Hongdae is one heck of a good time. This neighborhood of Seoul is home to hundreds of trendy restaurants, unique bars, and booming clubs, making it one of the biggest nightlife hotspots in the country. At the same time, it can be overwhelming narrowing it down, especially as a traveler. There will be some establishments that forbid foreigners, and some unspoken rules and customs that one might not be aware of. From finding the best bars and clubs in Hongdae to tips to keep it easy on the wallet, here are some things you need to know before going out in Hongdae.
Keep in mind that I am a backpacker and budget traveler, so if you are looking for the most extravagant nightclubs or places to see and be seen, this might not be for you. But, if you simply want a good time, to meet people, and party until the sun comes up, continue reading.
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Starting the Night Off
Okay, let’s get a few things out of the way before we head out. Most bars and clubs in Seoul do check your IDs, so be sure to bring your passport, driver’s license, or whatever. A picture of my passport occasionally worked, but oftentimes, they’d require a physical copy. It is quite a big risk to bring your passport out on a night that might quickly become unhinged, but unfortunately, this is the case. A paper copy might work better than having a picture on your phone.
Next up, getting to Hongdae. If you are staying in Hongdae, wonderful. I recommend staying in the Hongdae area in case you want to get home before the trains start running again. Taxis aren’t too unreasonable, but a short walk home is preferably to a $20 cab ride in any regard. There are plenty of great hostels in and around the Hongdae area. I was a big fan of Batwo Stay and Inno Hostel. I’ve heard rave reviews of Zzzip Guesthouse, and I also stayed at Time Travelers’ Party Hostel. Each hostel has a different vibe, so if you’re looking for a Social atmosphere, I’d recommend Time Travelers and Zzzip. If you have friends in the area and just want a quiet hostel to nurse the hangover, then Batwo and Inno are perfect.
For those staying outside of Hongdae, you’ll want to head to the green line station of Hongik University or the brown line station of Sangsu. Both are a short walk from the main hub of Hongdae’s nightlife.
Now that you’re here, where to start?
Pre-Gaming in Hongdae
First things first, pre-gaming is essential. The good thing about South Korea is that drinking on the streets is okay. It generally won’t be a problem unless you get belligerent or unconscious. Hongdae is great for pre-gaming because it has a very lively atmosphere all throughout. It’s got an electric energy that makes you feel like the night is simply going to be one to remember. There are plenty of things to keep you busy, and it’s easy to just walk around with a beer or bottle of soju and pop into places that tickle your fancy.
In Korean culture, drinking and eating go hand in hand. The most common pregame is to grab dinner and have a few (or many) drinks to wash it down. A bottle of soju or mekju (beer) goes great with Korean barbecue or chicken wings. In Hongdae, this can be expensive depending on where you eat. Typically, expect to spend about $30 per person for dinner and let’s say, 2 or 3 bottles of soju. The places in Hongdae are always lively with a good atmosphere, so if you’ve got a group of friends who are down, this is a fun way to start the night.
Noraebangs are also a huge part of Korean culture, and there are plenty of them throughout Hongdae. Noraebangs are basically private karaoke rooms where you can rent out a room for an hour, two hours, or even by the song. Sneak in a bottle of soju or beer, rent a room for 5000 won ($4 USD) per hour, and drink and sing to your heart’s content. I’m Filipino, so karaoke is a favorite pastime of mine, and I found this to be extremely fun. It’s a great way to kill an hour or two without spending too much money, and getting nice and drunk before hopping to the other bars.
An even more budget option is to just grab a bottle of alcohol from a convenience store and hang out at Hongdae’s playground. And yes, it is quite literally a playground. This is a small park where young people gather to drink, chat, and watch any buskers that might grace the park. Some people will bring full on karaoke set ups and have a sort of “open mic” in the center of the park. There’s a convenience store right across from the playground, as well as a public restroom, so it’s a pretty solid place to get a few drinks. It’s easy to meet people here, and serves as a sort of meeting point for both locals and foreigners. I’d often start the night here, or head over to here to try to meet people and sus out their plans to see where the party is going to be.
Hitting the Bars
Once you’re ready to hit a bar, there are countless options in Hongdae. I can’t speak for all of them, because I would have been a raging alcoholic had I checked them all out in my few short weeks there, although I did try.
I’ll start with my personal favorites, Thursday’s or Corner Pub. These tend to have lively crowds, ample seating, and a good mix of locals and foreigners to meet. Both of them are like halfway between a bar and a club, so you’ll have a vibrant atmosphere where you can dance, but can still sit down and chat as you drink. Mixed drinks tend to go for between 5,000 to 10,000 won, and beer for right around the same price. Both are centrally-located in the heart of Hongdae’s nightlife district, so it’s easy to get from place to place.
I also liked Mike’s Cabin for a similar atmosphere, but with more Latin music. It is a little louder so conversation might not be as easily had, but a fair trade for music with a little more flavor. These three were my go-to’s, although like I said, there are many more in Hongdae. It’s not hard to find a bar where you can just sit down, have a drink, and have good conversation. I preferred these ones because they had a social atmosphere, reasonably-priced drinks, and a proper party vibe.
Dancing the Night Away
Once you’re ready to hit the clubs, the options are limitless. There are dozens upon dozens of clubs in Hongdae, although there isn’t too much variety. Many of them cater to international pop and hip-hop hits. I honestly was surprised to hear so much American rap music in South Korea. Of course, these are the clubs that allow foreigners in. Hongdae has quite a few big clubs that are Korean-only. It’s kind of annoying, and sometimes they’ll let you in if you are with a group of Koreans, but generally, you’ll get turned away. So needless to say, this list of recommendations will only include foreigner-friendly clubs. I always had local friends taking me out in Hongdae, so I mostly just trusted they knew where to take me.
Out of the countless spots they took me to, here are a few of my favorite nightlife spots in Hongdae.
Like, I just really love Latin music and thankfully, there were plenty of Latin clubs in Hongdae. Juntos and La Bamba (and Mike’s Cabin later in the night) are the main Latin clubs that attract a good crowd. Sometimes, too good of a crowd. La Bamba often gets packed to the brim, with the party spilling out onto the streets and the interior being a mass of sweaty bodies to squeeze through. The majority of the time I spent at La Bamba was resurfacing for air on their little outdoor area. Good crowd, good music, but it can be a lot. Juntos was hit-or-miss, as some nights it was packed, and others it was quite empty.
Next up, hip-hop and pop clubs. As I said earlier, Hongdae loves their American rap music, and the vast majority of clubs I went to in Hongdae followed the same formula. They’d be in the basement where the entire room is a dance floor basked in dim red lighting. Seriously, almost every club I went to had this in common. It’s hard to differentiate, so one can just hop around until they find one that suits their tastes. B1, XX, Zen, Sinkhole, Jumble and Mongs are the ones I’ve visited. Mongs and Jumble were my two favorites, but I think that might just be because they were less crowded or had a better layout that didn’t feel so suffocating. NB2 is another popular option, but they often charge cover to get in, even on weekdays.
When I wasn’t at a Latin or Hip-Hop club, I was at FF. It took me a while to start enjoying myself at this club, as they kind of didn’t really know what to play. It started off with One Direction, then they’d play reggaeton, and then classic rock. But after a few drinks, it’s hard to stop yourself from going up on stage and dancing. I liked the crowd here, as it seemed that most people were here to have fun and not just hook up like in other clubs.
Occasionally, I’d go to Candy Shop just to get a taste of techno, but the techno here isn’t really my vibe. I love techno, but the music was kind of trash. It’s very aggressive, but at the same time, squeaky. Like industrial Berlin techno but with cute Korean noises. I don’t know how to describe it, and every time I’ve went, it was pretty empty. Again, it’s not a bad option if you want something different.
Although I feel like I’ve spent tons of time bar-hopping in Hongdae, I’m still barely scratching the surface of the immense nightlife scene here. Hongdae often feels like a carnival. One can walk around and make detours at photo booths, claw machines, arcades, play darts, shoot airsoft guns, and much more. I like Hongdae for this reason, as one can have fun even if getting black out drunk isn’t their main goal. After spending the majority of the year in the Middle East and Central Asia where drinking and nightlife aren’t really a thing, I truly felt like a kid at a candy store in Hongdae.
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