If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Seoul is the city that doesn’t even sit down. Home to over 10 million people, the South Korean capital buzzes with life 24 hours a day. Whether you’re looking for a place to study, eat, sing your heart out, or dance the night away, there is always something to do in this dynamic, high-tech city.
But what about when you want to get away from it all and do nothing? Where can you go to enjoy a slice of nature, get some peace and quiet, or just a breath of fresh air in one of the most densely populated cities in the world? Fortunately, Seoul has an answer for that, too. When fast-paced city life gets overwhelming, even the most metropolitan Seoulites need to escape the hustle and bustle. Here are five activities in unique spots where locals go to get their nature fix.
Take a hike.
We mean this in the nicest way possible. Mountains cover more than 70 percent of South Korea, so, for many locals, getting out for a hike to clear their minds and reset their inner compass is more than just a leisurely activity — it’s a way of life. Whether you’re living in Seoul or just passing through, experiencing the hiking scene for yourself is a must. This is particularly true if you’re visiting in the fall when the trees explode with color — in that case, it’s obligatory.
Seoul’s tallest mountain, and most popular hiking spot, is Bukhansan. The peak is just outside the city. With around five million visitors each year, Bukhansan National Park holds a Guinness World Record for the highest number of visitors per unit area, and it’s popular for a reason. The views from the top are incredible, but reaching the summit is no easy task.
For something a bit less strenuous, head to Achasan in eastern Seoul. The peak takes less than an hour to reach, and there are epic views of the Han River and Lotte Tower from the top. Since this is a fairly easy hike, Achasan is a great place to go to watch the sunset and the city lights — just don’t forget to bring a flashlight for the way down.
Walk along the City Wall.
Initially built in 1396 during the Joseon Dynasty to protect the city, today, the historical Seoul City Wall and its four remaining gates cover 18.6 kilometers (about 11.5 miles) around the heart of the city. The ancient fortress stretches through modern neighborhoods like Dongdaemun, Ihwa Village, and even over some of central Seoul’s mountains. It is a great place to see where the future meets the past, and a unique way to escape Seoul’s busy sidewalks for a while.
There are six different trails you can take along the fortress wall, and, though some of them are fit for a leisurely stroll, others are most definitely within hiking territory. The most scenic section is the Baegak Mountain trail. It covers 4.6 kilometers (about 2.85 miles) from Changuimun to Hyehwamun and crosses over Bugaksan. This is a southern offshoot of the Bukhansan mountain range, and the highest point along the City Wall, so you may want to lace up your hiking boots for this particular trek.
Spend a day down by the river.
The Hangang is South Korea’s fourth-largest river, and another iconic symbol cutting right through the heart of Seoul. Along the river’s banks, 12 parks collectively form Han River Park. The most unique of the parks is at the funky and futuristic Ttukseom Resort Station in eastern Seoul. Go barefoot and soak up the sun in one of the big grassy spaces, or enjoy a beer or two on the rocks by the water. At Ttukseom Resort station, you can also partake in year-round outdoor activities like biking along the riverside cycling trail, or seasonal water activities like stand-up paddle boarding and paddle boating in the summer.
Even though you’re technically still in an urban setting, going down to the parks is still a great way to get some R&R while enjoying time outside. Do as the locals do. Bring some friends, a quintessential chi-maek (chicken and beer) picnic, and make a day of it.
Go island hopping.
Good news: If you’re in need of a beach break, you don’t have to travel all the way to Busan or Jeju Island to get your ocean fix. Instead, head to Muuido Island. Conveniently located minutes away from Incheon and about an hour outside of central Seoul, this is the perfect place to just chill with friends by the sea. On Muuido, you can also take advantage of a number of outdoor activities like hiking, horseback riding, zip lining, or zipping around on an ATV.
Thanks to a bridge connecting Muuido with the mainland, a day trip to the island is easier than ever, but, chances are, you’ll be having so much fun you won’t want to leave. Spend the night camping out in a tent or rent one of the photogenic beach huts on Hanagae Beach. The barebone cabins aren’t luxurious by any means, but you don’t need much when you’re falling asleep to the sound of the waves.
Have an urban glamping experience.
For a more glamorous camping experience, go for a luxurious alternative that includes amenities like beds, electrical outlets, and maybe even Wi-Fi. Glamping opportunities abound near Seoul, perfect for those who want to spend some time in the great outdoors but don’t want to give up the comforts of the big city. Glamping sites like Noeul Park, Seoul Grand Park, and Nanji Hangang Park are conveniently located smack dab in the center of the city. For that reason, they can get pretty busy, especially Nanji, which has a capacity to accommodate up to 2,000 people.
For a more intimate glamping experience, hop on a bus or train and get out of town instead. Head to Raventree Glamping Resort or Florence Glamping in Gapyeong, or, my personal favorite, the funky geometric domes at Banu Glamping in Hongcheon. Each of these sites is about an hour away from Seoul, and well worth the trip if a secluded nature break is what you’re after.
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