Perhaps one of the quaintest neighborhoods in Seoul, Bukchon Hanok Village is a collection of hundreds of traditional houses (hanok) set on a hillside between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace, two of Seoul’s five main royal palaces. These charming historic homes feature elegant sloping roofs, are constructed of wood and decorative tiles, and date from Korea’s Joseon Dynasty period. While some remain private residences, many of the genteel houses have been converted into guesthouses, tea shops, restaurants, and museums to provide visitors with a glimpse into the Korea of yesteryear.
The word “bukchon” means “northern village,” and the area was thus named due to its location north of Jogno and Cheonggyecheon Stream, two main landmarks in Seoul. The neighborhood was built in the 15th century during the Joseon Dynasty as the residential quarter of nobility and high-ranking government officials who worked in the nearby palaces.
What to See and Do
While many visitors are content to snap photos as they meander through the narrow alleys between the graceful homes, others prefer to take a deep dive into Korean history by exploring the various tours, museums, and cultural centers located in Bukchon Hanok Village.
- Bukchon Traditional Culture Center: For a free and in-depth look at traditional Korean culture, a visit to the Bukchon Traditional Culture Center is in order. This multipurpose complex set in a picturesque hanok house welcomes visitors with a wide array of activities and experiences. Calligraphy classes, tea ceremonies, and history lectures are only a few of the opportunities available to those curious about local customs.
- Bukchon Asian Cultural Art Museum: Set in a hanok-style house with an imposing stone gate is the Bukchon Asian Cultural Art Museum. Created from a private collection compiled for more than 30 years, the museum features artwork from Korea and other countries in Asia. In addition to the collections, the museum welcomes visitors for programs such as cooking classes and folk painting.
- Gahoe Museum: Though it may look small from the outside, this compact museum houses more than 2,000 historical Korean artifacts ranging from folk art to religious amulets. Folk painting lessons are also available.
- Hansangsoo Embroidery Museum: Textiles and folk art have been an important part of Korean culture for centuries, and the Hansangsoo Embroidery Museum is the place to learn about its significance. The museum was created by master embroidery artist Han Sangsoo, who was given the unusual title of “Important Intangible Cultural Property” by the Korean government. The museum features three exhibition halls, and provides interested visitors with classes such as fabric patchworking and handkerchief embroidery.
Where to Eat
It makes sense that in one of Seoul’s oldest villages there would be numerous restaurants serving traditional fare. But despite its old-fashioned exterior visitors will also find a variety of whimsical cafes and modern dining options.
- Bukchon Samgyetang: Samgyetang is a famed Korean soup known for providing stamina during the summer heat. Bukchon Samgyetang is a popular place to try this Korean specialty made from a whole young chicken stuffed with garlic, ginger, and herbs, and boiled in a ginseng broth. Meals are served in a simple dining room that has low tables and cushions on the floor.
- Cha Masineun Tteul: Possibly the most quintessential Korean tea house in Bukchon Hanok Village is Cha Masineun Tteul, which is set in a cozy hanok overlooking the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. Seating is on floor cushions with low tables set around an open-air courtyard garden, and the menu offers a wide array of teas (such as ginger, apricot, and quince), many made in-house.
- Layered: For an international experience still set amid Korean architecture in a historic hanok, try an English-style afternoon tea at Layered. Scones with cream and strawberry jam, red velvet cupcakes, and all manner of cookies and tarts are prettily displayed amid shabby-chic decor, and drinks range from espressos to traditional teas. Children aren’t allowed.
Where to Stay
If you’d like to experience staying in a historic hanok, your best bet is in Bukchon Hanok Village. Rooms range from basic to upscale, and while most beds are laid out on the floor, there are a few hanoks with elevated beds.
- Chiwoonjung Hanok Boutique Hotel: For a luxurious hanok experience, Chiwoonjung Hanok Boutique Hotel checks all the boxes. A hangout of kings during the Joseon Dynasty and also a former presidential mansion, this polished hanok features carved-wood décor, a serene garden, and a sauna. Beds are traditional sleeping mats on the floor.
- Bonum 1957: With a name meaning “a jewel-like place,” it’s no wonder Bonum 1957 is one of the most sought-after stays in Bukchon Hanok Village. This boutique hanok property has a dash of the contemporary, including rooms with chandeliers, mattresses, and flat-screen TVs. But as you step out into your private garden or terrace overlooking the delightful tiled roofs of the surrounding village, you’ll feel as though you’ve gone back in time.
To get to Bukchon Hanok Village from Seoul Station, take Seoul Subway Line Three (the Orange Line) to Anguk Station and exit through Gate Three. Walk straight out, and turn left at the first street. Then walk straight until you reach the Bukchon Traditional Culture Center on your left. The center is a great place to familiarize yourself with the village, and there are also maps and tours to help you on your way.
Tips for Visitors
- Entrance to Bukchon Hanok Village is free.
- Since the village is largely a residential neighborhood, there are no official hours. However, residents have requested visitors observe regular working hours, and be respectful of noise volume at all times.
- While many of the hanok houses are now guesthouses, cafes, or museums and are thus open to the public, many are still private residences. If you see an open gate, be sure to check that the establishment is open to the public before entering.
- Want to wear traditional Joseon-era Korean clothes while walking through the village? For a complete time capsule experience, One Day Hanbok (near Exit 2 of Anguk Station) rents women’s hanboks for only $15 per four hours.