Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Getting Lost in the Ihwa Mural Village

UPDATE: The mural village has been permanently closed, due to tourist traffic disrupting the community. I'll leave this entry up, as it's full of photos and the history of the neighborhood, but its murals have been painted over. :( 

After nearly three years in Korea, I feel like I've managed to see a lot of stuff. Loads of the touristy spots, tons of festivals, and even a fair amount of the quirkier activities. Overall, I feel pretty accomplished. 

I now have about three months left in Korea and... well, the "Korea To-Do" note on my phone is absurdly and intimidatingly lengthy... [Seriously, what you see on my Bucket List is just a handful of the mess that is the disorganized list of things I've jotted down in my phone...]

I've been quite proactive lately, checking out new places weekly. Recently, I was able to cross a slightly-less-well-known spot off of the list in my phone by visiting the Ihwa Mural Village. 

My friends and I had decided to head to the Ihwa Mural Village after reading about it online. Murals scattered on the walls of houses in a neighborhood? Sounds awesome. That was basically all we knew as we set out for our sightseeing. Since then, while researching the area for this blog, I've learned quite a bit about its history, and it's pretty cool.

As Seoul has grown over the years, certain neighborhoods have been forgotten in the rapid development. The ones situated on the sides of mountains remained somewhat untouched for a long time due to their undesirable location and poorer demographic. They're called dal dongnae, or moon villages, since being on a mountain puts them closer to the moon. While many have been demolished in recent years in favor of fancy, modern architecture, a few have survived. 

The neighborhood of Ihwa-dong is one of these moon villages, situated on Naksan ("san" meaning mountain), and it houses the murals we went to see. Stepping foot into this area is like a time warp. Steep hills, narrow alleys, and surprising silence. There are no cars or delivery bikes zooming along, and the area is devoid of neon signs, making it feel like you aren't even in Seoul anymore, much less the 21st century. While I do think that the typical row after row of high-rise apartment buildings looks cool (and also makes me think of this), these smaller, old-fashioned homes all stacked right next to each other are far more picturesque and charming. 

The beautification of Ihwa-dong is similar to the project undertaken in 2010 to save Hongje-dong, or the "Ant Village," as well as other areas in Korea. Over sixty murals fill Ihwa-dong, painted as part of the "ART in the City 2006" campaign by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as a way to rejuvenate the image of these smaller, older neighborhoods. To quote the Seoul Metropolitan Government's website about Ihwa-dong, the idea behind this project was to "improve living conditions through practical and financial help and support, as well as giving the area an artistic and cultural makeover." 

Artists were hired, murals were mapped out, and now it's a tourist destination. Some of the houses have even been converted into restaurants and cafes, seizing the opportunity for revenue from all the wandering tourists. We spotted a lot of other tourists and photographers as we walked around, and we even stumbled (quite literally) onto the set of what looked like a new drama... No clue which drama, but we stopped to watch as one of the actors had a very pensive moment at someone's rooftop door, struggling internally over whether or not he should knock. 

While we wandered, we got distracted by finding part of the old Seoul City Wall, so mural-hunting was abandoned for the day as we decided to hike up Naksan instead to catch a view of the city at sunset. But! I'm planning to head back to Ihwa-dong soon so I can get lost in its tiny alleys as I search for the murals that I missed. 

Words of advice:
  • Much like the Bukchon Hanok Village, this is a real neighborhood, so be respectful of the residents. Luckily, the majority of the murals are on walls that line the common areas, so you won't feel like a creep/intruder when you take pictures. 
  • Lots and lots of stairs and some areas have uneven pavement (it's on a mountain, after all), so keep that in mind when choosing your footwear for the day! 
  • While it's called "Ihwa Mural Village," don't confuse it with the area near Ewha Women's University! Very different areas, so follow the directions below so you can get their easily.
  • While you're there, check out the Daehangno area that surrounds Hyehwa station -- it seemed like a really hip and interesting area, and one that I definitely want to revisit. 

  • Hyehwa Station, Seoul Metro Line 4, Exit 2.
  • Go straight for 200m, then turn left onto the street called Dongsung-gil.  
  • Walk straight until you get to the Lock Museum.  
  • After about 50 meters, turn right onto the street called Naksan Gongson-gil and walk towards Naksan Park.  
  • Keep an eye out for signs -- there will be some for Naksan Park, including maps that show you the different paths to take around Ihwa-dong. 


  1. Thank you for this usefull post about Ihwa village! Actually, I'm on my way to hyewha station :)

  2. Hi would like to just make a feedback that this mural village has been painted over with normal paint to reduce the visitors coming due to noisy tourist :(

  3. Hi would like to update that this place has been closed. the murals are painted over to avoid tourist from coming over and being too noisy

    1. thank you for this information! i've updated above to reflect that, and i'm so sad to learn of this!

  4. Hello, Your information was very helpful. and it was interesting to know about the place. Actually im living in Korea. ( Local Korean ). So it seems pretty much nice to see this explaination about korea trip. really thanks for sharing the story.