Friday, January 11, 2019

Finding Solace in the Midst of Seoul's Urban Jungle

One of the things I love about Seoul is that there are many parks around, providing solace (or should I say Seoulace?) from the hustle and bustle of the city. In past trips, I would visit a park or two for a specific reason: Yeouido Park in spring of 2012 for the cherry blossoms (but we were there a few days too early); Namsan Park in autumn of 2014 for the beautiful autumn leaves; and Songpa Naru Park for the cherry blossoms and Banpo Hangang Park for its Moonlight Rainbow Fountain show, both in spring of 2016. For my autumn 2018 trip, I went park hopping and I had reasons for choosing these parks.

Dream Forest Park
북서울 꿈의숲

Dream Forest Park, with an area of 660,000 sq. m., is Seoul's fourth largest park and is not frequented by tourists (or at least, that's what I read). The park is so big that there must be many reasons to visit. Indeed there are. Dream Forest Park has an observatory, an art center (with performance halls, an art gallery, cafe, restaurants), a children's gallery, different kinds of gardens, and an ancestral shrine. The main reasons why I decided to visit were the observatory and art gallery.

The Dream Forest Observatory, with a height of 49 meters, affords a view of the park, the city surrounding it, and the mountains beyond. The observatory is open from 10AM to 10PM and admission is free. To get to the observatory, I had to take elevators that go on an incline. It was a rainy day when I visited and the observatory was quite deserted—it was just me and two other visitors.

The art gallery in Dream Forest Art Center had interesting art pieces on display. It is free to enter and is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10AM to 6PM.

A visit to the observatory and art gallery of Dream Forest Park on a rainy day would have been enough. But no, the rain could not stop me from venturing out to the rest of the park. The pond garden with Aewoljeong Pavilion was a pretty sight in autumn. Aside from the pavilion, it also had boardwalks and platforms for a view of the pond. The shrine on the east side of the park is called Changnyeongwigung Ancestral Shrine, which actually also includes a residence. The shrine (and residence) is designated as a cultural heritage. The shrine is dedicated to Princess Bokon (born 1818), the daughter of the 23rd king of the Joseon Dynasty.

Directions to Dream Forest Park: Take the subway to Miasageori Station. Take exit 3. Take bus #1124 (every 10 minutes) to Dream Forest Art Center Entrance bus stop. Bus fare is 1200 won.

Dream Forest Observatory

View from Dream Forest Observatory

Aewoljeong Pavilion

Changnyeongwigung Ancestral Shrine (and residence)

Oil Tank Culture Park
마포 문화비축기지

Oil Tank Culture Park? Oil tank? Yup, oil tank. This park has six huge oil tanks which used to hold enough petroleum to power Seoul for a month. It was in use from 1978 but closed down by the end of 2000 and was left abandoned until it was converted and opened into a park in 2017. Now the tanks hold a cafe, art exhibits, pop-up shops, an indoor performance hall, an open-air stage, and a museum about the history of the oil depot, instead of gazillions of petroleum.

I almost did not visit this park since—based on the few blogs I found about it—I had deemed it uninteresting. Because I had time to spare (yes, this was the only reason why I visited) I decided to drop by. My visit proved worthwhile, thanks to the fun art exhibits and pop-up shops that were there (and the fact that there were very few people in the park). It's all about timing, I guess.

Directions to Oil Tank Culture: Take the subway to World Cup Station Station. Take exit 2 and walk about 500 meters to Oil Tank Culture Park.

This tank contains a cafe, conference rooms, and lecture halls

One of the tanks is preserved

This tank has a performance hall (used for pop-up shops during my visit) and an outdoor stage

One of the tanks is a museum about the history of the oil depot

Inside the tank housing the museum

An art exhibit in one of the tanks

Haneul Park

Autumn is pampas grass season and this is the reason why Haneul Park was on my itinerary. Haneul Park has fields of pampas grass! It also has a uniquely shaped observatory in the middle of the pampas grass field.

On the southwest boundary of the park, there is a promenade that offers a view of Han River. An especially pretty sight at sunset.

What I did not know before I visited was that I would have to huff and puff up 291 steps to get to Haneul Park. On the upside (pun intended), the stairs gave an elevated view of another park across the road and of the city beyond.

For those who don't want a workout on the stairs, there is a shuttle bus (every 20-30 minutes; from 10AM to 6PM) that goes to three of the parks of World Cup Park (Haneul Park is one of the five parks that comprise World Cup Park). The fare for the shuttle bus is 2000 won one way or 3000 won roundtrip.

Directions to Haneul Park: Take the subway to World Cup Station Station. Take exit 2 and walk about 800 meters to Haneul Park.

Fields of pampas grass at Haneul Park

Han River at sunset

The view from the stairs

Naksan Park

Not to be confused with Namsan Park, Naksan Park is a small park on top of  Naksan Mountain. The Seoul City Wall is part of the park and is one of its main draws. (The Seoul City Wall, built in 1396, is 18.6 kilometers long built on the ridges of four mountains, one of which is Naksan Mountain.) The other main draw of Naksan Park is its sunset and night times views. And those two reasons were enough to warrant a visit from me.

Considering it is only 124 meters high, Naksan Mountain doesn't seem like a mountain, but walking to Naksan Park will be a workout. For people who like hiking, the walk to Naksan Park is just a warm up for the third reason to visit: Naksan Mountain Trail, a 2.1-kilometer hiking trail that follows the Seoul City Wall in Naksan and ends at Heunginjimun Gate, one of the four Great Gates of Seoul City Wall.

Directions to Naksan Park: Take the subway to Dongdaemun Station. Take exit 3. Take bus 종로03 (small green bus) to Naksan Park intersection bus stop.

Seoul City Wall in Naksan Park

The view from Naksan Park


Bonus #1: If you're in Naksan Park, you can go to Marronnier Park 마로니에 공원 by taking the stairs on the north end of Naksan Park. The stairs will take you down to a quiet residential area, then to a busy area with shops, cafes, and restaurants, then to Marronnier Park which is surrounded by theaters. The park is small, more like a square, and there really isn't much to do....unless you're lucky, like we were! When we stumbled upon Marronnier Park, there was some kind of event going on and there were many local goodies for sale.

Bonus #2: From Naksan Park, you can also go to Ihwa Mural Village, a village with colorful murals. To get to Ihwa Mural Village, leave the park through its main entrance and take a right to Naksanseonggwakseo-gil. Follow the road until you see a rest area and stairs on your right. Go down the stairs to Ihwa Mural Village.

Yeouido Hangang Park

Yeouido Hangang Park is a park right along Han River. If you want to enjoy the breeze, have a picnic, take a walk or a bicycle ride (there are bikes for rent) along the river, or take the Han River Cruise, Yeuido Hangang Park is the place to go. (The Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival takes place in Yeouido Hangang Park every spring, when the cherry blossoms bloom.)

The reason we went to Yeouido Hangang Park? Because my sister's friend kept bugging her to go see Han River. The park is about 3 kilometers long but we were too tired to walk the entire length since we used up all our energy the previous days. We just went for a look-see at the boardwalk and the I Seoul U sign.

Directions to Yeouido Hangang Park: Take the subway to Yeouido Station. Take exit 2 or 3.

Han River

Gyeongui Line Book Street

Gyeongui Line Book Street. Did anyone say book? Anything that has to do with books, I am there!

Gyeongui Line Book Street. Street not park? It has green grass, trees, pathways, benches, book shops, book-themed art installations. Feels like a park to me!

On one part of Gyeongui Line Book Street (or Park!) is a section of an old railroad where they have built a platform with a small building and a signboard to make it look like a rail station.

Directions to Gyeongui Line Book Street: Take the subway to Hongik Station. Take exit 6.

Gyeongui Line Book Street

A section of an old railroad

Bonus #1: When you take exit 3 of Hongik Station, you can find a park called Gyeongui Line Forest Park in the middle of two roads. The park is 1.3 kilometers long with a stream running through its center and is lined by trees. In some parts of the park are preserved sections of an old railroad and old railroad signs.

Bonus #2: Near Gyeongui Line Forest Park is ArtPlatz 아트플라츠 연남, a cluster of colorful shops. ArtPlatz is along Seongmisan-ro 28-gil.

Colorful shops in ArtPlatz

Here's a map to help you find your way:

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Sokcho+Seoul+Gwangju, Autumn 2018
Itinerary and Expenses: 10D/10N Seoul and Sokcho
Sokcho, Gangwon-do
Sokcho Accommodation: With U Hotel & Guesthouse
See Sokcho
Seoraksan National Park
Seoul Accommodation: Hostel Tommy
Finding Solace in the Midst of Seoul's Urban Jungle (you're here!)
Art Museums in Seoul
Food for the Seoul
Unhyeongung Palace, Cheong Wa Dae, Jogyesa Temple
Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do
UNESCO World Heritage: Namhansanseong Fortress

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