Gyeonggi Province (경기도; map) 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; map; Seoul-si), the largest city. It also cuddles up to Incheon (인천시; map), 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. Its “suburban” satellite cities offer cheaper apartments and greener spaces.
- 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 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:
- Hanam City (하남시; map; Hanam-si)
- Yangpyeong County (양평군; map; Yangpyeong-gun)
- Yeoju City (여주시; map; Yeoju-si)
The Bukhangang Bicycle Path splits off from the Hangang Bicycle Path near Hanam City. It travels north through:
- Hanam City (하남시; map; Hanam-si)
- Namyangju City (남양주시; map; Namyangju-si)
- Gapyeong County (가평군; map; Gapyeong-gun)
- 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 of those Seoul Capital Area residents. Here are the province’s top five cities:
- Suwon (수원시; map; Suwon-si; 1,185,741) — Capital of Gyeonggi Province, south of Seoul.
- Goyang (고양시; map; Goyang-si; 1,080,845) — West of Seoul.
- Yongin (용인시; map; Yongin-si; 1,075,421) — East of Suwon, south of Seoul.
- Seongnam (성남시; map; Seongnam-si; 938,819) — Southeast of Seoul.
- Bucheon (부천시; map; Bucheon-si; 813,178) — Sandwiched between Incheon and Seoul.
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 (군; 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.
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.
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 Gyeonggi Province’s districts 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.
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).
Gyeonggi Province sits in the northwest corner of the country. Its borders include:
- To the West: the Yellow (West) Sea (황해; map)
- To the North: the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
- To the East: Gangwon Province (강원도; map)
- To the South: North Chungcheong (충청북도; map) & South Chungcheong (충청남도; map)
North Gyeonggi Province straggles behind the south. Two factors drag on the area’s population and economic development.
Mountains and oversized hills undulate throughout the northern Gyeonggi Province territory. Besides cooling the area, they complicate large scale development.
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; map) and crosses into South Korea’s Gangwon Province (강원도; map).
As the mountain chain flows southwest into Gyeonggi Province, its successive peaks sputter ever lower.
While northern Gyeonggi’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!
Military installations overwhelm small northern Gyeonggi towns. While South Korea runs a democratic system, national security interests often take precedence over smaller governments.
Southern Gyeonggi Province offers patches of flat terrain that aided its growth.
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?
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).
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.
The succeeding Kingdom of Goryeo (고려; 918 BCE ~ 1392 ACE) moved the capital back to Gyeonggi Province. They built their capital in Kaesong (개성; map), which lies just over the border in present day North Korea.
Hey! Gyeonggi Province isn’t in North Korea. True. But when the peninsula split after the Korean War, North Korea claimed Kaesong.
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.
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 Imjingak Resort hosts a war museum, sculpture park, and Freedom Bridge, where refugees fled south after the conflict.
Misok Korean Folk Village
In 1974, the park moved ancient hanok houses from all over Korea to build what they dub “living museum.”
Because of the province’s war infested history, Gyeonggi claims a few impressive fortresses including:
- Hwa Fortress (수원화성; map; Hwaseong)
- Namhansan Fortress (남한산성; map; Namhansanseong)
- Haengjusan Fortress (행주산성; map; Haengjusanseong).
- Ganghwasan Fortress (강화산성; map; Ganghwasanseong)
UNESCO labeled Hwa Fortress as a World Historic Site. Completed in 1796, it sits in the heart of Suwon. It contains a stream, a palace, and fortress walls.
Museums and Performance Spaces
Gyeonggi Province offers top shelf museums.
- Gyeonggi Arts Center (경기아트센터; map) in Suwon.
- Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation (경기문화재단; map) in Suwon.
- Gyeonggi Provincial Museum (경기도박물관; map) in Yongin.
- Jeongok Prehistory Museum (전곡선사박물관; map) in Yeoncheon County (연천군; map).
Because of its proximity to Seoul and cheaper land, a few of Korea’s most popular theme parks sit in Gyeonggi Province.