There are plenty of interesting places to visit in South Korea – like Suncheon and Tongyeong in the south and foodie capital Jeonju just two hours from the capital – but Seoul has an energy that keeps us going back for more. K-pop aside, their thriving café scene throws out plenty of options for café hopping. From artsy venues that double up as an art exhibition space to Instagram-worthy character themed hangouts and traditional tea houses that take you back in time; we poke around to uncover the must-visits in the city.

Get artsy: Beautifully appointed venues we could spend hours in

aA Design Museum. Image courtesy of Jirka Matousek

A coffee and cake pairing is made even better when you’re enjoying it in beautifully appointed settings oozing an artsy vibe. The first stop on your list should be Take-Out Drawing; spread out across two stories, this café-cum-art exhibition space hosts exhibitions, talks and artist residences in each of its four venues. The must-try beverage here is Paul’s Meringue Factory, a much raved about drink topped off with a meringue (tip: it’s best enjoyed after dipping in the espresso).

Café aA – a sprawling five storey venue that’s a museum, café and furniture showroom in one – is an establishment that draws in a hip and stylish crowd. The exposed ceilings, hanging lamps and washed out walls lend the establishment a raw, industrial chic vibe.  

For a different ambience altogether, stop by at hoho Myoll. Much attention is paid to the decor here – from the carefully arranged greenery and rustic wood-dominated interior, to an indoor Volkswagen made ultra-cosy with rugs, cushions and a coffee table – to give the venue a vintage charm. There’s also Cafe Comma; featuring a wide, open space, lofty ceilings and walls lined with bookshelves, it’s a booklover’s dream come true.

Picture-perfect: Character themed cafés are worth a shot

You won’t have any trouble spotting the Hello Kitty Café while strolling along Hongdae’s bustling shop-lined streets. Just about everything in this picture-perfect café is Instagram-worthy – from its furnishings and fixtures, to tiramisu and mousse cakes shaped in the form of the well-loved character.

Not into pink? The mysterious sounding 221B, located in Gangnam may just be your cup of tea.  You’ll find the standard café food-and-drink choices at this Sherlock Holmes-themed venue, but a beverage that stands out is the Sherlock Coffee – a frothy, Americano-style drink that’s served hot or iced.

Old is gold: Sip teas in a traditional tea house

While stylish, urban chic venues may be all the rage, traditional tea houses possess an atmospheric allure that’s hard to beat. Cha Masineun Tteul is one of those places that check off all the right boxes; its prime hilltop setting offers uninterrupted views out to the charming village of Bukchon, the interior is beautifully kitted out with traditional design elements and the menu boasts a wide-ranging variety of Korean snacks and teas.

Image courtesy of Madison Scott-Clary

Insadong Chatjip is another one of our favourites. Located in Insadong, the relaxed ambience of the café offers travellers a respite from the busy streets. Go for the pat bing soo, or shaved ice dessert if you need to cool down from the summer heat, or keep warm during the cooler months with a hot tea (it makes a perfect pairing with sweet rice cakes). For a more intimate setting, opt for one of the handful of private rooms tucked away in the back of the café.

Relax and rejuvenate: Cafés with an emphasis on wellness

Seoul’s electric energy makes it an exciting destination – yet there are times where you’ll seek a breather from the city’s vibrant streets and crowded attractions.

That’s where venues like Tea Therapy come into play. You’ll feel at ease the moment you step in, thanks to the café’s lofty, light-filled interior, sense of spaciousness and tastefully chosen ornaments. As its name suggests, the teas are the stars of the show here – the owner, a certified traditional medicine practitioner creates his own brews, focusing on its nourishing qualities, aroma and flavour. There’s also the option of taking an aromatherapy foot bath treatment, where you’ll enjoy dipping your feet in a mixture concocted with herbs.

Photo courtesy of Tea Therapy

A meal at PLANT can feel incredibly rejuvenating – especially if you’ve been overindulging in Seoul’s myriad street food or barbecued meat delicacies. Eating clean is the order of the day at this cosy, plant-based restaurant: a daily menu lists the day’s specials, which are enjoyed with a selection of vegan baked treats, smoothies or coffees.

Cover image courtesy of 221B