“Seoul, a city where dreams are made and adventures begin.” ~ Unknown.

Wondering where to stay in Seoul? With most blogs and guide books recommending the same one-size-fits-all neighbourhood when staying in Seoul, it can be confusing to determine if that will be right for you after a long day exploring South Korea’s capital.

I’ll preface this Seoul accommodation guide by saying while plenty of other sites have shared these kinds of round-ups, I find them to be a little disingenuous. How could the author honestly recommend a list of hotels they’ve not personally stayed in?

Fear not my newfound friend. I’m someone who can genuinely speak about staying in multiple hotels across multiple Seoul neighbourhoods, because I’ve actually done it. There are just some things you can only know once you have stayed there!

Where to Stay in Seoul for First Time Visitors | The Invisible Tourist

Having recently spent an exciting time uncovering the historical and cultural sides of Seoul, I learnt many pro’s and con’s about staying in each neighbourhood as I explored all the sights you’ll want to add to your Seoul itinerary. And I’m about to share them all with you.

If you’ve followed me a little while you’ll know I travel for the love of travel, not for free hotel stays. After all, I travelled for 9 years before I even started this blog. I pay my own way and decided to put this article together to help you determine the best area to stay in Seoul based on your unique preferences!

In order to blend in when travelling, not only is it important to know the do’s and don’ts in South Korea, but also the location of where you stay. For me, a property needs to be close to transportation, clean, and within a reasonable walking distance to major sights and eateries before I narrow down based on the price. Does this sound like you, too?

Whether you’re searching for the best hotels in Seoul for first time visitors, or the best neighbourhoods in Seoul to stay for subsequent trips, learn my honest truths about top hotels in each area by reading on for more!

Map of Where to Stay in Seoul Korea for First Time Visitors | The Invisible Tourist
Map of Where to Stay in Seoul Korea

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Honest Advice for Where to Stay in Seoul for First Time Visitors | The Invisible Tourist
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NOTE: Throughout this tried-and-tested guide for where to stay in Seoul South Korea, I do make some comparisons to neighbourhoods in Tokyo as a majority of my readers are planning to visit/have visited Japan’s capital. If you are planning a trip there too, my guide to where to stay in Tokyo will help you out!

Where to stay in Seoul South Korea: Best areas & neighbourhoods

In true invisible tourist fashion, I can share the pro’s and cons for everywhere I have stayed to help you narrow down accomodations in Seoul you should seriously consider. Here is a quick summary:

 • Bukchon Hanok Village  Bonum 1957 Hanok & Boutique Bukchon →
 • Myeongdong  L7 Hotel Myeongdong →
 • Hongdae  9 Brick Hotel Hongdae →
 • Insadong   Hotel Nine Tree Premier Insadong →
 • Incheon Airport  Best Western Premier Incheon Airport →
 • Gangnam  L7 Hotel Gangnam →
 • Itaewon  Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel Itaewon → 

Disclaimer: I paid for each of these hotels with my own money and am reviewing them unbeknownst to the hotel owners, management or staff.

 

So, what is the best neighbourhood in Seoul? While this may come as a surprise, I believe Myeongdong is not the best area to stay in Seoul – I’ll explain why down the page. And if you’re interested, here’s why I personally don’t choose Airbnb and similar services.

All within the mid-range price bracket (3 – 4 star hotels), the following accommodations are ideal whether you’re visiting Seoul for the first time or a repeat visitor. Each has their own private ensuites (as others can be shared in a common area), and Western-style beds.

I’ve included nearest subway stations, points of interest, what type of traveller each hotel is best suited to, if a convenience store is nearby and any additional info. 

TIP: These hotels for what area to stay in Seoul are in no particular order, however I’ve saved the best for second last!

With that said, let’s take a look at my suggestions for the best hotels in Seoul.

Bonum 1957 Hanok & Boutique, Bukchon

When asking myself, “Where should I stay in Seoul for the first time?”, my research kept coming back here. As its name suggests, Bonum 1957 Hotel is at the doorstep of the famed Bukchon Hanok Village.

Surrounded by traditional hanok buildings, steep streets with viewpoints of Namsan Tower and Gyeongbokgung Palace, it feels as though you’re in the “Little Kyoto” of Seoul in this residential area.

While I have experienced homestay accommodation in Japan a few times in the past, I personally prefer hotels with modern touches and opted for the Balcony Room. While the room was still in a traditional style, it offered amazing views of Namsan Tower with a modern private ensuite. 

Bukchon Hanok Village is the best place to stay in Seoul if you enjoy a quiet area for a good night’s sleep and would love to learn more about Korean culture through nearby local experiences.

Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul South Korea

Pro’s of Bonum 1957 Hotel

  • Nearest Station/s: 8 mins walk from Anguk Station Exit 2.
  • Points of interest: Gorgeous, easy location for exploring Bukchon Hanok Village, especially if you want early photos without crowds (it begins to get busy around 9am in winter, earlier in the warmer months). 
  • Best suited for: Couples, Solo Travel, Business
  • Nearby convenience store: Nice 2 CU convenience store directly across the road.
  • Room tips: If your budget allows, opt for the Balcony Room with lovely views over the inner garden and Namsan Tower.
  • Other info: Wooden traditional style room with modern touches, comfy bed and pillows. Super quiet location for a good night’s sleep.

Con’s of Bonum 1957 Hotel

  • No lift/elevator, need to carry luggage up 2 flights of stairs.
  • There are some small cafes across the road, however they close around 5pm. Not much else around by way of eateries at night, which is why it’s quiet. Need to go closer to Anguk Station or its 7-Eleven nearby.
  • The older building means we can’t flush toilet paper due to old pipes. Not a deal breaker for me, but just don’t forget – more about this at the conclusion of this Seoul accommodation guide!

L7 Hotel, Myeongdong

Where to stay in Seoul for first timers? Myeongdong is the most usual response as it’s comparable to the Shibuya or Shinjuku of Seoul, and L7 Hotel Myeongdong ticked all the boxes for this area.

Myeongdong is trendy, illuminated by flashing signboards at night, bustling with socks shops and other variety goods. It’s the best location to stay in Seoul for nightlife. It’s also home to one of Seoul’s best street food stalls and markets, Myeongdong Night Market. It’s perfect to eat your way around this area for dinner!

Most guides for where to stay in Seoul will list Myeongdong for first-time visitors as an absolute must, however I personally preferred Insadong and wish I spent longer there instead. More on why down the page.

Myeongdong is one of the best areas to stay in Seoul for nightlife
Myeongdong Night Market

Pro’s of L7 Hotel Myeongdong

  • Nearest Station/s: 3 mins walk Myeongdong Station Exit 9.
  • Points of interest: Excellent, central location. Convenience store, shops, street markets all within a few minutes’ walk.
  • Best suited for: Couples, Solo Travel, Business
  • Nearby convenience store: 7-Eleven is right downstairs and an enormous Daiso tower right across the street.
  • Room tips: Absolutely loved the views of Namsan out my window. It was lovely to wake up to each morning, and see illuminated at night from the comfort of my room.
  • Other info: Plenty of day tours and group tours meet at and depart from Myeongdong Station so it’s handy to stay within walking distance.

Con’s of L7 Hotel Myeongdong

  • I booked Hollywood Double Room, but it was clearly a Twin Room as they pushed the beds together to make a double. This isn’t usually an issue but meant I had to climb into the middle of the bed every time I wanted to turn the master light switch on/off. The light switches would have been better elsewhere in the room.

9 Brick Hotel, Hongdae

Looking for where to stay in Seoul on a budget? Hongdae is a trendy, university area akin to Tokyo’s Harajuku. It’s one of the places to visit in Seoul with plenty of little boutiques selling streetwear, women’s clothing and accessories, phone accessory stores, etc.

Hongdae Street features international brands such as Nike and H&M just a few moments from 9 Brick Hotel.

Hongdae is ideal as a last stop on your South Korea itinerary because there is direct access to the AREX (Airport Railroad Express service) to Incheon and Gimpo Airports (about 1 hour away).

Pro’s of 9 Brick Hotel Hongdae

  • Nearest Station/s: 8 mins walk from Hongik University Station Exit 9.
  • Points of interest: Hongdae Street for international brands, Hongdae Weekend Night Market just around the corner.
  • Best suited for: Couples, Solo Travel, Budget
  • Nearby convenience store: GS25 and 7-Eleven convenience stores are on the same street, and a Paris Baguette about 8 mins walk away.
  • Room tips: Ask for a room on a higher floor for a better outlook. 
  • Other info: Cheaper price than hotels located more centrally (more on this below).

Con’s of 9 Brick Hotel Hongdae

  • I stayed in Room 304. Not sure if it’s the same in every room, but there was a set of three stairs to walk down inside the room, meaning I had to carry my suitcase down and up. It may not be ideal for those with mobility issues. It wasn’t a massive deal to me personally, but tedious if your luggage is heavy from all the shopping as mine was!
  • Quite a distance from many of the main sights. Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung Palaces are about 40 mins away by train, while Gangnam and the National Korean War Museum are about an hour away by train each way.
  • Travelling with the peak hour traffic flow on the subway in both morning and afternoon rather than against it, which isn’t ideal. But I guess this is why it can be a more affordable budget option.

Hotel Ninetree Premier, Insadong

Wondering where to stay in Seoul for a week? I could easily have stayed longer at Hotel Ninetree Premier, Insadong!

Crammed with little antique shops, tea houses, art galleries, pottery boutiques and narrow laneways surrounding a beloved and lesser-known temple amongst foreign visitors, Insadong can be likened to being the “Yanaka Ginza” of Seoul.

Insadong is one of the ideal, central and best places to stay in Seoul for those who enjoy learning about history, culture and tradition. 

If you’re planning to follow my 7 days in Seoul itinerary, Insadong will be more central than Myeongdong for visiting the places I recommend. I ended up passing through Anguk Station when staying in Myeongdong most of the time, anyway!

Jogyesa Temple at Night in Insadong, Seoul
Jogyesa Temple, Insadong

Pro’s of Hotel Ninetree Insadong

  • Nearest Station/s: 3 mins walk from Anguk Station Exit 6. 
  • Points of interest: Across from the breathtaking Jogyesa Temple, with stunning views any time of day but especially in the evening. About 10 mins walk to Ikseondong Hanok Village (not to be confused with Bukchon). This is a cute area where old hanok have been converted into cafes, little boutiques and antique shops. A popular spot with young locals but lesser-known amongst foreign visitors.
  • Best suited for: Couples, Solo Travel, Business
  • Nearby convenience store: Paris Baguette is about 5 mins walk away, GS25 on the north side of Anguk Station.
  • Room tips: Ask for a room with a view of Jogyesa Temple when booking.
  • Other info: Rooms were modern and walls decorated with beautiful hanji (traditional Korean paper), which was a nice touch. Easy self check out at dedicated kiosks. Loved the free luggage lockers to store my suitcase before I was able to check in!

Con’s of Hotel Ninetree Insadong

  • Honestly, I didn’t really have any. It was a great little room and my favourite of all the hotels I stayed in!

TIP: It’s also possible to do an overnight stay at Jogyesa Temple itself, be sure to read more here if you’re interested.

View from Hotel Ninetree Insadong, Seoul

Jogyesa Temple, Insadong

Ikseongdong Hanok Village near Insadong, Seoul
Sights around the Insadong neighbourhood

Best Western Premier Incheon Airport Hotel Seoul

Where to stay in Seoul for one night? As Incheon Airport is located about one hour outside of central Seoul, if your flight arrives late at night as mine did (10pm), an airport hotel is a wise idea.

I chose Best Western Premier Incheon Airport for its affordable price and close proximity to the airport terminal. For my first time in Seoul, I also didn’t want to have to navigate late night public transportation into the city for over an hour after my 10 hour flight.

Why not just chill there for your first night, recharge and journey into the city for a fresh start the following morning?

Where to stay in Seoul for one night? Best Western Premier Incheon Airport fits the bill
View from my room at Best Western Premier Incheon Airport, Seoul

Pro’s of Best Western Premier Incheon Airport

  • Nearest Station/s: From the terminal, it only costs about 7000 won (5 USD/8 AUD) to get to the hotel in a taxi. Otherwise it’s 20 mins walk from Terminal 1.
  • Points of interest: Free hotel bus back to the airport saved me calling a taxi the following morning. The bus comes about every 30 mins. Check their timetable at the reception desk the night before. That was super handy to then take the AREX train from the airport into central Seoul. 
  • Best suited for: Couples, Solo Travel, Business, Budget
  • Nearby convenience store: 7-Eleven is about 5 mins walk.
  • Room tips: Rooms are basic, but good views of the sunrise and planes coming into land. Just ask for a runway-facing room when booking.
  • Other info: If you have the time, it’s right next to the popular Paradise City Plaza shopping mall. 

Con’s of Best Western Premier Incheon Airport

  • Didn’t really have any, was a fair price and welcome when arriving late at night. It would also be ideal if your flight home from Seoul leaves early the following morning.

What about staying in Gangnam or Itaewon?

As I haven’t stayed in these areas yet, I can’t share any personal anecdotes to solidify my recommendations. I didn’t base myself in Gangnam or Itaewon when planning my first trip to Seoul as I felt they were a little too far from the action.

When deciding on the best area to stay in Seoul for first time, keep in mind that if your flight is from Incheon International Airport in the city’s west, the airport is already 45 mins from Seoul Station in the centre of the city. Gangnam and Itaewon are about 1.5 hours east of Incheon Airport terminals by train.

Gangnam Style Statue, Seoul
“Gangnam Style” statue

However, based on the same process I used to select my other hotels in this guide, if you’re wanting to stay in these areas I would suggest you try:

  • Gangnam: L7 Hotel Gangnam, 3 mins walk from Seolleung Subway Station. Modern floor-to-ceiling windows and garden view rooms. A moments’ walk to COEX Starfield Mall and popular Lotte World Tower is another 15mins east by train.
  • Itaewon: Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel Itaewon, 3 mins walk from Itaewon Station. Trendy spacious rooms with modern amenities and mountain view rooms. This area is ideal for travellers looking for halal food options.

TIP: When considering is it better to stay in Hongdae or Myeongdong, I’d personally choose Myeongdong as it’s more centrally located to the main Seoul attractions.

Starfield Library, COEX Mall, Gangnam Seoul

Bongeunsa Temple, Seoul

Commonalities across hotels in Seoul and South Korea

I’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels across four continents, and I noticed things in South Korea that I hadn’t encountered as often elsewhere. Keep these in mind when staying in your accommodation in Seoul:

  • The master light switches are next to beds. Most hotel rooms I stayed in South Korea had sensor lights when first walking in. They won’t turn off if they sense any movement. This can be both good and bad; good when first walking in the room but bad if needing to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and it turns on like daylight!
  • There is usually free bottled water in the fridge. I read mixed reactions as to whether locals drink the tap water, so I personally welcomed the bottled water.  
  • Pressing the button for one lift/elevator doesn’t automatically call them all. Make sure to press all the lift/elevator buttons in the lobbies to get the soonest lift, otherwise you could be waiting a while!
  • Some more traditional hotels or hanok (homestay accommodation) supply smaller bath towels than we’re used to in the West. They are more the size of a hand towel. In my recommended hotels above, each did supply Western-sized bath towels as well as smaller local versions. 
  • Sink plugs are usually pressed down the first time you wish to use the bathroom. You need to press them to push up so water can drain. After looking for levers and such, it took me ages to first work this out… hehe.
  • Some establishments require toilet paper to be placed in a rubbish bin in the bathroom, rather than flushing it. This is due to a combination of old pipework and Korean paper not dissolving, thereby potentially blocking the toilet. Please check what the signage says beside each toilet.
  • More on toilets: Toilets in South Korea are similar to Japanese ones where the seats are heated in winter, have bidet options and different functionalities. Some toilets flush automatically or flush with a button on the wall (소 for small flush). Otherwise, push down a lever attached to the toilet.

Korean Toilets in Seoul

To summarise where to stay in Seoul Korea for first time visitors

That’s a wrap for my Seoul accommodation guide for first timers! There’s no need to stay in a luxury hotel such as the Four Seasons when there are plenty of affordable options with amazing views. In a nutshell:

  • If you enjoy traditional areas, the best neighbourhood to stay in Seoul is Bukchon Hanok Village.
  • For an area that’s a little more lively with ties to history and traditions, it has to be Insadong.
  • If you’re looking for a budget option, try Hongdae.
  • For nightlife, Myeongdong is hard to beat.
  • And don’t forget you can always stay at an airport hotel if your flight arrives quite late at night or is due to depart early in the morning!

As an invisible tourist, my favourite location listed here was Insadong. I loved its historical temple, hanok village of cafes and boutiques, close proximity to Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung Palaces (Seoul’s larger two of five palaces) and ease of getting around without the tourist crowds found scurrying through Myeongdong. 

 

I hope my list of tried-and-tested Seoul hotels helps you to find the best areas to stay in Seoul that suit your interests! If you have any questions feel free to ask away in the comments below.

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Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist


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4 Comments

  1. Hi,

    I am only in Korea for a few days as a stopover enroute to Australia. Where would you recommend me staying in Seoul that would be budget friendly but won’t take too long traveling to and from Incheon?

    Thank you Tarlie

    1. Hi Tarlie, thanks for reading!
      Out of the hotels I’ve recommended, 9 Brick Hotel in Hongdae would definitely be your best budget option.
      As mentioned in the article, it has direct access to AREX (Airport Railroad Express) to Incheon Airport in about 1 hour. As it’s in the west of Seoul, it would be the easiest option as well. Saves you heading into and across central Seoul 😊
      Thanks so much for reading and I hope you have a fun stopover in Seoul! 🇰🇷

  2. Hi! I was wondering if you knew if L7 would allow me to book 2 rooms and split my kids up. My 18 and 17 year old in one room and me and my youngest in another room. I am having a hard time finding hotel rooms for 4. Thanks!

    1. Hi Gemma!
      You’re right, Hotel L7 Myeongdong unfortunately doesn’t accommodate four in one room.
      If you were to book two rooms and request they be next to eachother when booking, I’m sure they would be able to accommodate your request 😊
      I hope that helps and thanks for reading!

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