 people — 1st among 9 provinces
  • 1,322 folks per km² (3,424 per sq mi)
Gyeonggi Province Map
Gyeonggi Province

Bike Paths

Gyeonggi Province hosts two major bike paths.

The Hangang Bicycle Path (including the Namhangang Bicycle Path) enters the province from the eastern border of Seoul. It travels southeast through:

From Yeoju City, the bicycle path enters North Chungcheong Province (충청북도; Chungcheongbuk-do).

The Bukhangang Bicycle Path splits off from the Hangang Bicycle Path near Hanam City. It travels north through:

From Gapyeong County, it enters Gangwon Province (강원도; Gangwon-do). 

A picture of a rider riding along the cross-country bike path near the city of Yeoju in South Korea.
Gyeonggi Province is the densest Province in Korea. But you can also find plenty of countryside.

Major Cities

The Seoul Capital Area (수도권) includes Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province. Here come the stats!

  • The capital region covers 11,851 km² (4,576 sq mi) of South Korea’s 100,410 km² (38,769 sq mi) land area.
  • It holds 26,358,809 of Korea’s 51,705,905 total population.
  • Put another way, the capital area only claims 12% of South Korea’s land, but contains 51% of its people.

Gyeonggi Province claims half those Seoul Capital Area residents. Here are the province’s top five cities:

To learn more about Gyeonggi’s cities, let’s take a brief Korean civics course.

Cities vs. Counties

Korean provinces divide their area into two basic categories: cities (시; si) and counties (; gun). Individual city and county borders vary, but a city’s total area can be equal or larger than a county’s.

So what’s the difference? People.

Once a county gains over 150,000 residents, it can apply for a promotion to city status. If granted, the county’s borders remain the same. But the major population center becomes a “si” (시) or city.

(Smaller towns in the promoted city’s boundaries keep their previous designation: either an eub (읍; town) or myeon (면; townships). Which means a “city” can have smaller towns within them.)

Cities don’t fall under another county’s jurisdiction. But they still bow to the governors of their province.

Cities vs. Metropolitan Cities

Is there anything above city status? Metropolitan Cities (광역시).

Metropolitan Cities have populations of over one million (1,000,000). Like cities, they must apply and receive approval to attain the status.

So what perks does the title entail?

First, maps change. Glance at a map of only provinces in Korea. It looks as if some bureaucratic deity took a pair of scissors and cut out jagged little holes. These holes are Metropolitan Cities.

(Glance at Gyeonggi on a map. You’ll find two gunshot holes in the middle of its boundaries. They’re the Metropolitan Cities of Seoul (est. 1946) and Incheon (est. 1981).)

Second, the pre-eminent title of Metropolitan City frees cities from their provincial overlords. They become a so-called “self-governing province.” Only the national government holds authority over them.

What does this freedom grant? Metropolitan Cities wield all the regulatory and governing powers of a province. On the local level, they have autonomy. They can create their own economic zones, give tax breaks, regulate industry, and build their own infrastructure.

Special Cities

Any more confusing designations? Of course!

Special Cities (특례시) or Specific Cities (특정시) are cities with 500,000 or more residents. They fall somewhere between normal cities and metropolitan cities.

The Special or Specific city status doesn’t carry any national weight. It’s a title given by provinces to recognize the clout of a large city. A province’s way of saying, “Good going, Champ. Keep chugging along.”

Administrative Districts of Gyeonggi Province

So what are the administrative districts of Gyeonggi Province like? Packed.

Gyeonggi has thirty-one (31) administrative districts. Of those:

  • twenty-eight (28) are cities.
  • only three (3) are counties.

And of those twenty-eight (28) cities, nine (9) are specific cities, with over 500,000 residents.

Furthermore, three (3) of those nine (9) — Suwon (1,185,741), Goyang (1,080,845), and Yongin (1,075,421) — can gain Metropolitan status if they applied.

For comparison, North Chungcheong Province south of Gyeonggi has twelve (12) administrative districts. Nine (9) are counties. Only three (3) are cities.

South Jeolla Province holds twenty-two (22) counties. Five (5) are cities. Its largest city, Yeosu (여수시; 279,844) claims fewer residents than Gyeonggi’s eighteenth (18th) most populous city, Hanam City (300,187).

Geography

Gyeonggi Province sits in the northwest corner of the country. Its borders include:

The Han River (한강; Hangang) separates the province into roughly equal north and south territories. Economically and culturally, the separation is less equal. Let’s have a look.

Northern Territory

North Gyeonggi Province straggles behind the south. Two factors drag on the area’s population and economic development.

You'll find plenty of mountains and a few magnificent rivers in Gyeonggi Province.

Mountains

Mountains and oversized hills undulate throughout the northern Gyeonggi Province territory. Besides cooling the area, they complicate large scale development.

Gwangju Mountain Range

Korea has several mountain ranges that meander through the peninsula. The majors include the Taebaek Mountain (태백산맥) and Sobaek Mountain (소백산맥) Ranges.

The Gwangju Mountain Range (광주산맥) brandishes more modest peaks. Beginning just over the DMZ in North Korea, it breaks away from the Taebaek Mountain Range near Geumgang Mountain (금강산) and crosses into South Korea’s Gangwon Province (강원도).

As the mountain chain flows southwest into Gyeonggi Province, its successive peaks sputter ever lower.

In Seoul, the Gwangju Mountains produce Bukhan Mountain (북한산; Bukhansan), its brightest star. Its sheer rock face adorned many royal ceremonies and selfies over the years.

When the Gwangju Mountains cross the Han River, it descends into oversized hills. Inwang Mountain (인왕산; Inwangsan) just south of the Han in Seoul, marks the last stop.

The Threat

While northern Gyennggi’s elevated landscape throttles its population and industries, a more imminent threat looms. War!

The DMZ runs across the province’s northern border. Meaning, if invasions or bombardment from the long dormant war resumed, the upper portions of Gyeonggi would receive the first dose of devastation.

Businesses shy away from investing in the region bedecked with apocalyptic probabilities. The insurance alone!

Moreover, military installations overwhelm small northern Gyeonggi towns. While South Korea runs a democratic system, national security interests often take precedent over smaller government.

Southern Territory

Southern Gyeonggi Province offers patches of flat terrain that historically aided its growth. 

First, the fertile plains near Icheon (이천시) and Yeoju City (여주시) grew much of the rice that filled successive Korean kingdoms’ bowls.

The forgiving terrain also helped developers expand. Ever taller towers and accommodating industrial complexes fuels the region’s population and economic explosion.

However, like the north/south divide, southern Gyeonggi developed its own east/west imbalance. Why?

Transportation

The Gyeongbu Expressway (경부고속도로) became Korea’s first major expressway in 1968. It connects Seoul with Busan, Korea’s largest and second largest metropolises.

Because the vehicles — trucks, buses, cars — dominated Korea (and everywhere else) in the 20th century, cities that sat around this newfangled expressway received disproportionate boosts to their local economy.

Most of Gyeonggi’s largest cities boast direct access to the Gyeongbu Expressway: Suwon (1,185,741), Yongin (1,075,421), Seongnam (938,819).

Additionally, the Gyeongbu Railway Line (경부선) mirrors the Gyeongbu Expressway. Opened in 1905, and still Korea’s busiest rail line, it gave early boosts to the same regions affected by the expressway. 

A picture of the Paldang Dame outside of Hanam.
The Paldang Dam regulates the Han River in Gyeonggi Province. It prevents flooding and stabilized water supply for Korea's most populated province.

Economy

Though most of Korea’s conglomerates keep their headquarters lie in the capital, many of their subsidiaries situate in Gyeonggi Province, including: 

  • Samsung Electronics, the subdivision that creates Samsung’s flagship products — TVs and smartphones — locates their headquarters in Suwon.
  • Samsung SDI, a Samsung subsidiary that makes batteries, keeps its headquarters in Yongin.  
  • SK Hynix (에스케이하이닉스) keeps their semiconductor and DRAM factories in Gyeonggi Province.
  • Naver Corporation HQ (네이버 주식회사), Korea’s leading web map and search engine provider, sits in Seongnam.
  • LG Corporation operates an LCD factory in Gyeonggi Province.

These white-collar office jobs add middle-class strength to the province. However, you can also find traditional industries focusing on textiles, farming, and traditional ceramics.

History

The Kingdom of Baekje (백제; 18 BCE ~ 660 ACE) was the first of Korea’s three ancient kingdoms to settle the Han River basin. It’s capital, Wiryeseong (위례성), sat in present day Seoul and Hanam.

However, once the Kingdom of Silla (신라; 57 BCE ~ 935 ACE) overtook Baekje and united the peninsula, it moved the nation’s capital to modern day Gyeongju (경주) in the southeast. 

The succeeding Kingdom of Goryeo (고려; 918 BCE ~ 1392 ACE) moved the capital back to Gyeonggi Province. They built their capital in Kaesong (개성), which lies just over the border in present day North Korea.

Jangseung Poles on the Hangang Bike Path
Like the capital it surrounds, Gyeonggi Province contains endless national treasures.

Hey! Gyeonggi Province isn’t in North Korea. True. But when the peninsula split after the Korean War, North Korea claimed Kaesong.

The Joseon Dynasty (조선; 1392 ACE ~ 1897 ACE), the final of the Korea’s hereditary kingdoms, founded Seoul. Called Hanseong (한성) or Hanyang (한양), the city was a part of Gyeonggi Province until 1895. 

Japan reabsorbed Seoul into Gyeonggi Province during their occupation. However, following Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II and Korea’s liberation, Seoul once again broke away.

During Korea’s rapid economic acceleration in the 1970s and 1980s, Incheon’s population boomed. In 1981, it became a Metropolitan City and broke away from Gyeonggi Province.

A picture of the museum and exhibits in near the Tomb of King Sejong in Yeoju, South Korea.
Yeoju, a city on the southern edge of the province, holds the tomb of Korea's greatest leaders, King Sejong.

Highlights

Gyeonggi Province long benefited from being nestled against the nation’s preeminent city. Over the years, the surrounding province collected a treasure chest full of historical artifacts. 

Let’s check Gyeonggi’s gaggle of tourist sites.

The DMZ

The DMZ in Gyeonggi Province holds several touring spots in Paju (파주시) including:

The Imjingak Resort hosts a war museum, sculpture park, and Freedom Bridge, where refugees fled south after the conflict.

Odusan Unification Observatory offers tunnels, a museum, and viewing spots. Here you can glance across the Imjin River (임진강) into North Korea.

Misok Korean Folk Village

In Yongin’s (용인시) Misok Korean Folk Village (한국 민속촌) you can tour authentic Joseon Dynasty architecture, find traditional dishes, and even spot a music performance.

In 1974, the park relocated ancient hanok houses from all over Korea to build what they dub “living museum.”

Heyri Art Valley

Heyri Art Valley (헤이리 마을) sits near the DMZ, just up the road from Odusan Unification Observatory in Paju. The neighborhood is a purpose-built artistic haven. It holds museums, art galleries, and residences for local and national artists.

Fortresses

Because of the province’s war infested history, Gyeonggi claims a few impressive fortresses including:

UNESCO labeled Hwa Fortress as a World Historic Site. Completed in 1796, it sits in the heart of Suwon. It contains a stream, palace, and fortress walls.

Museums and Performance Spaces

Gyeonggi Province offers top shelf museums.

The Gyeonggi Arts Center is a performance space that runs five companies, including a theater, dance, eastern-inspired orchestra, western-inspired orchestra, and pops ensemble.

Theme Parks

Because of its proximity to Seoul and cheaper land, a few of Korea’s most popular theme parks sit in Gyeonggi Province.

Everland (에버랜드) is Korea’s largest theme park. It accommodates both a traditional theme park, with roller coasters and rides, and a popular water park. Seoul Land (서울랜드) is another popular amusement park just south of Seoul. Not as big as Everland, the park offers over forty (40) rides, seasonal festivals, and movie theaters.