Must do Summer Activities in Seoul!

Distant stream

Summer is finally here, and I can’t say how glad I am that it is! Summer can feel quite extreme in Korea, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees in some cities. Seoul is lucky though as the temperature usually only reaches 35 degrees. However, this means it is the perfect time for outdoor activities! Be careful to check the weather before you make plans though, as it can be quite wet on some days.

This list will be made up of outdoor activities, as I believe that these are the best things to do in Seoul at this time. So with that… Let me get the list started!

Haneul Garden (하늘공원)

World Cup Stadium subway stop is famous in Seoul for being a great place for outdoor activities. It is surrounded by a plethora of different parks, each one unique in its own way. The parks range from lake parks, all the way to sky gardens. Haneu garden is situated on top of a massive hill, that offers views of the entire city!

I went to the sky park (English: Haneul Garden, Korean: 하늘공원) with a friend who wanted some pictures. Honestly, I hadn’t even heard about Haneul Park before. However, I can’t express how glad I am to know about it now! Especially with summer coming up, it is nearing the perfect time to visit!

For precise directions click here. The walk to get there from the subway station can possibly take a while depending on how busy that specific day is and how fast you walk. It took us about 45 minutes (with some distractions) to get to the top (we weren’t rushing). However, it is a busy place. The crowds can definitely influence how long it takes for you to reach the top! I would recommend not visiting on the busiest days (weekends, sunny days) as the crowds can be quite great. However, if you can only visit on a busy day it is still worth it. If you want to see the busiest times check out this link.

It is also worth saying that despite the crowds, once you hit the top of the hill, it isn’t as crowded as you might think. There are a lot of different areas to explore, and you can definitely find quite little areas if you wish.

Windy Day!

The day we visited was very windy!

It was rather windy the day we visited, but the rain held off and it stayed warm luckily. While not being the most pleasant, it definitely made for some amazing pictures! The whole top of the hill is covered in plants like these, along with different flower fields. One of the types of flowers that was there today was sunflowers! Unfortunately, they had begun to die off when we visited, but they were still beautiful!

There is a large variety of plants atop the hill.

It was about 6 pm by this point and we were on our way back down to visit another one of the parks. But it was at that time that the sun caught our eyes… The sun was dropping fast, colouring the sky a bright orange. I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but the sunsets in Korea are amazing. I believe it is due to the air pollution, but it can really make some beautiful sunsets if you are in the right places at the right time!

Sunset at Haneul Garden

It’s also a fantastic place to watch the sunset!

I don’t think we could have asked for a better day or better view! The garden is located in a central part of Seoul, right next to the Han River and central amongst the bustling city. Every side of the garden has a different yet amazing view… You can see everything from here. To the southern end of the garden you can see the Han River, from the east you can see into Seoul (well actually Seoul is on every side of the garden, but this side has the best view of Seoul). Speaking of the views…

The view from Haneul

This is just one of the many different views you can see from Haneul, but it is my personal favourite one! Many people don’t think of Seoul as a natural city (or one with much nature) but in many places it is. While there are areas like Gangnam with very little nature, there are also areas like this that are just filled with trees and hills!

The famous silver grass

I remember coming back from Haneul and having hundreds and hundreds of photos to edit. I don’t know how I managed! But the results where stunning and definitely worth it. If you come to Korea, or live here, Haneul Garden is a MUST visit. This one isn’t optional! It is a beautiful place and I would highly recommend it to anyone that is looking at activities to do in Seoul.

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Yeouido (여의도)

Yeouido shines brightly!

My friend and I headed out to Hapjeong at about 6:30 so as to reach the river as the sun was setting. We took our skateboards to ride and I took my tripod and camera in my backpack. We got to the river just as the sun was setting… Really it was perfect timing! The river wasn’t very busy, but there were a fair few people out and about, enjoying their evening.

After spending about 30 minutes by the Hapjeong bridge we decided it would be really cool to skate over to Yeouido, which is essentially an island sitting in the middle of the river. It’s very famous in Seoul and popular as a (very crowded) picnic location. Many people visit here in summer to enjoy chicken and beer and to experience the nice atmosphere that the river provides.

A sunset on the Han River.

We weren’t sure initially if we could actually follow the bridge across the river since it was hard to find any stairs, but we did find some in the end. One of the best parts of the bridges crossing the river is the stunning views that they provide. Every bridge has such a unique yet beautiful view out over the river.

I underestimated the brightness when we first arrived, and to my dismay, I wasn’t able to get any nice long exposures. The light was far too bright to increase the exposure, and I don’t have a filter for this lens yet. However, after the sunset, we could see the amazing sight that the river beholds.

Yeouido Island

Yeouido and the Blue House.

I wanted to get right down to the water level. Meaning I had to climb down the concrete bank. There were signs that distinctly said no fishing within 50 metres, but the fisherman that I was taking photos next to didn’t care at all. Considering how dirty the water was though, I wonder if there were actually any fish!

Sunset at Yeouido

(illegal) fishing on the Han!

I have been across many of the Han River bridges in the past few years. As a photographer, they naturally attract me. From the harrowing experience I had on Banpo Bridge, to the nighttime beauty of Dongjak Bridge, every bridge is unique and provides a completely different view of the city.

Further, all of these bridges (to my knowledge) have footpaths and can easily be crossed on foot, bike, or whatever you prefer. If you would like to take some amazing photos, then I would recommend these bridges to everyone! Along with Namsan Tower, and maybe Lotte Tower, they provide some of the most picturesque locations in Seoul.

Looking down on a highway.

I love night photos, I don’t know why, but I do. Maybe it’s because you have to be patient to get the perfect shot? (making it feel like you really worked towards creating the photo). Or maybe it’s just because there’s a different type of beauty at night. I have no idea, but they are definitely my favourite.

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a photo that I really liked. Well… Honestly, it’s been a long time since I even took one that I felt proud of! But finally, while walking across the bridge, I got a new photo that I really like. It’s funny, but nearly all of my favourite photos come from the Han, and they are nearly all night shots. Maybe it just shows my love of long exposure photography!

Busy nights on the riverside.

Bukhansan Mountain (북한산)

Seoul is known by many as a massive metropolis of a city, an uber-modern city that doesn’t have room, nor allow for nature. However, for anyone that has that opinion, it can be quite wrong. Seoul has lots of mountains and natural areas within the city if you take the time to look for them, and today I want to talk about one such area, Bukhansan.

Bukhansan is probably the most well-known mountain in Seoul, with its highest peak reaching 836 metres tall. While this might not seem like a ‘mountain’ to many (me included… My home in New Zealand is right next to a 2.5km high mountain, a mere 30 minutes drive away), when I climbed it with my friend back in winter… Well, we realised it was indeed a mountain.

Frozen ice-falls

On a day in December, among final exams, my friend and I decided we would try and conquer Bukhansan. Equipped with a total lack of knowledge about where we were going, we headed on the most obvious path up the mountain. Signs told us that snow gear was required, but we didn’t believe them! It wasn’t bad at all! We walked for about 2 hours in peace before coming to the difficult terrain. Everyone around us was fully equipped, for what we had considered to be quite literally ‘a walk in the park’.

We got told to turn back by some friendly locals who said it was too dangerous for us without cleats (not to mention walking poles), and we even witnessed some fully geared people have accidents (slipping and falling down banks), however, we decided to push on. For the next 4 hours, we questioned our decision at every step. What was supposed to be a two or three-hour walk ended up taking 6 hours. We had many accidents and near misses (we really should have stopped, it was very dangerous. But we were stubborn) but we did eventually make it to the top.

Thankfully the way down was far nicer and the track was in much better condition.

Buddhist Influence

A Buddha statue on the mountainside.

Something that stood out instantly to me as a foreigner was the amount of Buddhist influence on the mountain. As a New Zealander, Buddhism is in many respects nearly non-existent for me. While I see monks quite commonly around Seoul, this was my first time seeing (what I believe to be) authentic Buddhist buildings. The mountainside was covered in statues, houses, and other buildings, and many of them had some form of Buddhist influence. It was such a cool experience for me as I had never seen such things before.

Some houses found on the mountain

The walk is also filled with many different gates and walls that must be passed on the journey to the top. Bukhansanseong (the name of the fortress that was built on Bukhansan) was actually created to protect Seoul, and was also created as a point of retreat if the need arose. On our walk, we were heading to the Great South Gate which is one of the six great gates to the fortress. There are also a further eight secret gates.

The path is seemingly built around all of these aspects of the mountain, and due to this I believe it must be one of the paths that have existed on the mountain since the creation of the fortress hundreds of years ago.

Another Buddhist building, located next to the statue below.

Another cool part about Bukhansan is that people actually live on it currently. There is a road that allows vehicles up the mountain, but this ends a certain distance up, and many of these houses can only be accessed on foot. These houses are beautiful, traditional looking houses and they blend into the rest of the mountain. It’s great that people can live on the mountain and yet the mountain can retain its unique identity.

Buddha statue

Did I mention it was cold?! Well yeah, yeah it was. And icy. This was exactly what we had underestimated, the cold, and the ice. The ice gave us a few injuries, but we did survive in the end. I think we underestimated it because there was not much snow or ice on the ground, however, all of the water was frozen over and the temperature was around -8 degrees.

Great Gate

The gate at the top of the mountain! Finally!

After about four and a half hours, we finally reached the Great South Gate! The gate itself was a work of art and it provided an amazing view. Unfortunately, the day we were there the clouds were low and we couldn’t see much. The top was quite busy, and when we got there we were congratulated by the older couple who had warned us to turn back earlier. They were surprised we had actually made it without giving up, and after their congratulations we felt great… We realised we had actually made it!

A bridge crosses a stream near the bottom of the mountain.

Luckily the way down was much nicer than the way up (we had contemplated going down the way we came up as we thought the other way may be even more difficult… Thankfully we chose to risk the new path!) and actually had steps and was maintained.

This bridge was right before the exit of the park, and I can’t explain how happy we were to finally cross it, knowing we were near the end. A short ‘walk in the park’ had taken us 6 hours and had been extremely difficult and even dangerous.

If you have the chance… Visit Bukhansan! I would 100% recommend visiting, if you want to have a relaxing day (don’t do the whole track, just have a stroll…), or a serious hike. Be careful in winter though, as gear is definitely recommended and it is a difficult walk. I loved the journey and will definitely be visiting again. Although this time I hope to go in summer for a change of scene!

Seongbukcheon/Chonggyecheon (성북천/청계천)

It feels like mere weeks ago I was writing about how spring was finally here! Now, just weeks later, I am sitting here writing about how summer has finally come. This year’s cherry blossom season was rather short, and it feels like there hasn’t been a big downtime between that and summer. While the temperature isn’t quite 35 degrees yet, it is nearing the top of the ‘comfortable weather’ spectrum.

Seongbuk Cheon (Seongbuk Stream)

With all of that said, today I decided to finally get out my skateboard and go on a proper adventure. Many streams twist through the city, and the one closest to my home is 성북천 (Seongbuk River). This river goes through Seongbuk and is an easy way to travel, whether walking, biking, or skating. I decided to head there as I wanted to take some photographs there anyway!

My favourite transportation!

These areas can be quite barren in the colder months, but in summer they really come to life; to the point where some say the council needs to manage them better!

Seongbuk River starts at 한성대학교 (Hansung University) station and flows all the way down to the most famous river in Seoul – 청계천 (Cheonggye River). If you have seen images of a stream in Seoul, there’s a 99% chance they are from Cheonggye River.

Everywhere along the stream is very pretty!

These streams appear to be one of the areas where the local councils really focus their attention. Often they have displays, water parks, or (in this case) lanterns hanging from the trees. I can understand why though! If somewhere is pretty, why not make it more pretty? In a way, I guess that these places also represent their respective districts.

Roads along the river.

Nature Amongst the City

Along the stream other types of things pop up, small stores and businesses especially. Even small markets are scattered around if you can find them.

The streams are definitely an appealing place to visit as they are very distinct and very striking. I think that if you looked at a satellite map of Seoul (in summer), these streams would be like green snakes through the city. The difference in comparison to the nearby buildings is stunning.

In winter these streams are bland and make the season seem even sadder. But in summer, these streams attract people from everywhere nearby. Waterparks for children to play in, paths for adults to travel, and beautiful scenery for everyone!

Naksan

Following my recent adventures in Hyehwa (the northern area of Seoul) I have discovered a lot of new areas that I never knew about before. After visiting the Flower cafe on Wednesday, we decided to go for a walk to the nearby mountain Naksan. Naksan is located between Hyehwa and Hanseong university stations and provides a great break from the city, while still being very central and easy to access. The mountain is an easy 20-30 minute walk from Hyehwa station with a few steep areas, but otherwise pretty moderate walking conditions.

Naksan cherry blossoms.

Visiting in Spring is an amazing time as it means that all of the cherry blossoms will be out and showing their beauty! We visited on a windy day which meant that the blossoms were flying everywhere (including into our faces) and while not being the most pleasant… The wind here can get quite strong sometimes, it made for a very cool experience which I think you can’t understand until you see cherry blossoms falling for yourself.

The view from Naksan

The park has a variety of different paths that you can take depending on what you wish to experience. There are great areas to walk to see the blossoms, a path which follows the Seoul Wall, as well as some viewing platforms. Since Naksan is quite central within Seoul it has an amazing view of the sprawling city. I have not yet had the chance to visit at night, but I imagine that the view at night would be stunning.

Catching the cherry blossoms!

While I would recommend visiting Naksan in spring, any season is fine. Winter will have times when visiting isn’t great (due to ice and cold weather), but the three other seasons will all provide you with a unique park that is very appealing.

You can expect a decent amount of people on Naksan at any time of the year, but it is usually not very crowded at all. The lack of people is quite surprising considering where the mountain is located and the popularity of the areas that surround it. Personally, I would say that spring and fall are the ideal times to visit the mountain, but summer and winter are fine too (as long as you don’t mind the weather).

The Seoul Wall.

Finally, Naksan is great because not only does it provide a great area for people to experience nature and to exercise, but because it is right next to Hyehwa, an area with lots to do and somewhere that everyone should visit. For these reasons, I would greatly recommend Naksan for anyone travelling to Seoul.

Other Activities!

There are a few places that I would like to add but didn’t get time to write about here. These include Seoullo 7017, Namdaemun Market, and Naksan. If you are interested in these places please feel free to click on the links and check them out!

This concludes my list of summer activities in Seoul. There are a lot of different and fun activities, but these are my personal favourites. If there is anything you would like to add, please comment down below!

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