Carving out more than one day in Seoul? If you’ve got an inkling for adventure, experience the city at its best by tackling one (or more!) of the awesome hiking trails around Seoul.
Despite its grand status as one of the biggest cities on earth, Seoul surprises travellers with a whole gamut of outdoor activities drumming at its doorstep. Hiking in Seoul is an insanely popular pastime among locals who absolutely cherish their ongoing opportunities to escape the city for a little fresh air.
Unsure of where to start? Follow along with this quick guide to the best hikes around Seoul…
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Hiking in & around Seoul: A brief introduction
Most travellers are surprised at just how easy it is to hike in & around Seoul. The city is surrounded by beautiful forested mountains and, at nearly every turn, it seems as if another chance to scale a winding path up a crest presents itself.
The best (and, depending on whom you ask, worst) part about hiking in Seoul is how accessible it is for regular folk. Many of the trailheads for the best hikes in Seoul can be reached by public transportation. And quickly & easily at that. The drawback is, of course, that you’ll be sharing your views with countless others at almost any given time.
Besides great accessibility, hiking around Seoul is great for people of all levels of fitness. All you’ll need to tackle many of the best trails is a good pair of hiking shoes and outerwear suited for the season. None are overly technical climbs and yet can yield some dramatic sweeping views that you’ll feel you should need to work a little harder for.
Seoul hiking packing list
- Hiking Shoes: Although full-on hiking boots are probably overkill for most of these trails (other than maybe Dobongsan), you’ll want a sturdy pair of hiking shoes with good footbed support. My own personal favourites are the Merrell Men’s Moab Edge or the Merrell Women’s Moab Edge. (For more choices, check out our guides to the best hiking shoes for men and the best hiking shoes for women.)
- Lightweight Clothing: You’re gonna be burning some calories and sweating hiking in Seoul, so you should try to be as comfortable as possible. Lightweight, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking clothing is a great idea.
- Daypack: Since you’ll be out for the day, you’ll need extra room to carry a few travel essentials with you. For travellers looking for a basic daypack, I personally love the Tortuga Setout Daypack. It’s got enough room for everything you need for a half-day hike and packs up into a package about the size of a small bag of chips so that you’ll barely notice it in your luggage. (For more ideas, check out our guide to the best travel daypacks.)
- Rain Jacket: Even if you’ve picked the best time to visit Seoul, you’ll likely hit a rough patch weather-wise. Whenever you’re out and about in Korea, you’ll want to stuff a rain jacket in your backpack. As all all-around performer, I love the Columbia Men’s Watertight II and Columbia Women’s Arcadia II. (For more selection, check out our guides to the best men’s rain jackets and best women’s rain jackets.)
- Softshell Jacket: If you’re hiking in autumn, you’ll need something a little warmer to stay comfortable in the dwindling temperatures. My own preference is the cozy & windproof The North Face Men’s Apex Bionic 2 and The North Face Women’s Apex Bionic 2.
- Water Bottle: Even if you’re not sweating in the heat of a Korean summer, there’s nothing more important than staying hydrated on the trails. The Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle is a great choice as a travel water bottle.
Ready to get adventurous? Gear up for these 5 best places to go hiking in Seoul…
As far as classic Seoul hikes go, this is it. Bukhansan, situated just north of the city centre, is the highest within Seoul’s city limits, and, thanks to its convenient location, attracts a whopping 5 million hikers per year.
Most hikers start their first Bukhansan hiking adventure at the popular Bukhansanseong Fortress Course. This 3.4-kilometre trail extends from the Bukhansanseong Hiking Support Center to Baegundae, the highest peak on the mountain soaring 840 metres above sea level. As you’d imagine, the views unto Seoul from the top are magnificent!
The best part about the Bukhansanseong Fortress Course is that its accessible for people of all ages. Other than a steep section nearing Baegundae Peak, most of the hike is a relatively easy walk through forested trails.
Once you reach Baegundae, you can either return to your starting via the Bukhansanseong Fortress Course or continue following The Fortress Wall of Seoul to Daedongmun Gate where you’ll begin a 4-kilometre descent (about 3 hours) back down Bukhansan.
How to get to Bukhansan
To get to the Bukhansanseong Fortress Course using Seoul public transportation, take the metro to Gupabal Station (Line 3). Outside Exit 1, hop onto bus 704 to Bukhansanseong Fortress. Get off at the Bukhansanseong Hiking Support Center to enter Bukhansan National Park and follow the signposts to your preferred route.
If you don’t have time for the full Bukhansan experience, think of Namsan as your small consolation prize. Located in the heart of the city, just steps from Myeongdong, Namsan is a super convenient hike that you can easily tackle on time-crunch.
While hardcore hikers might feel a little let down by Namsan’s ease, for casual walkers Seoul’s most famous city centre mountain is a pleasant escape from the bustle of its surrounding areas. Once atop Namsan, you’ll be treated to numerous trails offering wonderful views over the Seoul among some relaxing natural scenery—including cherry blossoms if you can catch them in spring!
Also at the apex is N Seoul Tower, one of the Korea capital’s most important landmark. Visit the observation deck to instantly double the height of your views. If you’ve decided to undertake your Namsan hike in the evening, a dinner at one of the tower’s restaurants—above the bright lights of the city—offers a romantic nightcap for couples.
How to get to Namsan
There’s a multitude of ways to get up Namsan from the city centre. One of the easiest is from Myeongdong. First, zip over to Myeongdong Station (Line 4). Using Exit 3, walk south sticking left at the fork in the road a block ahead.
Keep walking straight until you reach a set of stairs leading to Sopa-ro. Turn right and follow Sopa-ro past the Namsan Cable Car Station. Walk a little further and you should see some stairs to your right that will lead you up Namsan.
Although a little lesser-known than Bukhansan, Achasan delivers some of the best hiking around Seoul. Compared to some of Seoul’s other mountains, Achasan might seem a little vertically challenged for experienced hikers. Don’t let the smaller stature fool you: The vistas from Achasan are among the best in Seoul thanks to its eastern flank on the city centre.
Once you’ve made your way up Achasan’s ridge (only about 30 minutes), there’s a slew of hiking courses, ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 hours, to experience all the sights and sounds. One of the most interesting parts of the journey is that Achasan Park is peppered with military fortifications dating back to the Goguryeo Era (37BC-668AD) including Achasanseong Fortress.
How to get to Achasan
Take Seoul Metro Line 5 to Achasan Station. From Exit 2, walk straight along Cheonho-daero. Turn left at Jayang-ro. Walk about 3 blocks and swing right at the Y-junction. Follow the road and turn right at Yeonghwasa-ro. The entrance to Achasan Park will be on your right just uphill past the school.
Add a little intrigue into your Seoul hiking plans with a scoot up Bugaksan, a 342-metre-high mountain looming just north of Gyeongbokgung. Thanks to its strategic location above the South Korean president’s digs, the Blue House (Cheongwadae), the atmopshere at Bugaksan is a little tenser than elsewhere, either adding to the experience or dulling it—depending on your outlook.
Back in 1968, Bugaksan was the backdrop for a battle that saw a group of North Korean commandos, on course to assassinate the South Korea president, gunned down by South Korean and American soldiers. It’s hardly a surprise that Bugaksan was off-limits until 2007 when civilians were once again allowed to hike in the area.
Today, there’s still quite a lot of military presence on Bugaksan and restrictions (you’ll even need your passport to access it). As Bugaksan’s home to the Seoul Fortress Wall and some incredible views over the city and surrounding area though, you’d be remiss if you let a few hassles get in your way of the best hikes in Seoul.
How to get to Bugaksan
Take the Seoul Subway to Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3), leaving the station via Exit 3. At the bus stop outside, take green bus 1020, 7022, or 7212 to Jahamun Gate Hill (Changuimun Gate). Walk two minutes along Changuimun-ro to get to the entrance.
Anyone looking for a more rugged alternative should head for Dobongsan, a 740-metre-high peak in the middle of Bukhansan National Park. It’s the hardest of these best hikes in Seoul, but one of the most rewarding. Since you’re slightly further from the city centre, Dobongsan feels a little more “out there” in terms of scenery. (Like all the other popular hiking trails around Seoul though, the crowds will quickly remind you of where you are!)
Starting in the city, the main ascent to Dobongsan heads through a densely-forested valley and up to the ridgeline. Once you’re on the ridge, you’ll have plenty of choice when it comes to what to do. Be aware that some of the routes, especially to the higher peaks, can be super challenging (and even dangerous) for the uninitiated.
How to get to Dobongsan
One of the best things about Dobongsan is how easy it is to get to. Simply take the subway to Dobongsan Station (Lines 1 & 7). From Exit 1, cross the street and make your way through all the street vendors for the hikers to the entrance of Bukhansan National Park.
Where to stay in Seoul: A guide for hikers
Since all these best hikes in Seoul are spread throughout the city, there’s no single neighbourhood that would stand out above all others. As always, I’d recommend narrowing down your search to areas like Myeongdong, Insadong or Hongdae. Here are few ideas for the best hotels in Seoul:
- Grid Inn Hotel: A sleek budget pick in the culture-rich neighbourhood of Insadong. Clean modern designs and an on-site café with retro Euro leanings highlight a delightful stay.
- Aloft Myeongdong: A relative newcomer on the Seoul accommodations scene impressing traveller with its hip & artistic rooms and innovative designs. Whether sipping a cocktail at the trendy on-site W XYZ bar&lounge or splintering off into nearby Myeongdong or Namdaemun Market for your own adventures, staying at this chillaxin’ 4-star will be unforgettable.
- The Westin Chosun: One of the best luxury hotels in Seoul offering up an incredible 5-star experience from the moment you enter. Luxurious extras from the opulent indoor pool to the relaxing spa promises a Korean urban vacation like none other.
Summary: The best hikes in Seoul
- Short on time? The mini-hike up Namsan in the city centre will allow you to quickly & easily clear your lungs and get some impressive views over the city without taking up too much of your time.
- Need a bigger challenge? The precipitous peaks & ridges of Dobongsan offers some of the best heart-pumping hikes around Seoul.
- Looking for the classic Seoul hike? Set your sights on the Bukhansanseong Fortress Course at Bukhansan, the most popular hiking trail for visitors to Seoul.