Choosing where to stay in Seoul can be difficult. For the first time visitor, it can be overwhelming. Jade House of Journey Count lived for a year in South Korea and shares her picks of the best neighborhoods, why they are a good choice for visitors and what you can do in each.
Where to Stay in Seoul
If you are exploring South Korea, one of Asia’s most underrated destinations, chances are you are probably starting off in the pulsing capital Seoul.
Korea’s capital offers an incredible introduction to this diverse country, with something for all types of visitors.
This guide will introduce you to the best neighbourhoods in Seoul so that you can find an area that fits your travel needs.
After living in South Korea for a year and exploring every corner of the country, I’ve come to believe that it is one of Asia’s most underrated destinations. And the capital, Seoul, is one of the region’s coolest cities.
Korea’s capital offers an incredible introduction to this diverse country, and we travelled there often to explore new areas and show our own visitors around.
There is something for everyone, from art, history and shopping, to outdoor exploration and some of the best dining options in the country.
This guide will give you an idea of the area that would best fit your travel style and desires, find the best neighbourhoods to stay in and will encourage you to use Seoul’s wonderful public transport system to explore the whole city.
Suggested Seoul Neighborhoods
If you want to skip directly to any of the neighborhoods in Seoul, click on the links below.
Seoul’s Best Neighborhoods
- Insadong - in the heart of Seoul, close to most major attractions
- Myeongdong - a hub of modern Korean culture close to Namsan tower
- Hongdae - a bustling university neighborhood known for its bars and restaurants
- Gangnam - this iconic area is home to skyscrapers and luxury chain hotels
- Bonus: Hanok Homes - a unique accommodation experience in Seoul
Seoul Quick Tips
How to get around Seoul
You can buy a T-money or cash bee card to use on all subway and bus lines in the city. These can be purchased from, and topped up at, most convenience stores, including 7-Eleven, CU and GS25.
Getting from the airport
Seoul’s Incheon International Airport is actually in a separate city, but it is incredibly easy to reach the city center. While Korea’s taxi services are relatively inexpensive, especially with the addition of Uber, we recommend taking the convenient public transport system.
Two subway lines run to the city center. - the AREX takes about 45 minutes, and the regular service takes just over an hour.
If you are looking for something more speedy
Getting out of Seoul
There are a number of bus terminals in Seoul, and each run to different parts of the country (South, East, West etc.). Our advice would be to check the Visit Korea website for more details, or, even better, simply ask in your hotel when you get there.
On top of buses, there’s an abundance of high speed (KTX) and low speed (Mugunghwa) trains which run from the capital to Mokpo, Daejeon, Daegu, Jinju and Busan. You can book online, in English, on the Korail website.
Seoul has 25 gu or "districts" but you'll find that even if I suggest staying in Insadong, maybe Myeongdong might be a good option too. Don't limit yourself.
As you can see from the map below, neighbourhoods are quite random but encircle the Hang River. Choosing where to stay in Seoul is easy once you get the hang of how the city works.
Plan Your Seoul Trip
Dress in layers and pack mix and match clothing. Seoul can be hot and sunny or cool and damp. Bring waterproof outer layers and a sweater or wrap for evenings.
See our 5 Easy Seoul Day Trips for more ideas.
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Insadong is the most convenient neighborhood for first timers to Seoul as it sits between the cities most popular attractions.
As the unofficial art district, it is also a great place to start getting a feel for Korean culture, with plenty of traditional architecture and handicraft shops among the new and shiny franchises.
The place is also abundant with cool independent cafés and teahouses to relax in between sightseeing.
Suggested Hotels in Insadong
Things to see and do in Insadong
Gyeongbukgung Palace - Insadong is well placed to visit Gyeongbukgung palace. If you only visit one of Seoul’s many palaces, make it this one.
University students offer free tours to foreigners around the Gyeongbukgung subway exit as a chance to practice their English.
They’re all incredibly helpful and friendly and will give you a more educated insight into the stunning buildings and gardens within the palac.
If you decide against a guide though, just keep meandering north until you come to Hyangwonjeong, the royal pavilion which sits upon a man-made lake at the rear of the palace.
The views here are especially beautiful in both autumn and spring, as golden leaves or petals float across the water.
Before you leave be sure to check out the museum within the compound, and the pagoda which rests upon it, alongside the reconstruction of a traditional street from the past.
Changdeokgung Palace - East of Gyeongbukgung is another of Seoul’s majestic palaces which features beautifully manicured gardens. These palaces are an incredible insight into Korea’s past and have been kept in fantastic condition, certainly worth a few hours of wandering with a camera in hand.
Bukchon Hanok Village - Between the two palaces is the charming Bukchon hanok village. All buildings within this area are in-keeping with traditional architecture, and the place has been kept alive throughout multiple occupations.
Climb the steep roads and take in the city vistas, and consider stopping for tea at one of the little houses along the way.
Cultural Heritage Tour - This morning tour introduces you to some of Seoul's top cultural attractions, including the Bukchon Village.
Full Day Top Attractions - Visit Gyeongbuk Palace, the Blue House, Bukchon Village and more on this full day tour.
Traditional Calligraphy Experience - Experience Seoul's creative heart with a calligraphy class in Insadong.
Located between Insadong and Namsan Mountain is Korea’s shopping mecca Myeongdong.
Neon lines the streets and food stalls waft their smells along the pedestrianized paths in this bustling neighborhood, a complete contrast to the historic center.
If you are looking for hustle and bustle and great shopping the this is the place to stay in Seoul.
Suggested Hotels near Myeongdong
Things to See in Myeongdong
Namsan Tower - Across the street from exit 3 of Myeongdong subway station, there is a free shuttle bus that will ferry you up to the start of Namsan mountain.
From where it drops you off you'll have the choice of walking up the mountain or taking the cable car.
We’d personally recommend the walk, as it’s not too far and offers impressive views of the city and mountains on the way up.
The view from the top is nothing short of incredible.
A trip up the Namsan tower gives you a real insight into quite how enormous the city is.
Buildings and mountains sprawl in every direction - you’ll be blown away.
We recommend getting up the mountain with ample time for sunset.
Once it gets dark you’ll see the lights flicker on district by district across the whole city - certainly not something to miss.
Cheonggyecheon Stream - Between Insadong and Myeongdong, you will find Cheonggyecheon stream.
This artificial reclaimed stream is a lovely place to take a walk and view the architecture of modern Seoul.
If you head East far enough, you’ll end up away from the developed center, and in what locals would consider to be the real Seoul.
It’s areas like this where you’ll find enormous local food markets.
West along the stream, you’ll hit Sejongdae-ro avenue with Gyeongbukgung palace at the end.
Along this road are statues of the great King Sejong, creator of the modern alphabet, and Admiral Yi Sun-shin, who defended the country against the Japanese under Joseon Rule.
Either side of this road, as well as under it, are some fascinating museums. The national museum gives an excellent overview of Korea’s rich history.
Nanta Cooking Show Tickets - Head to Myeondong Theatre to see Korea's eclectic and exciting show.
Seoul Night Shopping Tour - Discover Seoul's bustling shopping districts after sunset when the neon lights are bright.
Korean Cooking Class - Learn to make Korea's staple dishes and some delicious snacks in this hands-on cooking class.
Myeongdong sits between subway line 2 and subway line 4 with Euljiro 1, Euljiro 3 and Myeongdong stations creating a triangle across the neighbourhood.
Home to Hongik University, the Hongdae area is a great place to experience a more local side to the city and is famous for its nightlife.
For shopping, eating, and drinking, it rivals Myeongdong and is often cheaper.
On top of that, it’s one of the edgiest and individual places in the whole country and the neighborhood of quite a liberal-minded arts University.
If you are a little younger and are looking for the party scene than this is the best neghbourhood in Seoul to stay in.
Suggested Hotels Near Hongdae
Things to see and do near Hongdae
Nightlife in Hongdae - If you are looking to experience Korea’s iconic nightlife, then this is a fantastic place to be. The area has plenty of clubs and bars, and tonnes of barbecue restaurants to warm up at.
To start your evening in a traditional way, head to a local Makgeolli bar and enjoy a couple of drinks with some Korean pancakes (jeon).
Hongdae art galleries - Check out the seemingly endless art galleries and artsy coffee shops. This is a great place to pick up unique souvenirs and homeware.
If you happen to be there on a Sunday, then check out the open-air flea market which starts at 1 pm in the of the pedestrianized area.
Nightlife and Soju Experience- Spend your evening like a local and learn about traditional alcohol in Korea.
Hongdae Pub Crawl - Party with the locals on this 3-hour pub crawl.
Seoul Private Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Tour: Choose your own adventure! Take a private, custom tour of Seoul city highlights without worrying about being taken to compulsory shopping stops.
From Hongik University subway station take exit 9 and head straight up the road to your left to get right into the middle of it all.
The hub is the long pedestrianized street, and all the smaller alleys off of it are worth exploring.
Made famous by the catchy Psy song, Gangnam is one of Seoul’s financial hubs and the center of the gargantuan KPOP industry.
Translated as South of the river, Gangnam is a little further afield than the other neighborhoods on this list, and it certainly feels different.
Full of highrises and shopping malls, this area is not for everyone and has prices to match. However, it is also home to plenty of incredible food and provides a fascinating insight into parts of Korean culture.
If you are into living the high life and love the nightclub culture this is where to stay in Seoul.
Suggested Hotels in Gangnam
Things to See and Do in Gangnam
Bong Eun Sa - This beautiful temple sits peacefully amongst the skyscrapers, in the middle of Gangnam, and is a small haven of peace in an otherwise crazy neighborhood.
Samneung Park - An open green space in the center of Gangnam, this park is the location of a number of royal tombs and a wonderful escape from the busy streets.
Gangnam Style Tour -If you're fond of K-pop and you want to walk on the path of your favorite stars, then this tour is made for you.
Gangnam Walking Tour Including Samsung D'Light: Shop to your heart’s content at two popular hot spots in Seoul: Gangnam Underground Shopping Arcade and Samsung D’light.
#5 Hanok Homes
If you are looking for something a little different on your trip to Seoul and love immersing yourself in local culture, then you should consider checking out a Hanok homestay.
Usually located in the beautifully preserved Bukchon village, these houses are made in the traditional wooden style and sleeping is on comfortable mats upon heated floors.
You’ll also have the chance to connect with the local people keeping these accommodations alive, and they’ll hopefully share some traditional meals with you too.
Top Hanok Homes in Seoul
No matter which neighborhood in Seoul you choose to base yourself in, it's so easy to travel around the city to get a feel for each one.
While so many of Seoul's attractions are concentrated in the central neighborhoods, it is worth venturing further afield to experience the local hotspots and hidden gems of the city.
Take your time exploring Seoul, with plenty of breaks in adorable cafes and delicious restaurants - we promise you'll have an amazing time!
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