If you’re looking for thrills, the convenience store might not be your first stop — unless you’re in Korea, that is.
This may sound like a joke, but we’re completely serious. South Korea’s convenience stores are next-level, and they’re an amazing way to have a little gourmet adventure on the cheap. If you don’t believe us, just wait until you see the crowds that gather there all night long, creating a buzz more like what you’d expect from a bar or club than the humble corner shop.
What’s so great about Korean convenience stores?
You might have heard about the wonders of Japanese convenience stores (especially if you’ve travelled with us), but the Korean version has a few tricks of its own up its sleeve.
Most Korean convenience stores have tables, chairs and counters — either inside or out — where you can hang out, eat, drink and chat for as long as you like. As they’re often open 24 hours a day, these can be (and often are) packed long into the night.
Cheap (great) alcohol
Capitalising on South Korea’s 2013 beer boom, convenience stores have become the place to go to get craft and imported beers at bargain prices — sometimes cheaper than in their country of origin. Flavoured soju and big, plastic jugs of local beer are also on offer for just a few won, and you can even get your hands on decent whiskey and French wines. Who needs a fancy bar when you can get it all at the local “CV”?
If you’re a TikTok addict, you may well have noticed these sweeping the social media world recently. If you’re not, this is how it works: grab yourself a cup full of ice from the freezer, choose from a dizzying array of flavoured drinks, and mix your own cold beverage to have in or take to the beach/park/anywhere you like!
“During a trip to Busan we were having some trouble trying to get into a bar on Haeundae Beach as it was a Saturday night, so instead we popped into a nearby convenience store and had fun picking out our own cocktail combinations from the various drink selections and taking our drinks to sit out and people watch on the beach”Rebecca Barry, South Korea Product Executive
Koreans have got very creative in this area, and you can find recipes for convenience store cocktails all over the internet. Ingredients include everything from iced coffee to beer, cider, tomato juice, soju, fresh fruit, flavoured milk and yoghurt, so go wild!
“When staying in a more remote hotel outside of Jeonju, our group descended on a small local convenience store for an impromptu soju tasting. We sampled mint (tasted a bit like toothpaste), strawberry (surprisingly quaffable) and chocolate (a bit of a flavor clash) soju. It was fun, and the flavors were all interesting- and some were utterly delicious!“Grant Ekelund, Travel Consultant, Broomfield, US.
Convenience store cuisine goes far beyond the kimbap rice rolls and other packaged snacks you might expect. Almost every store has a cooking station where you can heat up instant meals, cook (and customise) your own noodles, and make hot drinks. Ramen aficionados have turned convenience store cup noodles into an art form, adding ingredients like cheese slices, kimchi, soft-boiled eggs and even ranch dressing to create their perfect custom meal. The possibilities are endless.
We’ve always said you don’t have to break the bank to have an amazing time in Korea, and the convenience store dining experience is just one of our hacks for travelling on a shoestring. If you’re looking for a Korean holiday on a budget, our Essential South Korea itinerary is a great place to start.