The five places in Seoul you're not partying at - yet

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When it comes to partying, Hongdae or Itaewon are the two areas that come to mind. They cater to foreigners, offer cheap drink specials, and are the places to see lots of other foreigners. If you're tired of being catered to, however, here are 5 areas where the locals go to get their party on.

As a general rule, you won't stay out partying all night unless you're in Hongdae or Itaewon. Enough of those places stay open until the subways start up again, but few places in other areas will. If you're deadset on taking the first morning subway home, however, it can be done. Another thing to remember: most places will have tables and booths for groups. A couple will be fine, but you'll have a better time with a larger group - say, 4 to 6 people.

Kondae - AKA Konkuk University

A university area like Hongdae, the area offers a little bit of everything. Plenty of young people are dressed to party, while some are just there to hang out with friends. Street food, vendors, and saju / tarot (fortune telling) tents are set up right across from Dunkin Donuts and Adidas stores. The sidewalk along the main street is crowded and uneven, so be careful walking. A shortening of 'Konkuk' and 'Daehakgyo', or university, Kondae wins lots of points for one of the best selections of restaurants in Seoul outside of Itaewon. As with other places, street walking offers some of the best entertainment - and views. Dance clubs are rare (try Gaephan - turn right out of exit 1), but most seem happy enough walking around, meeting up, and eating or drinking the night away.

Get away from the main road to find dozens of restaurants and watering holes. Donzzolla offers reasonably-priced Korean food, albeit with an emphasis towards cutlets of different kinds. Somri Chicken is out to please, Little Beijing offers some good Chinese, but a place called Oxen wins the 'best display' award - few things in life beat seeing a life-size cow on display. Being a drinking area, greasy 삼겹살 (samgyeopsal) and 돼지갈비 (dwaeji galbi) are also commonly found. Be aware that some places require a minimum number of servings to be dished out at a table - usually the signs will be the best indicators, so keep your eyes open. Konkuk University subway station, line 2, exit 2, - make a U-turn, then turn right to find the side road.

Nowon

Northern Seoul isn't to be left out - afterhours restaurants and street vendors take over the sidewalk in some places. It's not the place for clubs or dancing, but the people watching is excellent on the culture street nearest exit 1 or 2. Alternatively, walk out exit 9 or 10, grab some street food, and meander around the shopping areas. Get off the main road and you'll find some of the restaurants and bars. There isn't a 'must-visit' place, but the area as a whole makes for good exploring. Just don't get too far away from the subway station or you'll find yourself in an apartment concrete jungle.

The occasional performance resonates from a street stage, where crowds make the sidewalk their sitting area. A foreigner-friendly bar is also in the area (exit 1, turn right once at street level, first left just before Buy The Way, walk 50 meters and look right for the Metropolis sign). You might not stay out all night, but you might be having so much fun that you'll miss the last subway. There's plenty of buses and taxis in the area, though. Nowon subway station, line 4, exit 1.

Jonggak

The downtown area by City Hall is a great place to take in flashy lights, neon signs, and more than enough restaurants or watering holes. The crowd tends to be older and more likely to wear a suit, but there's plenty of younger people around as well. The underground shopping district can be interesting, but that closes a bit earlier than the subway does. A few 24-hour restaurants are around, although you're unlikely to stay out all night partying. Make this a stop along the way to Dongdaemun's all-night shopping zone. Jonggak, line 1, exit 4, turn right after the Dunkin Donuts.

Hyehwa / Daehangno

One of the best places in Seoul to take a date, the ubiquitous coffeehouses and restaurants eventually give way to the dozens of theaters and performances (all in Korean, of course). While you'll see a foreigner or two walking the main street towards the rotary, get away from the main drag to explore what the locals see. Few bars and no dance clubs means you'll probably catch the subway home instead of party the night away. The crowd is young, however, and lots of couples call this area a favorite to meander. If you'd rather drink coffee than beer, this may become a favorite place. The theaters don't offer much in English, but buy a ticket for a theater performance and try to figure out what's happening - or make up a story as the show goes on. Hyehwa station, line 4.

Sincheon (Jamsil)

You may be familiar with the Sinchon area near Ewha and Yonsei, but Sincheon is on the opposite side of line 2, a stop away from Jamsil. Plenty of restaurants, arcades, and bars will offer a good time for your hard-earned won. Don't mix Tekken 6 with beer, though - most arcades frown on drinking while playing. If you're looking to stay out all night, there's a handful of restaurants open 24 hours - along with a good selection of love motels. If interested in people-watching, this is an entertaining place to watch bikki (club advertisers) work their 'magic'. Sincheon station, line 2, exit 4.


Honorable mention goes to Bucheon - a mere two subway stops from Seoul's western border, the city has a lot of life once you get away from the shopping area surrounding the subway station. Take yourself to Bucheon station (line 1), take exit 2, then hop on bus 23-2 or take a taxi to the main bar / club district, not far from Bucheon's City Hall. Several blocks worth of neon run parallel to the main road. If you like chicken and beer, there are more than enough to satiate your craving. The foreigner-friendly Rhythm and Booze (some excellent food, by the way) is around, but if trying to find a party gets to be more work than it's worth. Unless you live on the western side of Seoul, a taxi ride may be more expensive than a night at a nearby love motel. There aren't many around, but they're nice. Bucheon station, line 1, exit 2.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe - 2010

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