Posted by: Matt Kelley | 1 April 2009

Seoul’s Yeouido Island

20090401_yeouidorenderingAn artist’s rendering of Yeouido’s future, now that height restrictions for the island have been lifted (from Yonhap News).

At about 8.4 square kilometers, Yeouido (여의도) is by far Seoul’s largest island. But despite its strategic location in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities, the name “yeouido” actually means, “you can have it.” In the past, this now very valuable piece of real estate was thought to be worthless, since most of the island disappeared when the Han River frequently flooded. As a result, for centuries Yeouido was generally relegated to pastureland and peanut fields. The first major development didn’t occur until 1924, when the Japanese colonial government built Seoul’s first airport there.

20090401_koreanexchange Yeouido is also home to South Korea’s stock exchange.

Fast forward to today, when throngs of suited men and women walk briskly beneath tall skyscrapers, which is why it’s often called Korea’s Manhattan. Yeouido is home to some of Korea’s largest broadcasters, banks and financial services companies, not to mention it’s the headquarters of global behemoths like South Korea’s LG. But what I love about Yeouido is its versatility.

04012009_yeouidoparkEspecially during the warmer months, Yeouido Park cuts a lovely swath through the island’s center.

For example, the island is completely surrounded by parks, it boasts a modest residential community (about 31,000 people), and other unique landmarks. For example, the Yoido Full Gospel Church is the world’s largest Christian congregation, with some 830,000 members, as of 2007. Furthermore, the island’s northern end is the site of the National Assembly of South Korea, which is the country’s legislative body. The southern tip is where the curved pink glass tower called the 63 Building (육삼빌딩) stands. Beyond its beauty (and the aquarium that’s inside), the iconic home of the Daehan Insurance Company was Asia’s tallest building when it was completed in 1985 (Today it’s #139).

20090401_yeouidocherryThe annual Hangang Yeouido Spring Flower Festival is highlighted by the cherry trees lining Yoonjung0-ro. Here I am with my mom last year.

While it’s always a good time to visit Yeouido, Spring is the best season. For two weeks starting this Friday, the island is hosting the Hangang Yeouido Spring Flower Festival. Every year, over four million people visit the island to enjoy performing arts companies from Korea and abroad, and, of course, spring flower favorites like azaleas, forsythias and cherry blossoms. The latter is by far the biggest draw, so if you have the opportunity, walk along Yoonjung-ro (윤중로). The sidewalk is flanked on both sides by mature cherry trees, which creates a gorgeous 5.7-kilometer canopy of pale white blooms. It’s the best spot in Seoul to see cherry blossoms.

20090401_trenueOne of the Yeouido skyline’s more recent landmarks, the Trenue.

And finally, despite the economic downturn, there are big construction projects underway. True to the island’s core identity, in 2013 the campus of the Seoul International Financial Center will open. The IFC is just one of at least three major buildings, which also include the Parc 1 and the nearly-completed Trenue.

yeouido_bridgeAn artist’s rendering of a new bridge that will connect Yeouido’s west side to the “mainland.”

On a “greener” note, as part of the Han River Renaissance Project, the concrete walls that line the island’s riverbank are being removed in favor of a more natural environment. The park area on the island’s western side have already been almost completely removed and replaced with… a park area. Peculiar spending aside, I’m excited about a snazzy (and much-needed) bridge that’s planned to connect Yeouido to the Dangsan-dong neighborhood.

20090401_protestProtests are a common sight on Yeouido, especially in front of the nation’s legislative building.

To see it all for yourself, you can reach Yeouido on any number of buses, or via Seoul Metro’s subway line 5. Later this year, the brand new line 9 will also intersect on the island, which will make reaching it all the more convenient.
map_yeouido

Getting There:
→ Take subway line 5 to Yeouido or Yeouinaru Stations. Starting later this year, the new subway line 9 will also stop on Yeouido.

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on April 1, 2009.)

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