Wondering where to stay in Seoul? Considering I’ve visited this city on multiple occasions and paid out of pocket for my own places every time I’ve gone, I like to think I’ve built up a bit of an expertise on Seoul accommodation!
Seoul is a massive city and with all its neighborhoods, it can be a little overwhelming to try and figure out where exactly the best area to stay in is.
Besides living here for a summer, I’ve also visited countless times in the three years I was a teacher! It’s one of my favorite places in Korea. While I mainly stayed with my friend, Elissa, many of those times, I also found various hotels, hostels, guesthouses, and Airbnbs as well! So I thought I’d write my own little guide on what neighborhoods you might prefer and where I’ve personally stayed!
What to Expect with Seoul Accommodations
Seoul accommodations, over all, are pretty similar to what you’d expect from a hotel or a hostel. However, there are a few, more unique things you might want to prepare for if this is your first time in the country! I’ve gotten so used to these quirks, I forget that a totally new visitor might be confused!
As I write this, I realize I’ve only stayed in love motel in Seoul, and it was when I went to a music festival way back in 2014. Love motels are kind of what they sound like — places for couples to engage in coitus. They’re also a pretty affordable, mid-range option for many places around Korea! Just, you know, you might be offered condemns amongst all the other toiletries. Also some of the grimier ones are, well, gross.
Hanoks or Traditional Korean Housing
I haven’t really stayed in a traditional hanok in Korea, but I’ve stayed in them elsewhere in Korea. If you’re intrigued by them, check out the offerings near Bukchon Hanok Village. I’m not that interested in sleeping on the floor unless I have to, so I don’t actively seek out hanok homes.
One of the cool things you can do in Seoul is stay at a Buddhist temple! I stayed in one in the countryside which I wrote about here back in the day. The big temples you can stay in are Jogyesa (in Jongno), Geumunsa (in Bukhansan), or Hwagyesa (also in Bukhansan).
Your shower isn’t always separate from your bathroom.
This means your whole bathroom will get wet when you shower. It’s not that weird, and my apartment bathrooms were like this. Upscale hotels will have a separate section for the shower, but more budget-friendly places won’t. Whenever I’ve had a private bathroom, they have shower shoes for you, but you may want to bring them if you’re staying somewhere with a shared shower area.
I think most places I’ve stayed offer some sort of free breakfast, but it’s usually a mix of not being very good and being very Korean. So you might get rice in your breakfast menu but not scrambled eggs. Most budget places I can think of just offer something like some cereal, white toast, and coffee sticks though.
I actually love Korea’s toiletry offerings because they’re so thorough. Even the cheapest of places offer a ton of toiletries. At minimum, they’ll buy a full bottle of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash and keep them in the bathroom for you to use. Obviously, don’t take these with you! Often I’ve also gotten toothbrushes, toothpaste, skin care, haircare, and more stocked in my rooms.
Seoul Districts + Neighborhoods
Jongno-gu is at the center of Seoul, and it’s a great place to stay if you’re interested in visiting the different palaces and more historical places like Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung. Sometimes people looking for hotels in this area use Insadong, which is the main neighborhood within the district of Jongno.
I stayed in Han’s House during a quick weekend trip, and it was absolutely lovely. Our host was incredibly helpful and met us at the nearby subway to make sure we didn’t get lost. It’s within walking distance of Gyeongbokgung and is tucked away in a more historical street. Check prices + availability here
Jahamun-ro Jongno Airbnb
I booked this Airbnb when I visited Seoul in the fall. It’s not the most conveniently located. I remember everything was closed for dinner and I went to a shoddy looking convenience store to get ramen. It was also kind of hard to find at first, and you have to take a bus to get here. The apartment is beautiful and clean, though, and the host was lovely! Book on Airbnb here
I haven’t actually stayed overnight here, but it’s quickly become one of my favorite saunas! I’ve gone here twice, and I know there are overnight options. It’s also super foreigner-friendly with lots of English signage and mini-guides on how to actually enjoy a Korean bathhouse. Since it’s right next to Seoul Station, it’s also a good place to stay if you’re getting ready to travel away from the city or to the airport. For more info, here’s their site
If you’re visiting for Seoul Fashion Week, then you definitely want to stay in Dongdaemun. It’s known more as one of the top fashion and shopping neighborhoods. Don’t miss the gorgeous Dongdaemun Design Plaza, designed by the late Zaha Hadid, and the giant, more traditional Dongdaemun Market.
Itaewon is known as the international neighborhood in Seoul. I pretty much go here to eat foreign food when I’m craving it! I used to get a minor culture shock whenever I visited because I’m not used to seeing so many non-Koreans in one place. I’ve heard clubbing and nightlife here is great as well, but I’ve never stuck around past dark to find out!
I actually haven’t stayed overnight in Itaewon because it’s not really close to places I want to visit. Friends have stayed at Hamilton Hotel and liked it.
Ahhh Gangnam. To keep it simple, I’m referring to the greater Gangnam area which includes Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu, and Songpa-gu. This is the ritzy, rich area of Seoul, which means it’s great for trendy cafes, artsy things to do, and shopping. I usually wind up here if I’m on the hunt for a trendy cafe or restaurant I’ve seen on Instagram. Some top sites include COEX Mall, Garosu-gil, Apgujeong Rodeo, Bongeunsa, Seoul Art Center, and Olympic Park.
Related: 10 Best Hotels in Gangnam
Elissa and I did a staycation at a super cute Airbnb, right next to one of the Gangnam Station exits. I wrote about it here, but sadly, the listing no longer exists. This studio, though, is pretty similar to ours and is right by Exit 1.
Hongdae is for the youth! Since it’s near three big universities — Hongik, Yonsei, and Ehwa— it’s teeming with affordable places, cool cafes, tons of shopping, and awesome nightlife. I use to come here more when I studied at Yonsei and have since been a few times to walk around or go to places like the Trick Eye Museum. It has such a fun, slightly chaotic vibe! It’s also next to Mangwon, an up and coming neighborhood that has the fun Zapangi Cafe.
Side note: If you want something similar but less crowded, check out Kondae. This is where Elissa lived, so I stayed here a lot. I like to think of it as Hongdae-lite — lots of the same shops and places with about a quarter to half of the crowd.
Hi Jun Guesthouse
I stayed here one night while I was traveling around Seoul after my contract ended the first time. It’s kind of a trek from subway stops, but it’s a nice place to stay if you’re on a budget. The host was super nice and even heaved my suitcase up the flight of steps from the entrance. Check for prices + availability here
Seoul Mansion is right near a subway stop, and it’s such a cute place to stay! I barely had a chance to enjoy my room since I stayed here the night before I flew out, but it’s comfortable and the hosts are lovely. You can read my full review here. Check for prices + availability here
This area is another major shopping district and also home to quite a few cafes I’ve hunted down! It’s one of the locations of the Stylenanda Pink Pool Cafe, but the better one is in Hongdae.
Myeongdong Mom House
I still crack up when I think of staying here because I stayed here for one reason: Kyuhyun is my number one celebrity crush and has been since I was 16. He bought this guesthouse for his mom a few years ago (hence the name), and it’s pretty much the place to stay if you’re a fan. His music is playing in the cafe and his face is everywhere. It’s beyond cheesy, but it’s pretty much the closest I’ll get to meeting him since tickets to his solo concert sold out in like a minute. Even if you’re not a fan (which, how dare you), it’s a great place for the price and it’s right next to one of the Myeongdong subway exits. Check prices + availability here
Other Neighborhoods in Seoul
I’ve also stayed in places not quite central to Seoul, like Bupyeong, Daehwa, and Suwon. They’re in the metro area, but they’re not the most convenient if you’re planning a lot of travel in Seoul since most take an extra hour to get anywhere you want to see.