Tourist Tips: One Day in Gangnam – An Introduction

I recently wrote a nice blog post for the team at Trazy! Trazy is a wildly popular travel services site for Seoul. They offer any and everything – private cars from the airport, tickets to Nanta, day trips to the countryside and ski resorts…even entry passes to Club Octagon!

Since I focus on tours in the Gangnam area, I wrote up some information about Gangnam, the history, the neighborhoods, transportation etc.

I always recommend visitors enjoy the Gangnam or Jamsil area for the day before our meetup. There are many things to do for the entire afternoon…and then stroll on over to Sinnonhyeon to meet me for dinner!

So this post is kind of shameless. Just copy and pasted with some links for you to get more info on the places…..here goes!

What Is Gangnam?

Anyone that comes to Seoul is already familiar with Gangnam, thanks to the suuuuuuuuper popular song from 2012, Gangnam Style:

Yes, it’s home to wealthy people, fancy cars, and celebrities, but that’s just one tiny pocket of Gangnam. Gangnam literally means “South of the River” and encompasses basically the entire southeastern region of Seoul including Seocho and Jamsil, not just Gangnam Station area. Gangnam was actually farm land until the 1970s or so and did not really become fully developed until the 80s (or later, depending on your definition of developed). So everything you see in Gangnam is “new” by Korean standards.

Gangnam itself is divided into several main areas (dong means neighborhood in Korean):

Cheongdam-dong : True Gangnam Style, home to all the celebrities, fancy cafes, expensive cars.

Nonhyeon-dong: Standard Gangnam. Offices on the main roads and tons of quiet neighborhoods, residences and local restaurants/bars on the back streets.

Sinsa-dong: Home to plastic surgery clinics, more businesses, more residences. Also home to Garosu-gil.

Samseong-dong: Another residential area of Gangnam. Home to COEX, Bongeunsa Temple.

Seocho-gu (Gu Means District): Standard Gangnam. Home to many businesses and high rise apartments.

Fun fact. Gangnam-daero (Road) is actually the dividing line between Seocho and Gangnam Districts. The average visitor won’t notice a difference, but for residents it’s a matter of where you pay your taxes and who provides services.

Songpa-gu: Songpa is actually a huge district that is considered Gangnam, but it spreads east verrrrrry far. Many, many, maaaaaaaaaaany high rise apartments. Also home to Jamsil Station and Lotte World.

Hotspots & Places of Interest

***The bold titles of each section are also links to Google searches for more information, pictures, etc.***

Gangnam Station:  Gangnam Station is actually the busiest subway station in Seoul and has a huge underground shopping center. Great for cheap women’s clothes and accessories!

Gangnam Station Exit 9 and 10: Major shopping street. Every major Korean and foreign brand AND a GIANT Kakao Friends store!

Gangnam Station Exit 11 and 12 (behind the main road): Looooooooooooong alleyways with TONS of restaurants, bars and cafes!

Garosu-gil (Sinsa Station Exit 8): Garosu-gil means “Tree Lined Street.” The main street is home to more Korean and international brands. Also home to Korea’s only Apple Store. The highlight of Garosu-gil is actually off the main road – there are TONS of dessert cafes, tiny restaurants, cute bars, and more to explore!

Hallyu K Star Road (Apgujeong Rodeo Station Exit 2): Also home to the Galleria Department Store and Apgujeong Rodeo Shopping/Nightlife Area, this road features many of Korea’s fanciest luxury brands. Fun Fact: This neighborhood is SO fancy, all of these luxury brands have giant stand alone stores here AND even a store right down the street inside the Galleria Dept. Store…..which makes you wonder, WHO buys all this stuff!?  But, K Star Road features many cute character statues for your favorite K Pop groups. If you’re wanting to find a celebrity, it would be here. They live and shop in this area.

Seonjeongneung Tombs: (Seonjeongneung Station Exit 3 / Seolleung Station Exit 8): Home to two sets of tombs, this is actually a very beautifully landscaped and relaxing park.

Bongeunsa Temple (Bongeunsa Station Exit 1): A traditional Korean temple right in the middle of the city. Great contrast between past and present, traditional and modern!

COEX (Bongeunsa Station Exit 7 / Samseong Station Exit 5 or 6): The world’s largest underground shopping mall! Home to a giant Megabox movie theater, tons of shopping and food, Kimchi Museum, Aquarium…even a Convention Center, TWO Intercontinental Hotels, a Casino….and even the City Airport Terminal that offers Check In, Immigration, and Bag Drop for your flight.

Jamsil Station: The area around Jamsil Station is often called Lotte Town by locals. It’s home to Lotte World, the amusement park, as well as Lotte World Tower, the123 floor skyscraper. Lotte World Tower features not only a giant shopping mall with duty free shops, restaurants, an aquarium….but a luxury hotel, residences, and the observatory at the top.  There is also a Lotte Hotel next door and TWO Lotte Department Stores literally across the street from each other. The CEO of Lotte Group lives in Lotte Tower and the company has all of various HQs in buildings surrounding the entire station.

Gangnam – Transportation & Getting Around

Traffic in Gangnam can be quite brutal. Gangnam is the business hub of Seoul, so many people from all over Seoul and the suburbs come here for work. There are buses available to literally every corner of Seoul and the surrounding area (and buses to other cities at Express Bus Terminal). The subway lines in Gangnam run east to west, so it’s easier to pick a subway line and walk the remaining distance north or south. Don’t really try to transfer in Gangnam subways as you’ll go out of your way. You’ll spend more time changing lines than if you just walked.

Subway Line 9 is perhaps the best part about Gangnam. It has an Express train that can take you all the way across to Gimpo Airport in roughly 30 minutes…but it is PACKED at rush hour! You can then just cross the platform at Gimpo Airport to change to the AREX and be at Incheon Airport in another 40 minutes.  There are many airport limousine buses to Gangnam, but be warned in bad traffic it can take almost 90 minutes!

Where to Stay

Most people that stay in Gangnam are business travelers for work. I strongly believe Gangnam is the best neighborhood to live in (infrastructure, neighborhood cleanliness, services offered, etc.), but perhaps not the best for a tourist.  As a tourist, you’ll be hopping around all day and it’s at least 40 minutes to Myeongdong and central Seoul, and 45 mins – 1 hr to the other side and Hongdae depending on where you are going.

BUT if you stay near Subway Line 9, it is very easy to transfer to other subway lines by Express train. You can be at Seoul Station in 15-20 minutes, Hongdae in 40, and so on.

Try to stay near Subway Line 9 and an Express Stop (Sinnonhyeon Station, Sonjeongneung Station, Bongeunsa Station).  Most of the action (shopping, nightlife, 24 hour vibe, busy streets and activity) is around Sinnonhyeon Station.

 

 

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Bongeunsa Temple + Biking on the Han River

Bongeunsa Temple is a famous temple in Gangnam since it’s traditional, yet smack in the middle of the city. Skyscrapers and traffic surround it, yet it maintains a quiet, peaceful atmosphere and is the real deal as any other temple. It’s also right next door to COEX Mall.

 

I’ve lived in Gangnam for almost two and a half years. I’ve passed this temple about 100 times, but FINALLY went last weekend!

After a nice brunch at NY Burger & Bagel in Hannam with my friend Gemma (Creator of A Fat Girl’s Food Guide),  I met another friend at Hannam Station (Google Map) for a bike ride at the Han River.

The City of Seoul offers a public bike sharing service called Seoul Bike. It’s available for both residents and tourists! The cost is dirt cheap, at 1,000W for an hour. You can return these bikes at any other docking station. If the other station is full, you can even hook it up to another bike that’s already there and return it that way. Follow the above link for detailed instructions, how to register, and to download the app.

It’s a very convenient way to get around, but the app does take some effort as the process can be confusing or difficult for visitors. Even for me, I had to try it a few times before I got the hang of it!

Since I can speak Korean, I used the best map app for bikes. ***A quick word about Map services.**  Google Maps does not work well in Korea. The government and Google don’t play nice. It has very basic functionality for public transit, but does not offer walking or biking directions.  I would recommend Kakao Map. It offers English support. You can also copy and paste Korean addresses and names and get the best directions that way if you’re comfortable.

Kakao Map is great since it shows which roads have bike lanes, how long it will take, even the expected and highest inclines of the journey. A PSA: even if it says there is a bike lane, 99.99% of people will walk in the bike lane and all over the sidewalk, so prepare to ring that bell and go around and zig zag.

Biking across the Han River is absolutely one of the best things to do in Seoul. After six years in Korea, every time I cross the river, I can’t help but stare and stare and stare and stare……………………………..

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That wind was no joke….still cute, though!

 

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View of Seoul from the Yeongdong Han River Bridge at Sunset

The Han River bisects Seoul. Along the banks of the river, essentially is one giant network of parks, bike lanes, exercise areas, walking paths, swimming pools (opening dates vary yearly), picnic spots, rock climbing walls, festival areas, night markets…….

If you don’t want to hassle with the Seoul Bikes app, there are many small bike rental stands available along the river. This link mentions their locations as well as bike paths, rules, etc.

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Biking along the Han River at Sunset

 

So we made it to the Bongeunsa area and returned our bikes. Below are some shots of the area and the temple. It is a nice, quick visit for an hour or so. I’m also not religious  and have seen maaaaaaaaaany temples in my time around Asia.

At sunset, there was the bell/drum ceremony with foreigners participating. You can even do a Temple Stay!

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Map/Brochure with Chinese, Japanese, and English
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Jongru Bell Pavillion
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Seonbuldang, with the Million Dollar Samseong-dong iPark Apartments in the Background

 

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Maitreya Buddha Statue
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The Dharma Hall (Main Entrance)

After our bike ride, we walked the short ten minutes to my house and got ready for a night out………

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Korean Beef BBQ Spot near Sinnonhyeon

Up next, I’ll FINALLY spill some tea on my neighborhood bars and restaurants….