With such a large foreign community combined with Koreans who are learning and speaking more foreign languages every day, there are several places in the city where you can sit down with a book, buy that latest bestseller or simply browse the foreign selections.
Probably the largest bookstore chain in Korea is Kyobo Books. Think Chapters (a huge Canadian chain of bookstores) or Barnes & Noble (the American equivalent) with a Korean twist – kids sitting in the children’s section looking through picture books, their parents off in the do-it-yourself section or the gardening section, university students browsing through the “learn English” section, and all the foreign ESL teachers in the Lonely Planet travel section. You’ll find Kyobo branches all over Seoul, but here are two of the most popular locations: Gangnam-gu, subway line two, exit six – walk about five minutes from the exit and go to the basement of Kyobo tower; and Jongno-gu at Gwanghwamun Station (subway line five, exit three). You can find a large selection of English, Chinese and Japanese literature and other genres of books and prices can range between 5000 won and 70,000 won, depending on the book.
What The Book is an extremely popular English language bookstore in Itaewon-dong. Here, you can find both new and used books, you can trade your books or sell your old books as well as buy the latest bestsellers from English speaking countries. It’s a small shop and can be hard to find the first time you go looking for it, so here are some rough directions: take subway line number six to Itaewon Station. Exit on the left side of the street (exit number two). Walk straight ahead (passed the KFC) until you come to a Wang Thai restaurant on your right. What The Book is located above Wang Thai. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, What The Book will gladly place an order for you. You can search titles on their website. It should also be noted that What The Book has a great selection of English magazines (for a large chunk of change!). Prices tend to be higher than what you’d pay at home, but not too much higher – expect to pay around 10,000 won for a paperback.
Abby’s Book Nook can also be found in Itaewon, close to subway exit number one at Itaewon Station. Although the selection may not be as well organized as What The Book’s, you can feel free to browse and even read on the couches provided. Both new and used books are sold, mostly just in English. Prices are higher than you’d pay at home for the same book, but it’s still worth taking a look around.
Telephone: 795 4253
Foreign Books is a kind of diamond in the rough hidden just behind Itaewon. Not many people know about this place but those that do say it’s their favorite book store. Take subway line 6 to Noksapyeong station. Go out exit 2 and walk straight. Take the highway underpass to the opposite side of the street. The bookstore is located just passed the large Lexus dealership on your left. There is no phone number but this place has been around for twenty years so it is sure to be there for 20 more. The hours are from around 11 am until 8 pm. You can also sell used books here, but don’t expect to get much for them.
Another large bookstore in Seoul can be found near Sameong Station (line number two). Bandi and Luni’s is one of the largest bookstores in Asia, and it sells a selection of foreign language books. Similar to Kyobo’s set up, Bandi and Luni’s mostly caters to Korean readers, but it’s always fun to go and have a look around. Prices are comparable to those at Kyobo.
For those who prefer to borrow than buy, public libraries are an excellent option with foreign language sections.
National Library of Korea: Seocho-gu
National Assembly Library: Yeongdeungpo-gu
Chungnang District Information Library: Jungnang-gu
Eunpyeong Public Library: Eunpyeong-gu
Korea Foundation Cultural Centre: Jung-gu