The Hangang Bike Path not only covers Seoul, Korea’s most highlighted plagued cities, it extends down the South Han River, past architecturally spiced weirs, river islands, and marshy parks.
While the below list picks out a few notable sights, many more landmarks and natural wonders populate the path.
Let’s take the Hangang Bike Path tour.
Until Seoul exploded nearby Bamseom Island in 1968, Yeouido didn’t hold prestige. Cattle grazed in ancient times. And an airport dominated the island until the late twentieth century.
On Yeouido, you’ll find three elementral forces in the post-industrialized world.
- Politics — National Assembly Building, where the national congress passes laws.
- Money — Korea Exchange (KRX), where half of Korea’s stock exchange operates.
The River Parks of Seoul
- Gangseo Hangang Park
- Yanghwa Hangang Park
- Yeouido Hangang Park
- Banpo Hangang Park
- Jamwon Hangang Park
- Jamsil Hangang Park
- Gwangnaru Hangang Park
And because the Han River passes through the middle of Seoul, the bike paths slither near the capital’s major landmarks.
First, like its title indicates, it’s a fountain bridge. Daily, between four and eight times, intakes tucked below the Han’s surface, suck 190 tons of water a minute and shoot it through 308 jets fixed to the bridge’s top deck with musical accompaniment. At night, luminous colors join the party (video).
Banpo’s second distinguishing attribute? No other bridge in Seoul boasts two decks. Its top deck carries cars between Seocho and Yongsan Districts. Its bottom deck hosts two car lanes, one foot lanes, and two bike lanes, affording cyclists the quickest switch between the North and South Hangang Bike Paths through Seoul.
- Gavit (가빛섬) – convention center, restaurants, observatory and more.
- Chavit (채빛섬) – culture complex, buffet, and lounge.
- Solvit (솔빛섬) – multi-purpose space for exhibitions and a dock for yacht tours.
Some Sevit’s unique design and position on the Han made it a popular filming location, appearing in Korean dramas and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
At night, each structure springs to life with LED color.
While Olympic Park rests two kilometers south of the Hangang Bike Path in Seoul, the Jamsil Sports Complex looms large over the cycling route.
How will I notice it? Easy. Look for Seoul Olympic Stadium (올림픽주경기장; 69,950 seats), a 70,000 seat open-air stadium crowned by an Olympic Torch Spire wedged in a corner beside the Tan Stream (탄천) and Han River (aerial view).
This site contains an abundance of sports venues, including Jamsil Baseball Stadium, Jamsil Arena, and Jamsil Gymnasium. Each either hosts professional Korean sports teams, like Seoul’s football (soccer), baseball, and basketball teams, or facilities open to the public.
- Frigate (Battleship) Seoul (1900-ton, 102-meter), once serving in ROK’s navy, now docks floats riverside, letting passengers aboard for daily tours
- Patrol Killer Medium, a 37-meter long coast guard vessel, sits ashore and also opens for expeditious visitors each day.
- A 25-meter long, 190-ton dolphin-class submarine, sticks halfway out of the museum building’s glass wall. Temporary passengers can mill around in this once surveillance sub’s belly.
What about the “J”? Check out the satellite view of the complex (map). It’s shaped like a “J,” with the bottom bend facing the Han River and the top stem connecting with Ttukseom Resort Station (뚝섬유원지역) on Seoul Subway Line 7.
What’s inside? Three floors. The first floor presents the most space and includes an observatory, performance space, and exhibition and video halls. The second floor offers a children’s library. And the top floor holds offices and meeting rooms.
When sunny and mild, a flea market and gaggles of picnickers and hand-holding couples stroll below.
Views of the Namhangang
Outside of Korea’s capital, the bike path hops onto the Namhangang, or South Han River Bicycle Path, and sails into the middle of Korea.
- 1st View — Yangpyeong Dumulmeori (양평 두물머리)
- 2nd View — The silver grass near the town of Yangpyeong (양평 억새림)
- 3rd View — Ipo Weir (이포보)
- 4th View — Yeoju Weir (여주보)
- 5th View — Gangcheon Weir (강천보)
- 6th View — Gangcheon Island (강천섬)
- 7th View — Neungam-ri Island in Chungju (충주 능암리섬)
- 8th View — Tangeumdae Park (탄금대)
When Seoul and the railroad corporation installed new tracks in the aughts, they retired the old bridge and beside it built a concrete reinforced behemoth with overhead electric gates.
Engineers saw life in the old bridge. Instead of blowing up the old overpass, they removed the train tracks and layed down wood slats for cyclists and strollers. Now the site garners attention from daytrippers, and K-pop music videos.
- Yangpyeong — the county where it resides.
- Du — “two”
- Mul — “water”
- Meori — “head”
Simply: the spot where two waters meet. Specifically: where the North and South Han Rivers converge.
The southern tip of the river island holds a panoramic view of the colliding rivers (road view).
In Yangpyeong County just east of Seoul, the Hangang Bike Path follows the rail bed of the old Gyeongui-Jungang Line. (The new line weaves the mountains and hillsides just north.)
Builders tore up the old tracks and laid down wheel-friendly pavement. So not only does the bike path follow the gentle curves of the old rail route, it shoots through a series of eight tunnels between Yangsu (양수역) and Asin (아신역) Station.
The tunnels lie in the middle plow between 115 to 280 meters through the hillsides, creating a chilled stretch in summer and natural shelter in the winter.
Yongdam (용담아트터널; 441 m) and Gigok (기곡아트터널; 565 m) Art Tunnels start and end the stretch. While past bids proposed transforming these long underground stretches into elongated bike museums and art spaces, engineers settled for colorful light installations, some of which quickly succumbed to the moist underground atmosphere.
Like the other Four Rivers weirs, Ipo’s unique design comprises seven orbs plopped atop the structure (road view). They depict the eggs on an egret, one of the many migratory birds that stop along the river in Yeoju City, where it lives.
The weir stretches 591 meters. Hoists conceived inside those seven orbs lift and lower 295 meters of watergates which regulate the flow of water.
Yeoju Weir (여주보), or Yeoju-bo, is the second Four Rivers Project weir on the South Han River. Its design reflects the legacy of King Sejong the Great, Korea’s most important ruler. His tomb rests two kilometers down-path on the edge of downtown Yeoju City.
Two famed inventions created under King Sejong’s rule inspired the features on the weir’s 525-meter span:
- Twelve pillar pairs perched on top resemble a cheugugi (측우기), or rain gauge.
- The Korean Hemispherical Sundial (앙부일구) influenced the concentric circles molded into the its concrete supports.
Those twelve pillar pairs aren’t just decoration. They lift and lower the weirs’ twelve flood gates, regulating the South Han River’s flow. Three hydroelectric generators on the west end create 4950 kWh of energy (1,650 kWh each).
On the west side of the watergate, find hydroelectric generators pumping out 4950 kWh of power, Yeoju-bo Certification Center, and Yeoju Weir Cultural Center, which presents local exhibitions of pottery, a convenience store, and a panoramic tower.
The weir’s three swooped, skeletal struts on its top deck (road view) resemble the mast of a Hwangpo sailboat. These Joseon Dynasty’s transportation workhorses once sailed rice from Yeoju’s bountiful fields downriver to Seoul.
Gangcheon Weir measures 440 meters long. Its seven movable gates stop floods and ease droughts by trapping river water for thirsty crops. In its west end, three generators pump out 4995 kWh of juice. And a 100-meter-long fish ladder on the weir’s east bank helps watery critters swim up and downstream.
While Ipo and Yeoju Weirs sport cultural facilities, Gangcheon wields a boss level structure: the Hangang [Han River] Cultural Center. Sitting in the shade of two swooping roof sections with a 39-meter tall tower poking between, it’s inside offers a abundance of features, including:
- A 1st floor exhibition hall with permanent exhibitions, local histories, and more.
- Cafe with open air patio on the third floor.
- An elevator leading ten-stories up to the tower’s observation deck.
- A place to buy and certify your Bike Passport.
But wait. There’s more! Scattered around the culture center are outdoor sculptures, a wall engraved with Four Rivers Project builders, a wading pool, and chair-enabled patios.
South Han River Islands
Near the bottom of the Hangang Bike Path lie three notable islands in the South Han River: Gangcheon, Binae, and Neungam Village Islands.
While hundreds of islands populate the South Han, these three are the most scenic, hosting walking trails, silver-haired grass, and migratory bird sanctuaries.
Let’s explore each.
This 571,000-square-meter land mass lived under the river’s surface until Gangcheon Weir, five kilometers upriver, lowered the water level on this section of the South Han, revealing the Gangcheon Island to the world.
Today, amateur outdoors-folk from Seoul saunter or cycle over Gangcheon Bridge, stroll the paths lined with ginkgo trees and view the endangered wormwood flowers sprinkled throughout.
In the past, daytrippers, families, and /ja-kāem-jōk/ (자캠족), or bikepackers, pitched tents on Gangcheon’s shores. However, a few littering, fire-setting, drunk-fighting scalawags forced Yeoju City to ban camping, fishing, and grilling.
Pampas grass reeds, which bloom wind-swaying silver tufted tops in fall, fill the 990,000-square-meter island. Other than dirt trails, Binae remains unadorned by human decor.
Korean TV and movies have used Binae Island as a pastoral backdrop. Before you cross onto the island, find rows of posters plastered around the parking lot. And as you hike the walking trails, discover props left behind when production wrapped.
Neungam Village Island
Less known than Binae and Gangcheon, Neungam Village Island (능암리섬; Neungam-ri-seom), keeps its 200-meter-long span free from human infrastructure. In fact, only a stepping stone bridge allows bipedal disposable-cup-clutchers access to the river island (road view).
Why the name “central tower?” The Kingdom of Silla (신라; 57 BCE ~ 935 ACE), which first unified the Korean peninsula, erected the fourteen-meter-tall stone tower in the 500s. It marked the exact center of their territory.
North of the park stands the Tangeum Lake International Rowing Regatta (탄금호 국제조정경기장). It’s one of the few facilities in Korea certified to hold rowing competitions. It hosted several international rowing competitions.