(The MICE=Crystal Hagen) When you are in Seoul you really can’t miss the communications tower that dominates the city. This tower is located on Namsan (which literally translates as South Mountain; Nam means south and San means mountain). When Seoul was founded (originally called Hanyang) at the end of the 14th Century it was infact the mountain that dominated the southern portion of the city.
Today, the city has grown to both banks of the Han River and Namsan is pretty much in the center of it all. Most folks have traveled under the mountain through one of the three automobile tunnels that connect the various parts of the city; however, no trip to Seoul is complete without a visit to the top. The upper parts of Namsan have been made into a city park called Namsan Park. Automotive traffic to the park is restricted so it is best to use one of several other options to get to the park.
Option one is to walk. From subway line 4 you can find roads leading up Namsan from Myeong-dong and Chungmuro. From subway line 6 you can walk up from Itaewon. Regardless of subway station, you have to go through difficult city streets then a long walk up the mountain. I do not recommend trying to walk up Namsan.
The second option is bus. There is a Namsan Sunhwan Shuttle bus that leaves every 15 to 20 minutes from nearby subway stations. Using cash or a metro card you can get to the top of Namsan for about a dollar (1,000 to 1,200 won). Chungmuro station exit 2 takes you to the 02 Namsan shuttle stop. Namsan Shuttle 03 has stops near Seoul Station and Itaewon. Namsan shuttle 05 can be found near the Myeong-dong subway stop. The shuttles run from 10:00 AM until 11:00 PM. This may be the best option to get to the top.
A third option is to use the Namsan Cable Car. The cable car was built in 1962 and runs from the Hoehyeon-dong platform for about 605 meters to the Yejang-dong platform near the base of N Seoul Tower. To get to the cable car you can travel by subway to Myeong-dong station (424) on the Number four (Blue) Line. Use exit 3 (check the area map to orient yourself) and with no wrong turns, you will reach the cable car platform about ten minutes. There is also an elevator near the north end of the number 3 Namsan tunnel that can take you up to the cable car platform as well. Round trip on the cable car is about 10,000 won (Nine U.S. dollars). The cable car is nice; however, the view on the way up is not that great. It does beat walking.
A fourth option is to take a Seoul city tour that includes N Seoul Tower. This is a good option for folks with only limited time in the city. You can take day or night tours. Night tours are good for the lights of Seoul; you see more of the city during the daytime. The choice is yours. The problem with tours is that you are at the mercy of the tour group and your opportunities to explore may be limited by tour timing and the other members of the group.
Once you get to the Namsan Park there is a lot to do. The park has a botanical garden, library, a National Theater, and Namsangol Hanok Village (sort of a folk or cultural village). These are nice to visit if you have time; however, the main reason you go up Namsan is for the view of Seoul and the best view (depending on the weather) is from the observation deck of N Seoul Tower (called N Seoul Tower in Korean, go figure). The tower has an admission fee that varies for children, senior, and adults, but you can normally go to the top for about 10,000 won.
N Seoul Tower (the N stands for either Namsan, new, or nature) is 777 feet tall. Add this to the 797 feet hight of Namsan itself and the top of the tower reach over 1,500 feet above sea level. Construction on the tower started in 1969 and was finished in 1971. N Seoul Tower is primarily a communications tower for ratio and television. The interior wasn’t finished until 1975. One story goes that it was then realized that you could see much of Seoul’s defenses from the top of the tower and access was closed to the public. Once this and other issues were resolved the tower was open to the public in October of 1980.
The tower has a plaza or lower level with a lobby that has the all-important information booth. It also has a ticket booth, food court, souvenir shops, photo shops, and restaurants. The roof terrace has a famous fence where couples in love install locks with messages on them to show eternal love. If you go up to N Seoul Tower with your wife or girlfriend, you better plan on putting a lock on the fence or nearby trees designated for the purpose. The terrace also has a nice view of the city.
The elevator ride to the top of the tower is unremarkable. The top of the tower has four levels numbered T1, T2, T3 and T5. Like many buildings in Korea, the number four is missing. The reason for this is similar to why many older building in the west don’t have 13thfloorsbecause13isconsideredanunluckynumberinthewest. In Asia, the Chinese number four is called “Sa”. This is also the same word for death and is therefore considered an unlucky number.
Hence, no floors number four in many buildings. These various levels have restaurants, coffee shops, gift shops, and other attractions. The restaurant on the T5 level rotates slowly while you dine (one rotation every 48 minutes). Of course if you plan to dine at N Seoul Tower, don’t expect to get off cheaply.
Of course once you are at the top, the view is the most important thing. T2 is the analogue observatory while level T3 has a more high tech digital one. Regardless of which one you go to the view is tremendous depending on the weather. During cloudy days or during days when Seoul is obscured by pollution or yellow dust, you view may be extremely limited. My rule of thumb is that if you can see the tower clearly from the lower parts of the city the view will be pretty good. If it looks hazy from the bottom, it will be hazy at the top.
While N Seoul Tower is the main attraction, there are other things to see in the Namsan Park. One that I found most interesting were the Joseon era smoke signaling devises found near the tower. In the old days, Namsan was a main observation post looking for any enemy that may be approaching Seoul. Once sighted, fires were ignited in a series of chimney to warn of the enemy’s approach.
Photo: William Harlow, Author, Korea culture and travel. This picture shows the author with Namsan and N Seoul Tower in the background looking north from the National Museum of Korea located in Yongsan-gu. Note the haze around the tower. This would probably not be a good day to visit Namsan.
This type of signaling devise is called a bongdong in Korean and the one on Namsan is located very close to the tower. Bilingual signs are located nearby telling how the device worked.
After you are done seeing the sights you have several options to get back. You can take the cable car back down or grab one of the buses. Spending an afternoon or evening on Namsan is a great way to spend a day in Seoul.
This picture shows the author with Namsan and N Seoul Tower in the background looking north from the National Museum of Korea located in Yongsan-gu. Note the haze around the tower. This would probably not be a good day to visit Namsan.
Photo by: Howard Jungchan Lee/ The MICE