Published Oct 28, 2023
The Han River, often called 'Hangang' in Korean, is more than just a river—it's a defining symbol of Seoul. Flowing right through the center of the city, it has been a witness to South Korea's history unfolding over thousands of years. From serene parks along its banks to lively late-night light shows, the Han River has become an integral part of daily life in Seoul and a must-visit spot for anyone exploring the South Korean capital.
The mighty Han River is formed by the merging forces of two tributaries: the North Han and the Nam (South) Han. This union takes place approximately 35 km upstream from Seoul.
- Symbolic Significance: Han River: A defining symbol of Seoul and integral to South Korea's history, culture, and daily life.
- Geographical Formation and Length: Formed by merging North and Nam Han tributaries, 35 km upstream from Seoul, spanning 510 km.
- Historical Evolution: Witnessed key historical events, evolving from tribal habitation to prominence during the Joseon period.
- Development Initiatives and Activities: Projects aimed to transform the Han River into an urban hub, offering a wide range of activities.
- Challenges and Mitigation: Faces annual flooding, managed through dam control, and addresses environmental challenges for restoration.
Originating from the elevated mountainous terrain, with peaks soaring between 1,000 to 1,500 meters, in the central expanse of the Korean Peninsula, the Nam (South) Han embarks on a southward journey spanning about 230 km. It courses through valleys and landscapes, eventually reaching the strategic Chungju multi-purpose dam. From there, the river takes a turn, tracing a northwestward trajectory for an additional 120 km. During this path, it encounters the imposing Paldang dam, merging its waters with the North Han River—a confluence of nature's forces and engineering marvels. In 2008, Seoul's government envisioned a transformative plan titled “The Hangang Renaissance” for the development of the Han River.
The plan acknowledged the river's untapped potential, emphasizing the need to restore its character and integrate it into daily life. The key goals were to redesign the waterfront, making it a hub for urban competitiveness and enjoyable for all. The plan proposed restructuring the city around the river, creating waterfront urban developments, improving accessibility, and connecting historical sites. Although initially initiated by Mayor Oh Se-hoon, the project faced setbacks and was deemed costly and impractical. In 2015, a similar plan, "The Han River’s Nature Restoration and Development of Tourism Resources," emerged. It gained renewed interest with Mayor Oh's re-election in 2021, targeting completion by 2030.
Where does the Han River originate?
The source of the Han River is located within the Taebaek Mountains more precisely in Geomryongso, a valley to the north of Mt. Geumdae (1,418m) in Changjuk-dong, Taebaek-si, Gangwon Province.
How long is the Han River?
From its source in the Taebaek Mountains in the East of the country, to its mouth in the Yellow Sea, the Han River measures 510km (316 mi)
What is the origin of the name for the Han River?
The name of the Han River has evolved over time. Initially known as 'Daesu' (a strap of water) during the era of the Three Kingdoms and 'Arisu' in Goguryeo due to its encircling form around the Korean Peninsula resembling a strap. Subsequently, during the Baekje period, it was referred to as 'Hansu'. The present name 'Hangang' (Han River) has its roots in the Korean language, where 'Han' signifies 'large, wide, and long,' and 'Garam' is an ancient term for a river. 'Hangang' encompasses the meaning of a broad and expansive river, derived from 'Hangaram' in Korean.
How wide is the Han River when it flows through Seoul?
Within Seoul's city boundaries, the Han River spans over 1 kilometer (0.62 mi).
Is the Han River navigable?
Yes, the Han River is navigable. Out of its 510km (316 mi) length, approximately 320 km (200mi) are navigable. It has served as a valuable river transportation route since ancient times, especially during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).
How does the Han River rank among the Korean rivers?
The Han is the fourth longest river in the Korean Peninsula, following 1) Yalu ("Amnok") known by Koreans as the Amrok River or Amnok River on the border between China and North Korea 2) Tumen ("Tuman"), a 521-kilometer (324 mi) long river that serves as part of the boundary between China (left shore), North Korea (right) and Russia (left), 3) Nakdong river, longest river in South Korea, which passes through the major cities of Daegu and Busan.
How often does the Han River flood?
The Han River experiences annual flooding during heavy monsoonal rainfall, with notable peaks occurring approximately every 3 to 5 years. Efforts to mitigate flooding include the management of water flows through the use of three large dams upstream from Seoul (Soyang, Chungju, and Paldang dams). Additionally, in Seoul, the river was channelized and embanked in the mid-1960s, incorporating measures like public parks, roads, and car parks along the river banks to help minimize the impact of floods.
How many bridges span the Han River in the Seoul National Capital Area (Seoul, Gyeonggi, Incheon)?
The Han River in the Seoul National Capital Area (Seoul, Gyeonggi, Incheon) is traversed by a combined total of 31 bridges and 11 subway crossings below the river.
Which are its major tributaries?
The major tributaries are Gongneungcheon (곡능천), Najinhacheon (나진하천), Changneungcheon (창능천), Anyangcheon (안양천), Gyeongancheon (경안천), Bukhan River (북한강), Namhangang River (남한강). The tributaries are arranged from the river's mouth to its source.
Following is a quick summary of the major historical events which somehow involved the river and the Korean capital.
• In ancient times, the Han River area was inhabited by tribal groups. Archaeological sites, such as Amsa-dong Prehistoric Site near Gwangnaru Hangang Park in Seoul, have revealed artifacts like earthenware pots and bone tools from that era. People depended on fishing and gathering from the nearby hills to sustain themselves.
• Baekje's recognition of the Han River as a vital waterway.
• Conflict and control over the Han River basin between Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla.
• The Han River was a key waterway during the Silla-led unification of the Korean peninsula.
• The prominence of the Han River rose during the Joseon period, especially in Seoul (then Hanyang).
• Steamships started sailing in the Han River in 1888
• The railway between Seoul and Incheon was opened to traffic with the installation of a railway bridge in the Han River in 1900.
• The construction of embankments started thereafter while experiencing three times of disastrous floods in 1912, 1920 and 1925.
• During the Japanese colonial period (1910 to 1945), Chemulpo Port in Incheon was developed as a modern port due to its better conditions for larger ships, while the Han River was limited to small-scale commerce and leisure activities.
• Destruction of Hangang Bridge during the Korean War on June 20th, 1950.
• After independence and the Korean War, port facilities and docks were not developed in Seoul due to its proximity to the demilitarized zone. Subsequent efforts focused on embankment maintenance and flood prevention.
• Environmental challenges and pollution of the Han River in the early years of South Korea's existence.
• In the late 1960s and early 1980s, comprehensive development projects were initiated, including construction of roads, bridges, and embankments, aiming to control the river and enhance urban amenities. However, criticisms arose regarding limited utilization of the waterfront and its ecological impacts.
• In 1972, Seoul endured its most severe flooding in nearly five decades, with 45 centimeters (17.8 inches) of rainfall pouring down in a single night. This deluge triggered landslides and extensive chaos, resulting in the loss of 200 lives and leaving 127,000 individuals without homes. In response to this calamity, Park Chung-hee constructed dams upstream along the Han River to regulate its flow. Although flooding recurred later, 1972 marked the final instance when inhabitants along the river witnessed houses, along with cows, pigs, and chickens atop their roofs, drifting past their apartments.
• In preparation for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, the government put into action the Han River Comprehensive Development Plan (한강종합개발). It was a big project aimed at sprucing up the river, improving infrastructure, and reshaping the landscape. Among its efforts were stopping the dumping of industrial waste and sewage runoff, and they also worked on making the Han River's flow more consistent by building weirs and dredging the riverbed.
• Han River as a site for the Olympic rowing regatta during the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
• Initiatives and efforts to clean up and restore the Han River, making it an ecological focal point of the capital.
• The August 1995 flood was associated with 50 fatalities and total property damage of US$600 million. Read the academic article "Floods on the Han River in Korea".
• The 2008 Han River Renaissance project, criticized the existing land use, emphasizing the need for a more diversified and ecologically sensitive approach to waterfront development. The Plan received mixed reactions. The business sector, particularly ferry and construction businesses, welcomed the plan, anticipating increased visitors to the Han River. On the other hand, environmental activists, like Suk-young Han of the Korean Federation for the Environmental Movement (KFEM), criticized the plan for not prioritizing the ecological restoration of the Han River.
• Completion of the 18-kilometer Ara Canal in 2012, linking the Han River to Incheon.
• Initiation of a joint inter-Korean survey in 2018 to develop a Joint Utilization Zone along the Han River's estuary. The goals and purposes of the Joint Utilization Zone include tourism and ecological protection.
• June 2022 Flood: In 2022, Seoul experienced the heaviest rainfall in over a century, leading to significant flooding and loss of life. The Han River swelled, submerging areas along its banks. The three-day downpours affected thousands of buildings, transportation, and caused casualties. North Korea's potential water release upstream exacerbated the situation, with communication breakdowns due to diplomatic tensions. (Read the news on AlJazeera website)
Say that there are a ton of activities to do along the Han River is an understatement. To facilitate the decision process we compile a list of what you can do once you decide to visit this extensive part of Seoul.
• Water sports like windsurfing, kayaking, water skiing, wakeboarding, and flyboarding.
• Bike riding along the 80-kilometer bike paths on the north and south sides of the river.
For more information about cycling along the Han River in Seoul make sure to check the comprehensive guide written by Koreabybike. In the meantime enjoy the bike ride broadcast by Seoul 4K in this video "Cycling from Cheonggyecheon to Han River Bicycle Lane Seoul, South Korea."
• Camping at Nanji Campground near World Cup Stadium, offering a memorable riverside camping experience.
• Picnic by the riverbank, enjoying the scenic views and engaging in lively conversations.
• River cruises to savor the beauty of the Han River, with various themed options available. A unique angle to enjoy the city views. To savor an idyllic moment before getting to experience Seoul in real life you can enjoy the video of Seoul Walker.
• Fishing in specific locations along the Han River inhabited by catfish and carp.
• Enjoying the Han River Firework Festival, an annual event attracting millions of viewers.
• Swimming in the swimming pools along the Hangang River, providing a refreshing experience with a great view.
• Tubester riding in the evening, offering a unique experience on the water.
• Exploring the Han River parks for beautiful scenery and leisure activities.
• Taking a walk or jog along the friendly paths by the Han River.
• Sailing a boat or taking a water taxi for a different perspective of the river.
Let’s have a close encounter with 13 intriguing points of interest that offer a glimpse into the diverse experiences the Han River has to offer. For the complete list and an interactive exploration, consult our detailed map below.
Apgujeong Graffiti Tunnel
A hub of street art in Seoul featuring colorful murals and graffiti in the old quarters of Apgujeong, offering a unique view of the Han River. (Read more)
A lush urban park near Seoul's Hongdae district, transformed from a landfill, with stunning views of the Han River and a variety of recreational activities.
The Mapo Bridge crosses the Han River in South Korea and connects the Mapo District and the Yeongdeungpo District in the city of Seoul. The bridge was completed in 1970. Until 1984, the bridge was called Seoul Bridge. (Read more)
Ttukseom Hangang Park
A popular riverside park near Seoul's Hongdae district, offering a mix of water sports, recreational activities, and seasonal attractions along the Han River. (Read more)
ROKS Seoul (FF-952)
A museum ship in Seoul, named after the city, showcasing the naval history of the Ulsan-class frigate. (Read more)
A station on the Gyeongui-Jungang Line in Seoul, located near Hannam Bridge, providing access to various embassies in the Hannam-dong neighborhood. (Read more)
A bridge over the Han River in Seoul, connecting the Gwangjin and Songpa districts, with a unique construction history. (Read more)
An artificial island in the Han River, transformed into a music-themed cultural complex. (Read more)
Seoul National Cemetery
A cemetery in Seoul reserved for Korean veterans, including those from the Korean independence movement, Korean War, and Vietnam War. (Read more)
Jamsil Railway Bridge
A bridge crossing the Han River in Seoul, connecting the districts of Gangbyeon Station and Jamsillaru Station. (Read more)
A park in Sangam-dong, Mapo District, once a landfill site, now transformed with recreational facilities and connecting bridges. (Read more)
Jeoldusan Martyr's Shrine
A memorial shrine overlooking the Han River, dedicated to Korean Catholic martyrs. (Read more)
Artificial islands in the Han River, Seoul, contributing to the city's urban landscape. (Read more)
Explore our detailed map of the Han River in Seoul, offering categorized information about People, Entities (Institutions, Companies, Organizations), Dates, Words, and Questions. Discover historical figures, key events, notable entities, relevant terms, and insightful inquiries directly on the map. You can also navigate the map effortlessly by either searching for individual elements along the Han River or by exploring curated categories of these elements.Embark on an enriching exploration of the Han River within Seoul's boundaries.
Our map is continuously updated to ensure accuracy and relevance. We wholeheartedly welcome contributions from users with profound knowledge of Seoul—whether it's updates, modifications, valuable tips, suggestions, or anything in between—to enhance the map and create a comprehensive resource for all.