Part of the magic of filmmaking is the careful choice of sets and scenery, which can be the difference between a story that falls flat and one that comes alive. When you visit Korea, it’s only natural to be excited about the chance to see those same places in person – but first, you have to find them!
Tracking down filming locations is a fun way to explore different areas of Korea, whether they are popular tourist destinations or rare corners of a city or town. You can walk where your favorite actors have walked, admire beautiful landscapes, or discover the attractions of the neighborhood, all while reminiscing about your favorite KDrama episodes.
How do you go about planning your adventure to find these iconic sets? There are many guides for specific dramas out there, so I definitely recommend doing some quick online research to get you started. That being said, here are some tips based on my own experiences while visiting Seoul.
Study the Scene
While dramas are often shot in famous locations like the N Seoul Tower, it is equally common to see settings that are harder to recognize. Although a place may seem too obscure or generic at first, like a university campus or a train station, there can be hints hidden in the scene that will guide you to the right spot.
To find them, re-visit the portion of the drama you have in mind, and instead of watching the action, pay attention to the background. The most valuable clues come from signs, so your first mission is to check for those (and read them, if you can). Are there street signs, store names, or transit stops that you can see the name of? If so, they may be the exact thing you need to pinpoint your destination. If not, look for other landmarks – the Han River, recognizable buildings, traditional houses – that may at least tell you the area of the city you should head to.
When I visited the National Museum of Korea, I happened to do this in reverse. After viewing the exhibits and walking around the neighborhood, I returned home to relax and watch an episode of Personal Preference. When a character came to a bus stop that looked strangely familiar, I looked closer and read the name of the bus stop, only to realize it was “National Museum of Korea”! After that, I began to pay more attention to the details when watching dramas to figure out where they were set.
Look for Maps
Now that you have a general sense of where you want to be, it’s time to use maps to your advantage! If you’re a free-spirited person, you may like to wander around an area until you happen upon the right spot, and that can be a lot of fun. However, you may have limited time on your trip or wish to know where you’re going, and for that, maps are the way to go.
A detailed map of the area you are in will help you navigate from the train station (or other arrival point) to the café, park, or business you’re aiming for. Some maps may have streets labelled or landmarks indicated, and all of these pieces will guide you in the right direction. If you don’t have a map, pay attention to the signs posted along the sidewalk – sometimes there will be a small map of the area available there for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions if you get lost!
Although it was closed for renovations when I was in Seoul, I was determined to visit the café where Coffee Prince was filmed. I knew generally where to find it, but the terrain was a little different than I expected and I found myself going in circles. To my delight, I happened upon a local map of the area which showed me that I had actually walked right past the café without knowing, and by taking a picture of this useful map I successfully found my way.
Keep Your Eyes Open
This one may seem a little simple, but it’s worth your while to consider the big picture when you’re visiting a drama location. Instead of rushing to that one stand-out spot, take your time – you might discover some amazing gems along the way, or you could even run across something you didn’t expect to find. There’s a lot more to Korea than what you see on-screen!
Another benefit to spending time in the area is that sometimes a drama will film in multiple spots in close proximity, both for convenience and to give the drama a sense of continuity. So while you may have come to a district for one destination, you may encounter another familiar sight – possibly even one that you wanted to see but couldn’t find information on beforehand.
On a rainy Saturday I came to Hongdae in pursuit of a particular Hello Kitty Café (more on that later) that I had seen in a drama. While strolling up and down the various side streets, I was surprised to find a bright, graffiti-clad wall that I knew – it was Hongdae Playground. The playground was a key location in that same drama, and a place I didn’t know the name or location of until I walked right up to it.
Embrace the Experience
It’s great to see the sites of your favorite scenes, but to make your time even more meaningful it’s best to immerse yourself in the places you go to. If you are visiting a café or restaurant, try the food there; if you are at a park, have a picnic; if it’s a museum or gallery, check out the exhibits! Simply walking by a famous location is not as impactful as spending an hour or two engaging in the local life and culture. Even if you only have a few minutes, be sure to take some pictures or say hello to an employee. Above all, be creative!
When I found the Hello Kitty Café in Hongdae, I was actually looking for the street it was on, as Jang Geun Suk’s character walks past the café in Marry Me, Mary but does not go inside. Nevertheless, I went right in, ordered a waffle and hot chocolate – which were delicious! – and enjoyed the atmosphere.
I also had the chance to visit Sungkyunkwan University, where a friend of mine was attending and which was the filming site for the historical drama Sungkyunkwan Scandal. My friend explained that the modern-day university was in the same location as the real-life Sungkyunkwan that was featured in the drama, and showed me around both the historical and contemporary buildings that comprised the beautiful campus. Her knowledge and generosity made my visit much richer!
As you watch your next KDrama, I hope you will be inspired to visit the locations within. I wish you the best of luck on your journey to the world of your favorite dramas!
Have you ever visited drama filming locations in Korea? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!
Categories: KOREA-CANADA BLOG 2018