Before the modern-day cityscape took its form, when it was still the imperial capital of the Chosun Dynasty, the city of Seoul was guarded on all sides by walls and gates. Back then, Seoul’s boundaries extended to Namsan (South Mountain) in the south and to Bugak Mountain in the north. Naturally, these two mountains acted as fortresses for guarding the city against foreign attacks.
Much of the original architecture was destroyed during the Korean War, but the remnants of some of these walls survived. Since then, the city has spent considerable efforts to restore and rebuild these ancient fortifications, developing the surrounding area and turning these mountains into historical and natural parks situated right in the center of this bustling metropolis.
Korea is a country of mountains. These landforms offer a variety of challenging cycling routes throughout Korea. But for the people who live in the city of Seoul, escaping to explore these areas isn’t always an option.
That is where Namsan and Bugak come in. Although these mountains stand at a mere 300 metres tall, if you connect the two, and all the small hilly paths along the way, you get a decent 1,000 metres of elevation gain without having to travel outside of the city. Convenience is probably the reason why the Namsan and Bugak Mountain paths have the most popular Strava segments in Korea.
Most cyclists start this ride from the south bank of the Han River near Banpo Bridge. This is one of the most famous meeting points for the cyclists who are looking to ride Namsan and Bugak Mountains. Banpo Bridge has two levels; the lower level has a bike path which takes you across to the north side of the river and directly onto the riverside bike paths.
After crossing the Han River and riding along the bike paths, you will turn onto the busy streets of old Seoul. Taxis and buses fight to get ahead, leaving cyclists feeling a bit intimidated. If you manage to survive the traffic and ride north, you will find the entrance to Namsan Park. On top of Namsan is where the North Seoul Tower is located.
The road you climb up to the North Seoul Tower only allows bikes and natural gas-powered tour buses. At steady 4 to 5 percent grade, you can keep the ride fairly conversational. On the way to the top, there are a few spots where you can take in the view of the city and catch a breather.
Now, descend and ride your way back into the heart of Seoul and to Gwanghwamun Square. Here you will find the gate to Gyeongbok-Gung, the former royal palace of the Josun Dynasty—the last Korean imperial dynasty to rule the nation before it became a republic. Ride around the palace and pass by the Blue House, where the current Korean president resides, to get to the start of the second climb: Bugak Mountain.
The road to the peak is called Bugak Skyway and it is open to public traffic, meaning you will be climbing with all kinds of motor vehicles. The climb is slightly longer, and it is where Seoul cyclists do repeats to rack up their climbing mileage without traveling to other mountainous regions in Korea. Once reaching the summit, simply retrace your path back to the starting point, and that’s the route most favored by Seoul cyclists.
While these mountains aren’t the grandest, highest or most scenic in South Korea, they are certainly the most popular—and the most convenient for busy cyclists living in the country’s capital. Cyclists residing in Seoul, much like other global city dwellers, live busy and hectic lives around the clock. This is the quickest way for them to fit 1000-meters of climbing into their busy schedules. Some even mix this climb into their daily commute.
Read more about iconic climbs around the world in our Montagnes du Monde series.
Footnotes: Photography & Text : Soon Yoon