Asia South Korea Travel Destinations

Seoul, Cheonggyecheon Stream – Heart of Korea

Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul is the Heart of Korea!
Written by Duke Stewart

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea. ― E.E. Cummings, 100 Selected Poems

Cheonggyecheon Stream

Every time I come back to Seoul, it feels more and more familiar. It’s growing on me but is still a city I can’t comprehend. Lots of Koreans clearly look to Seoul for the action, with money and opportunities flowing through like white water. Skyscrapers impose themselves on villages and places, with this fast-paced megacity pushing out-of-date and less fashionable traditions out.

A great example of Korea’s transformation is Cheonggyecheon stream, cutting through the heart of Seoul and Korea in a sense. Starting near Gwanghwamun Square and Gyeongbokgung, this creek has some stories but is far removed from its place in recent history. People now come to spend time by some clear water and green space but that’s only been a recent possibility.

Umbrellas and Gushing Water at Cheonggyecheon, Seoul

Just after the Korean War ceasefire, many people had no choice but to move away from their homes and find a better life in the cities. Cheonggyecheon was popular for migrants seeking opportunities, as the stream had long been neglected. Formerly known as Gaecheon or “digging out,” Japanese Colonial Officials renamed it Cheonggyecheon or “clear water stream” and wanted to cover the waterway in an effort to clean up the area.

Resembling something closer to a sewer, it had lost favor with the Japanese. Their plans never moved to action and the stream lived on until Park Chung Hee – long-time president with a “forceful” reputation – oversaw an elevated freeway’s construction above Cheonggyecheon in the 1970s.

Bird and Greenery at Cheonggyecheon, Seoul

Walking around, it’s hard to believe this place was largely unknown and overshadowed by a massive highway for so many years. Mixed feelings surrounded Cheonggyecheon’s revival in the early 2000s. Corruption and convictions seem commonplace when big money flows through construction projects. Nevertheless, the stream reopened in 2005 and has grown into a huge attraction for visitors from all over the world.

Walking up to the entrance after passing through Gwanghwamun Square and all the action connected to it really forces one to feel like this is the true heart of Korea. It makes sense that Cheonggyecheon begins right next to so many of Seoul’s most important places. Korea’s financial district surrounds Cheonggyecheon’s starting point and the President’s living quarters or “Blue House” is not too far away.

Umbrellas over Cheonggyecheon's Start, Seoul

Nowadays, a more important segment of the population is making itself known here. Through a movement start by Korea Youth United, umbrellas stand above Cheonggyecheon with a message promoting energy savings and for more attention to be placed on preserving the Earth. It’s clear that this beautiful stream offers views of beautiful water and greenery. Cheonggyecheon and its surrounding plaza both capture so many things important to Korea and us all. Cheonggyecheon stream pumps life and spirit into Korea, physically and symbolically.

Have you ever visited Cheonggyecheon stream? How’s it feel to walk around this important part of Korea? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below! 

I’ve written a lot more about Korea and would love for you to read those stories on that wonderful country. 

Visit Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul is the Heart of Korea!

About the author

Duke Stewart

I'm a writer and recovering American expat who shares my family's travels through life. Follow our adventures here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

33 Comments

  • I never knew any of the history, thanks for sharing! I love when the umbrellas are there! The lantern festival is okay..it get’s a little too crowded for us!

    • I wonder if they were there this year too! Did you see them? I’ve never been for the lantern festival but always figured it was a blast. Maybe everyone else thinks so too so they cram it? 🙂

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by and I appreciate that this taught someone a tidbit or two!

      Take care, Megan.

  • Love Cheonggyecheon, too! I make sure I pass through the area every time I’m around downtown. It has some indie performers playing for a crowd day or night.

    • That’s good to know, Alphonse! I’ll make a note of that next time we’re in Seoul. Have you had a chance to write about that experience? Let me know with a link if you have.

  • We loved spending an evening walking the banks of the stream. It’s such a welcome surprise to find something like that in middle of a city like Seoul, and the fact it’s so safe to walk around in the middle of night meant we could take as long as we liked. Great article!

    • Thank you Andrew. I really enjoyed this place and will definitely make it back next time we go to Seoul. There’s so much of it to see! Hope you get to come back to Korea. I’ll keep reading yours in the meantime!

    • Lol, that’s hilarious. That’s one of the things I love about Seoul. So many different people there for many reasons, not just teaching or in the military. Thanks for that little anecdote. You should write about it!

  • I really enjoy your posts, Duke! I love that you not only take beautiful pictures, but also really do your research and delve into the histories of the places you visit.

  • Love how you really dig into the history and culture, rather than just focusing on how “pretty” it might be! Korea has a really interesting history – whether it be “folklore” or about the Japanese invading, I think it’s so important to know the background story to really appreciate it!

    • Thanks Kirsten. I’m always annoyed when Seoul seemingly has it all but yeah, can’t avoid it. There are places outside the capital that have lots of history but sometimes the places can’t compare to Seoul. It’s got the action!

  • Hey Carl! Interesting that you posted about this stream as I happened to stumble upon it last weekend and got to see a lantern festival! All up the stream were tons of beautifully designed lanterns, and of course thousands of people were smashing into each other trying to walk the stream and see it. I watched from above and decided I would need to go back during the day sometime when it was less crowded!

    • It’s a bummer I couldn’t make the lantern festival! I heard some good things about it though. Did you write about it? I check your blog but you can link here:)

  • I know everyone says it, but seriously you always bring up history to places I’ve been when I had no idea! It’s great! I guess everyone has a different thing they look out for when they visit places. I usually just like to get a feel for it, take it all in, enjoy the scenery, but then later I think, “I probably should have learned what that was all about!” So thanks 🙂

    • Don’t worry about it Taylor. Half the time I’m not paying attention to those things either. I’d love to be that guy who walks around like David Attenborough or Ken Burns narrating but nah, just enjoying it. The research goes in before and after:) Thanks for the kind thoughts though.

  • I love Cheonggyecheon, it’s one of my favorite spots in the city. Have you been down at night recently for the lantern festival? It looks amazing!

    • Ah, I haven’t been able to visit the Lantern Festival. Unfortunately, I don’t live close enough to Seoul to visit often. Trips like these are usually during long weekends when international travel isn’t involved. Did you blog about it? Feel free to share a link if you did:)

      • Great article and beautiful photos! The Cheonggyecheon stream seems to be quite long. Can you tell me where the gushing water and the umbrella section is on this stream (if you know)? Keep up the great work

        • Hi David, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! That gushing water and umbrella scene (seasonal) is at the start of the stream, near Gwanghwamun Square. The umbrellas aren’t always there but seem to have made an appearance the last couple of years. Hope you get to check them out next time. Thanks again!

  • I really like Cheonggyecheon stream, have you looked at the cool artwork that runs along road above the stream? I had no idea people used to go to this area to look for work. Also I’m quite jealous that I always miss the cool photo ops in Seoul like these blue umbrellas and the massive yellow rubber duck!

    • Ah man, I didn’t get too much of a look at the artwork though I noticed something a little farther down near a food market. I missed the duck as well! Would’ve been awesome to see.

  • Awesome, wish I would have checked it out.
    I love how much research you do for these posts. I learn something every time!

    • Thank you Matt. Sometimes I have to do more research online for some posts. Others, I’m able to just pick up whatever’s available at the site and go from there. Korea (and other countries) have great tourist info centers, I think. It’s always my first stop after arriving:)

  • Good post about a great area- I love this stream and have been a few times. I love how it does manage to feel slightly separate from the hustle and bustle of Seoul, and is quite peaceful (if you avoid the crowds, that is!)
    I went to the lighting parade on the stream recently, which was beautiful but so crowded! But worth going to, all the same!

  • Thanks for the links of where you did your research. I had head the story of the stream on the ghost tour, some nasty stuff went on there! How long are the umbrellas there? Looks so cool!

    • Based on one post I saw (and shared below), it seems that they’ll be there for the foreseeable future. Who knows though? It could change, like everything else in this country:)

  • I always learn so much from your blog posts! I have yet to visit this stream (despite living in Seoul for almost a year now, it seems a shame), but now knowing what went into building this stream and bringing it to life inspires me to go. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Thank you Elle. I hope you get to visit. I know Seoul is a big city and full of so many other things to do but this place is worth a trip, no matter how far away you are in that Metropolis. Take Care.

  • These pictures of Cheonggyecheon are so beautiful! Those umbrellas and all they symbolize are stunning. What an interesting history of it’s gentrification.

    • Hi Jacquie. Yeah, it’s a sordid history there. I failed to mention that gentrification was a real concern and part of the opposition party’s platform when running against the Seoul Mayor (a future president) who wanted to push the project through. Lots of merchants and machinists occupied the area and the project pushed them out, to their detriment. That seems to happen so often here though and I feel that Cheonggyecheon puts that into a tiny little capsule.

      Thank you for your comment!