With a population of more than 9 million in a space 75 square miles smaller than New York City, South Korea’s capital Seoul is known for its population density – which, along with the rest of the country, is more than 10 times the global average. That means a crowded city full of people, cars, pollution and cement – but if that’s not your thing, don’t worry! There are plenty of things to do for the nature lovers out there, because while Seoul is a behemoth of smoke and lights, it’s also lined by mountains, teeming with parks and cut in almost equal halves by the Han River.
1. Hike Bukhansan Mountain
Bukhansan Mountain (“big mountain in the north”) is the closest mountain to Seoul and is situated in the northern part of the city, in a national park about an hour by train from the city centre. The 78km (48 mile)-wide mountain has 6 districts and extends out into Gyeonggi-do, with more than 100 hiking paths with various difficulties for all levels.
The mountain is famous for its smooth curves, with large granite rocks that sometimes look as if they slide down the mountain, and Bukhansanseong Fortress, boasting an 8,500m-long fortress wall built during the Joseon Era to defend against foreign invasion. The mountain’s sharp granite peaks – the most famous being Baegundae Peak, which is more than 800m above sea level – provide contrast to the dozens of valleys and rivers flowing below and the view of Seoul from the top of the peak is spectacular.
2. Head into the ski region
Heading into Gapyeong, a county in the Gyeonggi region of South Korea, is only about a 40 minute drive, or an hour on public transport. Not only does it offer spectacular nature trails, mountains and streams, but there are plenty of stops to enjoy once in the area, including the ski resort region.
Nami Island is not only where the famous Korean drama Winter Sonata was filmed, but it’s known for it’s beautiful snow scenery and tree-lined streets, with plenty of nature to enjoy.
From there, heading to the Elysian Ski Resort is only a short drive or bus trip. Enjoy the scenery and of course head out onto the slopes to catch some adrenaline.
3. Han River kayaking
If you want to enjoy some calm within the city, kayaking on the Han River not only gets some distance between you and the crowds, but shows you the beauty of the city from a different vantage point.
The Han River travels through the city as a major trade and historical hub, having a large role in the historical development of the city. It begins as two smaller rivers in the eastern mountains of the Korean peninsula, which then converge near Seoul. With more than 27 bridges across the Seoul National Capital Area and walking pathways along both sides, it serves as a major leisure spot for South Koreans.
4. Cycle in Yeouido Park
Yeouido Park is located along the Han River, on Yeouido Island in the central part of Seoul. It’s divided into theme-based sections: the Traditional Korean Forest, Grass Square, Culture Square, and Nature’s Ecosystem Forest.
Only traditional Korean trees are planted in the Traditional Korean Forest, and its trail walk completes the feel of an elegant Korean garden. Grass Square has a low hill, with grass fields and various trails. Performances and events are held at the Cultural Square; lined with zelkova trees, it’s perfect for resting.
The Nature’s Ecosystem Forest encourages nature observation, composed of a swamp area, waterline area, grassland area, and a forest. Yunjunro Street is famous as the most beautiful cherry blossom street in Seoul. Cherry blossom trees, 30 to 40 years old, line the street for about 6km (3.7 miles) and are popular in the spring.
5. Experience Hwaseong Fortress
Hwaseong Fortress, located in Suwon, which is just 36km (20 miles) from Seoul and easily accessible by subway, has been a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site since 1997. It stretches for a total of 5.52km (3.4 miles) and comprises four gates facing each of the cardinal directions. Hike along the fortress wall for 1,000 KRW and you can get fantastic views of Suwon from the summit of Paldal Mountain.
The fortress walls consist of various intact defensive features such as floodgates, command posts, multiple arrow launches towers, secret gates and beacon towers, and the surrounding areas are full of natural beauty.
6. Walk through Seoul Forest
Consisting of five parks spread over 595,000 square metres of land, Seoul Forest is an eco-friendly zone consisting of five parks.
Boasting an array of natural features such as decorative flower beds and gardens, natural habitat for wildlife animals such as deer, elks, chipmunks, mandarin ducks, mallards, spot-billed ducks and moorhens, an insect botanical garden, marsh plants garden and surrounding protective forest as well as man-made rest facilities, Seoul Forest is working to rehabilitate and preserve nature within the city.