Seoul's offbeat museums

by Stephanie Potell
Groove Korea (

In addition to the royal palaces, Jongno-gu has almost half of all the museums in Seoul. As if you needed any more reason to explore, here are five offbeat sights guaranteed to give you something to talk about on Monday morning.

Lock Museum

Inside a monolithic rusted metal building is one of the coolest museums in Seoul. While the lighting is dim and dare I say sexy, the antique locks are illuminated within sleek suspended glass cases. The largest displays are devoted to traditional Korean locks such as “navel” locks from the Kyoungsang Province and “tiguet”shaped locks from the Jeolla Province. Animals also played an important symbolical role. “Fish” locks were auspicious as they sleep with open eyes and are therefore thought to be good guards. After browsing the collection, relax with a warm drink in the cozy café downstairs.
Admission: 3,000
Open: 10:00-6:00
Closed: Mondays and holidays

Seoul Museum of Chicken Art

The first level is a bit like a jumbled country kitchen. In the middle of the room, surrounded by chickens, is a ladder with an ark on top that only makes sense after the guide’s explanation. However, upstairs is an intriguing exhibit of traditional wooden chicken figurines called “kokdu.” These chickens decorated funeral biers and served two functions: their morning call chased away ghosts and being the only zodiac animal with wings (dragons don’t count!), they guided the deceased. Be sure to get a guide- they make the experience much more enjoyable!
Admission: 3,000
Open: 10:00-6:00
Closed: Mondays and holidays

Owl Museum

If you have ever returned home from a thrift store with a crocheted owl tapestry victoriously held over your head, then you will appreciate this small establishment. While only a museum in name, the cabinets that line the walls are stuffed to full capacity with all sorts of trinkets. Peruse through the collection before warming yourself with a hot cup of green tea (included in the price of admission). Photos aren’t allowed inside, but you can use the museum’s two souvenir rubber stamps for free.
Admission: 5,000
Open: 10:00-7:00
Closed: Mondays & holidays

Tax Museum

While most tax-paying citizens might wish to avoid the National Tax Service Annex, it would be a shame to follow suite.  Inside is a small yet interesting display of early tax collection methods. There are other random items like Joseon-era ID tassels and horse “tokens” which, like credit cards, came with different limits and were used to borrow for official business. You know you just earned street cred when your Korean coworkers ask, “There’s a Tax Museum in Seoul?”
Admission: Free
Open: Monday-Friday 9:00-6:00, Saturday 9:00-3:00
Closed: Sundays & holidays

Seoul Education Museum

Educational institutions have been in operation in Korea since the year 372! Given the importance of education, I think it would be safe to say that it is essential to visit this museum. From the warm wooden glow of 19th Century scholar’s furniture to a vintage children’s snack shop replica, the museum has an appealing range of artifacts. You can also model school uniforms in the interactive room and sit behind the desk of an old wooden school house. Be sure to pick up the English brochure at the information desk.
Admission: Free
Open: 9:00-6:00 Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00 Saturday-Sunday
Closed: Holidays & the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month

Groove Korea

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