Experience Korea in a homestay
Looking for a way to experience Korean traditional culture at it’s finest? Participate in a homestay or spend the night at a guesthouse.
The Seoul Tourism Organization has established a website that allows you to easily find a host: http://stay.visitseoul.net. 100’s of guesthouses and homestays are listed. You can contact the guesthouse directly or use one of the partner websites listed.
What is a guesthouse?
A guesthouse is a private house that offers accommodations. This is similar to a homestay; however, the host does not always live in the house. For those who are seeking more privacy but still would like a glimpse into Korean culture this is a great option.
Once you have decided on an accommodation, you must submit a request to the host. The host will generally respond within 24 hours and tell you if they have room or not. It is important to read all information about your stay prior to booking. Some houses have specific requirements.
For my accommodations I chose a traditional Hanok guesthouse located in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village called ‘The center of Bukchon, Gaonjae, Jignyeo.’ Hanok are Korea’s traditional houses consisting of a single-story structure made of clay, wood and stone. They have ondol heated floors and are topped by curved tile roofs called giwa. Hanok homes, in this region, of Korea are shaped to model the Korean letter geok (ㄱ) or deegut (ㄷ). This gives the home a lovely courtyard in the center of the structure.
Bukchon was built between Gyeongbukgung and Changdeokgung palaces and originally housed high-ranking palace officials. During the Joseon Dynasty the area consisted of 30 villas. During the Japanese occupancy the villas were divided into 100’s of individual homes. Today about 40% of the Hanok houses in this areas remain, most of them reconstructions.
There are currently about 12,000 hanoks remaining in Seoul 900 of which are concentrated in Bukchon Village. Seoul recently recognized the great importance of these traditional structures and the government has established programs and grants to renovate the buildings and encourage locals to keep their home. This allows for a refreshing walk down Seoul’s ‘memory lane’ in the middle of a booming city towering with high rises. Each year thousands of tourist come to Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village to have a glimpse into history.
By staying in a hanok guesthouse you can go beyond just the glimpse and dive right into the past. There are many homes in Bukchon that are now allowing guests. Some even offer traditional programs such as pottery, cooking classes, traditional music and Hanbok wearing.
My beautiful hanok guesthouse stay made for a very romantic weekend spent with my history buff husband. The Center of Bukchon, Gaonjae, Jignyeo is a stunning home in the heart of Bukchon village. The hanok’s massive wooden front doors open to a beautiful open courtyard with a stone patio, kimchi pots scattered throughout, and a lot of charm. Surrounding the patio are several small guestrooms and a living area/cooking area attached to the main house.
Our room opened to the courtyard. The night we stayed it began to snow, making for an even more picturesque experience as we peaked outside.
When entering any of the rooms in a hanok home (like most homes in Korea) it is necessary to remove your shoes. Sliding wood and rice paper doors opened to a simplistic room with sleeping mats, and a low night stand. Traditionally Koreans slept on the floor on mats. At many hanok stays these are still the sleeping arrangements. Although sleeping on the floor isn’t always ideal for westerners, it truly authenticates the experience. The ondol heated floors make for a warm and cozy sleep.
Our room had a private bathroom connected to it. The ceiling had exposed wood beams and all of the sheets and blankets were in hanbok fabric. The living room and kitchen were open for guests to use. Each morning breakfast was prepared on a low table with cushions surrounding it for seating. Breakfast consisted of toast, oranges, hard boiled eggs, milk tea and coffee.
We enjoyed spending time in the living room with friends sharing a bottle of wine and watching the Olympics. The guest house owner was very accommodating and even brought out snacks. The entire experience was wonderful and I highly recommend trying it out if you find yourself in Seoul!
- Beautiful historic structure
- Great location- in the heart of Seoul, walking distance from many attractions
- 10 minute walk from subway
- Free Wi-Fi
- Breakfast included
- Great restaurants, café’s and museums surrounding the house
- Friendly host
- Guest house owner does not speak English (there was an English speaking host only a phone call away if we needed help)
- If you cannot sleep on a hard surface this is not a good accommodate to stay at
The area surrounding our guesthouse was not short of activities. Simply taking a stroll around the Hanok Village can provide hours of entertainment. There are many charming cafes, tea houses, art galleries and restaurants littering the area. Follow the signs to Bukchon overlook and you can view hundreds of hanok rooftops, Gyeongbukgung palace, The President’s house, and Seoul’s stunning surrounding mountains. Two streets in the village (just around the corner) still entirely consist of hanok houses and make for impressive photos of the homes with Seoul’s modern city and mountains behind.
Insadong is just a 10 minute walk from the guesthouse. This area is well known as a traditional arts area to both foreigners and locals. Wandering the streets allows you to witness the culture of the past and present. Snack on traditional Korean street food from one of the many food carts. Shop your heart out at the many stores known for stationary, art, pottery and antiques. Visit the oldest bookstore in Seoul, Kyung-in Art Gallery, and many old tea houses. Watch a calligraphy demonstration or pansori performance. Wander off the main street to find some of the best Korean food in the world. Feast on a royal meals consisting of double digit courses. Visit the tourist information center to dress in Hanbok and participate in other traditional activities!
22, Sajik-ro 9-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Fee: 3,000 won
Hours: January-February, November-December: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. March-May, September-October: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. June-Auguest: 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
This palace is arguably the most beautiful and grand palace in Seoul. It’s commonly referred to as the “Northern Palace because it is furthest north. It was originally built in 1395, but burned down several times, since that period. It is the largest palace of five that were built in Seoul by the Joseon Dynasty. Enjoy watching the changing of the guards each hour. English guided tours are available free of charge several times per day. The National Palace Museum of Korea is located south of Heungnyemun Gate, and the National Folk Museum is located east within Hyangwonjeong.
Jogyesa Buddhist Temple
55, Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Jogyesa Buddhist Temple is the center of Zen Buddhism in Korea. It is famous for it’s location. Beautiful locust and baeksong trees, that are over 500 years old, surround the temple. Get a glimpse into the beauty and peace of Buddhism in the heart of Seoul. Just across the street is the center for temple stays. Here you can find more information on the Buddhist religion and book a stay.
Seoul Museum of History
Fee: Free general admission/ Free audio guides available
Hours: March-October 9 a.m.-9 p.m., weekends 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; November- February 9 a.m.-9 p.m., weekends 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Capture the traditional culture of Seoul with it’s many exhibits that will bring you back in time from the prehistoric era to modern Seoul. View the many Joseon Dynasty relics the museum houses.
Gyenonbukgung Square is located directly in front of Gyenbukgung palace’s main entrance. Throughout the year events and concerts are often help here. Dree up in royal clothing by visiting the kiosk entitled “I am King.” Located under the massive gold King Sejoun statue you can visit the Hangul museum. On hot summer days cool down around the refreshing fountains.