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Cool Bookish Places

My Two Favorite Bookish Places in Seoul

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Gia R.

Staff Writer

Gia R. is from Phoenix, Arizona. She graduated with two business degrees. While studying, her short nonfiction story was published in 2018 in Write On, Downtown, an ASU journal. Since then, she taught preschool students abroad. Now back in AZ, you’ll find her writing, reading, and adoring digital art.

Disclaimer: Since the world is still very unpredictable at this time, we understand that most people aren’t traveling domestically or internationally. Some of the places may have modified opening hours and restrictions. Always consult reliable sources for updated health information.

When I can’t go anywhere, I like to remember where I’ve been and find new places to go later. Wherever you are, I hope you enjoy these bookish places that you can add to your travel goals in 2022 (fingers crossed!).

South Korea is known for a variety of things, from their karaoke rooms and barbecue to their impressive music industry and beauty products. While I taught English there for a year, I had a chance to enjoy many of these things. Being the book lover that I am, I couldn’t go to Seoul without finding a few bookish delights. As I shopped around and visited major sites like Lotte Tower, I looked for libraries and bookstores, and I was not disappointed.

A quick Google search for libraries in Seoul will pull up Starfield Library, a gorgeous library and bookstore located in Coex mall. You may have seen pictures of the large library that has escalators. In fact, another Book Rioter covered it in “Cool Bookish Places: Starfield Library” when it opened back in 2017.

I went to Starfield Library often and thoroughly enjoyed browsing and taking pictures there. When I visited on weekends, it was usually busy because of its popularity. If you’re more interested in a quiet library escape, Starfield is probably not your top choice, unless you go during less popular times. If you plan on visiting, make sure to check the Starfield website for recent announcements regarding opening times.

Beyond Starfield Library, there are several other bookish places to be found in Seoul. I’ve got two that I’m sure will delight your book loving heart! Both brought me joy AND…they’re a bit quieter!

Arc N Books

Address: 04523 B1F, 29 Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul

This bookstore is located near City Hall, a great place to stop if you’re headed toward Myeong-dong to shop (which I highly recommend). Arc N Books is underground and can be accessed via subway exit or by a separate entrance with stairs that lead down to the basement. 

Before you ask, yes it does have an archway of books. This makes it the perfect place for a picture! Which also means that it can get a bit crowded on the weekends. However, there are other areas farther in the store that are quieter. Every time I went, I was able to sit in a comfortable nook to read or browse. Their books are separated into four different themes. These are weekend, daily, style, and inspiration.

There’s a decent amount of natural light near the entrance, but once you get farther inside, you can find warm lighting, wooden frames and tables, and cozy areas to sit and check out a book. At the front of the store, near the cash registers, there are cute red telephone booths where you can search titles of books.

It also has a cafe with nice seating, but this feature may not be open during this time. I spent many afternoons enjoying some milk tea and checking out their bookish goods! I found many beautiful books, postcards, home goods and other book related souvenirs from enamel pins to tote bags. When I browsed through their aisles, I found some pretty children’s pop up books and some books in English.

I brought back pretty postcards of the bookstore by artist Minho Kwon. You can view them on the artist’s Instagram.

One of the best things about Arc N Books is its atmosphere. From the cozy lighting to the rich wood tables, I felt comfortable simply scanning the aisles of books or listening to the quiet chatter nearby.

Read a book, buy a cute postcard, or listen to music while you browse this lovely book lover’s paradise.

ALSO, Arc N Books has two locations! The second one is smaller and can be found in Lotte World Mall.

Daeo Bookstore Cafe

Address: 03036 55 Jahamun-ro 7-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Okay, this bookstore may not look like much from the outside, but once you step inside you’ll know why it’s on my list. This bookstore is located in a traditional hanok home in Seochon village, an area of neighborhoods filled with cafes and other hanok houses. It’s in northern Seoul, not too far from Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest palace from the Joseon Dynasty. This whole area has many lovely cafes and shops that are definitely worth exploring.

The major reason I decided to visit this place is because it’s the oldest bookstore in Seoul (yes!). Founded in 1951, Daeo Bookstore’s name came from the first syllable in each of the owners’ names. The couple, Choi Dae-sik and Kwon Oh-nam, have a large collection of old books and antique props that decorate the bookstore.

The house, books, and props make this bookstore a great place to visit and take pictures. 

To enter and take pictures, you can purchase a drink or souvenir. Once you pay, you go through a door that opens to a small courtyard that’s covered in old books. From there, you can go into a couple little rooms that have a variety of antique items from chairs and tables to a piano. Above you can see a video with a view of part of the courtyard with the piano.

The menu has a small selection of drinks with coffee and tea. I enjoyed warm lemon tea when I visited this delightful cafe with my sister.

In the courtyard and other rooms, there are several places to take pictures. I took some at a bench with books, which you can see below. Because of the small space and entry fee, there is a limited number of people who can be there at a time, thus making it a quieter location to visit, take a picture, and enjoy a cup of tea in this old book heaven. 

Some of its operations may have changed due to local restrictions. Always check official websites and social media for up to date information about opening hours and safety precautions.

Image of article writer at Daeo bookstore in Seoul. Photo credit: Gianessa Refermat
Me in Daeo Bookstore

There’s something about being surrounded by unique architecture and old books that creates a nostalgic atmosphere. Simply sitting there and drinking tea transported me to the past. This space felt like its own little world, one that I was happy to step into for a time.

Other than a sweet photo spot and cafe, Daeo also serves as a small music venue and filming location. Many people visit because some TV shows have been filmed there, as well as an IU music video. Others check out this delightful cafe because their favorite celebrity has taken a photo here. The owner even put up pictures of those celebrities that have visited, like RM of BTS.

Image of BTS RM in Daeo Bookstore. Photo credit: Gianessa Refermat
Photo of BTS RM in Daeo Bookstore

If you search #DaeoBookstore on Instagram, you can see a nice selection of photos of the bookstore.

Nowadays I wish I could go back to these bookish spaces. For now, I’m happy revisiting the memories by looking at pictures, writing about my experiences, AND enjoying some books set in Seoul.

Because it’s hard to know when it’ll be safe to travel again, bookmark this link or save these places for future plans. And while you wait, why not read a book set in Seoul? There are a plethora of books to choose from. One that I recommend is Almond by Won-Pyung Sohn.

This book is about Yunjae, a boy who has Alexithymia, a condition where he cannot feel emotion. Told from his point of view, the story follows Yunjae’s life as he has a hard time making friends and understanding his family. To blend in with his peers, his mother teaches him a list of rules of how to act in public. Things change when tragedy leaves him alone to navigate the world and its challenges. Almond presents a unique story that allows the reader to contemplate what it means to be a parent and a person in society. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its thought-provoking elements. Even now it leaves me wondering, what makes a person a person or a monster? 

Content warnings: death, violence, animal torture

For other recommendations, take a look at these articles below.

The Best Korean Fiction in Translation

10 Works of Korean Literature in Translation for Fans of Parasite

3 Great YA Books About KPOP