Posted by: Matt Kelley | 16 June 2009

Video: Seonyu Island’s Han River Renaissance

Once upon a time, Seonyu Island (also known as Seonyubong) had a small peak and picturesque, jagged cliffs. This beautiful setting inspired wandering Confucian gentleman scholars, or seonbi (선비), who came here during the Joseon Dynasty to paint and compose poetry.

Seonyu Island is a tranquil setting in the midst of the Han River and one of the world’s busiest cities.

But in a dramatic shift of fortune, this small island on the west side of the Han River had its mountain and cliffs removed during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and in 1978, it became the site of a sewage treatment plant. Twenty-three years later, the plant was shut down, and after two years of planning and restoration, Seonyu Island was transformed into a gorgeous, eco-consciousness park that opened in 2003.

Located in western Seoul, Seonyu Island was designed as an eco-consciousness park.

In 1998, a concept known as “New Seoul” was unveiled with the goal of making Korea’s 600-year-old capital a more livable place for its 10 million inhabitants. The initiative’s major goals were: 1) to create easily accessible parks, 2) to restore the Han River’s fragile ecosystem, and, 3) to offer more public cultural events.

A water theme permeates everything about Seonyu Island. This appears to be a perfect home from a snail’s perspective.

 The 110,000-square-meter Seonyu Island park seems to do all three. Described by the Seoul Metropolitan Government as a “postmodern space,” the award-winning park harmoniously combines the organic with the industrial by preserving the former treatment plant’s structures and integrating them into a series of gardens. Water is the island’s principle theme. For example, bygone settling basins for water treatment chemicals are now home to small fish and many species of aquatic plants that naturally purify water.

20090617_plantpillarsSeonyu Island features many contemplative places, like this one near the Seoul Design Gallery.

In a large, recessed area, rows of 15-foot tall supporting columns are wrapped in vines. These columns used to support a reservoir’s concrete slab roof, but today they stand roofless on a bed of small, smooth rocks. Nearby, there’s also a large hot-house chock full of plants with small, medium and large streams of water flowing all around.

20090617_kidinwaterThis water feature and adjacent sand box are popular with kids.

Besides the gardens, a maze-like series of paths and bridges connects the park’s other components, including the Han River history museum, a 200-seat amphitheater, a greenhouse and the modest Cafeteria Naru, which offers snacks and a great view of the river below.

The restoration of Seonyu Island is part of a huge “Han River Renaissance Project” that aims to expand park space and othe restore the health of Seoul’s life blood.

Eco-consciousness is a popular buzzword around Seoul these days. A couple of years back the city unveiled an ambitious 30-year “Han River Renaissance Master Plan.” A kiosk near Seonyu Island Park’s entrance promoted the city’s environmental strategic plan for the Han River and the metropolis that surrounds it. Seonyudo is a great start.

20090617_mujigaedariThe Rainbow Bridge connects Seonyu Island with the south shore of the Han River. The gift from France gets lit up at night.

Since auto access to Seonyu Island is limited, most visitors reach it via an elegant 468-meter footbridge, nicknamed the Mujigae-dari, or the Rainbow Bridge. It was designed by a French architect as a gift from France to the Republic of Korea, so a big “merci beaucoup” to La France. At night, vivid colors illuminate the bridge from below.

20090617_grassPeach-colored long grasses at Seonyu Island.

It surprises me that I rarely find Seonyu Island mentioned in English-language Seoul travel guides. No wonder I’ve seen few foreigners when I’ve visited despite the fact that, the last time I checked, guided park tours were available in both English and Japanese.

20090617_reflectionCold light on an early spring evening.

What I have seen, however, are the scores of couples on a romantic walk, and amateur photographers who are inspired by the island park’s colorful environmental/industrial juxtaposition.

Getting There:
→ Take subway line 2 to Dangsan Station (exit #1), then take a bus (605, 6623, 6631, 6632, 6633) and get off at Hanshin Apts. Cross over the Rainbow Bridge.

→ Or, take subway line 2 to Hapjeong Station (exit #8) and take a 20-minute walk across the Yangwha Bridge and enjoy nice views of the city while inhaling lots of vehicle exhaust. It’s free. Open 06:00-24:00.

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on June 3, 2009. An earlier version appeared on this blog on September 25, 2008.)



  1. i should go there
    i should…i was missing GREENS…
    Thx for the goooood info again MATT!

    i’m gonna go there with my BF on July. ;)

  2. Hi Narsha,

    It’s a romantic place, so have fun!

  3. […] first major stop is Gimpo Airport. But from there the line makes 23 additional stops. Among them, Seonyudo Station (선유도역), is a short walk from the urban renewal island park of the same name that […]

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