These days, in the quiet alleys and the untouched pockets of Seoul, independent bookstores have seamlessly woven themselves into the very fabric of the city – simultaneously building people’s interest in literature whilst creating a snug space for book-lovers to explore their niche interests as well as pursue new ones.
As you’ll discover in this article, Seoul effortlessly caters to every kind of bookworm – whether it be concept bookshops that focus on a curated selection of books, book-café hybrid stores, secondhand bookstores or mega-libraries that house thousands of books.
Chowon Bookstore | 초원 서점
Chowon Bookstore, which can be translated as “Prairie” or “Grassland Bookstore” in English, is the ideal place for musicians who are interested in songwriting lyric workshops.
Located near Ewha Woman’s University Station (Line 2, Exit 5), in a rough concrete building, Chowon has slowly built a reputation for being more than just a place that sells music-related books – rather, it’s a retreat for anyone interested in both learning more about music and experiencing it.
A large part of Chowon’s quirky charm is its comfortable and homely interior which almost feels as if it has been decorated and furnished by someone’s peculiar old aunt. Here, amongst the knick-knacks and haphazardly-piled books, Chowon Bookstore hosts musicians from all over the city on Fridays and weekends – bringing the whole store to life with live music.
“Bookworm” in Korean is Chaekbeolle (책 book + 벌레 bug/insect).
Saie Books | 여행책방 사이에
Another curated bookstore is Saie Books, also known as Travel Bookshop Saie, which – as the name implies – specialises in different kinds of books relating to travelling, exploring and discovering new places.
Located in Yeonnam, a neighbourhood nestled between the two busy, student-filled areas of Edae (Ewha Woman’s University) and Hongdae (Hongik University), Saie Books acts as both a bookstore and a café – fuelling the wanderlust of the coffee-dependent student population.
Constantly abuzz with author-led discussions, live talks by podcasters and workshops, Saie Books also offers a range of international bookstore and café courses in places such as Taipei (Taiwan), Tokyo (Japan), Chiang Mai (Thailand), Florence (Italy) and Portland, Oregon (America).
Although the majority of the books are catered to those who speak and understand Korean, a visit to Saie Books is still worth it just to browse the beautiful books and to enjoy a hot drink.
Woolf Social Club | 울프소셜클럽
Although it may seem more like a café than a bookstore, upon visiting Woolf Social Club you’ll understand why we recommend this place for book-lovers.
Resting in the neighbourhood of Hannam, below Namsan, and a short journey from Itaewon is the Woolf Social Club
Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s feminist essay “A Room of One’s Own” – which discusses women’s access to education and the importance of women writers and authors in a traditionally male-dominated industry – Woolf Social Club has created a safe, supportive space where bookworms, coffee-lovers, jazz enthusiasts and creative minds can unwind and enjoy a slice of pie.
With its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, piles of old records, delicious coffee – sourced from coffee roasting houses in Itaewon – and a fresh atmosphere, Woolf Social Club is the perfect pit-stop for hungry bookworms travelling through Yongsan.
Goyo Bookshop | 고요서점
Also in the district of Yongsan is Goyo Bookshop – a calm haven catering to Seoul’s culturally-minded poetry lovers.
The name of the bookstore itself was taken from the word Goyo-seosa (고요서사), which can be translated as “Silent Narrative”.
Tucked away in the hills of Haebangchon, or “Liberation Village”, Goyo Bookshop is small in size but has made a big impact on the neighbourhood’s literary exploration – building a collection of curated essays, prose and novels that highlight topics such as gender, human rights, alternative living and historical tragedy.
Similar to Woolf Social Club’s Virginia Woolf-influence, Goyo Bookshop was inspired by Korean poet and writer Park In-hwan (박인환) – who wrote mostly about the harsh realities of contemporary urbanisation and the aftermath of war. During his short life, Park even opened his own small bookstore called Mariseosa in Jongno.
After coming to understand the roots of this quaint yet dynamic bookstore and the meaning behind its inspiration, visitors are compelled to come to a better knowledge and understanding of poetry and classical work – making Goyo Bookshop the literary beacon of Haebangchon.
Geulbeot Bookstore | 글벗서점
Despite how much Sinchon has changed over the years, Geulbeot Bookstore has continued to be a core part of the neighbourhood’s literary culture.
Sitting directly next to the Gyeongui Book Street – which in itself is an attraction for bookworms – Geulbeot has become a refuge for pre-loved books in need of new homes.
First opened back in 1979, Geulbeot is now a well-known secondhand bookstore famous for having a wide range of cheap books in Korean and foreign languages – from Chinese, Japanese and English to Vietnamese, Norwegian, German, and French.
These pre-loved books also come in many genres spanning from fiction and children’s books to non-fiction – making it a popular place for book-lovers of all kinds.
Book & Pub | 쉬바펍&북스
Not far from Geulbeot Bookstore and the excitement of Sinchon is Book & Pub – an establishment that provides both books and alcohol.
Run by self-proclaimed couch-surfer and travel writer Kim Jong-hyun, Book & Pub was formerly an air ventilation repair shop, and Kim’s concept began as a simple performance space and café.
Since then, Book & Pub has transformed into a vibrant store filled with books and magazines by both independent and wholesale publishers, as well as beer, wine and spirits – a combination that has made this bookstore a hub for bookworms in the Seodaemun area.
Starfield Library | 별마당 도서관
Within Gangnam’s Grand COEX Mall is the immense Starfield Library which houses over 50,000 titles in the form of books and magazines.
Offering both hard-copy books and iPads with digital copies, the Starfield Library is a gargantuan shelter for book-lovers of every kind. The library is also frequented by those who wish to study or work at the many tables provided – or even to snap a selfie in front of the iconic library wall.
Although the majority of the library’s titles are in Korean, there are still many books in English which visitors can inquire about at any of the information kiosks available.
Feature Image Source: ©Chowon Bookstore, Photo Courtesy of Angelica Wijaya, 05.05.2019, greysuitcase.net
Special thanks to Angelica Wijaya and Robert Koehler for contributing their photographs for this article.