The best areas to stay in Seoul are Jongno-gu, Jung-gu, Hongdae, Sinchon, Itaewon and Gangnam-gu. Each has its peculiarities. We tell you how each zone is so that you decide with knowledge of the cause.
All of Seoul seems to have agreed to reinvent itself every day. Creative, functional, eye-catching… the avant-garde architecture of the capital of South Korea, the latest technology trends, its urban culture or its most geeky fashion designs have been among the first in the milestones of Asian globality.
A vibrant reality that clashes – in the same place, almost door to door – with a pride in the traditions reminiscent of that of the Japanese. This relationship between modernity and tradition is the attraction of a city that the curious traveler has to solve with all its sensitivity. That is the challenge to really feel what is special about Seoul.
The best areas and neighborhoods to stay in Seoul
In Seoul, there are 25 districts and 522 neighborhoods, all with an identity worth discovering. However, when staying in Seoul, half a dozen locations are key. Well because of its central location in the city near or very close to what you have to visit, or because its accommodations offer an added value to the visitor.
Those reference districts for the foreign traveler are those of Jongno-gu, Jung-gu, the Hongdae area, the Sinchon-dong area, the Itaewon area and the popular Gangnam-gu area. Let’s see below what each of them offers, also recommended places to visit, transport combinations and spaces to sleep in Seoul.
Let’s start with the Jongno-gu district.
Jongno-gu is the downtown district of Seoul, the historic center, a key place for its political, economic and cultural importance. The district includes part of Bukhasan National Park, one of the green lungs of the Korean capital.
The name of the district derives from Jongno, one of the main roads of the neighborhood, the ‘Calle de la Campana’. Jongno-gu has been from very old headquarters of Korean royalty, as evidenced by the palaces in the area that were erected by the different monarchs of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897).
Visitable palaces such as those of Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung and Unhyeongung. Even today the president of the Republic of South Korea has his residence at the Cheong Wa Dae Palace (The Blue House).
For the most curious, for those who love the traditional, there is a highly recommended visit, that of the traditional Korean neighborhood of Insa-dong where it is possible to find, between alley and alley, some tea shop, some art gallery. In Insa-dong, the largest antique market in South Korea takes place.
Not far away you can admire the Jongmyo Shrine, the oldest of the royal sanctuaries, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancestral rite of its music is intangible heritage.
Two museums, the Art Center Nabi (digital art and new technologies) and Gahoe (traditional Korean paintings), must be kept in mind for any visit with a strong cultural, orthodox and alternative profile. Two university campuses, those of Sungkyunkwan and Baehwa Women’s College put a student touch to the area.
The best way to get around the center of Seoul is, without a doubt, the subway (in the area, line 3, orange). Bus stops are also available. Those of lines 272, 470 and for example also 606 allow to approach the center.
From the equally nearby Seoul Train Station, it is possible to take a direct express train to Incheon International Airport. By taxi or by rental vehicle, a journey that can be made outside rush hour in less than 45 minutes (60 kilometers).
In Seoul two cards are available for combined transport (bus, subway and train), the T-Money and the M-Pass, whose uses must be valued according to the employment they are going to be given to make them really profitable.
Jongno-gu is undoubtedly one of the best areas to stay in Seoul. It is an ideal area for all types of travelers. There is much to see and do, it is central and well connected.
Accommodations in Jongno-Gu
Jung-gu is another district in central Seoul, north of the Han River and immediately south of Jongno-gu. The name of the area could be translated by that of ‘central district’, being part of the center of the old city.
It is a district with an administrative, residential and commercial profile and is usually described as quiet compared to others in the city center with commercial activities. In Jung-gu, visit the Bank of Korea Museum, the Seoul Museum of Art and the National Theater.
The Bank of Korea’s exhibition contains funds related to numismatics and economics. The building in which it is located was built in 1912 and draws attention for its markedly eclectic architecture (at 110 Namdaemunno 3-ga).
The Seoul Museum of Art is a contemporary exhibition space that occupies the building of the old Gyeonghuigung Palace. It has six exhibition halls and an outdoor sculpture area.
The museum has two exhibition spaces that function as delegations of the center in Seoul itself and where you can see part of the non-permanent exhibitions offered by the institution.
The Seoul National Theater is a cultural space where both works by Korean and international authors are offered. It was founded in 1950, it is the headquarters of the National Dramatic Company, the Dance Company of Korea and the National Orchestra of Korea.
The National Theater billboard may be suggestive for those who want to enjoy unusual performances. The theater is located in the Jangchung-dong neighborhood.
It can also be interesting to go to the Catholic Cathedral of Seoul (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception). He is in the Myeongdong neighborhood and his style is neo-Renaissance. Its tower has a height of 23 meters. The temple is a symbol for Korean political dissent.
A peculiar activity in the area is to leave a lock as a seal of love and commitment in the Seoul Tower. There are tons of locks that are already part of the city’s most popular icons.
And one last shocking image is that of Seoul’s town halls, those of municipal buildings, the old one in stone and eclectic architectural style, and the new, ultra-modern glazed profile. The second can be seen peeking behind the first and we get in the flirtatious Town Hall Square in front.
The reference metro line in Jung-gu, to move from the district and through the district is 1, the blue, the bus lines with stops in the area are 6707A (brown) and 3300 (blue).
Seoul Train Station to travel to Incheon International Airport is less than 20 minutes by subway from Jung-gu and 15 minutes by taxi outside rush hour.
If it’s about sleeping in Seoul near everything important to visit in the capital and being well connected with transportation, this district is also ideal for staying in Seoul.
Hotels in Jung-Gu
Hongdae District is another area of downtown Seoul also located north of the Han River, but west of Jung-gu. It is a very dynamic district, especially due to the existence of a floating student population that attends the University of Hongik.
The name of the district comes from the acronym of the university (Hongik Daehakgyo). In the university, there is a center of fine arts that is one of the most reputed in the country. Hongdae is popularly known for its fresh, contemporary urban art and for its American-style indie culture and underground music (surrounding area of Hapjeong Station).
The district was redeveloped in the 1990s, has a multicultural social profile and over time has become a residential area with luxury homes and apartments. And that, a luxury to stay in Seoul in certain VIP streets of this sector.
The alternative air of the neighborhood is evident in its cultural activities that are part of the official and unofficial calendar of events in the city. In this sense, we must see what is done from the Live Club Day, in which different leisure clubs in the area, turn their scenarios into a joint event (last Friday of each month).
Also interesting are the art exhibitions in the street, the Zandari Festa (in autumn) and the Free Market that is mounted before the same main entrance of the university. In its streets, there are all kinds of clubs and lots of entertainment as well as fast food restaurants and others where you can eat authentic Korean food.
Speaking of Korean food, in those restaurants you should not stop asking as first bibim guksu, some fine thin noodles, as second, bulgogi, marinated beef and as dessert a classic green tea ice cream.
The offer of accommodation in Seoul in this area includes small hostels at affordable prices with fair amenities. It is a good area to stay in Seoul for young people and people who want to save some money on accommodation.
Sinchon-dong is a district of Seoul located northwest of the central district. It is known for its nightlife establishments, for its bars and for its western-style restaurants. Like Hongdae it is a good place to sleep in Seoul for young people and people looking for young nightlife.
There is also a whole series of themed hofs, very typical Korean bars and a fairly appreciable offer of services for the student population in the area (there are five universities in the district and many major colleges).
This sector of the city is full of shopping centers, cinemas, karaokes, centers to play online and a striking light signage that turns every corner, each building or each block into part of a futuristic theme park Blade Runner style .
One of the most common activities in the district is shopping in department stores of international and Korean chains. To get to the area and to connect with other areas of the city of Seoul, it is best to use subway line 2 that has several stops in Sinchon-dong. Failing that, the bus line 110A (Hyundai Warehouses).
Sinchon railway station allows you to connect with other cities near Seoul. From it, you can reach the Demilitarized Zone and the Dorasan Station. The latter is a symbolic railway station with zero passenger movement from the other side of the border that aims to enhance South Korea’s determination to bring its rail transport closer to North Korea.
This university district has a fairly affordable accommodation offer in Seoul, particularly small hotels and apartments. It is an area to consider to stay in Seoul that allows you to save a little.
Itaewon is a multicultural neighborhood in downtown Seoul where an important colony of citizens of the United States (especially military leaders in the Korean peninsula) and Europeans lives. The neighborhood is located northeast of the central district.
In Itaewon, you can find restaurants with international cuisine. The district is ironically known as the Seoul Chinatown. There is the paradox that in the area you can find shops of counterfeit products of leading brands and others that sell genuine Korean items that cannot be found even outside the country.
The sector specializes in the manufacture of tailored suits. The shopping street to find all this and more is Gyeongnidan. At the beginning of November, do not miss the celebration of Hallowen in the district. Also the Global Village Festival in mid-October.
To get around in the area, it is best to use metro line 6 that has stops at Itaewon. There is a wide range of medium-sized hotels and aparthotels to stay in Seoul in this area without spending large amounts of money.
Hotels in Itaewon
Gangnam-gu is a district that is located southeast of the city of Seoul. Its name literally means ‘South of the River’ because of its position with respect to the Han. It is an eminently commercial and residential area and in it there are a significant number of leisure and commercial spaces (such as Apgujeon or COEX Mall).
The Teheranno business district (on Tehran Street) is a good reference for finding good urban hotels to sleep in Seoul comfortably.
The extraordinary offer of higher quality studies in Gangnam schools make this district one of the most prestigious in South Korea.
In the area, visits to the Pucca theme park are recommended, especially if traveling to South Korea with family and children, and the Kimchi Museum. A permanent exhibition specialized in Korean food, in its history and traditions. Recommended for lovers of exotic cuisine and cuisine in western eyes.
You can also visit the tombs of Seonjeongneung, where two kings of the Joseon dynasty are buried. The enclave is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To go to and from downtown Seoul, the best thing to do is to take subway line 2 (circular).
Gangnam is one of the most expensive areas of the city and the hotels to stay in Seoul here are more exclusive. Medium and high ranges, but with extra services and comfort guaranteed.
Accommodations in Gangnam-Gu