Allow me, a lass who taught in Korea, to take you on a tour of the 5 best neighbourhoods of Seoul, in my humble opinion. Whether you find yourself in the magnificent Seoul of South Korea to teach English, complete an internship or a semester abroad, or just for some sight-seeing and a vacation, exploring the incredible neighbourhoods which make up this majestic city is an absolute must.
And when you do (which you will, and which you should), let this be your guide to the 5 absolute best neighbourhoods in a city of endless shopping, timeless tradition, high-tech high rises and fashions straight out of vogue.
Gangnam – the affluent one
Let’s start with arguably the most famous neighbourhood of the world, thanks to Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video that has more than 98 MILLION VIEWS.
We’ve all embarrassed ourselves immensely whilst dancing to the K-pop classic, but you may not know that “Gangnam Style” refers to the lavish head-to-toe luxury that is the definitive way of Seoul’s poshest neighbourhood.
You’ll find high-end designer stores, plastic surgery advertisements by the 100’s and regular sightings of K-pop celebs. An Instagram post of yourself captioned “Gangnam style” seems to be mandatory.
Insadong – the ancient one
Insadong is the ancient part of the city. It’s the home of art, crafts and antiques and flea markets teeming with all the aforementioned goodies.
There’s a market you can attend that still deals in the old Korean coins, which makes for a marvellous day out (myself and my dear friend Erich pictured in said market, below). This is a hot stop for tourists and locals alike because Insadong encapsulates the juxtaposition of old and new that defines Korea as a destination and culture.
This is where you’ll find opportunities to dress in a traditional Hanbok, visit the 700-roomed Gyeongbok palace and do a traditional tea tasting with our team on the ground in Korea for your cultural orientation.
Hongdae – the fun one
You would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t head to the Hongdae park with a bottle of soju in hand and join the hundreds of students, expats and all manner of people listening to the talented buskers or K-pop dancers in the famous Hongdae park.
One of my greatest personal accomplishments was annexing the microphone and rapping my national anthem in the park.
Myeongdong – the shopping one
SHOPPERS UNITE! Myeongdung affords you the opportunity to unleash your deepest desires to shop till you drop. Stalls, boutiques, underground shopping malls.
I do warn you that one singular visit to Myeongdong will ensure that your luggage will be overweight if you are a spendthrift such as myself.
As a side note, Myeongdung is also the original home of the tornado potato (that spiralled, spiced deep-fried goodness).
Itaewon – the worldly one
Can you imagine you could put the whole world on one street and take a trip to various distant lands through their cuisine?
Well, stop imagining and hop on the subway to Itaewon, where it’s all going down. Have a Guinness at an Irish pub, a gyro at the Greek restaurant or a bunny chow at Braai Republic, South African Restaurant.
Join your mates for a bowl of Poutine and a Clamato cocktail at The Rocky Mountain Tavern or Canucks and celebrate all the western holidays like Thanksgiving, St paddy’s Day and Halloween in an unfamiliar, yet familiar environment.
Seoul is an incredible, enormous, vibrant city and when you first arrive it can be exceptionally overwhelming and with 9 subway lines and a population just shy of 10 million people- it can feel like you’ll never be able to navigate it with ease or know where you’re going like it’s your own city.
But somehow, even in the madness, you find your way around and next thing you know exactly where’s best to eat, you’re sailing through subways and a place that was once so foreign, becomes home.