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Culture & Tourism

  • Bukchon and Insa-dong, where traditional Korean beauty still lives and breathes

  • Culture & Tourism SMG 2791
    • Bukchon, an old village infused with authentic traditional Korean beauty and located to the east of Gyeongbokgung Palace, is where the upper class of Seoul used to live.
    • Visitors must not miss the royal cuisine and traditional craft workshops. Also, houses #11, 31, and 33 in Gahoe-dong are particularly famous.
    • Insa-dong, a tourist destination overflowing with traditional Korean culture, including old artworks, antiques, and tea sets.
    • Ssamji-gil is an handicrafts shopping mall that is highly popular among tourists and located along a street lined by traditional Korean restaurants, makgeolli pubs, and many other places to eat and drink.

    What is the most Korean is also the most global.

    Even amid the torrent of modernization and globalization, visitors to this country enjoy seeking out places that contain beauty, elegance, and charm unique to Korea, and many of them find it in the Bukchon and Insa-dong areas.

    These two places are incredibly popular tourist attractions.

    But why do foreigners love them so much?

    Bukchon Hanok Village

    Bukchon Hanok Village Preserves the Spirit of the Korean People

    In 1906, yangban (aristocrats) and government officials accounted for 43.6 percent of the population of Bukchon. Ideally located to the east of the palace, the neighborhood was home to the upper class.

    Bukchon retained its dignified status even throughout the Enlightenment period and Japanese colonial period, as many reformists and independence fighters lived in this area.
    The reformists were a political group of people in the late 1800s who advocated societal reform and acceptance of advanced Western culture and ideas.

    Located among Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, and Jongmyo Shrine, Bukchon is a major traditional Korean residential area in Seoul featuring numerous hanok (traditional Korean house). Due to the large number of historical landmarks, cultural assets, and folk materials found here, Bukchon has become known as a “museum in the streets of Seoul.”
    The name “Bukchon” has its origins in the fact that it is located to the north of Cheonggyecheon Stream and Jong-ro (as “buk” is the Korean word for “north”).

    Not only was Bukchon at the center of Seoul, but it was an ideal site in terms of the principles of feng shui. To the north of the neighborhood, the valley deepened, while to the south, the steep slopes leveled out to a gentle slope leading to Cheonggyecheon Stream. With a mountain to the back and a stream to the front, it was the kind of location that was favored by Koreans at the time. This is why, in the past, powerful families of government officials chose to settle down in this area.

    Bukchon Hanok Village

    Stories are engrained into the alleys, which run throughout the neighborhood like blood vessels.

    An attraction that visitors must not miss in Bukchon is the “Gyeonggongjang” workshops, where master artisans create traditional knots, embroidery, and musical instruments that contain the spirit of the Korean people and chefs prepare royal Korean cuisine. These workshops are open to the public so that people may witness the creation of traditional Korean crafts.

    For more detailed information about the Bukchon neighborhood, visitors may go to the Bukchon Culture Center. Housed in a hanok that remains completely intact, the culture center houses significant amounts of information and materials that promote the history and value of Bukchon.

    There are so many things to see in Bukchon that it takes most people a whole day to see them all. Aside from the five major historical sites, four Seoul Folk Materials, three tangible cultural assets, and one cultural material, there is also Gyedong-gil, Seokjeong Boreum Well, the site of Gwanghyewon, the first modern Korean hospital, as well as Jungangtang, the first Korean public bathhouse. For a good look at hanok, stop by 11, 31, and 33 Gahoe-dong.

    Insa-dong Street, Ssamji-gil

    Insa-dong Street, the first place people think of when they hear “South Korea”

    When the yangban upper class began to fall into decline with the modernization of Joseon Korea in the late 19th century, they brought their ancient art works and antiques to a small village near a stream that flowed down from Samcheong-dong into Cheonggyecheon Stream. There, they were able to sell their antique goods and artworks, many of which were then bought by the Japanese. That small village is now present-day Insa-dong.

    Just as its nickname “Street of Traditional Culture” indicates, visitors will find an array of traditional Korean goods at Insa-dong, from fans, tobacco pipes, and Buddha statues to calligraphy works and Korean paintings—there is nothing that cannot be found in Insa-dong. Also, there are a number of traditional restaurants, tea houses, and drinking establishments, as well as shops selling rice cakes (tteok) and other desserts, mung bean pancakes (Bindae-tteok), and Korean rice wine (makgeolli).

    The first place most people think of when they hear “South Korea” is Insa-dong Street, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Korea and a place that offers traditional Korean crafts, traditional tea, and Buddhist cuisine.

    Insa-dong Street

    Insa-dong Street refers to the 700-meter-long street from 63 Insa-dong to 136 Gwanhun-dong.
    In the past, the area was an official government district as well as a residential area. In the Joseon Dynasty, Insa-dong was home to “Chunghunbu,” an office that investigated the accomplishments of national citizens of merit and “Imun,” an office in charge of enforcing laws governing public morals and ethics.

    However, the government office with the greatest impact on the identity of Insa-dong was “Dohwawon,” where government-employed painters were trained and tested. Due to the presence of Dohwawon, antique shops, galleries, and shops that mounted paintings on frames became concentrated in this area.

    Seoul Metropolitan Government designated Insa-dong as a “Street of Traditional Culture” in 1988 and the first “cultural district” in 2002 to preserve, promote, and develop the characteristics of the area. At any given time, roughly half of the people walking down the street here are foreigners. Particularly on the weekends, people of different races and nationalities flood the street, speaking in all kinds of different languages.

    In Insa-dong, there is a unique exhibition space called Ssamji-gil. A kind of shopping mall for handicrafts opened in 2004, Ssamji-gil houses over 50 crafts shops and a permanent exhibition and shop for intangible cultural assets.

    First-time visitors hoping to explore Insa-dong should first visit the tourist information center. Cultural tour guides fluent in English, Chinese, and Japanese are available to guide and inform foreign tourists. Since the street is designated as a pedestrian-only street on the weekends, visitors walk around freely and safely without having to worry about cars.