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Cheonggyecheon: An Urban Renewal

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A Leisure Hot Spot
The Cheonggyecheon stream has been a part of Seoul’s history from the time of the Joseon Dynasty some 600 years ago. It cuts through the heart of downtown, and has been a popular leisure spot since it reopened in 2005. The stream offers more than three miles of space to walk, play, think, picnic and catch a cultural performance among the tall cityscape and bustling street traffic. Click through to see some highlights from west to east.
Cheonggye Plaza
Considered the starting point of Cheonggyecheon, Cheonggye Plaza has a fountain, waterfall and a replica of the stream. The focal point of the square is Spring, a 65-foot-tall snail-like sculpture designed by pop artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The plaza is located at the stream’s western end.
This section’s eight underwater tiger-eye stones symbolize each of the Joseon Dynasty’s eight provinces and a reunified Korea in the future. Make a wish and throw a coin in the pond for good luck. Palseokdam is adjacent to Cheonggye Plaza.

As you walk east from Palseokdam, you’ll see this arch bridge—the first of the stream’s 22 bridges. Just beyond Mojeongyo (pictured), you’ll find people relaxing along the water’s edge or leaping across the stepping stones. Expect to see different hanging decorations and illuminated art in this section throughout the year.

Photo courtesy of Seoul Tourism Organization

Once known as the largest bridge in Seoul, Gwangtonggyo was built during the 15th century reign of King Taejong using stones from the tomb of his stepmother, Queen Sindeok. It was not considered proper to use stones fit for a queen in bridge construction, but Taejong hated Sindeok for trying to make her son, his half-brother, the king. Taejong had her body exhumed and buried elsewhere while the stones were used for the bridge. Today, Gwangtonggyo is approximately 492 feet from its original location.
Banchado of King Jeongjo
Between the Gwanggyo and Samilgyo bridges, you’ll find this painting of the Joseon king’s eight-day royal procession to Hwaseong. The Banchado uses 5,120 ceramic tiles to depict 1,700 characters and 800 horses. With a total length of 630 feet, the painting is the largest of its kind in the world.
Culture Wall
Toward the middle of Cheonggyecheon, between the Beodeuldari and Ogansugyo bridges, is the Wall of Culture. Five modern artworks on the subject of nature and the environment line the wall. Each mural is the same size and was crafted by local art professors. Within this section is a fountain that shoots up to 32 feet in the air and a stage for performances.
Wall of Hope
More than 20,000 people wrote and painted their hopes on ceramic tiles for this Cheonggyecheon monument. The wishing wall is 164 feet long between Hwanghakgyo and Biudanggyo bridges.
Cheonggyecheon Museum
At the eastern end of the stream, you’ll find the Cheonggyecheon Museum. Opened in 2005, the museum offers visitors a glimpse at the history and culture of the stream. The permanent exhibit uses miniature models and video presentations to tell the story of Cheonggyecheon’s long past. Admission is free. 530 Cheonggyecheon-ro, Seongdong-gu, 82-02-2286-3410
Winter Wonderland
Walking along the stream is not just a summer activity. You’ll find couples strolling arm in arm all year round. Holiday lights and festivals light up the area too.
Guided Tours
A great way to experience Cheonggyecheon is on a guided tour. A double-decker bus tour is available, as are two guided walking tours. The tours are two to three hours in length and are offered several times daily. Plan ahead: You should schedule your bus tour in advance, but a reservation at least three days in advance is required to join a walking tour.

Looking at the gorgeous clear Cheonggyecheon stream today, you would never know the flowing waterway, with its surrounding walking paths and overhead bridges, was once a sewer, covered with concrete and elevated highways. Seoul spent approximately $384 million to redevelop the tributary into an environmentally friendly urban space for its residents and visitors. Today, you’ll find couples, families and friends walking along the banks and wading in the water. Numerous sites are ready to explore along the Cheonggyecheon.

By Amanda Hoffstrom

Photos courtesy of Korea Tourism Organization

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