Ihwa Mural Village: A Guide & Guidelines For Seeing The Area
Mt. Naksan is home to one of the most popular mountainside mural villages in Korea. Ihwa Mural Village (이화동벽화마을) is known as a moon village or “daldongne” due to being set on the hillside which means you should be prepared for a bit of a hike up to see the village and the views of surrounding Seoul from the village.
Like the Ant Mural Village in Hongje, the Ihwa Mural Village (이화동벽화마을) was set for destruction as it was seen as a bit of a slum and down-trodden area but in 2006 under the “Art in City Project” carried out by The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, murals were added in an effort to revitalize the neighborhood. The revitalization has come at a cost though. Beautiful murals in varying sizes placed on walls, fences and rooftops were created by 70 artists and certainly brought loads of tourists to the area, however, no one really asked the residents, mostly elderly Korean citizens, if they were okay with this or explained what the murals might bring.
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With an influx of people, the noise increased, the foot traffic increased and peering eyes around every corner became the norm when that was anything but normal previously.
In April of 2016, some of the residents became so fed up they actually took their grievances (that the local government did nothing about) and turned them into action and painted over some of the most popular murals in the neighborhood. Was it the right thing to do? That’s not for me to say, but I get it. I like knowing my neighbors and seeing the same faces walk up and down the streets every day. Not only do I feel safe because of this, but I also feel like it’s my home and not some tourist trap that the government decided to throw onto me without asking. I get it. With that said, I think it’s okay to visit this mural village and others in Korea and elsewhere IF you abide by some specific guidelines in order to respect the residents that may or may not be happy about their new found popularity.
Guidelines to consider while in a mural village:
- Remember this is a residential living neighborhood and be respectful of property.
- Do NOT walk into doorways or gates unless there is an explicit sign directing you to do so. Signs may say “Open” or “Come In”. If there is no sign, do NOT assume the building is open for your peering eyes.
- Considering it’s a neighborhood, treat it like your neighborhood. DO NOT yell or scream or make noise above normal conversation level.
- If you are taking pictures and a local is in the shot, and you’ll recognize the locals by their perturbed look due to your gawking display, ask them before you take their photo. They are NOT on display for you.
- Be friendly and say “hello” and greet any locals that you do see. Remember this is their neighborhood that you’ve entered and show consideration for them allowing you in.
- Do NOT throw trash onto the ground here and assume someone else will sweep it up for you. If you can’t find a trash can, keep the trash until you do.
- Try to support local and purchase something in the area from a locally owned shop.
- Visit during “normal” hours like you would a park. Not before sunrise or after sunset.
With these guidelines in mind while visiting, the locals who can be seen sitting in the corner shops together chatting about this and that and shopkeepers with the doors ajar will likely be much more kind to your visiting to see their neighborhood. There are some great murals in the area and art installations and it does make for a lovely place to walk around to get views of the city below.
What To See
- Ihwa Mural Village: Obviously the reason you’ve clicked on this post is to get info on the mural village and that is a highlight while in the area, but there are some other great places to stop as well.
- Naksan Park (낙산공원): Not only are you going to walk right by this to head to the mural village, but it also offers up amazing views of the surrounding city of Seoul. There is also a portion of the Seoul Fortress Wall that goes through the park, so it’s a beautiful and historical location to take a rest or a walk.
- Marronnier Park (마로니에공원): This park is near Hyehwa Station before you really get going up into the hillside. There are often performances and events taking place here as well as touts letting you know what shows are playing in the numerous theaters nearby.
What To Do
- Rent old school Korean school uniforms and walk around the neighborhood in them. As a tribute to the “Live Well Academy” that once sat in this moon village which educated the underprivileged teenagers in the area from 1965 to 1987 and produced more than 3,600 graduates, there is now a sort of living museum in its place. Not only can you rent uniforms from 졸리상점, but you can also peruse the various school rooms and displays which are now backdrops for photos. This is super popular with Korean students on the weekends and on the weekdays eerily void of people so the mannequins and all of the old school paraphernalia is just a bit creepy.
- W5,000 for one hour, W8,000 for two hours
- 서울특별시 종로구 낙산4길 46
Where To Get Eats & Treats
- To start your journey, eat macaroons at Hi Jessie (하이제씨) which sits conveniently across from some of the first murals you’ll find before really heading up the mountainside. This chic cafe serves up some delicious little macaroons in a delightful array of colors and tastes.
- 12 Dongsung 1-gil Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 동숭1길 12)
- After huffing and puffing up the mountain a bit, enjoy some soft serve ice cream at Milk Gongbang (밀크공방). This shop is the idea of two Masterchef Korea chefs and is famous for their simply delectable ice creams, which you can also pour espresso over if you like. This is a nice halfway point to take a break.
- 9-470 Ihwa-dong Ihwa Mural Village, Daehak-ro (대학로 이화벽화마을점 이화동 9-470)
- I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Hakrim Dabang (학림다방). This cafe is one of the oldest in the city and since 1956 really nothing much has changed which means you can almost literally step back in time by stepping inside. Popular with the Hallyu fans due to being in K-dramas like My Love From The Star and The Heirs, it’s a pretty hopping place in the afternoons so it’s best to get their early, especially if you want to sit on the uber popular booths where the stars sat.
- 119 Daehak-ro Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 대학로 119)
- Fresh Table (신선식탁) serves up fresh salads and sandwiches and is a great stop at the end of the walk around the mural village. Be aware though, they have an afternoon break from 2:30 to 4:30 so get there before or after that to veg up after that little hike you just had.
- 51-1 Daehak-ro Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 대학로 51-1)
- LidArt: This cafe/gallery is a too cool for school stop around the bend. A cool minimalist but brightly colored installation is the backdrop as you sip on some coffees to get up that energy.
- 185 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울시 종로구 율곡로 185 2층)
- Speakeasy: This Cuban style eatery serves up some delicious Cuban sandwiches and brunch but has a super appealing bar and great music too. After that long day, head here to drink a few back before a night on the town.
- 118-1 Wonnamdong Jongno gu, 110-450 Seoul (서울시 종로구 원남동 110-450)
Visiting On The Weekend Bonuses!
While I tend to shy away from visiting popular areas like this on the hopping weekends, there are a couple great reasons to head here on a Saturday or Sunday specifically.
- Daehangno Philippines Market: Every Sunday
- Marche At: An artisanal Market that takes place once or twice a month in Maronnier Park. Check out their Facebook page for more info on when the next market is taking place.
To get around the area, there have been signs placed in strategic positions to make sure you don’t get too lost and turned around. They point you along this general track. However, some of the murals that we found weren’t on this track which is why you need to keep your eyes peeled and go where you want at times. For example, just after 7 on this route, we took a left up some steps and found some great cafes with views, the Seoul Fortress Wall and a balloon installation that was fun to take pictures with. After this, we did a u-turn and got back onto the track. Also, at 11, you might feel like you don’t want to make that “useless” loop around, but, you do! Just beneath the bridge is that awesome mural with the woman and her sewing machine. And then you can take the steps back up to get on the path again. This map also shows the two staircases that were painted over by the residents as a warning to loud tourists. The art on those staircases has not been replaced and may not ever be due to the cost being too high for the local government.
The Ihwa Mural Village is still a vibrant and beautiful area to spend an afternoon in cafe hopping, enjoying some outdoor art and installations and learning about the history of the area. Just remember to be respectful of the residents that call the place home.