Known as a hub for creative energy and trend-setting culture, there’s so much to see in Seoul. The vibrant city helped inspire our new K-collection, with designs that put a spotlight on South Korea, Papier style. Led by Papier’s CPO, Molly Park, the collection celebrates Korean culture – from the cool cafe scene to the innovative world of design.
We recently chatted to Molly about Seoul, noting her favorite spots in the city and her top tips for travelling in South Korea. From an early morning mountain hike to Korean fried chicken at sunset, here are some ideas for spending time in Seoul.
What do you love most about Seoul?
Seoul is the most dynamic city I know. It never stands still, and there’s always something new and exciting to experience. In the last decade, it’s become a center for creativity and pop culture – from K-Pop and film to K-Beauty, which are all having a real moment. I love that Seoul is filled with creative energy.
Describe the essence of Seoul in 3 words.
Dynamic, high-energy and creative.
When’s the best time of year to visit?
Each season is so different from the next. From -15 degrees (celsius) in winter to 40-degree (celsius) blistering sunshine in the summer – I love all the seasons and have special memories of enjoying each of them when I was growing up. The best way to enjoy South Korea is to live like a local and embrace the different seasons and moods. Winters are typically spent skiing in the mountains, with freezing temperatures that feel bracing yet energizing. By the time the colorful blossom blooms in spring, it feels like such a treat after winter.
You might know Japan for its pink blossoms, but in Korea, we have a type which arrives in a vivid yellow called Forsythia. The branches are bare through winter but as it warms the bright yellow petals unfurl, which always signals the reawakening of the city and the season. In the summer months, we embrace hiking and surfing before autumn brings another change of mood, dappling the surroundings in tones of orange and red – it’s beautiful.
Where’s the first place you visit when you go back?
The first place I go when I land is a Korean bath house – we call it jimjilbang. It's my essential for fighting jet lag. It’s not only the perfect way to relax but an experience that’s accessible and affordable for everyone. Expect to use pink salt and mud saunas, before steaming and bathing. Typically, only locals know about them so it’s a bit of a hidden gem. I’d recommend a visit for an authentic Seoul experience.
You have 24 hours in Seoul - what's your perfect day?
It’s very seasonally dependent, but my perfect day would be to wake early and leave the city to go hiking up Bukhansan. It’s a mountain on the very North of the city so easy to get to. I’d take breakfast in my backpack and enjoy the trails for a couple of hours. The views of the city are stunning, it’s usually framed with a pure blue sky and once I reach the top, I just feel at peace.
Coming down I’d head for lunch at Bukchon Hanok Village – it can get busy with tourists but it's fun to explore the narrow streets and experience a more traditional side to the city.
After lunch, I’d pop to the Seoul Museum of Craft Art. It’s the first museum to showcase Korean craft, and with seven buildings – there’s so much to explore! By late afternoon, I’ll be in need of a coffee break so I’ll pop to the Seongsu-dong district – it’s known for shopping and hipster cafes. I’d go straight to meet friends at Daerim Warehouse, which also showcases art by emerging artists, for an iced americano but I’d save room to go to Nu Dake bakery for one of their famous desserts, too.
As dusk falls, I’d go with friends to Yeouido Park and set up a spot with picnic blankets overlooking the Hangang River. We’d end the night ordering Deliveroo to our spot (it’s a must-do!) Our order would be Chimaek – korean fried chicken and beer!
“I think Korea is so dynamic and creative, and it’s instilled in me the importance to look to the future.”
Where in Seoul makes you feel most creative?
I find so many of Seoul’s neighborhoods to be energizing – it would be hard to pick just one. The whole city invigorates me with its dynamic, pulsing energy.
Tell us more about the cafe culture in Seoul.
Cafe culture is huge in Korea – they are simply so many amazing coffee shops across the city. Try Quiet Lights if you like walnut interiors and good music, or Nonscaled where you can enjoy coffee and ice cream.
Any tips on cultural customs to keep in mind?
Overall, I’d note that in Korean society you are raised to be incredibly polite and respectful, especially to elders. For example, if you’re having a meal with someone older, you don’t drink until they drink first, and when you meet you might bow as a greeting out of respect.
If you were bringing back one thing as a souvenir, what would it be?
I’d bring back the traditional Korean honey cookie Yakgwa for everyone to taste – it's chewy and delicious, made from honey, oats and sesame and best enjoyed with coffee. It’s been revived by the younger generation who have rediscovered it – there’s so much buzz around them now. I love that Koreans often elevate existing products – it’s the same way I approach stationery design for Papier.
My favorite place to check out Korean Art is…
The Leeum Museum. The curation is great, it’s a mix of modern and Korean art.
My favorite shop in Seoul is…
One for the readers! Visit Coex Mall Starfield library and prepare to be amazed – expect row upon row of endless books!
My favorite neighborhood for culture or green space is...
In the city, Yeouido Park. If you’re going to head out, there’s no better place than the mountains.
My favorite neighborhood for food is…
Seongsu, also dubbed the Brooklyn of Seoul. It has everything you might need. I recommend Cafe Onion if you can get a spot on the rooftop!
I’ve listed a few more food spots below should you be looking for something sweet:
- Dior Cafe Seoul – pop by for an indulgent luxurious treat!
- Cre8 Cookies – a super homely vibe with cookies that are still warm on the inside.
- Cheong Su Dang dessert cafe – the entrance is surrounded by bamboo and lanterns. Check it out for a traditional vibe.
My all-time favorite food in Seoul…
Changes all the time! Right now, I love Korean Hotdogs – K-dogs. They have crunchy batter and delicious fillings, but I mostly love how they are created with such artistry – there’s an amazing history to this simple street food.
I think in both the food and design worlds, Koreans have an instinctive understanding of what people want, which is how so many trends go viral and end up in the Western world.
And finally… How does your Korean heritage inspire your design work?
In every way! I think Korea is so dynamic and creative, and it’s instilled in me the importance to look to the future. I like to create fresh ideas at pace – just like the city of Seoul itself. I am so inspired by the reinvention I see in food, restaurants and brands here and the way that traditional products can create a buzz from a new perspective by making them modern and relevant. It’s exactly the way I work to design our products: it's about forecasting what’s next and creating it.