In the midst of a constantly moving city (SEOUL), there’s nothing quite like slowing down with a good read at the bookstore. Upon visiting any bookstore in Seoul, you’ll notice how impressively the worlds of reading and lifestyle are blended, making for a holistic experience. Getting lost in an English book can do so much to instantly provide familiar relief and comfort, and is always a well-deserved getaway from the stress of navigating daily life in Seoul. Whether you’re in the mood for adventure and you’re enthused to scour through piles of books sans plan, or you’re seeking for more of a relaxed and familiar experience of a traditional bookstore, we’ve rounded up five of our favorite must-visit bookshops in Seoul that carry a hearty selection of English Books.
The Book Society is an independent bookstore started by Helen Ku and Kyung Yong just over ten years ago. Originally, the founders created their own publishing house called Mediabus, as a platform for printing the works of friends and colleagues. They first started The Book Society in 2008, as a means to distribute their independent publications, as Seoul lacked such a bookshop at the time. The space, now located in Jongno-Gu, houses not only 3000 unique titles but also acts as a platform in which communities can gather and connect through music, events, reading groups as well as art performances. On an ordinary day, however, seldom a gathering space. As you’ll immediately feel when you walk in, the shop’s atmosphere is completely devoid of chatter. It’s a quiet space in which visitors are mostly kept to themselves. You’ll hear footsteps, the crisp sounds of pages turning and books being removed from, and placed on shelves. Though the curation revolves mostly around contemporary art and design books, you’ll also find topics on sexual politics, activism, design, photography, architecture, literature, and theory. Less conventional magazines, movie scripts, and zines printed on newsprint are also common sightings. It’s difficult to generalize the genre of publications, but you will be sure to find very rare titles only sold in this store. The Book Society’s selection is mostly in Korean; however, you’ll also find books originating from Japan, Europe, as well as the Americas.
Image Source: Frieze
Perfect for you if: You’re wanting to discover new artists, ideas, and publications you hadn’t known even existed. If you’re wanting to join a community in Seoul revolving around contemporary art and design
Best for: Indie titles and small press publications
Operating Hours: 13:00-19:00, Closed Mondays
Arc N Book, though primarily a bookstore, is also an Instagram worthy cultural space equipped with cafes, restaurants, lifestyle shops, and even a gelato shop. With all these experiences packed into one space, it makes for the perfect date spot for two bookworms to casually move through the day reading, eating, and re-energizing on caffeine while enjoying each others’ company. Though the space may appear overwhelming at first, the store is cleverly divided into sections for easy navigation. Among the 30,000 titles offered, you won’t have much trouble finding what you’re looking for, as long as you know what category your book falls under - weekend, inspiration, daily, or style. The highly curated selection of books presents the best of any topic that comes to mind - from books on family, career, & everyday living to books on culture, hobbies, sports, leisure, and travel. Not to mention, there’s a huge foreign magazine section featuring aisles of popular lifestyle, art, and culture-based publications, as well as indie mags that are difficult to find elsewhere. However, the multi-purpose space and well-crafted book selection isn’t the most impressive part of Arc N Book. On top of the endless selection of both popular titles and indie works, there are no shortages of photo opportunities. Most commonly seen on Instagram is the book tunnel reminiscent of Harry Potter, as well as the bright red photo booth located near the entrance. But really--any corner of this shop emanates warm vintage retro vibes and makes for the perfect profile pic.
Photo Source: Creatrip
Perfect for you if: if you’re wanting to indulge in good coffee, good food, and good books on rotation, all the while getting awesome photos.
Best for: Dates, Photo-ops, full-day adventure
Address: 29 Eulji-ro, Euljiro 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea; B1F of Buyong Eulji Building
Operating Hours: 10:00- 22:00
Papermuse in Itaewon is a must-visit destination for those interested in culture and fashion. Though the space is small and lacks spaces to sit down and read, its top-notch curation makes up for it. Prices aren’t cheap here, but they’re comparable with the alternative of getting them shipped to Seoul. But we can all agree that nothing beats the tactile experience of walking into a beautifully designed space, and actually getting to hold the books, see the covers and flip through the pages. The walls are lined with the best up to date selection of foreign publications such as Vogue, W, and GQ, Dapper, Monocle as well as countless indie publications that are difficult to find elsewhere. As a plus, this magazine store is conveniently located within a radius of tons of atmospheric cafes accessible within a 5-minute walking distance. Grab a magazine, take it to a nearby cafe, and get inspired while flipping through the pages.
Photo Source: timeout
Perfect for you if: You’re an arts culture and fashion enthusiast wanting a copy of your favorite foreign publication for your collection
Best for: English Fashion, culture and art publications
Address: 685-11 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Operating Hours: Varies, Closed on Sundays
Book Park is an absolute haven for book lovers, coffee enthusiasts, and art admirers alike. This multipurpose cultural space is located in Blue Square Complex in Itaewon, Seoul. The multi-floored book building has thousands of books lined up, floor to ceiling, all available as free reading material. The interior is furnished with exposed brick walls, piped ceilings, charming furniture, warm lighting, and wooden accents to make for the perfect tranquil atmospheric escape from the city. The flora adds to the ambiance of the space and really makes it feel as if you’re visiting an indoor park (hence the name Book Park). Unlike many bookstores, visitors are able to purchase snacks and drinks from the cafes located on each floor and enjoy them alongside their books. The space is equipped with plenty of comfortable reading space - 50 tables, 200 seats, and other hidden nooks to get lost in a good story. The bookstore has an impressive array of books for all ages, making it the perfect spot for a family day retreat where kids can also keep busy with their picture storybooks.
Photo Source: Grey Suitcase
Perfect for you if: You’re eager to explore and discover hundreds of titles across genres
Best for: Family Adventure, Studying, Quiet Reading, Book publishing, Comfortable atmosphere
Address: 294, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Operating Hours: 10:00 - 23:00
The Foreign Bookstore, located in Itaewon, is a charming hidden gem filled to the brim with both new and pre-loved English books. From the outside, it almost looks as if the small building is ready to explode. Here, the organization of books is unruly and seemingly has no logical plan of placement. They’re piled up ceiling-high, stuffed in every available nook, scattered along the floor, and from afar it definitely may appear a little overwhelming. But take the leap of faith, and you’ll be instantly hooked and intrigued by the unique selection - it’ll be hard to leave empty-handed once you’re sucked into this new world. With over forty years of history, The Foreign Bookstore is one of the oldest in Seoul. The owner, Mr. Choi Ki-woong, started selling his own personal collection of books since the1960s. Choi began his business collecting neglected titles in garbage dumps of U.S army bases in Seoul. Today, the store is impressively home to over 100,000 titles collectively in English and other Foreign Languages. A visit to this bookstore is certainly an adventure equivalent to a treasure hunt. Finding a hidden gem involves an open mind and a willingness to fight the unordered chaos - as well as some time on your hands. More likely than not, you will leave with a book you’ve never heard of prior.
Photo Source: Jaylenjoy
Perfect for you if: You have some time on your hands, you’re on the hunt for a hidden gem or unique and rare gift for a friend, if you’re not intimidated by tight spaces and scouring piles of unorganized books
Best for: Finding hidden gems, discovering discontinued and rare titles
Address: 533 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Operating Hours: 10:00 - 21:00
There you have it - a short but sweet list of must-visit bookstores in Seoul, where you’ll be able to find more than a handful of English titles. Though you’re exploring a familiar linguistic territory (English), we wanted to craft a well-rounded set of experiences that reflect the sensibility and heart of Seoul’s design, and atmosphere. Each of these five bookstores will leave you with five different experiences - some more relaxed, and some more active than the rest. So make sure to explore them all!