When I mention Seoul, what is it you think of? The city with the largest population in the world? A sprawl of skyscrapers, high-rises, and other buildings stretching as far as the eye can see? A place of neon lights, dimly lit soju-bangs, and bustling markets? It is all of these things, but there is an aspect of Seoul which is surprising to some. It is also a city of mountains.
South Korea is a mountainous country, there is no denying it. With lowlands accounting for only 30% of its total area, it’s no wonder hiking is such a common past-time in this country. Take a look at the topographical map below to get a sense of just how mountainous Korea is.
Seoul itself is surrounded by eight mountains. It even has a mountain smack dab in the middle of the city. This last weekend, accompanied by my friend Brandon of Brandon’s Travels and Beers at the Bottom fame, I hiked up two of Seoul’s peaks: Namsan and Bugaksan.
Namsan is one of the staple sights of Seoul, perhaps since you can see it from nearly anywhere in the city with a clear line of site. Surrounded by a well-maintained park and conquered via gondola or an easily hiked stairway, Namsan is the most accessible mountain in the city.
As I mentioned before, Brandon runs two blogs. One of them, Beers at the Bottom, is dedicated to craft beer and hiking–a worthy combination. Since both he and Rachel–the other creative force behind the project–are overseas, he wanted to do some articles focusing on the international brewing and hiking scenes. For this, Namsan is perfect. Not only is it a decent hike with a killer 360 degree view of the city, there are also several breweries at the base in the Itaewon district.
We set out from his guesthouse near Seoul Station and walked a short distance to find ourselves in the outskirts of the park. As one would expect in Seoul, the place had a fair number of people milling about, yet it didn’t feel crowded. As we climbed the first flight of countless stairs, we remarked how refreshing it was to see such a cherished green-space in the middle of such a massive city. As in many other green spaces throughout Korea, Namsan park is dotted with exercise stations for public use.
As we made our way up the mountain, we caught glimpses of the famous Namsan Tower. Jutting out from the summit like a garish lighthouse, it’s kind of hard to miss.
After a chilly, bleak winter, hiking during the spring was a nice reminder that the Nature could still yield colors other than brown. Though most of the cherry blossoms had dropped their petals by then, a few trees were blooming late. Many other plants were in bloom as well, making for an enjoyable trip to the top.
At the top, we were pleased to discover a troupe of people in costumes performing some sort of ceremony. They were dressed in traditional garb and carried weaponry reminiscent of Korean historical epics I watched in university. Naturally, we posed for a picture with the stoic soldiers.
Further along, we found one of the most popular areas of Namsan: a fence adorned with countless love locks marked with sappy messages. The sheer number of them was staggering. The fence is barely visible in some places!
At the top, we paid to ride to the observatory at the top of Namsan Tower. While expensive, it provided us with an exceptional 360 degree view of the city. We could even see all the way to Bugaksan, which would be our challenge for the next day…
After a long day walking up and down Namsan, nothing sounded better than some tasty pub food and a cold, frothy beer. So, we headed down towards Itaewon and found Craftworks, a local brewery. While the nachos left a lot to be desired, the beer was excellent. An excellent end to an excellent day!
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I like the hikes in Korea. They’re usually not too strenuous… Great option for a date 😉
Agreed! Did you happen to be in Daegu this weekend? If not, I’m pretty sure I spotted your doppelganger!
I had no idea that beer was taken so seriously in South Korea! I’ve been stuck drinking lagers for the last several months in sub-Saharan Africa, so a visit to Craftworks would be perfect about now. No better way to reward a hike than with some pub grub and a nice brew.
South Korea is still predominantly a crap lager country, but I’m hoping craft brewing really takes off here. A few of the big cities now have decent breweries which are doing pretty well.
My first year here was very different. I grew very homesick for brewpubs!
A hike that I have done a million times! This is actually a perfect trek for people like me who don’t really care much for hiking, and there’s quite a handful of ways to get up there. One of the last times I went we actually went “off-trailing” and scoured through all the green and branches. My legs wanted to kill me after but it was so fun haha. I also have a couple of those love locks with *sappy* 😉 messages on them with friends who have visited, they’re one of my fave things for my visitors to see. Also, exciting you went up to the observatory! In all the times I’ve gone I’ve never gone all the way up. How much does it cost? I’ve never even looked into doing it. Glad you guys had fun!
I’d like to try one of those other ways up sometime, it would be interesting to get a fresh perspective on the hike!
Going up to the observatory was 9000₩ per person, but there were some packages available which included food and the like.
Evan and Rachel
Ah we’ve done that hike many times! Love Namsan, it’s too bad it wasn’t a bit clearer at the top!
Good beer and hiking is a great combo, and Korea is a great place to do it! We used to frequent Craftworks when we lived in Seoul, but luckily we have some good craft beer places in Busan as well.
Nice! Any recommendations for a place in Busan? That’s much closer to me and I certainly wouldn’t mind a nice brewhub there!
Great post! Korea’s chock full of mountains and so many great views. Namsan is definitely a nice spot. Come on down to Yeosu if you’re feeling some mountains mixed with the sea. Cheers!
Thanks, man! I’ll be sure to let you know if I make it down that way again.
‘Twas a great day in great company! I’m glad that you covered the bits about costumed soldiers and exercise in the park – both moments that I neglected to mention in my overly beer-centric review :p
This sounds really interesting. Never been to Seoul or Korea 🙁 Must try to add it to our holiday list. The city of Pune in India too has what we call ‘tekdis’ (hills) inside the city limits, a favourite of health enthusiasts who climb up daily either in the morning or evening. We are lucky to have Sinhagad, which is about an hour’s distance away which is again a popular climb. Great post. Thanks.
That’s cool! Pune sounds like a nice place. I really appreciate an area with a lot of hiking opportunities; it’s one of the things I look for when I’m thinking of visiting somewhere. Hopefully I’ll make it there someday 🙂