Arguably the most defining landmark in Seoul, South Korea, the Han River is a large waterway vital to this mega-city’s success. In Korea’s fascinating past of invasion, occupation, and perseverence, this river was the central lifeblood to the city, responsible for transporting supplies while also requiring constant protection from invading boats.
For more of this information, be sure to check out our post about Ganghwa Island which was solely responsible for Korea’s success as a sheltered and secluded country for so many years. Apart from its interesting history, The Han River as it stands today is a massive public park providing Seoul with a central playground in the warm Summer months.
1. Fun on the Water
Being a river, it’s no surprise that companies have decided to extend their offerings past the bank and out onto the flowing waters with a wide variety of water sports. As a predominant features, it would make sense to use the water for various business purposes, but there is a surprising lack of water activities throughout the peninsula. While Seoul is not the only place you can find water sports, it is the easiest to access, by far, and an easy addition to any afternoon spent on the Han. Water sports include, but are not limited to: wake boarding, skiing, kayaking, speed boating, swan-boat-peddling, and river cruises. The offerings change regularly, but the warmer months will always reinvigorate people and urge them onto this sizable river.
2. River Cruises
One of the most obvious ways to cover ground on the Han River is to leave it behind and board a ferry. These boats have various routes and sites depending on the package you purchase and where you depart, but even the short tours are sure to be enjoyable. The boats are loaded with chairs on multiple decks to allow passengers to choose their desired vantage point during the ride. A great deal of moving around occurs while underway, so don’t worry if the seats you wanted end up being taken, as it’s likely to become available as people shuffle around looking at Seoul’s architecture. Birds often trail behind these ferries to snatch airborne chips and snack, so be weary if you’re without treats near the back of the boat and birds are circling. We’ve ridden twice, but most fondly remember our experience on the ferry from Yeouido’s terminal.
Most tents found along the river are actually set up just for enjoying the day as a sun shade, but that’s not saying you can’t camp. Like most places in Korea, you can get away with camping in non-designated locations 90% of the time. If you aren’t interested in taking the small chance of being evicted by park police (not even sure this occupation exists) you can certainly go over to the designated camp grounds of Nanji Park. This is obviously the safest bet for people wanting to camp with restroom and shower facilities, but will certainly be the most crowded as well. being located near other parks and along the river itself, camping at Nanji would certainly be a relaxing and beautiful location at which you could wile away a weekend filled with Han River activities.
4. Renting Bicycles on the Han
If water sports aren’t your style, you can easily rent a bicycle from several vendors along the Hangang. These bikes are typically reserved by the hour, so be mindful of your time as you ride away from the rental booth, as you’ll need to double back. We’ve found bikes to be our favorite way to cruise along the river and also allows us to cover a lot of ground and see more of what the Han has to offer. Various sizes are offered, and bike lanes are clearly marked to keep a safe separation between pedestrians, runners, and bikes. Ona hot summer day, we recommend getting a cruiser bike with a comfortable seat and set off looking for some cool grass to stop and have fried chicken delivered for an impromptu picnic!
5. Yeouido Island
The most iconic building located along the banks of the Han River is the 63 Building. Named for the number of floors (clever, right?), this bright gold building shimmers and shines and begs the question of “why isn’t it called the Gold Atari-Symbol-Shaped Building?” Being so large and easily seen from a distance, the 63 building is an easily recognized landmark for a large portion of the river, making direction and distance easier to keep mental track of. It should be noted that the 63 building is actually located on a small island near the south shore of the river called Yeouido. This island is notable not only for its big gold buildings, but also for its hugely popular Cherry Blossom Festival every Spring. The outer perimeter of the island is lined with these beautiful trees and is one of the premier locations in all of South Korea to see the iconic white blooms.
6. Picnic in the Park
While exploring the Han, you’re likely to notice dozens of parks with sprawling green spaces with people lounging and enjoying their afternoon in the sun. These green patches are perfect places for stretching your cramped city-legs to throw a frisbee, play a game or sport with friends, or even just have a picnic. While most foreign visitors won’t have the know-how to order food to be delivered to their location, there are convenience stores and small restaurants at many of the larger parks where simple foods can be bought and carried to an available patch of grass. We’ve accidentally spent entire days on the river after a simple suggested lunch picnic has derailed our plans. Sometimes we get carried away with lounging, eating, and drinking cold beers on a hot summer’s day.
7. Apgujeong Graffiti Tunnel
If you’re into photography and enjoy visually interesting artwork, the graffiti tunnel near Apgujeong will be sure to delight. Covered in creative and vibrant spray painted art, this tunnel provides access to the river from the Apgujeong Rodeo District. While not worth spending a lot of time exploring, this tunnel does provide a much more interesting way to get to the river than other access points, and its location would make an easy choice for anyone wanting a break from the crowds of this famous shopping district.
8. Swimming Pools
Image Source: Yeouido Swimming Pool
In the hot depths of Seoul’s summers, swimming pools offer the perfect change of temperature many people are desperate for. Since swimming in the river itself isn’t allowed, Seoul metropolitan City has build several pools to beat the heat. Cleverly spread along the river on both the north and south shores, each has a unique design and set of features. Some have slides, with others are simply a pool and some shade. On a hot summer day, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more welcome relief from the concrete jungle’s radiating heat than one of these locations listed below.
9. Han River Parks
Image: Seoul State of Mind (Blog Post: Silver Wind)
The parks of the Han River are one of the most popular attractions in the whole city. Offering green spaces to lounge and relax in warmer months, these parks host events, and are where you’ll find the majority of the activities we list in this post. While most of our suggestions highlight the south bank, World Cup Park is our only suggestions on the north bank of the Han and should not be overlooked. Apart from containing a soccer stadium and concert venue, this park has lots of green space and comfortable trails by which visitors can enjoy the views from the other side of the river. Stretching along the river’s shore to the west are located two additional parks with an abundance of nature for those looking to escape the concrete jungle. Haneul and Noeul Parks have plenty of green spaces and many of the features we’ve previously noted from the other side of the water. Just because you’re on the other side of the river doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the Han! The southern bank of the Hangangg is certainly the most popular area, but both are wonderful.
10. The Bridges
Finally, after a long day on the river, we’d be remiss if we neglected to suggest the Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain. This bridge has water cannons afixed to the side beams that spray jets of water out in arcs that are brilliantly lit by hundreds of colorful LED lights. Synchronized to various music, this light show goes on for twenty minutes has hundreds of different color patterns. The time table can be found below, but for more information on the Banpo Park and the Rainbow Fountains, click HERE. Several other bridges are worth experiencing at length, especially the Hangang Bridge for its access to Nodeulseom Island. For photographers, these structures can be beautifully lit and stunningly large- perfect for light/framing hunts along the river. All of them are quite different if you look closely, as well.
Weekdays: 12:00, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00
Weekends: 12:00, 19:30, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00
Weekdays: 12:00, 19:30, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00
Weekends: 12:00, 19:30, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00, 21:30
Avoid: The Han River Fireworks Festival
If you are cool with swimming through thousands of people at the yearly fireworks show on the Han River and then afterwards waiting for hours on end to catch a taxi or subway home, then by all means, don’t let us stop you! However, we recommend avoiding watching this festival from anywhere near the water itself. Traffic is horrible and you’d be better off doing just about anything else. If you absolutely MUST see the fireworks, look for a building a few blocks off of the river with rooftop access or just hike one of the nearby mountains. Trust us, the crowd ruins any sort of pleasure the fireworks could provide. We had to walk from the West River Bridge to Itaewon since there were no taxis and the lines for the subways were insane. It took us over two hours to get there and by that time we were all pretty much over the festival completely.
Exploring the Han River is must for anyone visiting Seoul or people needing a new perspective on the city. With many opportunities to break from the normal city lifestyle, we found this river to provide entertainment, exercise, and enjoyment. The south side of the Hangang certainly has more real estate set aside for parks and activities, but both have expansive areas where visitors can escape the city. From swan-shaped paddle boats to water-light shows, the Han River is sure to have something for anyone. Let us know in the comments below if we’ve missed anything or if you’ve discovered something that needs to be added to this list.