When planning a trip to Seoul, be prepared to throw your typical weekday bedtime in the trash. No, seriously. Going to Seoul without experiencing Seoul at night, is like going to Italy and not eating pizza. I’ve never been to Italy nor eaten the pizza there, but I think most would agree that that would be absolutely insane, and on the verge of offensive.
Save some of that sacred energy exerted during the day for some night-time exploration. It’s magical to watch Seoul transform into a totally different city at night. The lights are brighter, the streets busier, the people more lively. Deeper than these visible traits, the energy shift is palpable.
I had the chance to visit Korea last month and re-exeperience all of these things that made me fall in love with Korea in the first place. I also experienced many new places, that prove Seoul is a city with endless discoveries waiting around every corner. Here are some of my favourite places to experience Seoul, at night.
When I said there was something new to discover in Seoul around every corner, I meant this literally. There are so many tiny streets and little alleyways, it would be a shame not to explore them. We stumbled across this neighbourhood, Ikseon-dong, by doing exactly this. From the outside, it just looked like a main road across the street from our hotel. However, upon walking down one of the side roads, we were greeted by maze-like alleyways, only wide enough for pedestrians and the occasional scooter.
Filled with old traditional Korean houses, some still serving their original purpose, while others have been transformed into hip cafes, restaurants, or guest houses. Walking these tiny streets, especially at night, was nothing short of enchanting. It felt like a tiny oasis smacked right in the middle of Seoul, hidden away from the large sky scrapers. We later found out that this is a new ‘hip’ area, and it was quite easy to see why.
An artsy neighbourhood with painters, sculptors, and jewellers hard at work. Safe to say, this is my new favourite neighbourhood in Seoul.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
It’s at night, that this well-known (some would describe as strange) architectural landmark lights up. Literally, it does light up- giving it more depth and character than its usual silver silhouette that sits against the backdrop of Seoul during the day. It also lights up with energy, as it transforms into a hub for events and markets at night.
During our visit, we were lucky enough to catch the Summer Bamdokkaebi Night Market, which hosts many stalls selling handmade goods, as well as a variety of food trucks. A great place to just wander and take in the surroundings, with no shortage of seating available to just sit back and relax.
Only a short walk from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, this 10 kilometre stretch of stream has a lengthy history. From being a place where people congregated and lived after the Korean war, to an urban renewal project- where they tore down the highway that had been constructed directly above it. Now, it is a recreation space filled with nature, tranquility, and many hidden gems to discover along this 10 kilometre stretch.
Water and light shows, art exhibits, night markets, festivals, and more. These are some of the types of things you can expect to find along this stream. Whether you’re looking for a scenic walk or somewhere to sit down and eat some kimbap like a local, this place will surely tick all the boxes, especially at night.
You’re probably getting tired of me saying “Seoul comes alive at night”. So, heres a different one. The other places on this list certainly do come alive at night, whereas Bukchon village, does the opposite. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds and snap some people-free photos, this is the time to come here. A ‘Hanok’ village- meaning traditional Korean style homes, built on scenic, hilly roads. It is a residential area, with people still living these homes, so ‘shh’, at night! (Or any time of day, there are many signs reminding tourists.)
A bonus is that the village is directly above the neighbourhood of Samcheong-dong, a somewhat touristy area, but filled with photogenic restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops, that are definitely worth a look.
A pedestrian square filled with rows of statues, sat right in between two lanes of opposing traffic. You’ll also find the original entrance gate to Gyeongbokgung palace, but don’t make our same mistake- the palace closes at 5pm! This is a place more for history buffs and statue lovers, although there are occasional festivals and performances held in the square. With the glow of the mountains acting as a photogenic backdrop for the statues, its the perfect place for around sundown.
This is a completely un-exhaustive list, with so many more places worthy of a visit in Seoul at night. If you’re into shopping and street food- Myeongdong will scratch that itch. Buskers, young crowds and live music- check out Hongdae. Foreign food and sports bars- definitely Itaewon.
It was strange being back in my second home, that is technically no longer my “home” anymore. I reminisced on fond memories, and made many new ones. Re-experiencing Seoul at night was no less special than the first, second, or tenth time, and I encourage, (and gently warn) all potential visitors to Seoul: adjust your bedtime accordingly.