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©  CJ Nattana/Shutterstock
© CJ Nattana/Shutterstock

The Best Kept Secrets of Seoul

Picture of Chrissy Pak
Updated: 10 August 2017
Often referred to as the ‘Party City of Asia’, Seoul is a popular destination for tourists from all over the globe. With world-famous restaurants and internationally renowned shopping, it’s not hard to see why. But for the independent tourist who wants to try something a little different, we’ve rounded up these secret gems hidden away in Seoul, South Korea.

Alternative Space [Moon]

A live music venue from the Mullae district of Seoul, Alternative Space, also known as Moon, a play on the Korean word for ‘door’, offers concerts by independent artists twice a month. Hidden away in a small basement bar that seats about 50-100 people, this tiny venue is best known for its Art Meet Sound series, run by a German expatriate who deftly pairs whichever Hongdae bands are currently playing circuits with performance artists. The only continuous atmosphere is that there is no real atmosphere; the owner purposefully mixes things up by hosting multiple genres of music in one night.

Live Music | Courtesy of Alternative Space
Live Music | Courtesy of Alternative Space

10th Floor of The Express Bus Terminal

If you’re thinking that this sounds like a strange name for a rooftop bar, you’d be right. Technically, the 10th Floor isn’t a rooftop bar at all, but rather an unofficial gathering place for trendy young Seoulites during warm city nights. The 10th floor of the Express Bus Terminal hosts two Korean BBQ restaurants, from which guests can buy drinks or even food with which to enjoy their view, but the true attraction is the gorgeous view of Seoul and the unexpected garden that wraps around the building. Random plots of grass are sprinkled with benches and seating areas from which patrons can enjoy a casual drink or two while ten storeys above the city of Seoul. As it is not an officially owned business, there are no real hours, but elevators operate only until midnight.

Gangnam Gjoya

Hidden away at the end of a dark, dull street, Gangnam Gjoya is run by a chef who left a 30-year career at a famous Myeongdong kalguksu restaurant in order to open this tiny yet authentic kalguksu house. With only four options on the menu, each of the items (kalguksu, a noodle soup; mandu, dumplings; bibimguksu, cold buckwheat noodles; and kongguksu, a light summer noodle soup) is crafted with utmost care and authenticity. The restaurant offers unlimited noodles and rice, as well as a small plate of kimchi and a piece of mint chewing gum. The gum is for after the meal, in order to negate the deliciously strong and fresh garlic flavour of the kimchi.

Sahara Café

This tiny, bookish café is hugely popular among the Soongsil University students in the know, but with no official website or travel guide listing, it’s almost impossible to find for the casual tourist. A simple café that offers just a few different types of teas and Americano and espresso brews, the Sahara is easy on the pocket. Almost everything on its concise menu is under 5,000 won. Beautifully yet minimalistically designed, the café is lined with hundreds upon hundreds of books, any of which can be taken down and read at the patron’s discretion. With pillowed chairs, long tables lit by study lamps, and a quiet, dreamy atmosphere, the Sahara Café is perfect for the book-loving tourist.

Sigol Bapsang

Koreans have perfected the art of side dishes, or, as they call them, banchan. Any restaurant you go to will offer a dizzying array of small portions of side dishes to complement your meal. At Sigol Bapsang, however, the restaurateurs have taken it one step further and made the banchan the focus of their simple yet genius meal. You can buy at least 20 different kinds of banchan, supplemented with a steaming hot bowl of rice and soup. With just five tables, the place is the definition of hole-in-the-wall, and its atmosphere matches its quirky menu. One wall is even laminated with pages from a book or newspaper, and chopped firewood is stacked alongside the front wall. Open 24 hours and seven days a week, this is the perfect place to pop in if you’re jet lagged or late-night festivities have you wandering Seoul hungry at unusal hours.