Seoul has a lot of parks — so many that are worth visiting as each have their own quirks and beautiful attractions. One of the, undoubtedly, most unique parks in Seoul is Seonyudo Park. It's located on Seonyudo Island, one of many islands in the Han River. What makes Seonyudo Park so different from the others is its long history and how it came to be. It perfectly connects modern building structures with nature, both intertwining and harmonizing. But let's go back in time first.
There is a lot of history to the island: In the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the island was very popular with poets and scholars that enjoyed some quiet time in nature on top of the hill located on the island. That all changed when the 1900s rolled along. Under the Japanese rule, material from the hill was carried away to stop the flooding near the river shore and to build the now empty airport in Yeouido. The island then remained unused until a water filtration plant was later built on the island in the '70s. It served to distribute clean water to the southwestern parts of Seoul. The filtration plant was then closed in the '90s and moved to another more suitable location; but by then, the little island has become less beautiful and a rather ugly sight, full of concrete and buildings, so different from what it originally had been.
In all those years, the island remained closed to the public until it was decided that the island should be transformed into a park. In 2000, the island was closed for reconstruction and transformed by Seo-Ahn Total Landscape and Joh Sung-Yong Urban Architecture. Their goal was not to get rid of the traces of water plant but rather to include them and make them part of the park, creating "a complex confrontation with the industrial past." Finally opened to the public in 2002, it has now become a little hidden gem within Seoul.
How do you get to Seonyudo? The island is located near Yeouido and is accessible by bus and subway. Close to it is the Seonyudo Station or, a little further away on the other side of the river, the Hapjeong Station. From both stations, you have to take a little walk to the island (which is totally worth it!) Two bridges are connected to the island: On the western end, the Seonyu Bridge; and on the eastern end, the Yanghwadaegyo Bridge.
The Seonyu Bridge on the west end of the island is a pedestrian bridge that ends in an observation platform. From there, you can see the World Cup Fountain in the river as well as the World Cup Stadium. If you decide to get off at Hapjeong Station, you have to cross Yanghwadaegyo Bridge to get to the park. It takes some time until you get there but the breathtaking view from the bridge makes up for it.
The park has many walking trails and many attractions that are perfect for a long evening of exploration and appreciation. It is divided into multiple different sections which include many different types of botanical gardens, a playground, café, and museum.
One of the many attractions at the park includes the Han River Exhibit Hall. It displays many photos and videos of Seonyudo's past as well as of the Han River itself. For those that want to read more about the island's history, the visitor's center should be your first stop!
What used to be the filtration plant is now an ecological water purification basin. It's home to an aquatic botanical garden that hosts reeds and lily pads — plants that are used to purify the water. Aim of the aquatic botanical garden is "to bring visitors closer to the water purification process by means of phytoremediation instead of the chemical processes that were used in the past" (Topos Magazine). Water purified in this basin basically supplies the whole island, whether it be the water playground or the many visitor buildings.
Another aquatic botanical garden is the Garden of Transition. Located in the center of the island, it "consists of two gigantic water reservoirs with a wooden-floored overpass along with a water conduit and a variety of tall trees planted below floor level." The majority of the park has bridges built over the botanical gardens so that you can witness the beauty from above but also from down below.
Near the water purification garden is a greenhouse that hosts many different species of plants. It's worth a visit, though not recommended in summer as it gets excruciatingly hot. Unless you can handle the heat, then props to you! If you can't handle the heat, visit the botanical gardens instead. They are comprised of an aroma garden, vineyard, and fern garden.
Need some rest after a long day of walking and exploring? The former tanks were repurposed and transformed into a playground, an amphitheater, and restrooms. The playground is the perfect place for families with children, especially in summer when you need a little refreshment. The water is shallow enough so that children can't hurt themselves. Café Naru offers snacks and beverages to visitors so that you don't have to visit and leave with an empty stomach.
On my visit, I was surprised to see some signs urging you to be cautious of snakes on the island — really, it was the last thing I would have expected on this peaceful island. Though I’m not sure what kind of snakes reside on the island, if you’re lucky, you might spot some wild rabbits! They seem to be very comfortable with people around; I was very lucky to be able to get close to one. However, on many spots of the island, it’s forbidden to enter the grass due to its fragile nature so pay attention to those signs!
Seonyudo Park has now become a popular spot for not only natives but tourists as well. Many blogs claim that scenery is especially popular with cosplayers who use it as a background for photoshoots. While it might not be your first choice when visiting Seoul, we definitely recommend you to visit the park.
Seonyudo offers a great chance for visitors to not only explore flora and fauna but to also learn about the long history of the island. It also is a change of pace from the busy life in Seoul, a little paradise for you to catch your breath.
Written by Tran Trieu