One of the most amazing things about Seoul is experiencing a vast sense history and deep rooted culture within a modern, vastly huge city. You can easily admire a massive skyscraper, blink, and stand in awe of traditional houses, temples, and palaces.
I highly recommend walking Seoul’s ancient fortress wall. The old fortress wall defined the ancient city boundaries and offered protection to the city from invaders. It stretches 18.2 km approximately, but you can walk along side for as little or as much time as you like. I realize 18 km may seem a bit daunting for the average traveler, so for now, I will focus solely on the Ingwansan, Bugaksan Seonggwak-gil section of the ancient fortress walk.
My favorite mountain to hike in Seoul is Ingwansan. It is 338 meters-high and in the Joseon period it was known as the “White Tiger Mountain” because so many tigers inhabited the area. To honor its name, there is a large statue of a tiger at the base of Ingwansan, which in turn, is a great landmark to indicate that you are in the right spot. There are also many small Buddhist temples and a shamanist shrine on Ingwansan. Admittedly, having hiked this mountain dozens of times, I have seen the signs clearly pointing the way, but have never actually visited the site. It’s on my to do list for sure.
The view from Ingwansan, in my opinion, is much better than rising up in an elevator inside Seoul Tower, simply because you can truly get a sense of nature, history, and the rapid growth of the concrete jungle that is Seoul. From this peak, you can see the peaks of Bukhansan in Bukhansan National Park, Seoul Tower, Gyeongbokgung Palace, The Blue House, The Han River…and the list goes on! This mountain takes approximately an hour and a half. If you chose to continue on to the next mountain add an extra hour and a half. If you choose to hike both mountains together it should take about three and a half hours.
Its neighbor Bugaksan (342 m) not only has a dramatic history, but it provides cover for the Blue House, home of the president in office. For many years, the mountain had been closed to hikers and tourists due to a dramatic assassination attempt by North Korean commandos. Although an assassination attempt was intended, police patrols stopped the commandos just 800 meters from the Blue House and a fight ensued. The surviving commandos were captured and their mission was unsuccessful. In 2006, the mountain was reopened under the condition that all hikers present their passport or alien registration card. There are also strict hours for hiking the mountain. Unlike its neighbor Ingwansan, Bugaksan is closed Mondays and all hikers must be off the trail between 15:00/17:00 depending on the time of year. If you choose to hike the second mountain, from its peak, head toward Samcheong Park. You will exit into Samcheong-dong which will lead you to Anguk Station on the orange line 3. This area is also full of restaurants and cafes to relax and enjoy after a great hike.
I suggest starting the walk from Dongnimmun Station, Line 3 (Orange). From there you can start outside Exit 5 and visit the Seodaemun Prison History Hall. It was where Japanese soldiers tortured and executed followers of the Korean Independence Movement. You can see the various tools of tourture used by the Japanese to interigate the Korean independence fighters. Entrance is 1,500 won and it opens from 9:30 am. / 3:00 pm or 5:00 pm. If you want an English speaking guide you can call and make a reservation one week in advance. (Inquiries : +82-2-360-8586). Or, you can just walk around and not want to know the horrible and heroic history of the prisoners and the prison itself.
Then, from exit 2 of Dongnimmun station take your first street on the left. Follow it up the hill. Stay to the right the higher you get and you will find the path leading to the fortress trail and Ingwansan….I promise! Follow the hikers and if there are none, don’t be afraid to ask a stranger! Once you have completed the Ingwansan trail you will walk left from the base of the trail down a short street and through a small park. At the end of that street you will find the stairway to the entrance of Bugaksan. Or you can walk right or catch a bus to the Gyeongbokgung Palace.