Hands down, my favorite adventure in South Korea so far has been hiking Seoul City Wall.
Snaking 18.6 kilometers through neighborhoods and over hills, Seoul City Wall was originally built over 600 years ago to defend the city from invasion. Today, the wall is still mostly intact and footpaths have been built along most sections to allow foreigners and locals alike to enjoy the architecture, history and beautiful views of Seoul and the surrounding mountains along the way. The wall is divided into six sections/trails, each offering something unique. While it’s definitely possible to tackle the entire wall in a day, it’s best to focus on a few sections of the wall at the time in order to fully enjoy the different neighborhoods and fantastic views.
My friends and I decided to limit our hike to two portions of the wall, the Naksan Mountain Trail and the Baegak Mountain Trail. We started our hike in Dongdaemun at the Heungingimun Gate which is the beginning of the Naksan Mountain Trail. This portion of the wall is very accessible (literally just steps away from the metro), so it was a good place to meet up on Saturday morning. We gathered at the metro station around 9 am, grabbed some coffee and snacks and then started our walk along the wall.
Side note: can we just take a moment to appreciate the beautiful diversity of this group of people? We are from seven different countries, spanning five continents, including Ecuador, Ghana, India, Sudan, the United States, South Korea and France. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to work with such a diverse group of people that I learn from everyday.
Anyways, the Naksan Mountain Trail stretches 2.1 kilometers from Heunginjimun Gate to Hyehwamun Gate and crosses Naksan Mountain, the smallest of Seoul’s four inner mountains (more like hills). Despite being the smallest of the inner mountains, Naksan still offers incredible views of Seoul and passes through several unique neighborhoods, including Ihwa Village. Ihwa Village used to be a slum, but in 2006 the government carried out a revitalization project, bringing in over 70 artists to create beautiful murals. However, the revitalization efforts worked a little too well. The murals brought in so many tourists that it disrupted the lives of those who call Ihwa home and some locals even painted over the murals to try to stop the tourists from coming. Today, there are still many beautiful murals on display and, although tourists are welcome, there are some unwritten rules to follow, such as keeping noise to a minimum to respect those who live there.
After about 2 hours (we stopped a lot for photos along the way), we made it to Hyehwamun Gate, where the Naksan Mountain Trail ends and the Baegak Mountain Trail begins. The Baegak Mountain Trail stretches 4.7 kilometers from Hyehwamun Gate to Changuimun Gate and crosses Bugaksan, the largest of Seoul’s inner mountains. Because Bugaksan is much larger than Naksan, this portion of the hike is more challenging with many steps and a few relatively steep potions, but overall is not too difficult.
We started our accent up the beautiful tree-lined trail, taking in the picturesque views and fall foliage. After a bit, we reached the Malbawi Information Center where we had to fill out information forms and show our passports or Alien Registration Cards in order to access this part of the trail. This stretch of the wall has very strict security because the presidential compound, Cheongwadae, is at the foot of the mountain. Once you submit your paperwork and show your identification, you are given a tag which you must wear at all times during your walk on this portion of the wall.
When we all finally got through the security checkpoint, we continued up Bugaksan to the lookout at the top, which offers amazing views of Seoul and the surrounding mountains. We took some photos and enjoyed the views for a bit before starting our decent down the other side of Bugaksan to Changuimun Gate, our end point for the day.
Once we reached Changuimun Gate, we turned in our security tags, grabbed a free UNESCO tote bag (Seoul City Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site contender) and hopped on a bus towards Gwanghwamun in central Seoul. We were starving at this point and decided that since we were in Seoul, we should enjoy some international food that’s harder to find in Songdo. With that in mind, we settled on an Indian/Nepali restaurant. Although it was a bit expensive (I paid $15, but that’s considered expensive here) the food was delicious, especially after a long day of hiking. After lunch, we took a stroll through Cheonggyecheon Stream, a man-made stream running through central Seoul that is lovely to walk along, on our way to the metro to head back to Songdo.
In total, we hiked about 7 kilometers and it took us roughly 4.5 hours to complete these two stretches of the Wall (although we stopped a lot and got a bit lost at one point). Surprisingly, not many people seem to know about the Seoul City Wall, or at least the people I have talked to at work. But I couldn’t recommend it more and I’m already planning to check out the other four sections of the wall before I leave Korea in a few months.