Hiking in Seoul: Namsan
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. (For alternative routes up from the Grand Hyatt or Dongguk University see here)
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!)
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:
You can see Namsan & N Seoul Tower up ahead, so walk towards it taking the left fork past the Pacific Hotel:
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:
Keep walking uphill until the road takes a sharp left turn and you see these steps ahead:
Go up the steps, and you’ll be on this road (the road is called sopa-ro):
Turn right along the road and keep going uphill around a few bends, ignoring these steps:
(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):
Before you get to the research centre, you’ll see these steps heading up the hill on the left:
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.
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 (cheaper here) 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!
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:
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.
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.
From there you can walk along the base of the wall if you want to check it out (see here for more info on the wall), 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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