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Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

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Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

Hello everyone,

I'm excited about my first trip to Seoul in August (gonna be hot!) but can't decide which neighborhood to stay at. Creative type here interested in Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping.

I've done plenty of research—Myeoung-dong is packed with teenagers and tourists, Apgujeong and Gangnam filled with super high-end retail, Itaewon full of eclectic expat hangouts, and Hapjeong a hub for artsy teen types. Is there somewhere I'm missing? I personally like to be surrounded by cafes, bookstores, and independent retail (think Nolita in NYC, Naka-Meguro in Tokyo, etc)

I'm looking at an AirBnB studio right by the Gongdeok subway stop, in the Yongsan neighborhood. Even tho it's a direct train ride from ICN with no transfers (hence the convenience for a first-timer in Seoul like me), and the apartment is a stone's throw away from the subway stop—the neighborhood is seriously lacking in character and style. Judging from Google Street View, Gongdeok is basically a bunch of high rises and not much else. The pluses are that Gongdeok is a major transport hub (easy access to other cool hoods) and the studio is dirt cheap. Would you recommend staying there?

Where's the sophisticated, thoughtful, hip Seoul with creative types who appreciate art/design/coffee/books/etc? Thanks!

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1. Re: Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

Search these other neighbourhoods - Jeong-dong (larger galleries and theatres), Seongbuk-dong (Art museums, old fortress wall), Daehango (many small art galleries and theatres, loads of cafes - probably the pick for creative types)

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2. Re: Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

I think the problem is that there are hip areas in Seoul but they are not known for affordable housing for visitors. It might be better to stay in a place with good transport and just hang out at the hip places.

There are a few mega bookstores but smaller independent bookstores are sadly a thing of the past. There are lots of coffee shops but they are not like stereotypic European cafés where people congregate to discuss art and philosophy. Finally what do you mean by independent retail? Do you need to buy something or are you just talking about the ambience?

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3. Re: Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

Hey there, thanks for both your responses. I was thinking of the same thing: staying at a "convenient" location such as Gongdeok, and then spend the day at hip neighborhoods. The trek from ICN to Apgujeong, for example, looks really far (for a first time visitor with luggage). Unless one of you tell me otherwise?

Between Myeong-dong, Apgujeong, Itaewon, Gangnam, Hapjeong, and Gongdeok, where would you stay at for three days?

Here's an example of a cool "independent retail" that I'm drawn to (it's in Apgujeong):

http://mskshop.net//html/newpage.html?code=1

Edited: 22 July 2014, 04:29
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Itaewon
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4. Re: Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

I would say Apgujeong or Gangnam, if you can find a decent place to stay. They are both hip but far less touristy with more independent retailers geared for the fashionable local youth.

By the way, there direct direct limousine buses from ICN to both these places and it should take about an hour without traffic. Both are transport hubs so getting to other parts of Seoul should be easy.

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5. Re: Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

Awesome, thanks for the tip—looks like Apgujeong might be the way to go!

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6. Re: Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

Personally, I don't see Gangnam/Apgujeong/Sinsadong/Cheongdam as being creative/arty hubs, more about shopping and spending money, although you will find the kind of clothes stores you posted a link to there. You might want to check out the Seoul branch of 10 Corso Como in Cheongdam.

Don't rule out student areas, Hapjeong/Hongdae isn't just for teens. Plenty of street art and independent cafes & bars around the university. Have to agree with Daehangno as well.

I'd check out Haebangchon (HBC) instead of Itaewon if you want to meet some expats, hang out in Craftwork Taphouse (microbrewery) when you can't drink any more Korean beer!

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Hongdae Guesthouse
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Seoul Daehangno
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7. Re: Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

Hello Debb199, yes yes -- 10 Corso Como is on my list of places to visit, heard a lot about this store!

Speaking of Hapjeong/Hongdae, are the cute stores and restaurants hidden in the sidestreets? Is there a "hub" or all spread out around the subway stations? Any tips of exploring would be appreciated!

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Hongdae Guesthouse
Hongdae Guesthouse
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Daejeon, South Korea
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8. Re: Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

Hongdae covers quite a large area and is packed with restaurants, bars and shops. If you take the subway to Honggik Uni station and come out of exit 9 (I think, the exit numbers changed with the opening of the AREX station, but follow the crowds!) and you'll come out by KFC and the start of the bars/restaurants/shops.

If you follow the pedestrianised alley bearing right, you will come out on a road which leads uphill to the university with lots of cafes and bars. The Saturday market selling art and handicrafts is in a park by the uni.

Or go straight across that road into another semi-pedestrianised street full of little clothes and accessories shops, bars and places to eat with lots of little side alleys to explore. One of my favourite bars - Ba Da is here, it doesn't look like much from the outside and the stairs are pretty narrow and rickety, but being able to sit on the rooftop with a beer makes it worthwhile! Another one popular with expats is Vinyl across the road from the uni, with cocktails in plastic bags. Everyone talks about the dog cafe (Bau House) in Hongdae, but thnot so much about the sheep cafe! It's on the hill leading up to the uni, I think it's called Nature Cafe.

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9. Re: Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

Debb199, you're quite the expert! These are awesome tips, can't wait to explore the neighborhoods.

I've also made up my mind and will be staying at an AirBnB in Apgujeong :)

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10. Re: Best Neighborhood for Art/Design/Books/Coffee/Shopping?

Sinsadong is interesting, many coffee shops with well dressed young people, midrange Korean fashion, stylish stores, lots of restaurants in the back of Main Street, it is a hot trendy area with nice cars crusing the tree lined street.