2019 marked my second Christmas without my family and I had zip on my to-do list. Should I go ice-skating at City Hall? Should I just stay home and enjoy the day off work? Or should I be like everyone else and stroll around looking for a restaurant that actually has availability?
Thankfully, I did none of that. And also thankfully, my boyfriend’s family owns a restaurant in Heyri Art Village, so a completely unexpected option was placed on the table. I’d never met his dad or sister (* scary music intensifies *) and so I figured… what better time than Christmas? At least we’d all be in a chipper mood.
So, after a very drunken Christmas Eve, my partner and I shook off our hangover and headed an hour west of Seoul to the quaint town of Paju.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
I’d been to Heyri Art Village in the chilly months of 2018 and it was… what’s the right word to describe it? Shit? Maybe that’s too strong. But, everything was closed! There were no people to be found! We had limited options for lunch (settled on Italian – who can complain, really)! And perhaps the strangest thing was that all of the galleries were totally unmanned. It reached a point where we walked through an entire exhibition only to have the owner show up and tell us that we had to pay.
Yeah. Nice try.
Despite my complaining, I could feel that the village had something going for it. At the entrance, there are magical sights to behold like an Elvis Presley Museum, Sex Museum and horribly chipped statues of American celebrities most kids couldn’t even name anymore. But if you keep heading further in, the architecture blossoms into the stuff of minimalist dreams. The galleries also have fantastic art inside of them, many by internationally acclaimed Korean artists.
Overall, I left without much of an interest to return. It wasn’t until Christmas 2019 that I realized I had waited far too long.
Food, Food, Food!
After parking, our first task was to bring the potatoes and onions out of our trunk and into the kitchen. Then, I could finally meet my boyfriend’s family. Dun dun dun. Just kidding. Everyone was so friendly and warm-hearted – I guess they knew I was feeling homesick.
My boyfriend’s restaurant is called Hyemil Burger Recipe. Sue me for promotion, but this is actually one of the most popular stops in the village. It was packed from the minute it opened! They even had to close two hours early because they ran out of food. Customers really like the decor in particular, which my boyfriend’s dad purchased mostly from England. Even for me, it was great to see a bit of authentic Europe in the middle of Paju.
Because my boyfriend was hard-at-work for the entire day, I was left alone. Please – the sad violin is not necessary. I quickly and happily made my way to the famous 9 Block Coffee, which I’d seen in countless Instagram and blog posts. While I wasn’t really swooning over the bookish decor, I did enjoy the wide, open space that it offered. Even on the busiest day of the year, I had room to breathe. The cafe also offers a large selection of cakes to fill your stomach as you feast your eyes.
After a couple of hours, it was time to move on. I intended to visit my favorite cafe only to realize that the owner had changed it into a tacky Italian restaurant. Hearts were truly broken. So, I turned back on myself to Homeo Cafe, which boasts a third-floor furniture gallery to boot. The entire shop is industrial European and you can find private rooms decorated with knitted blankets and vintage furniture. I highly recommend their Vanilla Latte Cold Brew.
Where Can I Spend My Money?
The biggest surprise of Christmas was how busy it was. There were so many families, as well as couples, who spent the day pretty much the same way I did. I could feel the excitement bubbling off of young couples and their newborns. There were also plenty of older partners with their gloved fingers wrapped around each other, taking in the same face they’ve loved for decades. It was so romantic and cozy – I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention had I not been alone.
Another bonus was that all of the shops were open. My favorite stop was easily Something Play, which boasted a gargantuan sale on their Christmas goods. I bought adorable fairy lights, carved reindeer, and miniature Christmas trees for next year’s festivities. They also sold giant knitted blankets and gorgeous home decor at half the price.
Even more exciting than the brick-and-mortar shops were the outdoor booths! Not exactly a European Christmas market, the Heyri stalls still sold handmade goods and manufactured treasures for all ages. I met a lovely Korean grandma who embroidered dresses, scarves, and hats. She made adorable Frozen-themed pieces, but my favorite was a green wrap-dress with embroidered yellow flowers (see above photo). It’s too cold to wear now, but I look forward to the springtime when I can finally show it off.
I hope that I could offer you an alternative choice for next year’s Christmas in Korea. I had a surprisingly great day. Being surrounded by happy families really kept my holiday spirit up. Plus, who doesn’t love to sit on their ass all day?
Thank you to my boyfriend for allowing me to meet his family, but for also showing me a much better side of Heyri than the one I thought I knew. I look forward to my next visit and what I’ll discover.
Have you been to Heyri Art Village? What time of the year did you go? What was your favorite stop or gallery? Send us a message on Instagram or leave a comment below!