The Pyongyang Foreign Language bookshop is where to buy the widest range of books written in North Korea. All materials are published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House of the DPRK and translated from Korean into various languages such as English, Chinese, Russian, German, Spanish, French and Japanese.
The reading materials available for purchase within the foreign language bookstore are North Korean newspapers, magazines, paperbacks and hardcover books related to North Korea and the former and current leaders of the DPRK. The store also stocks a large variety of other souvenir items such as North Korean pins, posters, DVDs, CDs, postcards, flags and dolls.
The Pyongyang foreign language bookstore is the most reliable bookstore in the capital as items are regularly stocked, the staff speak both English and Chinese, and hard to find reading materials that aren’t usually offered in hotel shops or restaurant fronts are usually found here for a decent price.
Pyongyang Foreign Language Bookshop Location
The Pyongyang foreign language bookstore is located on the corner of Sungri street and Somun street in Pyongyang, about a two minute walk from Kim Il Sung Square. The bookstore itself is housed inside the bottom floor of a building designed in conjunction with soviet architects from Bulgaria and Hungary built during the city’s first three-year period of reconstruction (1954-1956) after the cessation of hostilities between the North and South Korea.
Previously ravaged by the war, Pyongyang was considered a superb example of what a socialist city could be when work on reconstruction was completed. The buildings in this district project an austere strength and confidence. Sadly most of these buildings are being torn down for modern apartments overlooking the Taedong River.
Visiting the Pyongyang Foreign Language Bookstore
A staple of any YPT tour to Pyongyang, your visit to the bookshop will always be bookended (pun intended) by a wander through the streets of downtown Pyongyang. We arrange our tourists to begin their walking tour from Pyongyang Grand Theatre towards the square and passing shops, bars, hair salons small supermarkets that line the city’s central streets.
Therefore, before you even get inside the shop itself, and browse the propagandic delights that await you and your wallet, this affords you an unmissable chance for a spot of people watching and photography as folks rush by you on their way to work, or stop to chat and gossip by the small street-side snack stands and convenience stalls. There is also almost always one of Pyongyang’s famous female traffic girls stationed on the junction just outside the shop.
What’s on sale at the Pyongyang Foreign Language Bookstore?
Books, naturally, with the shop carrying picture books for children, hefty hardback novelisations of classic revolutionary dramas such as ‘Sea of Blood’, pocket sized Korean phrasebooks (a must buy!) and of course all the biographies and works of the three leaders, Comrade Kim Il Sung, Comrade Kim Jong Il and Marshall Kim Jong Un.
We recommend speaking to your local Korean guide on the day for some top recommendations on which of these works make for an especially good read on your long journey back home. The store stocks the Pyongyang Times and monthly magazines such as Korea Today and Foreign Trade of the DPRK. A newspaper from the date of your trip is a great, affordable souvenir and easy to bring back home souvenir.
The bookshop also stocks an excellent and seemingly ever-changing selection of pins, including some occasional dusty retro finds dating back to the nineties. These make for brilliant and inexpensive gifts to take back for friends and family, slipping easily into your luggage. None of the pins feature images of the leaders. The portrait badges worn by Koreans are considered not souvenir items by the North Koreans.
For those not travelling down to the DMZ, (where the widest selection of posters can be found) the bookshop offers a selection of hand painted propaganda posters, so if you are just on a short tour of Pyongyang, this is your chance to buy one.
There are display stands full of postcards (including some wonderfully esoteric theme sets – agricultural propaganda anyone?) which your guide can help you post from the hotel. Know a stamp-collector, or are a keen philatelist yourself? The shop has you covered, with a selection of commemorative issue stamp sets for sale.
Finally, there is a modest selection of DVDs and CDs of live musical performances from the DPRK’s famous ensembles such as the Moranbong band and State Merited Chorus, for examples of some classic North Korean music.
The cashiers are very friendly, and if someone else in your group snagged what seemed to be the last copy of something, they can often help you track down another. Bills are totted up manually, RMB is preferred but you can also pay in Euro or USD. If you’re lucky, and a lot of people in your group buy things, you may even get a small free gift.
Your purchases will either be slipped into a beautiful locally made silk bag or, if you buy a poster, carefully wrapped in the bookshop’s own smartly designed wrapping paper (in this guide’s opinion both make cool quirky souvenirs in and of themselves).