This is my second time in Seoul and I am visiting the city just to do a UNESCO World Heritage tour and a side-trip to some of its cultural heritage sites. I know I can not cover all UNESCO sites in South Korea in this trip but I am checking out those in Seoul and nearby areas.
I have to admit that Seoul remains my favorite city. The contrast between the old and the new, the balance between those you have more and those who have few, the dynamics between those who believe in God and those who do not, the unity between the West and the East and the variance of technology and of human warmth makes Seoul a perfect place to live, to explore and to enjoy. More so, South Koreans are one of the nicest people on earth. I also love their sense of fashion, their food, their sense of culture and why is it that they are so damn good looking? Haha.
Anyway, I am doing this 4D3N Seoul UNESCO World Heritage Tour using the Seoul Subway as my major gateway. So this is actually a subway tour of UNESCO and Cultural Heritage Sites and an entirely a Do-It-Yourself Itinerary which I think is not the usual trip one does in a city such as Seoul.
I have arranged this Seoul UNESCO trip according to the subway lines and not necessarily according to geographical location. I have intentionally excluded visiting sites which are normally part of guided city tours and the Hop On Hop – Hop Off Bus. However, to make this blog post more engaging, I will put additional information about other culturally related sites worth visiting within a particular line.
DAY 1 – LINE 1 (DARK BLUE LINE)
Jongmyo Royal Shrine
Currently undergoing rehabilitation, Jongmyo Shrine was primary a place of worship for Kings. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its ancient customs of memorial services. The memorial service is said to be the oldest complete ceremony in the world. The ceremony is annually re-enacted every first Sunday of May complete with songs and dances that originated over 500 years ago.
How to get to Jongmyo Royal Shrine
1. Get off in Jongno-3 (sam)-ga Station
2. Take Exit 11 or Exit 8
3. Walk Straight for 10 minutes
4. Note: You may not notice it immediately. Be very keen. It’s on the left side.
Also within walking distance following North-West-South East Direction from Jongmyo Royal Shrine are (these are part of guided city tours and the hop-on, hop-off bus):
1. Changgyeonggung Palace
2. Changdeokgun Palace (a UNESCO Site)
3. Unhyeongung Palace
4. Jogyesa Temple
5. Gyeongbokgung Palace
6. Gwanghwamun Square
7. Deoksugung Palace
8. Seoul City Hall
11. Heungijimun Gate
Taereung and Myeongjong Royal Tombs
These Royal Tombs are not really within walking distance from the subway station, Taereung is the royal tomb of Queen Munjeong (wife of the 11th King). Myeongjong is the royal tomb King Myeongjong (the 13th King) who is the son of Queen Munjeong. Taereung and Myeongjong Royal Tombs are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are part of the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
How to get to Taereung and Myeongjong Royal Tombs
1. Get off in Seokgye station Station
2. Take Exit 1 or Exit 3, Exit 7 or 8 also works
3. Proceed to the Bus Stop and take Bus Num 1155 or 1156
4. Get off in Taereung Gangneung Bus Stop. Travel time is approximately 15 minutes
5. Note: Seat in the front part of the bus so you can see the monitor/screen in order to know if its time to get off.
DAY 2 – LINE 2 (GREEN LINE)
Seonjeongneung and Jeongneung Royal Tombs
Surrounded by urban Seoul, at first I thought it’s impossible that a royal tomb is located here. The tombs are engulfed by buildings and commercialization. Seonjeongneung or Seolleung is the royal tomb of King Seongjong (the 9th King) and his wife Queen Jeonghyeon. On the other hand, Jeongneung is the royal tomb of King Jungjong (the 11th King) who is the son of King Seongjong. Seonjeongneung and Jeongneung Royal Tombs are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are part of the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
How to get to Seonjeongneung and Jeongneung Royal Tombs
1. Get off in Seollung Station
2. Take Exit 8
3. Straight ahead and walk for about 5 minutes
4. Note: it’s on the right side. Entrance gate is on the small alley.
I included a visit to Myeong-dong Cathedral though not a UNESCO site for one reason: it is the birth place of Roman Catholicism in Korea. The cathedral, designated as Historic Site, is the first brick church built in Gothic style in the country.
How to get to Myeong-dong Cathedral
1. Get off in Euljiro 1(il)-ga Station
2. Take Exit 5
3. Turn right to Myeongdong3-gil Street (walk for about 5 minutes)
4. Turn left to Myeongdong-gil Street (walk for about 5 minutes)
5. Note: Line 2 may not be the best gateway to Myeong-dong Cathedral. If you are in Myeong-dong, just go uphill to see the cathedral.
Yakhyeon Catholic Church
Also not a UNESCO site but a National Historical Site in Korea, the Yakhyeon Catholic Church was built 6 years prior to Myeong-dong Cathedral making it the first Catholic Church built in Korea (1892). I was lucky a mass was being held when I visited Yakhyeon.
How to get to Yakhyeon Catholic Church
1. Get off in Chungjeongno Station
2. Take Exit 5
3. Straight ahead, cross the street
4. Note: It’s on a hill surrounded by taller buildings. Just look for the cross.
Heolleung and Illeung Royal Tombs
I had a not-so-good experience going here: I got lost on a rainy day without an umbrella and I was apprehended by the guards for taking pictures of the building along my way (yes, it’s some sort of a private property but within my sight while I was walking). The guards, speaking in their local tongue, took my digicam and deleted the photos I just took. I didn’t bother asking why, I just let them do it. After all, it’s not a good place to photograph. More than that, I was so nervous I might end up in jail.
Located up north, almost outside Seoul already are Heolleung and Illeung Royal Tombs which are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are part of the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. Heolleung is the royal tomb of the King Taejong (the 3rd King) and his wife Queen Wongyeong. On the other hand, Illeung is the royal tomb of King Sunjo (the 23rd King) and his wife Queen Sunwon.
How to get to Heolleung and Illeung Royal Tombs
1. Get off in Gangnam Station
2. Take Exit 3
3. On the Bus Stop, take Bus Num 407, 408, 440 0r 462
4. Get off in Heollleung Stop (about 20 minutes)
5. Cross the bridge to get to the other side
6. Turn right and walk straight until you see a road to the left
7. Follow the road until you reach Heolleung (about 5 minutes walk)
8. Note: Seat in front so you can check the monitor so you won’t miss it. It’s a bit far. Once you cross the bridge, don’t go straight as it will take you longer to reach Heolleung (this is the place where I was apprehended taking photos)
DAY 3 – LINE 4 (BLUE LINE)
Jeongneung Royal Tomb
Obviously not as beautiful as the other royal tombs because it was intentionally left that way due to political struggle within the family, Jeongneung is still worth a visit. Jeongneung is the royal tomb of Queen Sindeok who is the wife of King Taejo – the founder of Joseon Dynasty. She was downgraded into a royal concubine that explains why, for more than 250 years, her tomb was nameless.
How to get to Jeongneung Royal Tomb
1. Get off in Sungshin Women’s University station
2. Take Exit 6
3. From the Bus Stop, take Bus Number 1012, 1014 or 1212
4. Get off in Arirang Market
5. Cross the street, follow the sign to Jeongneung Royal Tomb. Walking time is 5 minutes
The following can be visited as well using Line 4:
1. Get off in Chungmuro Station to see: Namsangol Hanok Village (Take Exit 4). Nearby is The Korean House where you can learn how to make kimchi
2. Get off in Myeong-dong Station to see: Seoul Tower (Take Exit 3). Nearby is Namsan Park
DAY 4 – LINE 8 (PINK LINE)
Amsa-dong Prehistoric Settlement Site
Located about 20 minutes walk from Amsa subway Station, Amsa-dong Prehistoric Settlement Site is a reproduction of pre historic settlement in Korea that existed 7000-1000 BC. It was discovered in 1925. Amsa-dong Prehistoric Settlement Site is a National Historic site.
How to get to Amsa-dong Prehistoric Settlement Site
1. Get off in Amsa Station
2. Take Exit 1
3. Walk Straight ahead and follow the sign (20 minutes)
4. Note: you may opt to take a taxi. No buses available.
Namhansanseong Provincial Park
This is my favorite of all the places I have seen in this entire trip. It is also the farthest I have reached because it is located in Gyeonggi-do province (of course it is outside Seoul). Namhansanseong is the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Korea sits on-top of a mountain. The drive up the mountain is scenic ala-Kenon road. Pine trees, maple trees, cherry and other tree varieties thickly populate the mountain. I could only imagine how lovely the place is during autumn.
Namhansanseong is a unique mountain administration formed through encouraging people to live within the territory and has served as a stronghold for more than 290 years. The community is a treasury of human settlement that reflects various aspects of Confucianism, Buddhism, Catholicism, folk belief and dietary life. It is a mountain fortress where about 4,000 people in 290 years shared common values.
I promise myself to be back again this autumn to fall in love with Namhansanseong!
How to get to Namhansanseong
1. Get Off in Sanseong Station
2. Take Exit 2
3. At the Bus Stop, take Bus Num 9
4. Get Off in Namhansanseong (last stop)
5. Cross the street (the big one) and straight ahead
6. Note: A bit far. Travel time via subway is almost an hour. Bus travel time is about 15 minutes. To go back to Sanseong Station, take the same bus. Don’t worry if it takes a different route, it will always pass by Sanseong Station
Tomb overload? Tombs that all look the same? Boring? Perhaps. But no. At first glance, all royal tombs may look the same, but a closer look, they differ in stone statues and animals that surround the tomb. All royal tombs have this orientation:
Tomb Orientation of the Joseon Dynasty
This trip was really an easy-going and no-rush trip. Though it was raining most of the time (and yes, it’s summer) I still managed to make the most out of it because I was able to meet some friends and visit several Starbucks stores. This trip too is one of the cheapest trips I ever did! Imagine, I just used bus and subway during the entire duration of my travel. And the entrance fees? None that exceeds 1000 Won per entry! And because of that, I will return to Seoul this autumn!