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Cheonggyecheon River, a must tour in downtown Seoul

By Karen Richards |

The Cheonggyecheon River in South Korea is one of the biggest attractions in downtown Seoul. Discover the story behind this highway-turned-river !

South Korea is a country that has always captivated us with its mixture of traditions and modernity. In previous articles we have talked about how to enjoy your trip to this country, especially if you visit Seoul. This time we want to talk about these mixtures that characterize South Korea in terms of ecology and urbanism. Continue reading and discover the history behind the transformation of the Cheonggyecheon River. It has given life to one of the biggest attractions in downtown Seoul.

The Cheonggyecheon River a big tourist attraction in downtown Seoul

Cheonggyecheon River, also known as Cheonggyecheon Stream, is located in downtown South Korea. It’s also an example of urban renewal that introduces nature and an ecological environment to a city landscape. At DINKtravelers, as your world travel guide, we’d like you to discover how this river was restored together with the places that line it. This is, of course, an invitation to visit it. In Cheonggyecheon River you will find a peaceful setting to go for a walk in downtown Seoul, great places to have lunch and art.

Location of Cheonggyecheon River

Cheonggyecheon River runs eastbound across Seoul. It intersects with Jungnangcheon, a distributary of the Han River. Then, it flows into the Yellow Sea. In order to visit it, simply take any public transport that stops at the Banchado Mural, the Gyeongbokgung Palace or the Dongdaemun Market. At the latter you’ll find all kinds of souvenirs as well as delicious food.

The Cheonggyecheon Stream runs along 6 kilometers that go from Cheonggye Square to Gosanjagyo Bridge. However, you can cross over its 22 bridges or the stone paths they’ve created on the water surface.

The Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul

Formerly known as Gacheon, the river’s name changed to Cheonggyecheon River during the Japanese Occupation in Korea. As the end of the Korean War neared, the population migrated to Seoul.

The city is surrounded by mountains from where water flowed to downtown Seoul. That’s why the people decided to set up their homes along the riverbank. Subsequently, the creek began to be used as drainage so it became quite polluted. With time, the garbage and decline made the Cheonggyecheon Stream a very unattractive place. For this reason, it was covered with cement and, for two decades, it was used as a highway. How is it now that Cheonggyecheon River came to life again after being used as a highway? Read on.

The Recovery of Cheonggyecheon River

In July 2003, the then mayor of Seoul, Lee Myung-bak, initiated a project to restore the Cheonggyecheon Stream. The task of removing the road was very difficult, coupled with the fact that the river was almost dry. To renew it, first, they demolished the highway. Then, they pumped over 120,000 tons of water from the Han River into the Cheonggyecheon River.

The effort of South Korea to reintroduce nature to the city and promote eco-urban design was a great success. It’s one of the things you’ll admire the most during your stroll across downtown Seoul. You’ll feel as if you’d found an oasis amidst the cityscape of Seoul. But this wasn’t the only goal. Along your tour you will also find murals, artwork and history that promote regional culture. What’s more, the project helped revitalize the economy because it promoted the businesses located along the riverbank.

In the end, the restoration project highlighted the importance of the city’s nature and history. For this reason, you’ll find this area mentioned as the CCC (Cheonggyecheon Cultural Belt).

Cheonggyecheon River Walking Tour

In order to enjoy your visit, we recommend planning your trip in advance. It takes about 5 hours and 30 minutes to cover the whole length of the Cheonggyecheon River on foot. This without taking into account the multiple stops you’ll make for meals and shopping.

#1 Stop: Food stalls hidden in downtown Seoul

At this urban park you will find many food stalls hidden between the streets of downtown Seoul along the Cheonggyecheon River. Also, you’ll find traditional markets as well as boutiques and various shops.

Visit hawker stalls at the riverbank or try delicious dishes at the traditional markets. Then, stop to take pictures at the cascades and illuminated spots you’ll find along the way.

#2 Stop: Jeongjo Banchado Mural

A must-see place in your tour along Cheonggyecheon River is the Royal Procession of King Jeongjo Mural, better known as Banchado Mural. This magnificent work of art by the famous painter Kim Hong-Do is made up of 5,120 porcelain tiles. Actually, it’s the largest porcelain tile mural in the world. This work describes the journey to the Suwon Hwaseong fortress made by King Jeongjo, of the Joseon dynasty. Therefore, on its 192-meter surface you will observe around 1,700 different characters and 800 horses.

Banchado Mural is located just below the Jangtonggyo No. 4 bridge in downtown Seoul. You’ll notice that the work reflects the dignity of the royal family in all the majesty and excellence of the culture of South Korea. Don’t miss the chance to see it.

#3 Stop: The Meokjagolmok Market, a Traditional Market in downtown Seoul 

In this large commercial district, Korean traditional markets are a major tourist attraction. That is why they are included as part of the tour of the Cheonggyecheon River. At the Dongdaemun Market there’s a small street known as Meokjagolmok. There you can find endless food stands as well as miscellaneous items. Visiting the Dongdaemun can be overwhelming because of the area it covers. For this reason, get a map to locate the streets layout more easily. There are currency exchange offices and English speakers, so in case you need to ask for directions, people will be willing to help you.

At Meokjagolmok there aren’t only stalls but also restaurants. The most popular dishes include fish soup and croquettes. In order to get there, take the subway to Dongdaemun History Culture Park or Dongdaemun. Take into account that most businesses open at midday and close until late in the afternoon.

Now that you know everything about Cheonggyecheon River, repeat the same tour through downtown Seoul at night, when the water becomes a multi-colored mirror.