Just a hop, skip and a subway line away from Seoul’s cement metropolis, Bukchon Hanok Village offers a doorway – indeed, many doorways – into Korea’s cultural history.
A hanok is a traditional style of low-roofed house that dates back to the Joseon Dynasty. The hanoks here – over 100 of them – were constructed around the 1930s, and once you wander away from the photogenic main hill you’ll spot winding narrow alleys packed with them. Not just an architectural museum village, these hanoks are still working homes, tea shops, guest houses and craft workshops.
A good first stop is the Bukchon Traditional Culture Center, a huge former residence which now houses a display about the history of the village and runs several classes and events daily. There’s calligraphy, folk tales, knot-tying and you can try on a traditional hanbok for free.
Away from the Center, many hanoks have open doors for visitors to tour, drink tea, learn about traditional arts or even stay the night. I arrived at the village late in the afternoon and a friendly English-speaking guide beckoned me inside one of the hanoks, explaining the owner was away on holiday right now. For ₩10,000 I could nosy around the house, take as many pictures as I liked, and then relaxed with a hot cup of tea on the porch, looking out over the hills.
Check the village website in advance for opening hours and more workshop/guesthouse information. Directions: Head to Anguk station (Seoul subway line 3) – take exit 2 and walk for 300km in a straight line to get to the village.
If you enjoyed trying on the hanbok, getting some professional pictures taken in one makes a memorable (though admittedly not cheap) souvenir. I booked a standard photo shoot for about ₩100,000 with It’s Me studio in Myeong-dong. (Take a look at their ‘special’ section of the website to see some of the hanboks you can wear.) The entire session took about two hours, and the friendly staff spoke excellent English. I chose a simple plan that involved wearing one hanbok of my colour choice. The hanbok itself is only three layers, and it fits all sizes and shapes. It only took a few minutes to put on, and then I was given some light makeup and a more traditional hairstyle using a small hairpiece. The photographer and stylists made me feel at ease during the snaps, posing me in the billowing colourful dress. After changing back, I was able to sit with the staff and choose my two favourite pictures from around ten they had pre-selected. The final prints and a CD were delivered to my hotel later that night, so it’s perfect for those short on time.