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[Subway Stories] Take subway to Eden, pockets of nature in Seoul

Urban forests accessible by subway offer a sanctuary from city bustle

By Choi Jae-hee

Published : March 13, 2023 - 09:11

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View of Seoul Forest (Seoul Metropolitan Government) View of Seoul Forest (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

Seoul, Korea’s bustling capital full of gridlocked streets and mile-high concrete buildings, is in fact the perfect city to bask in nature without having to travel very far.

Covered with 6,685 hectares of forests, the heart of Korea boasts various urban parks surrounded by forests with sprawling trees and colorful flowers, most of which can be reached by subway.

The following are some of the forest parks popular among Seoulites who crave a detox from the city.

Seoul Forest

A couple sits on a bench by the lake in Seoul Forest in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald) A couple sits on a bench by the lake in Seoul Forest in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

A five-minute walk from exit No. 3 of Seoul Forest Station will lead you to a leafy park stretching over 1.2 million square meters of land.

Located in the hip Seongsu-dong neighborhood in eastern Seoul, Seoul Forest features expansive green fields, pleasant walking trails and wild animals like deer. It is immensely popular with locals for its cherry blossoms in the spring and ginkgo trees in the autumn.

On a recent Friday afternoon, some children gathered around a large, fenced-in area where about fifteen deer were roaming about and resting under the shadow of the trees.

They tried to feed the deer from behind the fence, while others were walking along on a small trail surrounding the corral.

Seoul Forest's deer enclosure (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald) Seoul Forest's deer enclosure (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

“It is a great place to bring children on weekdays for a small picnic. They enjoy watching the various animals here, which I think is educational,” said Shim Ji-yeon, a 37-year-old housewife living in Geumho-dong.

The park provides a natural habit for wild animals, including fallow deer, chipmunks, mandarin ducks, mallards and moorhens.

Easily reached by subway, it has become a beloved place for students at nearby universities since it opened in June 2005.

On the park’s open field, three students from Hanyang University adjacent to Wangsimni Station, which is only one station away from Seoul Forest Station, stretched out on a mat to relax on the same Friday.

“We often come here to rent bikes. There are many young people taking pictures or Instagram Reels with the park in the background,” said Lee Chang-woo, a sophomore at Hanyang University.

Maeheon Citizen's Forest

An aerial view of Maeheon Citizen's Forest (The Seoul Institute) An aerial view of Maeheon Citizen's Forest (The Seoul Institute)

Maeheon Citizen's Forest, a lush public park located in Yangjae-dong, southern Seoul, is 10 minutes away on foot from exit No. 4 of Yangjae Citizen's Forest (Maeheon) Station on the Shinbundang Line.

The park's dense forest with 10,000 trees of 45 species, including zelkovas, maples and pine trees, is the perfect place to bask in nature.

Grass lawns and sports facilities for volleyball and tennis make the forest a popular picnic destination for Seoul residents during the weekends. It also houses a memorial hall to honor independence fighter Yun Bong-gil, who was executed by Imperial Japan for his bombing attack on high-ranking Japanese officials in the Chinese city of Shanghai in 1932.

A memorial hall in Maeheon Citizen's Forest built to honor the death of independence fighter Yun Bong-gil (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald) A memorial hall in Maeheon Citizen's Forest built to honor the death of independence fighter Yun Bong-gil (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

Maeheon Citizen's Forest even has sections where one can kick off one's shoes and walk barefoot, with trails covered in pebbles or a layer of red clay.

The 358,992 square-meter park was built in 1986, as part of a government effort to beautify Seoul for the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It became more accessible after the Shinbundang Line was launched in 2011.

Walking paths along the Yangjaecheon stream filled with cherry blossoms (Seocho District Office) Walking paths along the Yangjaecheon stream filled with cherry blossoms (Seocho District Office)

The 15.6-kilometer-long Yangjaecheon stream that runs alongside the park is an addition to the forest’s appeal, with its stunning cherry blossom trees in springtime. Along the street that faces the stream, trendy restaurants with outdoor terraces, modern coffee shops and antique stores attract the attention of passersby.

Seoul Dream Forest

Wolyeongji Pond in Seoul Dream Forest. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald) Wolyeongji Pond in Seoul Dream Forest. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

Several bus stops away from Miasageori Station on Line 4, Seoul Dream Forest is a 665,190-square-meter green park in Seoul’s Gangbuk-gu, the fourth-biggest park in the capital after the World Cup Park, Olympic Park and Seoul Forest.

As its name implies, the park is surrounded by densely forested mountains Opaesan and Byeogosan, which offer a peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of the city with a large pond called “Wolyeongji,” featuring artificial waterfalls.

On Tuesday morning, families and young couples enjoy the surrounding views and warm breezes of late winter on the wooden paths found next to the Wolyeongji pond.

“I saw some children fly kites here. It’s a great place to relax, especially in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom,” said Song, a housewife in her 30s.

Changnyeongwigung, an ancestral shrine built during the Joseon Dynasty, located within Seoul Dream Forest in Gangbuk-gu, Seoul. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald) Changnyeongwigung, an ancestral shrine built during the Joseon Dynasty, located within Seoul Dream Forest in Gangbuk-gu, Seoul. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

On the sloped foothills of the park is an art center hosting cultural exhibitions and music concerts. There is also a 49-meter, three-story observatory overlooking the northern area of Seoul.

Meanwhile, Changnyeongwigung, an ancestral shrine built in the Joseon Dynasty for the son-in-law of King Sunjo, offers a glimpse into the architecture of premodern Korea.

The forest park has become especially popular with pet owners since the park opened a fenced playground for dogs to run around without a leash in September last year.

Seoul Grand Park’s Healing Forest

People lie down on the ground in Seoul Grand Park’s Healing Forest, enjoying nature. (Seoul Metropolitan Government) People lie down on the ground in Seoul Grand Park’s Healing Forest, enjoying nature. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

Across Seoul Grand Park in Gwacheon, south of Seoul, busy with tourists visiting its theme park and zoo, there is a serene forest that had previously been closed to the public for 30 years for nature conservation.

The Healing Forest, which opened in 2016 and is managed by Seoul Grand Park, is a popular destination for those seeking a shower of green. The forest covers 5 hectares and is filled with the scent of evergreen trees, sunlight streaming through the leaves, the calming songs of forest birds and the gentle sound of a nearby stream.

Located approximately a half-hour drive from Seoul Grand Park Station on Line 4, the urban forest is open only on a reservation basis between April-November to people who apply for the park’s forest bathing program, which involves meditation and yoga.