A journey through Seoul's best districts

Will Harris


Travelling to Korea’s capital city is like being thrown through time: both backwards and forwards. Seoul’s thrumming nightlife and hectic street-food culture are perfectly counterbalanced by its tranquil temples and tea houses. It’s the home of Esports, K-pop, adorable cafes, and the best shopping experience in East Asia. For everything you could want out of a great vacation, you’ll find it in Seoul if you know where to look. So, here are the five best districts in Seoul - each of them unique in tone, atmosphere, culture, and style - and what they all have to offer.

Itaewon - Seoul’s nightlife district

Here you’ll find an overwhelming amount of great bars, clubs, and restaurants - many of them owned by Americans and Europeans. From microbreweries to French delis, Itaewon is all about that Western international scene.

Must-visit restaurant: Plant - All fresh, all healthy, and all delicious. This restaurant offers a mix of vegan and vegetarian foods in a mostly European and American style.

Itaewon’s best bar: Magpie Brewing co. - A home-brew bar that makes all of its own original ales in-house. Home-brews are a popular business start-up for expats in Korea, and Magpie is easily the best one.

Itaewon’s best cafe: 5 Extracts - A minimalist coffee house owned by an award-winning barista. Its relaxed atmosphere is a welcome break from the bustle of Itaewon.

Unique to Itaewon: Antique shopping - Itaewon has a designated street for antique stores, selling antiques from all over the world. From Victorian England to Ancient China, there are some incredible antiques to uncover here.

Itaewon, Seoul

Hongdae - Seoul’s shopping district

This district is home to Seoul’s Hongik University; it has a strong student presence and an electric atmosphere. Here, you can shop at both the biggest high-street stores in the world and many boutique stores that are quintessentially Korean. When you’re done shopping, there are hundreds of local restaurants specialising in delicious Korean fried chicken.

Must-visit restaurant: Ttobogetji Tteokbokki - The best place to experience local tteokbokki (spicy Korean rice cakes made with cheese, eggs, and other toppings of your choice).

Hongdae’s best bar: Robin’s Square - A cocktail bar hidden in a basement, with fantastic mixologists and charming, chic decor.

Hongdae’s best cafe: Coffee Prince - Setting of the famous K-Drama series of the same name, starring Gong Yoo. A must-visit cafe if you love modern Korean culture.

Unique to Hongdae: Trick-Eye Museum - A magically clever interactive museum. The exhibitions use tricks of perspective and a free phone app to put you into the paintings and artwork while it all moves and comes to life around you.

Hongdae, Seoul

Myeong - Home of street food and boutique shopping

This whole area is always buzzing through the weekend, with street food stalls littering the streets and boutique shops popping up everywhere. Here, you can buy some cheap and high-quality Korean beauty products while snacking on chicken sticks, egg buns, and rice cakes.

Must-visit restaurant: Isaac Toast - Beloved by almost every young person in Seoul. Isaac Toast combines traditional Korean chicken, eggs, and rice cakes with toast to make for some very indulgent breakfast food.

Myeong’s best cafe: O’sulloc Tea House - A traditional tea house with a modern twist. O’Sulloc makes the best green tea lattes in Seoul, and it’s a great place to stop and recharge when exploring Myeong.

Unique to Myeong: Delicious street food - As soon as you leave the subway you’ll be greeted by a wide-open street packed with vendors selling odeng fishcakes, tteokbokki spicy rice cakes, hotteok sweetbreads, and gyeran-bbang sweet egg bread. The street food here is so cheap and delicious that you can spend an afternoon trying a little bit of everything.

Myeongdong, Seoul

Gangnam - Seoul’s glitzy and glamorous heart

Made famous by Psy’s 2012 K-pop song ‘Gangnam Style’. Gangnam is the fancy area of Seoul, with all the most expensive bars and restaurants. Its skyline looks like Manhattan; its street level is reminiscent of Shibuya, Tokyo, and its atmosphere is all glamour all the time.

Must-visit restaurant: MADE - An Italian-American bistro that specialises in a mix of traditional Italian and New York-style American dishes. From sliders to chicken parmesan and tiramisu.

Gangnam’s best bar: Once in a Blue Moon - Three floors of live jazz music. There are also Korean snacks to enjoy while you sip at an excellent cocktail or a glass of whiskey.

Gangnam’s best cafe: Cafe Dessertree - A French patisserie which turns every single cake, pastry, and coffee it serves into a work of art. The most photogenic cafe you’ll ever visit.

Unique to Gangnam: VR Plus Cafe - Gangnam is very much the tech hub of Seoul, and here is the nation’s first VR cafe. Order a cafe and strap on a headset (maybe not at the same time).

Gangnam, Seoul

Insadong - The traditional and cultural hub of the city

Insadong is where you’ll find the traditional side of Korean culture. It’s a quiet, beautiful district full of tea houses, vegetarian Buddhist restaurants, and a village full of ancient Korean homes. Insadong is where you can step back in time and see the Korea that once was.

Must-visit restaurant in Insadong: Sanchon - A restaurant of traditional Korean temple food. Sanchon was originally opened by a Korean Buddhist monk and offers all the traditional foods you would enjoy as a monk in Korea through the centuries. It’s the pinnacle of Korean tradition in food-form.

Insadong’s best cafe: Shin Old Tea House - A completely traditional teahouse experience, complete with floor seating, matcha tea served in clay cups, rice-based snacks, and a soothing, relaxing atmosphere.

Unique to Insadong: Bukcheon Hanok Village - A village in the heart of Seoul which maintains its traditional architecture. The buildings are quaint and picturesque, with the mountains framing them in the distance. Renting hanbok and posing in them as you wander and explore the village is what visiting Insadong is all about.

Insadong, Seoul

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