Candles, warm carbohydrates, and hand-holding. What images do you think of when you hear the word ‘romantic’? Maybe you associate the term with a smell or touch. Probably more often than not, you link it with a place. For many people around the world, romance equals Europe. Small alleyways in Prague, walking along the Seine, sitting outside a bougie cafe in London, so on and so forth.
I’ve lived in Europe since I was 17 and definitely agree: that continent is made for sexy novels you have to hide from your mom as a kid. Italy’s rolling hills and vineyards, the soaring mountains of Germany with their wildflower patches…
But let’s try shifting the scene for a minute.
You’re standing in a city of 10 million people with crowds buzzing in your ear from every direction. A few feet behind you is the most crowded shopping area in the city. In the opposite direction lies the financial district, aka banks galore. Take a short bus ride up the road and you’ll find yourself in tourist heaven, filled with idol posters that have been kissed many-a-time.
That’s right: you’re in the middle of Seoul.
And what’s so special about that? More importantly, what’s so romantic about that? Probably not much, you’re thinking to yourself. However, I’m here with a single mission: to convince you that Seoul can be ranked right beside those dimly lit, lace-drawn cafes in Paris. And baby, I’ve come to win my mission.
A lot of people don’t know this, but Seoul used to have a nickname among Koreans: ‘Coffee Republic’. Coffee isn’t just something you sip to get warm here- it’s a damn art and you’d better respect it as such. About six months after moving to Korea, I started craving macadamia nut lattes like a madwoman.
Coffee and cafes are a big reason (maybe the main reason) people even bother to leave their one-room apartments. Whether you’re with a partner, friend or flying solo, you can visit gorgeous cafes decked out in boho-chic style or find their sister, Scandi vibes, just across the road. This is possible in nearly every neighborhood of the city regardless of the subway station’s demographic.
If you’re looking for something more unique, try one of Seoul’s theme cafes for an Insta post that’s sure to get more than those familiar 30 likes (most from your mom’s friends). There are plenty of animal cafes* to choose from, alongside quirky stops such as phone case-making cafes, archery cafes, coffee art cafes, Disney cafes, poop cafes (yes), and board game cafes. They make for great date nights and help bring out the more creative, soft, or funny side of your partner.
*Please consider not visiting wild animal cafes such as raccoon or meerkat cafes, as many of these creatures are not living healthily outside of their native habitat and are often abandoned after the cafe shuts down, leaving animal groups to find a suitable sanctuary for them.
Whether you’re a city kid or a country kid, there’s no denying how beautiful Seoul is with its towering mountains and many streams. The hills hug the city from all four corners, which was why the Joseon King moved the capital here in the first place. Despite its useful defense from foreign invaders, Korea’s landscape offers the most stunning places to walk, hike, bike, and run.
Even if you’re not an adrenaline junkie per se, the twisted pines can make anyone get in the mood when the sun hits them right. It’s like walking straight into a Joseon drama. Picture this:
You’re a measly poet without any fame or income living in the middle of the Joseon Kingdom. Or at least, that’s what people think. You’re actually a member of the royal family, but your appreciation for art has long gone ignored by the King, a.k.a. your dad (audience gasps).
You’re scribbling beneath the bustling leaves, their needles gently falling around you with the incoming spring breeze. A crunch behind you causes you to press a bit too firmly into your parchment, the ink spreading out like butterfly wings and damaging your entire work. Annoyed and irrationally angry for your somewhat mediocre poetry, you turn to scold this newcomer who has so ruined your less-than-impressive work, only to find…
Your current partner. Only it’s not ancient Joseon, it’s modern-day Seoul. They’re wearing hiking boots and wiping the sweat off of their brow, smiling to you from nearby a patch of blooming azaleas.
Was it all a dream?
Yup. That’s how hiking in Korea can make you feel.
While Seoul still is in need of progressive steps for securing equal love, couples here are generally left alone. It’s hard to walk around any neighborhood and not see a duo in couple clothing. Being surrounded by love all the time can feel daunting when you’re alone, but it can also be somewhat inspirational. When I was single in Korea, it might have upset me from time to time, but it also made everything look a little more beautiful.
Everywhere was the perfect place to fall in love.
The metal subway stations with their glass doors to protect people from jumping to their death… sure, you can kiss there. Why not?
The giant LED flowers in Dongdaemun that are not gracefully aging with their soot-colored leaves. Don’t worry about it. With a warm hand in yours, it’s practically a wedding hall.
What about those ancient tombs in Gangnam? Dead people all over the place? But the grass is soooo soft. Definitely the perfect place for a picnic date (Here’s a blog about what a great date spot this is, by the way).
The point is: wherever you go, whatever you do, whoever you’re with (including yourself), you can find that romantic sparkle if you look for it. I have yet to find a place that’s incredibly un-romantic. While some are definitely stronger picks than others, I can’t think of somewhere that made me want to literally gag at the thought of going there. If you know somewhere disgusting, leave a comment below. I want to put it to the test of my relationship.
This probably wasn’t long enough or detailed enough to convince you of my passion for the passion of Seoul. The best way is to just experience it yourself in any capacity: with friends, your cousin, your best friend, your dog, your partner. Whoever you’re with, I’m certain that you’re sure to find a little bit of romance somewhere along the way. When you do, share it with us in a comment below. After all, we love to fall in love.