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By Margarita Maslova, who is originally from Moscow, Russia, but has living, studying and working in Seoul for the past six years.
Edited by Elodi Troskie
My favourite thing about Seoul is that this city truly never sleeps. Shops and restaurants are always open and you’ll find people wherever you go, no matter the time of day or night, ensuring you never wonder what to do or where to go in Seoul at night. It really helps you to feel surrounded by people so you won’t get lonely in a strange city. For the party animal, Seoul is a really cool place to visit! I don’t really go out at night as often as I used to when I first moved here, but I always had a lot of fun when I decided to venture into Seoul’s busy nightlife. Here is my guide for the best things to do in Seoul at night.
An overview of Seoul’s nightlife
Seoul’s nightlife offers something for everyone and different areas in the city cater for different types of entertainment according to your idea of a fun night out. Gangnam is where the rich people go to party; Hongdae, close to Hongik University, is aimed at younger people, going all out on the hip hop and pop scene, while Itaewon serves as the middle ground where you’ll find the perfect balance of good music, good food and good cocktails. If you consider yourself a traveling night owl, Seoul is the city for you. Depending on the vibe you’re going for, you’ll find something to your liking no matter what you’re looking for. A traditional Korean dining experience, cocktails and dancing at a nightclub, singing at a karaoke bar, or one of my personal favourite treats – going to a Korean sauna at night. Seoul has something for everyone!
Practical tips for heading out in Seoul at night
Although the public transport system in Seoul works very efficiently during the day, the subway only operates until 23:00 and taxis are rather scarce at night. Taxis are still around, but it’s not the best option since you’re at risk for being scammed into paying way too much for a short taxi ride. If you’re heading out at night, make prior arrangements to make sure you’ll get home safe. Overall, Seoul is a really safe city and because the streets are so busy at night, it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself completely alone when you’re out in the busier districts. Of course, it’s still important to stay responsible and to follow general safety guidelines like you would anywhere else.
What to do in Seoul at night
Namsan Tower: Sunset and city lights
The Namsan Tower, or YTN Seoul Tower, was built on the highest point of the city to provide the best view of the beautiful city lights at night. The tower was the first general radio wave tower in South Korea and is used to broadcast signals for Korean media outlets. Built in 1971, it has become one of Seoul’s landmarks. Since it was opened to the public in 1980, it has become a popular spot for both locals and tourists to enjoy the sunset, followed by the incredible view of the city lighting up after dark. The LED technology lighting up the tower itself in different colours and patterns makes it quite the attraction. You can access Namsan Tower by taking the Namsan cable car up Mt. Namsan and walking from there. Entrance to the tower closes at 22:30, so it would be a good idea to start your night tour of Seoul here and head out to the city afterwards.
Experiencing Korean cuisine
You can’t leave Seoul without having had a real Korean BBQ or two (or three). Of course, there are many other traditional Korean dishes worth exploring, but Seoul is pretty big on BBQ. I usually opt for pork with kimchi and rice on the side, but the beef is also really good if you prefer that. You can order this from most restaurants in the city, but one of my favourites is Seorae Galmaegi, located in the centre of Gangnam. You should also try shabu shabu, a Japanese hotpot dish that’s been adopted into Korean cuisine as well. You can get really good shabu shabu from anywhere in Seoul. It’s a fairly cheap meal and really healthy as well! Generally, Seoul does meat and seafood really well, and if you choose street food stalls and food night markets over the higher end restaurants, you can get by on a relatively low budget.
Exploring the nightlife in Gangnam
Let’s get to the part the party animals have been waiting for all along – Seoul’s bars and clubs. Along with Hongdae and Itaewon, Gangnam is one of the best places to go in Seoul to experience the city’s never dying party scene. As the most luxurious neighbourhood in Seoul, Gangnam is generally more expensive than Hongdae and Itaewon, so this where you’d go when you want to feel like a crazy rich Asian, even just for one night. The biggest and most popular nightclub in Gangnam is Club Octagon, an electron dance club uniquely designed along the theme of an octagon. This club has some of the best DJs in Korea providing entertainment and you can also expect incredible Korean dancers and other live performers. With its 30 000 KRW cover charge, this is definitely a higher end clubbing experience. Club Mass is another popular club that is slightly more affordable than Club Octagon. The cover charge is 10 000 KRW, food and drinks are generally less expensive and if you strike it lucky, you might even score a few free drinks from the bar.
Bar hopping in Itaewon
Although Itaewon also has many dance clubs, you’ll find more laid back bars here than in Gangnam. This district is very popular among foreigners because it’s one of the more international areas in Seoul, offering a wide selection of international cuisine and speaking more languages here than in most places in the city. Itaewon is generally LGBTQ-friendly and you’ll find quite a lot of gay bars in this area. SATTO is known for their signature cocktails made from fresh fruits and vegetables and is a great place for relaxed evening drinks. Baraboom is a good place to go if you want to grab dinner and want to stay in one place for the rest of the night. The food isn’t the cheapest you’ll find in Seoul, but the drinks are very reasonably priced, making up for the food bill. One of the hidden gems in Seoul is Hannam Liquor in Itaewon, a cosy little basement bar situated on Yongsan-gu. If you enjoy gin, you’ll love the impressive collection of St. George gins here.
Feeling youthful in Hongdae
Hongdae is where all the cool kids go. If you’re wondering where to stay in Seoul, this is a vibrant and energetic neighbourhood. The area is located close to Hongnik University in the western part of Seoul. Hongdae is popular among the younger generation and is known for its arts and indie music scene in bars and clubs - Seoul’s hipster area, If you want to call it that. Hongdae University Street is a good introduction to the rest of the neighbourhood. Especially at night, this street comes alive with restaurants, bars and live music at the enormous outdoor stage. Catch the 8pm show at the Hongdae NANTA Theatre, a satire Korean cooking show guaranteed to be different from any theatre performance you’ve seen before. Another must-see in this area is the colourful street art on Hongdae Mural Street, a narrow alleyway alternatively known as Picasso’s Street. If you’re looking for a noraebang, or karaoke room, Hongdae is the best place to go in Seoul. Most places will let you pay for a noraebang per hour (anything from 6 000-30 000 KRW, depending on how fancy the place is that you’re going to). This is one of the coolest things to do in Seoul at night, especially if you’re not in the mood for the typical club scene.
Relax at a spa or sauna
If you’re anything like me and you’re more content with a quiet, chilled evening as opposed to going out to bars or clubs, I’ve got just the thing for you. Like I said before, Seoul never sleeps. No matter what kind of entertainment you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it at any hour of the day or night. I love relaxing at a sauna at one the spas or wellness centres in Seoul. Aroma Thai Spa is a very popular spa with some of the best massages in the city. In typical Seoul style, this spa is open 24/7. Silloam Bulgama Sauna is the hottest spot (no pun intended) to go if you want to detox. While you’re there, you can also fit in a workout session at the gym, or get your nails done at the salon.
Shop at the Dongdaemun Night Market
Seoul’s shopping scene is one of the best in Korea – maybe in the world. The Dongdaemun Night Market is open all through the night and is the best place to go in Seoul at night if you’re looking for fashion treasures at bargain prices. In addition to the hundreds of stalls selling clothes, accessories and more, you’ll also find an enormous selection of street food vendors where you can indulge in traditional Korean dishes. You can also head to the nearby Migliore backstreet, a food alleyway swarming with both Korean and international restaurants. If you’re looking for unique things to do in Seoul, experiencing Dongdaemun at night is something you can’t miss out on.
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