Hongdae is one of the most popular areas in Seoul. Usually when you hear about ‘must visit’ areas the list begins with Myeongdong, Gangnam, and Hongdae.
Where Myeongdong and Gangnam are popular for the vast amounts of shopping that they have to offer, Hongdae excels in other areas. Although it does offer great shopping too, it also has Seoul’s best entertainment options.
In my post today, I want to ask the question: what makes Hongdae so special? Further, is it really a place that you should visit when you come to Seoul? I want to address these questions and discuss why Hongdae is so popular with both travellers and locals alike. Not only is it one of the most lively areas in Seoul, but it’s also the entertainment heart of Seoul.
I recently wrote about Seomyeon and how it is, in many ways, the Hongdae of Busan. While writing that article though, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even covered Hongdae on Seoulinspired yet!
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How to Get to Hongdae
Hongdae can be found on the western side of Seoul’s Line 2 (green line) loop. This loop covers much of the central area of Seoul and is one of the most used metro lines in the city. If you want to learn more about Seoul’s public transport system, I recently wrote about it in a post.
What often confuses people is that Hongdae is NOT officially named Hongdae. The actual subway station is named ‘Hongik University Station‘. Hongdae is an interesting shortened name that Koreans tend to use as it is easier to say. Hong (short for Hongik) dae (short for daehagyo which means ‘university’).
Hongdae can be reached in around 40 minutes to one hour from all of the best places to stay in Seoul. From Myeongdong and Dongdaemun it’s around a 40 minute journey, and from Gangnam it’s around the same. From more central areas such as Hohyeon (Namdaemun Market) and Seoul Station, it’s about 25 minutes away.
Once you reach Hongik University Station, there are many different station exits and each will take you to a different area. Generally, you will want to exit from Exit 9 as this will take you to the main street of Hongdae and the majority of the attractions.
To reach the main street of Hongdae, simply follow the directions on the map above. After exiting from Exit 9, walk straight until you find the second left turn (the first should be directly outside the station). Turn left and proceed down Hongik-Ro. From there, you will come across one intersection, continue past until you reach the second intersection. This is the heart of Hongdae!
Hongdae has a ton of different activities and that is what makes it one of the most popular areas of the city – especially for younger generations. Hongdae has nearly every kind of entertainment that you can imagine, from escape rooms all the way to the famous Trickeye Museum.
Whether you visit at day or night, Hongdae will be lively. While there are many famous cafes and daytime activities in the area, it’s also one of the most well-known nightlife districts in the city. It is filled with bars, clubs, and karaoke.
While this list doesn’t list everything that Hongdae has to offer (that would be impossible, there is simply so much to see and do!), I hope that it can give you a good indication of some of the most popular activities in the area.
There is no denying that cafes have a unique place in Korean culture. From flower cafes such as Jeffrey Cafe to rooftop cafes such as Cafe Seoulism, cafe culture in Korea holds a special place in the hearts of locals.
Hongdae is no exception – it has some of the most famous cafes in all of Seoul. Hongdae is also particularly well known for the different animal cafes that it has. Want to enjoy your coffee with some sheep nearby? Sure! What about meerkats? Done!
Meerkat Friends is perhaps the most famous cafe in the area. As you can probably guess, this cafe is famous for the meerkats that call it home. However, the cafe also houses a range of other animals from arctic foxes to wallabies. Although I personally prefer other cafes, this is a very popular place to visit in Hongdae.
Another very popular cafe in the area is the raccoon cafe. This cafe is home to not only four raccoons, but also to many other animals. There are a lot of different cats and dogs that roam the cafe, as well as snakes, lizards, and all sorts of other animals.
If you would prefer to stay away from the less furry animals then it’s definitely possible. The snakes and lizards are included in their own room, and it’s easy enough to avoid this area if you would prefer.
Of course, there are also a ton of other cafes in Hongdae. It’s impossible to list them all here! If you want to experience all of the cafes that Hongdae has to offer I imagine you would need to spend weeks in the area.
Other than cafes, Hongdae has a lot to offer. Besides shopping and nightlife (which I will discuss soon!), some of the most popular activities in Hongdae are escape rooms, museums (but not the boring kind), and to just generally explore.
Escape rooms can be found all over Korea, but the biggest chain of them, and the escape rooms with the best English translations are mostly found in Hongdae. If you are unfamiliar with escape rooms, they are rooms in which you get locked and you have one hour to escape.
The rooms are a great way to enjoy some time with friends, and I would recommend them if you enjoy mysteries. While they are a bit costly, there are a ton of different settings to enjoy, and Hongdae alone has tens of different escape rooms.
There are also many unique attractions in the area such as the Trickeye Museum. This is a popular ‘museum’ that is filled with different optical illusions and makes for a great place to take pictures. If you are looking for the perfect Instagram photos, then this is the place to check out!
Shopping is fantastic in Seoul, and Hongdae is no exception. Although Gangnam and Myeongdong are often better for brand-name products (and shopping malls such as Lotte Mall, Shinsegae and Hyundai), Hongdae is a great location for shopping for non-brand products.
University areas are great for cheaper shopping in Korea. I recently discussed Sungshin Women’s University shopping area and the great shopping there, and Ewha Women’s University also has many great shopping options. Hongdae is very similar in this respect.
The streets are lined with hundreds of different stores. While these stores vary greatly in what they sell, you can expect to find tons of different clothing, accessory, and souvenir stores. The best part is that most of these are relatively cheap and affordable.
While everyone can shop in this area, there is no denying that it is focused at teenagers and young adults. This is often the case with university shopping areas in Seoul, as these areas try to aim most of their goods at students. While you can find children’s and adults shopping in Hongdae also, there is the most on offer for teenagers and students.
Korea has one of the best food cultures in the world, and Korean food is loved worldwide. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Hongdae is perhaps the epitome of this food culture, and it has the largest variety of food available in the city.
While there are hundreds (and probably thousands) of restaurants, I recommend that you try the street food. Korea is also famous for street food, and there is an incredible variety in Hongdae. While some other areas are famouclus for street food (such as Gwangjang Market), Hongdae is also a great area to experience such foods.
If you would prefer to stick to restaurants then you are still in luck. You can find nearly every food that you can imagine in Hongdae. Whether you want Korean food or foreign food, you will be able to find it in Hongdae.
What Hongdae is most famous for is its night life. While there are multiple popular nightlife districts in Seoul, Hongdae is not only the most popular but also the biggest. Generally, nightlife in Hongdae is enjoyed by younger crowds, where older groups move to Itaewon and Gangnam.
That isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy Hongdae if you are a bit older, however, it is something to note. Whether you want bars, clubs, or just to enjoy some late-night cafes or karaoke, you can find it all here. However, the downside is that Hongdae can be very busy.
You will find the biggest variety of clubs in the city in Hongdae. As mentioned previously, Itaewon and Gangnam also have some. The clubs in Hongdae are generally cheaper though as they are aimed at younger people. They also tend to be the loudest and busiest.
If you would prefer to just stick to bars then there is also a big variety. While great bars (and especially Korean bars) can be found nearly everywhere in the city, perhaps the biggest concentration of them can be found here.
On the other hand, if you want to enjoy the nightlife in Hongdae without alcohol, then there is also a large range of activities. Most stores and activities in Hongdae will be open until at least 10 or 11 pm, and some will be open even later.
Another big attraction of the area for many people are the street performers. On almost any given day, you will be able to find tens of performers out and about in Hongdae. Really, the only exception to this is when it’s raining, and even then there will usually be performers out and about.
Most of these performances can be found on the main Hongdae street (shown on the map at the start of this article), and you can find anything from singers to dancers to magicians. At times, there will even be Kpop groups or other famous people performing.
Many people will stay around to enjoy these performances and many of them will quickly attract large crowds. Often, there will be performances right next to each other and it’s hard to find an area without them!
These bring a lot of life to the area and it’s one of the biggest attractions of Hongdae. These performances are free to enjoy, and there is no where else in Seoul that offers street performances – especially to the scale and number that there are here!
While Hongdae is a lively and fun area, it is worth noting a few things before you decide to stay there. Firstly, the area can be loud, and it will almost always be busy. Although earlier weeknights may be relatively quiet, on Thursday-Sunday nights there is no sleep in Hongdae.
Secondly, it may not be the best place to stay as a family. While this is a personal preference, when my family was here I recommended that they stay elsewhere simply because Hongdae can be very loud and it also has a lot of drunk people after dark. If you are looking for somewhere to stay as a family, check out this article on the best places to stay in Seoul.
If you are staying in the area I would recommend making sure you stay away from the main road. There are a few great accommodation options that are close enough to the main road so that it can be easily reached within a few minutes. However, they are also far enough away that you can avoid the majority of the noise and crowds.
If you are looking for a budget-friendly place to stay then you can check out the Hongdae Kimchee Guesthouse. This guesthouse is very popular, and while I haven’t stayed there myself, I always see reviews and comments mentioning it on Facebook travel groups.
The guesthouse is located close to all of the action in Hongdae and is also located very close to the subway station. On top of this, it isn’t just budget-friendly, but rather very cheap if you don’t mind staying in a larger room. Some of the dorm rooms start incredibly cheap!
If you would prefer to stay in a hotel, the Hongstay in Hongdae is a great choice. This hotel not only offers great options for smaller groups, but it’s also ideal for families and larger travelling groups. They offer quadruple bedrooms as well as rooms for 6 adults or large families.
The Hongstay is located just over 100 metres from the subway station and this makes it exceptionally easy to navigate to and from. The rooms are affordable, especially if you are travelling as a larger group.
Finally, if you are looking for the most luxurious option, or if you are travelling as an even larger group (or a group that wants more privacy), check out the Donggyo 101. This accommodation in Hongdae provides the customers with a full-sized apartment for the duration of their stay.
There are many beds and multiple rooms in the apartments and it is a great choice for anyone who would prefer more privacy or people who want to have the best accommodation during their stay. It is located within easy walking distance of the subway station.
Conclusion – Seoul’s Most Dynamic Area
While it’s fair to say that Seoul has many hearts – one could argue for Gangnam, Myeongdong, Seoul Station, or many other areas as being the ‘centre’ of the city, Hongdae also deserves a place on this list. Especially for younger people in the city, Hongdae is the most lively part of the city.
I think it is also fair to say though, that nowhere is as dynamic, fast-paced and exciting as Hongdae. While it isn’t for everyone, the people that enjoy the area generally love it and it quickly becomes one of their favourite places in all of Korea.
If you haven’t yet had the chance to visit then I would highly recommend it. Even if you don’t enjoy the area, it’s worth visiting so that you can make your own conclusions about it. If you are spending some time in Busan, also consider checking out Seomyeon, the entertainment heart of the city!