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Seoul's best foreign bookshops

It's hard to find a good selection of English novels abroad. Here are some bookshops you should visit to find your next read!

What the Book

When What The Book? opened in 2003, English books, especially new releases, were hard to come by and pricey at that. Many long-term residents credit the store for creating enough competition to lower the price of English books at major Korean outlets. What the Book? sells both used and new volumes, and has the biggest on-site English magazine section we’ve seen yet in Korea. They’re also known for an expansive children’s section, and regularly partner with international schools to host book fairs. From their searchable online database, you can order online and select either pick-up or delivery. But we think you’ll want to pick up your purchase in-store—it’s so much fun to wander the sunlit space and browse their spacious shelves. Our one complaint? We wish they had a coffee shop so we could linger even longer.

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Veranda Books

Opened just this March by illustrator Noh Jun-gu and former fashion designer Jina Lee, Veranda Books is a small, modern bookstore specializing in illustrated books. Filled with salary men from nearby companies during lunchtime, Jun-gu says that he wanted “a space that would provide brief respite from the hectic feeling of everyday life.” Here, you can find beautifully designed art gallery pamphlets, children’s books, flip books, photography books, postcards and even a few of Noh Jun-gu’s works.  

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Paper Muse

Art and culture magazines, especially ones not written in Korean, can be difficult to find in Seoul. Ordering them online from overseas means having to pay large shipping fees and if you're really a zine-addict, it’s nice to be able to touch them and see the cover in person before making a purchase. Owner Won Sung-kyung has loved magazines since she was young and quit her job to start Paper Muse three years ago. “To be honest, I wanted to open it in Hongdae at first but it was too expensive. Since the Steve J & Yoni P Showroom is here, I figured a lot of fashion lovers and fashion magazine lovers would be around here, too.” A neat display of foreign magazines like Vogue, The Gentlewoman, Dapper, Kinfolk, Cereal and Monocle will greet your eyes when you eneter and though the prices may be hefty (it’s difficult to find an issue under 30,000 won)—we say you should treat yourself to such rarities as the year comes to a close. 

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Veronica Effect

Former magazine editor Kim Hye-mi and her partner, artist Yu Seung-bo, opened this tiny bookshop mid-2014 with little fanfare. Tucked back amongst the low, red brick buildings south of Hongdae, Veronica Effect is filled with art books, graphic novels, children’s books, and zines. Half the store is dedicated to local artists and half is international. There’s even a shelf with vintage children’s books, like X-men comics and the Dover sticker books (yes, dear ones, our childhood is now vintage).

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Storage book & film

Located on the hilly streets on Haebangchon, you could easily walk past this bookshop if you weren’t keeping your eyes peeled for it. Although the space is small, the shop is jam-packed with travel photo journals and photography-related objects. While flipping through the pages of an artsy photo book, you may feel the sudden urge to run back home and pack your bags. If you do end up planning that spontaneous getaway, the independent publisher and bookshop owner offers photo workshops, as well as special events, after closing (7pm).

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Out on the main street of Garosugil, it’s hard to find a quiet café—even on weekdays during office hours—much less one that also manages to feel cozy and elegant at the same time. However, here at Kobalt, located near Saerosu-gil, you’re invited to come sit, order a coffee and read a magazine (Time Out Seoul is also available here, wink wink). Kobalt, which used to be on the main road of Garosugil, relocated here in 2012 and with the reopening, added a café as well. Assistant manager, Geena Woo, who spent some time in London said: “Once I came back to Korea, I realized how few spaces exist where one could sit and read for hours.” The menu includes a variety of drinks that range from simple coffee to the Double Espresso Chocolat and several yogurt parfaits to alcoholic beverages, such as mulled wine. For those that come to the café empty handed, there are a variety of goods, such as several editions of Monocle books, fashion and lifestyle magazines, journals and calendars, for sale upstairs at the Kobalt Shop to occupy one’s time. It is safe to say that Kobalt is one of our new favorite venues. 

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