With a population of 25 million people, Seoul is a crowded place with long lines to do most things. The massive population creates a great amount of competition for employment and educational opportunities. These social pressures drive people to work brutally long hours, and study consecutively for days on end. As you can imagine, these societal strains gives people an unfathomable amount of stress.
As soon as one arrives within Seoul, it is evident how alcohol is utilized as a method to release stress along with negative social feelings. Alcohol is also very prevalent within business meetings, along with all social functions. Advertisements for local spirits and brews can be found almost anywhere one turns their head; the local 19% ABV spirit, Soju (소주) can be found anywhere and everywhere. It is available on every street corner for the unbeatable price of about $1.20 a bottle. With so many people needing cut loose and relax, paired with the accessibility and economical price of alcohol, the unforgettable Seoul nightlife is born.
Hongdae (Hongik University Street) (홍대)
Hongdae is a bustling place to say the least. It is located on the western side of Seoul, and very close to the center of the city; where all the famous landmarks are located. So after a long day of sightseeing, it is a common place for tourists and locals alike to end up here in the evening, enjoying a nice dinner and a couple drinks.
Hongdae is a very unique place, it has a very young crowd of people. Most being college students but I had occasionally saw the few groups of high schoolers, wandering around shopping at the inexpensive trendy clothing boutiques. Along with the young crowd, Hongdae is know for playing Korea's newest and upcoming hiphop music. It is a great place to see various free performances, because every weekend many entertainers perform on the street to display their abilities to the public. People are always gathered around watching intently! It is great entrainment and worth spending some time to watch.
Hongdae Walking Street is a great place to take a walk and admire the various shops that adorn the buzzing pedestrian street. You can find anything you might be looking for here, every spot on this street is put to use and is built into a shop selling something.
While cruising around in Hongdae, there were these two shops that had really caught my attention. The first image is of a small second hand shop that specializes in lightly used 1970's and 1980's professional basketball, hockey and football windbreakers. It was outrageous to see how many jackets they carried and how good of quality the clothes were in.
The second shop that caught my attention was this outdoor display, which was completely devoted to selling the most recent Galaxy S9. The store was flaunting the phones cutting edge features.
I really mean it when I say, Hongdae has anything that someone might be looking to buy. They have everything from jackets older than you, to the newest phones on the market. Simply walking down the street and looking at all the shops could easily take a whole day.
Hongdae is also home to a few notable clubs; the most famous of the Hongdae area are: Cocoon and Aura. These clubs are much like the rest in Seoul; they close around 6 AM and you can dance your heart out, while listening to the best music from around the world. Cocoon and Aura are actually located right next to each other and both clubs send people with tall banners to walk up and down the street to advertise for each club.
With so many great things about this place along with its convenient location; it obvious that a lot of people will show up to this popular spot. However on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday a lot of people is an understatement. As you can see making your way through the metro station is a complete free for all. Be prepared to keep your belongings close at hand and walk with your elbows out!
Getting to Hongdae (Hongik University Street) (홍대)
Hongdae is conveniently located on line two, Seoul's most used city loop track. The subway station is called Honggik University Station (홍대입구역) and is shared with the Airport Railroad line (AREX) (인천국제공항철도 ) and the Gyeongui-Jungang line (경의·중앙선). With three lines sharing the subway station, it is always very busy and congested. Upon arrival at the station find exit 9 and you will find yourself at the beginning of the Hongdae walking street.
Address: Hongik-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 마포구 홍익로 (서교동)
Itaewon is another place within Seoul with a legendary nightlife scene. However this part of town is known for something else - foreigners. This location used to be home to a US Army base and many soldiers called this part of Seoul home. The military base has been moved, however the foreigners living here had stayed. Now this location is known for being a place where someone can experience cuisines and cultures from around the world.
After spending a couple nights in Itaewon's famous Thursday Party bar, I knew it was one of my favorite paces to hangout! The crowd here is so energetic and easy to relate to since most people are foreigners from all over the world. So whenever I make it out to Itaewon, I make the trip to the famous backpacking bar, Thursday Party to mingle with other foreigners and drink great cheap $5 dollar cocktails.
This past Sunday I had made a trip out to Itaewon to spend some time exploring the local area during the day. As soon I took a stroll down the alley with all the clubs, bars and restaurants, it was evident that it was Saturday the night before. The whole street was littered with empty liquor boxes and bottles. I would say that it was a quite a sight to see, however this is a common weekend sight to see in this part of town.
Coming to Itaewon for the food is something I do all the time! You can really taste the whole world within this small section of Seoul. The food possibilities here are endless, whenever I come I always try the delicious pizza! It really is the best place in Seoul to get some pizza!
Also located within Itaewon is the well-known district commonly referred to as, "homo hill" which caters to the gay expats of Seoul. Having heard so much of the location and never visiting it; I decided to explore it myself on a Sunday afternoon. I was surprised how big the area was; it was about the size of a block and a half. It was home to many different bars, clubs and cafes.
Getting to Itaewon (이태원)
Itaewon's location is a bit of a hassle to get to since this part of town is located on subway line 6 which isn't frequently used. To get to the nightlife of Itaewon take line six 6 to Itaewon station (이태원역). Once arriving at the station and you can take exit 2 to get thrown right into the action.
Address: Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 용산구 이태원동
Konkuk University (건국대학교)
Konkuk University, my personal favorite place to spend time on weekends and late nights out in Seoul. To the Korean’s it is known as a “hunting” location. By the term of “hunting” I mean finding a girl or boy to start talking to and eventually start dating. I can actually confirm this to be a true statement about this location. There are countless bars that are specifically dedicated to groups of boys going to meet and mingle with a group of girls. These special “hunting” bars often have the waiter break the ice between two separate groups, and initiate the conversation between the newly acquainted strangers.
The endless rows of colorful glowing neon signs radiate excitement! Konkuk University is home to hundreds of restaurants and bars all advertising their location with an eye-catching signs. When one visits for the first time, the options of where to eat and drink can easily become overwhelming. Every weekend when I visit Konkuk, I always try a new place to get dinner!
Throughout the busy Konkuk University district, there are many different places to play arcade games or even video games. All of these fun places make the area feel like a big playground for university students and other young adults alike. All of these arcades are always exciting and for the price of .50 cents to play each game, the fun can last awhile!
The picture on the right is actually a mini arcade machine, which is free for customers waiting in line to eat at the restaurant.
When visiting Konkuk University on a Friday or Saturday night, it is quite common to see restaurants cook their food on the street to attract people to the irresistible smell! Along with cooking the food, the countless fish restaurants often publicly display their fish in massive tanks.
A popular game within the Kongkuk university area is this nail and hammer game. Where the objective is to pound a long nail all the way into the wooden beam. You are allowed three swings if you are a boy and five if you are a girl. If you get the nail all the way into the wood then you can win a small stuffed animal prize. Its a great game and I am proud to say I have tried it and won!
Getting to Konkuk University (건국대학교)
Konkuk University is located on the eastern side of Seoul, not far from the Han River. Getting there is quite simple. Simply take line 2 or line 7 to Konkuk University station (건대입구역). From there you can take exit 2 and walk left upon exiting the station. About 100 meters you will find yourself in the middle of the Konkuk playground.
Address: Hwayangdong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 광진구 화양동
Thanks to the smash hit PSY song "Gangnam style" most people recognize the name of the place, but that is about it. Within Seoul Gangnam is a well-known place, which is famous for its high profile nightlife. Gangnam, the newly developed part of Seoul is where some of the world's largest nightclubs call home. The colossal nightclubs here are three stories tall, with hidden VIP rooms, and have the capacity to hold hundreds of people with ease. Here the scene is filled with Korean celebrities and wealthy entrepreneurs dressed in designer suits; wielding pockets full of money and publicly flaunting their financial success. All this wealth tends to attract Korea's best looking men and women into these crowded and overpriced Gangnam nightclubs.
Club Octagon is the most famous club in Seoul, and is often cited as the best club in the world. The club frequently brings in world famous EDM performers to spin records all night long. Octagon knows its good reputation and charges a steep $30 cover charge and then has the audacity to sell $20 drinks. So when you make a visit to Octagon. It is a wise move to get in and then make a quick tip outside to the nearby 7-11, pick up a $1 bottle of Soju and drink that before heading back into the electric dance emporium.
If you are like me and clubbing isn't necessarily your cup of tea, than don't worry Gangnam still has many great alternatives. Gangnam is a very modern district of Seoul; it has virtual reality cafes on every block and numerous bars and restaurants. The nightlife here never disappoints and drinking in this part of town always continues into the wee hours of the morning. However this part of town is known for being wealthy, so prices in Gangnam are always inflated and the restaurants are typically of higher caliber, serving top quality food. Your wallet will definitely hurt in the morning!
The food here is wonderful! There are seemingly endless places to choose from to eat, and even more retail stores to shop at which stay open throughout the night. Gangnam is a wonderful place to be, if you have a big lump of cash burning a hole in your pocket that you don’t mind to spend. I only tend to really make it to this part of town after payday.
Getting to Gangnam (강남)
Getting to Gangnam might take some time since it is located south of the Han River, and quite far from most things in Seoul. Gangnam station (강남역) is located on line 2 and the Shinbundang line (신분당선). Upon arriving at the massive station, take exit 10 or 11 to get to all of the Gangnam bars, clubs and restaurants.
Address: Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 강남구 테헤란로 (역삼동)
Get Ready for a Great Time
At the end of the day, anywhere in Seoul is a great place for a night out. I have never been disappointed on a Friday or Saturday night here in Seoul. There really isn't a place in the world with a nightlife quite like Seoul. You can go out for dinner and drinks at 5PM and then come home at 10 AM the next day, with only have spent $70 USD. Weather you are interested in dancing the night away at a night club, shopping until dawn, or even looking for romance at a "hunting" bar, Seoul has it all and won't disappoint. Speaking as an experienced expat, I assure you that you will have the time of your life visiting here in Seoul.