Hongdae has the most Instagrammable spots in Seoul, where you can find more reasons to dress up for a picture-perfect moment. 

As one of the more hipster enclaves in the city, especially with five universities in the area, youngsters orchestrate the soul of the neighbourhood with pop culture, K-music, street basking, murals, art and more. The energy here is dynamic and vibrant, and there’s plenty to experience within the labyrinthine streets of Hongdae.

Shopping is another ballgame altogether at this district. Well, don’t get too excited. Before you lose your senses shopping for the latest sneakers and beauty products, we’d recommend you to spend some time perusing the little alleys and explore the area a while longer before going all out.

You’ll be able to find yourself stumbling upon hidden barbershops, tattoo parlours and beautifully designed cafes — a perfect reason to stop, fuel up, have a cup of coffee and repeat. If you’re here during the weekends, flea markets and random stalls operated by the locals sell everything from clothings, handmade jewellery, snacks and even little gifts that you can take home for your loved ones.

Hongdae is a bustling neighbourhood that’s brimming with street food, shopping, cafes and a vibrant nightlife.(Credit: Unsplash)

If you’re the kind who insists on having local street food, allow us to introduce you to the hawkers that operate till past midnight. Here, you’ll get your fix on the fiery tteokbokki (rice cakes), spicy fish cakes, baffles (rice cake baked in a hot pan and topped with egg, brown sauce and bonito), gimbap and meat skewers.

Choices for street food are aplenty at Hongdae. (Credit: Markus Winkler/ Unsplash)

If you’re up for something more on the carnivorous side, there are rows and rows of restaurants offering a menu of grilled meats and seafood. Don’t miss out on trying the webfoot octopus, that’s really hard to come by. But first, you need to be in the centre of it all.

Check in to RYSE

If you’re thinking of where to stay in the area, look no further than the design-centric one-of-its-kind RYSE Hotel. It offers a dynamic experience for subculture, spontaneity and sophistication in the heart of the city — paired with impeccably contemporary artistic aesthetics and spaces that demand attention.

The hanging artwork from the atrium on the lobby level to the ground floor. (Credit: Ryse)

RYSE lives up to expectation with interiors that beat the same music as the vibrant locality it is in. It is not just a hotel a growing community that never ceases to create opportunities for collaboration with local brands including the Tartine Cafe on the ground floor and Worksout, a flagship clothing store on the 3rd floor designed by Andrea Caputo. It shares the floor with the check-in counters, allowing for more mingling opportunities on the communal space.

The guests rooms are specially designed with themes thanks to its collaboration with selected artists from all over the world — just as its tagline “A Room for Every Type of Guest” reads. These artists lend their persona and artwork to bring out the very essence of their aesthetics into the spaces. RYSE was designed for creatives, nomads, tastemakers and followers of cultural expressions from all parts of the world — and each room is defined by passion.

There’s the Creator Room, Editor Room, Director Room, Producer Suite, Artist Suite and the Executive Producer Suite that’s literally the largest penthouse of the lot with a gallery-like experience. Colours, art pieces, photographs and paintings are used to tell a story in each room — some even intentionally placed (don’t be surprised to find an upside-down photo stuck to the ceiling) to evoke the spirit of the respective artist.

The bathroom is decked in terrazzo, a reminiscent to many Asian homes — something you and I can easily relate to. Ultimately, the vibrant design rings in the same bandwidth with many millennial travellers today who are seeking for more than just a corner to take a great photo but an experience that will leave a strong impression through the stories of the artists.

Long Chim is equal parts of speakeasy and Asian arts.

RYSE also pays great attention to its dining spaces. The all-day dining Long Chim is like a lovechild of Le Corbusier and Jaime Hayon, a harmonious marriage between textbook minimalism and a strong sense of playfulness. The play of colour, proportions and geometry is magical here, creating a space that continues to bring you back for a second or third stare— and it photographs well too both during the day and night.

At night, you can head over to The Side Note Club that pays homage to music and music-making. Try the Jeju Island cocktail, a refreshing mix of citrusy notes from Korean orange. Icy and bright, the drink is presented in an organic shape shallow bowl — that’s additional points for presentation. Most of the creations on the menu also highlight locally sourced ingredients to further accentuate a true Korean experience for guests, both local and from abroad.

Bar Side Note has an outdoor terrace that’s perfect for gazing at the sunset. (Credit: Ryse)

Take the Quirky Route

Beyond its budget-friendly places to eat, Hongdae is also known for an interesting mix of quirky things to do. Start with the world’s first AR museum at the Trick Eye Museum where you get to interact with the many paintings that reel you in for a truly believable illusory — no one’s judging. In the same building, you can also check out the Love Museum for a more ‘adult’ experience.

The NANTA Theatre cooking show is something you don’t want to miss when in Hongdae. (Credit: NANTA Theatre)

If you just want to let loose, Hongdae NANTA Theatre is where you’ll find the non-verbal satirical Korean cooking show that’ll leave you laughing until you cry. Enjoy the overly dramatic expressions of the talented actors that exaggerate everything on stage but in a very humorous way.

Hongdae is also home to establish and budding street artists. You’ll see many outstanding street art in the area — as tiny as a water hydrant or as huge as a two-storey building. To be more site specific, check out Hongdae Mural Street (also known as Picasso’s Street) that stretches from the main gate of Hongik University to Dongmak-ro 19 gil.

And with Asia’s fascination on animal cafes continues to be on the rise, it is not surprising to find one in Hongdae. However, Meerkat Cafe will leave you crawling with surprises as it is not just a cat or dog petting cafe. While some may call it a weird place to sip coffee, you’ll find yourself in the same space as raccoons, genets, wallabies, arctic foxes and more — a serious culture shock for some, especially when these furry ‘friends’ (or fiends) may be digging through your bags for shiny objects.

Continue to let the night slip away at the many night clubs in Seoul or any underground watering holes in and around Hongdae — you’ll not be disappointed.

Martin Teo
Content Editor
Martin loves traveling the world to see ancient ruins and classical architecture. He enjoys the culinary experience of various cities but (still) refuses to eat anything insect-like. On a daily basis, he finds time hitting the gym to compensate for the amount of food he needs to eat just to write an article.