Seoul Nightlife – What are Your Options?

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about Seoul but a random comment a friend made during a recent conversation made me think of an article I wrote about a year ago but was never published. You see I wrote the article for a website that hadn’t launched yet but which wanted a blog to compliment the service they were offering. I was one of the writers they contacted to write a post – my post was to be on things you can do in Seoul at night. It was the perfect subject for me since while I would never call myself an expert; I was definitely experienced at exploring Seoul at night during my two years there. Below is the post (which a few minor adjustments). Nothing ever came from it originally but I hope you enjoy it!

Seoul’s Nightlife – What are Your Options?

I’m a night-owl and so a city’s nightlife will always be a contributing factor to whether I’m happy there. For some people, the term ‘nightlife’ refers solely to clubs and bars but I use it more broadly to refer to anything fun I can do after, say 8:00 pm. And of all the places I’ve lived – and there have been a few – Seoul has the best nightlife.  The city simply comes alive at night and it’s not just the clubs & bars (although there are some amazing ones to suit everyone). 

What can you do in Seoul at night?

1. Let’s start with the obvious – clubbing. While there are bars and smaller clubs all over the city, the best places to dance are in Hongdae and Gangnam. Apgujeong is okay for a change of pace but not my go-to clubbing. Some foreigners like Itaewon but I always found it a little seedy for clubbing (although I’ve heard that it has improved).

If you’re new to Seoul or only there for a short time and don’t know where to go – check out Club Night, which happens on the last Friday of every month in Hongdae. Clubs in Seoul usually charge a 10,000-15,000won entrance fee but on Club Night, you can just pay 15,000won and then club-hop at all the participating clubs (there’s usually about a dozen). It’s a great way to spice it up a little or try a new club or two. It’s how I found my favourite club – Q-vo! The only downside to Club Night is the crowds, even the less popular clubs will be packed. But there is a wide variety of music from hip hop to electronic to ska/rock to alternative to trance so you are bound to find a club you love. A bonus to North American visitors or expats, the clubs and bars stay open until the wee hours – 5:00-6:00 am in many cases. Ahh… I miss dancing until dawn at Q-vo!!

2. There is also a second kind of club in Korea, often referred to as a “night”, nightclub or booking club (in English at least). Booking clubs come with a different set of rules that may seem odd to many foreigners but I encourage you to visit one. Although it might be a good idea to do so with a Korean friend or two. 🙂 All of the ones I’ve been to required you to get bottle service (which can be several beer at some places) to enter. Once inside they look a lot like a regular club, except with more tables/seating. The main difference is they function a little like a matchmaker. If a guy sees a girl he wants to meet, he can ask an usher to bring her over. The girl is supposed to go with the usher to the guys table and share a drink with him.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way. An interesting experience though. Some of them have a show (or two) as a part of the night – I’ve seen magicians and one time in Ulsan (another Korean city) a strip show (no joke, I was with work which made it even more embarrassing as I totally wasn’t expecting it.) Oh, and they play slow songs every 10-12 songs so it kind of feels like a high school dance!

3. Noraebangs – Private singing rooms similar to karaoke – are another great option for fun at night. They are everywhere and a very affordable option so start practicing your singing now. And the best part (in my mind) is because you are just singing in a private room with your friends, the performance pressure is off and you can just have fun. Most places have English, Chinese and Japanese songs in addition to the Korean ones but if you really want to impress your Korean friends – learn a Korean song (거짓말 – “Lies” in English – was my go-to song).

4. Restaurants – One of the aspects of Seoul’s nightlife that I love is the fact that there are many restaurants that are open 24 hours a day.  This is great if you work until 10:00 pm like I generally did and want to eat dinner afterwards. It also means more food choice before and after the bars and clubs. Plus eating out in Korea is such a wonderful social experience that you shouldn’t miss. Some of my best Korean memories involve food! I also made some wonderful friends just by being a regular at their restaurant.  

5. And of course, I can’t forget shopping! I loved how you could also shop in Dongdaemun until 5:00 am which is fabulous. Okay, I never actually shopped all night but I did see midnight or 1:00 am several times! If it’s 11:00 pm and you need a new top, no problem! Plus it’s fun to bargain and you can get shoes made to order – which is perfect if you love cute heels but can’t walk in high heels like me (I love kitten heels!!). And Dongdaemun wasn’t the only place open late, it was just my favourite!

6. Movies – The cinema at COEX has midnight shows which add to your nightlife options. I’m sure it’s not the only one but it was the closest one to me and they often show Hollywood movies too. I loved Korea and Korean movies but every once and a while I wanted something easy to watch.

7. Oh, I’m missing one of the most obvious nightlife choices – bars! Of course, there are bars everywhere so you are sure to find a favourite or two. But if you are meeting your friends at a bar, be careful about giving directions. There are some chains – like Wa Bar – which seem to have a location everywhere and sometimes two in one neighbourhood. Also some others have more than one location – like the two Tin Pans in Hongdae (Tin Pan 1 and Tin Pan 2 which I confused for my entire two years in Seoul) or the six Ho Bars (also in Hongdae but never confused me).

8. Bangs – There are also DVD Bangs – private rooms you can rent to watch a rented DVD and perhaps make out; and PC Bangs – internet cafes which are mostly popular among those who like gaming and the occasional foreigner without a computer. I never spent a lot of time in either but they are an option.

9. Cafes – Yep, also a late night option and one that was never good on my diet as we always seemed to end up eating delicious cake. Usually split between 3 or 4 but still. Apgujeong was one of my favourite places for late night cafes.

The downside of all the late night fun is that like most cities, the Seoul subway doesn’t run much past 12:30 or 1:00 am. Thankfully, cab rides are much cheaper in Korea than in Canada but make sure you know how to give directions in Korean or carry an address card with a map as street addresses in Korea aren’t straightforward. Or keep having fun until the subway re-opens about 5:30 am (my preference).  Whatever you decide, there are plenty of options (I only highlighted a few) so go forth and explore!

Did I miss something? Leave a comment and let me know!

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

4 thoughts on “Seoul Nightlife – What are Your Options?

  • November 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    Good accomodations? Budget and characterised hostels like Pencil(which is full of pop-art images) in Hongdae(many clubs, bars, and shoping area).

    • November 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm

      Hongdae is my fav place for nightlife in Seoul 🙂 so good to know of a place to stay. Thanks!

  • January 14, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Hi, I am really interested in going to Korea and clubbing is definitely one of the things on my to-do list. This post has really helped me Do you know anything about VIP sections in clubs, i.e. how to book when you don’t know Korean and the cost?

    • January 16, 2014 at 8:59 pm

      Hi, glad you found my article useful. Unfortunately, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the VIP sections and when I did, a Korean friend always booked it for us. Although some of the clubs will have websites which you may be able to book through. In general, I found the costs of clubbing in Seoul similar to Toronto. Smaller clubs = cheaper, bigger/more trendy clubs = more expensive.

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