Note: This Seoul nightlife review was written by Marc, an Italian expatriate who has lived over 8 years in the city.

For a foreigner, Seoul nightlife is easy to map. There are three main party areas where you can go out after dark:
- Itaewon (foreigner area)
- Gangnam (upscale area)
- Hongdae (student area)

Let's review each of them in details:

Seoul Nightlife Areas + Hotels

Itaewon nightlife map (click on it to open it - best viewed on laptop)
Recommended hotels near Itaewon nightlife:
Hamilton Hotel (US$105 per night)
Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel (US$110 per night) - Same complex as Made Club
Historically, the area near Itaewon metro station was the first in Seoul where foreigners (mostly U.S. military) would go to drink and party. It has remained popular until today, especially among tourists, English teachers, soldiers, businessmen, expats, and diplomats.

Once a gritty neighborhood, it has changed a lot over the past 10 years. While it isn't particularly pretty, it has become much more trendy with dozens of upscale shops, hipster coffee shops, and cool bars.

It is considered the most foreigner-friendly area in Seoul. In particular, there are many Western-owned pubs, such as Wolfhound Pub (Irish), Route 66 (American), Rocky Mountain (Canadian), Fat Albert (Canadian), and Sam Ryan's Sports Pub (Canadian-Australian). Coincidentally, due to the presence of Seoul's Central Mosque nearby, Itaewon also has a high number of migrant workers from Muslim countries (especially from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia).

Despite this, most people you'll encounter in Itaewon are Koreans (at least 80%). Among them, a few may be interested in chatting with foreigners to improve their English or to make new friends.

The busiest nights in Itaewon are from Thursdays to Saturdays. On weekdays, it is not as happening, but still, it is usually more crowded than anywhere else in the city.

If you can afford to spend some money, I'd recommend starting your night out in the fancy Korean BBQ restaurant Maple Tree House (if you are on a budget, don't worry as you also have much cheaper options, including some kebab joints).

After eating, you can crawl from bar to bars easily as they are all within walking distance to each other (if you are alone, you may want to join a pub crawl like Thirsty Thursdays). Another good thing about Itaewon is that clubs will rarely refuse foreigners (unfortunately, this can be quite common in Gangnam).

Overview of clubs and bars in Itaewon
Many of the popular venues (like GlamProst, Boombar, or the Fountain) are located on the road Itaewon-ro 27-ga-gil, just behind Hamilton Hotel (Exit 1 of Itaewon Station). You may also want to check Soul Train and the Gold Bar - which are low-key but fun places. Club Made attracts an almost 100% Korean crowd, including some really pretty girls.
Club Made in Itaewon
On the opposite side of the Hamilton hotel (exit 3 and 4 of Itaewon Station), there are other famous spots, such as Bulldog, great for salsa on Saturday, Casa Corona, a newly renovated place which is quite trendy, U.N. Club (popular with the black community), and Soap (young crowd).

In the past few years, many alternative clubs have opened in Itaewon. They attract a local and international crowd who enjoys techno, deep house, trance, dubstep, and any kind of non-commercial music. The current hotspots are Cakeshop, PistilFaustConcrete Bar, and Volnost.

You can end the night out at one of the local Noraebang (there is a famous one close to Exit 4), the Korean-style karaoke rooms.

Gay nightlife
There are also many gay clubs and bars in Itaewon, especially on street 12 Usadan-ro 12-gil (also known as Homo Hill). For instance, Queen, HIM by pulse, and Soho. A bit further away, you can check the well-known Q-bar, which organizes fun shows on the weekend (even if you are not gay, there are many straight people who go there as well).

Prostitution scene
Finally, Itaewon is also infamous for its prostitution scene, especially in the so-called "hooker hill" (alley Usadan-ro 14-gil) where you may be surprised to find hostess bars, karaokes and naughty massage parlors.

Behind Itaewon, on the Namsam hill, the Grand Hyatt Seoul is popular with businessmen, mainly because of its bar called J.J. Mahoney. It is a fun venue with live music and an outside pool in the summer. There are always some freelance prostitutes hanging out around the bar as well.

Gangnam nightlife map (click on it to open it - best viewed on laptop)
Recommended hotels near Gangnam nightlife:
- Glad Live Gangnam (US$85 per night)
- Aiden by Best Western (US$100 per night)
- Hotel Cappuccino (US$102 per night)
Gangnam is the fancy area of Seoul.

Just 40 years ago, it mainly consisted of rice fields, but now it is so expensive than even a small flat can cost you millions of dollars. In Gangnam, the wards Cheongdam and Apgujeong are the most happening.

During weekdays, fewer people are going out in Gangnam compared with Itaewon, but it is similarly popular on weekends. 

New trendy bars open all the time in Gangnam. It is part of the "pali pali" culture (fast-fast, or "hurry up"), an essential concept in Korea: Customers are always looking for something new, meaning businesses often close, then re-open under a different name with a slightly improved concept.

Personally, I don't really enjoy partying in Gangnam as a foreigner for three main reasons:
- The first one is that many clubs can be racist and may deny entry to non-Korean speakers. They may also refuse to let you in if you don't look rich enough or if you are too old (over 30).
- The second one is that the area is more spread out, so it is not as easy as in Itaewon to go from one place to the other.
- The third one is that it can be really expensive to party there. Drinks may cost up to three times as much as in the cheaper venues in Seoul, and you may be requested to book a table in some clubs (with a minimum spend of around US$300).

One of the most exclusive and popular venues in Gangnam is Octagon, which is your typical superclub with two rooms (commercial EDM and Hip-Hop), a select crowd with designer clothes, and plenty of VIP corners.
Sexy bar hostess in Octagon
Another trendy venue is Jay & Jason. This small hip-hop lounge is accessible only if you book a table. Beautiful crowd, with very few foreigners.

Gangnam is also known for its cocktails bars and speakeasies, some of which are considered among the best in Asia. You can check Alice Cheongdam, Le Chamber, or Vault +82.

Hongdae nightlife map (click to open - best viewed on laptop)
Recommended hotels near Hongdae nightlife:
Hotel The-Ore (US$90 per night)
L7 Hongdae by LOTTE (US$150 per night)
Hongdae is the preferred Seoul nightlife area for students (Hongdae is the Korean abbreviation for Hongik University). While the crowd is younger than elsewhere, it is also popular with older people, especially hipsters and some foreigners.

To party in Hongdae, you can go first to the busy exit 9 of Hongik University Station. From there, you can then walk to Eoulmadang-ro street up to Jandari-ro street. Many bars and clubs are located in that area, such as Mike's Cabin (most popular with foreigners), Aura (hip-hop), Made (EDM), FF (Live music), Thursday Party (crowded, part of a chain), Henz (trap music), and Vurt (techno).
Girls clubbing in Made Hongdae
A singular place in Hongdae is the Retrogame bar, co-founded by a Swedish, the perfect mix between videogames, alcohol, and fun!

Other Interesting Areas in Seoul:
If you stay in Seoul for more than a few days, you should also check these three areas:

- Eujiiro (close to Euljiro 3 metro station), a nice neighborhood with many local restaurants and bars, including trendy speakeasies (especially the one called “After Jerk Off”).

- Sajik-dong (Gyeongbokgung Exit 7) also has a few nice upscale bars, such as Cobbler (ask for a smoky cocktail!)

- Ikseon-dong is situated across the touristic neighborhood of Insa-dong. It has chic shops and restaurants. The perfect place for a walk in the afternoon or to grab something to eat in the evening.

Seoul Nightlife Tips:
Bikini nights in Move Club Itaewon
Here are a few things to know before going out in Seoul:

Bring your ID
Your passport or ID will be asked before you enter a club, especially if you look under 19 (the legal age for drinking alcohol in Korea).

Dress Code
Of course, it varies depending on the club/bar you want to go to. As a general rule, though, Koreans pay a lot of attention to their own appearance (and that of others). In any upmarket venue, especially in Gangnam, you will need to dress to impress. For guys, this means that, at the least, you need to wear closed shoes, a shirt, and a pair of pants. For girls, high heels and a skirt are recommended.

Unfortunately, racism is a reality in Korea. If you are dark-skinned, you should try to dress even nicer if you want to avoid being denied entry at a nightclub.

Cost of Partying
Even though Korea is a developed country, I didn't find it so expensive to enjoy Seoul's nightlife.

Typically, you will need to pay between US$10 and US$20 to enter a club (up to US$30 for the best ones like Octagon). This includes your first drink. Then, you can drink Soju for around US$4-5, a bottle of beer for around US$6-8, and a cocktail for US$9-12. A night out will normally cost you less than US$100.

However, if you want to get into the best clubs, the bill will rise sharply as you may be required to book a table. In that case, you'll probably end spending around US$200 for your night.

1 comment to '' Seoul Nightlife: Where to Party in Seoul? "

  1. hi there, which hotel you recommend near the red light district ? maximum 100usd per night