Hiking in Seoul: Namsan

View of Namsan & Seoul Tower from Changdeokgung Palace

Namsan (남산, or 南山 in Chinese characters – literally, South Mountain, though it’s dead centre of the city) with N Seoul Tower on the summit is Seoul‘s most prominent landmark and therefore an obvious hill to climb, but it isn’t actually very large and barely counts as a hike in my book – more like a sightseeing activity! Being only 262m high you can stroll up in under an hour, and the main trail is basically a long flight of well-maintained stone steps so you’re fine just in trainers. There’s also a cable car for those that prefer not to walk up, as well as buses.

Cherry blossoms in front of N Seoul Tower on Namsan

I first climbed Namsan on my very first visit to Seoul (which was also when I first tried beondegi, stewed silkworm pupae), and have climbed it multiple times on subsequent spells in Seoul (including on New Year’s Day 2014 with a bit of a monster hangover on the go – it felt a bit more challenging that time, but coupled with a bowl of kimchi jjigae at the top it sorted the hangover right out!)

Bondaegi

Halfway up Namsan I encountered an old lady selling these – beondegi, stewed silkworm pupae. I’m all for trying weird foods, and also it was bloody freezing and I didn’t have any gloves so I figured it’d be nice to hold the cup even if they tasted like shit! (the verdict – they’re not the best bugs I’ve eaten, but definitely not the worst. Mushy rather than crunchy, with a fairly pleasant umami taste but quite a bitter aftertaste. The first few do taste quite good, but a full cup is way too much!)

The main trail goes up on the north side of the mountain near the cable car station and is accessed from Myeongdong or Seoul Station. Coming out of Myeongdong Station exit 3, go up past the 7-Eleven:

View of Namsan from Myeongdong

You can see Namsan & N Seoul Tower up ahead, so walk towards it taking the left fork past the Pacific Hotel:

Myeongdong comic street

This street is the Myeongdong Cartoon Street and has a bunch of anime-related stores as well as some decent restaurants & cafes and some public art:

Myeongdong comic street

Keep walking uphill until the road takes a sharp left turn and you see these steps ahead:

Myeongdong comic street

Go up the steps, and you’ll be on this road (the road is called sopa-ro):

The road to Namsan

Turn right along the road and keep going uphill around a few bends, ignoring these steps:

Namsan hiking trails

(if you do want to check them out, turn right at the top of the steps and you’ll end up at the main trail; it’s a slight detour, but a pleasant one. Turning left takes you along a trail back down to the base of the mountain further east)

Keep going past the lower cable car station until you see this building ahead of you (it’s a research centre):

The research centre on Namsan

Before you get to the research centre, you’ll see these steps heading up the hill on the left:

Start of the main Namsan hiking trail

That’s the start of the trail. From there, the way is obvious; just keep going up! (to see a close-up map of the route through Myeongdong click here)

You can also reach the same trail from the Seoul Station area, joining it slightly above the trailhead pictured above; the trail starts in the park opposite the entrance of the Seoul Millenium Hilton Hotel near Seoul Station exit 10.

When you come up the stairs at the exit, go round & behind to the right, away from the main road; take the first right and go up the flight of steps, and go left up the hill. You’ll catch a view of Seoul Tower ahead, and when you get to the main road at the top turn left and you’re in front of the Hilton; you’ll see the park opposite, with a section of the old city wall running up through it. Cross over into the park and follow the wall up past the research centre, and when you reach the public restrooms keep going straight up the stairs (the path from the left is the path described above from Myeongdong).

It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to walk up from the public restrooms where the paths meet; from either Seoul Station or Myeongdong you can be at the top of Namsan in under an hour.

Namsan hiking map

Red:main trail route from Myeongdong / Seoul Station (Hilton Hotel) Green:route from Noksapyeong

At the top you’ll find lots of people (according to Wikipedia, Seoul Tower sees over 8 million visitors per year), lots of buses (there’s a road up Namsan plied by both tour group buses & public buses – the public buses are called Namsan Circular Shuttles and go from Myeongdong Station exit 3, Itaewon Station exit 4, and Seoul Station exit 9), and lots of buildings, including the upper cable car station and most obviously the large N Seoul Tower complex. The tower’s base area has a pretty wide selection of cafes, shops, and restaurants serving Korean classics as well as burgers and other junk, and for 10,000 won you can go up to the observation decks at the top of the tower… this is now Seoul’s second-highest observation deck, having recently been surpassed by the new Lotte World Tower – though of course for the city’s highest viewpoint you should get yourself up Bukhansan!

Night view from Seoul Tower

Night view from N Seoul Tower

As I said, Namsan is more of a sightseeing activity than a serious hike, and it’s a popular date spot – you’ll see lots of young local couples taking selfies against the city backdrop, especially at night.

Namsan can be climbed in all seasons; in summer it’s nice to get up there for the breeze, in winter they go to town with the Christmas decorations, and autumn is nice for the colours. Perhaps the best time though is spring when the cherry trees bloom, as Namsan is one of Seoul’s best cherry blossom spots:

Looking north towards Bukhansan from Namsan

Namsan cherry blossoms

Namsan cherry blossoms

Namsan cherry blossoms and city view

In addition to the main trail described above, there’s a rougher forest trail on the south side of Namsan from the Haebangchon (HBC) area near Itaewon. To find it, start from Noksapyeong Station exit 2 and walk up the busy main road (Noksapyeong-daero) until Sinheung-ro branches off to the left; walk up Sinheung-ro through trendy HBC (there are loads of great little restaurants, bars, and craft beer places in HBC) to the church at the top, and then go up to the right and cross over Sowol-ro to find the start of the trail (to see a close-up map of this click here). It’s about a 20-minute walk from the station up to the trail.

The top of Haebangchon

The forest trail on the south side of Namsan

If you’ve climbed up from Myeongdong and want to go down the other side to HBC / Itaewon, the trail down starts from the bus stop area near Seoul Tower; look for the path down by the fortress wall just next to the CU convenience store.

The Seoul Fortress Wall at the top of Namsan

From there you can walk along the base of the wall if you want to check it out, but for the trail to HBC walk away from the wall and take the dirt path down through the forest. It intersects with a few other paths and the way might not always be entirely obvious, but keep going down and you’ll eventually emerge on Sowol-ro (hopefully at the top of Sinheung-ro!)

As Myeongdong and Itaewon are good areas to visit for food, drinks, and shopping, it’s a nice idea to traverse Namsan from one side to the other and e.g. have street snacks in Myeongdong before hiking up followed by dinner / drinks in HBC or Itaewon after you get down.

Click here for more hiking in Seoul

Have you climbed Namsan or been up Seoul Tower? How was it? Any questions? Leave me a comment below!

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12 comments on “Hiking in Seoul: Namsan
  1. elizabeth lee says:

    This is great. I was searching for the route information and yours provide the best. BTW, there is another route from Hyatt, Namsan Botanical Garden way. Have you tried it. If yes, which shall I go for a prettier sight in November?

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Elizabeth, thanks! I still haven’t got around to doing the Hyatt route but am intending to do it soon and add it to this page.

      I actually went up Namsan the other day to check on the autumn colours and it’s really pretty right now, pic here. Unfortunately I think the colours will be over by November in Seoul, but you could still catch them if you’re going to Busan or Jeju.

  2. elizabeth says:

    Oh Wow. Beautiful . Thanks for the information. Then I will give Namsan hike a miss.

  3. Sarah says:

    Handy – I’ve not walked up since ’08, and I’m going right now – so thanks for this!

  4. Laila says:

    So glad i came across your post. I was planning to just rely on Kakao map for my route, but couldn’t figure out where it wanted me to go.

    I opted for the detour and took the steps instead of passing the cable car station. I really enjoyed the scenery.

    Thanks for this post!

  5. Nick says:

    Literally just hiked this. Been out of shape for a while so this was fun.

    Now to find food.

  6. Angela LWL says:

    Thanks for your detailed description of the route.
    We went up Namsan from a path behind Hilton and came down to Itaewon via the dirt path you described.

    Though we were unsure of the dirt path, as there were many paths, the locals were very kind in pointing out the correct direction when we ask “Itaewon”?

    Indeed the scenery is beautiful. Though in December most of the colours were gone, there are still a good number of trees having red leaves.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hey Angela, glad to hear you enjoyed it. And you still saw some red leaves? That’s a nice surprise, wouldn’t have expected it. Cheers!

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