It’s no secret that the cafe culture has really caught on in South Korea, and the only way one cafe can differentiate itself from the competition is by also providing an interior primed to grace the Instagram feeds of many a cafe hopper. This means you can literally fill your itinerary with chasing the hottest cafes today. However, cafes aren’t the only place you’ll find incredibly aesthetically pleasing interiors, as retail stores too have put in the effort to become destinations within themselves. Brick-and-mortar stores aren’t dead, and these South Korean spaces prove just that.
This is a list of some of the most stunning cafes and stores I visited which is far from exhaustive, and anyone with a keen eye for appreciating aesthetically pleasing interiors will most definitely find this list of interest.
This luxury eyewear brand has already gone global, and in the summer of 2019 had a pop-up installation in collaboration with Fendi, which took court in The Garden cafe across the street from the Sinsa branch.
Unfortunately, I never got round to The Garden on a day it was open, but it was still pristine from the outside.
I only made it to 2 out of the 3 Gentle Monster stores in Seoul, but both were exquisitely decorated according to their surroundings, making them feel more like a concept showroom than a normal retail store.
The eye-catching and evocative installations lend a bold and artistic flair to the stores.
Located in Sinsa, Welcome Records is part cafe, part retail store.
There’s an outdoor seating area too if you’ve gotten some coffee and pastries.
If not, you can shop for some vinyls and merchandise.
I managed to get some incredible photos with the rays of golden hour pouring in through the glass windows.
Queen Mama Market
Also located in Sinsa is Queen Mama Market, featuring household and lifestyle goods.
Each floor is segregated according to category, 1F an open space, M for candles, scents and other beauty-related products, 2F for home goods and tableware, 3F for fashion and design, and 4F lastly for the cafe and veranda.
Natural day light pours in through the ceiling of the coffee house on the top floor, it’s design a mix of clean and minimalist— the long wooden tables spruced up with the presence of the indoor plants.
Stylenanda Pink Hotel + Pink Pool Cafe
Can a list like this ever skip Stylenanda?
Most people know of how photogenic this clothing and make-up store is, and the flagship store in Myeongdong attracts many camera-wielding shoppers.
There are several levels to the store, with each level decorated differently.
The Pink Pool Cafe here replicates a poolside aesthetic, with giant umbrellas overhead and pink chairs.
I didn’t stay for the coffee, but prices are relatively comparable to any hot new cafe.
Heard of Seongsu yet?
You’re about to if you haven’t.
Nicknamed the Brooklyn of Seoul, this up-and-coming neighbourhood sees some quirky designers and cafe owners moving in, leading to a rise of spaces led by the creative and imaginative generation pushing the envelope, and in turn revitalising this neighbourhood of industrial origins.
cafe onion is located a stone’s throw away from the subway station, but stepping in, you’ll see how industrial has been turned to encapsulate the aesthetic.
Fresh baked goods and the fragrant aroma of coffee are housed in what looks like a decaying and abandoned housing block.
Uneven floors, overgrown vines and creepers going up walls, and peeling layers of paint are what make cafe onion so damn visually pleasing.
This cafe is incredibly busy, so snagging a seat might be a little tough, but fret not, the rooftop provides plenty more tables, and the stark grey of the surrounds only adds on to the industrial atmosphere.
Daelim Changgo Gallery CO: LUMN
You’ll notice most boutique cafes in Seoul are usually pretty small but packed.
Daelim sits in the grounds of a warehouse, and provides ample seating.
Daelim’s beginnings and previous uses start from a very humble industrial-use background, as you would expect in this neighbourhood.
Therefore the industrial decor here isn’t a front or an act to be hipster, but truly an authentic reflection of the neighbourhood and it’s buildings.
Daelim actually functions as an art gallery too, which was a little more prominent in the room just by the huge door, but art installations can be found adorning the walls of the cafe space.
If you need a break from Korean food, Daelim is pretty decent as they have a rather extensive Western menu.
Prices here are a little on the higher side though, as mains are about 20, 000KRW and up.
Still, it’s a really lovely place to spend some time.
PS. Romanisation of the Korean language is always confusing, but KakaoMap recognises the place as Daerim and not Daelim, though most sites online will refer to the space as Daelim.
Supy is a store for the forward thinking and boundary pushing.
This clothing store is definitely very trendy, and often does collaborations with other up-and-coming designers.
There’s also a cafe outside here, though there’s plenty to browse on the several levels.
Sigonggan is an accessories store all over Seoul, and there’s one in Hongdae, a popular shopping area in Seoul close to the Hongik University.
Anyone looking for accessories will probably go nuts over the sheer number of pieces on display.
Apart from the shelves of accessories from floor to ceiling, there is also a good deal of clothing on the racks here too.
Cafe Rooftop is a cafe that sits somewhere on the outskirts of Busan proper along the coast.
Good news though, if you’re already around Haeundae Beach, make your way to the Haeundae Market Board bus stop as you’ll have a direct bus— Bus 2 to the fishing port of Cheongsapo.
Cafe Rooftop is in a nondescript building that you’ll have to take the lift up to the top floor to enter.
Once you’re in though, you’re greeted with a welcoming and stunning cafe with beautiful seafront views.
The cafe features indoor and outdoor seating, in the form of a little terrace decorated with white and cream-coloured curtains blowing in the wind, or the, ahem, rooftop, where seating options range from beanbags to bar stools to benches.
It’s easy to see why this cafe has become such a hit with the public, so much so that it attracts many tourists making the trek all the way out of Busan’s downtown just to visit this cafe.
I had the most expensive item on the menu, which was the brunch set, which they serve well into the afternoons.
Food was pretty decent, though not exactly cheap, but given that I would pay similar prices in Singapore or Hong Kong, it wasn’t anything ludicrous. Plus, the plate was pretty full!
Wave On Coffee
Even further up the coast is another seafront cafe by the name of Wave On Coffee.
It’ll take a long bus ride from Haeundae, so I’d recommend going if you’ve got a car in tow.
Wave On is located in an architecturally stunning building in Gijang-gun with multiple levels, and feels more like a beach club than a cafe per se.
Come here more for the coffee and desserts.