Even in the fast-paced, ever-changing city of Seoul, there are neighborhoods where time seems to stand still—alleys that feels like little slices of heaven. As soon as you step down these alleys, you get a strong sense that you have just entered into a people-centered world that has long since faded in other parts of the city.
Seochon, a village to the west of Gyeongbokgung Palace, and Buamdong-gil, a path up to the foot of the mountain, are some of these places that seem frozen in time and are often frequented by tourists as some of the most “idyllic places in Seoul.”
Gyeomjae Jeong Seon, the most renowned artist of the Joseon Dynasty, created many of his masterpieces while living in Seochon. One of his most memorable pieces was “Inwang Jesaekdo”, a landscape painting of Inwangsan Mountain, which is located right behind where the artist used to live.
Following Jeong Seon, the village was also home to modern artist Lee Jung-seop. However, one of the most famous residents of the village was Park No-soo, the maternal grandfather of actress Lee Min-jeong. Park’s house was known by many as “Secret Garden” because it was so shrouded in mystery; today, Park’s house is open to the public as the Jongno Park No-soo Art Museum.
Located to the west of Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seochon shares similarities with Bukchon, but the atmosphere is quite different and feels more like a warm, close-knit neighborhood than its more famous counterpart.
The name Seochon, means “West Village,” and refers to the area to the west of Gyeongbokgung Palace, while Bukchon, means “North Village,” and refers to the village’s location to the north of the palace.
Seochon is filled with a number of old alleys and charming buildings and is filled with such a sense of leisure and relaxation that you can even see it on the faces of the village residents. Even though hanok (traditional Korean houses) are not as prevalent here as they are in Bukchon, the lack of skyscrapers in the village gives Seochon a cozy feel.
A few years ago, Seochon started to become more well-known as a tourist destination, and coffee shops and clothing stores began popping up here and there along the streets. Yet, despite this light development, the residents of the area still lovingly call Seochon a “backcountry village” and have only just begun to see larger coffee franchises.
Thanks to its unique charm, Seochon is frequently featured onscreen and has appeared in the film Architecture 101, as well as IU’s music video for A Flower Bookmark and the Korean TV series Shark.
The reason Seochon has been able to largely avoid development and maintain its friendly atmosphere is because of its locality. Located only a short distance from Cheongwadae, the official residence of the President of South Korea, the area has strict zoning laws and there are few provisions for the construction of high rises or renovation work.
As a result, many attractions, each with their own interesting back story, still remain alive and well in Seochon. Daeo Bookstore, the oldest used bookstore in Seoul, looks much the same as it did when it was first built 60 years ago, and Hyoja Bakery still supplies bread and pastries to Cheongwadae, winning out over larger franchises as it has for the past 20 or so years.
Seochon is also home to the quirky Tongin Market, a fun place that uses its own unique currency. At the market, you must first exchange your money for yeopjeon (worth KRW 500) in order to purchase most of the food.
Buamdong-gil is a little piece of paradise where the mountains meet the streams and crab apple trees and ivy vines gently bow their heads in greeting.
Buam-dong is a neighborhood located deep in the mountains to the northwest of Gyeongbokgung Palace. Untouched by the urbanization that has spread throughout the rest of the city, the shops and restaurants along Buamdong-gil (the main street of the neighborhood) remain unconcerned by the hurried pace of the city’s residents. Here, you can enjoy the alluring aromas of café street as you soak in the natural beauty of the Baeksasil Valley.
Buamdong-gil, also home to the Yun Dong-ju Literature Hall, is lined with small and inviting coffee shops including the coffee shop that was featured in Coffee Prince No. 1, a popular Korean drama. Other points of interest include the Chopstick Gallery, Wax Doll Gallery, and many small galleries, and countless restaurants featured in Korean guidebooks for their delicious food.
As you travel outside the neighborhood, the entrance to the path leading from Buamdong-gil to Baeksasil Valley opens like a gate into a secret garden; the houses of the village vanish within seconds, giving way to a lush forest. The calm and quiet of Inwangsan Mountain, Bugaksan Mountain, and Baeksasil Valley is what has led to the coining of the nickname “Mugyedong” in reference to Buam-dong —Mugye meaning “paradise”.
Like Seochon, Buamdong-gil is located near Cheongwadae, the presidential “Blue House”. Since this area has been designated a military reservation area and has strict zoning restrictions, it is very uncommon to see a new building and there are no high rises, preserving the old-world charm of the area.