Itaewon was the first special tourist zone designated in 1997 among the 5 special tourist zones in Seoul. It is a multicultural place where over 20,000 foreigners live and is widely recognized by international visitors. Itaewon is a foreigner-friendly international district popular for international cuisine restaurants, shops, bars, and clubs that cater to foreigners. The district is located in Yongsan-gu just south of Myeongdong and north of the Han River. The best time to visit Itaewon is during the evenings and on the weekends when locals, foreigners, and American soldiers flock here to shop, eat, and party. Before the Second World War, this area was mainly residential and occupied by Japanese colonialists. After the war, the Japanese were forced out and replaced by American soldiers who set up base nearby. Itaewon, meaning "Large pear tree," sprang up after the Korean War for wealthy soldiers that resided in the surrounding area. American soldiers from the base, along with travelers from around the world, have flocked here over the years for its party atmosphere and international flavor unique to South Korea. Itaewon is the one place in Seoul where you will be surrounded not by Koreans, but mostly by foreigners. In October, the “Itaewon Global Village Festival” takes place with a range of performances and events. Most of the staff at the stores can speak English, Japanese or Chinese.
Seoul Central Mosque
Seoul Central Mosque is Korea's first and Seoul's only mosque or masjid. It is located at the top of the hill above the busy neighborhood of Itaewon. Many residents visit on weekends to learn about Islam. Lectures can be heard in Korean, English, and Arabic. The surrounding area is home to many types of Middle Eastern businesses and restaurants that import many items from the Middle East. The area is a great place to stroll, shop, and try dishes such as falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, and baklava.
Insa-dong, located in the heart of the city, is an important place where old but precious and traditional goods are on display. There is one main road in Insa-dong with alleys on each side. Within these alleys are galleries and traditional restaurants, teahouses, and cafes. The galleries are the heartbeat of Insa-dong. There are about 100 galleries in the area and you can see every example of traditional Korean fine art from paintings to sculptures. The most famous galleries are Hakgojae Gallery, which functions as the center of folk art, Gana Art Gallery, which promotes many promising artists, and Gana Art Center. The teahouses and restaurants are the perfect complements to the galleries. At first, they might be hard to find, but if you take the time to stroll around the twisting alleyways, the window shopping in itself can be very entertaining. The shops in Insa-dong are very popular among all age groups, because each one is unique. Insa-dong is a popular neighborhood in the heart of Seoul that is often visited by locals and tourists wanting to experience the traditional culture of Korea. Streets and narrow back alleys are lined with art galleries, wooden tea houses, restaurants, cafes, and small shops selling arts and crafts. The main street, Insa-dong-gil, runs for 700 meters from Tapgol Park in the south to Anguk-dong Rotary. Insa-dong is one of the best places in Seoul to find tea, calligraphy materials, folk crafts, antique furniture, hanbok (traditional clothing) and hanji (traditional paper). Many Korean ceramics, some dating back thousands of years, are bought, and sold here every day. Their range from a few won to millions of won. Many of the streets and alleys are clocked off to vehicles on Saturdays (14:00 – 22:00) and Sundays (10:00-22:00). This is the best and most popular time to visit.
In the buoyant neighborhood of Insa-dong, Ssamzie-gil has been marked as the ‘Special Insa-dong within Insa-dong’. Ssamzie-gil is a colorful shopping and culture complex in Insa-dong that features cafes, galleries, and workshops that mix modern and traditional Korean styles. The complex opened in 2004 and now is a destination in itself and an important centerpiece of Insa-dong. Ssamzie-gil may be modern, but it is construction blends wondering into the surrounding traditional neighborhood.
The area near Hongik University, often called Hongdae, celebrates individuality and is well known a the hub of indie art culture. This is the place where entire streets are filled with unique cafes, free-spirited murals, and young designers’ outlets that transform into the stage for a mega festival at night with dancing, music, and young club-goers. The clubs in the Hongdae area are so popular with international tourists that the New York Times once picked the area as one of the top ten sites to visit in Seoul. Hongik University is renowned for its art college. This street evolved naturally to satisfy the preferences of the trendy youths who gather here. It is filled with clothing shops, accessory shops, clubs, and theaters, so you can enjoy shopping, entertainment, and culture. At night, performances by indie bands are often held in playgrounds or vacant lots. Hongdae is a vibrant, energetic, and youthful neighborhood and nightlife district popular for indie music, street art, galleries, cafes, and shops. The area is named after the nearby Hongik University (Hongik Daehakgyo), one of the most prestigious fine arts universities in Korea.
COEX mall is a large underground shopping center located south of the Han River in the World Trade Center Seoul complex in the Samseong-dong neighborhood. At over 85,000 square meters (914,000 square feet) it is the largest underground shopping center in Asia. Over 100,000 people, many of these foreign travelers, visit everyday to shop in one of the 250 stores and dine in one of the over 800 restaurants. Many luxury brands and smaller Korean brands can be found here along with the bigger brand names such as Nike and Levi’s. The mall also features and aquarium with a shark tunnel and over 40,000 different types of aquatic creatures, the unique and interesting Pulmuone Kimchi Field Museum where visitors can learn about the history of Kimchi, and a 17 screen movie theater with the latest national and international movies. If that is not enough, you can also find night two luxury hotels, clubs, book stores, records stores, banks, post offices, two food courts, and a game area which hosts video game tournaments. COEX Mall is an amazing “city” and a great place to visit if you love to eat and shop and an even better place to visit on a rainy day. Just across the street is Bongeunsa Temple, one of the largest Buddhist temples in Seoul.
Myeong-dong (명동) is one of the primary shopping districts in Seoul. The two main drags meet in the center of the block with one beginning from Myeong-dong Subway Station (Seoul Subway Line No.4, Blue) and the other from Lotte Department Store at Euljiro. Many brand name shops and department stores line the streets and alleys. Common products for sale include clothes, shoes, and accessories. Unlike Namdaemun or Dongdaemun, many designer brands are sold in Myeong-dong. In addition, several major department stores include Lotte Department Store, Shinsegae Department Store, Myeong-dong Migliore, Noon Square and M Plaza. The department stores carry many premium labels and other fashionable goods at reasonable prices. Myeong-dong also has family restaurants, fast food, plus Korean, Western and Japanese dining options. Many restaurants in Myeong-dong specialize in pork cutlet (donkas) and kalguksu (thick noodles). Other businesses include hair salons, banks and theaters. If you are looking to shop and eat then start with Myeong-dong. This popular district features street food carts, major shopping malls, and entertainment. The dense grid of streets found in this bustling neighborhood are packed with people at all hours of the day looking to enjoy some of the best shopping, street food, and night-life in all of Korea. Along with locals, Myeong-dong is packed with tourists from around the world with many coming from other Asian countries such as Japan and China. It is estimated that almost 2 million people visit the area everyday.
N Seoul Tower
Since 1980, the N Seoul Tower has been a landmark of the skyline of downtown. Over the years, it has also been known as the Namsan Tower and Seoul Tower. Built in 1969, it tops out at 236 meters (777 feet) high with an elevation of 479 meters (1,574 feet) above sea level. In late 2005, the building went through extensive remodeling, which cost over 15 Billion won (13 million USD). After completion, it was named “New”, of N, Seoul Tower. The best time to visit the observation deck is right before sunset on a clear day. This time offers stunning views of the city as it transitions from day into night. When visiting the tower at sunset, expect longer waiting times to reach to the top. On weekends before sunset, the wait time can be anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes. If you do not mind spending more time at the top, arrive an hour before sunset when wait times are less, around 30 minutes, and you can still enjoy the sunset while avoiding most of the rush of people. You can find great views of the downtown skyline from Namsan Park, the area around the tower. No waiting times, no elevators, and free to visit, make the view from the park almost better than the tower. The easiest and quickest way to reach the bottom of the N Seoul Tower is by the Namsan Cable Car. You also have the option of hiking up a trail with hundreds of stairs to reach the tower, but unless you are in great shape and are prepared to sweat, it's probably a better idea to take the cable car up. Another great option is to take the cable car up one way, and take the trail back down towards the bottom cable car station and Myeong-dong if you continue further. The views of the city walking down are quite delightful. To take the trail down, just follow the stairs down as they pass by the cable car station. The easy walk down should take about 15 minutes. The iconic N Seoul Tower (236m), atop the city’s guardian mountain Namsan, offers panoramic views of this immense metropolis from its observation deck. Come at sunset and you can watch the city morph into a galaxy of twinkling stars. Up top is the upmarket N. Grill and a café. The tower has become a hot date spot with the railings around it festooned with locks inscribed with lovers’ names. Walking up Namsan isn’t difficult, but riding the cable is popular for more good views.