side by side photos comparing both main streets Hongdae or Itaewon

Hongdae or Itaewon: Which Area is Better?

Are you planning a trip to Seoul for the first time and need help deciding which area to stay in, between Hongdae or Itaewon?

Both are two of the trendiest areas in Seoul, with many things to do, excellent restaurants, and lively nightlife atmospheres.

Hongdae is known for its youthful crowd and extensive Hongdae shopping street, which is full of restaurants, bars, galleries, and cafes. The area is a live music venue, karaoke, and arcade hub. In the evening, there’s a wide variety of trendy bars and nightclubs to visit.

Walking around Hongdae, you’ll quickly notice it’s home to many musicians and artists; the area is known for its lively artistic culture.

Itaewon is famous for its vibrant atmosphere during the day. The area is full of a wide variety of international restaurants and bars. Itaewon is a shopping haven for visitors because of its wide selection of stores, from luxury boutique shops to vintage stores and small local shops.

Another big attraction to Itaewon is its many museums, and it’s home to the War Memorial of Korea museum, Leeum Museum, and more. Lastly, the nightlife in Itaewon is dynamic. The area has many smaller side streets like Itaewon-ro 27, where you’ll find countless bars and nightclubs.

a gentlemen in his suit walking down a picturesque street in Seoul, Korea

Hongdae vs Itaewon: Main Differences

Let’s first consider the main differences between Hongdae and Itaewon. While both areas are similar in some senses, they’re also quite different.

Location wise is a stand-out difference, despite both areas being quickly accessible by subway/train. Hongdae is located on the Western side of Seoul, slightly further out.

Itaewon is more centrally located and near several nearby areas like Myeongdong.

Here’s a quick short list of pros each neighborhood claims, though I recommend you visit both neighborhoods when visiting Seoul!

Hongdae

  • Lively always
  • Numerous cafes/restaurants
  • Karaoke & arcade bars
  • Known area for creatives
  • Cheaper than Itaewon

Itaewon

  • Excellent shopping
  • Many Museums/Galleries
  • Wide variety of international cuisine
  • Nearby Namsan Mountain Park
  • Centrally located

TIP: Walking around, Google Maps doesn’t work; you’ll need to download Kakao Maps

many locals walking around on a Saturday afternoon in Hongdae area, Seoul

Hongdae or Itaewon: Things To Do

Hongdae and Itaewon offer many things to experience during the day and in the evening, both areas also offer a wide variety of lively nightlife activities.

When visiting either Hongdae or Itaewon, here’s a short list of things you must do in each neighborhood.

This section should be the most helpful when determining which neighborhood between the two in Seoul would be best for you to stay in.

Remember, no matter which one you choose, you can always take the subway to either neighborhood; the public transportation in Seoul is well-developed!

Things to Do in Hongdae

Explore Hongdae Shopping Street: At the center of Hongdae is the popular Shopping Street, an extensive long walking street full of countless restaurants, shops, boutiques, and karaoke/arcades

At night, the street gets quite lively with street performers, food carts, and the many bars/nightclubs open up to visit

Gyeongui Line Forest Park: Strolling this picturesque park is a must-do when in Hongdae. It is full of luscious green trees/gardens and streams, and the park is surrounded by many charming cafes

charming walking trail full of many coloured trees during the fall at Gyeongui Line Park in Seoul, Korea

Hongdae Saturday Market: In the main square on Saturdays is a fun market where local designers and artists come to sell their goods, from jewelry to paintings and more

Bar Happy Hour: As you walk around Hongdae, you’ll notice many bars, from rooftop bars to boutique bars on sidestreets and microbreweries specializing in craft beer / Most establishments offer happy hour promotions, especially on weekends

Photo Booths: In Korea, photo booths are a thing; selfie culture is big here. There are many photo booth spots where you can enter and take a few photos with your friends for memories

Check out the Arcades: Located on the main Hongdae Shopping Street are many fun arcades to visit featuring many various games, claw machines, carnival games, and more

shop with plenty of claw machines and arcade games in Hongdae, Seoul

Things to Do in Itaewon

Visit the Museums: There’s no better area in Seoul when it comes to museums; you can find the War Memorial of Korea, Leeum Museum of Art, and many galleries to explore

Go Shopping: Walking down the main road in Itaewon, you’ll spot brands like North Face, Commee Des Garcons, Nike, and Diesel, amongst many more. There are also many vintage shops around Itaewon offering a great selection

Try Many international cuisines: Many love Itaewon for its diverse cuisine. Besides having many excellent Korean restaurants, Itaewon has a large selection of Arabic, Turkish, Mexican, and other international cuisines

Itaewon-ro 27 at Night: Located just one street over the main street Itaewon-ro is Itaewon-ro 27, a side street full of many bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. It’s the best spot for nightlife in Itaewon

Namsan Mountain Park: Just a 15-20 minute walk north from Itaewon, you’ll find yourself at Namsan Park, the largest park in Seoul and home to the famous N Seoul Tour. Namsan Park is a must-visit

Explore the Side Streets: Itaewon is known for its side streets full of quiet cafes, boutique shopping, and beautiful residential homes; overall, the side streets of Itaewon are picturesque and should be explored

trail uphill the mountain towards N Seoul Tower with several bright coloured trees in the Fall
N Seoul Tower

Hongdae or Itaewon: Hotels

Both neighborhoods offer a wide variety of accommodations, from modern luxury stays to boutique hotels, guesthouses, and more.

Hongdae is more known for its mid-range priced hotels, guest houses, and many hotels to choose from.

Itaewon is more known for its luxury and mid-range hotels. While there are a few affordable stays in Itaewon, it’s not nearly as common as Hongdae.

Below, I’ve put together a list of the best hotels in each neighborhood by budget, including luxury, mid-range, and budget-friendly options!

Where to Stay in Hongdae

Mercure Ambassador – 4 Star / A modern upscale hotel with excellent amenities located right in the heart of Hongdae area

9 Brick Boutique Hotel – 3 Star / Well-decorated brick-loft themed hotel featuring spacious rooms, located near Hongdae Street

Holiday Inn Hongdae Seoul – 3 Star / Large modern hotel with many amenities, including a breakfast buffet located next to Gyeongui Line Forest Park

Hostel CLEO Guesthouse Top-ranked hostel offering well-lit, clean guestrooms in a great location

locals and tourists walking along the popular Hongdae Shopping Street on a sunny day in Seoul

Where to Stay in Itaewon

Grand Hyatt Seoul – 5 Star / A luxurious, prestigious hotel offering exceptional city views along with remarkable amenities; in the Summer, there’s a pool, and in the winter, there’s a skating rink!

Imperial Palace – 4 Star / Located right along the main Itaewon-ro, this boutique hotel has a fun contemporary-art type of decor, rooms are spacious, and location-wise, it can’t be beat

Hamilton Hotel – 3 Star / A well-priced mid-range hotel for Itaewon. The location is fantastic, and amenities include a gym/pool

G Guesthouse Itaewon / A fun dorm-style hostel located right in the heart of Itaewon, close to all the bars/restaurants and lively side street Itaewon-ro 27

a park scooter and cars driving buy in the charming contemporary district of Itaewon in Seoul, Korea

Hongdae or Itaewon: Restaurants

Whether you stay in Itaewon or Hongdae, both areas offer a wide variety of delicious cuisine to try.

Hongdae is known for its vibrant restaurant culture, fitting with the nature of the area. Here, you’ll find all types of cuisines from around the world, including Korean food.

Itaewon is more known for chic, fancier restaurants and cocktail bars, but despite that, Itaewon also has plenty of grab-and-go restaurants.

Which area has the better food, you may be thinking? Well, it’s tied. Itaewon and Hongdae are two of the best neighborhoods for foodies in Seoul.

By the way, no matter which area you stay in, try Isaac Toast at least one morning; it’s an iconic Korean toast sandwich franchise. You’ll spot them all over Seoul, no matter which area you’re in.

Where to Eat in Hongdae

Doma: Famous amongst locals as one of the top Korean BBQ spots in Hongdae, known for its wide variety of ban chan (Korean side dishes)

Gusto Taco: Tacos, nachos, burritos, and much more can be found at Gusto Taco; there’s a set menu here of meals to choose from

Kyochon Chicken: Known amongst locals as the best Korean Fried Chicken franchise, an absolute must-try when in Korea

Saemaul Restaurant Hongdae: Popular Korean BBQ franchise known for its bulgogi and stews

Rosso1924: Craving pizza? This is your spot, serving authentic Neapolitan-style pies with a wide variety of pizza options

premium beef and several ban chan at a popular Korean BBQ spot, DOMA in Hongdae, Seoul
Doma

Where to Eat in Itaewon

Maple Tree House: Popular Korean BBQ amongst locals in Itaewon, offering many meat cuts and delicious traditional stews; the restaurant’s walls open up on sunny days and evenings, allowing a cool breeze

Mosu Seoul: Known for its wide-varied tasting menu offering many complex flavors, 3 time Michelin Star winners

Petra Restaurant: Serving up a wide variety of Arabic food, not just your typical mainstream Arabic dishes, falafels, kebabs on rice, lamb makloba, manakeesh, and much more

Manimal Smokehouse: American-style BBQ house serving BBQ classics like smoked brisket, pulled pork, and more; platters come with pickled veggies, mac&cheese, and bread

Buddha’s Belly: This is your spot for those craving Thai food. Pad Thai, pad see ew, Khao Soi, pineapple fried rice, and more, but they’re most known for their stir-fried crab with curry

a rich beef bone Korean soup being served at Maple Tree House in Itaewon, Seoul
Maple Tree House

Hongdae or Itaewon: Nightlife

Regarding the nightlife in Hongdae and Itaewon, both offer a fun, lively nightlife with plenty to do. Each area is home to all types of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.

Hongdae does have a slight edge over Itawon because of its night street atmosphere. At night, Hongdae Street hosts food vendors and street performances. Also, Hongdae offers arcades and karaoke bars, unlike Itaewon.

Itaewon’s main nightlife highlight is a small side street named Itaewon-ro 27, and the street is home to several bars, nightclubs, and restaurants; in the evening hours, it’s lively with many bar hopping.

Nightlife in Hongdae

Mike’s Cabin: Upbeat, lively bar with a large dance floor for visitors; one of the most popular spots in the area

Playground Rooftop: A fun rooftop bar serving a wide variety of cocktails, famous for its many games, including beer-pong, darts, and more

Club Gabbia: Vibrant nightclub offering a wide variety of played music by DJs, and some nights they host band performances

Zen Bar: Popular amongst locals, this bar/nightclub is all over the place; there’s live music, games, and sometimes they show boxing/MMA fights

two bars lit up during the night time in Hongdae, Seoul, Korea

Nightlife in Itaewon

Glam Bar: Lively fancy dim-lit bar with exceptional, unique decor; known for its fancy cocktails and charcuterie boards

Ugly Society: Rooftop cocktail bar popular amongst locals, especially at sunset

Off the record vinyl music bar: Eclectic decorated bar with live music played on vinyl; known for its many drinks and wide food menu

Fountain: A fun multi-level bar serving a wide range of unique drinks and food menu; arcade games inside as well

several bright neon lights lit up at various bars in Itaewon, Seoul
Credit: Andrew de Santis

Best Time to Visit Seoul

With four seasons in the city, Seoul has a different atmosphere depending on the time you visit, offering various activities to experience each season.

All seasons have their advantages, but if you don’t favor the heat, you’ll want to visit in the Spring, and if you’re not looking to experience any snow, don’t come in the winter!

Spring: April to June

Spring is an excellent time to visit Seoul, with temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 Celsius (50 to 68 Fahrenheit). It’s an ideal time to explore Seoul’s many outdoor attractions, like its parks, palaces, and hiking trails.

These ideal midrange temperatures in the city allow for comfortable walks and outdoor activities. Also, Spring in Seoul offers a picturesque and enjoyable experience due to the yearly cherry blossom bloom.

Summer: July to August

In the Summer, Seoul becomes warm with some humidity, with average temperatures ranging from 23 to 30 Celsius (73 to 86 Fahrenheit). It’s a vibrant season with cultural/music festivals, outdoor markets, and lively street performances.

From exploring the historic sites to enjoying the bustling nightlife, there’s always something happening in the city, and Summer is a great time to experience all that Seoul has to offer!

aerial view from locals biking and walking amongst greenery and the Yaouido Hanriver Park in Seoul

Autumn: September to October

Autumn in Seoul is another favorable season to visit, especially for those who prefer mild and comfortable temperatures ranging from 17 to 22 Celsius (63 to 72 Fahrenheit).

The city transforms into a picturesque landscape adorned with vibrant red, orange, and yellow hues as the leaves change color. It’s a perfect time to explore parks, gardens, and mountains like Namsan and Bukhansan.

Autumn in Seoul offers a serene and romantic ambiance, making it an ideal season for nature lovers, hikers, photographers, and those looking for a romantic gateway!

Winter: December to March

Winter in Seoul can get a tad chilly, with average temperatures ranging from -1 to -7 Celsius (30 to 19 Fahrenheit).

Seoul transforms into a winter wonderland as snow blankets the streets and parks. It’s the season for ice skating, skiing, and enjoying hot drinks at cozy cafes around the city.

Popular attractions in the city, such as Namsan Tower and Gyeongbokgung Palace, offer stunning views amidst a snowy backdrop.

the stunning pond and old palace buildings at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace

Hongdae or Itaewon – Final Thoughts

Both are two of the best areas to stay in when in Seoul. That’s exactly why both areas are debated!

For those who’d prefer a slightly more lively atmosphere, a younger crowd, many cafes, and more affordable accommodations, you’ll be best off staying in Hongdae.

If you’re fascinated by museums/galleries, appreciate architectural design, love shopping, and would rather be surrounded by a more mature crowd, you’ll be best off staying in Itaewon.

As mentioned before, Seoul’s subway and bus services are fantastic, so getting around the city is easy. No matter which area you decide to stay in, you can always visit the other!

RELATED: 7 Best Areas in Seoul to Stay

nice architecture
and spacious street on the aesthetically pleasing designed main street in Itaewon, Seoul

What is the difference between Itaewon and Hongdae?

Itaewon is known for its museums, vintage/luxury, trendy shops, upscale restaurants/bars, and picturesque side streets. Hongdae claims a slightly more lively nightlife and younger crowd than Itaewon.

Is Hongdae a good area to stay?

Hongdae is one of the best areas; it’s full of excellent restaurants, plenty of shopping, and charming cafes, and its nightlife is great, with many bars, nightclubs, arcades, and karaoke bars to enjoy.

What is Itaewon Seoul famous for?

Itaewon is most famous for being a trendy contemporary district with many museums, plenty of shopping, and a fashionable adult crowd.

What is the most trendy area in Seoul?

Itaewon and Gangnam are both the trendiest areas in Seoul; both areas claim a contemporary layout design with remarkable shopping, excellent restaurants, and parks nearby.

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