7 Must-See Seoul Neighborhoods and How to Visit
Twenty-five distinct districts (gu) make up the South Korean capital’s dizzying maze of over 500 neighborhoods (dong). From the shopping paradise of Myeongdong to the cozy corners of Hongdae, each of Seoul’s areas offers a distinct atmosphere and special attractions.
Knowing which to visit and what to do in each of them can be overwhelming, especially when you’re short on time. But these seven popular Seoul areas will keep you engaged, entertained, and full of delightful Korean cuisine throughout the duration of your visit.
Ride the Korean wave.
With a globally recognized name (thanks to PSY’s 2012 hit Gangnam Style), the excitement of this bustling Seoul district goes far beyond the viral video. The area is known for its exclusive nightlife scene, upscale restaurants, and performance venues.
Gangnam is also home to Starfield COEX Mall, which holds the title of the world’s largest underground shopping mall. The shopping center even comes complete with an aquarium, library, and casino. K-Pop fanatics can take a Hallyu-themed tour and see the district’s points of interest linked to the ever-growing Korean wave and Korean pop culture. Or, you can get a full snapshot of Gangnam on a group tour.
Home to centuries of history.
Home to Seoul’s five Joseon dynasty palaces (including the UNESCO-listed Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changgyeonggung Palace); Jogyesa Buddhist Temple; and the hundreds of traditional houses in Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul’s Jongno is the historical epicenter of South Korea.
Other local attractions include the National Folk Museum of Korea, Naksan Park, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). Many visitors opt for a guided group or private tour of Jongno’s highlights to make the most of their time travel adventure. Hanbok rental is also a popular activity in this area.
Cuisine, skincare, and haute-couture.
Whether you’re seeking free samples of the latest Korean skincare products, designer-brand heels, or a unique piece of jewelry, Myeongdong is the place to be. This bustling neighborhood in the Jung-gu district is also one of Seoul’s culinary hotspots, with food options ranging from piping hot tteokbokki (simmered rice cakes) at a street food stand to a Parisian tarte au pomme (apple tart) at a French bistro.
To find the best deals and hidden gems in Myeongdong, travelers should consider a private shopping excursion or see the area exactly how they please (but with a local guide) with a customized tour.
Neon, nightlife, and noodles.
Situated in the Yongsan district, Itaewon is the capital city’s hub of cultural diversity. A popular hangout for locals, expats, and tourists alike, this vibrant Seoul neighborhood offers an endless list of both Korean and international restaurants. When the sun sets, businesses’ neon signs flicker on, and Itaewon truly comes alive.
As one of the city’s top nightlife hubs, this neighborhood boasts a long list of LGBTQ+ bars, dance clubs, and live music spots. Many Seoul visitors join an organized pub crawl to enjoy the energetic neighborhood. Travelers who only have time for a daytime visit can make it a part of a private customized tour.
Seoul’s 24-hour hangout spot.
Situated in the city’s Mapo district between four universities, the Hongdae neighborhood is a constant hive of excitement. Offering a technicolor smorgasbord of coffee houses, boutiques, and street art, the trendy neighborhood is the perfect place to spend a relaxing day or snap photos for your social media feeds.
At night, Hongdae comes alive with locals and visitors ready to fall headfirst into the neighborhood’s legendary nightlife, which spans everything from intimate jazz bars to dance clubs blasting the latest house music. Whatever time of day (or night) you visit, a tour can help you experience Hongdae to the fullest. Options include private, small-group, self-guided, and pub crawls.
Skyscrapers, sea life, and riverside strolls.
Home to Seoul’s financial district, Yeouido Island also presents some impressive attractions. Standing at 816 feet (249 meters), 40 feet (12 meters) higher than N Seoul Tower, the 63 Building (Golden Tower) boasts an outstanding observation deck, as well as Aqua Planet Aquarium.
In addition, the skyscraper-dominated island is surrounded by parks. One of the best is the riverfront Yeouido Hangang Park, making the area a great place to appreciate the fresh air, particularly in spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
Souvenirs, seaweed, and street food.
With so much to see, eat, and buy, it’s important to savor your visit to fast-paced Insadong. This dynamic neighborhood is a tapestry of historical teahouses, charming cafés, one-of-a-kind boutiques, and distinctly-Korean art galleries. When it comes to purchasing that perfect souvenir, traditional Korean pottery, clothing (hanbok), paper (hangi), and other crafts abound.
Travelers with a healthy appetite who feel overwhelmed by Insadong’s endless list of eateries can take a culinary walking tour. Located within walking distance of Gyeongbokgung Palace, Chandeokgung Palace, and other historical landmarks, this must-see neighborhood is often included on group and private city tours.