Seoul (North Side)
Seoul (North Side)
All roads, tracks, and cycling paths in Korea lead here: Seoul! Korea’s super metropolis.
North or South?
North or South? The cycling roads follow the banks of both the North and South Han River (한강, which cleaves Seoul into two equal halves two.
The glitter and glam pollute the south side neighborhoods. Ride the bottom of the river and find exorbitant, boundary pushing neighborhoods.
So which side? While we just claimed “North = historic; South = modern,” you’ll taste a bit of both on either bank.
What about your bike passport? Certification stamp seekers often ride the south side of the Han River. Why?
Second, the south path holds more Certification Centers (stamp checkpoints) than the north.
South side (2):
North side (1):
One more preamble. Both the north and south paths may not be long. But they’re bushels of landmarks. To simplify the routes, we’ll focus on the Hangang Park system.
The Park System
In 2007, Seoul embarked on the Hangang Renaissance Project. What was the project’s goal?
- Clean up and restore the Han River’s ecology.
- Build infrastructure and landmarks to lure folks out of their homes.
- Establish eleven (11) parks along the waterway.
North Han Parks
West to east, we present Seoul’s north side Hangang Parks.
Here are the parks on the Han River’s south side in Seoul, from west to east.
- Gangseo Hangang Park (강서) — 0 km from start (directions)
- Yanghwa Hangang Park (양화) — 6.9 km from start (directions)
- Yeouido Hangang Park (여의도) — 12.8 km from start (directions)
- Banpo Hangang Park (반포) — 17.3 km from start (directions)
- Jamwon Hangang Park (잠원) — 22.3 km from start (directions)
- Jamsil Hangang Park (잠실) — 28.7 km from start (directions)
- Gwangnaru Hangang Park (광나루) — 33.5 km from start (directions)
When warm, bundles of Seoul’s 10 million souls beset the cool riverside parks. While some distinguish between bike and leg lanes, many don’t. They weave across lines like your grandma’s stretch stitch.
So keep these safety tips in mind when biking in Seoul:
- Slow down when approaching a crowded area.
- Be a defensive rider. Watch out for distracted bikers and walkers.
- Kids are unpredictable. When you spot one, slow down!
Because of past accidents, Seoul continues enhancing safety in its Hangang Parks by:
- Creating medians between bike and pedestrian lanes.
- Adding speed limits (20 km/h) for bicyclists, e-bikers, and electric scooters.
- Installing roundabouts at intersections.
- Paving separate lanes for leisurely bikers and high-speed commuters.
- Placing warning lights to slow riders entering high pedestrian areas.
The First Bit
Let’s get riding!
Did you just complete the Ara Bicycle Path? Yes. Then you’ll find yourself atop an embankment (road view) overlooking the south banks of the Han River. Just near sits the Ara Hangang Lock stamp booth.
I know. I know. You’re dead set on riding the north side? Well, you’ll need to tolerate a bit of the south path until we reach the first crossing point.
Follow the path east and flow downward into Gangseo Hangang Park (강서한강공원). Wind through tall grass, past dirt trails and wetland, until you pass under Haengju Bridge (행주대교) a kilometer down the road (directions).
Han River Bridges
Have biker’s remorse? Want to switch sides? There are thirty-two bridges along the Han in Seoul and nearby ‘burbs.
However, not all bridges are created equal. Only twenty-two (22) include pedestrian sidewalks. And fewer add protected bike lanes.
Which bridges are crossable? Check out our list below.
- Normal font listings include long detours.
- Bold listings offer quicker access, but a few obstacles.
- Highlighted listings provide the best crossing points for bikes.
- Haengju Bridge (행주대교)
- Gayang Bridge (가양대교)
- Seongsan Bridge (성산대교)
- South side — long detour from the bike path.
- North side — long detour to stair access.
- Yanghwa Bridge (양화대교)
- Seogang Bridge (서강대교)
- Mapo Bridge (마포대교)
- Wonhyo Bridge (원효대교)
- Hangang Bridge (한강대교)
- Dongjak Bridge (동작대교)
- Banpo Bridge (반포대교)
- Two story bridge.
- Lower bridge protected bike path.
- Famed fountain & rainbow bridge.
- Hannam Bridge (한남대교)
- Dongho Bridge (동호대교)
- Seongsu Bridge (성수대교)
- South side — elevator access from the bike path.
- North side — long detour.
- Yeongdong Bridge (영동대교)
- Jamsil Bridge (잠실대교)
- Jamsil Railroad Bridge (잠실철교)
- Olympic Bridge (올림픽대교)
- Cheonho Bridge (천호대교)
- Gwangjin Bridge (광진교)
- Guri Amsa Bridge (구리암사대교)
- Paldang Bridge (팔당대교)
Goyang City Profile
This humble satellite town is more than just a ‘burb. It holds over one (1) million folks and covers 267 square kilometers (103 sq mi) just west of Seoul.
Haengju Mountain Fortress
The opening stages of the bike path through Goyang bring a challenge. The hill where Haengju Mountain Fortress rests discombobulates the route into a maze of street detours.
Don’t fret! Bike shops hanging near the path can point you the right way.
Or, these directions:
- Stay straight (road view) and follow white dotted lines as Haengju Bridge ends.
- The bike path curves and follows (road view) an overpass
- Turn left at the stream (road view), then take your first right (road view).
- Cross the road (road view) and turn right.
- The sidewalk transforms into a bike path.
After flowing under swirling on- and off-ramps, the bike path crosses a bridge and hits a T-intersection.
- Turn left to detour eight kilometers up Changneung Stream (창릉천).
- Turn right to continue along the Hangang Bike Path.
So turn right (road view). Slide between a maze of floating infrastructure until you spill into the aromatic green of Goyang Daedeok Ecological Park.
Goyang Daedeok Ecological Park
Like the Hangang Parks in Seoul, Goyang’s eco park protects flora and fauna, restores the waterway’s ecosystem to preindustrial glory, and entertains Homo sapiens visitors.
Hop over. Welcome back to Seoul and say hello to Nanji Hangang Park!
Nanji Hangang Park
Nanji Park Profile
Seoulites often group Nanji together with World Cup Park. Why?
First, they’re neighbors. Under and overpasses (road view) allow park goers to flow under and over the bisecting expressway.
Second, the World Cup built both parks.
Both the Nanji Hangang and World Cup parks inhabit Nanji Island. During the Joseon Dynasty, its fertile soil grew crops aplenty.
But the Miracle on the Han boom years following the Korean War transformed the island.
Like gleaming skyscrapers and top-shelf roadways? No. It gave a home to 92 million metric tons of trash. By the 1970s, Nanji stunk up Seoul’s western outskirts. Until…
Residents first used Nanji Hangang Park as a campground. However, in 2009, the Hangang Renaissance Project seized the land and added it to the Hangang Park System.
Ride Nanji Park
Enough with the backstory. Let’s keep riding!
Nanji Ecological Wetland
The natural scenery doesn’t stop when Goyang’s eco park ends. Nanji Ecological Wetland (난지생태습지원), a protected area that covers the western portion of the park, awaits after crossing the footbridge (road view) into Seoul.
Now glance to your left. Notice a pair of gentle, green slopes rising over the expressway. What are they?
World Cup Park
Twin, flat top pyramids (aerial view).
- Haneul Park (하늘공원; Sky Park) is the most popular. Late summer sightseers wander the ripened grass fields atop the pyramid park.
- Noeul Park (노을공원; Sunset Park) is the second pyramid park. It holds a nine-hole golf course, sculpture park, and natural habitats.
- Pyeonghwa Park (평화의공원; Peace Park) is World Cup Park’s premier park. It connects with Seoul World Cup Stadium (서울월드컵경기장).
- Nanjicheon Park (난지천공원; Nanji Stream Park) flows along the Nanji Stream at the base of Haneul and Noeul Park.
Why do Haneul and Noeul Parks have a pyramid shape? Simple. Buried below each churns 92 million metric tons of ancient landfill detritus.Don’t worry! Sanitation experts sealed the landfill tight. Between the high-rise parks, they dropped an incineration plant (aerial view) that uses methane bubbling from below to burn up Seoul’s never ending trash flow.
Keep those legs churning. Swoop under a pair of baseball fields and Nanji Campground, whose 194 stalls are the only that allow grilling on the Han in Seoul.
On the far side of the plaza, the Central Connection Bridge (중앙연결 브릿지; aerial view) carries pedestrians over the expressway to World Cup Park. (Peep the smokestack from the World Cup Park’s incinerator rising in the distance.
Continue past a second sweeping lawn, alongside a whirling on ramp, and by one of the Han’s many riverside docks (road view), cluttered with speed and leisure vessels.
In the winter, the fountain’s circular bed idles dry. But come spring, water turns the bed into a reflecting pool. Legend tells, a few times a day, the fountain erupts into a 20 minute scored aquatic dance and light show.
What’s on the other side? The second Hangang Park: Mangwon.
Mangwon Hangang Park
Western powers wrapped their imperial knucks on the doors of east Asia’s kingdoms at the dawn of the 19th century.
In 1831, the Roman Catholic Church sent several French missionary priests to Korea’s shores. For the first few decades, the priests set up churches, preached, and converted thousands.
Korea’s elite grew suspicious. Western people and ideas turned bitter on their tongues.
And Joseon paid tribute to the Qing Dynasty. Regent Daewongun couldn’t let thieving Frenchies remain unsanctioned in his borders and look the mighty Chinese emperor in the eye.
So, in 1866, he ordered Joseon soldiers to round up the French Priests and some 8,000 Korean converts.
Have an extra half-a-day. Slip under the expressway to explore a triptych of trendsetting spots.
The title itself is the truncated name of a local prestigious arts and design university:
- Hongik (홍익) Dae-hak-gyo (대학교; University)
As Seoul’s fortunes multiplied, nightclubs, pricey eateries, and designer stores conquered the streets of Hongdae. Waves of wallet-weighted sightseers followed.
Locals often group Sinchon and Hondgae together. Why?
Ride Mangwon Park
Pedal further down and spot the… Okay. Okay. Very funny, guys. Who left their frigate parked on the Han?
Seoul Battleship Park
First opened in 2017, the naval museum includes three decommissioned Korean naval vessels.
- Frigate (Battleship) Seoul (1900-ton, 102-meter) is the museum’s largest. Korea built the vessel in 1985. It served in the ROK’s navy for 30 years.
- Mounted on land beside the museum, you’ll find the Patrol Killer Medium, a 37-meter long coast guide ship first deployed in 1978.
- The last vessel, a 25-meter long, 190-ton dolphin-class submarine, wedges halfway into the glass wall of the museum. Deployed from 1991 to 2016, the sub patrolled and surveilled from behind enemy lines. Inside the museum, curators bisected the sub and exposed its innards to the paying public.
But why build a naval museum in Mangwon Park?
- From the birth of kingdoms to the Korean War, armies and navies wrestled for control over the Han River. Whomever controlled the waterway ruled the peninsula.
- And the Joseon Dynasty’s navy once used this section of river to practice with their warships.
How much is a museum ticket? For ₩3,000, you can tour all the vessels and the museum.
- Summer: Weekdays – 10 AM to 7 PM, Weekends – 10 AM to 8 PM
- Winter: Weekdays – 10 AM to 5 PM, Weekends – 10 AM to 6 PM
- Closed every Monday.
Finished with your nautical excursions? Mount up and hit the cycling path!
The river gleams on your right. On your left, tennis and basketball courts fade into a set of jagged concrete steps (road view).
Not hungry? How about some history? Take the same underpass (road view) near the concrete steps.
One fateful day, amidst a drought, the skies opened up a visit from King Sejong. Locals then referred to the structure as Hweeujeong (희우정), or “happy rain pavilion.”
While time and war destroyed the Han River’s many pavilions, Seoul restored and designated Mangwon a cultural heritage site in 1989.
With bellies and heads topped off, hop back on Mangwon Park’s bike path.
After Yanghwa Bridge, Gangbyeon Expressway’s eastbound lanes, hitherto crawling along an inland embankment, rise on concrete pylons and swerve over the Han’s waters.
Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine
Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery
Shelling from the Korean War blew holes in some headstones. Caretakers left the damage as a reminder of the war’s devastation.
Mangwon Hangang Park collapses between the encroaching city and river, but continues on, filling any slice of land with trees, benches, and outdoor gyms.
Both east and westbound expressway lanes lift on concrete pylons and flank the bike path, shading park goers from the summer sun.
Slide down a narrow concrete bridge (road view), then peek under the overpass and across the Han. The red arches of Seogang Bridge (서강대교; an okay crossing point) hop first to Bamseom Island (밤섬), then to Yeouido on the river’s south bank.
Bolted onto the side of Mapo Bridge you’ll find the Bamseom Ecological Experience Center (밤섬생태체험관), one of ten bridge observatories in Seoul. This platform offers the best view of the uninhabited Bamseom Island (밤섬).
The last kilometer of Mangwon Hangang Park opens onto green slopes and crosses into the Yongsan District.
Yeouido Certification Center
Yeouido Certification Center isn’t. You’ll need to cross. If you’re in a hurry, we recommend crossing at Mapo Bridge. Ride the last half of Yeouido Island, grab Yeouido’s stamp (map), then shoot back to the north side on Hangang Bridge (directions).
(You will miss the first cluster of installations in Ichon’s Hangang Art Park.)
Ichon Hangang Park
Ichon Park Profile
In the past, the river banks here held a wide sandy beach. Countless generations of Seoulites bathed in the blazing summer sun.
However, 1960s’ boom brought development. Now high-rise real estate and high-income mortals haunt the grounds north of Gangbyeon Expressway.
Let’s dig a little more into Yongsan’s history.
- Bugaksan (북악산): north (북; buk) mountain (산; san).
- Inwangsan (인왕산): west mountain.
- Naksan (낙산): east mountain.
- Namsan (남산): south (남; nam) mountain (산; san).
- Yong Mountain (용산; Yong-san), which sits in the middle of the district. Its name means Dragon (용; Yong) Mountain (산; san).
- A fable from the Baekje Dynasty, the Han River’s first kingdom, described two dragons (용; Yong) that appeared over the river near Yongsan District.
However, while Joseon’s rulers dominated development around the capital, Yongsan brimmed with commerce and trade days of old. Why?
Yongsan Port (용산항). Though one of many along the Han, it sat closest to the inner sanctum. Trading posts and storage houses rose to receive vessels brimming with fine goods, enriching and enticing savvy merchants.
Some believe Yongsan birthed capitalism in Korea.
Tip! Neighborhood Names
Joseon era workers chopped blocks of the cold stuff from upriver mountaintops, sailed it down to Yongsan, and kept it in cold storage until royals desired a cool glass of something.
Yongsan Port’s ships and easy money brought something else: foreigners. French, Chinese, Japanese merchants and ideologs soon settled the area.
Japan made a few deep cosmetic changes to Seoul when they occupied Korea (1910~1945):
- They tore down the old capital’s walls and expanded the city.
- They razed many royal palaces and sacred shrines.
- And they set up Yongsan Garrison (용산수비대) near Yongsan Mountain.
The military base served as the Imperial Army’s headquarters in Korea until their defeat following WWII.
(Glance at a map of Seoul today. Notice an oversized green patch (satellite view) of land? That’s not a park. Map makers painted those pristine trees over top.)
In 2018, U.S. military moved to Camp Humphreys south of Seoul and handed most of the prime real estate back to Seoul.
Foreign Towns 2.0
Yongsan Garrison supercharged the foreign community in Yongsan. Years ago, bars and eateries near the base swelled with cash gorged soldiers.
Though most of the military folks hightailed it south, Yongsan’s foreigner neighborhoods kept their international flavor, including:
- Itaewon Neighborhood (이태원동; Itaewon-dong), Seoul’s most famed foreigner neighborhood. Just down the road from the old Yongsan Garrison, it holds an eclectic mix of restaurants, nightclubs, and religious institutions.
- Haebangchon (해방촌; a.k.a. HBC) folds between old Yongsan Garrison and Namsan Mountain. This quieter area hosts expats, bars, and cafés.
- Little Tokyo (리틀 도쿄) is an unofficial area in the Ichon Neighborhood. A pocket of Japanese restaurants, shops, and expatriates live here.
Hangang Art Park
A hundred meters down the path, Ichon Park opens into a wide green field (road view). In springtime, trees droop nets of leaves over picnickers.
Artists from Korea to America to Germany to Chile contributed artworks, which range from intriguing to enigmatic. Here’s a brief list in Ichon Park:
- Cracking Art (크래킹 아트) — Yellow snails and pink penguins made of recycled plastic.
- River Pavilion-On The River (리버파빌리온-온더리버) — A garden and geometric sculptures on floating dock.
- The Journey of a Ship (강변호 상경기) — A stained glass house installed on a fishing boat once lost to the sea.
- Hangang Tree-P6 (한강나무-P6) — A pixelated tree.
- RAIN or SHINE (비 또는 햇살) — a metal parasol with an infinity mirrored underside reflecting the brand names of old cars.
Keep those legs churning through Ichon and you’ll discover plenty more gawk-able pieces.
Hangang Railway Bridges
- Bridge A (1900; single-track) — Gyeongin Line from Incheon to Seoul.
- Bridge B (1912; single-track) — Gyeongin Line from Seoul to Incheon.
- Bridge C (1944; double-track) — Gyeongbu, Honam, Jeolla, & Janghang Lines.
- Bridge D (1995; double-track) — Seoul Subway Line 1 & Gyeongbu Line.
Today they carry both rail and subway lines. However, those pillars hold the country’s history.
Peep Bridge A: the inside single-track bridge with smaller green trestles. This bridge with an unremarkable name bears a remarkable past.
The Wide Han
The Han River is no ordinary river. Its width in Seoul reaches a kilometer (1,000 m; 3,280 ft) between banks.
When Bridge A opened in 1900, it became the first to cross the Han’s legendary expanse.
Engineers originally erected a footbridge in 1917. Like its railroad neighbors, it allowed pedestrians to cross the river on foot for the first time.
Detonation of the Hangang Bridges
However, 4,000 souls were still fleeing across. Eight hundred perished.
Seoul’s economic explosion post-war rebuilt the Hangang Bridge as a vehicle and pedestrian bridge in (1958), and restored Railway Bridges A and B (1969), and C (1957).
Hangang Bridge Observatories
Before pedaling onwards, notice two boomerang shaped boxes bolted to the side of the Hangang Bridge’s deck.
Modeled after modernist lighthouses, they’re two of ten bridge observatories on Seoul’s bridges.
Atop Seoul’s Han River bridges sit ten observatories. Some hold cafés. Others offer observation decks to view natural and cityscape sights.
- Bamseom Ecological Experience Center (밤섬생태체험관)
- Cafe Aritaum Yanghwa (카페아리따움양화)
- Southwest Yanghwa Bridge (양화대교)
- One of two observatories on Yanghwa Bridge, with café and observatory.
- 12 PM ~ 12 AM
- Cafe Aritaum Seonyu (카페아리따움선유)
- Southwest Yanghwa Bridge (양화대교)
- One of two observatories on Yanghwa Bridge, with café and observatory.
- 12 PM ~ 12 AM
- Hangang Cafe Nodeul (견우카페)
- Hangang Cafe Rio (직녀카페)
- Dongjak Cloud Cafe (동작 구름카페)
- Dongjak Sunset Cafe (동작 노을카페)
- Jamsil Bridge Shelter (잠실 마루쉼터)
- K-POP Experience Center (K-POP 체험관)
- Southeast side of Hannam Bridge (한남대교)
- Observatory, café, and K-POP museum.
- Wed ~ Sun: 3 PM ~ 9 PM
- Riverview 8th Avenue (광진교 8번가)
Nature didn’t create this drop of green in the Han. Until builders erected the Hangang Bridge in 1917, it was the tip of a sandy beach stretching from the Yongsan District’s banks.
When engineers built the first Hangang Bridge (1917), they drove the bridge’s center pillar into bedrock and laid stone and earthen reinforcements on the sandy beach around it.
Over the years, dredging and changes to the Han’s flow swept away the golden beach, leaving Nodeul Island’s teardrop shape.
Until the early 2000s, Nodeul hosted communal farms and beekeepers. Then in 2018, developers seized the western half of the island and shoved it into the future.
Today you’ll find slender plazas connecting lucid-chic buildings. Amongst its facilities, you’ll find a culture complex, performance hall, bookstore, offices, and more.The island’s modern amenities and unique placement attracted the K-Pop music videos and the Silicon-Valley-inspired K-Drama Start-Up.
Get your gears out of molasses and roll on! Up ahead comes the meat of Ichon’s facilities.
Fly by dry docked boats, slipways descending to the river, and X-Games Skate Park.
Stop. Peep the dock (road view) shaped like a futuristic Korean turtle boat. Among its full menu of water activities, Hangang Crossing Program (한강도하체험장) is the most popular. It tasks a group of eight to paddle across the river to Banpo Hangang Park before rounding back to Ichon.
What makes it special? Two things:
- It’s a double decker. The top deck allows vehicles. The bottom platform, which connects with the bike path, lets folks, bikes, and cars cross the river from ground level.
- It’s the largest fountain bridge in the world.
Fountain? Yes. At points in the day and night, 380 water jets popoff from Banpo’s top deck. At night, the LEDs spread intricate color patterns.
The path forks just before (road view) Banpo Bridge.
- Ride the right fork and cross the bridge’s lower deck, which holds vehicle and bike roads.
- Follow the left fork up a slope and hop the intersection — the express route.
- (Both paths merge again a hundred meters down the way.)
Take the right fork. It’s more scenic.
Called Some Sevit, these glass structures adorn many Korean and Hollywood films, and countless b-roll footage of Seoul.
Choice B! Okay.
Turn left and head up the tunnel (road view) that feeds Banpo Bridge. Once you pop up into the city, follow the bottom of the old Yongsan Garrison until you stumble upon (road view) a metal clad building with a hole in it (road view).
Have a half a day? An entire week? Don’t stop the detour.
Along this ten-plus kilometer detour (directions), discover some of Seoul’s top highlights:
- Seoul Namsan Tower — atop Nam Mountain the crown that adorns Seoul’s skyline.
- Myeongdong — one of the most traveled shopping neighborhoods in Korea.
- Jongmyo Shrine — an ancient royal shrine central to Korean identity.
- Hanok Villages — a couple neighborhoods adorned with traditional hanok houses.
- Joseon’s Five Palaces — ancient Joseon-era palaces, including Gyeongbok Palace.
End of Ichon
Not enough time? Carry on with the Hangang Bike Path? Choice A it is.
Jump across Banpo Bridge’s intersection and slide under the expressway. Dotted with V-shaped pillars, a riverside patio offers the best vantage point to watch the fountain bridge’s show.
Infrastructure Nether Regions
What do you prefer? Rolling hills? Green pastures? Or the man-made maze of steel-reinforced concrete assemblages that underpin today’s modern cities?
It’s not all gray brutalism, however.
Ichon turns concrete lemons into recreational lemonade. Tucked behind columns or laid between embankments, find outdoor gyms, bench bedecked patios, and rows of sports courts.
In summer, you’ll also find troops of park goers escaping the sun. The combo of overhead shade and river breeze relieves folks sans air conditioning.
A kilometer after Banpo Bridge, find a ramp veering off path (road view), one of several points of exit into the city.
Want to visit Itaewon (이태원), Seoul’s premier foreigner neighborhood? This first exit provides the shortest route. Follow it to street level and scoot 1.5 kilometers (directions) until Itaewon Station (이태원역), the neighborhood’s nexus.
- International cuisine — kebab shops, French bistros, and South African eateries.
- Cultural diversity — a mosque, churches, and a US military base.
- Nightlife — western bars, nightclubs, and LGBTQ+ hangouts
Let’s keep slithering below the expressway’s girdle.
After Hannam Bridge, Ichon Park squeezes to only two bike lanes before unfurling into a grid of courts and gyms (road view) sprinkled with rectangle pillars.
Slip down a kilometer of green and arrive at infrastructure Jenga (road view).
Past Dongho Bridge, the overpass splits and veers into the river (road view), away from the bike path.
Now, let’s cross into Ttukseom Hangang Park.
Ttukseom Hangang Park
Ttukseom Park Profile
Though outside the fortified walls of the ancient Joseon capital, Ttukseom’s reputation for sun and sport lived in Seoulites’ hearts and minds for hundreds of years.
Before a Hangang Park:
- Joseon kings hunted here.
- Joseon ports traded here.
- And Seoulites bathed on its sandy beaches in the 50s and 60s.
In ye olde days, downpours swelled the river, forcing water into flood plains around Ttukseom, earning the patch of land “island” (섬; seom) status.
Today, since developers tamed land and river, Ttukseom forever remains connected.
Whenever he ventured onto the island, royal guards unfurled a flag bearing ox and pheasant tails named dokdo (독도), or poison. Overtime the word shifted to Ttuk (뚝).
Hanseong, Joseon’s old capital, attracted trading ports up and down Han River’s banks. Each port erected granaries to store crops that flowed from upstream farms.
For hundreds of years, Ttukseom’s ferry (뚝섬 나루터), a 12-by-5 meter wood raft, paddled produce up from Gangnam’s (강남구) rural farms to Dongdaemun Market (동대문시장), and brought Buddhist worshippers south to Bongeunsa Temple (봉은사).
So when did Ttukseom’s ferry service stop? 1970.
1970?! That’s a little late. Weren’t there bridges by then? Yes. But they didn’t extend to this still pastoral part of Seoul.
Ask many older Seoulites about the area and they’ll tell you about days long gone, of sunny days, clear waters, and hundreds of bathers cooling off on Ttukseom.
In 1940, Japan built an amusement park on Ttukseom, minus the rollercoasters and Tilt-A-Whirls.
From the 50s to 70s, Seoulites fled the crowded capital for Ttukseom. With boats, rafts, and old tire tubes, they splashed on sandbar beaches and lounged under shady cottonwood trees.
Throwing some vice in the pot, in 1950 Seoul built the country’s first horse racing track where the Seoul Forest (서울숲) stands today. A few years later, US officers filled the track’s inside green with a seven-hole golf course, a not too uncommon practice.
Ttukseom’s bucolic beauty vanished in the 70s.
First, the city dredged the Han River, hoping the deepened bed would reduce flooding. The side effect? Bye bye beaches. Bye bye shallow sandbars.
Second, factories churning out steel, textiles, and shoes invaded the nearby neighborhood of Seongsu (성수동1가, 성수동2가). Runoff from them and other upstream industries forced the government to ban swimming. (Today, it’s fine to swim in certain areas if you fill out a waiver.)
Ttukseom Hangang Renovation
The 1988 Seoul Olympics spurred Seoul to clean up the Han River. They banned dumping and tried to restore the waterway’s wetlands.
The Hangang Park System absorbed and renovated Ttukseom in the 80s, flipping its switch from polluted backwater back to recreational getaway.
The forest park occupies the western edge of Ttukseom Island. Before it opened in 2005, the area hosted:
- Hunting grounds and military training fields for Joseon kings (1392~1897).
- Seoul’s first water treatment facility (수도박물관; 1908).
- Seoul’s first horse racetrack (1954~1989), which included a small golf course in the infield. (Racehorse statues stand on the park’s entrance plaza.)
Planners divided Seoul Forest’s 595,000 square meters into five mini-parks, each with unique characteristics:
- Culture & Arts Park — plaza, visitors center, and sculptures.
- Experience Learning Center — old water treatment plant, insect and flower gardens.
- Eco Forest — plentiful trees, walking paths, and a small zoo.
- Wetland Ecology Garden — bird observatory and wetlands gardens.
- Hangang Riverside Park — riverside area with bike paths and marina.
Seoul Forest Access
Want to get into Seoul Forest? The parallel expressway poses a challenge. However, a series of over and underpasses can carry you into this coniferous enclave.
Ride around the bike path’s hairpin turn (road view) and rejoin the Han River. Ride a couple hundred meters and meet your first jump:
Stay on the bike path for one more entrance. Just down the river you’ll spot:
Continue past Seoul Forest. The narrow walking and bike paths cling to land between the water and concrete embankments.
Every few hundred kilometers, white banister staircases crown dark tunnel pedestrian underpasses (road view).
History of Seongsu
After the Korean War, Korea’s economic ascension arrived in tiers.
- First, the country built infrastructure and improved agriculture.
- Next, Korea manufactured raw materials, like steel and petrochemicals.
- Then, the economy pivoted to making things.
In the 1970s, factories overwhelmed Seongsu and pumped out uncomplicated goods, like textiles, books, radios, and shoes, earning the neighborhood the title “Seoul’s Factory District.”
By the 1990s, however, the nation shifted on to manufacturing semiconductors and smartphones. And the average Korean moved from the factory floor to the office cubicle.
Seongsu’s factories belly-flopped into the 21st century. Many closed. Only bespoke shoe and clothing shops remained.
What do you call it when privileged, educated folks on a budget invade a cheap, down-and-out neighborhood? The beginnings of gentrification!
In the 2000s, entrepreneurs snatched up desolated brick buildings. They flayed and gutted them, tattooed their weathered exteriors with murals, then stuffed their innards with artisan cafés, shabby-chic eateries, and exhibition halls.
What can you do there?
- Drink coffee at Seongsu Neighborhood Cafe Street (성수동 카페거리).
- Mill around culture and shopping spaces built from disused cargo containers.
- View art galleries: S-Factory (에스팩토리) and The Seouliteum (더서울라이티움).
Sail under Yeongdong Bridge and enter the Ttukseom’s bulky tummy.
As the park widens between the Han and expressway, spot a fork in the bike path (road view).
- Go left and head into the park’s inner sanctum, by a 40-meter-high climbing wall and ending at the J-Bug Cultural Complex.
- Go right and stay on the certification path along the river.
Stop! Look. The top of the fork (road view). Notice something? Yes. A little red booth.
Ttukseom Observatory Complex is the first and only certification center on the north side.
Ttukseom’s stamp counts towards the Gwangnaru Bicycle Park stamp. You don’t need to hop the river and visit the little red booth in Gwangnaru Hangang Park to receive the Hangang Bicycle Path certification. (You need to cross and collect the Yeouido stamp, though.)
Your ink dry? Good. Stick to the right fork and keep it rolling along the river’s edge.
J-Bug Cultural Complex
Below… below… What is that (road view)? A powder sugar donut spaceship? A modernist matte white caterpillar that wiggled from the mind of a daft architect?
Coincidentally, yes. The second one.
Excellent! What is it? It’s a community complex three-stories:
- 1st floor — The J’s tail connects with Ttukseom Resort Station (뚝섬유원지역; Line 7; exit 3). The building’s neck holds exhibition spaces, a video hall, and library. An observatory facing the Han River and a performance space occupy J’s bottom swoop.
- 2nd floor — A library for children and meeting spaces.
- 3rd floor — meeting rooms and offices
J-Bug acts as Ttukseom Park’s focal point. On sunny days, in the shade of the white beast, picnickers devour gimbap, rollerbladers weave, lovers hold hands. And every Saturday (12~4 PM), a flea market hums under J’s pale belly.
Stop your gawking. Push on into Ttukseom’s multitudes.
What’s moored to the riverbanks up ahead (road view)? A colonial tall ship? Sort of.
Push forward and stumble upon Ttukseom Waterside Square, a huge concrete gathering space capped by two fountains.
- Ttukseom Music Fountain (뚝섬 음악분수) perches on the north end of waterside square. When warm, streams of water dance to a 20 minute soundtrack.
- South of the square, a row of jets installed on the river’s surface create Ttukseom Water Screen (뚝섬 워터스크린). Weekend nights in July and August, the fountain sprays a wall of mist onto which a rear projector beams forty minute videos (i.e. a water screen).
Past Ttukseom Square, after a field filled with day-camping families, you’ll reach Ttukseom’s side-by-side nature zones.
- A rose garden with a fountain, flower beds, and red, yellow, pink rose tunnels.
- A Nature Learning Center with a twisting network of wooded walking paths.
The river and expressway pinch Ttukseom until all but bike and pedestrian lanes remain.
Stop and inspect the bridge’s design. Notice five thick concrete supports (road view) topped with double-windowed shacks on its north end. What are those?
Before extensive dredging and water flow management, the Han River had a mercurial nature. Sometimes flooding. Often running dry.
Those double-windowed shakes atop are control rooms that raise and lower an underwater gate, regulating how much wet stuff passes.
Just before you reach Jamsil Bridge’s main deck, the flat path spices up its bland stew and chucks in a chunk of hill. The incline snakes 13-meters upwards and settles under the expressway.
Jamsil Railroad Bridge
Pop out from under the expressway and roll along a ridge flanked by gated water management facilities.
Near the last building, find a fork in the path (road view).
- The right fork follows the blue-lined path down to the riverside.
- The left fork climbs a red painted ramp to Jamsil Railroad Bridge.
- A one-way, northbound road for vehicles occupies the east lane.
- The middle lane holds tracks for Seoul Subway Line 2.
- Bicycle and walking paths run along the west side of the bridge.
Up the ramp onto Jamsil Railroad Bridge, discover two more options:
- Turn right to cross the bridge and splash down on the river’s south bank.
- Turn left and…
Dong Seoul Bus Terminal
What’s so landmark-y about a bus terminal?
Intercity buses are the best way to travel with your bike in Korea. And along with Seoul Express Bus Terminal on the south side, Dong Seoul Terminal daily carries thousands of passengers (and bicycles) to outer provinces, cities, and towns.
Take the right fork before Jamsil Railroad Bridge. Bike down to the Han River.
Why “proposed?” Olympic Bridge was Korea’s first to employ cable-stayed architecture. Limited technology and miscalculations led to the bridge’s partial collapse and delayed completion.
Churn on under the Olympic Bridge. More drooping branches, outdoor gyms flow down the contracted path.
A kilometer later, swoop below Gangbyeon Expressway as it sneaks under a pair of bridges lying 200 meters apart:
Gwangjin Bridge marks the end of Ttukseom, the last of Seoul’s Hangang Park. It also tucks a secret under its tummy.
Bolted to the bottom of the bridge’s deck (road view), Riverview 8th Avenue (광진교 8번가) is a three-story observatory hanging above the Han’s currents. Inside, find a performance space, café, and viewing platform.
(To access the observatory by bike, dismount and walk down the western walking path.)
Gwangnaru Bicycle Park Certification Center
Namesakes and a Concrete Box
So that’s it? We’re out of Seoul? Not quite. Ride on.
The expressway jumps in the river, creating a valley of concrete pillars and apartment faces.
Down the road, a courtyard opens (road view) below a hill topped with the Grand Walkerhill Seoul (그랜드 워커힐 서울; blt. 1963), whose hotels bear the names of US Generals. Each served during the Korean War, including Douglas MacArthur, Walton Walker, and James Van Fleet.
A skip down the bike path Seoul’s last northern highlight: a big concrete box (road view).
Once a water intake station, the SFAC (Seoul Foundation for the Arts and Culture) hollowed out the building’s inside and installed the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center (거리예술창작센터), a venue dedicated to street and contemporary circus arts.
Guri & Namyangju Cities
This last section of the Hangang Bicycle Path in Seoul covers 16 kilometers (directions) and traverses two of Seoul’s eastern satellite cities: Guri and Namyangju.
Guri and Namyang: Twin Satellites
Since their separation, they’ve pondered rekindling their romance and merging. They share the same regional history, commuter train, and even a downtown.
Size & People
Guri claims less land and people (33 sq km; 193,954 folks) than Namyangju (458 sq km; 725,031 folks). However, Guri is dense (5,846 per sq km), tripling Namyangju (1,576 per sq km).
Why is Namyangju spread thin?
In the 1970s, Seoul enacted a greenbelt. It forbade apartments and industry to spread into designated spaces around the city’s perimeter. Just farms and nature.
Both Guri and Namyangju sit in the greenbelt, limiting their growth.
Guri petitioned the government and won back bits of territory for development.
Namyangju? Not so successful. The greenbelt still grips the city’s mountainous heart, forcing its populace into patches: in narrow valleys, along streams and the Han River.
Because the rural rules Namyangju, the city lives without a downtown.
Where do Namyangju-ites buy a new fridge or browse the latest trends?
The tale of two cities continues in their industrial profiles.
While the greenbelt halts Namyangu’s industrial aspirations, it doesn’t limit agriculture. So Namyanjgu got to farming and built a reputation for organic produce.
Like most post-industrial countries, service jobs dominate Guri. The city’s office dwelling folk earn more and enjoy greater stability than their neighbor.
When kings died, their successors built their gravesites in the surrounding areas. Today you can find several UNESCO designated Joseon-era tombs and more relics.
Ride Guri City
Welcome to Guri City (구리시). The Gangbyeon Expressway hops from the Han back overhead for a short stretch.
At the start of Korea’s Three Kingdoms era, the Kingdom of Baekje (백제; 18 BCE ~ 660 ACE) built the fortress to defend its claim over the Han River, the most strategically important waterway on the peninsula.
Guri Han River Park
Passed Guri Amsa Bridge (구리암사대교; good crossing point) spreads one of Guri’s nine scenic spots: flower gardens (road view). In May, they bloom blazing yellow rapeseed. In September, pink petaled cosmos open.
The path pivots left and creeps up the stream’s western banks.
This ain’t your normal 100 meter tall spire. View the gray puffing (road view) from the top. Yep, it’s a colossal exhaust pipe.
Guri Tower the exhales scrubbed smoke from 140-tons of daily garbage processed at the adjacent waste incineration plant.
What’s that cone wrapped around the tower’s top? An observation deck and restaurant. And below Guri-ites recreate in an indoor swimming pool, soccer fields, and sauna.
Ride Namyangju City
Now, cross the bridge (road view) over Wangsuk Stream and enter Namyangju.
Take a right back towards the Han River, whip around a hairpin turn, and find a tiny riverside sports park.
Refuel. Why? Just beyond, the bike road switches to two lanes and a whole lotta hill.
Most of the Hangang Bicycle Path in Seoul rolls along a flat riverside basin. Until now.
So, why notorious?
The crowds! We may not be in Seoul anymore, but the bike roads still crawl with bikers of all stripes: day trippers. Road warriors. Canoodling couples.
The mixture of inexperienced and need-for-speed riders, narrow paths, and steep inclines often leads to accidents. So keep your lane and feather your brakes on the way down.
Namyangju Han River Park
Mieumnaru Pass spits you onto Namyangju Han River Park (남양주한강공원).
Slingshot from under the overpass and find Geomdan Mountain (검단산; 658 m) in the distance (road view). It and northern Yebong Mountain (예봉산; Yebongsan) create high valley walls along this bit of river.
Green Coffee Row
While chains dominate Korea’s cities, mommas and pappas own these shops. They bank on Seoulites hopping the Gyeongui-Jungang Line and sailing upriver for a quick and verdant vacay.
Just before crossing under Paldang Bridge, the path branches (road view), presenting two choices:
Why do that? Well, if the sun is setting, Hanam holds plenty of beds, chicken joints, and a cool tower.