Seoul's a pretty sprawling place with pockets of character hidden all over the city, but here are a few of my favourite districts (as well as the inevitable ones - did someone say Gangnam?). You can head over to all of these districts on the metro which is pretty easy to navigate - just mind you hang onto your handy dandy little tourist booklet as it has loads of tips and other goodies in the back.
Gyeongbokgung, for culture vultures
Okay, those of you looking to learn more about old school Korea better head over here snappish. Gyeongbokgung is home to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, a semi-rebuilt palace from the Joseon Dynasty that the Japanese kept tearing down to fuck with them during the occupation, as well as the impressively built Korean Folk Museum and smaller Korean Museum. A visit to the palace is definitely recommended and they do free tours in English throughout the day, I wrote more about it here.
Places to go: Gosokchon for famous ginseng chicken soup, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Korean Folk Museum
Dongdaemun, for the cheap ass fashion fiend
Take everything you thought about outlet shopping and dial it up to a gazillion and you'll have something close to Dongdaemun. While it's not the prettiest block (the moment we stepped out, Nick had flashbacks to his time in industrial Guangzhou), it's literally factory outlet after factory outlet with sprinklings of upper scale boutique malls thrown in. We spent nearly four hours in about seven or eight different malls and the great thing is if you've got a silver tongue and know your way around a calculator, then you can haggle to your heart's content. Also, the massive design institute is here and it looks like the most voluptuous UFO ever.
Places: Migliore, Hello apM, Doota
Hongdae, for the passionate liberal artist
I ADORE this place. It's incredible. This little district spills out of the art and design college Hongik University and the creative passion overflows into the side streets and second floor niche bars. You'll see twenty somethings ripped out of street style blogs, cheap as hell clothing (though not as cheap as Dongdaemun but that's impossible really) and street performers jamming on a road almost completely reclaimed by pedestrians.
Places to go: On the edge of the pedestrian walkway, there's a series of super old school Korean BBQ places where they haul pots of burning charcoal to your table and everyone's chilling with soju. (Don't forget to get a soft serve from Honey Com around the corner!) There's a number of vintage stores lining the main street with hidden away doorways leading into basements stocking everything from Prada to Dachsund sweaters that are always super fun. There's also a Trick Eye and Love Museum you can recognise by the creepy as hell statue of a woman walking off the edge of a building.
THERE'S TOO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT HONGDAE. It's the best.
Itaewon, for richer tourists and American GIs
Itaewon is a much calmer area in Seoul and it definitely feels more upmarket as well. You'll see loads more Westerners here, be they families or loads of American GIs (there must be a base or something), and as such you have shops selling massively sized fake shirts from popular western brands, lots of 'safe' restaurants like Outback Steakhouse and McDonalds and oodles of souvenir stores and stalls. We stayed here for a couple of nights and it's a very nice area that's quite central on the metro as well - we took a cab over to the Korean National Museum which is hella impressive even if we weren't totally on the mood for it.
Yeouido, for those who like to take things slow
Yeouido is an area that feels quite finance-y on an island just off Seoul, however if you walk for a little bit you'll come across two parks filled with cherry blossoms that girls with selfie sticks and hapless tourists lose their shit over. You have the smaller, more intimate Yeouido Park with a hidden exotic garden and river in the middle and the sprawling river hugging Yeouido Hangang Park just beside it. It's awesome for a stroll, however I'd totally recommend renting a bike - especially at the massive Hangang Park.
Places to go: Yeouido Park, Yeouido Hangang Park and if you're into K dramas then KTV is here too
Namdaemun, for those willing to fight for a bargain
This bustling market is absolutely sprawling with stalls packed closely beside one another, full of cheap bric a brac, jewellery, local street food and no shortage of knock offs be they make-up, clothing or even alcohol. (It probably goes without saying but don't buy the make-up or alcohol.) It's packed to the brim with little old Korean ladies wielding massive tote bags fighting for bargains, the occasional teen looking for American knock offs and a handful of gormless tourists being escorted by tourist police at every turn.
While we didn't necessarily buy anything (Nick did eye up the Supreme fakes with some interest), it was absolutely insane walking around this massive market which definitely beats to the sound of its own drum. I'll never forget standing at the bottom of a hill as seven massive stalls on wheels piled up to the sky with boxes rolled down at breakneck speed, trying to escape as the police began doing raids for fake goods.
Places to go: Namdaemun market and the temple nearby
Myeongdong, for beauty junkies and shopaholics
This is Seoul's most famous shopping district, with a twisty network of fashionable shops, cafes and make up stores as well as the looming Lotte shopping centers. (Seriously, is there anything Lotte doesn't own?) Aside from shopping, it's also home to a couple of theaters if you're looking for a cultural excursion. There's a number of quirky cafes here, be do be prepared for the tourist traps.
Places to go: Nature Republic, Innisfree, Myeongdong Theatre, Hello Kitty Cafe, AlanD
Gangnam, for the hungry pop culture selfie seeker
Yeah, not as fun as the music video makes it seem. We walked out of the station at Gangnam and it's basically a massive sprawling financial centre, with upscale restaurants and bars tucked away in glass skyscrapers. We weren't all that taken with it - we literally stepped out for fifteen minutes, walked around and instead took sticky pix (which I would highly recommend as a bizarre and surprisingly stressful experience). Oppa gangnam style is actually kind of dull but at least you can say you've been there.
Freelance lifestyle writer and elderly puppy cuddler. Based in London/Hong Kong, scribbling at Give Me Chills. Give me a shout at email@example.com.