Enjoy downtown Seoul without traffic while walking beside a pleasant stream. We include a game of “I spy” for children–and adults–to play.
Walk start: Gwanghwamun Station, Exit 5
Length of walk: 2.9 KM. You can exit the path at any time, however. The Chonggyecheon footpaths follow the length of the stream to the Han River, a distance of around 11 KM.
Ages: All ages
Type of terrain: Cobblestone/bitumen/asphalt
Stroller friendly: Yes–see map below for ramp access.
What a difference 15 feet can make. Temperatures along the Cheongyyecheon path can be a full 2 degrees Celsius cooler than street-level. Anyone who has experienced a Korean summer will want to seek refuge along the pleasant walkways that follow along the Cheonggye stream in the heart of Seoul. This 5.8 kilometer stroll is a great way to appreciate Seoul’s downtown away from the traffic. Kids will enjoy the walk for the fish, waterfalls, interesting bridges, and stones to hop on to cross to the other side of the stream. In November the stream hosts a lantern festival, and most nights the stream has a laser light show.
Start out at Gwanghwamun Station Exit 5. As you exit, walk straight until you see a blue and red sculpture that could be straight out of Hooville. The piece, “Spring,” represents a seashell and was designed by the American artists Claes Oldenburg and Cossje van Bruggen. With the sculpture at your back, you are now facing the Chonggyechoen.
Traveled with a stroller? Descend along the path on the right. Enjoy the immediate change of pace. As you look out at the stream, picture a winding stream with women doing laundry along its windy muddy banks. Now, imagine a highway jammed with traffic. The Cheonggye stream was both–during the Choseon era it was a place for the poor to have a water source, and filled up with refugees from both North and South from the Korean War. As Korea developed into an economic powerhouse, city planners covered up the stream to make a highway. In the early ’00s Mayor of Seoul and future Korean President Lee Myung-Bak did away with the unsightly highway and made it the serene public space you see today.
Let’s start the walk already! It’s about 4 meters down past the double waterfall to the stream. There are 22 bridges along the Chongyecheon, and we are coming to our first one. Wait for it. This is called the Mojeongyo, as there used to be a fruit market near the bridge.
Next is the Gwangtonngyo. Construction began on the bridge in during the Joseon Dynasty in 1410 by King Taejong. Taejong tore apart the stones from the tomb of Queen Sindeok, his father’s second wife, to use for the bridge, to disrespect her. Although Sejongdaero is now the main thoroughfare in Seoul, this bridge used to be the main bridge connecting northern and southern Seoul. The more darkly shaded columns are from the original 15th century construction.
The Cheonggye stream–“Cheon” is Korean for “stream”–is around 8 kilometers long, flowing west to east, to the Han river via the Jungnancheon. Originally named “Gaechon” or open stream, King Taejong, began to dredge the creek as a means to remove the sewage piling up in the city. The Japanese Colonial Administration renamed the stream the “Chonggyecheon,” While the Japanese retired comfortably to the south side of the stream, many of those who had no water, went to the stream for washing.
The water source of the Chonggye stream has long since dried out. Now the wastewater of Seoul’s office buildings is treated and flow into the stream, which is rated by Korean standards as Class 2–next to drinking water–and supports aquatic life, including fish and ducks.
Continue to head east. As you head underneath the rust-colored Gwanggyo bridge, you may start to hear the wail of a taepyeongso, a Korean reed instrument. If you are on the left hand side of the stream, you will soon see a tiled painting of a 1795 procession of King Jeonjdo from his residence, Gyeongbuk palace, to Suwon, a town south of Seoul. The king made a pilgrimage to see his father at Hwasang Fortress in the south.
The royal court procession features 1,779 people and 1,417 horses, faithfully depicted along the tiles. As you listen to the procession music, you can picture the awe poor peasants felt when they saw the majesty.
If you have children, this is a good time to stop and play “I spy.”
I Spy Game, Court Procession:
Can you spot the king and queen?
The King: This is a trick question! You cannot spot the King, only an empty horse. During this period in Korea it was not appropriate to show the king.
2. Can you find the band?
3. Can you find the military?
4. See how many colored horses you can spot
Continue along the procession–it sure is long–to Samilgyo bridge. Samil-ro was named in commemoration of the Samil (Mar. 1) Movement in 1919 when Korean nationalists read the Korean Declaration of Independence at Tapgol Park, sparking anti-Japanese demonstrations across the nation.
You can exit here to walk to Insa-dong, famous for its tea houses and traditional handicrafts.
Detour: If you would like to head to the Gwanjang market, famous for its food and 2nd story hanbok market, exit the path after the Seungyo bridge. You will head up a ramp and find yourself in a market for drills. Once at street level, take a right to head east along the stream. Take the first left. Cross the street after one block to enter the market.
On to Dongdaemun…
After 200 meters, you will head towards Dongdaeum, a shopping mecca. This area, Korean for “Large east gate,” has more lot to offer, although most visitors who come to Dongdaemun do so for the 24-hour shopping in its more than 20 shopping malls, as this area remains Korea’s wholesale hub. One can buy everything from paper to turtles, to cooking supplies to handbags. There is a street in the neighborhood that my friend refers to as “purse heaven.”
When you reach the Ogansugyu bridge, walk back up to street level. You will find the J.W. Marriott on your left. Look to the northeast. (left). You should see Dongdaemun-the large east gate. This gate was originally constructed at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392. What you are looking at is a reconstruction from 1869. To the northwest of the gate you can see the Seoul Fortress Wall snaking up the hill. If you are interested, there is an interesting museum on the wall to the left of the gate, featuring Lego depictions of many of Seoul’s buildings. I would say that the Legos are fun for the kids, yet there were really cool for me to see too!
One must see Dongdaemun’s Design Plaza, designed by Nobel Prize winning architect Zaha Hadid. There is a mother’s lounge and play area in the Plaza on the first floor. See here for map.
Dongdaemun’s two metro stations, Dongdaemun, and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park, are along Subway Lines 1,2,4 and 5.
Do this walk with a guide in the free Seoul walk series!