대학로 (Dae-hak-ro) means “college street”, and is actually pronounced 대항노 (dae-hang-no), which is slightly different than the “official” romanization. This is because of a tricky little Hangul pronunciation rule:
- When the letter “ㄱ” is the 받침 (final consonant) and is followed by “ㄹ”, the “ㄱ” is changed to “ㅇ” and “ㄹ” becomes “ㄴ”.
This is mostly for ease of pronunciation because it’s WAY easier to say 대항노 than it is to try and spit out 대학로 at native speed. Plus, no one will know what you’re talking about if you pronounce it as “dae-hak-ro”.
Some other examples of this rule are:
- 독립 (independence) —–> 동닙
- 석류 (pomegranate tree) —–> 성뉴
- 목련 (magnolia) —–> 몽년
It may seem a little confusing at first, but once you start practicing, you’ll find that it just naturally comes out this way.
Anyway, now that we have that out of the way, let’s learn more about 대학로!
대학로 used to be the main road that bordered Seoul National University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Although that campus moved to another part of the city some time ago, 대학로 is still the core of about a half dozen major university branches. It’s also known as the “street of youth, art, and freedom”, and from this name, it may seem that only younger people frequent the streets of 대학로, but that is certainly not the case. 대학로 is more of an intersection where the youth of today and the youth of half a generation ago meet to explore and share what is quintessentially Korea: tradition meeting modernity.
One of the best spots to experience this generational crossroads is 마로니에 공원 (Marronnier Park). 마로니에 공원 used to be the spot of Seoul National University’s College of Arts and Sciences campus, but has since become a terrific cultural space. At the center of 마로니에 공원 is a symbolic 밤나무 (Marronnier/Chestnut tree), and surrounding it are dozens of sculptures and art centers. This place is particularly good for hanging out on the weekends because of the numerous bands, singers, comedians, and dance troupes that gather here to give performances. You may also run into a few street artists that will draw your picture for a small price, or a fortuneteller that may unveil your future 😀
This area is famous for being a “theater district” because of the high concentration of theaters and concert halls. If you like comedy, you can find live comedy shows, too. The most famous one is the live version of KBS’s famous comedy show, “Gag Concert.” How’s that for famous? At any rate, you can find posters for various productions hanging up all over the streets of 대학로, and this is definitely one of the best places in Seoul to experience plays and musicals that sometimes aren’t huge productions or very expensive.
Although 대학로 is more of a theater district, there are a good number of international restaurants, cafes, cinemas, a jazz bar, and some small stores to shop at. Since it’s a college area, everything is really cheap compared to some other places in the city. Whether you’re looking to try some traditional Korean liquor, known as 막걸리, and 파전 (Korean pancake) with your friends, or purchasing some skin care products, you will definitely get your money’s worth at 대학로!
With Former Prime Minister Chang Myeon’s house, the Hyehwa-dong Residence Center, the first president of Korea’s former residence, and a number of other cultural experiences, 대학로 also has a lot of history behind it. It’s also just a stone’s throw away from 낙산 (Naksan), the Seoul Fortress Wall, and 동대문, a.k.a. The Great East Gate, which makes it a SUPER good place to start exploring Seoul.
This blog post just scratched the surface of all that 대학로 has to offer, so make sure to get your happy little self over here to experience it first-hand.
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Written by Stephanie Morris
Photograph by Hyunwoo Sun