Nestled between two of Seoul’s most famous palaces is a village virtually untouched by any large developments. Winding alleys, cozy coffee shops, peculiar galleries, and endless rows of appetizing restaurants are all things you can experience while in Bukchon Hanok (Korean traditional home) Village. If you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life in Seoul you do not need to travel far. Located near Anguk Station on Line 3, Bukchon is a place unique to Korea that infuses the past and the present, the old and the new. A few steps off the main road you will enter a world where traditional and trendy seem to collide.
The first part of any visit to Bukchon is searching for the “Eight Sceneries of Bukchon” located throughout the village. The eight sites scattered throughout the large area are sometimes hard to find, but when you succeed you are treated to some of the most beautiful views in Seoul. The majority of these scenic locations are located near 31 Gahoe-dong, a five minute walk from Anguk Station. Scenic spots three, five, six and seven are excellent areas to experience some of the picturesque alleyways lined with rustic Korean styled houses reminiscent of a past time. Here you can appreciate the intricate designs and ingenious architecture of the hanok houses. And do not forget to take in the view of the gradually sloping street with the high-rises of Seoul in the background and scenic spot number six. From scenic spot number four, just down the road from scenic spot number five, you can see a birds-eye view of the famous hanok village roofs that seem to stand still in time. I highly recommend visiting in the morning or late afternoon in order to catch the sunrise or sunset.
The road leading up to scenic spot number eight has spectacular views of Bukchon village’s unique roofs with the Seoul skyline and surrounding mountains in the backdrop. From this spot you can also make your way down the meandering stairwells that bring you to scenic spot number eight where you can take in the old charm of the alleys still used by the people living in the village today. Looking up from this spot you can see a steep set of stairs lined with small plants tended by the residents themselves. If you head a little off the beaten path towards the east end of the village you will find yourself at scenic spots number one and two. From scenic spot number one the view of the regal Changdeok Palace contrasts with the views of the Korean hanok village. If you make your way up the road from scenic spot number one you will find a wide alley occupied by many tradtional Korean single rooms. Here you will find the former homes of many Korean painters from a hundred years ago and the location of the second scenic spot. For me walking through scenic spot number six was my most memorable experience because the backdrop of the city skyline against the hanok village reminded me of how special the city of Seoul is and how lucky I am to live here.
After you have discovered all eight scenic locations it is time to explore the rest of what Bukchon has to offer. Anyone with a taste for art will surely be delighted to find countless galleries scattered throughout the area. There is everything from the normal run of the mill gallery, with the sometimes hard to interpret painting, to the more eccentric exhibits, like a chicken museum, that would catch even the well-traveled off guard. Aside from art galleries, Bukchon also has many shops that run up and down the narrow roads, giving the area a very chic and modern look. Although the stores are mostly on the high end range it is still fun to take a walk and window shop. If you have more time to spend in the area, staying in one of the many guesthouses is also highly recommended. Here you will be able to spend a few nights in a very traditional style home and get a firsthand experience of Korean traditional culture. Most of the guest houses, including a Tea Guest House, are located on the Western side of the village.
Seoul has no shortage when it comes to good food and vibrant cafes, but the atmosphere of Bukchon and the surrounding Samcheong-dong area create a dining experience unlike any other. After all the sightseeing you will probably want to relax in one of the many cafes in the area. The problem is which one to go to. I recommend “To Go Coffee Sandwiches” because of its modern design that opens out onto a small patio area. If modern is not your thing then “Woodside Coffee” might be a better choice with its Hanok style architecture. One thing you will notice quite quickly as you make your way through this area is the number of pizza or Italian restaurants which blend surprisingly well with the antique shops, galleries, and cafes. Even if you are not hungry for pizza the smell alone will lure you in. “Dae-Jang-Jang-i Hwa-deok Pizza (Blacksmith Stone Oven Pizza)” is surely the place you will want to visit for lunch or dinner. The restaurant is very modest but the pizza is incredible. Another dish the area is famous for is ddeokbokki or spicy rice cake. As you near the Jeongdok Public library you will find a few ddeobokki restaurants with lines of customers stretching out as far as the next block. Meok-shwi-don-na is a well known place if you are interested in trying all sorts of different ddeokbokki. But do not be afraid to explore the area because there are many delicious cafes and restaurants to satisfy anyone’s tastes.
Whether you are on a date with that special someone, with friends, or even alone, Bukchon has something for everyone. It is a place that combines the old with the new, the east with the west. Although the village can sometimes feel overcrowded by tourists it is not hard to go off the beaten path and find a place all to your own. During my brief time at Bukchon I was able to learn, enjoy, and recharge. It is a quick escape where you can slow down and appreciate the small things in life. All photo credited by Park Hye-ryeong