Scaling mountains, skyscrapers in Korea's new pseudo-capital

by Adam Ellerson
Groove Korea (groovekorea.com)

There’s a good chance that most people here you talk to wouldn’t be able to tell you where Sejong City is, but that’s likely to change in the years to come. The city’s role in the country’s long-term plans is simple enough: relocate a number of key government agencies and departments from Seoul to Sejong as a way to encourage a greater balance in national development. Ever since the plans were finalized, the centrally located city has quite literally become a metropolis in development, and officially “opened” on July 1, 2012. It was designed from the ground up to be one of the world’s leading sustainable communities, with over 50 percent of it designated for natural green spaces and an estimated 70 percent reduction in overall carbon dioxide emissions. 

Brunch on the stream
At first glance, the city is beautiful in an astoundingly futuristic way. It’s pretty, despite being entirely unfinished: empty streets, unending construction, traffic lights that have yet to be turned on are all common sights here. The whole place still has that fresh, new-city smell. Seoul may continue to expand outward, but Sejong is a city that has not yet gotten on its feet.

Your first stop should be the one with the best view of the future: Milmaru Tower. The tower is located near the downtown core and provides an excellent view of the serpentine, dragon-inspired government complex and surrounding districts. The base of the tower offers a small information center with complete scale models of the whole area, and they really emphasize the dramatic transformation happening here every day.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite for brunch, hop on the 215 bus and head over to Handdeul Maeul. Though the plethora of dining options at the front may be appealing, head toward the back of the building where, on the first floor, facing a gentle rolling stream, you’ll find Café A-Pill. This cozy little place opens at 10 a.m. and specializes in Western-style breakfast foods. Whether you’re craving waffles or eggs Benedict over smoked salmon, they serve it fresh, even if it is a little bit on the sweeter side. The best news is that servings are also large enough to share, which means if you opt for the pancakes, you don’t have to eat the entire side of ice cream by yourself, even though you may want to.

Scaling the peak
After a breakfast like that, a little Korean-style cardio couldn’t hurt. Look no further than the decent-sized mountain that looms over the government complex, Wongsusan, which looks far more intimidating than it actually is. To get there, take the 215 bus to the Sejong Heol State Apartment bus stop. Continue straight, and on your right you’ll find a temple set back from the road and a trail beside it. Stick out the 40-minute hike to the top and you’ll get a completely uninterrupted view of the area; on a clear day, you can see the full layout of this developing green metropolis. 

Later, after you’ve exhausted yourself, jump back on the 215 bus for some relaxation at Sejong’s Central Lake Park. This is the largest lake in Korea, and aside from being absolutely beautiful, the park surrounding it also offers a lot to see — feel free to grab some snacks from the convenience store or come prepared with a little picnic. You can check out Stage Island (which is exactly what it sounds like) and Water Play Island, and then rent kayaks or a small sailboat. Much of the area surrounding the park is still in development, but will soon also feature the Presidential Archives, the National Arboretum and a museum complex.

When you’re ready for a real meal, zoom down to Sejong City Library. With its enormous curved roof (meant to resemble an open book), this branch of the National Library of Korea features an impressive range of books, magazines and digital content with a strong focus on Korean administrative resources, but it’s also home to a number of excellent dining options. Hands down, you’ll find some of the best steaks, salads, pastas and risotto dishes that Sejong has to offer at Hosu Maru, all the while enjoying the beautiful view from the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the lake and surrounding mountains. Perfect.

Getting there
Take the KTX to Osong Station and catch the express bus into the city. The whole trip will take about 90 minutes. Alternatively, you can take Korail’s Mugunghwa trains to Jochiwon Station and hop on the local intercity bus 601 or 620. They depart every 20 minutes from the station for Sejong.

Groove Korea website

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