South Korea's importation of coffee beans hit an all-time high in 2020-2021--and with good reason! Seoul, South Korea's capital city, is said to have more cafés per capita than anywhere else in the world and walking the streets of this metropolis, you can totally believe it!
There's a café on almost every corner, in every alley, and on the highest floors of every skyscraper; some of them are international and domestic chains, others are independent brainchildren of creatives. So many of these unique cafés have incredible themes and tasty confections--and some serve cocktails and savories!--so it has become a popular social pastime to go "cafe hopping" around the city. With the abundance of cafés around, though, how does one tackle the daunting task of café hopping in Seoul? Never fear! You'll learn how here!
Tip 1: Zero In A Neighborhood Or Two
Seoul is massive. Full stop. This city is a puzzle of borough-like areas that are further broken down into neighborhoods, each filled with tons of people, random alleyways, and difficult-to-spot street signs. So, in order to keep this café hopping manageable, find a neighborhood or two you want to explore and café-hop in those!
Also, depending on the time of year you visit, the weather could be rough, so you'll want to keep traveling between cafés short and sweet. This way, you can enjoy more treats and spend less time struggling outside.
Wondering what neighborhoods, then? If you're feeling the Korean traditional culture vibes, then visit Insadong or Bukchon Hanok Village. Do you prefer something a bit more bougie and modern? Then Gangnam is your style. A little off the grid? Hapjeong may be a great place to start.
Tip 2: Themes Are Everything
What makes a café stand out in a city where there's competition literally everywhere? Themes! And the more Instagrammable the better. It is no exaggeration to say that everything theme imaginable is represented somewhere in the city...including toilets and poop. Cafes will take themes very seriously; it'll dictate decor, menu, and even drink containers and merch.
If you're into something more aesthetic, you may want to pass on the Poop Cafe and try one of Seoul's many demure flower cafes. Another crowd favorite for aesthetics are traditional tea cafes that embrace traditional Korean architecture and flora.
Seoul is particularly famous for its animal-themed cafes too. If you are a fan of cats and dogs (even prefer particular breeds!), then this activity is definitely for you. But also, don't miss out on some of the other really interesting animal-themed cafés like this meerkat cafe or this sheep cafe.
Tip 3: Search For Cafés Via Dietary Restrictions
Some real talk here: South Korea can be a little tough for people who have dietary restrictions or allergies. Korean culture loves food and eating, so there's no shortage of food or drink at cafés in Seoul. Unlike cafés in other parts of the world, these menus often feature full food lists and a variety of drinks other than coffee. It's easy to actually have a meal at a café! Though, you have to keep an eye out if you have allergies.
While not every place may have options that serve different dietary needs, lately, specialty cafés have been popping up that are allergen-free and dietary restriction-friendly! Building your café hopping itinerary around these kinds of places will give you a peace-of-mind and will definitely come in handy if you're planning on café hopping around meal times. Some notable places that serve the diet-restricted include vegan-friendly cafés Yammy Yomil and Plant Cafe and gluten-free café Alfreebe.
Tip 4: Use Naver To Build Lists
Naver is one of South Korea's most popular search engines. It's much easier to use Naver products, like Naver Maps, in Korea than Google or Google Maps because the former has more complete information than the former.
A great function of Naver is that you can build a list of cafés you want to visit and easily have access to the links for each café all in one place. If you have Naver Maps downloaded as well, you can simply click the listing of the café, and it'll open up Naver Maps to navigate you to your next stop. If you're planning on walking or using public transport, Naver Maps will be your best friend!
Another bonus tip: remember to change the language of Naver and Naver Maps to English before you start using them! (This may sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people forget).