High above Seoul, nestled among the rocky crags of the city’s western mountain peak sits a shamanist shrine that remains off the typical tourist track of South Korea’s capital.

Guksadang shrine peeking inside

The Guksadang shrine and the surrounding complex on Mt. Inwang-san offers views of Seoul that are unsurpassed — if you are willing to be a little adventurous – HI Travel Tales’ mantra of course. Directions and information are sparse, and you better have on your walking shoes and climbing legs since the hike up the winding streets from the subway station and, finally, up the beyond-steep entry to the shrines will take your breath away. Yes, literally.

Guksadang shrine steep steps up to the views and temples above

Guksadang: most famous shamanist shrine

This is Seoul’s most famous shamanist shrine, which was originally built in 1395 atop Mt. Namsan to the south where the Seoul Tower now is. It was demolished by the Japanese in 1925. But the Korean shamanists didn’t let a small thing like demolishment hold them back and off they went to the peak across the way, rebuilding there, just outside what was the old Seoul City Wall.

The Guksadang shrine complex indeed feels spiritual, with rustic altars here and there among the rocks above the building – where the spirits of King Taejo, who is the founder of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1920), are said to be housed. If you are lucky, you may hear chanting, the giant bell in a wood pavilion ringing, or you may simply have the beauty of silence in admiring the temple and the various sacred rock outcroppings. Hope the temple is open so you can peek in – but do NOT go in. The rocks include the “crouching tiger,” to the left when looking up the hill, and his seated master, the “Benevolent King,” to the right.

Guksadang shrine Mason leads a lecture

Local expert David Mason addresses a tour group of students at the Guksadang Shrine.

At Guksadang shrine, HI Travel Tales had the honor of bumping into one of the experts on this shrine, expat and professor David Mason who has written books on the topic and gives guided tours of area mountains and temples. Visit Mason’s website for even more detailed photos and descriptions. Click here for information on Inwang-san and the Guksadang shrine.

Access old Seoul City Wall from Guksadang shrine 

Don’t stop at the buildings, however; like the locals do, continue up the trails winding among the rocks (good shoes please!) for some of the best views of Seoul. You can even continue up and access the old City Wall and walk along it, past guard stations. Be sure to have your passport … just in case … since there are indeed armed guards on the upper areas because of the omnipresent threat from North Korea not too far to the north.

Guksadang shrine access to Seoul old city wall

Don’t relay on directions you find on one of the few official tourist sites that even mentions this area. Unfortunately, they are quite outdated. And you won’t find this northern area on most tourist maps in any kind of detail.

Guksadang shrine view to Seoul Tower

Looking across Seoul from Mt. Inwang-San you see Mt. Namsan and the Seoul Tower.

HI Travel Tales’ directions to Guksadang Shrine:

    • Take Line 3 to the Dongminnun Station.
    • Leave the station using Exit 2.
    • Walk back in the travel direction of the subway and turn a sharp left at the first street. Believe us, please, although it looks more like an alley. You will feel as if you are walking back the way you came – which you are somewhat.

Guksadang Shrine Directions head off into an alley ... really

  • Keep going UP.
  • Soon you will see a larger street called “Tongil-ro” that you can access by going up a short flight of stairs or going around. At this point, you may see some signs on street poles (this is a pretty new area of town).

Guksadang Shrine Directions stairs up

  • Keep going UP to the end of Tongil-ro, which dead ends at the temple gate. At this point, it gets so steep you may wish for a rope tow.

Guksadang Shrine Direction signs just outside gate

  • Feeling unsure? Ask anybody by simply pointing up and saying “Guksadang” or “Inwangsan.” They will likely smile and point.

Guksadang Shrine Directions looking at the gate

Finally! The gate leading to Mt. Inwang-San and the Guksadang Shrine complex.

Then just start exploring!

HITT Tip: Since the Guksadang shrine on Inwangsan has full southern exposure, the morning is a better time to visit during the heat of the summer. Either way, take liquids since you will most certainly not find stores once you get past the subway station neighborhood. Don’t hesitate taking a picnic either to enjoy the view. And you can make a day of it by walking along the city wall to get back to town to the east. One last thing: Give yourself more time that you think you might need since this is a truly amazing site that few get the chance to visit.

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Heads up! This information on Guksadang Shrine was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). Please be sure to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, request for perfect weather during your entire visit, and any other important details before your adventure.