Are you planning a visit to Seoul anytime soon? Because let’s be honest, South Korea’s capital is a massive city with a population of 10 million, and it can be overwhelming when deciding where to stay in Seoul.
Seoul is one of the most advanced cities in the world, yet it keeps South Korean tradition alive.
In Seoul, you’ll be able to find charming art galleries, Buddhist temples, and traditional teahouses among post-moder architecture and high-rises.
But as I mentioned earlier, this is a large city, and the neighborhoods are quite diverse.
If you only have a short amount of time, you’re going to want to pick the perfect location to make the most of your time. Whether you are traveling as a family, for business, or on a budget, your travel needs are going to differentiate.
This neighborhood guide on where to stay in Seoul will cover all of the best areas in Seoul, as well as the top things to do by neighborhood.
We also have listed the best hostels, hotels, and apartments in Seoul.
Get ready for a culture shock in the best way possible… and get yourself to Seoul!
Table of Contents
- Quick Tips – Where to Stay in Seoul
- Top 3 Recommendations for Where to Stay in Seoul
- Seoul Neighbourhood Guide
- Seoul’s 5 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in
- 1. Gangnam Neighborhood – Where to Stay in Seoul for First Time Visitors
- 2. Hongdae Neighborhood – Where to Stay in Seoul on a Budget
- 3. Itaewon Neighborhood – Where to Stay in Seoul for the Best Nightlife
- 4. Myeongdong Neighborhood – Coolest Place to Stay in Seoul
- 5. Insadong Neighborhood – Where to Stay in Seoul for Families
Quick Tips – Where to Stay in Seoul
- Where to stay in Seoul for the first time – Gangnam
- Where to stay in Seoul on a budget – Hongdae
- Best area to stay in Seoul for nightlife – Itaewon
- Coolest place to stay in Seoul – Myeongdong
- Best neighbourhood in Seoul for families – Insadong
In a hurry? Here’s my top neighborhood for first timers:
- Check out the K-pop scene and pick up a few CDs at Evan Records.
- Shop for the latest fashion and boutique items at Galleria department store.
- Eat bibimbap at Tokkijung or a famous Korean barbeque meal at Yang Good.
Top 3 Recommendations for Where to Stay in Seoul
Looking for where to stay in Seoul? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in Seoul.
If you are looking for hostels in Seoul, specifically, make sure to check out our post on 20 Best Hostels in Seoul!
Best Hotel in Seoul: Hanok 24 Guesthouse
This fantastic hotel offers what numerous visitors desire the most – a taste of the real South Korea. The stunning, wooden venue is built in Korean style and almost resembles staying in a temple! The spacious interior has all your usual amenities including TV and aircon.
Best Hostel in Seoul: Zzzip Guesthouse
Based in fashion and arts district Hongdae, this guesthouse is colorful, comfy and clean. The owners pride their venue for having a ‘family feel’ and uniting backpackers from all around the globe.
This hostel’s list of free things to do couldn’t be longer, and those on a budget will relish the free WiFi, free breakfast, free luggage storage and more.
Best Airbnb in Seoul: Artist’s luxury flat @Trendy area
Looking for somewhere uber-trendy to stay in Seoul? This artist’s flat features vintage record players, Beatles memorabilia and traditional Korean furniture. Not only will interior fans be in their element, they’ll have easy access to the city’s best shopping area and transport links all over the city.
Also, make sure to check out our Airbnb post for a 35% discount!
Seoul Neighbourhood Guide
Quick Summary: The Best Places to Stay in Seoul
- Gangnam translates as ‘south of the river’ and is a district that has blown up in recent years. It was originally an area dedicated to sleepy rice fields – but you’d never believe it when visiting today!
- If you want a budget night’s accommodation, head to Hongdae where the young population of Seoul hang out. In this part of town, expect the unexpected
- Itaewon is an area catered to foreigners. This may not sound highly cultural but it’s actually a fascinating place to explore.
- Myeongdong is a cocktail of sights, tastes, experiences and noise… so much noise! It’s one of Seoul’s busiest districts and subsequently, it’s home to almost anything you could dream up.
- Known as the cultural heart of Seoul, you’ll want to explore Insadong whether you base yourself in the area or not.
Let’s be honest – most of us have only heard of one Seoul neighbourhood before! Gangan shot to fame as a catchy yet irritating pop song but there’s nothing negative about the neighbourhood which lies at the heart of Seoul. It’s one of the city’s more upscale areas with a plethora of high-end restaurants and bars, as well as eateries for those on a shoestring.
Itaewon is a fascinating place to visit. It was originally one of the few places in the city you could buy Western items which subsequently attracted a crowd of young, hip expats. Nowadays it’s now a hub for food and nightlife.
If you’re a fashion lover you may also want to explore Myeongdong – one of Asia’s hippest places to hit the shops.
A more affordable neighbourhood to stay is Hongdae, a popular area with young people where anything goes. It’s a lively area at night and you’ll see the locals dressed to the nines in all the latest alternative styles.
For history lovers, it’s all about Insadong. Here you can get to grips with Seoul’s rich history and find temples, shrines and palaces in abundance. It’s also the best place in the city to pick up traditional Korean handicrafts and trinkets – so make sure you visit with an empty suitcase!
Bottom line – the city is packed with quirky neighbourhoods, history and entertainment. When you’re looking for where to stay in Seoul, you’ll be overrun with options. Let’s get into more detail with our top picks…
Seoul’s 5 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in
With the population in Seoul pushing 10 million, it’s a sprawling city that will require a little more than your legs to explore fully. Luckily, there’s an efficient subway system and a network of affordable, reliable taxis.
Many travellers actually prefer to catch the bus as it gives them a chance to take in the different neighbourhoods and get a sense of the scale. Whichever mode of transport you prefer, you’ll rarely be far from the district you wish to explore.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out our in-depth guide on backpacking South Korea, here!
Gangnam translates as ‘south of the river’ and is a district that has blown up in recent years. It was originally an area dedicated to sleepy rice fields – but you’d never believe it when visiting today!
Money was injected into the area by the 1988 Olympics and it became a playground for those with expensive tastes. Nowadays it’s plateaued and most visitors to Seoul can afford to make the best of the impressive neighbourhood.
Sure, it may not have the temples and fortresses of the north of the city but it’s a good base to visit them from. You’ll get to explore the flashy, fast-paced district that bought the addictive ‘Gangan Style’ tune to life – and that can never be a bad thing (apart from you get it stuck in your head for two days!)
Things to do in Gangnam
– Check out the K-pop scene and pick up a few CDs at Evan Records.
– Shop for the latest fashion and boutique items (or just window shop) at Galleria department store.
– Eat bibimbap at Tokkijung or a famous Korean barbeque meal at Yang Good.
– Iron out your best backpack outfit and rub shoulders with the Gangnam residents at Eden nightclub.
– Dance to Gangnam Style at the tribute dance platform outside Exit 5 of the subway station. Don’t be shy!
Best Hostel in Gangnam: Kimchee Guesthouse
Three minutes’ walk from the station lies this cosy guesthouse – your home-from-home while exploring Gangnam. The quirky, retro-inspired kitchen and dining area may look traditional but the friendly staff invite you to kick back and listen to K-pop!
The comfy bedrooms feature bunk beds, ensuite bathrooms and secure lockers.
Best Hotel in Gangnam: Gangnam St J House
These heavenly hotel rooms are clean, modern and feature full-length windows to make the most of the city views. They also boast fully-equipped mini kitchens meaning you can save some pennies on eating out and invest the money instead in this beautiful, comfy base!
Best Airbnb in Gangnam: Vin’s amazing view and location in Gangnam
You’ll leave your private bedroom loft at Vin’s a total diva and unable to adapt back to regular hotel rooms! Not only will you be based one minute from the Gangnam station, you’ll have city views, a luxurious bathroom including a bathtub, cooking facilities, and a washer and dryer.
If you want a budget night’s accommodation, head to Hongdae where the young population of Seoul hang out. In this part of town, expect the unexpected. We doubt you came to South Korea with street art on your to-do list but actually, the colourful urban murals are a real sight to see.
As are the hairstyles and the outfits – experimental fashion is at its height here, and the locals want you to know! Hongdae’s cool reputation developed when Hongik University, a prestigious art school, opened up in the 1990s.
It bought artsy students to the area and with them came clubs, bars and all-night dance parties. Saying this, the neighbourhood is also a great place to get your culture fix…
Things to do in Hongdae
– Meet street performers at Sculpture Park.
– Treat yourself to coffee or lunch at one of the many boutique cafes in the area.
– Pick up real one-off fashion pieces designed by art students from the University.
– Catch a performance of Kung Festival, a popular musical that plays daily at B-Boy Theater. Some say these dance artists are the most talented in the world!
– Ditch your run-of-the-mill cat cafe and turn up the hipster notch at Thanks Nature Cafe, a dedicated sheep restaurant (and yep, they’re in the cafe not on the menu!)
– Forget everything you knew at the Trick Eye Museum, an arty establishment which brings 2D items to life for a fascinating sensory overload.
Best Hostel in Hongdae: Hongdae Guesthouse
You won’t find a better base than this friendly backpackers rated ‘superb’ by Hostelworld guests. With a mix of traditional Korean rooms and funky, modern spaces, you’ll get a real feel for the culture.
Friendly owner, Mary, will welcome you to her abode and provide you with everything you need – including computer access in every room (perfect for researching your sightseeing stops).
Best Hotel in Hongdae: L7 Hongdae
If the giant open spaces at this fashionable hotel aren’t enough to tempt you in, maybe you’ll be persuaded by the swimming pool! Despite the roomy interior, you’ll actually be just moments from the main shopping street of Hongdae. When you’ve shopped and you’re ready to drop, just come back in and collapse on your bouncy double bed!
Best Airbnb in Hongdae: Hongdae Station/Free WiFi Egg
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Hongdae, we think we’ve found a great spot. This fashionable apartment has two double beds and a sofa, meaning it’s perfect for families, couples, or just about anyone.
You’ll have free highspeed WiFi from a state-of-the-art WiFi Egg, plus its moments from the station. It’ll be your home from home.
Itaewon is an area catered to foreigners. This may not sound highly cultural but it’s actually a fascinating place to explore. Its long history began before the Second World War when Japanese colonialists were pushed out by American soldiers who lived and partied in the area.
While English and Japanese were mainly spoken in the streets at one point, nowadays it’s an integral part of Seoul. Any seediness from the past era has evaporated and fashionable restaurants and bars have moved into the area making it a party hotspot for both locals and tourists.
Things to do in Itaewon
– Visit Leeum Samsung Museum Of Art, one of the most highly-acclaimed galleries in the country for both traditional and modern art.
– Visit Seoul Central Mosque, the city’s only mosque and a marker of the diversity within Seoul.
– Try local delicacies including bubble tea which is doled out in numerous locations in the neighbourhood.
– Head to the area behind the Hamilton Hotel to experience the city’s booming nightlife. Here you’ll find all number of dance clubs and late-night hangouts.
– Admire the N Seoul Tower at night and attach a love lock dedicated to a friend or partner (or your love of solo travel!)
– Hit the shops for hip streetwear or tailored suits which are both made locally in Itaewon.
Best Hostel in Itaewon: G Guesthouse
Not only does G Guesthouse offer an optimum location in Itaewon, it also has easy transport links to Gangnam, Myeongdong and Hongdae. It also has a free breakfast, complimentary WiFi and barbeque facilities on the rooftop, meaning you and your new hostel friends are bound to have a great night.
Best Hotel in Itaewon: Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel
Breaking the chain of corporate hotels, this unique spot brings a little colour to the already vibrant neighbourhood of Itaewon. Even from the outside, you’ll notice the bright colours of the exterior, and each room is individually decorated with wall art from watermelons to lemons. On top of this, there’s a gym downstairs should you enjoy the tasty included breakfast too much!
Best Airbnb in Itaewon: Seoul Itaewon house
It’s not just comfort that brings guests to this apartment but the fashionable finishing touches. It features brass chandeliers, stylish Korean artwork and potted plants, making it a perfect spot for fans of interior design. You’ll have a comfy double bed as well as a fold-out meaning it’s a comfortable base for up to 4.
Myeongdong is a cocktail of sights, tastes, experiences and noise… so much noise! It’s one of Seoul’s busiest districts and subsequently, it’s home to almost anything you could dream up.
Music blasts from every store, food tents sell well-priced Korean goods, and skyscrapers tower above you. A day wandering the area may be exhausting but it’s an awesome place to experience the real Seoul and meet the locals who will undoubtedly want to chat.
To cut a long story short, it’s one of the coolest places in the city to base yourself.
Things to do in Myeongdong
– Try the street food – highlights include potato chip sticks and spicy hotpots.
– Experience the wonderful world of tea at Osulloc Tea House, the largest purveyor of speciality and green tea in the city.
– Hit the shops and departments stores – Lotte and Noon Square are excellent places to start.
– Indulge at Cafe Coin, one of the oldest cafes in the city famed for its shaved ice (which is nicer than it sounds) and matcha ice cream desserts.
– Take a class at Cookin’ Nanta where you’ll learn to prepare traditional South Korean dishes while the chefs put on a show that includes singing, dancing and slapstick humour. It’s really one of a kind!
Best Hostel in Myeongdong: Myeongdong Guesthouse Como
Como means ‘beautiful, comfortable’ in Italian and this little guesthouse offers nothing else! Based in the heart of Myeongdong, you’ll be well placed for shopping, eating and exploring the cool corners of the neighbourhood. Facilities include cable TV, aircon and speedy WiFi.
Best Hotel in Myeongdong: GLAD Hotel Mapo
Is the cool factor important in your search for where to stay in Myeongdong? Minimalist style is the name of the game at GLAD. As well as a comfortable double room, you’ll enjoy a tasty morning breakfast and access to all your usual amenities. It’s not rated 9.7 out of 10 for no reason!
Best Airbnb in Myeongdong: Myeongdong, portable WiFi
What could be nicer in a new city than having an entire home to call your own? This modern base sleeps up to 4 and has fabulous views of the bright lights of the city, as well as fast internet and excellent transport connections. If you were still in two minds, know that 95% of guests have given this property a 5-star rating!
Known as the cultural heart of Seoul, you’ll want to explore Insadong whether you base yourself in the area or not.
The vibe is a little different to the hectic neighbourhoods of Myeongdong and Gangnam so it’s popular with families who want to escape the hustle and bustle (relatively – it’s still Seoul!) and experience the culture. This district is all about traditional wooden tea houses, ancient temples, little art galleries and cosy corner cafes.
The main street runs for 700 meters so it’s a great place to begin your adventures in the neighbourhood, before venturing to the backstreets as the day goes on. The district was once primarily owned by the Joseon Dynasty from the 13-1800s, but now it may as well be owned by the tourists who flock to this cultural hub.
Things to do in Insadong
– Visit the many temples including Cheondogyo Central Temple and Jogyesa, a traditional Buddhist monument.
– Explore the art galleries of which there are over 100 – you’ll find pottery, paintings, sculpture and more.
– Sample the desserts – local favourites include hotteok (which is filled with cinnamon and brown sugar) and ice cream corn cookie sandwiches.
– Do your souvenir shopping and take home pottery that can date up to several thousand years old (be prepared to pay the big bucks for these, however!)
Best Hostel in Insadong: Insa Hostel
The location is paramount at this backpacker hostel. You’ll be just a moment’s walk from the main shopping street meaning you won’t need to carry your souvenirs around all day! Guests rave about the friendly feel and there’s even a roof terrace for socialising. Deluxe family rooms are available for those travelling with kids.
Best Hotel in Insadong: Grid Inn
A cool, airy base that makes a refreshing contrast to the ancient streets of the district. Coffee lovers will be thrilled to find a speciality roastery on the ground floor, while history fans will relish the chance to visit the spectacular nearby temples. Grid Inn doesn’t scrimp on comfort either and guests comment on the comfiness of the beds and rooms.
Best Airbnb in Insadong: Seoul Cozy House
The pretty paintings and fairy lights of this central apartment make it the perfect base to chill after getting your daily culture dose. The main palaces will be moments from your front door and you’ll have access to a bathtub, WiFi and all your other necessary amenities. Win!
Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in Seoul
If you are planning a trip to Seoul, but you’re not sure where to stay, our guide maps out the best neighborhoods in Seoul by interest. For more itinerary inspiration, check out how to spend 36 hours in Seoul.
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers – check it out here, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
Wondering if South Korea is safe? It most definitely is! Read our dedicated safety guide if you need more convincing.
Do you own an awesome hostel, hotel or apartment? Want to be featured in our list? Email email@example.com to find out how.
Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through the site, The Broke Backpacker will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps me keep the site going.
Need More Inspiration?
- South Korea Travel Guide
- 10 Best Hostels in Jeju Island: The Ultimate Guide to Sleeping Cheap
- 20 Best Hostels in Seoul
- Backpacking Japan Travel Guide
- Is South Korea Safe?
Like this post? PIN FOR LATER!!