Picture this… You’re finally visiting this amazing city for the first time. You’re very excited. You open up the browser to start looking for accommodations and you’re… stumped. Because it takes 25 minutes to get from Hongdae to Gyeongbokgung, and 40 minutes to get from Gyeongbokgung to Jamsil. So which area do you use as your home base? In this article, I’ll be giving you a quick rundown of what each area is famous for, what vibes it’s got, and what it’s close to. Hopefully, the information here will help you decide where to stay in Seoul.
Enjoy reading, and enjoy planning!
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If you’re looking at this blog post, it’s safe to say you’re planning to come to Seoul sometime. For your convenience, I will lead with the basics of visiting and living in Seoul first, then get into the areas.
Below are key points that hopefully help with your preparations.
As of March 2023, the only thing foreigners need to enter South Korea is either the Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA) or a visa.
If you’re traveling from a visa-free country, you now have to apply for a K-ETA. Everything is online, so very convenient. Just be sure to apply a month or so before departure. If you follow the link, you’ll see that the approval process takes 24-72 hours. I had a different experience. Mine took 2 weeks and I was thankful I did everything so far in advance. Since the country re-opened not long ago, there is an influx of visitors and the system can easily get backed up.
If you’re not sure whether or not you need a visa for South Korea, check HERE. All the information you’ll need to apply for a Korean visa is on that page as well.
Neither a COVID test nor proof of vaccination is required to enter South Korea.
The currency in South Korea is the Korean Won (KRW, ₩, or 원).
As of February 2023, 1 USD equals 1,255.71 KRW.
Electric Plug Type
Like most of Europe, South Korea uses plug type F, with two round-ended pins.
Caution: The wall sockets are very deep and most square-shaped universal adapters you buy will not fit. Make sure whichever adapter you have is round-shaped so it can go in. Worst-case scenario, hotels and guest houses will always have some ready for guests.
Kakao Map OR Naver Map: Some people prefer Naver Map but I personally use Kakao Map. Both give you very accurate information on places. The only thing I ask you is this–Don’t go to Korea relying just on Google Maps. It doesn’t fully work here!
Kakao Metro: Do NOT skip downloading this app, either! It will save your life when you use the subway. It works in any of these major cities: Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, and Daejeon. Just select the city you’re in and that city’s metro map will pop up. It also makes route recommendations for you.
Kakao T: If you prefer taxis, Kakao T is the Korean Uber so this one would be handy to have. With the bus and metro system that Seoul has, I don’t see the need for a taxi though.
Papago: In my opinion, this is the best translation app for English to Korean and vice versa. Again, this is another area Google isn’t quite the friend you need in Korea… It jumbles up that grammar and doesn’t really understand the nuance in the Korean language. The good news is you can use Papago to take photos of text, and it’ll translate everything for you just like Google!
Below is the list of things that are good to know, even though you’ll very likely get away with making mistakes on these as a foreigner.
- When in doubt in an Asian country, take your shoes off before entering a home. Korea is no different!
- Try to accept things and give them with both hands when you can. Receiving something with just one hand, especially from an older person, is rude.
- Bow your head slightly when greeting someone, like when you enter a restaurant or before leaving.
- Unless the locals are being super rowdy as well, remain on the quieter side in public.
- It’s normal to see locals drinking even before sundown. This is completely okay. But drink responsibly!
- Most importantly: If you know a bit of Korean or have been studying, do NOT address anyone by the word 당신 (Dangshin). Despite the fact that it is the “polite” pronoun and very likely what you’ve been told to use by language-learning apps, it has an offensive undertone. When talking to strangers, either address them by their status or omit the pronoun completely.
There are 3 main ways to get around Seoul (and most other big cities in Korea). I’ll talk briefly about each of them below. Don’t forget to buy yourself a T-Money card or Korea Tour Card when arriving at the airport.
- T-Money Card: Rechargeable pre-paid transportation card
- Tour Card: Acts as a T-Money card while also giving you discounted access to top sights
This is the best way to travel around Seoul in my opinion. It’s fast, reliable, and covers most of the city so you literally can get to any part of Seoul via the metro.
The subway stations are hard to beat as well compared to most other places I’ve been to. It’s modern, sparkling clean, with restrooms in every single one. And the restrooms are very well-maintained.
Buses are also clean with clear English-language signs if you prefer it to the subway. Consult Kakao Map for your bus route and number. They are accurate.
My least favorite way to travel except during emergencies… If you wish to use taxis, I highly recommend using the Kakao T app to call them for you or ask your hotel concierge to help.
Because the locals all use Kakao T, most taxis passing by a taxi stand will not stop as they are “reserved.” Whenever you see one with a green light showing, it doesn’t say “available.” It says 예약 which means reservation.
Where to Stay in Seoul
In my opinion, there are 5 main neighborhoods that visitors can stay in that are quite convenient. For each area, I’ll also be providing at least 3 hotel/hostel recommendations at 3 different price points.
Read on to find out which would end up suiting your needs best.
The long-standing shopping district of Seoul, Myeongdong is still relevant after decades due to its convenient location. Located in the center surrounded by neighborhoods like Insadong, Namdaemun, and Namsan, and walkable to Itaewon or Gyeongbokgung, this makes it a popular choice for first-time visitors.
Sights / Things to Do
- Shop your worries away along the intricate shopping streets of Myeongdong, whether on the 8-Gil, 8-Gagil, 10-Gil, or 4-Gil… your options are endless.
- Walk a subway station over to the Namdaemun district to the famous Namdaemun market… or hike up Namsan to the Seoul Tower.
- Walk 5-10 minutes north and take a stroll along the Cheonggyecheon stream with the locals.
- Or continue past Cheonggyecheon and find yourself in the traditional shopping street of Insadong.
Price Range: $220-$250 per night
Address: 137, Toegye-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul 04537
Hotel Skypark Central Myeongdong
Price Range: $70-$130 per night
Address: 16, Myeongdong 9-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul 04538
Price Range: $45-$80 per night
Address: 15, Myeongdong 8na-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul 04536
Surrounding the most famous school of liberal arts in the country (Hongik University), this neighborhood has got the perfect blend of city vibe and artsy alleyways. The night scene is pretty awesome, but it quiets down at reasonable hours.
It is a bit further from the middle of Seoul, but conveniently reachable via the metro. And as someone who stayed here for 2 months, I guarantee it is worth the commute.
Sights / Things to Do
- Visit the neighborhood’s abundance of animal cafés
- Or visit one of the art cafés and create your own work of art while sipping coffee. Keep in mind, these art “workshops” will look exactly like cafés from the outside.
- Join the crowd and watch daily street performances on the main strip of Hongdae. Get off the subway at Hongik University Station, take exit 9 and turn left and you’re right there!
- Seoul has its own 2D café, too! Pay a visit to GREEM café if you’re in the area
- 943 King’s Cross, one of the biggest and neatest Harry Potter-themed café I’ve ever visited, is also here. Fun fact: It’s “943” and not “934” because fractions are read from the bottom up in Korean!
RYSE Autograph Collection Seoul
Price Range: $170-$240 per night
Address: 130, Yanghwa-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul 04038
Price Range: $100 per night
Address: 86 Yanghwa-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul 04043
Price Range: $50-$120
Address: 7, Yanghwa-ro 15an-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul 04031
“America in Seoul,” Itaewon has been known for its abundance of foreigners and selections of foreign cuisine. After the hit Netflix show “Itaewon Class,” rest assured you cannot walk around this neighborhood without running into fans taking photos of familiar-looking buildings today.
Also famous for its nightlife and Halloween scene, this neighborhood is for you if you’re a night owl who prefers noise and activity in your life. Think “apartment on the lower east side” if you’ve been to New York!
Sights / Things to Do
- A variety of foreign cuisines are available, from Thai to American to Moroccan. Take your pick!
- If you’re a Halloween party type of person, don’t miss this neighborhood on Halloween.
- Noksapyeong Bridge: in my opinion the best view of Namsan and Seoul Tower
- Blue Square: most plays and musicals are held here.
- Leeum Museum of Art
- For Itaewon Class fans: The original Danbam restaurant is here and still in business 🙂 You can have dinner there.
Although it’s got many strengths, I have to say the accommodation scene isn’t Itaewon’s strong suit… But I’ve got you 3 recommendations, as promised.
Price Range: $280-$380 per night
Address: 322, Sowol-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 04347
Price Range: $90-$140
Address: 179, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 04350
Good Stay Itaewon (Hostel)
Price Range: $13-$21 per night
Address: 52, Itaewon-ro 14-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 04390
Its name directly translates to “South of the river,” Gangnam is famous for its luxury. Malls, shopping streets, a MORE expensive shopping street that’s known as the “Korean Rodeo Drive,” and of course… Gangnam Style.
If your main goal in Seoul is to shop and shop… and then shop some more, then Gangnam is your place to be. But unless that is the only thing you plan to do, I recommend staying in one of the other neighborhoods north of the river because most sights are there. You can commute to Gangnam for a day trip. My absolute favorite Korean Spa (Jjimjilbang) is in this area, and I made day trips there as well.
Sights / Things to Do
- COEX Mall & Starfield Library
- Close to Lotte World Mall, theme park, and tower
- Abgujeong, the shopping district
- Abgujeong Rodeo, the Korean Rodeo Drive
- Garosu-gil shopping street
- Seolleung and Jongneung: The UNESCO World Heritage Joseon Dynasty tombs
Price Range: $218-$280
Address: 415, Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul 06160
Ibis Styles Ambassador Gangnam
Price Range: $68-$103
Address: 431, Samseong-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul 06195
Gangnamstay (All-women hostel)
I am sorry, men… the only budget options around Gangnam seem to be hostels, and this was the only one that looked decent enough for me to recommend. But unless you’re really into shopping, you’re better off staying around one of the other areas anyway. Truce? *smiles*
Price: $26 per night
Address: 41-1, Nonhyeon-ro 67-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul 06256
If convenience isn’t your top priority on your first visit, then Samcheongdong is my favorite place to recommend. Why? It is PACKED with culture and traditions, an absolute heaven for slow travel enthusiasts. Is staying in a traditional Korean house (Hanok) in your plans? Here is where you will get it.
Enveloped by Gyeongbokgung on one side, Insadong (art and antique shopping street) on the other, and easily reachable by Subway as well, I don’t see why you wouldn’t! I spent my first 10 nights here in a Hanok myself as well.
Sights / Things to Do
- Bukchon Hanok Traditional Village
- Gyeongbokgung Palace
- National Folk Museum of Korea
- Changdeokgung Palace
- Cheongwadae: The Presidential Blue House Museum
- Tongin Traditional Market
- Gwanghwamun Square
- Walkable to the Cheonggyecheon stream
- Walkable to Deoksugung Palace
Before proceeding, keep in mind that due to the way Hanoks were built, personal bathrooms might not be available. But I promise to at least specify.
SeoulStory Hanok (Holiday Home, private bathrooms available)
This house sleeps 11 people, with the price of a nice hotel room. If you can afford it, why not rent a Hanok home to have all to yourself for a night or two just for the sake of experiencing it?
Price Range: $241 per night
Address: 3-19, Yulgok-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03060
Hanok Got (Option with private bathroom available)
Price Range: $120-$142
Address: 52-11, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03057
Bukchonmaru Hanok Guesthouse (Shared bathroom, private available at higher price point)
Price Range: $64-$150
Address: 2-164, Gyedong, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-800
Luxury Hanok Holiday Home
Gawonjae by Butler Lee (Sleeps 4 people)
This place is my dream! The price per night is ridiculous for a solo traveler, but if you’re here with a group of friends whom you can split the cost with, I’d say go for it.
Price Range: $478 per night
Address: 3-6, Bukchon-ro 7-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03055
Price Range: $91-$190
Address: 7, Yulgok-ro 2-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03143
And there you have it! If you’ve made it this far, I hope you now have a better idea of what your plans may look like in Seoul. If not, feel free to shoot me an email via the “Contact ” button above, or send me a DM on Instagram at @polyglotpetra.
Have the best time!
Other South Korea Blog Posts
- 15 Wonderful Things to Do in Seoul
- Seoul at Night: How to Make it Count in this Delightful City
- Gyeongbokgung Palace: A Comprehensive Guide
- Jjimjilbang: The Ultimate step-by-step Guide to the Korean Spa
This post is very informative and helpful for those who plan to visit South Korea. Love it ❤️❤️❤️
Thank you so much!