Itaewon is the area in Seoul for military, foreigners and expats to just relax and drink.
Back up until 2005 or 2010, visitors had to be cautious in Itaewon! For every "legitimate" bar with food and drinks, there seemed to be three offering women at very high prices! If a woman sat with you at a bar, she was probably just as interested in your wallet as in your personality. Nowadays, the bar girl industry seems to be dying off a bit in this neighborhood, and new Western bars are springing up all over the alley behind the Hamilton Hotel. In the early 2000s, Hooker Hill was a thriving den of debauchery, but this once infamous area also seems to be dying a slow death.
Of the legit bars, try the following: 3 Alley Pub, Scrooge Bar, Gecko's Garden, Flair, The Loft. Bars here are always opening and closing so names, locations, quality, and friendliness may have changed tremendously since my last visit in May 2004. If you see something I have listed that is wrong, please let me know!
Continue to view the rest of my nightlife section to see detailed reviews of these bars.
Also close by Itaewon is a small nightlife area in Hannam-dong, about 1km away. Not a whole lot here, but we liked bars called Scarlet and Barabar.
Hongdae (홍대)is Seoul's club scene for the younger college crowd.
Hongdae (the nickname for the Hongik University Area) is perhaps the most popular nightlife area in a city well-known for its nightlife. This area is full of dance clubs, bars, and university students looking for a good time. US soldiers tend to congregate here after curfew as well. My favorite spots are Stompers and Hodge Podge (or as the Koreans say "Hodge-ee Podge-ee".
Nearby restaurants stay open all night to serve breakfast to the tired and drunk after a long night of dancing.
Sinchon is a typical Korean nightlife area with mostly quiet bars, few clubs, and no Westerners.
The area around between Sinchon train station and Sinchon subway station is a popular spot for Yonsei University and Ewha Women's University students. It has dozens of traditional Korean bars, jazz clubs, and restaurants. Sinchon also has a good deal of Western Bars and is probably the #4 area for foreigners, behind Itaewon, Hongdae, and Daehongno.
My favorite bars in Sinchon:
Rolling Stones, named after the American band, is one of the best Western-style bars in the Sinchon area. The customers are a good mix of Koreans and westerners, and they play great rock and classic rock music. Rolling Stones serves strong mixed drinks at good prices.
Dream On is a cozy hangout in Sinchon with "ice bars" -- tables with self service beer in a tub of ice the middle. Mostly Korean customers here, and the music is generally American pop. They have an amazing selection of vinyl records.
What's Up is a fusion style bar in Sinchon. It has the blueish lights that might remind you of a bug zapper and expensive drinks.
Daehangno is another rather typical Korean nightlife area, but this seems to attract more Westerners, due to its arts and theater district.
Daehangno is a very popular area for Hansung University students. To the east of Hyehwa station is Maronnier Park, a popular area for bands, street entertainers, and pick up games of basketball. Around the park are many popular restaurants and bars, both Korean and western style (including Bennigans). This area is also famous for its theater performances. To the west of Hyehwa station is a popular shopping street.
is a cheap area to go out... famous for having a vibrant nightlife.. it may have been the origional club area.. though things have changed.... There are always alot of people out and about at night. soju and beer can be found everywhere. There are lots of students and the crowd here is generally a youthful uni crowd
Here's the story: a bud of mine said to meet him and some guys at 신천/Sincheon...sounds like 신촌/Sinchon, right? Everyone knows that Sinchon is a hot-spot (near Hong-Dae) for kids at the clubs...so I got a cab there. Meet at the McDonald's, sure, no problem. Turns out that Line 2 has both a Sinchon (where i was) and a Sincheon (where he was, near Chamsil). And, true to Korean style, there was a McDonald's near each subway station (but mine had a Burger King next to it, his a KFC). Took another hour to meet up with the group, but it was worth it.
One of the guys said that Sincheon was the 'best kept secret in Seoul"...ya, I guess so! But it is a rockin' spot. Lots of youngsters from the Song-pa and Kangnam area and many, many bars, hofs, restaurants, clubs and...um...other places. There's even one that specializes in my favorite: Crowl Royal. The bar has massive posters with the bottle and purple velvet bag....ahhhh...home.
Dress Code: Anything.
Hongdae (Honggik University) This is a very much student biased area (and thus really cheap!). Again, it swarms with bars and pubs (Hofs as they are known in Korea) populated by a very friendly young crowd, always keen to practice English on you.
The last Friday of the month, Hongdae goes wild with 'Club Day'. You pay the equivalent of about $10 and it gets you admission to 11 different clubs, all night, in and out as much as you want.
On Club Day, Hongdae is as lively as anywhere you could find, with both Koreans and westerners. It's a great vibe. However the downer is, club day is Packed, packed packed! I was in NB (a hip hop club) last night and it was soooo packed I could even get t o the bathroom. If there was a fire, everyone woulda died.
Club days are a great vibe, but I would suggest going later when some of the crowd has thinned.
Hongdae is also great for Art...... It houses of of Korea's Art schools (Honggik Univ). Hence the cafe's are getting cooler, darker, cruddier. Painting and sculptures abound. It really is a great area.
Dress Code: Dress how it goes.... ^.~
This is the college town area of Seoul. Two of the three most prestigious universities in Korea are located in this part of town and because these students study hard, they like to play hard too. There are a lot of good nightclubs over here both large and small. Whatever your musical taste is you can find it. One of the best Hip-hop clubs is the Zen. It is always crowded due to it's decent dance floor. It's baby brother further up the street, Zen II has no dance floor, but the same music. They also make very good drinks. My favorite place to hangout in this area is "The Rolling Stone". It is styled like a cross between a Irish Pub and a Rock and Roll bar. No dance floor, but the DJ can play you anything you ask for and I do mean anything. The bartender is one of the most beauiful women you have ever seen and has outstanding drink mixing skills. Try the Long Tea. Food is served as well, but it runs to be a bit expensive. Some places inthe area recently have put up "No Foregner" signs due to some of the local US military starting to invade the place (bleed over from Itaewon), but these are very few. If you don't look military, you should have no problem.
Dress Code: There is no particular dress code here. You will see everything from business suits to some nearly naked women strolling the streets and the clubs. However, being barefoot is not recommended.
This is probably my favorite nightlife area in Seoul. It is not as unfriendly as Hongdae, and the GI's haven't ruined it or made it feel creepy like they have in Itaewon. The people are friendly and there is a lot of stuff to do here.
All around the area you will find restaurants, clubs, and noraebangs (kareoke) for hanging out at. One of my favorite clubs though, is "The Flair". Imagine a whole bar of people doing bottle spinning tricks like the ones from the movie Cocktail. It is really impressive. I have a more detailed review elsewhere.
If you are a westerner, politeness and friendliness pays off. You are sure to meet friendly people who will be fun to be around. If you are out to pick up women, go back to itaewon, you will have more luck there, it is just not that kind of scene here.
Dress Code: Korean's tend to dress a bit more conservatively. Some of the clubs you go to will have a feel that is more business casual, others jeans and a T-shirt are probably overdressing. Dance Club slutty - look? Probably not. But if you dress modestly, and non-offensively you should be ok.
Hongdae is one of those places on earth that I truly hate. It is a place where the locals like to hang out, but no one else is welcome. Granted, there is a pretty good reason for this. In May of 2004, an American GI stabbed a local Korean man. I don't know the situation behind it, but the stabbing has lead to an Anti-American feel to the area. Granted the signs say no GI's, but if you are a westerner, it really means you.
Take for example, me. I am old,fat, bald, and so out of shape that I was sweating buckets going down the steps in Seoul's humid climate. Yet, I was mistaken for a young in shape GI. I know this because everyone there gave me the Yankee Go Home phrase, even the messed up Australian kid who was selling drugs in a corner. no problem, I was happy to go.
I wouldn't even say it was the one bar I went to, it was all five. Some wouldn't even let me in the door. Plus, this is the only place in Asia where I constantly felt that my life was in danger.
While clubbing is fun, and this is a good place to do it. It is not worth the BS you have to go through if you are not Asian looking.
Dress Code: Depends on th clubs
I discovered Gangnam while working for a technology company. There are many of them in the area (tech companies), but it is also a really fun place to hang out.
There are many movie theaters, bars restaurants, and at night they bring out the roach-coaches for street dining. The good thing about the area is that many of the restaurants stay open 24 hours, and a lot of the bars are open late too. So, if you are out late, and miss the last subway train, you can go clubbing until 4 or 5 in the morning, then get some food before catching the subway to work.
It seems to be a very young crowd here, this doesn't always work to a westerners advantage, I think too many people think of the GI's in their clubs and tend not to want them here. I went with Korean Co-workers and didn't have any trouble though, even met some new people. If you are a westerner looking for a place to hang out, this probably won't be the best place for you, I would stick to the university areas. But, a good time can be had here. There are a lot of arcades where you can get your groove on playing "Pump" it is a dance type game similar to Dance Dance Revolution or games of that generation.
Dress Code: Jeans and a T-shirt won't work here, except for perhaps the arcades. Business casual is what Korean's seem to relax in, so at some of these clubs you may see a higher level of dress than that. It will all depend on where you go though.
This is probably the most Western Friendly part of Seoul I was in. But there is a reason for that. It is right next to the Youngsan base, and is also the place where it seems every soldier or English Teacher lives near. Thus, bars like Hollywood are very happy to see the Westerners there.
Of course, there is a good chance that the really cute girl you are sharing a drink with at the bar or dance club is actually a prostitute who is more interested in your money than sharing a dance out on the floor, but that is the nature of the area.
It is remarkably safe, minus a stray drunk soldier or two and and straying into the wrong Russian Mafia Club (see my warnings page.) But I have spent a lot of time in the area, and have only had trouble once.
Dress Code: Depends on where you are going.
Other than getting yourself pissed drunk in a Korean pub or finding your way up Namsan tower at night, you could experience the night markets in Seoul.
Like the pasar-malams (night markets) of Singapore, these markets offer you a snapshot of local culture and give you plenty of opportunties to buy cheap things you won't normally find at the airport. Yes, prices are insane there. I was quite glad to stock up on my Korean candy in Seoul before I left for Incheon. My bag of pumpkin taffy cost about 5000won in Itaewon . I found the same bag later in Incheon and it costs 10000won there.
Apart from cheap prices, there are plenty of things to see and do. I'll comment about the night markets in Itaewon and Namdaemun as they're pretty contrasting.
This is the area I love the most in Seoul. This is a very friendly place where all the young people go just to shop or watch people. It is crowed of people there and there is music out of the shop and the atmosphere is really nice. You can stop at a coffee shop and in a restaurant as well as you can shop on different stores. Every night almost I went to this place just to walk around.
Bars at Apkujong-dong and Chungdam-dong area. These places are famous for the trendy and fusion restaurants and bars.(Please see the photo of Galleria Departmentstore at Apkujong-dong. Most of famous & trendy bars and restaurants are within 10 minutes drive from Galleria.-This was copied from Citiscape site.)
That places are so called Beverly Hills in Seoul. There are so many boutiques of famous designers you could name and full of karaokes, restaurants, bars and coffee shops. You can do the pub hopping, too.
Dress Code: No special dress code is applied.