What To Do in These 5 Unique Seoul Neighborhoods
Seoul is a unique city, one of the few places on earth that preserved its pre-modern heritage. Yes, there are plenty of skyscrapers, wine bars, and luxury shops, but Seoul doesn't begin and end in Gangnam. If you're looking for what to do in Seoul, consider that each neighborhood offers an entirely unique experience.
In this article, I'll share some of my favorite places throughout the city. Keep in mind that Seoul is an ever-changing competition ring; beloved cafes come and go, and shops are seemingly replaced overnight. Rather than give you a list of businesses to visit, I'll share what the neighborhood is known for. If you have the time in your travels, the best way to get to know Seoul is by foot: take your time, ignore Naver maps and get lost!
This neighborhood is one of the coolest visual examples of modern Seoul and its industrial predecessor. Mullae was once home to 70% of Korea's blacksmiths, but has changed its face over the years due to a common tale of gentrification. Rising rent prices forced many blacksmiths to relocate further out of the city, while artists dealing with their own living costs took over the empty studios.
Remnants of those workshops (as well as some metal studios that are still in operation) are all through this neighborhood.
Directions: Get off at Mullae Station on subway line 2 and take either exit 2 or 4.
What to do in Mullae
1. Relax at a cafe
With the hip-ness of this neighborhood, a good cafe is always within walking distance. Here's a few favorites:
Cafe Happy Beans (Address 서울 영등포구 문래북로 108 문래동 태영 데시앙)
Cafe Verde (Address 서울 영등포구 도림로139가길 5 1층)
Cafe Salt (Address 서울 영등포구 도림로133길 12 1층 카페솔트)
Rust Bakery (Address 서울 영등포구 경인로79길 15)
2. Explore the stores
There's an abundance of local artisanal shops in this neighborhood, from jewelry designers to soap makers.
Check out the famous stationery store Bye By Buy (Address: 43-2 Mullae-dong 2(i)-ga Yeongdeungpo-gu Seoul).
Art City (Address: 45-4 Mullae-dong 2(i)-ga Yeongdeungpo-gu Seoul) is a collaborative DIY space where you can paint, draw, or admire other's artwork.
3. Check out the walking streets
There are tons of murals and wall art to admire while you meander through the streets. Here are a few notable locations:
Old Mullae sign and bar (Address: 서울 영등포구 도림로 433-6)
Creative Town (Address: Dorim-ro 128ga-gil Yeongdeungpo-gu)
Mullae's countless alleyways the intersect between buildings offers exceptional photo opportunities. Bring your camera and hang out for a while!
Mapo may cover a wide range of area in Seoul, but that's what makes this part of town so special. There aren't too many places in the world where you can find dried fish at a street market and overpriced Einspänner coffee a block from each other.
Directions: This one depends on where you want to go. The most lively stations stops for Mapo include Hapjeong and Hongdae on subway line 2, as well as Mangwon station on subway line 6.
Views from a booth inside Rust Bakery in Mullae. Only one subway stop on line 2 (and the Han River) separates Mullae from Mapo.
What to do in Mapo
1. Visit the fish market
One of my favorite activities in Korea is visiting the fish markets. It's always a fun experience to select the types of fish you want to eat, negotiate the price a little, then have it served to your preference. It helps if you love seafood!
The Mapo Agricultural and Marine Products Market is like the famed Noryanjin, but low key and cheaper.
Address: 235 World Cup-ro Mapo-gu Seoul
2. Shop outdoors
Mangwon Market is a bustling outdoor market in the midst of a residential neighborhood, which makes me feel a little bad for those who live there. This market has all the hustle and bustle you'd expect to find
Address: 14 Poeun-ro 8-gil Mapo-gu Seoul
3. Explore in a shopper's paradise
Mapo is a big area encompassing several notable shopping areas, including Hapjeong and Hongdae. There's something for everyone, to say the least.
I love stationery items and vintage goods, so I'm drawn to those stores, but your preferences may be totally different! As with many Seoul neighborhoods, the best way to find what you're looking for is to get a little lost. 😉
My favorite store for fine vintage goods is La Retro (Address: 369-7 Hapjeong-dong Mapo-gu Seoul), while the cutest stationery items are inside of Made By (Address: 146-8 Donggyo-dong Mapo-gu Seoul).
Seongsu may hold the title as the "Brooklyn of Seoul," but did you know it was once home to Korea's shoemakers. The shoe decorated subway stop makes a lot more sense when you realize that artisans had open shops all throughout this neighborhood. You can still purchase shoes in a cobbler-to-consumer direct transaction, however most operating shops are known for hosting shoemaking classes. A good thing to keep in mind if you're looking for a fun, first-date activity!
Directions: Get off at the Seongsu Station stop on subway line 2, and feel free to choose your exit! Most of the cafes and stores are near exit 3 and 4, but there are plenty of other places spread out all over.
Seongsu is dubbed the "Brooklyn" of Seoul for its edgy and ecclectic style. It's quite possible that there are more vintage shops within Seongsu's neighborhood limits than anywhere else in Seoul, but don't quote me on that.
Seongsu is dubbed the "Brooklyn" of Seoul for its edgy and ecclectic style.
What to do in Seongsu
1. Bring back fashion: Buy vintage
Being compared to one of the most eclectic cities in the U.S., you'd have to expect a significant vintage vibe in Seongsu. Lots of people come to this neighborhood on the weekends and browse through the endless racks of second hand clothes. Think of it like a treasure hunt!
Million Archive is well known and color-coded throughout the store.
Address: 289-293 Seongsu-dong 2(i)-ga Seongdong-gu Seoul
Makesinyu is super high quality, with a lovely selection of curated goods and plenty of kitschy wall decor.
Address: 276-4 Seongsu-dong 2(i)-ga Seongdong-gu Seoul
2. Take a shoe making class
Dig deep into Seongsu's roots by taking a shoemaking class. Head's up: English might be limited depending on the store.
La Flo Chenie Shoe Design Institute hosts classes where you learn the process from beginning to end, but I don't know of an English-friendly course.
Address: 315-11 Seongsu-dong 2(i)-ga Seongdong-gu Seoul
3. Explore nearby Konkuk University stop
Walking bout fifteen minutes east will get you to the wild college neighborhood for Konkuk University. There's endless bars, restaurants, and inexpensive clothing stores. Go after dark and see for yourself how busy this neighborhood gets.
You can find a lot of great restaurants here, but personally I think Mommy Tteokbokki has the most incredible tteokbokki out there. It's mixed with seaweed for goodness' sake! You have to try it.
Address: 서울 광진구 동일로22길 95 2층
Bukchon Hanok Village
It's impossible to write a list of interesting neighborhoods without mentioning Bukchon Hanok Village (and surrounding neighborhoods). Known for its emphasis on Korean culture and historical traditions, Bukchon is all about preservation. This isn't only apparent in the neighborhood's architecture; step inside some of the businesses around here to find mini museums and design studios.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Address: 105 Gye-dong Jongno-gu Seoul
Directions: Get off at Angus Station stop on subway line 3 and leave out of exit 2. This will take your toward Bukchon Hanok Village. Alternatively, take exit 6 for Insadong culture street.
The surrounding neighborhood will give you a taste of traditional Korea with plenty of cultural tours, crafts and activities. Walking through the meandering streets lined with hanoks is a feast for the senses alone, though there's plenty to do in that area as well.
This Baskin Robbins operates out of a traditionally inspired hanok made of fresh cedar wood.
What to do in Bukchon Hanok Village
1. Have tea with a view
Bukchon Hanok Village has a focus on preserving Korean heritage, which makes this the best place to delve into historically significant activities, art, and information.
For the cost of a drink (admission is free if you buy a tea), the Asian Culture Art Center will give you access to Korea's tea making history, including a museum dedicated to delicate porcelain-ware. Head up to the roof for a bird's eye view of Bukchon and the central part of Seoul north of the Han River.
Address: 35-35 Samcheong-dong Jongno-gu Seoul
2. Try your hand at Korean crafts
I had a chance to create my own artistic designs while exploring Bukchon, but one of my favorites was learning how to make maedeup, the traditional knot craft.
동림매듭공방 studio is owned and operated by a family who has been creating their own elaborate maedeup designs for several generations. The artists directing my lesson told me his mother taught him the art of knot tying, and had been working his craft for decades!
Address: 서울시 종로구 가회동 11-7 동림매듭공방
3. Leave with an unforgettable souvenir
While Insadong is not necessarily in Bukchon Hanok Village, it's across Yulgok-Ro, the main road, and only about a five-minute walk. Insadong boasts an entire street dedicated to Korean culture and crafts.
Start by having an artisan create your very-own dojang (name stamp) at Kkamang handwriting. The process takes about 30 minutes, which gives you some extra time to walk around the street.
Address: 73-1 Gwanhun-dong Jongno-gu Seoul
Next, visit Ssamziegil, the multi-level shopping mall full of local artist studios. You can take classes creating your own pottery, or buy lots of jewelry, stationery, and miscellaneous goods direct from the person who made them!
Address: 38 Gwanhun-dong Jongno-gu Seoul
Dongmyo flea market was easily one of my favorite weekend excursions. A word of warning though, the flea market is absolutely massive: while the map guide may tell you it sits with a specific perimeter limit, vendors are known to throw down a blanket and start selling wherever there's free space. You could easily find yourself meandering for an entire morning and afternoon, potentially also getting very lost. If you're someone who gets overwhelmed easily, what can I say? I still suggest you take a deep breath and check it out.
Dongmyo Flea Market
Address: 102-8 Sungin-dong Jongno-gu Seoul
Directions: Get off at the Dongmyo station stop on subway line 1 and go through exit 3. You'll be right in front of the action.
Vendors selling everything from gold watches and military patches, to electronics and fur coats set up makeshift shops on the side of the road. This vendor waits behind his bounty of shoes.
It's also a great place to find used books. Visit this bookseller on a free afternoon so you have enough time to browse. Most of the books are in Korea, with a limited number of English options.
What to do in Dongmyo
1. Try some Nepalese food
After you tire yourself out at the flea market, there's a fantastic food street down the road!
Nepal Food Street is, as you'd expect, dedicated to Nepalese food. Follow your nose to your favorite spot in the area.
Address: 138-109 Changsin-dong Jongno-gu Seoul
2. Pay a visit to the outdoor toy market
The toy shopping street is a few blocks away from the Dongmyo train stop. This is a great place to check out if you're a teaching looking for a few goodies to buy your students, or have gifts to buy your kid brother/sister back home.
There's also a super cool gorilla statue on the top of a building!
Address: Seoul Jongno-gu Changsin-dong 390-9
3. Walk along the canal
The Cheonggyecheon canal cuts through Seoul, and has lovely walkways alongside it. Tons of people come here to walk, run, or just sit to watch the water at all times of the day. There are a number of places to walk down to the canal from street level, but this one appears to be the closest from the flea market.
Address: Seoul Jongno-gu Changsin-dong 436-87