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Seoul is an urban playground, home to skyscrapers, quirky cafés, bustling markets and more beauty stores than you could visit in a lifetime. But there’s also an abundance of national parks and outdoor spots, making the capital an underrated paradise for anyone up for an adventure in nature.
Flanked by a sizeable national park and seven mountains, one of the best things to do in Seoul is catch a breath of fresh air. Sure, you may lose it in the next breath if you choose to hike one of the steep peaks in Bukhansan National Park, but the views are worth the effort.
With mountains to the north, rugged islands off the west coast and a river thundering through the heart of the city, these are some of the best outdoor activities when visiting Seoul.
For an outdoor activity in Seoul with unrivalled views, the City Walls could be classed as either a history lesson or a hike. Hanyangdoseong measures 18 kilometres (11 miles) in length, built in 1396 to protect the city from encroaching enemies. Travelling between Seoul’s four main mountains, Inwangsan, Naksan, Bugaksan and Namsan, the City Walls pass by new and old: 600-year-old turrets looking out over gleaming skyscrapers. Take the one-hour Naksan Mountain Trail between Heunginjimun Gate and Hyehwamun Gate for a gentle hike, or the three-hour Baegak Trail between Changuiman Gate and Hyehwamun Gate. As this section passes the Blue House (the residence of the President of South Korea), you must bring your passport for identification.
The tiny landmass of Nami Island was accidentally formed when the waters of the Han River rose around it during the 1940s. Now, it’s one of the most popular day trips from Seoul, home to a dense redwood forest and the idyllic-sounding Garden of Morning Calm. If that all sounds a little too zen, why not turn up the adrenaline and zip-wire onto Nami Island from an 80-metre (262-foot) tower on the mainland? Guests can zip beside each other on twin cables reaching speeds of 55kph (35mph). Nami island is a one-hour drive from Seoul by car or bus. A ride on the ZipRider, island admission and return ferry costs 44,000 won (£29).
While Japan probably springs to mind as a ski destination before South Korea, there are some excellent slopes on the mountains that surround Seoul. Elysian Gangchon Resort (open November to March) can be reached by subway in just one hour from Seoul, making it a popular option for outdoor adventurers on a budget. The resort spans more than 200,000 square metres (50 acres) and has slopes for beginners and advanced skiers and snowboarders. Catch the Gyeongchun Line from Seoul’s Cheongnyangni Station to Baegyang-ri Station.
Two hours from the capital by bus is Seoraksan National Park, home to Korea’s third tallest mountain and various scenic hiking trails. The most popular is the steep climb to Daecheongbong Peak, a dramatic granite cliff overlooking the park. While a trip to Seokransan National Park is possible during a day trip from Seoul, it’s advisable to spend a night nearby in Sokcho city. The park is home to 1,562 animal species, as well as Buddhist temples and impressive caves, so you won’t run out of ways to fill the time.