So you’ve booked your flight, planned your itinerary, but now you need to figure out where to stay in Seoul. The big question is: what neighbourhood should you choose?
Seoul is a massive urban sprawl so you don’t want to accidentally end up too far away from the action and have to commute into the city centre every day.
Another thing to keep in mind is that each neighbourhood has its own feel; some neighbourhoods are great to experience traditional homestays, others are filled with bars and singing rooms and are ideal to sample the nightlife, and there are neighbourhoods that revolve around shopping be it outdoor markets or malls.
We also need to mention budget. Some Seoul neighbourhoods cater to a younger demographic with plenty of budget-friendly hostels and guesthouses to choose from, while others are better suited to a traveller who is after luxury. The good news is that whatever your budget or travel style, Seoul has something for you.
In this Seoul neighbourhood guide we are going to highlight some different Seoul neighbourhoods that are good for travellers. That means neighbourhoods that are centrally located, near major attractions, and that also offer fun experiences like themed cafes, street markets, and food options.
This article won’t cover every single neighbourhood in the city, but rather focus on some cool places to stay in Seoul, each with its own unique personality.
Now it’s just a matter of figuring out which neighbourhood suits you best!
Seoul Neighbourhood Guide
Photo: Katie Haugland Bowen
Insadong – 인사동
Insadong is a neighbourhood that is known for the arts. At one point in time it was home to the largest market for antiques and artworks in all of Korea, but these days the main street Insadong-gil is lined with small art galleries, secret tea houses, and shops selling handcrafted souvenirs. The real charm of this place is found wandering down the narrow side lanes, so it’s worth veering off the main street.
Things to do in Insadong:
Shop for traditional souvenirs, sample the street food (especially hotteok!), have tea and rice cakes at Shin Old Tea House or one of the many teahouses in the neighbourhood, browse the Ssamzie-gil Market, and sample ‘Korean royal cuisine’.
Places to stay in Insadong:
Bukchon – 북촌 한옥마을
Located between Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and the Jongmyo Royal Shrine, Bukchon is known for its traditional hanok village. A ‘hanok’ is a type of traditional Korean construction that dates back to the 14th century and is associated with the Joseon Dynasty. Bukchon is a beautifully preserved neighbourhood that is all about celebrating its architecture, so that means you have hanok restaurants, hanok cafes, hanok museums, and hanok stays. Staying in Bukchon can come with a bit of a price tag, but it’s also centrally located and you are surrounded by palaces.
Things to do in Bukchon:
Walk through Bukchon Hanok Village and admire the old traditional homes, tour nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace, visit Changdeokgung Palace and sign up for a tour of the Secret Garden.
Places to stay in Bukchon:
All of these are hanoks because when in Bukchon!
High-end: Bonum 1957 Hanok and Boutique
Photo: travel oriented
Samcheongdong – 삼청동
Located just west of Bukchon, Samcheongdong is also home to many traditional hanok buildings, but it’s a bit more on the trendy side with coffee shops, indie boutiques, galleries and pop-up markets taking over the streets. There are lots of little alleys and staircases worth exploring in this area, with little splashes of street art here and there.
Things to do in Samcheongdong:
Go cafe hopping, browse the small boutique shops and pop-up markets, visit the art galleries, and look for street art.
Places to stay in Samcheongdong:
Yes, more hanoks!
Photo: Seokjin Jin
Hongdae – 홍대
The neighbourhood of Hongdae gets its name from Hongik Daehakgyo (Hongik University) and it has a very young vibe that caters to university students. This a great place to stay in Seoul if you enjoy nightlife, outdoor music performances, and browsing indie boutique shops on a budget. Hongdae is also home to a plethora of themed cafes including a sheep cafe, dog cafe, cat cafe, meerkat cafe, comic book cafe, Hello Kitty cafe, and just about anything you can imagine.
Things to do in Hongdae:
Experience the nightlife, go bar hopping, have some late-night BBQ, sing some noraebang (the Korean version of karaoke), shop at the small boutiques, visit the Trick Eye Museum, spend an afternoon visiting themed cafes, visit the Hongdae Free Market on a Saturday afternoon.
Places to stay in Hongdae:
Photo: Lee Hwa Geyong
Hapjeong – 합정동
While Hongdae is the centre of student life, nearby Hapjeong very much feels like an extension of the place. This is a fast-changing neighbourhood, and while there are some older residential parts, there are lots of new bars, coffee shops and themed cafes popping up, not to mention the numerous late night BBQ restaurants to feed those late night cravings. Prices here are slightly lower than Hongdae, but you still get the proximity to the nightlife.
Things to do in Hapjeong:
Venture to nearby Hongdae, or enjoy the multitude of bars, coffee shops, and late night restaurants that are popping up in this area.
Places to stay in Hapjeong:
Gagnam – 강남
PSY’s Gangnam Style has probably given you a few ideas of what this Seoul neighbourhood is all about! Gangnam is considered to be the most affluent neighbourhood in the whole city, and that means high-end shopping, fine dining, and luxurious clubs – though I personally think it lacks a bit of the charm of the older neighbourhoods! That being said, if you have money to spend, this is the place to spend it and spend it fast.
Things to do in Gangnam:
Go shopping at high-end stores, go clubbing, visit the Bonguensa Buddhist Temple, see the royal tomb mounds at Samneung Park, shop at the COEX, take loads of selfies along K-STAR ROAD, and window shop along Apgujeong Rodeo Street and Cheongdam Fashion Street.
Places to stay in Gangnam:
Budget: The JA Coex
Photo: Eugene Lim
Dongdaemun – 동대문
Dongdaemun is all about shopping. This area is home to massive shopping malls and commercial centres stacked next to each other, and it has a modern feel in comparison to some of the more traditional markets in Seoul. In the non-shopping department, this Seoul neighbourhood is also home to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (which looks a lot like a giant spaceship landed in the middle of the city!) and you can also easily access the Cheonggyecheon for a leisurely walk along the stream.
Things to do in Dongdaemun:
Shop until you drop at any of the malls, visit the Gate of Rising Benevolence (East Gate), feel like an alien at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, watch a K-pop hologram performance at K-Live, visit the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park, and walk along the Cheonggyecheon.
Places to stay in Dongdaemun:
High-end: JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul
Budget: Dongdaemun Hwasin Hostel
Photo: Ha Jeong Jeong
Myeongdong – 명동
Myeongdong is Seoul’s main pedestrian shopping area and it comes to life at night, so expect lots of bright neon signs, flashing lights, and loud music. The shops here include a mix of international and Korean brands, with a big focus on Korean beauty products – you’ll likely come away with a few free samples! There’s also a lot of street food to be had in this area – don’t forget to try the giant soft-serve ice cream cones!
Things to do in Myeongdong:
Shop on Myeongdong’s streets and underground shopping centre, browse stores selling Korean beauty products, sample some of the street food, for a different shopping experience check out the Lotte Department Store and the Shinsegae Department Store, and climb up (or take the cable car) to N Seoul Tower in Namsan Park.
Places to stay in Myeongdong:
Photo: Adrián Pérez
Namdaemun – 남대문
Like with many neighbourhoods in Seoul, this one too is quite heavy on the shopping. Namdaemun is located just west of Myeongdong and it is home to the Namdaemun Market, which is the largest traditional market in all of Korea. It is seemingly open around the clock and you can buy things like inexpensive clothing
Things to do in Namdaemun:
Shop in the country’s largest outdoor market, sample Korean street food, and visit Namdaemun Gate (South Gate).
Places to stay in Namdaemun:
Midrange: Tmark Grand Hotel Myeongdong
Budget: K-POP Hotel Seoul Tower
Photo: Nam-ho Park
Ewha – 이화
Ewha is home to Ewha Womans University, which is a private girls university, and the neighbourhood has a very girly feel. You’ll find shops with the latest (and cutest!) Korean fashion ranging from shoes and handbags to dresses and accessories. There are also lots of stores selling Korean beauty products as well as cafes where you can enjoy a break from all the shopping. Plus, you have the university campus which is a must-see; the buildings are integrated into a hill and the construction almost looks like the biblical parting of the seas.
Things to do in Ewha:
Visit the Ewha Womans University campus (it’s beautiful!), shop for women’s clothing and beauty products, and go cafe hopping.
Places to stay in Ewha:
Midrange: Ever8 Serviced Residence
Sinchon – 신촌
Nearby Sinchon is a great place for nightlife. Located right next to Ewha, this Seoul neighbourhood is home to multiple universities and that means it has a young feel with plenty of restaurants, singing rooms, sticker photobooths and bars. You’re sure to have a memorable night here.
Things to do in Sinchon:
Visit the Yonsei University campus, sing your heart out at a noraebang, and enjoy the nightlife.
Places to stay in Sinchon:
Photo: Paul Robinson
Itaewon – 이태원
Itaewon is one of the most culturally diverse neighbourhoods in Seoul and it’s known to draw tourists, expats, and US military personnel living in Seoul. It’s home to a lot of bars, pubs, and international restaurants, so whether you’re craving Indian, Mexican, Italian or a rowdy Irish (or Canadian!) pub, you can find it in Itaewon. This neighbourhood is also home to a foreign food market where you can pick some of those harder to find items you may be missing…like peanut butter!
Things to do in Itaewon:
Enjoy the international cuisine and have a fun night out be it at a bar, pub, club or restaurant!
Places to stay in Itaewon:
High-end: Grand Hyatt Seoul
And that’s a wrap for this Seoul neighbourhood guide!
As mentioned earlier, this is by no means an extensive list of every single neighbourhood in Seoul – there are plenty of other areas to stay in! – but rather, I’ve highlighted some of the neighbourhoods which I feel would be of interest to travellers who want to make the most of their time in the city. That means neighbourhoods that are centrally located and have a lot to offer in terms of major attractions and popular activities.
I hope this guide will help you plan your visit!
What are some of your favourite Seoul neighbourhoods?
Where would you want to stay if you had limited time in the city?