Jetting off to Seoul anytime soon? I’m sure you’ve got a list of Korean BBQ spots to tick off, but don’t miss out on the cute cafes the city has to offer. From Insta-worthy interiors to food so adorable you can’t bear to eat it, Seoul has something special for everyone.
I discovered a few on my recent trip there and it warms my Seoul (thank you, God, for making me so hilarious) to share them with you.
1. Café Onion, Anguk
For one of the world’s most technologically-advanced nations, South Korea certainly does love its connections to the past. No surprises, then, that ‘hanok’-themed cafes like the Cafe Onion branch near the unmissable Gyeongbokgung Palace are so popular.
That doesn’t take away from the amazing creations dreamed up by this cafe’s wonderfully creative team. Perhaps most iconic is their Pandoro. Café Onion’s versions adds a gigantic helping of icing sugar (tasted like Glucose powder to me) to the traditional Italian sweet bread to make it resemble a snow-covered mountain. Mine was a bit wonky structurally but right on point with deliciousness.
I strongly advise you to add some savouries to your tray— it will help balance out the mile-wide array of sweet indulgences. My smiley-face pizza definitely helped and the Cafe Latte was a delight on the sub-zero day as I sat outside. Inside, cushions on the floor straddle low tables— very quaint!
South Korea, Seoul, Jongno-gu, 계동길 5
Mon to Fri: 7am – 10pm
Sat & Sun: 9am – 10pm
2. Café Layered, Yeonnam-dong
From the outside, Café Layered is as unlike Café Onion as you please. This cute little red brick building stands out from a sea of smoothly-plastered white ones. If you’re drawn to the wonderfully-textured façade, wait till you step inside— it’s an artist’s wonderland!
An expansive multicolour spread awaits you, laid out on tables high and low. It’s not an exaggeration that every bit of horizontal surface, including the window sills are laden with pastries, scones and cakes. In fact, the place is so chock-a-block that it’s hard to navigate the narrow aisles.
That is a small price to pay for the deliciousness with which Café Layered rewards you. And that artist’s wonderland? It’s more than the edible artistry all around you— there are interesting paintings, tapestries and even handmade stuffed toys on the walls and windows. What I remember most is how dense their cakes were and that I had a hard time finishing my huge slice despite the lovely taste.
223-20 Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Daily: 11am – 11pm
3. Café Knotted, Anguk
Winter may not be the best time to visit Café Knotted— there’s always a queue outside. But I guess the people in the queue outside know that the baptism by ice is worth the trouble. So, there I was, one of those shivering souls at the Anguk branch, gazing longingly at the warm interior and the magnificent sweet treasures on the other side of the glass.
The cheeky smiley face licking its lips is emblazoned almost everywhere.
Café Knotted is famous for its doughnuts and they are presented to you in a cup. It’s a cute sight, almost like a 3-dimensional Pac-Man waiting to devour those little white dots (of icing sugar). Sorry, Pac-Men, we eat you instead and you’re very tasty. Thank you for your service.
There’s cotton candy, croissants, ice-cream, coffee and tea as well. The colouring sheets and colour pencils add a cute whimsical touch.
6-3 Bukchon-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Daily: 10am – 9pm
4. Madang Flower Café, Ikseon-dong
Koreans love their hanoks… and so do I! Madang Flower Café is located bang in the middle of an adorable hamlet of only traditionally-designed single-storey buildings. The area comes complete with rather narrow criss-crossing streets lined with pretty restaurants, stalls selling knickknacks and, of course, cakes and pastries!
This café, though, stands out from afar with its pretty decor of colourful umbrellas, fairy lights (especially magical at dusk) and the boundary marked out by little pots of thigh-high trees. Apart from being a divinely-Instagram-able bakery, it’s also an actual flower shop! For the famished, there is coffee, tea, desserts and brunch, as well as beer and wine.
I was simply mesmerised by the combination of bright flowers and their soft scents combining with the aroma of freshly-baked goodies. Oh yes, If you are a fan of Korean serials, you may recognise Madang Flower Café from the show Goblin.
33-12 Supyo-ro 28-gil, Ikseon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Daily: 9am – 11pm
5. Cong Caphe, Yeonnam-dong
Vietnamese coffee marches on across the world, this time landing in Seoul in the avatar of Cong Caphe. The military green star of the franchise chain can be found at 6 locations across the country but I got my fix at the Yeonnam-dong outlet on the same day I was at Café Layered.
This was the brand’s first branch in the country in 2018. It boasts the characteristic laidback vibe that I found (and loved) when I was in Da Nang, South Vietnam late last year. There are some very interesting rustic armchairs while the crockery seems almost too antique-ish to be handed out to the public.
Cong Caphe’s coconut coffee is on the menu here and it’s one that I recommend to anyone with a sweet tooth. Visit early in the day if you have a hankering for a Vietnamese breakfast.
223-114 Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Daily: 11am – 10pm
6. Green Mile Coffee, Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village near the city’s artsy Insadong district is one of my favourite places in all of Seoul. Part of the reason is Green Mile Coffee. Despite the name, the café’s actual focus (and forte) is tea-based beverages and desserts.
As you have probably guessed, green tea features heavily as an ingredient on much of the menu. There is no better way to sample their wares than the Green Mile Latte, a verdant concoction of green tea concentrate and espresso.
It’s not just what you drink but also where you drink it. Take your perch on Green Mile Coffee’s second floor and rooftop for the best and least-seen views of the hanok homes. I found it to be a particularly enthralling sight as the sun warmed me up in the crisp winter air.
Really, the whole décor with its muted brown and ochre shades is just ideal for relaxation.
64 Bukchon-ro, Gahoe-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Mon to Fri: 9am – 7pm
Sat & Sun: 10am – 7pm
Facebook | Website
7. Cheongsudang, Ikseon-dong
Another of my beloved Ikseon-dong finds, Cheongsudang is a serene ocean of tranquillity amidst the buzz of activity in the area. The experience begins even before you enter, with the soothing sound of running water calling out to your weary body and mind. Hop across the (very steady) stone steps partly immersed in a shallow pool to the wooden building beckoning beyond.
As with Café Onion in Anguk, Cheongsudang offers a mix of traditional seating on a low raised platform (shoes off, please) or Western-style long table and chairs. There’s the expected menu of teas, coffees and cakes but one set of items blew me away: the artistic castellas and fromage cakes.
It’s like someone went into the garden and carefully cut out a rectangular block of turf and soil. The intricacy and attention to detail of these wondrous bits of creativity really cannot be fully conveyed through photos. Go and seeee!
1-9 Donhwamun-ro 11na-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Daily: 11.30am – 10pm
8. C. Through Café, Itaewon
If the creativity of the blocks of soil at Cheongsudang appeal to you, the care and precision that goes into the works of coffee art at C. Through Café will please you no end. Each is crafted before you to your request by master barista Lee Kang Bin.
Forget those basic leaf patterns that you admire at your local American coffee chain outlet; these are in a class of their own. There is colour. There is texture. There are pink marshmallow bits masquerading as cherry blossoms.
Barista Lee even recreates edible versions of the world’s most famous paintings. The catch is that you can only watch the action on weekends.
A word of caution, though. Make sure you find out exactly how to get there as C. Through Café is located in a maze of alleyways and there is but one shy sign announcing its presence.
South Korea, Seoul, 마포구 동교로 266-6
Daily: 12pm – 9pm
9. Coffee Nap Roasters, Yeonnam-dong
My friends, I say again, it’s not just what you drink but where you drink it that flavours your memories. Coffee Nap Roasters is the perfect example of this philosophy. Its combination of abstract design and minimalism has propelled an otherwise not particularly remarkable café to widespread Instagram fame.
At the literal centre of its appeal is a neat sloping mound of red bricks. Sunlight floods in from the huge windows that line the walls, illuminating the structure with direct light as well as photons reflected off the otherwise sterile-white décor.
From what I can tell, their rather small bites menu is almost an aside; nothing on the list is permanent and may not be available when you visit. I don’t know why, but that makes me want to go back try my luck again right now.
South Korea, 453-32 마포구 서울특별시 KR
Daily: 10am – 6.30pm
Instagram | Website
10. Greem Café, Yeonnam-dong
What the…! Walking into Greem Café is like leaving the 3-dimensional world behind and walking into an unfinished comic. It’s surreal, the way that every physical object is white while every edge is marked by thick black ink-like borders to resemble a graphic artist’s work-in-progress. The Korean word greem refers to artwork.
It will come as no surprise, then, that the coffee and light bites seem to be purely an afterthought. The focus is undoubtedly on delivering an experience that shakes your senses out of their reverie into a reality that challenges ‘perspectives’. (See what I did there?)
This is the 2nd edition of Greem Café; they moved out of their original location when their popularity exploded. Among the added features of the new chapter is a rooftop terrace complete with 2D clothesline and hanging laundry.
South Korea, Seoul, Mapo-gu, Seongmisan-ro, 161-10 카페 1.5층
Wed to Sun: 12pm – 9pm
Closed on Mon & Tue
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