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Where to stay in Seoul for First Time Travellers

A comprehensive guide on finding the best accommodation in Seoul

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 fantastic food as much as Koreans do. 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 exact opposite, the glitzy Gangnam full of shopping, international dining, and cocktails, is based in the south. Everything in Korea is based around convenience, and with a significant expat community, is geared towards English speakers more than neighbouring China and Japan.

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Where to stay in Seoul

Luckily, it’s 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. When picking a place in Seoul, your main decision lies on whether you want to be based north of the river ( the more authentic half) or south of the river (the richer glitzier half) as it can take roughly forty minutes plus to get from one to the other.

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 and you’ll find street performers lining the main street with seating areas around them. You’ll find everything from chain shops and boutiques to small market stalls selling cutesy phone cases and novelty socks (a big thing in Korea). All of the fun museums are here, 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 and you’ll find all of the county’s skincare shops here luring you in with free masks as well as many K-Pop themed shops. This is 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.

Why avoid Hongdae

It’s incredibly busy, there’s actually a meme about how busy Hongdae exit nine 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 be a great hub but if not, it’s probably worth basing yourself outside of this area and just popping in on the very reasonable and 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

RYSE, Autograph Collection
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RYSE, Autograph Collection

RYSE, Autograph Collection is located in the bustling Hongdae district. Each room here is fitted with a flat-screen TV, Bluetooth speakers and a safety deposit box. The private bathroom comes with a walk-in rain shower and bathrobes.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Holiday Inn Express Seoul Hongdae

Holiday Inn Express Seoul Hongdae has a number of amenities including a fitness centre and free WiFi. The in-house restaurant serves American cuisine.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

L7 Hongdae by LOTTE

L7 Hongdae offers 4-star rooms with free WiFi. Among the various facilities of this property are a fitness centre and a bar. All rooms will provide guests with a fridge.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

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Where to stay in Seoul for First Time Travellers
Where to stay in Seoul for First Time Travellers

Myeongdong - Street Food, Restaurant and Shopping Hub

Why stay in Myeongdong

Myeongdong is very similar to Hongdae but with less of a nightlife scene. There are a lot more restaurants here and most of the most famous and international chains (shopping and restaurants) can be found here. There’s a much bigger street food scene in Myeongdong with a whole street lined with stalls, you’ll be able to 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 so be prepared to be lured into the many stores with free facemasks. There’s a wide range of accommodation options here from budget to luxury and it’s in a good location for travelling elsewhere in the city.

Why avoid Myeongdong

Similar to Hongdae, this is a very busy and noisy area and is very much geared towards tourists so prepared to be harassed a fair amount with fliers. If you’re hoping to explore lots of areas south of the river it is still about 40 mins onwards on the subway so might be a bit awkward.

Where to stay in Myeongdong

Lotte Hotel Seoul
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Lotte Hotel Seoul

This luxury hotel provides 10 food and beverage options and rooms with views of the city. Guests can also make use of the fitness centre and spa.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

THE PLAZA Seoul, Autograph Collection

Presenting boutique accommodation in central Seoul, the well-designed Plaza has free WiFi and an indoor pool. A 2-minute walk from City Hall Station, it offers easy access to the city centre.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

The Westin Chosun Hotel Seoul

Westin Chosun Hotel Seoul is a 5-minute walk from the popular Myeongdong and 400 yards from the City Hall Subway Station. Located just behind Lotte Department Store Sogong Branch, this luxurious 5-star property offers an indoor pool, a spa and free parking on site.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Gangnam - Glitzy Shopping and Partying hub

Why stay in Gangnam

Made famous by Psy, his song satirising the local rich people of Gangnam isn’t far off what to expect. This is the richest pocket of Seoul and where locals aspire to live. It makes a great base since everything is here, from budget restaurants to fine dining, and is a shopper’s paradise. The back streets are littered with boutiques and cafes and the main street has all of the international and local chains including all of the flagship skincare stores who offer a lot more options like custom skin tests and make-up than the smaller stores around the city. There’s a good nightlife scene here including the famous Club Octagon and plenty of hotel bars with a great view over the Seoul skyline. It’s on the main line (2) so it’s easy to get to most places around the city from here.

Why avoid Gangnam

It’s one of the priciest areas of Seoul so the accommodation options are mid-range upwards 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 being based in Gangnam.

Where to stay in Gangnam

Novotel Ambassador Seoul Gangnam
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Novotel Ambassador Seoul Gangnam

Offering an indoor heated pool and golf practice facilities, Novotel Ambassador provides modern air-conditioned rooms in Seoul's Gangnam business district. The en suite bathroom includes either a shower or a bath.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Le Meridien Seoul

Located in the business and commercial district of Gangnam, Le Meridien Seoul offers free parking, 5 dining options and a gym. Its modern rooms feature city views and flat-screen TVs.

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Hotel Peyto Samseong

Finished with hardwood flooring, each room in Hotel Peyto Samseong is air-conditioned and has a seating area. You will find a flat-screen TV, a safety box and a minibar in the room. The private bathroom comes with a shower, bathrobes and free toiletries.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Itaewon - Multi-Cultural Food and Bar Central

Why stay in Itaewon

This is a very multicultural area of Seoul that used to be a military hub so you’ll find a lot of Western restaurants and bars but it’s also where you’ll find excellent Middle-Eastern restaurants and food shops due to the Middle-Eastern community who live here. Most expats live in this area so it’s where the most English is spoken and most places are geared towards the expat community. There are some lovely cafes in the area, a big nightlife scene, and you’re very close to Namsan Tower and nearby museums like Seodaemun Prison so there’s plenty to do in the area. The accommodation options range from budget to luxury so there’s something for everyone.

Why avoid Itaewon

If you’re looking for any kind of authentic Korean lifestyle you won’t find it here, it is not dubbed "Little America" for nothing. 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 and more geared towards people who like to get drunk so it’s 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

Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel
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Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel

Making no compromises to style and comfort, Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel offers ultra-modern rooms with free WiFi. It enjoys a convenient location in the popular Itaewon District, just 3 minutes’ walk from Itaewon Station.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Hamilton Hotel

Just in front of Itaewon Subway Station (Line 6), Hamilton Hotel offers modern rooms with free internet in Seoul's Itaewon District. It has a seasonal rooftop pool and a large sauna.

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Mosc Hostel

Mosc Hostel provides air-conditioned rooms in Seoul. An Asian breakfast is served daily at the property.

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Jamsil - Quiet Area with World Famous Mall

Why stay in Jamsil

If you love shopping, then you’re in luck because you’re right next to the biggest mall in Korea – Lotte World Tower. Inside, you’ll find a large cinema and all of the international films are shown in English with Korean subtitles. You can buy your tickets inside. 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 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. 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 so if you just want a quiet hub with one of the world’s biggest malls next to you then it’s ideal but if you want your area to have a bit more going on in general 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

Signiel Seoul
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Signiel Seoul

Located between floors 76 and 101 of Lotte World Tower, Signiel Seoul boasts panoramic views of Seoul in all 235 rooms. This five-star hotel features a champagne bar, Michelin-starred restaurant, indoor swimming pool, fitness centre and banquet facilities. It is also directly connected to Jamsil Subway Station (Line 2 and 8) through an underground passage.

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Lake Tourist Hotel

Conveniently located a 13-minute walk from Jamshil Subway Station on Line 2, Lake Tourist hotel offers cosy accommodation. Guests here can relax in the sauna or savour a massage treatment at a surcharge. Airport shuttles are available upon request.

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Rosana Business & Boutique Hotel

Located next to Seokchon Lake, Rosana Business & Boutique Hotel is modern yet cosy. The air-conditioned rooms include a desk and refrigerator. Private bathroom comes with a bathtub and shower.

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Insadong - Culture and Museum Centre

Why stay in Insadong

There’s not a lot of old Korea cultural left to see in the hyper-modern Seoul and if that’s what you’re looking for then this (and Jongno-Gu) is your area. You’ll find the gorgeous traditional houses in the Hanok Village and you’ll find plenty of hanbok (traditional Korean wear) rental shops to take pictures in the village. There are tea houses, museums, handmade goods stores, and beautiful cafes. The food is generally more traditional so you’ll be able to try some of the classic dishes here like bibimbap and kimchi jjigae. There’s a wide range of accommodation here and prices are generally mid-range for food and drink. There’s an excellent market full of boutique shops and this is where you can buy all of your souvenirs and try temple food.

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 generally 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

Centermark Hotel Insadong Myeongdong
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Centermark Hotel Insadong Myeongdong

Located within a 10-minute walk to Insadong and Myeongdong, Centermark Hotel offers fully-furnished rooms, a fitness centre and meeting rooms. The historical Changdeokgung Palace, with its classical gardens and architecture, is a 7-minute walk away.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Hotel Aventree Jongno (Myeongdong)

Modern Korean design is featured in Hotel Aventree Jongno, just 5 minutes walk from Insadong cultural street and 10-minutes walk from the beautiful Gyeongbokgung Palace.

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Orakai Insadong Suites

Centrally located in Orakai Insadong Suites offers luxurious self-catering apartments with a well-equipped kitchenette and satellite TV. Facilities include an indoor swimming pool, fitness centre and sauna facilities.

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Jongno Gu – Authentic Korea, Culture, and Museums

Why stay in Jongno Gu

These are the hipper backstreets of Insadong and less geared 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. This the temple and palace district so if you’d like to see most of Seoul’s beautiful historical buildings and statues and spend lots of 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. There are some more modern buildings and some chain restaurants and cafes in the area as well as plenty of local food.

Why avoid Jongno Gu

There isn’t a huge range of accommodation in this area so it’s best to book early. There isn’t really a nightlife scene in the area and most things close early in the area. You’re also quite far north in the city so getting south of the river will take well over an hour which may be awkward if you’re hoping to travel south a lot.

Where to stay in Jongno Gu

Somerset Palace Seoul
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Somerset Palace Seoul

Located in the centre of Seoul, Gangbuk district, Somerset Palace Seoul offers serviced apartments with kitchen facilities, a rooftop swimming pool, 24-hour convenience store, lounge and free parking.

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IBC Hotel Dongdaemun

IBC Hotel Dongdaemun is located within a 5-minute walk from Dongmyo (Line 1 and 6) and Sinseoldong (Line 1 and 2) subway stations. It features rooms with elegant taste, a bar, shops and fitness centre. WiFi access and private parking is available, both free of charge.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Centermark Hotel Insadong Myeongdong

Located within a 10-minute walk to Insadong and Myeongdong, Centermark Hotel offers fully-furnished rooms with a fitness centre and meeting rooms. The historical Changdeokgung Palace, with its classical gardens and architecture, is a 7-minute walk away.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Yongsan Gu – Great Transport Links and Mall

Why stay in Yongsan Gu

Much like the Jamsil area of the west, Yongsan is more of a residential area, open which people travel to for the giant Ipark 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. If you like video games, then there’s a huge underground video games market near the mall that’s fun to visit. There’s plenty of cheaper accommodation in this area since there’s not much going on but you are next door to Itaewon (within walking distance) and have good links to Hongdae or Gangnam so it’s great if you’re looking for a quiet hub. You’re also right next to the main train station so if you’re hoping to explore more of Korea then this is a great hub.

Why avoid Yongsan Gu

Yongsan is best avoided if you want to be in the heart of everything or want things on your doorstep to do other than the mall. The area caters more towards the budget end of accommodations in Seoul so not ideal if you’re looking for higher-end accommodation.

Where to stay in Yongsan Gu

Novotel Suites Ambassador Seoul Yongsan
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Novotel Suites Ambassador Seoul Yongsan

Novotel Suites Ambassador Seoul Yongsan is located on levels 27 to 40 of Seoul Dragon City complex with sweeping city views. It houses a lounge, fitness centre, indoor pool and sauna facilities.

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ibis Styles Ambassador Seoul Yongsan

Located in the central wing of Seoul Dragon City complex. The hotel houses sauna facilities and a fitness centre, which staying guests can use free of charge. Sky Kingdom, Seoul Dragon City complex’s entertainment facilities, is open at night and boasts brunch café and four lounge bars.

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Four Points by Sheraton Seoul Namsan

Offering a restaurant and a fitness centre, Four Points by Sheraton Seoul Namsan is directly connected to Seoul Station via an underground passage. The private bathroom is fitted with a walk-in shower and comes with bathrobes and slippers.

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Mapo Gu – Quiet, Budget Area

Why stay in Mapo Gu

Similar to Yongsan but even more residential, Mapo is a cheaper area that is ideal for travelling to other places since it’s ideally located and well served with public transport.

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

Where to stay in Mapo Gu

RYSE, Autograph Collection
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RYSE, Autograph Collection

RYSE, Autograph Collection is located in the bustling Hongdae district. Guests can freely access the on-site fitness centre, business centre and library. Daily breakfast is served at Long Chim, where Thai cuisine is featured for lunch and dinner.

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Holiday Inn Express Seoul Hongdae

The hotel has a number of amenities including a fitness centre and free WiFi. The in-house restaurant serves American cuisine. Every room is fitted with a kettle.

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Lotte City Hotel Mapo

Lotte City Hotel Mapo is located above five levels of shops and clinics and offers a free-access indoor pool, a fitness centre and a car park. The hotel is conveniently located directly outside Exit 2 of Gongdeok Subway Station (Line 5, 6, Gyeongui Line and Airport Railroad Line).

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