For a European adventure, look no farther than the outskirts of Seoul

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For a European adventure, look no farther than the outskirts of Seoul


From left: La Street, an Italian-themed shopping district in Pangyo, Gyeonggi, opened in June, jumping on the recent trend of luring in customers with exotic scenery and shops; in Gimpo, Gyeonggi, a Venice-inspired shopping complex called La Veniche opened earlier this year, boasting an artificial canal modeled after the Italian city’s waterways; a computer-generated image of a New York-inspired shopping center scheduled to open in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, next year. [LA STREET, LA VENICHE, KARIM AVENUE DONGTAN]

Thirty-year-old Yang Ji-young, a resident of Bangbae-dong in southern Seoul, used to often spend her weekends in nearby Garosu-gil, a posh neighborhood filled with sophisticated restaurants and shops. But lately, her routine has veered a little more south to Pangyo in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, where a shopping complex called La Street recently opened in June.

It takes 30 minutes more to get there compared to how much it took to get to Garosu-gil, but Yang says it’s worth the trip. “This place reminds me of when I went backpacking in Italy,” she said.

At La Street, not only are the exteriors designed with elements of European architecture but the restaurants, bars and shops also offer authentic experiences. On one weekend, Yang visited a gallery displaying mosaic pieces by Italian artists and ended the day at a German pub with Schweinshaxe, a traditional roasted ham dish, alongside a glass of stout beer.

European-style shopping districts like La Street are popping up across the Seoul metropolitan area. While there have been attempts to create single streets or buildings with European decor, the recent boom involves much more ambitious projects with unique restaurants and specialty shops that match the theme to provide a more genuine ambiance.

Pangyo in Seongnam, just a 30-minute drive from Seoul’s Gangnam District, already has a trendy spot called Baekhyun Village, where terrace cafes and high-end eateries line the streets. It used to be filled with friends and couples, even on weekdays.

The recent emergence of La Street is changing the tide.

Inspired by the small town of Tolentino in central Italy, La Street is located just next to Pangyo Station on the Shinbundang Line. One section of the shopping complex houses specialty shops that sell leather products, glass artwork and handmade furniture.

In the center is Mosaic Park, where visitors can relax next to artificial streams and waterfalls. The space’s centerpiece is a mosaic tower designed by Italian artisans.

“Many Italian cities have small workshops that make leather products or other artwork,” said Lee Jae-yeol, a manager at Alphadom City Asset Management, which oversees La Street. “We tried not to miss out the details of Italian cities. The fact that the complex is very close to the subway station will work as a positive factor, too.”

In Gimpo, a city west of Seoul, another Italian-themed shopping district called La Veniche opened earlier this year. The complex includes an artificial canal, modeled after the waterways in Venice, flowing alongside the 850-meter (0.5-mile) pedestrian street lined with more than 400 shops, 250 of which are occupied as of now.

From Italian restaurants to gelato shops and clothing stores, La Veniche is becoming the next go-to spot for residents living nearby and filling a void in Gimpo, which until now did not have a decent city center. For next year, the shopping district has plans to start running a gondola.

Yang Dae-joon, a manager in charge of selecting shops for La Veniche, said “distinctive characteristics” is key to standing out from the many shopping malls and areas that are springing up.

“Since four or five years ago, there have been many streets themed with the European style,” he said. “There has to be something extra to catch people’s attention.”

According to Yang, the average monthly rent for a 45-square-meter shop in La Veniche is 3.5 million won ($3,200) with an annual interest rate of 6 percent.

Further south in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, a New York-themed shopping district is in the works. Karim Avenue Dongtan, which will surround the Ivypark apartment complex, is expected to see completion next year.

“About 80 percent of newly-built shopping districts in the past three to four years come with European-style streets,” said Park Byung-joon, head of a local real estate company. “Among those countless number of shopping districts made with similar concepts, it is essential to have a unique feature.”

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