Where to Stay in Seoul? 5 Best Neighborhoods for First-time Visitors

Where to Stay in Seoul? 5 Best Neighborhoods for First-time Visitors

1 Aug 2020

Posted by Mikaela

18 Comments

Are you looking for the best neighborhood to stay in Seoul? Part of travel planning is choosing the right accommodation during your trip, which is overwhelming if not done right. As we all know, Seoul is the capital city of South Korea. In terms of its area coverage, we can consider it as a vast city with a great transportation system and accessibility. With this, it’s a common question among first-time visitors, or any traveler is where to stay in Seoul.

So, here’s a well-put guide for you to read about the best districts to consider in looking where to stay in Seoul, South Korea with the best neighborhoods.

Things to consider in deciding where to stay in Seoul

Seoul is a widely stretched city in Gyeonggi Province. Thus, being strategic on how you could get around the city is important. You can start with understanding the 2 major areas of Seoul. Gangbuk (the old city) where authentic historical and cultural experience and attractions are situated, and the lower part is Gangnam (the new city) where South Korean elites spend their life lavishly. 

Before we go ahead with the 5 neighborhoods listed below, let’s first consider the following things I’ve listed that will surely help you decide the perfect neighborhood for you. This is because I’ve encountered many people who were disappointed in their accommodation. After all, they forgot to consider:

Travel style

Your preferred travel style will influence your decision. What activities would you like to experience? Are you a city-dweller? Do you enjoy on-foot explorations? Would you like to experience the nightlife, or do you want a quiet neighborhood where you can sip your coffee and have a relaxing bath? These are some of many questions to ask yourself before looking where to stay in Seoul.

This also means that you are prioritizing the attractions and activities you would like to experience, and the level of comfort you would like to have. 

Accessibility

Luckily, Seoul is one of the easy-to-access metropolises in the world. Their transportation system is affordable and top-notch—you can opt to have a day trip from Seoul such as Nami Island, Paju, Suwon, or Busan in a day, yet you can still catch the metro or bus going back to Seoul. Also, you don’t have to worry about the metro stations as most accommodation is near to it. Plus, their well organized and on-time bus stops, with systematically numbered routes.

Given that they have an impressive network and you can easily commute from one place to another, it is better to consider the sites you wanted to visit first. Again, the city is vast that it could take 40 min. Up to an hour to move around the city.

Length of stay

If you’re staying for a shorter time, most likely you want to explore as many attractions as you can. Some neighborhoods have lots of attractions nearby, so it’s better to stay there (like in Jongno.) 

Budget

As a low-maintenance traveler, I believe that for you to get the most out of your experience; you need to accept your reality. Your budget will take part in how you would like to explore the city. This is when you’ll test whether to book a hotel raging from affordable to luxurious one or stay in a hostel.

READ RELATED POST: 5 DAYS IN SEOUL: COMPLETE TRAVEL GUIDE AND SEOUL ITINERARY

5 Best Neighborhoods Around Seoul

  • Myeongdong
  • Hongdae
  • Insadong
  • Itaewon
  • Gangnam

READ RELATED POST: 22 FREE THINGS TO DO IN SEOUL

Myeongdong–shopping, food exploration and night market

Many bloggers would recommend Myeongdong as the best neighborhood for first-time visitors. Mainly because it’s in the central part of Seoul where you can conveniently stay in a hotel and shop until you drop in Myeongdong shopping street. Also, if you’re a food lover and like trying street food and supporting hawkers, this is the place to go!

International brands, cosmetic boutique stores, and trendy fashion shops are here that will lure you to buy. They have great item deals, especially with cosmetics and skincare products, so you better prepare yourself for some cash-outs.

Pros

It is in the center of Seoul and is very accessible, especially in going to nearby neighborhoods. You will have a great time spending your money here and filling your stomach with scrumptious food from local restaurants and street food stalls.

Cons

Myeongdong is a busy neighborhood, even late at night. Also, it is a common choice of tourists, so it’s better to be ready for crowded places and busy streets. Traveling to other neighborhoods will take some time, especially going to the other side of the river or Gangnam (about 40 min. On the subway) 

Nearby attractions

Myeongdong Cathedral, Lotte Department Store, N Seoul Tower, Namsan Park, Namdaemun market, War Memorial of Korea, and Cheonggyecheon Stream.

Hongdae–for the youth, the life of the party and shopping center

Hongdae is the best place to stay in Seoul for young travelers and tourists who want to experience a vibrant neighborhood all day long! It is the busiest district aside from Gangnam where you could find street performers, arts, fashion trends, noraebang (karaoke bars,) clubs, and more. Thanks to Hongik University (known as the best school for architecture and arts,) staying here is very affordable for the younger audience.

We stayed in Hongdae, and I’d say that is the best decision! We had a great time exploring the streets of Hongdae late at night. There are many activities to do and places to see any time of the day without breaking the bank because of its budget-friendly accommodation and attractions.

Pros

The neighborhood is perfect for the youth and travelers who enjoy a fun and active environment at night. It is also the home of many talented artists who study at Hongik University. The streets of Hongdae has a very artistic vibe (many street performers, murals, and art displays) and a shopping street with great sales. You can do lots of things around the neighborhood, especially for party-goers.

Cons

The district is too busy and noisy even at night, and few luxurious restaurants and hotels can be found here.

Nearby attractions

Trick Eye Museum, Hongdae Mural Street, Hongik University, Hongdae Free Market.

Jongno–authentic Korean experience, culture and history

If you want an authentic Korean experience, there’s no better place than in the Jongno area. It is the home of many cultural and historical attractions, including museums, traditional markets, hanok village, Gwanghwamun gate, and the great palaces. This is the ideal neighborhood for people who will stay in a short period because many attractions are nearby.

Pros

Most people who visit South Korea would love to experience wearing the Hanbok and visiting the palaces and hanok villages. You can experience those activities in the Jongno area as it represents the authentic and traditional side of Korea. This is also the best place to admire Korean architecture, traditional garden, and learn about its culture in different museums.

Cons

Unlike Hongdae, Myeongdong, Itaewon and Gangnam district, Jongno area sleeps throughout the night. It is a quiet place far from the southern side of Seoul, so if you wish to travel to Gangnam a lot, it will take you an hour before you arrive there. Plus, reserve early for your accommodation because not much hotels are available here. 

Nearby attractions

Cheonggyecheon stream, Jonggak Station, Gwanghwamun Plaza, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Hanok Village, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Arts.

Itaewon–diversity, multi-cultural haven, bars

We know itaewon as the multi-cultural center of Seoul where most expatriates live. Bars, restaurants, clubs, and international brands can be found here. Because of its diversity, you can enjoy different cuisines coming from the Middle East and the Western part of the globe by visiting Itaewon. Another feature of Itaewon is its nightlife, where people could get drunk from pubs and gatherings throughout the night. Therefore, it is a pleasant neighborhood if you want to stick with a familiar environment or meet foreigners coming from different backgrounds.

Pros

English is well spoken in this area because of the number of expatriates and foreigners staying in the neighborhood. Many restaurants and café offer Western and Middle Eastern cuisines. Also, the streets of Itaewon are much lively at night, making it a fun place to experience occasionally.

Cons

This district is far from authentic Korea, and accommodation can be expensive.

Nearby Attractions

N Seoul Tower, Sodaemun Prison Hall.

Gangnam–luxury shopping and party life

Gangnam is on the other side of the Han river, known as the home of wealthy South Koreans. Most people who came for business trips stay here, including those who wanted to mingle with South Korean elites. This is where you can see the upscale lifestyle of the rich garnering the name as the Beverly Hills of Korea. With this, you can enjoy fancy restaurants, shopping malls and luxurious hotel here.

Pros

Gangnam is full of lavishness, making it a great shopping place (many department stores and brands are here). Plus, many luxurious hotels and reputable restaurants are here. It is also a center of Seoul’s architectural advancement—a great place to view the Seoul skyline.  

Cons

Being on the other side of Seoul requires more time for traveling. I do not recommend it to stay here during your first-time visit to Seoul since you might waste time commuting and not enjoying the attractions around Seoul. It is also one of the priciest areas in Seoul. Meaning, you will spend more on food by dining in restaurants than trying street foods. 

Nearby Attractions

Lotte World, COEX mall, COEX Aquarium, Bongeunsa, Seoul Forest

Conclusion

Planing where to stay in Seoul is a crucial part of your travel planning. The best way to do it is to consider your travel style, budget, and length of stay. The 5 neighborhoods have their own pros and cons, and you have to choose one that will work for you and your family.

What is the best neighborhood in Seoul for you? Let me know in the comment section below.

Where to stay in Seoul? Here's the 5 best neighborhoods to consider and  complete neighborhood guide for first-time visitors.
Where to stay in Seoul? Here's the 5 best neighborhoods to consider and  complete neighborhood guide for first-time visitors.

 

18 responses to “Where to Stay in Seoul? 5 Best Neighborhoods for First-time Visitors”

  1. Emily says:

    I’m yet to visit Seoul but you’ve done an awesome job of breaking down the pros and cons of each neighbourhood! Sounds like there’s a great range of options for first-time visitors.

  2. Julia says:

    South Korea has been on my radar for a while and Seoul seems a bit overwhelming for choosing “the right” location to call home. This is super helpful! Particularly as my choice may change if traveling alone vs. with friends!

    • Mikaela says:

      I personally experienced traveling with friends in Seoul, but I would like to travel solo as well. Either way, Seoul has a lot to offer that will surely give you a memorable trip 🙂

  3. Amy Alton says:

    I think Jongno gets my vote! I’d rather visit museums than have the nightlife.

  4. Useful post! I visited Seoul on my honeymoon, and we stayed centrally in the city at the GS Hotel right near 3 metro lines. We were using public transit to get around the city, and so proximity to different lines was a huge benefit. You post makes me want to go back again and experience staying in a new location.

  5. Farrah says:

    Thanks so much for putting this together! I’d love to go to Seoul someday and this is definitely gonna come in handy! :]

  6. Bliss says:

    This is really useful. It’s always so hard to choose where to stay in a new place.

  7. Awesome post! So far, I’ve primarily stayed in Gangnam whenever I was in Seoul and had my head turned everyday by the best-looking people you could imagine. But one day, a friend invited me to stay a night in Hongdae and that was wild! I loved it.

  8. Emma says:

    I haven’t been to South Korea before so this is really helpful for choosing an area to stay if I one day visit Seoul

  9. Olivia says:

    Seoul (and South Korea in general) has been high on my bucket list as of late! I’d love to visit and will definitely be saving this post for when I do. Thanks for the great tips!

  10. Ahh Seoul, It has been on our bucket list for a loonngg time as South Korea has some of the most fabulous street style in the world! For anyone who love fashion and food, Seoul is a Mecca for sure. Thank you for breaking down the pros and cons of each area, there is nothing worse than booking a hotel and finding yourself far away from the activities you enjoy. We cant wait to hop on a plan and experience this wonderful city first hand.

  11. Lauren says:

    Thanks for sharing such a useful guide! I would love to visit Seoul one day 🙂

  12. Shany says:

    Such an amazing and useful guide! I really want to see Seoul and hopefully it will happen soon. Thank you for sharing this!

  13. Jenny says:

    I love Seoul. I’m looking forward to the day I can get back there. I love staying in Myeongdong. I have my favourite cat cafe there 🙂 Great article.

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