Since I’m finally able to start back up, instead of trip reports and activities, I wanted to focus on the basics. As you know, I am verrrrrry active on Trip Advisor and am asked the same questions over and over. So, in the interest of simplicity, I wanted to create my version of what’s already out there…but simpler. To the point.
So you’ve decided to come to Seoul. But you have to decide where to stay, what’s important, how much you can spend, literally everything can be overwhelming. So, I’ll be breaking down the four major areas that tourists stays: Central Seoul (Myeongdong/Jongno/City Hall – all north of Namsan), Itaewon (Central, South of Namsan), Hongdae (West), and Gangnam (Southeast).
What I won’t be doing is 100 pictures and videos and hotel reviews. All of that is up to you. Your exact price, your exact location preference, everyone is different. If you’re looking for reviews, always check Trip Advisor, Hostel World, etc.
In my Mega Map below, you’ll see not only neighborhoods, but other categories you can filter so you can check in relation to a specific place you want to go or what’s your style.
How to Get a Free Hotel
Flying Korean Air or Asiana? Free hotels are available for those on a forced overnight stopover. There are several conditions, but the basic one is this: you are flying on the airline with a layover in Seoul, BUT there is no available flight that night. You are forced to stay over the night in Seoul. You cannot choose this option. You can’t choose a longer layover to get a hotel. You must also have a ticket purchased through the airline directly, not an award ticket or codeshare from another airline (generally).
Most of those flying Australia to Europe will qualify since Australia flights land in the evening, but almost all flights to Europe and the USA leave in the morning/early afternoon. Those flying from the US to almost everywhere in Asia will essentially not qualify as most of the flights are set up to connect from US to other points anyway. Do check your schedule and you must contact the call center!
Hotel choice may vary. You must contact Korean Air or Asiana customer service over the phone directly and inquire about the Stopover Hotel.
This document explains the rules for Korean Air.
There are many blog posts for the Asiana hotel, but nothing official I can find.
How to Use The Map
In the top left corner of the map, you’ll see a window icon with an arrow. This shows the drop down menu so you can filter out other categories as you wish. The far right rectangle makes the map bigger on its own Google Maps page.
Central Seoul – Myeongdong
Myeongdong is technically a very large around right in the middle of Seoul. While most people think of Myeongdong Station itself, it extends in a large area all around the station.
In the immediate area to the north of Myeongdong Station, you will find major, large hotels around 150 USD per night, give or take. You will also find the swarms of tourists in the shopping alleys until sundown, when the streets fill up with even more street food vendors.
If you head further north, you will find the Jongno 3 Ga area. This is home to the tourist sites and has both a business district feel on the main roads…and very old school Seoul in the alleys and backstreets.
- Easy airport access with many airport buses in the entire region AND easy subway access to everywhere (multiple subway lines)
- Walking distance to all major tourist sites
- Central shopping district with all major Korean brands for fashion and Korean beauty and skincare
- Established tourist district means Tourist Volunteers in red coats and Tourist Police to help with any problems or if you’re lost
- Myeongdong is 100% touristy. No doubt about it. And dead at night.
- Myeongdong Street Food is not traditional. It is completely designed for tourists.
- The area south of Myeongdong Station is kind of random. Not much there to do or see…..AND it’s on the side of Namsan, so there are lots of hills.
Central Seoul – Jongno
Jongno is actually made up of several areas, running from Jongak Station (Line 1, Dark Blue Line) all the way to Jongno 5 Station.
The areas around Jongak and Jongno 3 Ga Stations have the most activity day and night. There are many businesses, parks, and offices during the day…and bars, restaurants, and street tents at night.
While Dongdaemun Plaza is to your far east, the area in between Jongno 3 and Dongdaemun is verrrrrrrrrrry quiet (around Jongno 4/5 area, for instance) after dark. Like a ghost town.
The area around Jongno 3-Ga station is actually the OG Gayborhood and is home to many Korean gay bars and street tents for drinking (most active on weekends). This is not like your standard western gayborhood with cafes, etc. It’s just where they go out. Korean society is still on the hush hush with the gays.
If you stay here, definitely stay in the immediate area around Jongno 3-Ga Station. There are many guesthouses and affordable motels.
Warning: These motels are actually “love motels” where many Koreans (young and old….I’ve shared elevators with couples in their 50s) go for some “alone time.” They’re not sketchy, or really dirty or in bad shape, these places. It’s that most Koreans live with family, so they go there for a few hours in the afternoon (30$! 6 hours! From like 5-11 you get the palace…..and only like 50-60$ on weeknights. 70-80$ on weekends). When you travel, in smaller cities, this is often all you have anyway.
So, in short, if the motel looks “cheesy,” covered in neon, or decked out with weird wallpaper with weird things like Marilyn Monroe quotes or fake plant pictures….it’s probably a love motel. And it’s definitely a unique Korean experience.
Central Seoul – City Hall/Namdaemun
To the West of Myeongdong is the business area surrounding City Hall and Namdaemun Market. To be honest, I don’t know much about this area. It’s a normal area, totally fine, but for night time action and food, you’re still going to end up over in the Jongno area.
Itaewon comes up often in the discussion. Itaewon is a perfectly fine neighborhood for those seeking trends. Itaewon is no longer the “foreign ghetto” it used to be. All of the old dive bars that were once full of foreigners (aka white people)…..are now trendy, fairly expensive restaurants and lounges.
There’s actually realllllllly good foreign food here. My friend Gemma runs Fat Girl’s Food Guide which is the go to source for all foreign food in Itaewon and Seoul, so definitely check that out. If you’re looking for Korean food, it’s simply just not in Itaewon.
Itaewon does have cheap guesthouses…..but it does not have good transportation. It is only connected to Subway Line 6, which means you’ll have to do a transfer or two on the subway to get around. It is on the other side of Namsan from Myeongdong and that area, so a taxi is easier. There are buses in Itaewon, but they don’t really go where you need them to as a tourist.
Shout out to my hood! Gangnam is where I’ve called home for the past three years now. Gangnam technically means South of The River, but for tourists it’s simply the Sinsa/Nonhyeon/Sinnonhyeon/Gangnam Station corridor and the surrounding areas. Gangnam has the best transportation to literally everywhere in Seoul (a bus to anywhere!) and has all the same food and nightlife options as Hongdae….
As a tourist, it’s much harder to navigate. This area just doesn’t see many tourists. Mostly business men with translators and corporate contacts. Since it’s a business area, to most visitors, they only see the offices and main streets (which are quiet after 6 PM). The real neighborhood and restaurants are in the back streets. There are some great places, but you’ve gotta know what to look for…..and some language skills help, too.
Also, as a tourist, Gangnam is kind of far. To get to any tourist area, it’s going to be about 30-40 minutes one way on the subway. Yes, there are buses, but at rush hour the traffic can be bad and the buses PACKED.
Hongdae is kind of THE go to area for all tourists now. That doesn’t mean it’s a shitty tourist neighborhood…but it’s because it’s the most vibrant. There is ALLLLL KINDS of food, shopping and nightlife open all day and all night. Daytime is a bit more quiet, but at night time Hongdae is on 100. There’s literally all kinds of Korean food, street food, dessert cafes, you name it! The bars and clubs are open every night and somebody is always out.
Hongdae is on Subway Line 2 which runs a circle around the city. This means that you can get to central Seoul in just 20-30 mins or so depending on which stop you use.
Hongdae is also on the AREX line, making it easy to get in and out of the city to ICN and GMP airports. There are also a large number of AirBnBs and guesthouses keeping the accomodation costs down.
Up Next: One Day Layover and Tour Ideas for a Quick Seoul Visit!
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