Just west of the city centre lies Seoul’s greatest concentration of universities, but this is no place to be bookish – as with most academic areas around the country, it’s characterized less by what students do during the day than what they get up to at night, and streets are stuffed to the gills with bars, nightclubs, karaoke rooms and cheap restaurants. Though there are precious few tourist sights as such, it’s possibly the best place in the land to get an understanding of what really makes Korea tick.
Hongdae (홍대) is one of the edgiest districts in the whole country, teeming with young and trendy people at almost every hour. The area only truly comes into its own after dark, its hundreds of bars and clubs buzzing with activity every night of the week. During the daytime, it’s fun to explore the streets lined with small shops selling stylish and secondhand clothing, and there are quirky cafés on every corner.
Hongdae university itself specializes in the arts, a fact that’ll be most evident in Nolita Park (놀이터 공원) – actually a triangular wedge of ground with almost no greenery – which plays host to anything and everything from punk-rock bands to choreographed street dance. On weekends there’s an interesting flea market at which local students sell handmade jewellery and other trinkets.
East of Hongdae, and just one subway station away on line 2, is Sinchon, which offers many of the same delights as Hongdae and is fast becoming just as busy.