restaurant in Itaewon

Destination Itaewon: Where to Go, What to Do

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Diversity. Underdogs. Spoiled brats. All in one area located right in the heart of Seoul: Itaewon — a reel and real place. For those of you who enjoy the occasional k-drama, you’re likely familiar with “Itaewon Class,” a popular show that began as a webtoon and is set in the international neighborhood of Itaewon (hence, the show’s title). And if you’ve seen it, you know it has plenty of drama and tension and danger.

So if you’re a regular flyer looking for a new destination, you may be wondering, is the real place similar?

What is Itaewon Known For?

Itaewon at sunset, this South Korean district in Seoul is popular for its bars and restaurants Photo by Jongsu Pyeon on Wikimedia Commons

Itaewon is situated near the Yongsan Garrison, a U.S. army base, which takes up a substantial portion of the district. So the area is recognized as a foreigners’ hangout, which explains why you’ll see many of them here.

Itaewon used to be known for its burgers and hookers. Although that red light district scene has gradually disappeared, with Yongsan Garrison easing out of the neighborhood and moving to Pyeongtaek, some of Itaewon’s edge remains. Tourists and residents can still discover underground clubs and places for every sexual preference.

The neighborhood is diverse, not just for the melting pot of nationalities that stroll through its streets, but also for the LGBT community, which “Itaewon Class” reflects.

In Korea’s typically conformist and conservative society, the mix of people — from different countries to different genders — in Itaewon has given it a kind of exotic appeal. Its checkered past is also an attraction to some. In particular, for the younger generation of Koreans who, much like in the TV series, refuse to be put in a box.

If you’re intrigued and want to “live” in the “Itaewon Class” world, a trip to this Korean destination would be an exciting choice.

Before taking that vacation, you need to find a place to stay.

Where to Stay in Itaewon

If you want to know where to stay in Seoul, Itaewon has several options for accommodations. With its diversity, there is a space for anyone and any budget. You’ll find hotels (boutiques and chains), hostels and B&Bs.

Hotels

Itaewon A One Hotel

2-8, Itaewon-ro 20-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

A budget hotel rated with 2.5 stars, the Itaewon A One has a contemporary design, with 21 air-conditioned rooms featuring sitting areas, IDD phones and guest toiletries; some rooms have big tubs. The rooms are also soundproofed.

The hotel is near the Itaewon station and a good number of restaurants are within walking distance as well. Some of the district’s tourist attractions, like the Seoul Museum of History and Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, are also accessible.

Hamilton Hotel

179, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Yongsan-Gu, 04350 Seoul, South Korea

One of the more recognizable hotels in the neighborhood, Hamilton Hotel features a rooftop pool and sauna. So if you don’t feel like spending too much time enjoying the bars, pubs and restaurants in Itaewon. It’s a four-star hotel that has been around since 1973, but the rooms have been renovated with features to fit the modern traveler’s needs, including high-speed internet.

The hotel is also near dining destinations, like Maple Tree House, which serves up Korean bbq with sauce you’re going to want to drink.

Grand Hyatt Seoul

322, Sowol-ro, Yongsan-gu, Yongsan-Gu, 04347 Seoul, South Korea

When you can splurge, check in at the Grand Hyatt Seoul. This five-star hotel isn’t in Itaewon, but it’s close enough that you can just walk right over to the international neighborhood. Its rooms are designed with wide-picture windows, so you can take in views of Mount Namsan. A nature preserve surrounds the hotel, which transforms depending on the season: summer presents poolside relaxation and winter offers ice skating fun.

Hostels

Avocado Guesthouse

10, Itaewon-ro 16-gil, Yongsan-gu (1,633.51 mi) Seoul, South Korea

When you’re truly on a budget but still want a bit of style to go with your temporary digs, the Avocado Guesthouse in Itaewon, Korea is a good choice. Its olive green walls, patterned windows and old world chandeliers are retro without feeling dated. The bathrooms are not bad to look at either.

You’ll have dorm-style rooms with bunk beds and private rooms (with options for families on vacation) to pick from.

Morning Calm The House – Hostel

222-34, Itaewon-ro, 04404, Seoul, South Korea

When you’re able to afford a little more, splurge a little and have more room at the Morning Calm The House – Hostel. The name alone promises a vacation stripped of stress. The hostel four decorated, individually-furnished guestrooms with heated floors, refrigerators and microwaves; iron and ironing boards are available upon request.

Your accommodations come with free Wi-Fi and free breakfast. The Itaewon hostel also has a garden and terrace.

B&B

MOSC

141-3 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Every room in MOSC has free Wi-Fi, ironing set and writing table. Your reservation comes with free continental breakfast, toiletries and bath sheets. The B&B is located near two restaurants: Siti Sarah, which serves Malay-Indo cuisine and Vatos Urban Tacos, which dishes up KoMex fusion food.

But if you’re short on cash and want to cook your meals, MOSC has a shared kitchen facility. The Kwangjang Market is about 4 kilometers away.

Korean Restaurants in Itaewon

dipping food in sauce
Itaewon’s multicultural neighborhood means you’ve got access to international cuisine. But instead of dining at osterias or bistros, sit down at a Korean restaurant first to experience the distinct flavors of this country. Photo by Bundo Kim on Unsplash

When in Seoul, you should eat at Korean restaurants. The district is home to a barrage of dining places serving international cuisine, yes. But the whole idea behind foreign travels is to experience local life.

So before you walk into a bistro or osteria, check out a Korean restaurant from this list:

Sigol Bapsang

235 Itaewon-ro, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Korean cuisine has what they call “banchan,” which are side dishes. But at Sigol, these side dishes turn into mains. The restaurant serves at least 20 types of banchan, which come with rice and fermented soybean paste or jjigae. This hole-in-the-wall is open 24 hours (operating hours may change), so it’s the perfect spot to hit after you’ve sampled all the booze in Itaewon.

Si.Wha.Dam

254 2 Itaewon-ro, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Before you get to drinking, try a meal or two at Si.Wha.Dam, which also has a branch in Insadong. The dining destination serves up Korean haute cuisine, so expect your dishes to look more like conceptual art and less like typical food on a plate. Every dish is meticulously prepared, with each one bearing a remarkable name: A Piece of String on an Apricot Branch (i.e., parsley tea with cherry blossom-shaped gelatin), The Old Day’s Wild Field Meal (i.e., a banchan set) and so on.

Clearly, you’ll want to be sober for this entire gastronomic experience.

Itaewon The Meat House

64 27 Street, Itaewon 1(il)-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

When in Seoul, you’ll want to eat something grilled. If you love your meat, this Itaewon grill resto is a good place to stop in. Menu options include unlimited meat, unlimited beer and all the usual Korean barbecue sides.

If you want to gently introduce your palate to Korean food, try some of the many restaurants doing fusion cuisine.

Vatos Urban Tacos

Itaewon-ro, 15-gil, (2nd Fl), Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Vatos Urban Tacos is a making waves in the Korean food scene with its tantalizing menu. The hip dining joint marries two spicy cuisines: Korean and Mexican (Cali style). Try the mango shrimp quesadilla, galbi short rib or the kimchi carnitas fries.

Coreanos Kitchen

457-3, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Another KoMex restaurant, Coreanos Kitchen menu features pork kimcheese fries (or nachos), OG burrito with galbi beef and caramelized kimchi and citrus chicken tacos, among many others. This dining destination began as a food truck in Austin, Texas. So the food may taste more American than local.

Among the smattering of Korean restaurants in Itaewon, you’ll find plenty of Italian eateries, pizza places, burger joints and a host of Asian restaurants, from Thai to Vietnamese. But really, start with local restaurants before going back to your usual meals. Itaewon is home to an ever-changing food scene, and trying all the different flavors and taking in the different aromas will make for an unforgettable trip.

This Korean Destination

Itaewon street at night. Although it’s the ideal destination if you love the nightlife, some areas can be calm and peaceful Photo by Aatu Dorochenko on Wikimedia Commons

Instead of the usual road trips or family vacations, why not see a bit of what another culture has to offer. Itaewon’s multicultural vibe allows you to stay in a neighborhood that may be across the globe, but the presence of English-speaking foreigners still helps you feel like you’re in familiar surroundings.

So pack a bag. Plan your trip to South Korea. And be prepared to discover Itaewon — in real life.

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