Yongsan (용산) is in Seoul's geographic center, sandwiched between Seoul's two major cultural and economic centers, Gangnam and Jongno/Jung. The main area of interest here for travelers is Itaewon, the most international and foreigner-friendly neighborhood in Seoul, and one of the only places where you can find authentic Mexican, Turkish, Middle Eastern, and Indian food on the entire peninsula. It has Korea's largest mosque, markets hawking souvenirs and cheap t-shirts, Turkish ice cream parlors, and a nightlife scene dominated by foreigners. This may be partly due to the presence of the nearby US military base, which is also in Yongsan. Other attractions include the National Museum of Korea, the War Memorial Museum, and the Yongsan Electronics Market, a huge building selling gadgets at a steep discount.
For the time being, Yongsan is relatively quiet compared to its northern and southern neighbors, with many one and two storey houses covering rolling hills and the southern side of Namsan. However, things may soon change; the US military base is moving to a different location, and talks are underway on the construction of Yongsan International Business District, an ambitious $28.8 billion project involving dozens of skyscrapers, including a 665m centerpiece, making it the second tallest in the world after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. If and when this project goes through, it would utter transform the urban landscape of Seoul, not to mention Yongsan itself.
Itaewon Station is on Line 6 (Brown). All exits empty out onto the main drag. The subway does stop running early, so if you are hitting the bars, plan on finding another way home or staying out all night.
- Namsan Park, 3, Namsangongwon-gil,Yongsan-gu. In the center of Seoul and considered a symbol of Seoul. Namsan Park is an ecology-island surrounded by urban districts. In spite of being an urban ecology-island, wild animals live in the park. The mountain filled with pine trees can be seen from almost every corner of the big city and the residents of the areas surrounding the hills enjoy the fresh mountain air.
- The National Museum of Korea, 137, Seobinggo-ro (Metro Line 4 and Jungang Line, Ichon station), ☎ 02-2077-9000. Closed Mondays; Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 9:00 am - 6:00 pm; Wednesday and Saturday: 9:00 am - 9:00 pm; Sundays and holidays: 9:00 am - 7:00 pm. Houses the best of the best collection of artifacts and relics from across Korea throughout different periods and dynasty. Also has some West Asian pieces from the Japanese Governor-General of Korea. Entry to Main Exhibition Hall is free and no tickets are required; entry to Children’s Museum is free but tickets are required. There is a separate charge for the special exhibition in the Special Exhibition Gallery.
- National War Memorial (전쟁기념관), 29, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, 특별시 용산구 이태원로 29 (용산동1가) (Lines 4 and 6, Samgakji station). Closed Mondays. A museum about Korean military history and Korean War. Ancient, Middle Ages, and modern Korean weapons are on display. Also several fighter, bomber, and trainer aircraft which were used during Korean War are on display.
- I'Park Mall e-Sports Stadium (Right at the Metro Line (dark blue) Yongsan stn). For a fascinating look into one of Korea's oddest subcultures, visit the top floor of the I'Park Mall's neighboring Yongsan Electronics Market, where you'll find an e-Stadium. Here, professional video game players duke it out real-time on a enormous screen. Video games in Korea have been elevated into a sport, and there are professional leagues, mostly devoted to Starcraft, with matches that are, in fact, broadcasted on national television. Top players can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in tournament winnings and sponsorships. A fascinating glimpse of Korea's new super-wired digital culture, and definitely one of the more interesting experiences to be had in Seoul.
Tickets to e-Sports in Seoul can often be purchased on the TicketLink website's e-Sports section (in English). Warning: payment must be done using a Windows computer using Internet Explorer and often sell out nearly immediately after going on sale.
- The Spa Grand Hyatt Seoul, Grand Hyatt Seoul Hotel, 747-7 Hannam 2-Dong, Yongsan-Ku, ☎ +82 2 797 1234, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The spa features a variety of massage treatments including a Korean massage, aromatherapy, and aroma stone treatment.
- Yongsan Electronics Market, 125, Cheongpa-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (Metro Line dark blue, Yongsan Station). Yongsan Station is in IMall which is another huge shopping mall with two storeys full of electronics. Without negotiating you can have cheaper prices than amazon.com. Yongsan is one option in Seoul if you are looking for electronics goods. Made up of over 20 buildings housing 5,000 stores, you can find appliances, stereos, computers and peripherals, office equipment, telephones, lighting equipment, electronic games and software, and videos and CDs. A lot of the products are bought in Japan and resold in Korea by dealers. (Decades ago, before Korea had its own electronic manufacturing, the market began selling used goods the vendors would acquire from foreign servicemen.) The market has a reputation for fleecing foreigners, particularly due to its proximity to the Yongsan U.S. Army Base. Be wary as Koreans try to avoid Yongsan for their electronics needs and rely instead on Internet shopping as sellers in Yongsan are not averse to ripping you off if you don't seem to know a lot about electronics. If you go, it's best to bring a Korean guide so you can ensure you're getting a good deal. The problem is no or very poor English. Only Korean warranty. Cash preferred. Before you buy anything, pretend to have decided not to buy it and start to leave: the best prices only come out then. At IMall they add 5% as tax when you pay by Visa. At Yongsan Electroland it depends on the seller. Up to 10% is possible.
- What the Book?, 176-2 Itaewon 1-dong, Yongsan-gu (Itaewon Station exit 1, about 100 meters forward, on the right, on the 2nd floor), ☎ +82 2-797-2342. Probably the best place for English-language books, new or used, in Korea. Also has a good selection of magazines. Will order books for you.
- Indian curries. There are a number of Indian/Pakistani restaurants in Itaewon. A curry is around ₩15,000, and a few do buffets which are around ₩20,000.
- Fast food. Itaewon has a McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Kraze Burger, Quiznos, and Taco Bell.
- Nashville steakhouse. Prices are around ₩25,000.
- Jacoby's, Haebangcheon (Noksapyeong Station, line 5, exit north toward Namsan tunnel. When you reach a large intersection, look for kimchi pots on the left side of the street, next to the Yongsan Garrison wall. Head up that side street, continue walking up the hill. On the right up the street, about 400 m past the kimchi pots). Offers a wide variety of burgers, arguably the best for the value, in Seoul. In an area often known as the foreigner ghetto, a popular area for expats who live just west of Itaewon.
- Pattaya, Itaewon (Itaewon Station, exit 1. Walk 50 m. Turn right at the KFC and walk to the end of the alley. Turn left and walk 70 m past the 3 Alley Pub). Thai restaurant, and perhaps the best in Seoul. With a menu featuring nearly 100 different items, you're bound to find your favorite dishes and make some new ones, too. Stir-fried rice and noodle dishes cost ₩13,000-18,000, while curry pots and stews can run over ₩30,000.
- Richard Copycat's All-American Diner, Itaewon (Itaewon Station, exit 4. Walk straight for 200 m. 2nd floor, Starbucks next to McDonalds). 07:00 - 02:00. Serving authentic greasy American food. Tons of food and drink. The only place that serves authentic Buffalo wings in Seoul. They also serve a great American breakfast. ₩8,000-23,000.
- Smokey Saloon, Itaewon, Apgujeong, Gangnam (Itaewon station, exit 2. Go out the exit and walk 50 m. Turn left at the Hard Rock Cafe and walk 50 m. Turn right and walk 10 m). Featuring a selection of over a dozen authentic American-style hamburgers, freshly made onion rings, and hearty chili-cheese fries, Smokey's is one of the best places to get a taste of the US. Burgers range from ₩5.900 for the "Classic" up to ₩10,000 for the deluxe varieties. Jumbo patties are available for an additional ₩3,000. Burgers can be ordered with fries, coleslaw, and a drink for an additional ₩3,500.
- Zelen, Itaewon (Turn right at the KFC at the Hamilton Hotel. Follow the small alley until the end and turn left. Again walk to the end and take the stairs heading up). Fantastic Bulgarian restaurant featuring lots of stuffed everything - from tomatoes to mushrooms, peppers and chicken breasts. Well-worth it as it is very unique to the dining landscape in Seoul. ₩15,000-20,000.
- Don Charly, 650 Itaewon-Dong, 2nd Fl (Noksapyeong Station, Exit 2, 5-10 mins walk on the main road, look for it in yellow on the 2nd floor on the right side of the street, just past a big Thai restaurant also on the 2nd floor.), ☎ 070-4219-4475, e-mail: email@example.com. dinner hours, sometimes closed for lunch. Emphatically NOT a Tex-Mex place - the front of the menu is a Spanish-language rant on that issue - this little "hole in the wall" will be something different for a lot of people. Portions are small, but that enables you to try a wider variety. Huge tequila menu; the Agavero is strongly recommended for dessert. 10,000₩.
Itaewon is Seoul's international district, with a wide variety of Western-styled venues to eat, drink and be merry. Since many foreigners congregate there, Itaewon remains somewhat of a niche nightlife area for Koreans interested in a more international scene. A number of notable bars and clubs spot the area, both on the main street and in the nearby alleys. Long notorious for being somewhat seedy, with prostitutes plying their trade and alleged (gasp!) drug dealings, Itaewon has become cleaner and more gentrified in recent years. Of course, this is by Korean standards—Western travellers, especially American travellers, will wonder what all the fuss is about. Due to Itaewon's proximity to the nearby United States Army base, many GIs are found here in the evenings and weekends. However, the US army has decided to move the base outside of Seoul within the next few years, so expect regular changes to the area.
Bars and pubs
Many bars in Itaewon celebrate Thursdays as Ladies' Night, which often means that women drink free before 24:00. There are also a few gay bars located two alleys east of the main street, with a mix of clubs and places to drink.
- 3 Alley Pub. Popular with the older expat crowd and in an alley off the street near the Itaewon subway station. Great food and a wide selection of draught beers, though the owners can rub people the wrong way. They have a wide variety of beers and the cuisine is gourmet. Wing night on Tuesday and Quiz night on Thursday for a little variety in your life. Many expats hang out there, good pool table and darts area. The English speaking staff is friendly with a no-nonsense attitude so don't worry about being around a bunch of fools like other places in Itaewon. Try the boot! Have a shot of Jägermeister or Apfelkorn. People have their opinion but all in all, this place is top notch. If you come, order a drink, they just run a tight ship.
- Bless U. Another older expat haunt. You better be good with your pool game or you'll be waiting in a long line to go again. Darts are also available. They have great popcorn and decent draft beers. It changed ownership last year and has been running a tight ship since.
- Dillinger's (in the alley behind Geckos across from Quiznos/Family Mart). Serves draught and bottled beers and good food. Wednesday night is Wing Night, where 10 wings go for 4,000 won. Sports played on a number of big screens, plus lounge/club upstairs.
- Geckos (opposite Quiznos). A relaxed bar scene and good food. Very popular with GIs and expats (and prostitutes seeking customers).
- Helios. Seedy hip-hop club with a bit of a reputation.
- Hollywood (up the road from the Hamilton). A sports bar with a pool table, darts, a golf arcade game and several TVs airing all kinds of sports (including Premier League matches and major sporting events). Reportedly Nigerians and American soldiers have been banned here.
- Metro. A lot of older expats and many Koreans hit up this joint. Only one Korean beer on tap, but free pool. The front (or right side when you go up the stairs) seems to be for the expat crowd, while the back (the left door when you go up the stairs) seems to be more hof style for the Korean crowd. They have the typical range of snacks available and free peanuts for beer drinkers.
- Old Town (Halfway up Hooker Hill). This is the bar/club that gets full when all the bars close. It is at its busiest between 04:00 and 08:00. Hard to miss, as it'll be the place that has everyone lounging around in various states in the very early hours of the morning. Not for the faint-hearted!
- Rocky Mountain Tavern. A Canadian bar for expats living in Korea. East of the main intersection. They have weekly chicken wing specials. Go early. The best place in Seoul to watch hockey.
- The Rose & Crown. London-style pub with great fish and chips and interior decoration. Darts and sports on the big screen available.
- Sam Ryan's Sports Bar& Grill (above the 3 Alley Pub). This is the best sports bar in Seoul for North American sports. It shows numerous sports throughout the year on replay, sometimes live. There are TV's everywhere including the restrooms! Darts in the corner. Kitchen is extraordinary, excellent menu. The drink selection is great, better than most in Itaewon besides the 3 Alley Pub. The English speaking staff is friendly as well, they still run a tight ship though. A terrace in the back enables one to get away from all the noise. Rib night is Tuesday.
- Seoul Pub (on the main street, 2nd floor, opposite the Hamilton Hotel). Cheap beer, good atmosphere, a pool table, darts and Guinness on tap. It is quite dingy though, and badly needs a renovation, so probably a place for a session rather than a quiet pint with the missus!
- Tony's Aussie Bar & Bistro. Australian bar and bistro, owned and run by Tony Le Rhodes, a former member of the Australian band The Choirboys. Aussie food (meat pies, fish and chips, vegemite on toast, plus burgers, etc.) and drink available.
- The Wolfhound Irish Pub & Restaurant (in the alley behind Geckos across from Quiznos/Family Mart). Serves a great selection of draft beers and hearty, homemade meals. Burger, chips, fried breakfast, pies, etc. Tuesday nights are buy one, get one free fish and chips.
For some good house/trance music, try some places such as:
- B1's (around the corner from KFC). An electro house club.
- Club Volume. House/trance club, quite large and a excellent crowd on weekends. It is the best and most upscale club in the neighborhood.
- Del Disco. Reportedly a gay club.
- King Club. Gaudy and a tad sleazy. Located in a seedy part of the neighborhood.
- Pulse. Gay dance club.
- Craftworx (across Haebangchon in the Gyeongnidan area). Find the NOXA bar and walk past it two or three stores down. No pool or darts, but the best on tap beer you'll find in Korea. Seriously.
- Phillies. A bar and grill that has changed ownership several times. Beer prices are par and food is OK.
- Dragon Hill Spa and Resort (드래곤힐스파), Yongsan-gu (From Yongsan Subway/KTX Station Exit 1, turn right and walk about 50 m. Pass under the 24 hr neon clock. If you see a armed military guy peeping out from behind sandbags, you've gone a little too far. Passed by the Seoul City Tour Bus.), ☎ +82 2-792-0001 (Main Desk), +82 18 223-0002 (English). If you have never been to a jjimjilbang then this is perhaps a good place to start. A little on the pricey side for a bathhouse but the premises is modern, gaudily theme-decorated and incredibly tourist-oriented. Extensive signage exists in English, Chinese and Japanese as well as dedicated multilingual staff, even in the dead of night. Has the usual array of spas, saunas, heated sleeping rooms and Korean restaurants plus a small Japanese-style game arcade, screen golf, swimming pool (swimwear required), terrace restaurant and outdoor cinema on the roof. You can also have your photo taken in traditional Korean attire if you so desire. Sleeping mats are in short supply in line with Korea's favorite running gag, but headrest cubes and blankets are unusually available by request from the locker room attendant with a very hefty deposit: be sure to guard them well in the wee hours. All expenses incurred are charged to a wrist tag and paid for upon departure. Oversize luggage storage available and promise of a Capsule Hotel in the near future. This jjimjilbang eschews the usual sauna vs. stay distinction in favor of a simpler ₩12,000 for 12 hr access rule.
- Hamilton Hotel (Next to the Itaewon subway station). A landmark in the heart of the Itaewon shopping district. Nice rooms, stay here to help reduce culture shock.
- Grand Hyatt Seoul, 747-7 Hannam 2-Dong, Yongsan-Ku, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Set amidst landscaped gardens with good views over the city. Full service spa.
As with elsewhere in the capital, there are plenty of PC Rooms available.