The currents of Yeouido’s history run shallow. Before weirs and dredging, the big bad Han River often huffed and puffed and flooded any settlement perched upon the island’s shores.
So, during the Joseon Dynasty, green grass grazing cattle occupied the sandy delta.
And from Yeouido Airport dominated the island. Its humble landing strips landed most Seoul-bound flights until Korea upgraded the airport in Gimpo.
In the 1970s, the “Han River Development Plan” tamed the Han River and then exploded nearby Bamseom Island (밤섬; map). They used its remains to Yeouido’s banks.
Now safe for habitation, the city began developing the blank-slate island. They laid down infrastructure and erected a series of affordable apartments.
In 1975, Korea completed the National Assembly Building on the western edge of the Yeouido. This political mecca attracted the national’s top broadcast networks, including:
- Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) — Korea’s national public TV station.
- Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS)
- Munhwa Broadcasting Company (MBC).
- SBS and MBC have since moved their headquarters to other parts of Seoul.
Adding to the island’s prestige, Hanwha Life Insurance finished Building 63 (63빌딩; map) in 1983. Excluding North America, its 63 floors (60 usable) were the world’s tallest.
Building 63 became the symbol of Korea’s economic emergence. The structure’s gold-clad facade took center stage in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Soon companies invaded Yeouido. The island represented status and progress. By the 1980s, Yeouido Neighborhood (여의도동; map; Yeouido-dong) became the wealthiest in Seoul and Korea.
Today Yeouido ranks second behind Gangnam District. But it still holds some of the nation’s most powerful institutions.
Yeouido holds two of Seoul’s most elemental forces: money and politics.
On the western edge of the island lies the National Assembly Building (국회의사당; map), Korea’s Capital, or Westminster. It houses the national legislature, the country’s law forging body.
The National Assembly is actually a complex of buildings that blanket an eighth of Yeouido Island’s total area. It includes:
The National Assembly’s main building covers 81,000-square meters (270,000 sq ft) and stands six stories tall. Architects designed its chambers with space to expand, just in case North and South Korea become one nation.
The building features a few more interesting details:
- Twenty-four octagonal pillars surround the building, representing Korea’s traditional lunisolar seasons (절기; jeol-gi).
- A sixty-four-meter wide dome sits on top of the Assembly’s roof. It symbolizes the “convergence and compromise of democracy.”
- Architects envisioned the Assembly’s dome to match the matte white of the building’s facade. However, rainwater and nature painted it a pastel green.
Some refer to Yeouido Island as Korea’s Wall Street. Like the New York sidestreet with a Stock Exchange, Yeouido hosts the Korea Exchange (KRX; map).
Why two? In 2007, the government split the country’s futures exchange with the stock and bond markets and located them in two different cities.
- The Busan office handles the futures. It received the title “headquarters.”
- The Yeouido office in Seoul handles the KRX’s day-to-day trading.
Seoul’s stock exchange value — north of ₩2.6 quadrillion ($2.1 trillion) — attracts banks and brokerage firms to Yeouido, including NH Securities (NH투자증권; map), Shinhan Investment (신한금융투자; map), SK Securities (SK증권; map).
Tall, Tall Towers
Yeouido shows off its wealth with skyscrapers. The small river island accounts for five of Seoul’s tallest buildings.
- Parc1 (파크원 타워1; map; 69 floors; 333 m) and Parc2 (파크원 타워2; map; 53 floors; 256 m), completed in 2020, are a pair of skyscrapers in a complex that includes a hotel and department store. Parc1 is the tallest structure on Yeouido and second in Seoul.
- Three IFC (3 IFC; map; 55 floors; 285 m) opened in 2012. It’s part of the International Finance Center Seoul (IFC서울; map), which includes three towers and a hotel. The IFC Mall (IFC몰; map) occupies the complex’s basement.
- FKI Center (FKI전경련 회관; map; 51 floors; 246 m) won a few design awards after its opening in 2013. A Sky Farm (스카이팜; map) hosts weddings, corporate events, and lets the public peep Seoul from its top floor.
Building 63 (63빌딩; map; 60 floors; 250 m) is Yeouido’s most recognizable skyscraper. Opened in 1983, it remained the tallest building on the river island until workers completed the 69-story Parc1 (파크원 타워1) in 2020.
Built by Hanwha Life Insurance, 63 Building’s gilded façade represented progress and prosperity when completed. It dominated B-roll packages for the 1986 Asian Games and 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics.
What are some of its design elements? Great question.
- Thin sheets of 24 carat gold in 13,516 panes windows create its color.
- Other than North America, it stood as the world’s tallest building when completed.
- 63 Building is only 60 stories tall. However, some argue the structure’s three basement floors and its rooftop huts count towards the total. (So… “63½ Building.”)
- Notable facilities include 58th & 59th floor restaurants, an aquarium, glass elevators. 63 Art on the top floor claims the title “World’s Highest Art Gallery.”
Yeouido doesn’t have a nightlife. But the undersized island fits four parks within its borders.
Yeouido Hangang Park
Yeouido Hangang Park (여의도한강공원; map) claims the banks of the Han River. It might be the most popular of the Hangang Park system’s eleven parks.
Why? Location and amenities.
Yeouido Hangang Park gives excellent views of the National Assembly, Building 63, and the Han River.
Park can also access a variety of recreation facilities.
- Yeouido Marina (요트마리나; map) is one of Korea’s first marina’s.
- Waterlight Stage (물빛무대; map) is a floating stage with fountains and light shows.
- E-Land Cruise (이랜드크루즈; map) offers cruises along the Han River in Seoul.
- Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival runs through April. It’s 1,600 blazing-white cherry blossom trees follow Yunjung Road (윤중로; map) around the island.
- Seoul International Fireworks Festival enchants crowds in early October.
How about a bike ride? Yeouido Hangang Park carries a few kilometers of the Hangang Bike Path. It connects with Yanghwa Hangang Park (map) and Banpo Hangang Park (map).
If Yeouido Island is Korea’s Manhattan, Yeouido Park (여의도공원; map) is Central Park.
The rectangular patch of green runs from the riverfront park, through the heart of the island, and ends at Saetgang Ecological Park.
Yeouido Airport (여의도공항), which blanketed the park from 1916 to 1971, holds a bit of history.
The year: 1922. The day: December 5th. Frost-tipped wind nipped at 50,000 gawkers. They cheered as An Changnam’s (안창남) prop plane came into view. When he landed on Yeouido, he became the first Korean pilot to fly over and touch down Korean soil.
Saetgang Ecological Park
Glance at Yeouido on a map. It’s difficult to spot its “island-ness.” It looks more like a bump on the riverbank’s forehead. Not surrounded by a vast ocean.
Two bodies of water turn Yeouido into an island:
- The Han River to the north.
- And the Saet Stream (샛강; map; Saetgang) to the south.
The Saet Stream was once a mighty tributary. But years of construction and earth moving narrowed its banks. Now it measures between seven to twenty-five meters across.
Saetgang Ecological Park (여의도샛강생태공원; map) follows the Saet Stream (샛강; map) as it courses through the backside of Yeouido Island. The park provides wide green spaces, tree-lined paths, and lush vegetation that filters the river’s water.
Walkers and cyclists can roll along paths or cross the Hangang Saetgang Bridge (한강샛강다리; map), a pedestrian bridge resembling a pair of flying cranes.
Yeouido Neighborhood (여의도동; map; Yeouido-dong) governs Yeouido Island. Its border doesn’t stop at the riverbank. It reaches over the Han and grabs half of of Bamseom Island (밤섬; map).
Bamseom Island once held an active town, with buildings, a port, and a thousand souls. However, in 1968, government officials blew up the island. Acme dynamite and all.
Why? Two reasons.
- Beginning in the 1960s, Seoul attempted to tame the Han River, which flooded often. Engineers calculated that erasing Bamseom Island would improve water flow.
- Seoul’s then-mayor had a problem: lots of people. No land. So he saw an opportunity. Take Bamseom’s rocky remains and expand nearby Yeouido Island. The new land would be cheap and lack the voters to oppose development.
The demolition proved successful. Bamseom Island seemingly disappeared. And the dirt and rock transplant gave Yeouido a few square kilometers.
However, Bamseom’s bedrock remained just under the Han’s waters. Over the years, silt from the river’s currents rebuilt the broken island and formed its present-day shape: two islets divided by a sandy inlet.
Now Bamseom is a protected ecological park. Only birds, swaying reeds, and sandy beaches inhabit it. No humans allowed.
Visitors can view the park from the Bamseom Ecological Experience Center (밤섬생태체험관; map), an observatory on the Mapo Bridge (마포대교; map).