Planning a trip to Seoul? Chances are, you have about 5 tabs open on your browser right now and probably pulling your hair out with all of the choices and information out there. Believe me – I’ve been there. There is no shortage of guides and blogs on Seoul and you have the city itself to blame.
If you think online information on Seoul is overwhelming, you should go to, well… Seoul! From the moment you land on Incheon and venture into the heart of the city, you’ll be bombarded by all sorts of curiosities and novelties and choices, choices, choices!
If you’re on a diet, forget about it. You’ll be eating your way around the city in no time. Not really planning to shop? Friendly (albeit unfashionable) tip: wear blinders. Thinking of taking it slow and having a relaxing trip? Wear your most comfortable shoes anyway, as you’ll be drawn from one street to the next and before you know it, you’re in the middle of an art village on top of a hill and you just want to keep on going.
Seoul’s vibrancy and life is just so infectious and there’s just so much you can do that the trip-planning stage can be so overwhelming. So here’s my part in helping you plan your little holiday and making it less of an information overload: I made a fun and quick quiz (5 minutes tops!) that will help you decide where to stay in Seoul!
Take this quick and easy guide to finding the best Seoul neighborhood for you. Let us know which neighborhood is your Seoul-mate in the comments or by sharing and tagging the Little Holidays Facebook page!
Where to stay in Seoul – a quick and fun guide to Seoul’s neighborhoods
Ready to explore Seoul? Put on your comfy shoes and start early – Seoul has a lot to offer. It’s quite easy to get overwhelmed in this mega-city so choose your home base wisely.
Quick tips – choosing the best place to stay in Seoul
- If you love fashion and shopping, stay in Myeongdong. You’ll be within walking distance of Seoul’s best shops and stylish restaurants.
- If you love cool and artsy neighborhoods, stay in Hongdae. This is heaven for indie art lovers and creatives.
- If you love history and culture, stay in Insadong. This is where you’ll find most of Seoul’s cultural and architectural gems, including temples, shrines, and palaces.
- If you love novelty and social events, stay at Itaewon. For cosmopolitan travelers who yearn for the world’s best, this is where you’ll find your tribe.
Seoul is certainly a mecca for fashionistas and shoppers, and the epicenter of this is Myeongdong. This is Seoul’s primary shopping destination where you can shop for designer bags and shoes, clothing, and skin care products. You can easily spend a week prowling the sparkly streets of Myeongdong and you won’t run out of things to buy or try.
This is also a great area for foodies who want a taste of those cute and very Instagrammable street foods. Try as much exotic eats as you can while in Myeongdong. For noodles and dumpling, drop by the famous Myeongdong Kyoja. If you’re craving for grilled meat, look for Yuktongryeong and get the specialty – mountain black pork! Or just walk along the Myeongdong shopping streets for street foods of every kind.
If you’re craving for some cultural sightseeing, you can walk over to the Myeongdong Cathedral and Nanta Theatre.
Where to stay in Myeongdong – best boutique hotels in Seoul
★Travelers’ Pick: Everyone’s raving about the new Aloft Seoul Myeongdong, a bright and modern hotel right in the middle of Myeongdong’s shiny shopping streets. Double rooms start at just USD 130, and you’ll be treated to excellent amenities and fantastic hospitality.
Check out also the Grand Hotel Myeongdong, a great option for families and business travelers. Double rooms start at USD 120 while you can get family rooms at USD 180. For budget options, check out Hostel Philstay – it’s got cozy rooms and a great location with double rooms starting at only USD 40.
Hongdae is heaven for indie art lovers and creatives. It’s a neighborhood adjacent to the Hongik University (from where it gets its name), which is one of South Korea’s top colleges for the fine arts.
Live in Hongdae if you want to immerse in the neighborhood’s creative and colorful spirit. You’ll be able to get a glimpse of street performances, art activities, and weekend markets that are all centered on self-expression. This certainly draws a lot of creative residents and tourists, making it one of the world’s coolest neighborhoods.
Where to stay in Hongdae – best holiday rentals and apartments in Seoul
★Travelers’ Pick: What’s charming about Hongdae is you get a glimpse of how locals actually live in Seoul. To really have that authentic experience, stay in one of the guest houses and apartments in the residential areas. Our top pick is Macaroni House, a bright and cozy apartment with everything you’ll want from a vacation home. Their two-bedroom apartment starts at USD 90 – reserve soon as it’s a pretty hot space!
Other guest houses and apartments in the area that you can check out are: Trick Art Guest House with artsy interiors and clean, bright rooms (double rooms start at USD 44, beds start at USD 18); and Brownie Guesthouse with its chic and modern set-up (double rooms start at USD 44, beds start at USD 16).
Insa-dong and adjacent neighborhoods in the cultural district of Jongno are great bases for travelers who love to learn more about South Korea’s traditions and culture.
Jongno is one of the oldest districts in Seoul and home to most of the city’s cultural and historical attactions. It houses four of the five grand palaces in Seoul – Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, and Gyeonghuigung – as well as many temples, shrines, and cultural relics of the Joseon dynasty. The well-preserved Bukchon hanok village is also within Jongno and a great way to get a glimpse of traditional Korean dwellings.
Insa-dong is a popular traditional street where you can get to see various traditional galleries, restaurants, cafes, and tea houses. You’ll also be able to shop for traditional souvenirs along the shopping street. For a traditional teahouse experience, drop by the Tteuran. For a modern twist to this ancient drink, check out O’sulloc Tea House along Insa-dong.
Where to stay in Insa-dong – best hanok stays in Seoul
★Travelers’ Pick: Max your cultural immersion by staying in a hanok or traditional Korean house. The top spot for hanok stays goes to Bibimbap Guesthouse, where you can sleep, eat, and live like traditional Koreans do. The guesthouse is located in a charming inner alley just a short walk away from some the city’s best cultural spots. Double rooms start at USD 72 – and this already includes breakfast that everyone raves about.
You can also check Charm Hanok Guesthouse (double rooms start at USD 57) or Namhyeondang Hanok Guesthouse (double rooms start at USD 70). If you prefer a modern hotel though, the Makers Hotel is a favorite in Insa-dong. Double rooms start at USD 80.
Itaewon is a great district for cosmopolitan travelers who yearn for the world’s best wherever they go. This is the city’s first special tourist zone, which gradually evolved to cater to expats and locals who gravitated towards the district’s multicultural flavor.
Itaewon is where you go for international cuisine – from Indian to Thai to German, Mexican, and more. This is also where you can get the best of Seoul’s nightlife scene as well as some of the best cafes – basically this is where you go to meet like-minded world travelers.
Where to stay in Itaewon – best art hotels and hostels in Seoul
★Travelers’ Pick: Itaewon is a melting pot of all that’s cosmopolitan and worldly, but Mosc easily wins as the freshest and most eclectic hotel in town. Apart from the fresh new rooms and unique design, the hotel is right in the middle of the action – a perfect base for your adventures in Itaewon and the rest of Seoul. Double rooms start at USD 48 – reserve ASAP as rooms here are a pretty hot commodity.
For a budget option – or to meet more of your kind – stay at a hostel. Hostels in Itaewon are especially designed for world travelers with great taste and friendly vibes. Check out Hostel G Guesthouse and the apt-named Travel Holic Guesthouse. Beds start at USD 25.
Tourist map – quick guide to Seoul’s neighborhoods
Read next – plan your trip to South Korea
Finally got that adrenaline rush to plan your South Korea trip? Here are more resources to get you going:
Visit South Korea’s chill seaside second city. This 3-day guide and neighborhood guide will have you yearning for the sun and sea in no time.
Make the most of your trip to South Korea’s tropical playground with this comprehensive guide on the best hotels and where to stay in Jeju.
Gyeongju is South Korea’s ancient capital, center of the Kingdom of Silla. A day trip to this UNESCO Heritage site is a great glimpse into ancient art, history, and architecture.
You’ll discover a different side of South Korea by driving and exploring its countryside – and it’s a lot easier (and more fun) to do than you think!
Seoul’s landscape changes beautifully with the season. If you’re traveling in time for the cherry blooms or the turning of the leaves, check out these guides to find the best viewing spots.
Further reading – understanding Seoul
A must-read for the foodies out there: this is how a food trip in Seoul looks like.
Here’s an in-depth look into the beauty market that will greet you in Seoul.
A model’s guide to shopping in Seoul. Quick tip: shop after midnight.
Seoul is the future of the world’s cities, unapologetically blazing towards bigger, better, and brighter.
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Traveling to a megacity like Seoul can be overwhelming – which makes us tend to over-plan! My top tip for exploring Seoul is to keep your schedule open and flexible. Pick the best neighborhood based on your tastes (tip: the quiz above really helps!) then take your sweet time exploring. You don’t have to check off every item on your list – in fact, I suggest you just throw away your list and go where your nose and shoes take you. You’re bound to find something interesting in every turn, trust me.
Most of all, have fun! Seoul is a feast for the senses – enjoy!
If you found this post useful, please share with your friends or on social media. Ask your travel buddies to take the quiz, too! And if you have additional information to share or any questions at all, let me know in the comments. Thanks so much for reading and happy travels to Seoul!
Photo credit: Itaewon by Chang Jinyoung (Creative Commons).
Post first published: June 28, 2017
Last updated: February 24, 2018 – updated information on neighborhoods and accommodations and added resources for trip-planning and understanding Seoul