Whether you want to experience Lunar New Year celebrations firsthand or simply would like a taste of life across the pond, there’s no time like the present to look into a trip to the Far East. We did a little digging to find one vital city worthy of receiving your hard-earned vacation dollars, and the verdict is in: Seoul, South Korea, with its dynamic culture and landscape, along with its plentiful opportunities for animal-friendly shopping and dining, has earned our shout-out.
Check out the below list of the top spots to stop on your next romp into Asia, and see if you’re not sold.
Hongdae: This area in the vicinity of Hongik University is jam-packed with retail brands, especially the Korean variety. Tons of clothing, jewelry, and handbag stores stay open here until the wee hours of the morning and are considered very affordable by the average American’s standards. The good news is that it isn’t too difficult to pick out the vegan leather or animal-friendly fabrics in the bunch—just be sure to ask store owners if the bag or belt you’re holding is made of actual leather (jinjja gajook) before pulling out your won.
How to get to Hongdae: Hongik University Station (Line 2, Exit 9), Hapjeong Station (Line 2, Exit 3), or Sangsu Station (Line 6, Exit 1 or 2)
Dongdaemun Market: What we’ve stumbled upon here is heaven on Earth for the fashion obsessed. Dongdaemun Market is huge and doesn’t sleep. (The shops close near dawn—we wouldn’t lie to you.) So be sure to take breaks throughout the day as you scavenge this area’s extensive wholesale department stores for your next top-trending wool-free sweater or silk alternative scarf.
How to get to Dongdaemun Market: Dongdaemun Station (Line 1 or 4, Exit 8 or 9) or Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (Line 2, Exit 2 or 14)
Itaewon: Since shops in South Korea sometimes offer less variety of sizes, it can be difficult for some people to find the right fit. Never fear when you’re a simple hop, skip, and subway ride away from Itaewon. This shopping mecca is famous for its custom-tailored suits (most are wool-free) and its underground market with plentiful vegan-leather (ggajja gajook) accessories. You can’t head home before making a pit stop here.
How to get to Itaewon: Itaewon Station (Line 6, any exit)
Garosu-gil: This area is on the cutting edge of fashion, so you may have to pay for the latest and greatest, but there are definitely reasonably priced options in many of the stores and independent retailers, not to mention tons of vegan-friendly cafés and restaurants with hipster vibes and the tastiest dairy-free milks on pretty much every block.
How to get to Garosu-gil: Sinsa Station (Line 3, Exit 8)
Myeong-dong: On a time crunch? Forget everything you’ve just read. If you’re in a jam to make fashion magic happen, Myeong-dong is the answer. Worldwide retailers such as H&M, Zara, and UNIQLO made their first entrance into South Korea here (all these retailers have also banned angora wool after PETA Asia’s angora investigation went public), and you might say it’s the birthplace of all the latest South Korean trends and brands. Do yourself a favor and go, go, go.
How to get to Myeong-dong: Myeong-dong Station (Line 4, Exit 6) or Euljiro-1-ga Station (Line 2, Exit 6)
Sanchon: This restaurant has been around for more than a decade in the tradition-focused neighborhood of Insa-dong and is the mainstay of temple food in Seoul. Based on Buddhist beliefs, the completely vegan cuisine makes full use of South Korea’s plentiful wild vegetables, roots, and herbs. The never-ending dishes that crowd each tabletop make a meal here a truly spiritual experience.
Baru: Sometimes spelled “Balwoo,” Baru is operated by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Its sophisticated, modern take on tradition packs in flavor, from heat-packing fried mushrooms to crisp, surprisingly sweet dried fruit chips. It offers five-star quality, guaranteed.
Coexistence Café: An animal-friendly vegan establishment, Coexistence Café sells a mixture of Korean and Western foods with tons of vegan-friendly fare, and a percentage of the proceeds are donated to the care of shelter animals. We hear that the veggie burger and the penne pasta with basil pesto offer two great ways of supporting these animals. The café is also companion animal–friendly, in the event that you’re traveling with furry companions.
PLANT: This restaurant and café offers all-vegan baked goods and serves as a brunch-fare oasis right in the heart of Itaewon. Our only regret is that a rather large ocean prevents us from visiting this café every day. If you know what’s good for you, plant your bottom in a chair at this sweet spot for a tasty midday snack.
Loving Hut: In the midst of all that shopping, eating, and more shopping, be sure to hit up old faithful—i.e., the internationally known Loving Hut. Throw your worries away here, as you can even order blindfolded if you like since the menu items are all completely vegan. This chain is the ultimate animal lover’s home away from home.
And there you have it, friends. Exploring other worlds while maintaining your vegan values takes discipline and a willingness to ask questions, but it can most definitely be done. Let these ideas start you on your journey to explore the sights, sounds, and tastes of South Korea. Happy Seoul-searching!