2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geography of Asia

Seoul Metropolitan City

Seoul's ancient Sungnyemun

Korean name
Revised Romanization Seoul Teukbyeolsi
McCune-Reischauer Sŏul T'ŭkpyŏlsi
Hangul 서울특별시
Hanja 서울特別市
Short name Seoul (Sŏul; 서울)
Population 10,297,004 (2005)

(Metro area c. 23,000,000 Ranked 2nd in the world)

Area 605.41 km²
Government (Special City, Capital of Republic of Korea (South Korea))
Administrative divisions 25 wards (Gu)
Region Sudogwon
Dialect Seoul
Location map
Map of location of Seoul

Seoul (Sŏul 서울) listen  is the capital and largest city of South Korea (Republic of Korea). The city served as the capital during the Baekje and Joseon Dynasties. Upon the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, Seoul became the capital once again and was designated the nation's only Special City.

With over ten million people living within its city limits, Seoul is one of the most populous cities in the world. However, with an area of only 605 square kilometres, smaller than cities such as London or New York City, it is one of the most densely populated major cities, like Tokyo and Hong Kong. Seoul's population density has allowed it to become one of the world's most digitally-connected cities. It also has more than three million registered vehicles which often cause widespread traffic jams.

The larger Seoul National Capital Area and commuter belt, which includes the major port city of Incheon, has over twenty-one million residents. This makes it the third most populous metropolitan area in the world, after Greater Tokyo and Mexico City. About one-quarter of South Korea's entire population live in Seoul and its environs. The city is the country's political, cultural, social, and economic center, as well as an international centre for many financial and business organizations, and is considered one of the top 20 "world-class cities".

As the symbol of the " Miracle on the Han River", Seoul has played a key role in South Korea's economic development. In recent years, the metropolitan government has carried out an extensive cleanup of the city's air and water pollution. The revival of Cheonggyecheon, a stream that flows through downtown Seoul, has been lauded as a major success in urban renewal and beautification.

Seoul is located in the northwest of South Korea on the Han River, only about 30 miles (~50 km) from the de-militarized zone (DMZ) border shared with North Korea.


The city's name derives from the ancient Korean word Seorabeol or Seobeol, meaning "capital city". The city has been known in the past by the successive names Wiryeseong (위례성; 慰禮城; Baekje), Hanyang (한양; 漢陽) and Hanseong (한성; 漢城; Goryeo and Joseon).

Hanja transcription of "Seoul"

Advertisement in a subway station announcing the new Chinese name of the South Korean capital in 2005.
Advertisement in a subway station announcing the new Chinese name of the South Korean capital in 2005.

Unlike most place names in Korea, "Seoul" has no corresponding hanja ( Chinese characters used in the Korean language), and Chinese-speaking countries have continued to refer to the city by its former name "Hànchéng" ( Traditional: 漢城; Simplified: 汉城; Korean: "Hanseong"). In January 2005, the Seoul Metropolitan Government requested that the Chinese name of the city be changed to "Shǒu'ěr" (首爾/首尔; Korean: "Su-i"). This is a close transliteration of Seoul in Mandarin Chinese, where (shǒu) can also mean "first" or "capital". Chinese communities have gradually adopted this new name. This change was intended for speakers of Chinese only and has no effect on the Korean language name, and unlike standard hanja, the Chinese characters were chosen to best represent the Korean pronunciation of a pure Korean word.


The History of Seoul can be traced back as far as 18 BCE, when it was established as the capital of the Baekje Kingdom. It has been the capital of various states on the Korean Peninsula. In the Goryeo Dynasty, it was called Hanseong. It became the permanent capital in the Joseon Dynasty. In the Japanese colonization period, many historical parts of Seoul were demolished. The city was almost entirely destroyed in the Korean War, but an aggressive economic policy in the 1960s to the 1970s helped to rebuild the city very rapidly. In the 1990s, some important historical buildings were restored, including Gyeongbokgung, the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty.

Geography and climate

Seoul is in northwest South Korea. Seoul proper comprises 605.52km² of area, roughly bisected into northern and southern halves by the Han River. The city is bordered by eight mountains, as well as the more level lands of the Han River plain.

In common with the rest of South Korea, Seoul's climate is temperate and continental, despite the fact that South Korea is surrounded on three sides by water. Summers are generally hot and wet, with monsoons taking place from June until September. Winters are often very cold when compared to places of a similar latitutde, with an average January temperature of -7 °C to 1 °C (19 °F to 33 °F). Winters are generally a lot drier than summers, although on average there are 28 days of snow in Seoul each year.


Commercial District of Seoul
Commercial District of Seoul

The traditional heart of Seoul is the old Joseon Dynasty city, which is now the downtown area, where most palaces, government offices, corporate headquarters, hotels, and traditional markets are located. This area occupies the valley of Cheonggyecheon, a stream that runs from west to east through the valley before emptying into the Han River. For many years, the stream had been covered by concrete, but was recently restored through an urban revival project. To the north of downtown is Bukhan Mountain, and to the south is the smaller Namsan.

Further south are the old suburbs of Yongsan-gu and Mapo-gu, and the Han River. Across the Han River are the newer and wealthier areas of Gangnam-gu and surrounding neighborhoods. The World Trade Centre of Korea is located in Gangnam-gu and this is where many expositions and conferences are held. Also in Gangnam-gu is the COEX Mall, a large indoor shopping and entertainment complex. Yeouido is an island in the middle of the Han River, downstream from Gangnam-gu, and is home to the National Assembly, major broadcasting studios, and a number of large office buildings, as well as the Korea Finance Building and the world's largest Pentecostal church. The Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park, and Lotte World are located in Songpa-gu, on the south side of the Han River, upstream from Gangnam-gu. South of the sprawling Gangnam area are Namhan Mountain and Gwanak Mountain.

Major buildings include the Korea Finance Building, Seoul Tower, the World Trade Centre, the six-skyscraper residence Tower Palace, and I-Park Apartments. These and various high-rise office buildings, like the Seoul Star Tower and Jongro Tower, dominate city's skyline. Seoul has the greatest number of skyscrapers in Asia. Seoul is now planning on building a 580-metre business centre in Sangam Digital Media City district and planning on an 800-metre Lotte World 2 Tower in Jamsil (pronounced "Jam-shil") district.

Urban and civil planning was a key concept when Seoul was first designed to serve as a capital in the 14th century. The Royal Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty still remain in Seoul, with the main palace ( Gyeongbokgung) currently being restored to its original form. Today, there are nine major subway lines stretching for more than 250 kilometers, with a tenth line being planned.

The most historically significant street in Seoul is Jongno, meaning "Bell Street". The bell signaled the different times of the day and therefore controlled the four gates to the city. It is still intact in its original form, and hit ceremonially at 0:00 every New Year's Day. Seoul's most important streetcar line ran along Jongno until it was replaced by Line 1 of the Seoul subway system in the early 1970s. Other notable streets in downtown Seoul include Euljiro (을지로; 乙支路), Sejongno (세종로; 世宗路, Chungmuro (충무로; 忠武路), Yulgongno (율곡로; 栗谷路), and Toegyero (퇴계로; 退溪路).

Administrative Divisions

Seoul is divided into 25 gu ("districts"), which are sub-divided into 522 dong, which are sub-divided into 13,787 tong, which are further divided into 102,796 ban in total.

Seoul Districts
Seoul Districts
  • Dobong-gu (도봉구; 道峰區)
  • Dongdaemun-gu (동대문구; 東大門區)
  • Dongjak-gu (동작구; 銅雀區)
  • Eunpyeong-gu (은평구; 恩平區)
  • Gangbuk-gu (강북구; 江北區)
  • Gangdong-gu (강동구; 江東區)
  • Gangnam-gu (강남구; 江南區)
  • Gangseo-gu (강서구; 江西區)
  • Geumcheon-gu (금천구; 衿川區)
  • Guro-gu (구로구; 九老區)
  • Gwanak-gu (관악구; 冠岳區)
  • Gwangjin-gu (광진구; 廣津區)
  • Jongno-gu (종로구; 鍾路區)
  • Jung-gu (중구; 中區)
  • Jungnang-gu (중랑구; 中浪區)
  • Mapo-gu (마포구; 麻浦區)
  • Nowon-gu (노원구; 蘆原區)
  • Seocho-gu (서초구; 瑞草區)
  • Seodaemun-gu (서대문구; 西大門區)
  • Seongbuk-gu (성북구; 城北區)
  • Seongdong-gu (성동구; 城東區)
  • Songpa-gu (송파구; 松坡區)
  • Yangcheon-gu (양천구; 陽川區)
  • Yeongdeungpo-gu (영등포구; 永登浦區)
  • Yongsan-gu (용산구; 龍山區)


Nearly all of Seoul's residents are Korean, with some small Chinese and Japanese minorities. Today, there are an estimated more than 200,000 foreign nationals living in Seoul. These include people from South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and parts of Africa. In addition, there are many language instructors from English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, United States, and the United Kingdom. Two major religions in Seoul are Buddhism and Christianity (both slightly less than 50%). Other religions include Shamanism, Confucianism, etc.


As headquarters for some of the world’s top corporations such as Samsung, LG Group, Hyundai, and Kia Motors, the service sector in Seoul has thrived, bringing development and a healthy economy to the country as a whole. South Korea derives 63.2% of its GDP from the service sector, which is above the average for the upper income nations(World Bank 2004). The major exports are electronics, automobiles, and machinery. This economic development has also helped keep unemployment low at around 3.4% and ensured that the informal economy of Seoul is negligible. Foreign direct investment is also high at around $2 billion(World Bank 2004); however, South Korea is threatened with a slowing economy which could hurt it and its development. As one of the Four Tiger nations, it experienced rapid growth in the 1990s. Now, economic growth has declined from close to 10% to 3.1%(CIA Factbook 2005). While this is still a steady and respectable growth rate, foreign direct investment is also down by 75% from 1999 to 2002(World Bank 2004). Consumer consumption is down and expected to stay low in 2005, contributing to the slowing economy. This could also mean that recovery and another economic boom could be far off(EIU ViewsWire 2005). This means that the economy could become stagnant and leave South Korea and Seoul lagging in development. If consumer consumption and corporate investment were to increase, the economy could stabilize and get out of the recession. Seoul and South Korea have a thriving economy that helps to make South Korea a major player in the world economy. As the centre of the service sector for South Korea, Seoul is the hub around which the economic growth and health of the country reside in order to ensure the continuing growth of the nation. While past developments helped the nation to grow rapidly, the current economic outlook brings questions as to the sustainability of the continuing economic development.


There are a large number of universities in Seoul. Most of the country's most prestigious universities are located in Seoul, including the so-called "SKY" schools Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University.


COEX Mall entrance
COEX Mall entrance
The Gyeongbukgung throne hall
The Gyeongbukgung throne hall
The pavilion Buyong-jeon in the secret garden Biwon in Changdeokgung
The pavilion Buyong-jeon in the secret garden Biwon in Changdeokgung

Annual cultural events and fairs

Historical structures and museums

The Joseon Dynasty built "Five Grand Palaces" in Seoul:

  • Changdeokgung (창덕궁; 昌德宮)
  • Changgyeonggung (창경궁; 昌慶宮)
  • Deoksugung (덕수궁; 德壽宮)
  • Gyeongbokgung (경복궁; 景福宮)
  • Gyeonghuigung (경희궁; 慶熙宮)

This is a relatively minor palace:

  • Unhyeongung (운현궁; 雲峴宮)


  • National Museum of Korea(국립중앙박물관; 國立中央博物館)
  • National Folk Museum(국립민속박물관; 國立民俗博物館)
  • War Memorial(전쟁기념관; 戰爭紀念館)

Outside the metropolitan area:

  • Samjeondo Monument
  • Namhansanseong(남한산성; 南漢山城)
  • Bukhansanseong(북한산성; 北漢山城)
  • Namsan Park(남산공원; 南山公園)

Temples and shrines

  • Jongmyo(종묘; 宗廟)
  • Dongmyo(동묘; 東廟)
  • Munmyo(문묘; 文廟)
  • Jogyesa(조계사; 曹溪寺)
  • Hwagyesa(화계사; 華溪寺)

Parks and outdoor attractions

Due to the efforts of the government with respect to the environment, Seoul's air pollution levels are now on par with those of Tokyo and far lower than those of Beijing. Seoul's metropolitan area accommodates six major parks, including Seoul Forest, which opened in mid-2005. The Seoul Metropolitan Area is also surrounded by a green belt aimed to prevent the city from sprawling out over the neighboring Gyeonggi Province. These lush green areas are frequently sought after by people resting on the weekend and during vacations.

In addition, the Seoul area is also home to three amusement parks: Lotte World, Seoul Land, and Everland (located in the nearby suburb of Yongin). Of these, Lotte World is the most frequently visited. Other recreation centres include the former Olympic and World Cup stadium, the Korea Finance Building, and the City Hall's public lawn.


Seoul hosted the 1988 Olympic Games and also served as one of the host cities of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

The city is the home of two baseball teams in the KBO: the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins


Seoul's transportation boom dates back to the era of the Korean Empire, when the first streetcar lines were laid and a railroad linking Seoul and Shinuiju was completed. Today, as a result of the diversification of Seoul's transportation network, it has become a great transportation hub for Asia.


Incheon International Airport
Incheon International Airport

There are two airports that serve Seoul. Gimpo International Airport, formerly in Gimpo but annexed to Seoul in 1963, was the only airport for Seoul from its original construction during the Korean War. Multiple airports were built in and around Seoul immediately before, during, and after the war. The most famous was on Yoido, which once served as the country’s gateway to the world.

Upon opening in March 2001, Incheon International Airport on Yeongjong island near Incheon has changed the role of Gimpo Airport significantly. Incheon is now responsible for almost all international flights and some domestic flights, while Gimpo serves only domestic flights with the exception of flights to Haneda Airport in Tokyo). This has led to a significant drop in flights from Gimpo Airport. Meanwhile, Incheon International Airport has become, along with Hong Kong and Singapore, a major transportation centre for East Asia. It was recently voted by the IATA as the world's best airport in service and quality. The two airports are linked to Seoul by a highway, and Gimpo is also linked by subway.


Seoul's bus system is operated by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, with four primary bus configurations available servicing most of the city.


Seoul Subway Map

Seoul has nine subway lines, nearly two hundred bus routes and six major highways that interlink every district of the city with one another and with the surrounding area. The majority of the population now uses the public transportation system due to its convenience and low cost. With more than 8 million passengers a day Seoul has one of the busiest subway systems in the world. In addition, in order to cope with all of these transportation modes, Seoul's metropolitan government employs several mathematicians to coordinate the subway, bus, and traffic schedules into one timetable.


Seoul is also linked to several other major South Korean cities by the KTX bullet train, currently Asia's fastest high-speed train, making commuting between cities extremely convenient for commuters and domestic tourists.

Sister cities

Seoul has many sister cities. Washington, D.C. is the latest to become a sister city of Seoul. The year each relationship was formed is shown in parentheses below.


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