A few years ago, the George Washington University Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis reported that walkable cities are characterized by the high percentages of their students who are admitted to colleges and high per capita gross domestic product (GDP). There have also been reports that obesity rates are lower in walkable cities as well. As countries around the world are embarking on multifaceted efforts to make their cities more walkable, walking tours have begun to emerge in various major cities, including New York, offering tourists a chance to enjoy the autumn in the city. In particular, Food on Foot Tours take participants on walks around New York and allow them to eat as much as they want for three and a half to five hours; Like a Local Tours offers the “Flatiron Food, History, and Architecture Tour,” which includes six large-portion tastings of food from restaurants in the Flatiron District, and “Williamsburg Bites: A Brooklyn Food Tour,” where you can visit seven cute stores and restaurants in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and Big Onion Walking Tours guides visitors on historical sidewalk tours around New York City. As one of the most walkable cities in the world, New York has developed walking tours specifically designed to allow tourists to experience and enjoy the attractions of New York in the fall.
Just like New York, Seoul is also emerging as a great city for tourists interested in taking walking tours. Seoul’s back alleys and forest trails, which had looked rather tacky in the past, have started to become tourism hotspots, attracting domestic and international visitors alike. However, Seoul has long been searching for ways to make its streets more pedestrian-friendly and striving to achieve urban regeneration.
In particular, as part of its development of a new city brand, Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) is actively making efforts to turn Seoul into a walkable city. With Seoul having served as a capital city for 2,000 years (BCE 18, from the reign of King Onjo of Baekje) and the capital of the Joseon dynasty for 600 years, the government has concentrated on creating history- and culture-themed walking tour routes through the city’s historic areas.
Jeong-dong, in particular, is home to numerous cultural heritage sites from Korea’s modern history, having been transformed into a diplomat district starting with the establishment of a U.S. legation there. Churches and educational and medical institutions were built in the area as well. After the black asphalt of Jeongdong-gil, once a popular dating spot for young people in the 1970s, was covered, the street became increasingly popular as a pedestrian-friendly space.
In 2002, Insa-dong, the most famous neighborhood of traditional culture in Korea, was designated as the country’s first “cultural district” and has been attracting large numbers of foreign tourists ever since. Seochon, full of streets and alleys that have been well preserved since the Joseon dynasty, was once home to artists and Jungin (middle class, consisting of government-employed technical specialists). Most buildings and spaces have been carefully maintained in Seochon, allowing you to see traces of the area’s 500 years of history throughout its streets and alleys.
Itaewon, on the contrary, is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Seoul, along with Apgujeong in Gangnam and Hongdae. It is awash in diverse cultures, and many different languages, especially English, Chinese, Japanese, and Middle Eastern languages, can be heard all along its streets. Gyeongnidan-gil, located in Itaewon, has recently become one of the most popular streets in Seoul. Connected to a multitude of narrow alleys, the street is lined with small restaurants offering cuisines from all around the world, allowing visitors to experience the entire world in Seoul.
Walking tour routes in Seoul, Korea’s capital city for 600 years
There are streets and paths in Seoul that feature aspects of the past, present, and future.
In consideration of Seoul’s status as the capital city of Korea for the past 600 years, SMG has developed five walking tour routes, extending 25.4 kilometers in total, specifically to highlight the history and culture of Seoul.
Currently, the city offers various themed and historical walking tour routes, such as Seoul Dulle-gil (157 kilometers), which encircles Seoul, and Hanyang Doseong-gil (18.6 kilometers), which follows the old Seoul City Wall, as well as seasonal walking tour routes, such as Seoul Bomkkot-gil (Spring Flower Street) and Seoul Danpung-gil (Fall Foliage Street).
However, there are few pedestrian streets in the heart of the city, where Seoul citizens and tourists spend most of their time. Therefore, Seoul plans to establish the five new walking tour routes as representative pedestrian-friendly streets under the city brand “Walking City, Seoul.
|Seoul citizens walking along Seoul City Wall|
The five new routes are: ① Ieum-gil (circle route, 9.5 kilometers), ② Yet Punggyeong-gil (Waryong Park – Unhyeongung Palace – Toegyero 2-ga Intersection, 4.5 kilometers), ③ Neul Cheongchun-gil (Hyehwamun Gate – Dongguk University, 3.8 kilometers), ④ Jongno Unjong-gil (Seodaemun Station – Jongno – Dongdaemun, 4 kilometers), and ⑤ Cheonggyemul-gil (Former National Tax Service Annex Building – DDP, 3.6 kilometers).
Walking tour routes extending 25 kilometers across the Four Great Gates area of Seoul
|Section of Ieum-gil|
Ieum-gil (Connection Path) begins at Seoul Station, the gateway to Seoul and a modern transportation hub of the city, which will become a major attraction with the transformation of the former Seoul Station Overpass into a pedestrian overpass in 2017. The only circle route among the five new routes, Ieum-gil passes through Jeong-dong, a place full of modern and contemporary architecture from the Korean Empire and modern Korea, as well as Insa-dong, Heunginjimun, and Myeong-dong, before circling back to Seoul Station.
Yet Punggyeong-gil (Ancient Scenery Path) runs from Waryong Park to Unhyeongung Palace and Toegyero 2-ga Intersection. It is an especially popular route among Seoul citizens as it allows them to experience the atmosphere of the city as it was in the past.
Neul Cheongchun-gil (Always Young Path) starts at Hyehwamun Gate, which was destroyed during Korea’s colonial period and restored in 1992 as part of the Seoul City Wall, and runs through Daehak-ro, a major street for culture and the arts, and Dongdaemun Market, which is a designated “Special Tourism Zone” and a major fashion center of Korea. The path was named to reflect the youthful nature of the major attractions by which it passes.
Jongno Unjong-gil is a path that begins at Seodaemun Station and cuts through the Jongno area. The path gets its name from the fact that this area used to be called “Unjong-ga,” meaning “Gathering Cloud Street,” which expresses how large numbers of people used to gather together—seemingly like clouds—in this once bustling area.
Cheonggyemul-gil (Cheonggyecheon Stream Path) passes through the site of the former National Tax Service building and goes to Sewoon Shopping Center, which is currently being renovated to create a residential-commercial complex. This path runs along the restored Cheonggyecheon Stream as well.
|“Walking City, Seoul” brand logo|
These walking tour routes will be marked with the “Seoul Blue” color, making it easier for people to recognize them. Seoul Blue is one of the 10 official colors of Seoul, and has already been used for the Seoul city brand logo. By using this color, the city hopes to establish brand consistency while clearly distinguishing the pedestrian paths in the heart of the city, as Seoul Blue has not yet been used on road or sidewalk facilities and installations in the city.
The paths will be marked with Seoul’s city brand logo at the starting and ending points, as well as at 100-meter intervals and the Storytelling Sites (attractions).
The purpose of the walking tour routes in Seoul is not simply to promote the Seoul brand, but to educate people about and raise awareness of Seoul’s rich history and culture. Toward this end, the city will designate special “Storytelling Sites,” featuring various stories of the places and people of Seoul. For instance, numerous historical and cultural sites, such as the former Seoul City Hall, former National Assembly Building, sites of six government buildings of the Joseon dynasty, and the stele erected to commemorate the 40th anniversary of King Gojong’s coronation, will feature easy-to-read information signs that allow Seoul citizens and tourists to learn about Seoul’s history and culture.
As the routes are “walking” tour paths, SMG will take measures to install new crosswalks or better position existing crosswalks, for the convenience of those walking along the paths, and move or remove obstacles, such as phone booths and street lamps.
Moreover, tactile pavement, bollards, and street gutters will be refurbished to improve pedestrian safety and convenience.
SMG will provide information on the walking tour routes in English, Chinese, and Japanese (text and voice) via the official Seoul travel guide website (www.visitseoul.net) and mobile application (I Tour Seoul) for foreign tourists. In addition, major Storytelling Sites will be marked with QR codes, which when scanned will link users directly to the relevant websites or mobile apps. So if you are planning to travel to Seoul, try to schedule a walking tour into your itinerary. It will be a truly meaningful experience, where you will get to enjoy walking step-by-step through the stories of the “book of Seoul.”