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Where to stay in Seoul – a neighborhood guide

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As the capital and the largest city in South Korea, it's no surprise that there are over 20 districts (gu) in Seoul, and each further separated into smaller neighborhoods (dong), all with a distinct feeling and characteristics. Neighborhoods and districts occasionally overlap and can be difficult to gain a clear sense of where things are, but after a short trip around and a little help, everything eventually falls into place. 

Ulla & Kristian Risager

My Destination local expert on

Seoul

Life in Seoul ranges from affluent neighborhoods with designer shopping malls and luxury stores to student rich university areas with bustling bars, comfy cafes and a rich nightlife. Whether you choose to live it up in the lap of luxury or enjoy the cultural heritage in the more traditional areas, there is a place to suit any Seoul visitor.

 

Gangnam

 

Perhaps the most instantly recognisable neighborhood, thanks to the YouTube sensation 'Gangnam Style', is Gangnam, which literally translates as 'south of the river'. The streets are wider here and the restaurants are extravagant. It’s home to affluent residents and the younger crowds who shop around in the largest underground shopping center in Asia, the COEX Mall (which can actually be spotted in the 'Gangnam Style' video). It’s also home to Apgujeoung, known as the 'Beverly Hills of Seoul' which attracts the rich and the famous.

 

Hotels in Gangam

 

Not surprisingly then, hotels and hostels in the Gangnam region are known for being more luxurious and high end than some of the neighboring areas. If you're looking for a bit of the high life, you'll be spoiled for choice among some of the most luxurious hotels in the city.

 

Insadong

 

During the Joseon Dynasty, Insadong was home to the aristocratic and royal families. Centuries on it still holds great cultural significance and is well known as a traditional street to locals and foreigners alike. Among the historical buildings is one of the most significant Buddhist temples in Korea known as Jogyesa. The temple was first erected at the end of the 14th century and still plays a leading role in the state of Buddhism in South Korea. The neighborhood is also full of antique shops, art galleries and holds a record number of traditional stationary shops. Not only is this cultural hub perfect for those perusing the sites Seoul has to offer but it is also on the map for being the neighborhood that serves the best gibao (similar to sushi) and Bungeoppang (a fish shaped pastry). Both famous Korean dishes.

 

Staying in Insadong

 

Insadong is the perfect neighborhood for those looking for a slice of culture. It is a popular tourist destination so be sure not to settle for the first place you come across. Shop around a bit to get the best price.

 

Itaewon

 

This district sprung up around the American Military base in the city, and is therefore a hub of international food, persons and activities. It is known as "western town" and caters to many tourists and those that are searching for a 'home from home'. You can find dishes and restaurants here from all over the world, cuisine that is not readily available in other parts of the city. A small section of the neighborhood is a well-known red light district so be aware. However, once the night has passed and the sun has risen, you'll find it's a great shopping destination. Full of a rich selection of shoes, clothing and leather goods - the majority of which have been made in South Korea.

 

Staying in Itaewon

 

This multicultural neighborhood caters to those who dream of home comforts. Due to the large number of tourists, it can be pricier than other areas, though this is not the case for all and you can find some bargains amongst the big names.

 

Sinchon

 

Sinchon is the place to be for the hard-core nightlife lovers. It is close to two main universities and is thus bustling 24 hours of the day. It’s packed full of trusty cafes and popular bars for the casual drinkers and neon streaked nightclubs for the more hard-core out there. Due to its situation near the universities it is home to a students and a generally younger crowd. It’s similarly known as one of the major neighborhoods for entertainment thanks to its karaoke rooms, restaurants and billiard rooms.

 

Staying in Sinchon

 

This is the hip place to live and is always alive with a vibrancy fit for the very best of cities. Definitely not to be missed if your looking for a dance or sing along!