If, like me you like to combine a little exercise with your sight seeing you may want to consider taking to the hills to soak it all in. What better was to take the measure of your surrounds than to see it all in one sweeping view.
Personally I find those 'observation towers' that are ubiquitous to every big city overrated and very expensive. My preference is to exert myself to the extent that I appreciate the view, I'm strange I know. So, if you are planning a trip to South Korea and want to know where you can find the best views read on.
Hallasan, Jeju-do (Jeju Island)
Want to hike South Korea's tallest mountain? Of course you do, and why not? Jeju has so much to offer including the much coveted tallest mountain, which is actually a volcano. Jeju Island (or Jeju-do) is an island located off the South West coast of the mainland and is often referred to as the Hawaii of South Korea, though in truth it offers little similarities.
The Seongpanak Jeju Island (or Jeju-do) is an island located off the South West coast of the mainland and is often referred to as the Hawaii of South Korea, though in truth it offers little similarities. The Seongpanak trail, which leads to the summit of Hallasan (or Halla Mountain in English) is a 19.2km return trail. The track itself is a combination of duck boarding, stairs and rough rocky ground.
The trail is not particularly difficult it is just long. Be warned whilst some people report scaling the mountain in 4 hours return it is more likely to be an all day even taking 6 hours or more depending on your fitness and the amount of breaks you take. I have even heard of people taking up to 10 hours to complete the trek.
To get to Jeju you can fly from Busan or Seoul, or take a ferry. From the Jeju intercity bus terminal take Bus No. 781 or 781-1 and get off at Seongpanak (approx 45 mins). Admission is free.
On our trip to Jeju we had to decide between doing Hallasan and the Olle Trail, we chose Hallasan, but many of our friends have walked the Olle trails and report that it is a fabulous glimpse into real Jeju life.
Essentially the trails are a connection of walking paths winding their way along the coast of Jeju Island. You can do one or two, or do the whole lot and walk your way around the island over several days. Routes are located all over the island, and admission is free. For more information about the views and routes, click here.
Seoraksan, East Coast Sadly, this is one we have never done and we will be kicking ourselves if that remains the case. But Seoraksan is a tricky mountain to catch. Being on the East Coast, subjected to cold winds and being quite tall, means that the window for use is slim compared with other more accessible mountains. It also means for the majority of winter, which can last up to 6 or 7 months, makes for an impossible or at the least incredibly unenjoyable climb because of ice and frost.
If you do manage to catch this hike you will be impressed by the jagged mountain ranges that imitate the spiny backbone of a dinosaur, spiking up from beneath a swirl of atmospheric mist.
To reach this stunning mountain range from Seoul, make your way to the Seoul Express Bus Terminal and take a bus bound for Sokcho (approx 3 hours), which also has some nice spots for a beach day in summer. Once you arrive in Sokcho take an intercity bus (no.7 or 7-1) and get off at Sogongwon (approx 1 hour).
It is a good idea to stay overnight in Sokcho as the hikes can be anywhere from 1-14 hours. If you want to reach the more popular Daecheongbong Peak, you will need at least 4 hours for the ascent. Admission is W3,500 per person.
Bugaksan (Seoul Fortress), Seoul
If you are after a short. easily accessible hike from Seoul this is it. Bugaksan not to be confused with the much larger Bukhansan, though it often is, walks on top of the old Seoul Fortress Wall.
The trail is steep but short and comprised of mostly stairs and rocked paths. On a clear day you can look out over Seoul. It is often foggy, or hazy from low lying pollution but the walk is worth it all the same. Depending on the trail you take it should last between 2-3 hours.
If you intend on doing this hike you will need to take your passport and register before commencing, due to it being an actively patrolled zone. You will be given a coloured lanyard, depending on the direction you take. Take line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Admission is free.
Bukhansan will always be special. Not only because of the spectacular views it offers from the top but because of the special people we hiked it with. Hiking in South Korea is generally a social activity complete with snacks and alcohol - if you have not tried the combination out before, this is the mountain to do it with.
Bukhansan is Seoul's tallest peak and is easily reached from the capital by a bus. Once you arrive you can follow all the other people making their way up the mountain. It is a technical hike, requiring cables to pull you up the steeper portions (all provided) and strong walking shoes to help with the uneven rocks below your feet.
This hike should take between 4-5 hours return. Take line 3 to Gupabal Station, from there take the 704 bus to Baegundae trail (Bakhansanseong) and follow everyone else to the start of the trail. Admission is free.