Seoul’s Best-Kept Secrets: Buam-dong – Cupcakes and Coffee
Buam-dong is a charming neighborhood in the center of Seoul, South Korea that offers a peaceful alternative to often-hectic Samcheongdong. In the first of a series of posts about lesser-known destinations, Amanda gives us an insider’s view.
Always on the hunt for her next meal, Amanda’s search for great food and atmosphere have taken her into the nooks and crannies of Seoul. She enjoys a wide variety of cuisine, from Greek to Japanese, though she is nagged by a constant craving for her favorite Korean food: dalk galbi with cheesy rice.
If you’re looking for somewhere in Seoul with the charm of Samcheong-dong, but without the crowds, head over to Buam-dong (부암동). It’s not as developed as Samcheong-dong, but Buam-dong is a small neighborhood with tons of character and a quaint atmosphere that’s hard to find in Seoul. Nestled between Inwangsan and Bukhansan, it offers great views at every turn. It’s also known for an eclectic mix of hidden galleries, classic restaurants, and superb coffee shops, including the famous Sanmootonge (산모퉁이), which is arguably the most beautiful café in Seoul.
Buam-dong owes its calm to its relative inaccessibility (there’s no direct subway), but here are simple bus directions!
[note title=”Directions to Buam-dong” align=”center”]
- Take the subway to Gyeongbokgung Station (line 3), and get out at exit 3.
- Walk straight about 100 meters to the second bus stop, and take green bus #1020 or #7022.
- Get off at the Buam-dong Community Service Center 부암동민주센터. It’s only 6 stops away and is announced in English.[/note]
Places to go:
- Espresso Club
(2-5: directions are from Espresso club)
- Sanmotoonge (산모퉁이)
- Jaha Sonmandu (자하손만두)
- Gyeyeolsa Chicken (계열사 치킨) (formerly “Cheers Chicken”)
- Changuimun Gate and Seoul North Mountain Fortress (북한산성)
- Ivy cafe/Shortcake cupcake shop
- August vintage store
1. Espresso Club
To get to the first 5 places on my list, go to your right when you get off the bus and walk straight up the hill for 2 minutes or so until you hit Espresso Club (pictured below on the left). Known for serving up some of the best cups of coffee in Seoul, Espresso Club is also at the base of the road that takes you to most of major destinations on Buam-dong.
2. Sanmotoonge (산모퉁이)
According to the Internet, this coffee shop was made famous by its appearance on the Korean drama Coffee Prince. Even if you are like me, however, and have never seen a Korean drama (it’s true), you’ll still be impressed. Located in a lovely brick house with magnificent views of Seoul, including what I’ve deemed the Korean “Hollywood Hills”, Sanmotoonge has just the right mixture of class, and quirk.
The coffee is a bit pricey at 8,000 won, but it’s good quality and you are, of course, paying for the seat. Try to get there early (before 1 pm) so you don’t have to fight K-drama fan girls or couples taking selfies for a seat on one of the balconies or in front of a window! The gallery downstairs is also worth checking out.
Directions: Once you hit Espresso Club, turn left and you’ll see a fork in the road. Stay left and keep walking: soon you’ll hit a small bend from which you can see a white building with a large brown sign for Sanmotoonge pointing uphill. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk, but there are great views and architecture along the way. Additional signs along the hill will keep you on track!
3. Jaha Sonmandu (자하손만두)
This is a famous mandu (만두), or dumpling, restaurant. Known for its fantastic ddeok mandu guk (떡만두국), or rice cake and dumpling soup, this restaurant also has a beautiful minimalist interior, perfect for dates, birthdays, and other special occasions. While certainly pricier than every-day street mandu, regular dishes only cost between W6,000 and W15,000; it’s W12,000 for the ddeok mandu guk. As a huge mandu fan, I think it’s well worth the visit!
Directions: It’s just a little up the street from Espresso Club. Turn left at Espresso Club, then stay right at the fork, going a little way uphill. You will see Jaha Sonmandu almost immediately on your right.
4. Gyeyeolsa Chicken (계열사 치킨) (formerly “Cheers Chicken”)
Gyeyeolsa is one of the most famous chicken restaurants in Seoul and is known for its traditional, Korean fried chicken. Traditional Korean fried chicken is distinguished by a very thin, crisp shell. The chicken is served on platters with large home fries. There is no English menu, but it’s the first item: “후라이드” (which is Hangeul for “fried”). If you’re feeling more adventurous, another popular dish is the second item on the menu: “골뱅이 국수” – snails with noodles! Get here by noon if you want to avoid the lunch rush!
5. Changuimun Gate (창의문) and Seoul North Mountain Fortress (북한산성)
If after all that eating you’re in need of some exercise, make a right behind Espresso Club and walk straight for just a minute. You will come to Changuimun (the oldest of the fortress gates). Through the gate you’ll find one of the entrances to Seoul North Mountain Fortress along the wall of which you can hike (yes, it’s that large fortress you can see from Sanmotoonge).
6. Ivy cafe/Shortcake cupcake shop
Near the entrance to Buam-dong is Ivy, a small yellow café with only 3 seats. It can be rented out at night to small groups for 50,000 won. Walk past Ivy and you’ll see Shortcake, a popular cupcake shop. While probably more sought out for its cute décor than the cupcakes (I found the cakes to be a little dry) Shortcake is still pretty good! In a city of few cupcakes, I’m not picky! The frosting on my Oreo cupcake was quite good.
From the base of Buam-dong, make a right (when you are facing the shops pictured below). You will find Ivy and Shortcake just a few minutes down.
7. August – vintage store
With limited time, my friend and I decided just to check out nearby August, which is an interesting vintage shop filled with clothes, house ware, and other knick-knacks. The owner was very friendly; she used to live in L.A. and speaks English very well!
Pro tips for Buam-dong
- Wander down small streets, take long walks, and let yourself get lost
The neighborhoods surrounding Gyeongbok Palace, particularly Samcheong-dong and Buam-dong, are filled with hidden coffee shops and galleries. There are tons of great places and little treasures to discover.
- Take a taxi
If you start the day at Gyeongbok Palace or Samcheong-dong, then a taxi to Buam-dong will only cost you about 6,000 won.
- Get your morning java
For most Koreans, coffee shops aren’t for morning pick-me-ups, but places to be seen in the afternoon. If you want to avoid crowded coffee shops in Samcheong-dong or Buam-dong, you don’t have to get there too early. Coffee places start to get really crowded around 3 or 4 o’clock.
If you’re clinging on to a secret Seoul neighborhood you think is special, spill the beans in the comments and let us all in on your favorite places in Seoul or elsewhere.