seoul city guide


Today’s Seoul city guide comes from Katie Merchant. Katie is originally from Canada but first came to Korea after teaching ESL in Seoul and truly grew to love her adopted home. She currently runs a blog about Seoul/Toronto and shares with us a wonderful guide to the cafes, art spaces and incredible attractions around this metropolitan city. Thanks, Katie, for such a great guide! — Stephanie

*Font above by Sander Legrand, one of Grace’s favorites.

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

I could never have expected Seoul to be as vibrant, evolving and surprising as it is. With pop-up art markets, rogue underground flea markets, a strong independent cafe culture, small-press bookshops and buzzing neon alleys, South Korea’s bustling capital is an exciting city to explore, with millions of discoveries to be made in each strikingly different neighborhood. As such, there are new places popping up almost every day (or so it seems). After spending over a year seeking out the best parts, I would love to share my finds with you in the hopes that this fantastic city will become a more deservedly popular destination.

Itaewon
I wasn’t a fan of Itaewon on my first visit; however, after an event at Space Hamilton brought me back, I realized the former ex-pat ghetto was teeming with unique cafes and art spaces.

Art Space Pool/Gasum Lounge
683-31 Hannam-dong Yongsan-gu, Seoul
This lounge/artist-run center is a very special place with lots of hidden rooms/details to discover. Their rooftop patio is not to be missed.

Takeout Drawing
A cafe that doubles as an exhibition space, Takeout Drawing offers both an interesting atmosphere and delicious baked goods. Sit on the second floor and be treated to sprawling views of the colored rooftops of Hannam-dong.

Space Hamilton
Space Hamilton is tucked away in a back alley between Hangangjin and Itaewon Station. The space is quite beautiful, and it plays host to various events in the creative community of Seoul. Be sure to check their website for upcoming events or else you may arrive to an empty space.

Leeum Samsung
747-18 Hannam-dong, T 2014 6900
Presented in this beautiful three-building museum (Museum 1: Mario Botta, Museum 2: Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas’s Child Education & Cultural Center) is some of the world’s best contemporary art.

Above Bar
119-25 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu T 749 0717
Tucked away in a restaurant/bar-lined alley directly behind the Hamilton Hotel, Above Bar offers an escape from Seoul’s chaotic atmosphere. They offer an extensive cocktail list and the service is truly fantastic.

Neal’s Yard Cafe
119-19, 2 F, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu T 794-7278
Neal’s Yard Cafe is a cozy coffeehouse that serves up delicious waffles.

et M’amie
736-9 1F, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu T 795 5245
Go to this high-ceilinged eatery for delicious pastries, carrot cake and affogato.

The Centaur
Designer Ye Ranji’s showroom has highly covetable clothing.

La Bocca
737-37 Hannam-dong Yongsan-gu T 790-5907
For authentic Italian cuisine in Itaewon, look no further than La Bocca for imported fresh meats, cheeses and exquisite pastries.

My Thai
123-18, 1F, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu T 794 8090
Owned by gay TV personality Hong Suk Chun, My Thai has a fantastic patio and even better Thai cuisine. The Tom Yam salad and green curry with (inexpensive) draft Chang are perfect for a hot day. Dine late and slip down to My Bed afterward for drinks.

Samcheong-dong/Insa-dong
These two neighborhoods are dotted with cafes, noodle shops and art galleries. Sandwiched between the iconic Gyeongbokgung Palace and Jongno Tower, both areas are a quick, pleasant stroll apart. On Saturdays and Sundays, Insa-dong is closed to cars, and tourists and locals alike meander up and down the street, popping in and out of the many shops.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Kukje Gallery
Kukje Gallery is a fantastic gallery in two spaces that rotates both Western and Korean art. They make really beautiful in-house publications of their exhibits and have an even better cafe (try the green tea cake!).

Hyundai Gallery
Just down the street from Kukje Gallery, Hyundai Gallery also shows both cutting edge Korean and Western artists.

커피 선반 (Shelf Coffee)
02-732-7656
This coffee shop is the best. Decorating this tiny cafe are caricatures of the staff and owner (who sports a phenomenal man-bun), and they serve some of the best coffee in Korea.

Bucella
63-6 Palpan-dong, Jongno-gu T 723 7339
This sandwich shop has amazing bread — it’s hard to leave without taking some home. Bucella also has locations in Hongdae, Sinsa, Cheongdam and Maebong.

Arario Gallery
Continuing the art crawl, Arario Gallery is nestled alongside noodle shops and cafes around the corner from the Kukje and Hyundai galleries.

The Books
Located in the Art Sonje Center, The Books has stacks of artist and small-press publications — you won’t leave empty handed. They also have lots of seating and a little cafe, should you choose to stay and flip through your purchases.

AA Design Museum

Ssamziegil
You can find a wide variety of souvenirs in this winding art market, which culminates in a beautiful rooftop patio.

MMMG Head Office/Shop/Cafe
My favorite MMMG location in Seoul, this cafe is cozy and full of thoughtful details (complete with antler mirror in the restroom!). Their patbingsu is the best I’ve ever had.

Jongno Tower
It’s worth zipping up to the Top Cloud Bar located on the 33rd floor of this landmark to see spectacular views of the city.

Hongdae
One of my favorite things to do in Seoul is to head to Hongdae on a Saturday. This neighborhood is buzzing with art students (thanks to Hongik University) and stylish young Koreans. It’s packed with street stalls, impromptu flea markets, clubs and shops.

Café Ronin
T 02 336 0105
This is my favorite place to sit with a glass of wine in Hongdae. They know how to pour a real glass of wine, which comes served with a complimentary cheese platter. At night they play classic black-and-white movies on a projector outside, and the overall vibe is very relaxing.

Joey’s Brunch Café
T 02 324 0214
This cafe has a London theme, with framed photos of the Royal Family and a London subway map decorating the walls. They serve extra cheesy broccoli soup and hefty sandwiches, which you can select from a pop-up menu.

Gopchangjeongol
T (02) 3143-2284
This underground bar has over 4000 LP’s from the 60s to 80s. It plays traditional K-Pop way into the night and serves the very best traditional Korean food I’ve had. The kitschy décor in this place is just as amazing as their tteokbokki.

Du Pain
T 02 – 336- 3613
Located up a side alley (which doubles as their patio!), Du Pain serves really homey comfort food. My favorite is the foil-wrapped hamburger steak. The service here is wonderful, as well.

Vinyl
Wausan-gil, Hongdae (Sangsu Station, Exit 1)
Bags of booze. Robot façade. Great music. Cool posters.

Romiwa
Romiwa has a bright pink façade, making it hard to miss. I especially like their accessory selection (chunky earrings galore!).

Finchley Road
Finchley Road is another awesome vintage store with really cool owners. They often have a great sale rack outside.

Selected Bookshop Your Mind
This bookshop houses small publications, independent music and a well-curated selection of magazines (including some majorly vintage Vogues).

Café Mayjune
070-7591-5566
Their takeout window is perfect for grabbing an on-the-go cupcake.

i think so
T 02 337 8233
This basement shop has lots of good finds — stationery, colored masking tape and loads of cute wrapping materials/ideas.

Alice and Dorothy
T 02 338 3318
This through-the-looking-glass themed cafe has the best hand drop in Korea.

Kamome
6-129 Changjeon-dong, Mapo-gu
T 2 322 2311
Popular with students, this onigiri stop is super cheap and delicious. I (strongly) recommend the tuna-kimchi onigiri.

Café Sukkara
The food here is organic, delicious and prepared in a homey, open kitchen. Their soy lattes taste like buttered toast, and they make ginger ale from scratch. Their taco rice and butter chicken dishes are highly recommended.

Milcale
335-16 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu T 02 3143 7077
Milcale is a tiny bakery with very lovely homemade sweets and breads.

at corner natural shop
A favorite spot in Hongdae, this special antique shop/cafe is full of vintage magazines, doilies, kitchenware, telephones and Babar dolls.

Tora B
347-12 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu T 02-6408-8038
Tora B is a really cute Japanese-themed cafe tucked up in a side alley. It plays host to local artists’ small exhibitions and has a very cozy vibe.

The Book Society
The Book Society is a great little bookstore/project space run by Media Bus. Here you can find a well-curated selection of small-press and artists’ publications, alongside a variety of self-published books. Among the stacks of zines, I like Korean artist Jung Eun Park’s best.

Salon Yong
Located just up the street from Romiwa, this vintage shop has very inspiring styling.

Burger B
362-7 Mapo-gu, Seogyo-dong T 070-8870-9220
This burger shop has been getting a lot of press in Korea, and it’s no wonder. The burgers are juicy — just messy enough to know they’re good — and the staff is very friendly. They also make a mean Americano.

Oval
My favorite stationery store in Seoul, Oval has products I’d never seen before, many imported from Japan and Germany. It’s obvious the stock has been thoughtfully selected, and it’s quite difficult to leave empty-handed.

Sinsa-dong/Apgujeong
These two decidedly upscale neighboring hoods are full of young, stylish Koreans and back alleys full of concept stores, sandwich shops and tiny, buzzing nightclubs.

Café Papergarden, Hall
Café Papergarden is a bright, airy place to grab a bite to eat. Upstairs you’ll find Hall, an equally bright store with a well-curated selection of clothing, books and homewares — think Comme des Garçons, Korean label Talk/Service and Acne Paper.

Allo Papergarden
520-9 Sinsa-dong Gangnam-gu Seoul T 02-541-6933

Scoop Garden
535-13 Sinsa-dong Gangnam-gu
Scoop Garden is a leafy outdoor cafe — perfect for taking a break from shopping to enjoy a glass of wine and a sandwich.

O’HEYA
525-5 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu T 070 7613-6610
This home-style Japanese cafe gets fairly busy (best to make a reservation or arrive early – especially for lunch!). Their broiled salmon melts in your mouth.

Deli Heinzburg
534-1 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu T 02-541-8780
Although dining here can be a bit hectic, there is something to be said about Deli Heinzburg’s sandwiches. They have a wide selection, delicious breads and are very generous with the toppings. Their pickled red cabbage and daikon are also amazing.

Sett Sensitive Pancake Café
T 02 517 3369
This is my favorite brunch place in Seoul. The prices are very reasonable (especially for Sinsa-dong) and you can’t beat the atmosphere. It’s cozy and their pancake sets are a perfect start to any day.

Mug for Rabbit/Cork for Turtle
546-5 Sinsa-dong Gangnam-gu Seoul
As the name suggests, Mug for Rabbit is a large bunny-themed cafe. They specialize in lattes (including wasabi and ginger!), and brightly frosted cupcakes. Make sure to try their patbingsu in the summer months. If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, head up the stairs to Cork for Turtle (which also offers cooking classes).

Le Alaska
653-9 Sinsa-dong T 02 516 5871
Le Alaska is another adorable bakery, located across the street from Café Papergarden.

DARE
Dare is most definitely the best vintage shop I’ve ever been to. It reminds me a bit of Toronto’s 69 Vintage, and the stock is heavy on the denim. They also have very unique homewares (think crucifixes and taxidermy). Everything in the shop is available to buy or rent.

9owls
9owls sells vintage goods from the 1920s to 1980s — they have an exceptional selection of handbags.

Vivasell
B1, 534-20 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu T 2-3443-6048
Located through a sliver of a doorway and down a dangerously steep flight of stairs, this vintage shop is worth venturing into. Like 9owls, they too a have highly covetable collection of handbags.

The Galleria Department Store
494 Apgujeong-dong, Gangnam-gu T 3449-4114
Department stores are entrenched in Korean shopping culture. I’m not usually a fan of this way of shopping, but UN Studio’s Galleria is certainly worth a visit if only to see the gleaming exterior. They have an overwhelmingly well-stocked Food Hall in the basement, should you need a bite to eat.

Platoon Kunsthalle
97-22 Gangnam-gu Nonhyeon-dong
According to their website, “PLATOON KUNSTHALLE [was] set up in Seoul as a space for subculture in Asia. Its programmatic orientation towards cultural movements beneath the radar creates a dynamic space where new ideas are born and presented.”
Not to be missed: The BLING magazine’s night flea market, which happens on the first Saturday of every month.

Extras
A LAND
A LAND has to be one of my favorite stores in Korea. It has a bit of an Urban Outfitters vibe, but it’s much cooler. A LAND has locations in Hongdae, Sinsa-dong, Apgujeong and Myeongdong. The Myeongdong location is certainly the best (and the busiest!) with four floors of fashions. The top floor has recently been redone into a huge vintage market.

National University Museum of Art
A bit out of the way, the National University Museum of art makes for a good afternoon trip (especially in the fall, when you can take advantage of the leaves changing color). The architecture here is amazing. They also have a lovely little cafe tucked under the backside of the gallery.

Paju Book City
Paju Book is an innovative publishing community/living architecture museum nestled on reedy wetlands about 30 minutes north of Seoul.

O-Check Design Graphics
O-Check is a lovely Korean design company. They recently opened a cafe and store at their head office (T 02 3210 1555). Their products are also sold at A LAND.

Hyun

wow!
I’m so happy to see where I live in!
Seoul is turely amazing city.
If you visit here and feel it, you won’t be able to get out of it!

angie

this is great! i wish i could visit seoul again and check out these places. will have to save the list for future… thanks for sharing, grace!

Emily Henson

This is brilliant! We lived in Seoul for two years when my kids were little (my son’s first food was kimchee and rice). I highly recommend a visit for anyone who can. It’s a beautiful city filled with kind people.

Jinnie N.

I think Seoul is the most underrated hot spots. It’s so
cosmopolitan & full of life and energy!! So good to see it
finally get some attention here. :)

Chelsea Ruiz

Thank you for doing this article! I spent a good part of my life there and seeing this, especially how Itaewon has grown, makes me really nostalgic!

Jaime

Wow, thanks so much for posting this. I am moving to South Korea in one month, and am looking forward to exploring Seoul!

Hyun

To Jamie
Are u moving to here?
You must be excited and scared at the same time, if this is your frist time.
If you need any advice about anything to do with living here, Email me to ilf2992@hotmail.com.
I will be happy to help you!

iwishihadtaste

YESSSSSS! I had been waiting for this city guide like Joo Won was waiting for Gil Ra Im in “Secret Garden”, and I’m now spazzing like a K-Pop fangirl at a Super Junior concert. Thanks so much for the great tips!

Mai

I’ve been contemplating whether or not to move to Seoul for 6 months or so..so the timing of this article is weird for me. Grateful for it though!! Bookmarked for sure

Robbin

This is great! Thanks so much for posting this. I feel that Seoul is such an underrated city…definitely overlooked place. Maybe cat and dog cafes could be added in the places to visit too!

Yvonne

This is fabulous. I am about to move to Seoul in a few weeks so this is perfect for me!
Thanks for sharing this!
Yvonne

Christine

This makes my heart pitter-patter. My son is from Seoul, and the city is near and dear to our hearts. We traveled there in April 09 and fell in love with it. We’ve been dying to go back for months now, and this article has made my desire that much stronger. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m sure I’ll be back again to re-read it.

Sharon

I’m glad to see Seoul as one of the City Guides. There’s so much happening there and the talent is amazing ~ ooooooh I miss it :(

Hongdae is my ultimate favourite area to hang out. So many cafes owned by artists who have captured their personalities in their own place. It’s great to go with a sketchbook , a camera and just hang out as you won’t be the only one capturing the inspiration!

Samcheong-dong is another favourite especially Yeon aka Traveler’s Cafe, here you can catch local or even international musicians. I had the chance to listen to a wonderful Indian Sitar player who put on a fantastic evening with as mush chai as I could drink included with my ticket :)

Nadine

I lived in Seoul for a year and absolutely loved all the neighborhoods listed. It really makes me miss all of the adventures I had there. Great list :)

leeshuang

This guide is awesome! last summer, i only managed to explore a few cafes in hongdae area! I will definitely print out this City Guide and bring it along to Seoul during my next trip.

Not on your list, CAFE1010 is also a must go cafe when you are in Seoul. Their Airport/Plane theme is fun and squirky. Not forgetting their menu! They have been improvizing their Menu every now and then…

Thanks for the comprehensive guide! Cheers!

Brooke

Woo-hoo! I see so many places I already love and so many I can’t wait to try. Though there are an infinite number of cool places in Seoul so no list could ever be comprehensive, I feel compelled to add Sang Sang Madang in Hongdae–eight stories of interesting cinema, hand-made books, and art. Thanks for the great guide, Katie!

tifa

oh wow, this is a comprehensive guide. i went to seoul (only for three weeks) last year, and totally loves it! this post makes me wanting to go there again:). annyong haseyo!

caroline

this is great. I’ve visited Korea twice when I was a child and this is a great list to check out when I visit again. and I love MMMG too.

Hausfrau

What a wonderful guide! I would totally take this alongside–maybe instead of–a guidebook when visiting Seoul. I went in 2003 and hope to go again! I was there in the bitter cold but quickly came to love the tea culture there, in cool, rustic tucked-away shops.

Harmony

hurray! i really needed something like this, i live in seoul and i have NO idea what is interesting to do around here…thanks so much :)

julialuna

Amazing! I’m in Seoul right now visiting with my sister who’s been living here for the past few years! this post couldn’t have come at a better time!! thanks!

Teresa

I visited Seoul briefly in 2007 and ever since, I’ve been wanting to travel there again to properly investigate it’s wonders.

This guide just make all the more impatient to book my flight!

Thank you! :)

Merry

Yay*** I have lived in Seoul for four years and am so happy to see some of my favourite places listed in this city guide..and a few more new ones Im really keen to check out.
Thanks so much!

Melissa

:) This makes me miss Seoul. I was also an ESL teacher in 2008-2009. I never thought I would like living in a large city, but I really enjoyed living in Seoul. I really want to go visit again soon.

For anyone that enjoys crafting and decorating, there is a market in Dongdaemun in Seoul that has 8 or so floors of fabric, beads, buttons, yarn, interior accessories, ect… One of my favorite places to shop. I shipped home at least 3 large boxes of yarn and craft supplies. I wish I had bought more fabric.

This blog has a great map on how to get there.
http://www.seoulcityblog.com/2010/07/06/dongdaemuns-hobby-markets/

This is a great write up on it.
http://sixinseoul.weebly.com/7/post/2010/02/fabric-market-in-dongdaemun.html

Pam

We loved Seoul when we there, and met several esl folk who were not going to leave. Great seeing some of the places we found and enjoyed on your very comprehensive list. We stayed in hostels – excellent, and inexpensive. And so easy to use public transportation to get everywhere within the city and to other parts of Korea.

db

oh wow big time NOSTALGIA inducing city guide!
while visiting seoul, we had fallen in love with a hard to find very cool jazz bar lined with vinyls and odd pieces of styrofoam stuck to ceiling (for sound?)
can’t remember the name though and not sure i see it in the list. Does it ring a bell? http://tinyurl.com/4f626cj

ludid

my husband is from seoul and it’s like my second home. when we go, it is mostly about visiting family or going to jeju island (which is amazing). now, with this guide in hand, i will be seeing some of my favorite spots. thank you for the guide.

Makenzie

I had the chance to perform in Seoul a few years back. This post made me so anxious to explore the markets again and enjoy the wonderful surroundings and people. Thanks!

S

This is an awful guide of Seoul. Most of these places are not authentically Korean and you’ll never feel like you are really in Seoul. Pass.

grace

S

Sorry you feel that way. I was happy to hear that many locals thought it was a helpful guide but we’re always happy to hear your suggestions if you feel there are some must-see spots or areas the guide didn’t cover.

Grace

Carlos

I love this guide to Seoul. Being an artist who lived in Seoul for a couple of years, I had the pleasure of visiting all these sites and miss them incredibly. This is an amazing, authentic representation of contemporary Korean culture. Arario Gallery is especially wonderful and is a great place to see Korean contemporary art.

Mike E. Perez

This guide makes me want to go to Seoul even more…

My partner and I have been planning to move to Seoul since 2008. But then I got a job and he got into grad school. We thought we’d definitely be going by the end of this June, but the political climate has nixed our plans. We were hoping to save a good amount of money like he did when he taught ESL for a year, but the exchange rate is plummeting and we keep hearing that the Koreas are on the brink of war. We’d still love to go, but we’re just not sure it’s the best time.

Miss Pete

I do love the City Guides. I am hoping you will do a feature on Riga, Latvia, where my husband and I are going on our honeymoon. I’ve heard it’s beautiful but get’s very little attention for tourism.

Briana

I live an hour away from Seoul and go about once a month. It’s great to have some more spots to check out. I’m so excited to get to go to some of these places.

j

This is only a snap shot of all the interesting places to visit/dine in seoul. I recognize many of the places listed here but there’s sooo much more.

Morgan

고마워요! My goal is to teach ESL in Korea after I graduate next year and this list seems to have some really amazing spots!

Manouchka

I moved to Seoul just 3 months ago and am in love with this city! There is always something going on or a new place to visit.
I just wrote an article about Korean design on my blog. One of the attractions Korea has for me is how energetic it is; its not for nothing that Seoul was named 2010 Design Capital!
thank you for this guide will check out a few of these addresses!^^

Sharon

This is fantastic! Thanks so much for the comprehensive guide. I was looking for places to go apart from the mainstream attractions and now I can’t wait for my Seoul trip to materialize! Thanks again!

Irene

Thank you for putting together this guide. I’m in Seoul right now for vacation and as an FYI – the Papergarden Hall is closed and the Sett Sensitive Pancake Cafe no longer exists…

Sabine

Love this guide! I spent my childhood in Seoul. I need to print out your lists to guide myself to those spots.

Dan

you missed a few places in Itaewon and Samcheong-dong! Vatos Tacos in Itaewon is the best mexican i’ve had in Korea! and 8 Steps in Samcheong-dong has the most delicious European cuisine i’ve had in a while! Definitely check those out!

Nick Budden

AWESOME. Just arrived in Seoul and this is exactly the kind of city guide I need; cafes and art, perfect, thank you.

Monica

I was just in Seoul a couple of days ago and was unable to find ANY of the places listed in this guide. I’m not blaming the author….it seemed that a lot of helpful Koreans couldn’t find them either. We even had a friend call and ask for directions in Korean, but alas, none of the places in Hongdae could be found. It’s okay though, there are millions of places in Seoul to enjoy! Just an FYI for those who intend to use this as a guide :)

Grace Bonney

monica

could you tell me which places you had a problem with? i’ll contact the guide author to address those places in particular. i was able to find websites for the first 5 or 6 i tried, so i think they exist. perhaps they were on the indie side and not everyone knew where to find them?

grace

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