Hongdae is one of the places to visit in Seoul.

This is where travellers flock to spend a day people-watching and sight-seeing. After all, its many buskers make it hotbed for talent.

It may come across as similar to other crowded, tourist-driven neighbourhoods in Seoul, such as Myeondong and Insadong, and many may decide to stop by for just an hour or two.

But look deeper and you’ll notice that there’s plenty to do, especially if you decide to put away your tourist lens and see it for what it is: a gem. Here’s our guide for more.

Pop by a cafe for an afternoon pick me up

If there is one thing you need to know about coffee shops in Korea, is that they are never open in the morning. The regular cup of joe to keep you going can probably be found in Starbucks or other larger chains like Ediya, but the coffee culture in Korea is reserved solely for the afternoon and later in the night. Here, it is much more than just grabbing your caffeine fix, it is about spending time with friends over a good cup of artisanal coffee against a stylish backdrop.

Cafe Vave

Hongdae guide
Cafe Vave (Image credit: eribbon8 via Instagram)

Cafe Vave is a modern cafe that is furnished in a rustic, minimalistic style. The interior is distinctively beige with concrete flooring deliberately made to seem unfinished. The stripped-back decor sets the scene for more enticing treats, including the crowd favourite Sweet Pumpkin Cube, served with a generous portion of fresh cream and the tangy Rose Soda.

How to get here: Cafe Vave is an eight-minute walk from Hongik University station.

Knulp Coffee

Hongdae guide
(Image credit- Knulp Coffee via Instagram)

If you’re heading to Knulp Coffee, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for a retro-looking storefront that looks frozen in time. To be honest, the cascading lace curtains and modest-looking facade doesn’t look spectacular from the outside. Upon entering, you’ll realise that this hidden gem is a local-only spot perfect for those who don’t want to be interrupted by the hubbub of Hongdae. Here, you have to order the signature cream latte, a hot cuppa served with a dollop of cream and a dash of cocoa powder.

How to get here: Knulp Coffee is a seven-minute walk from Hongik University station.

Arari Ovene

Hongdae guide
Arari Ovene (Image credit: kieunchoi via Instagram)

Arari Ovene is not a cafe for everyone. They are most known for their mugwort cakes and lattes and a whole series of other healthy desserts and drinks. Mugwort, or suk in Korean, is a popular herb that has a mildly roasted and slightly bitter flavour similar to hojicha. Everything on the menu is made with natural ingredients, which sets it apart from many of the cafes around town. The Mugwort Tart was a dreamy combination of creamy textures and nutty flavour, which made the teal-coloured treat a dessert hard to forget. If you’re not a fan of mugwort, their lemon and strawberry choux tarts are popular too.

How to get here: Arari Ovene is a 15-minute walk from Hongik University station.

What to shop to Hongdae

Gentle Monster’s flagship store

Gentle Monster’s Cobalt 02 (Image Credit: Gentle Monster)

South Korean label Gentle Monster has exploded in popularity all around the world, finding itself on the faces of international style icons like Gigi Hadid, Jessica Alba and many more. Apart from modest sunglass designs, that are said to be made for Asian features, it is also known to carry a huge range of futuristic designs for the most stylish of the lot. Even if you’re not looking to get a pair, make sure to come to its flagship store in Hongdae. The three-stroyed building is not only an accessory store, it’s a whole exhibition space altogether, featuring artwork and installations that embody the brand’s edgy personality.

How to get here: Gentle Monster’s Hongdae flagship store is a seven-minute walk from Hapjeong station.

Ader Error

Hongdae guide
(Image credit: Ader Error)

Ader Error is a Seoul-based label formed on the foundation of creativity, art and design. It was founded in 2014, and has quickly gained traction among local and international designers. The brand gained a loyal clientele over the years solely with good design and products — it prides itself for not paying celebrities or influencers to market their goods. All clothes here are unisex, Ader Error highlights the freedom of expression without the limitations of gender.

How to get here: Ader Error is a 12-minute walk from Hongik University station.

The Days Hair

Hongdae guide
The Days Hair (Image credit: ginabearsblog)

Fashion is only one aspect of the Korean aesthetic. To truly get the look, pay a visit to a Korean hair salon for a full updo: the airy bangs and the romantic S curls for ladies or the famous comma hairstyle for men.

You can choose to go to the renowned Soonsiki, a popular spot for many locals and expats. Models and celebrities are known to frequent this location, so you can be sure that the hair designers are always up to date with the latest trends and styles. However, if you’re looking for a more relaxed, cosy vibe, you may want to visit The Days Hair instead. Owners (and brothers!) Dean and Minam used to work at Soonsiki, so you can expect the same amazing quality and experience here.

How to get here: The Days Hair is a five-minute walk from Hongik University station.

Jocelyn Tan
Jocelyn Tan is a travel and design writer who's probably indulging in serial killer podcasts or reading one too many books on East Asian history. When she actually gets to travel, you can find her attempting to stuff her entire wardrobe into her luggage. Yes, she's a chronic over-packer.