There was a time that Seoul wasn't filled with high-rise apartments, futuristic buildings, and neon lit bridges. A time where the Hanok (a traditional Korean house) and narrow alleys reigned supreme. Although that time is long gone, there are a few areas in Seoul where Hanok are still present. One of these areas is Ikseondong; an area made up of narrow alleys and crammed full with Hanok.
There are areas in Seoul with Hanok that are more polished than Ikseondong. Bukchon for instance, is taken over by commerce. Between the completely rebuild Hanoks, there are cosmetic and souvenir shops. Although Bukchon looks very esthetic, It doesn't have the soul of old Seoul. Ikseondong is different. The ramshackle alleys, paint peeling of the walls, and electrical wires out in the open, give you a sense how most of Seoul mostly was before the 'Miracle of the Han' took flight. Although there are cafes, restaurants, a shop, tea houses, and a hostel here as well, nothing is overly commercial and they fit well within the neighborhood.
One of these cafes is Sikmul (식물). The building is a bit different than the Hanok you find in this area. It stands out with its metallic glass door and the interior is best described as industrial hipster. There is regular seating, a couch, and elevated wooden floor where you can sit on while drinking your coffee.
Right next to Sikmul is a teahouse called Tteuran (뜰안), which serves traditional Korean teas as well as Bingsu (a Korean ice cream dessert). It's a cozy little place with a very friendly owner. One of her staff greeted visitors in Japanese. Later I learned that the cafe was featured in a Korean/Japanese film (Café Seoul) and that it is a popular place to visit for Japanese tourists.
How to get there
Take subway line 1, 3, or 5 to Jongno 3 (sam) ga station (종로3가역) and walk out of exit 4. Turn left immediately and cross the road. Head into the alley; Ikseondong starts there. Tteuran is at the end of that alley on your left. For Sikmul, turn right at the end of that alley. Click here to see a video with directions.
Address of Tteuran: 서울시 종로구 익선동 166-76 (166-76, Ikseondong, Jongno-gu, Seoul)
Address of Sikmul: 서울특별시 종로구 익선동 166-62 (166-62, Ikseondong, Jongno-gu, Seoul