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Where to stay in Seoul: Best areas and hotels for 2023

A comprehensive guide on finding the best accommodation in Seoul for first time visitors who want to make the most out of the holiday. Here's where to stay in Seoul.

Where to stay in Seoul - Vibrant streets in the capital

Need help finding where to stay in Seoul? Seoul is South Korea's capital city and a microcosm of everything Korean and international.

Very small for a capital city and distinctly separated into districts. There's so much to do in the city, but it is a true haven if you like shopping and eating delicious street food.

The main museum and cultural area of Insadong is based in the north where you'll find countless museums, traditional buildings, and teahouses, and its opposite, the glitzy Gangnam full of shopping, international dining, and cocktails, is based in the south.

Everything in Korea is about convenience, and with a significant expat community, is geared towards English speakers more than neighbouring China and Japan.

This article is a complete guide to help you find the best places to stay in Seoul during your South Korea trip.

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Which area is the best to stay in Seoul?

Myeongdong neighbourhood is the best places to stay in Seoul. Most attractions are within walking distance, lots of street food at the night markets, easy access to other parts of the city via subway.

Is it better to stay in Hongdae or Myeongdong?

We recommend Myeongdong over Hongdae for most tourists because it's close to important attractions, good street food and has excellent connections to the rest of the city. Hongdae is great for museums, nightlife and shopping.

Where to stay in Seoul Summary
❤️ Best Area for first-timers: Myeongdong
💎 Best luxury 5* hotel: Four Seasons
🏨 Best mid-range hotel: voco Seoul Gangnam
🛏️ Best budget hotel: Hotel Firststay Myeongdong

Where To Stay In Seoul

When picking a place to stay in Seoul, consider whether you want to be based north of the river or south of the river. The north is the more authentic half of the city and the south is the richer, glitzier half. It can take over forty minutes to get from one to the other by subway.

We recommend Myeongdong area to stay in Seoul for first time visitors. Plenty of hotels, lots of street food, easy access to other parts of the city. It's a great location for if you are new to Seoul.

The city centre of Seoul is the south of Jung Gu and the west parts of Dongdaemun Gu. The Gyeongbokgung Palance in the north and the Cultural Station Seoul in the south mark the edges of the city cenre.

Luckily, Seoul is an easy city to get around with an affordable public transport system that ranges from the well-timed subway that stays open late to the easy-to-use bus system, and affordable taxis that you can just flag down. Just pay for them all with your t-money card that you can pick up from any subway station for three dollars. It's all good to know for when you plan your Seoul itinerary.

Transportation is great all around South Korea, which means you can always take a day trip from Seoul to several nearby cities, to see, for example, the gorgeous temples in Busan.

Where to stay in Seoul

Hongdae - Busy, Party And Shopping Centre

Why Stay In Hongdae

Sort of the new, unofficial centre of Seoul, everything happens in Hongdae from the best shopping to the best bars and local restaurants. Street performers lining the main street and there are seating areas everywhere. There are lots of things to do here.

Find everything from chain shops and boutiques to small market stalls selling cutesy phone cases and novelty socks (a big thing in Korea).

All the fun museums are in Hongdae, like the Trick Eye Museum and Love Museum as well as many of the animal cafes like the Meerkat Café and Sheep Café.

K-beauty is a big deal, so prepare for all the county's skincare shops luring you in with free face masks.

Hongdae has the city's biggest nightlife hub outside of Gangnam (which tends to market its nightlife towards an older crowd) so if you like to party and love everything about modern Korean culture, you'll love it here.

There's also plenty of budget to mid-range accommodation in this area, since it's geared to a younger crowd.

Hongdae where to stay in South Korea, a great neighbourhood

Why Avoid Hongdae

You should avoid Hongdae because it's incredibly busy, - there's actually a meme about how busy Hongdae is, and it's true to life. There's no time of the day or night where the crowds die down, and you can feel like a sheep filtering through the narrow streets.

If you're in Korea to drink, this would be a great hub, but if not, it's probably worth basing yourself outside this area and just popping in on the very fast subway.

There's also less high-end hotels and fine dining due to the large student crowd and a little far from the areas south of the river (like Gangnam).

Where To Stay In Hongdae

Our top hotel picks in Hongdae are:

Myeongdong district at night

Myeongdong - Street Food, Restaurants, Shopping

Why Stay In Myeongdong

Myeongdong is very similar to Hongdae, but better, with less nightlife scene and crowds. There are a lot more restaurants here and most of the most famous and international chains (shopping and restaurants) can be found here.

Myeongdong is the best district to stay in Seoul.

There's a much bigger street food scene in Myeongdong with a whole street lined with stalls. You can try everything from fried steak to strawberry mochi, tteokbokki (rice cakes in spicy sauce), to fresh juices and shakes.

You'll also find a high proportion of massage parlours at reasonable prices. There's a big skincare scene here too, with shops selling a wide range of Korean and internation beauty products.

Love K-pop? You will find many K-Pop themed shops here. Check out Music Korea and pick up the latest and best of K-Pop.

Myeongdong has the most hotels in Seoul, so you will have an easy time picking the one you like. The options range from budget accommodations to modern, luxury hotels, and it's in a good location for travelling elsewhere in the city.

Euljiro is the nearest subway station, connecting you to other Seoul neighbourhoods via subway line 2.

Where to stay in Myeongdong

Our top hotel picks in Myeongdong are:

Gangnam street with Psy hands

Gangnam - Glitzy Shopping And Party Hub

Why Stay In Gangnam

This is the richest pocket of Seoul and where locals aspire to live. Made famous by Psy, his song satirizing the local rich people, Gangnam is one of the best places to stay in Seoul. Gangnam makes a great base since everything is here, from budget restaurants to fine dining, and is a shopper's paradise. Most rich people and Korean celebrities stay in Gangnam, close to the Coes Aquarium area, as that's where all the five-star hotels are.

The backstreets are dotted with boutiques and cafes. The main street has all the international and local chains, including flagship skincare stores that offer services like custom skin tests and personalized make-up.

Stay in Gangnam for the great nightlife. The scene includes the famous Club Octagon and plenty of hotel bars with a great view over the Seoul skyline.

Gangnam is on the main subway line 2, so it's easy to get to most places around the city from here.

gangnam in the evening - a great place to stay in Seoul

Why Avoid Gangnam

It's one of the priciest areas of Seoul, so the accommodation options are mid-range to luxury and most of the dining and drinking options are expensive, with no street-food in sight.

You can find some budget restaurants and bars, but overall expect to spend a lot more money in Gangnam.

Where to Stay in Gangnam

Best hotels in Gangnam

Itaewon as seen from above - a great place to stay in Seoul

Itaewon - Multi-cultural Food And Bar Central

Why Stay In Itaewon

Itaewon is a multicultural area of Seoul that used to be a military hub. There are many Western restaurants and bars, and excellent Middle-Eastern restaurants and food shops here.

Most expats live in this area and English is often spoken. As you can imagine, the places here are geared towards the expats. Itaewon is the place to stay in Korea if you are after culture and art.

There are some lovely cafes, art galleries, a big nightlife scene. As a bonus, you're very close to Seoul Tower (Namsan Tower) and museums like Seodaemun Prison, so there's plenty to do.

The hotels in Itaewon range from cheap hotels to luxury accommodations. The metro stations are well-connected to other parts of the city. Travel time to the south side of Seoul is about 30 minutes on line 2 from the Itaewon Metro Station.

Itaewon with its street food and restaurants in the evening - a great place to stay in Seoul

Why Avoid Itaewon

If you're looking for any kind of authentic Korean lifestyle, you won't find it here, it is dubbed "Little America" for a reason. That being said, it does provide some excellent home comforts for people who are there a bit longer or would like some familiarity.

The nightlife scene is a bit rowdy, geared towards people who like tp party. Itaewon has more of a pub scene than a cocktail bar scene, and it can get very loud at night, so maybe pick somewhere off the main street if you're staying in this area.

Where To Stay In Itaewon

Our top hotel picks in Itaewon are:

Jamsil in Seoul - a quiet place to stay in Seoul

Jamsil - Quiet Area, Lotte World Tower

Why Stay In Jamsil

If you love shopping, Jasmil is the best area to stay in Seoul because you're right next to the biggest mall in Korea - Lotte World Tower. Inside, you'll find a large cinema showing all the international films in English with Korean subtitles.

There's also a whole floor dedicated to skincare with facials, massages, and dermatologists and the Sky Tower offers a magnificent view over the city.

There's a huge range of restaurants and cafes, both local and international cuisine, and all the shopping you could need.

It's a quiet area with wide open spaces geared towards families, and the accommodation tends to be mid-range to luxury hotels with spacious rooms.

You're also in a perfect location to explore the north and south of the city, as you're very central.

Why Avoid Jamsil

Jamsil is all about the mall, and there isn't much else going on. If you just want a quiet hub with one of the world's biggest malls next to you, then it's ideal. Otherwise, if you want your area to have a bit more going on, then you may want to consider somewhere else. The accommodation around here tends to be expensive due to the ideal location and nearby facilities.

Where to stay in Jamsil

Our favourite hotels in Jamsil:

Cory and G from You Could Travel dressed in traditional Korean dress

Insadong - Culture And Museum Centre

Why Stay In Insadong

There's not a lot of old Korea culture left to see in the hyper-modern Seoul. If that's what you're looking for, then this is your area. Insadong is a smaller neighbourhood, part of Jongno-Gu district, and is inside the Seoul city center area.

You'll find the gorgeous, traditional Korean houses in the Hanok Villages and plenty of hanbok (traditional Korean wear) rental shops to take pictures in the village.

Look for Bukchon Hanok Village, Ikseondong Hanok Village and Seochon Hanok Village all within 10 mins subway ride from each other. The main metro station is Jonggak, connecting line 1 and 3.

There are tea houses, museums, handmade goods stores, and beautiful cafes. The food is generally more traditional, so you'll be able to try the classic dishes here like bibimbap and kimchi jjigae.

There's a wide range of accommodation, and prices for food and drink are typically mid-range.

There's an excellent market full of boutique shops and souvenir shops. This is where you can buy all of your souvenirs and try temple food.

Night in Insadong in Seoul - a great and safe place to stay in Seoul

Why Avoid Insadong

If you'd like to be based in the glitzier parts of Seoul, then this is very far removed from that. It's a quiet area with little to no nightlife but is very busy with tourists and mostly geared towards tourism.

There isn't a huge range of accommodation in this area, so it's worth booking early. It's also a long journey south, so it's not ideal if you're hoping to spend a lot of time south of the river, but ideally located if you're spending most of your time north of the river.

Where to stay in Insadong

Best accommodation in Insadong are:

Jongno Gu district in Seoul - a lovely place to stay in the South Korean capital

Jongno Gu - Authentic Korea, Culture, And Museums

Why Stay In Jongno Gu

North of Insadong, further away from Seoul city center, these are the "hipp" backstreets geared less towards tourism.

There are plenty of cafes and tea houses to explore, most of which are in hanok style buildings, without all the people dressed in hanboks blocking your view.

Jongno Gu is the temple and palace district. If you'd like to see most of Seoul's beautiful historical buildings and statues and spend time visiting the museums, then this is the area where most of the history still stands.

Exiting nearby Gwanghwamun station on to Gwanghwamun Square with Gyeongbokgung palace and the famous statue of King Sejong is an unforgettable view.

Lastly, Ihwa Mural Village is just around the corner from Naksan Park. If you are into street art, don't miss this part of Seoul.

There are some more modern buildings and some chain restaurants and cafes as well as plenty of local food.

Jongno Gu - traditional buildings in Seoul

Why Avoid Jongno Gu

There isn't a huge range of accommodation here, so it's best to book early. There isn't really a nightlife scene in the area either, and most things close early.

You are just outside of Seoul's city center, but it's still a great location. On the other hand, you're quite far north in, so getting south of the river via subway will take well over an hour.

Where to stay in Jongno Gu

Our top hotel picks in Jongno Gu are:

Lovely sunset in Yongsan Gu in Seoul - a great place to stay

Yongsan Gu - Great Transport Links And I'Park Mall

Why Stay In Yongsan Gu

Much like the Jamsil area of the west, Yongsan is more of a residential area. People travel here for the giant I'Park mall, which currently has the biggest IMAX screen in the world and plenty of international stores and restaurants. It doesn't offer the range of Lotte World Tower, however.

Don't miss Video Game Alley, the underground video games market near the mall. It's a great place to look around, browse games and electronics.

Yongsan Gu has some of the best cheap hotels in Seoul like Casa Cielo (address: 18, Cheongpa-ro 63-gil, Yongsan-gu, 04308, Seoul). Rooms in Casa Cielo start at £30 ($35) per night and the hotel has a superb rating.

Yongsan Gu is safe for tourists event at night. South Korea is generally very safe and Seoul is one of the safest cities on the planet with very low crime rate.

Yongsan Gu has a very central location, you are next door to Itaewon (within walking distance) and have good transport links to Hongdae or Gangnam, so it's great if you're looking for a quiet hub.

The main Yongsan Train Station is very close, so if you're hoping to explore more of South Korea, then this is a great hub. Trains leave to Busan regularly.

Why Avoid Yongsan Gu

Yongsan is best avoided if you want to be in the heart of everything. Yongsan caters more towards the budget end of accommodations in Seoul.

Where to stay in Yongsan Gu

Top accommodation in Yongsan Gu:

Mapo Gu in Seoul with properties and charming streets - a great budget place to stay in Seoul

Mapo Gu - Quiet, Budget Area

Why Stay In Mapo Gu

Similar to Yongsan but even more residential is Mapo Gu. Yongsan is cheaper and ideal for travelling to other Seoul neighbourhoods, since it's centrally located, along the Han river and well served with public transport.

The Hongik University Campus is right here, just a short walk away from the Hongik University subway station.

Mullae Arts Village, across the Han river, can be reached using the subway (line 2) within 30-40 mins. This is a small neighbourhood with street art and art galleries.

Pick this area if you want to take day trips from Seoul to other cities or regions in South Korea.

Why Avoid Mapo Gu

Again, if you like to be in the heart of the action or want things to do after dark, then this won't be ideal for you. Mapo Gu is not very close to tourist attractions.

Taxis are very cheap in Seoul, so getting a taxi back from one of the larger areas of Gangnam or Itaewon would be affordable.

Where to stay in Mapo Gu

Best accommodation in Mapo Gu:

What do you think?

Did you like this article? Do you have any questions or suggestions? Leave a comment below.

Your Comment

V
Violet
22 Sep 2022

Many thanks for sharing! I am wondering why almost no blog mention accommodation around the Seoul Station area; thought it would be fairly easy to get to most sights within Seoul and also other parts of South Korea. Is there a reason for this? =)

C
Cory
11 Oct 2022

Hi Violet, there is no issue with it, but given that just 10 minutes on the subway you can be in Myeongdong, just makes more sense!

M
Maria
28 Jun 2022

Hi G,
Great article! Thanks for sharing.
Question: Is Myeongdong back to being "alive" now after all the lockdowns? I heard a lot of shops have closed down and is now a pretty quiet area, thoughts? Curious as we are heading to Seoul in a few months.

C
Cory
29 Jun 2022

Hi Maria, thank you for your message. It's going to take a bit more time for everything to come back to normal. It's worth a visit, because local businesses do need the love right now. But eventually everything is going to get back to being "alive" and fun :)

S
Seoul Business
21 Mar 2022

Good article! I agree! Thanks for the information.Keep it up

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