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서울 산책 - Perfect Day in the Royal Quarters of Seoul
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서울 산책 - Perfect Day in the Royal Quarters of Seoul

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In the heart of Seoul, protected by the mighty Bugaksan Mountain, lay four palaces of the Joseon Dynasty: Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Changdeokgung. To the east and west of Gyeongbokgung (the central palace), two upscale villages developed, Seocheon and Bukchon, where royal relatives and nobles resided. Both areas have now grown to become very popular and hip, with both modern and historical footprints coexisting. Traditional hanoks (Korean homes) in this area are now innovative cafes, bustling bars and galleries, where you can experience this royal neighborhood of Seoul to its fullest. Sounds like a perfect day? Let’s take a trip around the Royal Quarters of Seoul:

First Stop: Chang-Deok-Gung

When visiting Seoul, many people immediately gravitate towards the main palace of Joseon, known as Gyeongbokgung. Although this central palace is beautiful and also one of the largest, there are three other palaces that are equally grand. 

A 15-minute walk east from Gyeongbokgung lies Chang-Deok-Gung, where the royal family resided for the longest consecutive period of time - it’s also dubbed the summer palace for kings and queens! Chang-Deok-Gung features a secret garden behind its walls where you can take a break from the business of the city, and embrace the tranquility that nature provides.

Photo | @iman.zahirfar

낙선재 (Nak-Sun-Jae) is another reason to stop by Chang-Deok-Gung. While most royal hanoks in Korea are coated with red and green paint, Nak-Sun-Jae maintains an esthetic of dark woods and original architectural material. To give a change in scenery from other palaces, take a morning or afternoon stroll around Nak-Sun-Jae.

All four seasons are beautiful periods to visit Chang-Deok-Gung palace. In the spring, you will see flowers blooming in the secret garden. During the fall, leaves are present in ever-changing colors, transitioning into a blanket of white snow contrasted with the dark hanok architecture in the winter. Do be careful when visiting in the summer months, since the palace is open to the outdoors (with no air conditioning!)  and the heat and humidity can become unbearable.

Photo | @iman.zahirfar

Photo | @iman.zahirfar

Insider tip: When purchasing items from Studio Kō, you might receive a postcard featuring Chang-Deok-Gung!

Address: 99 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul | Website: www.cdg.go.kr/eng/

Second Stop: Fritz Coffee, Wonseo 

After walking around the palace grounds, you might want to find a cup of coffee. When exiting the Chang-Deok-Gung, turn west and walk one block to Fritz Coffee, Wonseo.

Photo | fritz

Fritz Coffee Company is a pioneer in the Korean specialty coffee industry. They source and roast their own blends and single origin coffees, have a very popular selection of bread and pastry, and are internationally known for their emphasis on branding and design. Their Wonseo location is their second branch, nestled inside the atrium of Arario Museum, built by famed architect, Kim Swoo-Guen.

Photo | fritz

Regardless if you sit inside or outside in the atrium, you will notice the combination of modern and hanok-style architecture that is a reflection of today’s Korean culture and society. Among the many rituals Koreans embrace, coffee culture is strongly rooted within its people. Koreans not only drink coffee for the flavor and function (caffeine), but they often visit cafes for the experience; equally enjoying the ambiance a cafe provides. With this appreciation, Seoul has become one of the most exciting cities in the world with respect to cafe design, layout, and architectural diversity. Founded in 2014, Fritz Coffee has been a leader in Korean coffee culture, striking that great balance between delicious coffee, bread and pastry, and design.

Photo | fritz

=Photo | fritz

Stop by Fritz Wonseo to fuel up from a tiring palace walk, and fill up with a delicious cup of coffee, along with Korean pastries. 

Location: 17 Saechang-ro 2-gil, Dohwa-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul | Website: en.fritz.co.kr/

Third Stop: Onjium 

After enjoying coffee and pastries from Fritz, it’s now time to journey out again. Head towards the courtyards of Gyeong-Bok-Gung, where you can spend some time walking the palace structures, or enjoy the landscaped parks and gardens surrounding it. At the other end of the palace walls, you will arrive in the west village, which is called Seochon. In this tranquil, yet astonishing little town stands Onjium, a Michelin one-star Korean restaurant.

Photo | ohseoul.org

Onjium was originally a research lab that studied and re-created Korean culture in three aspects: Food, Clothing, and Housing. ‘Mat Gong Bang’, which is the research lab that investigates and studies Korean traditional food, started a test kitchen in order to improve their exploration. Through their research, the lab gained fame for its delicate cuisine, which allowed them to develop the restaurant, Onjium, which went on to receive a 1-star from Michelin Guide in 2021.

Photo | @yesl.kr 

While the restaurant’s continued success is inspirational, it is not Onjium’s main goal. Their ultimate goal is to continue researching Korean traditional cuisines and developing ways to reinterpret them into a modern style. Onjium researchers work day and night visiting all corners of Korea to find hidden recipes and discover the regional history behind Korean food. With this work, they continue to this day to develop recipes with a contemporary approach.

Photo | @yesl.kr

Insider tip: Be sure to make your reservation for Onjium well in advance. No walk-ins and reservations are often made more than a month in advance!

Address: Seoul, Jongno-gu, Hyoja-ro, 49 4th floor | Website: www.onjium.org/onjium_en.html

Fourth Stop: Bar Cham 

After a thoughtful meal at On Ji Um, it’s time to end this meaningful adventure with some special drinks. In the same neighborhood of Seochon, snuggled in an old hanok building, is Bar Cham, a distinctly Korean cocktail bar. Bar Cham has continuously received nominations in Asia’s 50 Best Bars since 2020 and has a menu of one-of-a-kind cocktails that you will not find anywhere else.

Photo | @bar.cham

From the menu creation to the glassware they serve their drinks in, everything in Bar Cham is intended to be Korean. Instead of using imported liquors for the base, bartenders at Bar Cham often create their cocktails using Korean traditional liquors. 

Bar Cham’s hospitality is also comparable with the amazing drinks they make. Bartenders intentionally make an effort to get to know each customer, and they work hard to provide the best drinks for each individual’s palate. Even if you are not into cocktails or Korean liquor, they will help you find the perfect drink for your taste. Furthermore, their bartenders provide an engaging performance, shaking drinks at the table and flaming a pine cone to infuse its aromatics with Damsol, a Korean spirit infused with pine tree water.

Some must-try drinks here are the peanut butter-infused Goodbye Sadness, tangerine-flavored Jeju Negroni, and Chungju Gimbap, which uses Tokki Soju and sesame oil to create a balanced, savory profile.

Address: 34 Jahamun-ro 7-gil, Tongin-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul | Website: www.instagram.com/bar.cham/

We hope this guide will help you experience Bukchon, Seochon, and the Chang-Deok-Gung Palace to their fullest. While you can easily spend an entire day, feel free to tour at least one of the four places - they will all leave you with a magical blend of tradition and modern Korean culture, harmonizing both the old and new, chic and antique; something we live by here at Studio Kō.