The capital of Gyeonggi-do, the province surrounding Seoul , Suwon is a large (population 1.1 million), prosperous city that’s known as a center of the electronics industry. But it’s primarily of interest to tourists as the site of a remarkably intact 18th-century fortress, which encloses much of the city center to this day.
Hwaseong Fortress (Ingye-dong, tel. 031/251-4435, http://ehs.suwon.ne.kr , daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m., ₩1,000) was constructed 1794-1796 by King Jeongjo of Joseon, who wanted to found a new city to house the tomb of his father and strengthen his own political position. Thanks to extensive restoration efforts beginning in the 1970s, it remains an impressive sight, consisting of nearly six kilometers of walls, gates, towers, and abutments that continue to snake through the city in a rough circle.
It was designated a national monument in the 1960s and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The entire structure is open to the public, and it’s possible to circumnavigate the fortress in its entirety in about 2-3 hours via a path that skirts (and in places takes you on top of) its walls.
Among the fortress’s more significant buildings are Janganmun, its massive northern gate, which is the largest such structure in Korea; Hwahongmun, a graceful pavilion mounted on seven arches designed to let water flow in and out of the compound; and the Hwaseong Haenggung, a temporary palace that provided refuge to the monarch in times of war.
Strolling among Hwaseong’s walls and well-designed defensive towers, all riddled with holes from which soldiers could launch missiles or sentries could peer for intruders, it’s easy to cast one’s mind back to martial times.
Next to Hwaseong, Suwon’s biggest attraction is Suwon galbi (barbecued marinated beef ribs), noted for their large size and savory seasoning. By some counts there are over 300 restaurants in central Suwon serving this specialty with a variety of accompaniments and soups, so you’ll have no difficulty finding somewhere to try it.
If you’re at a loss to choose one, Bonsuwon Galbi (51-20 Uman 2-dong, Padal-gu, tel. 031/241-8434, daily noon-10 p.m., ₩10,000-25,000) and Yeonpo Galbi (25-4 Buksu-dong, Jangan-gu, tel. 031/255-1337, daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m., ₩10,000-25,000) are both centrally located and garner positive reviews.
With Seoul so close Suwon is easily done as a day trip, but if you’d like to spend longer exploring the city it has several lodging options. The Ibis Suwon Ambassador (132-12 Ingye-dong, Paldal-gu, tel. 031/230-5000, www.ibishotel.com , ₩110,000) is a solid, centrally located choice, with large, like-new rooms, a fitness center, sauna, and restaurant.
For those on a tighter budget or who want to be closer to Hwaseong Fortress, the Hwaseong Guesthouse (4 Paldal-no 2-ga, Paldal-gu, tel. 031/245-6226, www.hsguesthouse.com , ₩30,000) provides no-frills but clean and comfortable accommodation under friendly management at a low price.
The city has multiple tourist information centers, including one in Suwon station and five smaller centers around the Hwaseong Fortress compound, any of which can be reached via the city tourist hotline (tel. 031-1330).
The easiest way to reach central Suwon is by taking Seoul  subway line 1 to Suwon station, a trip of about an hour. There are also express trains to Suwon from Seoul Station that take just half the time but are significantly more expensive. Hwaseong Fortress is a two-kilometer walk from the station or a quick cab ride.