A Design Lover's Guide to Seoul

Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Dongdaemun Design Plaza | © Nestor Lacle/Flickr
Mimsie Ladner

Named World Design Capital in 2010, Seoul is made for style gurus. South Korea‘s capital is a spectacular city to explore, with contemporary dining spaces, beautifully curated galleries and architectural wonders. Here’s our guide to the best spots in town.

1. Dongdaemun Design Plaza

As one of Seoul’s most eccentric modern architectural structures, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is without a doubt the epicenter of all things design in South Korea. Appealing particularly to young trendsetters with its wide variety of attractions, the neo-futuristic complex is a fully equipped facility where visitors can enjoy food, shopping, and entertainment all in one place.

The DDP hosts international events such as the bi-annual Seoul Fashion Week; showcases of renowned fashion brands, including Chanel and Louis Vuitton; and art exhibitions featuring the works of Alessandro Mendini, Paik Nam-June and Kim Young-Won, among other notable artists.

281 Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82 2 2153 0000

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2. DDP Design Shop

Building, Architectural Landmark, Shop

Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul
© Laura Maniglier / Culture Trip
Design enthusiasts should not miss the DDP Design Shop, a store dedicated to the Seoul Living Design Fair, itself an event hosted by Design House and organized by the monthly magazine House Full of Happiness. Open throughout the year, the store features eye-catching products created by local designers in an airy, contemporary space. From sensible home décor items and modern Korean handicrafts to quirky apparel by up-and-coming designers, there’s something for everyone.

3. Café Onion

Cafe, Korean

The architectural embodiment of industrial chic, Café Onion is housed in a converted metal factory that was built in the 1970s. Since then it has been reincarnated in the form of various businesses, including a supermarket, restaurant and even personal residence. Despite being one of trendiest hangouts of the moment, the ultra-modern Café Onion still retains traces of the building’s industrial past, incorporating many of the factory’s rustic design elements into its aesthetics.

With wide windows, minimalistic furniture and a well-curated garden, the coffee house is a designer’s dream, while its specialty coffee and homemade pastries keep loyal patrons coming back for more.

4. Starfield Library


Bibliophiles and design lovers alike will fall in love with the Starfield Library located in Starfield Coex Mall, Asia’s largest underground shopping center. Also known as the Open Library, this expansive, 2,800 square-meter space houses some 50,000 books and magazines which are distributed across three 13m (42.7 feet)-tall bookshelves.

While beautiful in the day, when natural light pours in through floor-to-ceiling windows, the library is just as impressive in the evening, when the shelves are illuminated. Not only does Starfield Library provide comfortable reading space to its visitors, but it also offers a variety of monthly cultural events and performances with different themes on a daily basis.

5. Petit Ballon

Situated at the foot of trendy Gyeongnidan-gil, Petit Ballon specializes in authentic French meals. Its eye-catching façade, seemingly plucked straight out of a quaint alley in Paris, intrigues passersby while its tantalizing menu attracts foodies from all over the city. Reservations are a must at this cozy spot, which only boasts a handful of tables in its delightfully decorated, modern Victorian dining room. Groups of five or more can also reserve the private second-floor space for an even more intimate dining experience.

228-1 Noksapyeong-daero, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82 2 790 2277

6. Korea Furniture Museum


Advance reservations are required for guided tours of the Korea Furniture Museum, one of Seoul’s most beautiful but off-the-radar exhibition spaces. The museum showcases the personal collection of a former Yonsei University professor, and includes some 2,500 pieces, of which around 500 are on display at any one time. Works include masterfully crafted chests, bookcases, chairs and dining tables, made from various kinds of wood such as persimmon, maple and paulownia, some decorated with lacquer, mother of pearl or tortoiseshell.

Just as impressive are the complex’s wooden buildings, such as the kitchen house with its seemingly contemporary design of windows, and the villa that was once part of Changdeokgung Palace.

7. b2project

Part café, part gallery, b2project is a haven for both coffee lovers and design aficionados. Here, colorful paintings adorn the walls and quirky lighting fixtures hang from above, while mismatched chairs and tables create a comfortable environment for chatting or reading a book. The gallery downstairs, which features an array of modern Scandinavian furniture, is a feast for the eyes. If you’ve got (a lot of) cash to burn, you can also purchase the wares on display. Pieces start at a whopping one million won (US$1,000).

130-11, Dongsung-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82 2 747 5435

8. Take Out Drawing

Takeout Drawing is as much a design space as it is a café – so much so that food and drink sales here fund the exhibitions, talks and artist residencies that the café hosts. With its concrete walls, window scribblings, minimal décor, and rotating artworks, Take Out Drawing is the ideal environment for finding inspiration and experiencing the creative process firsthand.

Even the menu items, inspired by past and present works on display, are inventive and playful. The Jindallae Ade, for example, is a refreshing twist on a traditional Korean fruit punch that combines the delicate flavors of azalea petals, lemon, cinnamon, and plum. Paul’s Meringue Factory, meanwhile, is the most Instagram-worthy option; a cup of smooth espresso is topped with peaks of melt-in-your-mouth meringue which is sure to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Dongsung-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82 2 745 9731

9. Fifty Fifty

Art Gallery, Store

This gallery-store situated in trendy Sinsa-dong aims to help up-and-coming artists foster relationships with both collectors and the general public. Fifty Fifty’s gallery features pieces by local and international artists and holds events that offer the public opportunities to interact with the artists and their work. Meanwhile, its store boasts an eclectic mix of products such as paintings, figurines and clothing so that art enthusiasts can take home the works of their favorite creatives.

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