Seodaemun (서대문) and Mapo (마포) are in northwestern Seoul, by the banks of the Han River. They're most notable for having a high concentration of colleges and universities, resulting in a distinct, youthful culture, especially in the twin subdistricts of Hongdae (홍대) and Sinchon (신촌), separated by a single subway stop, a 10-minute bus ride, or a 20-minute walk. These two districts are home to some of Seoul's most boisterous nightlife, and Hongdae in particular is unique for having a strong underground indie music and arts scene, a welcome break from the sometimes unbearable monotony and conformity of the rest of the city.
Seodaemun gets its name from the Great West Gate of Joseon-era Hanseong. The gate is now gone, having been dismantled by the Japanese during the colonial period, but the name has stuck as a reminder of the past.
Subway lines 2, 5, and 6 pass through this part of Seoul, as do some commuter trains and the AREX from Incheon International Airport.
When you are heading for Sinchon station, be aware that there are two Sinchon stations: one on the Metro Line 2 and the other on the Gyeongui–Jungang branch line. They are separate stations, and this Gyeongui–Jungang branch line has very large intervals (1 per hour). Although it has a direct connection to Seoul Station, it is generally much better to use the Line 2.
- 1 Seodaemun Prison, 101 Hyeonjeo-dong, Seodaemun-gu (Metro Line 3, Dongnimmun stn, exit 5). Tu-Su 09:30-18:00 (closes 17:00 from November-February). The prison was built in 1908, and became infamous during the Japanese occupation when it was used to torture, starve and execute Korean political prisoners. Actual prison cells, wax figures and videos are used to demonstrate the shocking brutality experienced there. Most signs are in Korean although volunteer guides can describe the sights in English. The content may not be suitable for those of a sensitive nature. ₩1,500.
- 2 World Cup Stadium. It was South Korea's main stadium in the 2002 World Cup and is home to FC Seoul.
- 3 Seodaemun Museum of Natural History, 51, Yeonhui-ro 32-gil. At this museum you can learn more about geology, archeology and biology. Plenty of fossils on display, interactive exhibitions and various activities for kids.
- 4 Worldcup Park (월드컵공원), 108-1, Haneulgongwon-ro, Mapo-gu. Worldcup Park has several sections. Sky Park is the most popular for the Silver Grass Festival. The park used to be a waste landfill.
- 1 Trickeye Museum (Trickeye), Hongikro 3gil 20, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 08:00-21:00 (Last admission at 20:00). Trickeye Museum features optical illusion paintings and installations. Divided into six themed galleries, visitors can freely touch, step inside 3D exhibits and take photos. ₩15,000.
- 5 Castle Praha. A Czech brewery and restaurant, with outside facade being a replica of Prague's Astronomical clock.
- Korea MTB Adventures, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 205-402 Samsung Remian Apt, Goyang-si (line 3 Wondang Stn). This company rents mountain bikes, offers guiding services, and supplies equipment such as helmets, gloves, hydration packs, shoes and light systems. They offer half day (3–4 hours - ₩100,000 or US$90 with bike and gear) and full day (4–6 hours - ₩150,000 or US$135 with bike and gear) tours in a few locations in and around Seoul. Options include downhill riding at Namhansanseong, cross country riding near Goyang, and urban riding through downtown Seoul.
- 2 Hongdae Playground, Seogyodong, Mapo-gu (subway line 2, Hongik University Station, Exit 9). The area around here in Hongik University is completely packed with shops and restaurants aimed solely at University students. Definitely an interesting way to spend some hours exploring the streets and see how Korean students let their hair down. Dinner can be had in this area at student prices, or avail yourself to one of the many street stalls serving Korean student street food.
- 1 Ewha Women's University Market (EDAE). At the front gate of Ewha Women's University, visitors can find a dense market geared towards young women. You can find stores that sell clothes, shoes, hats, handbags, and so on. There are also clothes for men. Recently franchise stores have started to move into the area. The campus itself is beautiful.
Music & records
There are still a few records stores alive after the advent of MP3. Most shops are in the Hongdae area. Price range is between ₩10,000 and ₩20,000 for vinyl and ₩5,000 to ₩10,000 for CDs.
- 2 Hyang music (향뮤직), Changcheon dong 33-16. Mostly CDs. All genres.
- Purple records (메타복스), Donggyo dong 158-24. Newly issued vinyls, CDs. Pop and Indies.
- Metavox(메타복스), Donggyo dong 158-24. Mostly second hand. CDs are main. Vinyl records covers also exist.
- Gimbab records (김밥레코드), Donggyodong 155-36. Mostly indie vinyls. Small but beautiful shop.
The nightlife is why you come here! This is where travelers will find some of the best nightlife anywhere, and will discover the reason why Koreans are some of the heaviest drinkers in the world. Even on weekdays, Sinchon and Hongdae are loud and alive well into the early morning.
Sinchon (신촌), home to universities including Yonsei University (연세대학교) and Ewha Woman's University, is a great place to soak up a more Korean environment. Not to be confused with Sincheon, which is in Songpa at the other end of the city, Sinchon is set up like many Korean entertainment areas in which bars, clubs, restaurants, karaoke boxes and sometimes even motels are structured in a grid-like fashion. The only way to familiarize yourself with the area is to stroll the alleys and discover all of the different places. Korean bars tend to be rather anti-social compared with their Western counterparts, with people sitting at tables with friends and not tending to mix. Yet a number of Western-style bars in the area have opened up.
- Beer O'Clock. This Canadian-run bar serves great pizzas and other grub in addition to showing sports on the big screen and offering darts. Weekends are pretty wild at this joint.
- Nori Ha Nun Saram Dul. A basement bar infamous for both its great rock music and its decrepit interior with writing on the walls. Difficult to find and almost impossible to get a seat after 21:00. Secure valuables as theft is not uncommon in the bar.
- Woodstock. Around since 1991, the bar has prompted a slew of copycats but is the best place to hear classic rock and pop. The sound system is awesome and the owner/DJ knows his stuff. Expect large crowds Friday and Saturday nights and seeing people dance next to their tables. Great place to mix with Koreans of all ages.
- Yaletown. Two Korean Canadians own this third-floor bar that serves up delicious burgers and other Western fare. Big screen TVs keep showing sports and this is also good if you play beer pong.
Hongdae (홍대), short for Hongik University, is the premier club area in Seoul by far. Located around Hongik University, clubs and bars are strewn everywhere around the place. The place is huge and you could party for a whole week in all the bars and clubs. The best way to see it is to stroll around and find something you like. An interesting note: the entire club district of Hongdae is officially off-limits to U.S. military personnel, Federal employees and their dependents. However, it is not unusual to see crew-cuts here on the weekends since it is rarely enforced.
On a Friday or Saturday expect all of these to be packed tight. Last Friday of every month is Club Day where ₩15,000 will get you into those clubs who are part of the "Club Day". Expect a packed crowd. The clubs aren't near the station, but aren't hard to find. The most popular clubs are:
- Miroir, 405-5 Seokyo-dong (from exit 4 at Hapjeong station walk in the direction that the traffic flows, when you reach the fake airplane towards the minimart on your right, follow this road (watch out for taxis creeping from behind), turn right at main crossing, follow until you see Family Mart), ☏ . Psychedelic hippie hangout with psytrance F and Sa, 1960s and 70s rock during the week. No cover charge.
Because of this area's youthful nature, there are a large number of hostels and motels in this neighborhood, particularly south of Sinchon Station.
- 1 Chingu Guesthouse Hongdae - Mr.Kim's branch, 446-7 Seogyo-Dong Mapo-Gu (Metro Line 2 Hongik University, exit 1; or airport bus #6002, to Seogyo Hotel ₩10,000), ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Internet access, guest kitchen, fax and printing service, prepaid sim cards, cable TV, DVDs, common room, library, security lockers, washing machine/dryer, 24-hr security, towel, hairdryer and straighteners provided, free parking, bicycle parking, air-con, iron/ironing board, tours desk, luggage storage, 24-hr reception. Dormitory from ₩10,000, private room from ₩30,000.
- Seoul I Guesthouse - Hongik University/Hongdae, 561-61- Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu (7 minutes from Line 2 Hongik University Station exit 2), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Easily accessible from the Subway/Metro Line 2 green line and the Airport Express Train. Awesome friendly multi-language speaking staff. Staff can help book DMZ tours, provide info on K-pop Concerts and other tourist attractions. No curfew, free breakfast (coffee, tea, toast, butter, eggs, jam), free guest computers, free wifi, free use of bicycyles, free security lockers, air con and heating, Large common room with big screen TV w/ cable and Korean movies; kitchen with stove, fridge, oven, microwave available for use, monthly BBQ parties. Mixed dorm, female dorm available from ₩17,000/night. Private rooms available as well. Discounts for long term stays.
- Bangrang Hostel, 397-12 Chungnim-Dong, Chung ku (Metro Line 2, Chungjeongro stn, exit 5), ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 11:30. 1 min from subway station, 2 min from airport bus stop. ₩18,000.
- Hongdae Guesthouse (홍대게스트하우스), 159-6 Dongkyo-dong 159-6, Paradisetel unit 302, Mapo-gu (Next to Line 2 Hongdae stn exit 1), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: anytime, check-out: 11:00. Clean, spacious rooms with high ceilings, ondol heating, aircon, hot water. English spoken. From ₩19,000.
- Soul Guesthouse, Unit #505, 159-6 Paradisetel, Dongkyodong, Mapogu (Metro Line 2, Hongdae Station, exit 1), ☏ . Female dormitory. Clean and close to subway. ₩20,000.
- Seoul Walker Guesthouse, 441-31, Hapjeong--dong, Mapo-gu (nearest to Hapjeon Station, line 2. Directions are on the website and business cards.), ☏ . Check-in: 14:00-22:00, check-out: 11:00. The owner, Mr. Yoo, speaks Korean, Japanese, and English. He is very friendly and always asks where you will go (in the morning) and where you went (at night). Laundry service is available for ₩5,000/cycle, which he will operate. He offers taxi service to and from Gimpo and Incheon airports, for ₩30,000 and ₩60,000, respectively. He has many pamphlets in different languages, books, a computer and printer, and WiFi. KakaoTalk and KakaoStory are available for communication. No curfew, but keep silence after 11. There is a code lock for security. ₩14,000 (dorm)-₩70,000 (family).
- 2 The Win Boutique Hotel (더 윈 부티크 호텔) (From Hapjeong Station, take Exit 1. Go half a block NW and turn north down a narrow alley. The hotel and affiliated coffee shop has a neon blue sign.), ☏ . The basement dorm has a large common area and several bathrooms. Everything is clean, and access is 24-hr. Staff presence is minimal; reservations are recommended. ₩35,000.
- Best Western Premier Seoul Garden Hotel. Formerly the Holiday Inn, located in the Mapo area across from Yeouido Island.
- Chocolate Tree, ☏ . 109-91 Nogosan-dong, Mapo-gu (4 min from Line 2 Sinchon stn exit 7). Friendly and adorable English- and Chinese-speaking staff, free breakfast (toast, jam, peanut butter, eggs, coffee and tea), free wifi, free international phone call, free laundry, dryer, A/C, hot water, rooftop terrace, common area with kitchen. All rooms are equipped with desktop computer, refrigerator, big flat TV with cableTV on the wall. you can get some chocolates at the reception at anytime. private from ₩50,000/night with own bathroom.