Like any cosmopolitan city, Seoul comes alive when the sun goes down, and in some cases the fun just doesn't stop. Places like Dongdaemun have night markets that see more action during the early-morning hours than during the day. Nighttime fun can be had pretty much all over the city. Good for overall nightlife is Myeongdong, where you can have dinner and stop for a cup of coffee or a beer at many of the cafes and bars in the area.

Seoul's beautiful people tend to head for the most upscale and exclusive bars in Apgujeong-dong or nearby Sinsadong, where you'll find the pricey clubs, wine bars, and dancing. Also on this side of the river, Gangnam draws a more relaxed, younger crowd. In the evenings, pojang machas pop up around Gangnam Station, and young professionals hit the clubs and bars after a tough day at the many IT firms in the area. Since most Korean-Americans who've relocated to Seoul live in Gangnam, it's not difficult to find Western-style clubs and bars here.

If you're not much of a drinker, or prefer a bit of culture while you imbibe, head over to the Daehangno area. You'll find hundreds of cafes, clubs, and bars, tucked into alleyways between little theaters and galleries. Most of the places cater to the college students in the area, so they won't be as overpriced as places south of the river.

Another area popular with the students is Shinchon, where you'll find cute cafes (to draw the girls from Ewha University), boutiques, bars, and discos. Just a short walk beyond are the clubs and bars around Hongdae, which have the hippest live performances and dance floors. Make sure you're dressed to impress, or you may be denied entry to some of the clubs. Not all of them are foreigner-friendly either, so be sure to check around before just walking into any old bar.

If you want to hang out in a more international area, Itaewon has cafes, clubs, and restaurants that cater to people from many nations. What used to be the seedy red-light district around the American military base has grown up to be an attractive nightspot, although you can still find soldiers looking for a "meet market" and ladies of the night.

Business travelers tend to stick to the clubs and bars in Seoul's deluxe hotels. Drinks will be on the expensive side, but you'll get first-class service and get to mingle with the upper crust and South Korea's new professional class. Whatever your tastes (or budget), Seoul is a city that doesn't sleep.


Casinos in South Korea are open only to foreigners (except for Gangwon Land), so be sure to take your passport with you. There are two Seven Luck Casinos in Seoul, run by a subsidiary of the Korea Tourism Organization. One is in Gangnam (take subway line 2 to Samseong Station, exit 5 or 6) and the other is in Gangbuk (take subway line 1 to Seoul Station, exit 8, or line 4 to Hoehyeon Station, exit 4). The only other casino in Seoul is inside the Paradise Walker Hill hotel (tel. 02/2204-3321) in Gwangjin-gu.

Outside of organized casinos, many tourist hotels also have game rooms with slot machines.

Movie Theaters

There are dozens of movie theaters in Seoul that show the latest domestic box office hits as well as popular Hollywood films. South Korean films aren't shown with English subtitles, but you can see them in one of hundreds of DVD bahngs, small private rooms where you can watch DVDs. Many of them can be found in university areas and usually cost about W7,000 per person. If you do go see a movie in the theater, English-language films are always shown subtitled in Korean. Be aware that movies are quite popular in Seoul and tickets sell out quickly, especially on Saturdays and holidays. Seats are assigned, so it's best to get them early anyway. On weekends evening shows can be sold out by early afternoon, so plan ahead.

Some of the theaters that show international films are as follows: COEX Mall's Megaplex Cineplex, which has 16 screens; Seoul Cinema (take subway line 1, 3, or 5 to Jongno 3-ga, exit 14); Cineplus (subway line 3 to Apgujeong Station, exit 3), which has great seats and a fabulous sound system; or any one of the CGV theaters. The country's first art house theater showing cutting-edge films is Dongseung Cinematheque (take subway line 4 to Hyehwa Station, exit 1, and walk toward the Hyehwa rotary).

The Korean Overseas Information Service also offers occasional free Korean movies with English subtitles, organized by Seoul Selection Bookshop (tel. 02/734-9565; Check with them for the latest schedule and screening info.

Bars & Clubs

It can get a bit costly just walking into any drinking establishment in Seoul. Even in a casual hof (German-style beer garden), if it's frequented by South Korean patrons, they usually require that you order overpriced anju (drinking snacks) with your drinks. Especially pricey are "booking clubs" where singles pay "bookers" to hook them up with an available mate of the opposite sex. An unfortunate part of modern South Korean culture, these clubs are to be avoided, since neither the music nor the drinks are the attraction. Fortunately, more casual beer joints have opened up recently, where you can grab a few drinks with friends without being forced to order an expensive fruit platter (not exactly traditional bar fare anyway). But you'll find there is no shortage of places to imbibe, since Koreans love to drink.

In the past few years, upscale wine bars have been all the rage. Since all wine has to be imported from elsewhere, even mediocre vintages can be pricey. But the good news is that good wine and elegant places to drink it have opened up all over the city. Tip: Avoid the ubiquitous (and expensive) cheese platters that seem to appear on every wine bar menu. It may sound tempting, but the cheese selection is never very good and it's served with either Saltines or Ritz crackers.

One nice place is Romanée Conti, 6206 Samcheong-dong (tel. 02/722-1633), whose sign reads WINE & PARTY. I don't know about the party part, but they do have the wine. Across the street from Samcheongdong Sujebi, they're open daily from noon to 1am. Bottles generally are in the W20,000 to W40,000 range.

An unpretentious hotel bar at which to get a Guinness is O'Kim's (tel. 02/317-0388), located on the basement floor of the Westin Chosun. They also have good, solid burgers to satisfy that craving, but a mug of beer will set you back W8,500. You'll also find business travelers (and women wanting to meet them) around the bar at J.J. Mahoney's (tel. 02/799-8601) on the basement floor of the Grand Hyatt. Drinks are a bit on the pricey side, but you'll get solid service and live music. Mahoney's is open 6pm to 2am Sunday through Thursday, and 6pm to 3am Friday and Saturday.

College students and the 20-something crowd are usually hanging out in Hongdae-ap (the area in front of Hong-ik U), which is crowded even in the daytime, but becomes positively electric at night. Hongdae is the area for hip-hop, punk, folk -- pretty much any sort of music you're into. The live clubs are great for seeing underground bands that haven't hit the big time yet. The problem with the Hongdae scene is that it changes so much, but this is one of the few areas in the city (other than Itaewon) where you can find Western-style clubs where people actually dance.

The best time to go is the last Friday of the month, which has been dubbed "Club Day" (tel. 02/333-3921) since 2001. You pay a flat fee of W15,000 and get into over a dozen clubs in the area, plus a drink on the house. There is a limit to tickets sold so get there early. The easiest way to get there is to take subway line 2 to the Hong-ik University Station (exit 6) or line 6 to Sangsu Station. A low-key place to hear live music in the area is Moonglow, 373-6 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (tel. 02/324-5105) on the basement level of the building. It's open Monday through Saturday 6pm to 1am; live music is usually from 9 to 11:30pm. Owner and jazz pianist Shin Kwan-Woong plays every night with old Korean hepcats accompanying him. Be sure to have at least a couple of drinks or you'll get charged a "live music" fee of W5,000.

For an international crowd, your best bets are the joints in Itaewon. A fun place with a tropical flair (fake palm trees and all) is Bungalow Bar (tel. 010/9001-2380). Take off your shoes and socks at the door because the entire floor is covered in sand. A cozy place to get a tropical drink, the bar plays low-key lounge music. If you're looking for a place to get your moves on, the dance floor comes alive after midnight at Lime Night (tel. 02/790-0588). They play the latest techno, hip-hop, and club music into the wee hours. On Thursday nights the happening place is Helios, which draws a crowd more for their free drink and ladies' nights than for the music, which is the usual hip-hop fare. A classier, Euro-style joint that draws the 30-plus crowd is 3 Alley Pub (tel. 02/749-3336), which has a good group of regulars who come for the congenial atmosphere and the large selection of brews. The hippest place to have a drink and hear local DJs spin is Bar Nana, located near the French restaurant, St. Ex, behind the Hamilton hotel. With an eclectic interior, they have regular live bands and special events.

A mellower spot in Itaewon is the unpretentious standard, All That Jazz, 168-17 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu (tel. 02/ 795-5701), where the live music starts around 9pm. Take subway line 1 to Itaewon Station (exit 1); the club is on the second floor next to the Nike shop. Cover charge starts at W10,000. Arrive early if you want to snag a table.

If you want to go where the young jet set go to play, head over to Gangnam. Even older revelers will appreciate the live jazz and blues at the Once in a Blue Moon, 85-1 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu (tel. 02/549-5490). Music starts around 7pm on most nights and the band plays until about 12:30am (until 11:20pm Sun). An excellent place to get an authentic Czech brew is Castle Praha, 1306-6 Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu (tel. 02/596-9200;, on the second basement level of the Pagoda Tower (subway line 2 to Gangnam Station, exit 6). They also have a location in Hongdae (tel. 02/334-2121, 395-19 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu; take subway line 2 to Hapjeong Station, exit 3), around the corner from the Bobo Hotel. Both locations are open noon to 2am Monday to Thursday, until 3am Friday and Saturday, and 3pm to midnight Sunday. Another place for good beer is O'Kim's Brauhaus, 159 Samsung-dong, Gangnam-gu (tel. 02/6002-7006), on the first floor on the Co-ex building (subway line 2 to Samsung Station). They have a brewery on the premises and make three German beers (the varieties change depending on the season) plus a Korean brew, and they have other imported bottled beers, as well.

Even more upscale are the joints in Apgujeong. A popular place in the area is A.O.C. (tel. 02/541-9260), which is a fancy restaurant by day, wine bar by night. They have a decent selection of wines, which are reasonably priced relative to other places in the area. Even more popular is Grand Harue (tel. 02/546-9981) (and its little sister, Harue, across the alley), which started life as a French restaurant, but became more known as a drinking spot, where the Apgujeong crowds come to see and be seen. It's located near the Cheongdam intersection in the heart of the luxury-goods shopping area. Located near Dosan Park is the popular cafe/wine bar Plastic, which has high ceilings with blue skylights and a designer fireplace in the middle of the long, open space. The outdoor garden is also a pretty fabulous place to enjoy a glass of wine.

The hippest nightclub in the area is Tribeca (tel. 02/3448-4450), popular with Apgujeong's A-list. The split-level layout and high ceilings give it a Manhattan feel. Near the Hakdong intersection, it's in the alley between the Coffee Bean and Burger King.

Gay & Lesbian Bars

Although some actors and musicians in South Korea have publicly come out, homosexuality remains largely taboo in Korean society. Same-sex couples are rarely seen in public. However, public displays of affection between friends of the same gender are common. You'll see young men holding each other's hands and girls walking with their arms linked together all over the city. There is a quiet but active gay scene in Seoul, but many gay clubs keep a relatively low profile, because of the homophobia in most of society. The gay and lesbian scene can be found in Jongno, in the college areas of Sincheon and thereabouts, and especially in the area of Itaewon with the unfortunate nickname "Homo Hill." Lesbian clubs are more difficult to find, even for South Korean natives. But a few "Korean-style" lesbian bars can be found in the Sincheon area in Idea-ap (near Ewha Women's University) and Hong-ik University.

One of the oldest openly gay bars in Itaewon has become an upscale wine bar (still gay-friendly, of course) called Bar Bliss (tel. 02/749-7738). If you take the subway to Itaewon Station (exit 4), walk straight and you'll see the sign GAY OR NOT; this is one of the most elegant places to get good wine in Seoul. The mood is mellow and inviting with tasteful decor. The owner, Teddy Park, speaks excellent English and offers a "blissful hour" (rather than happy hour) when drinks are two for one from 6 to 11pm. The bar closes at 3am on weekdays and 5am on weekends.

If you want to shake your booty to some electronica/dance music, head to Del's Disco, on the basement level of the Hamilton Hotel. Professional go-go boys in tight shorts pole dance against black walls while South Korea's fashionable gay boys dance well into the wee hours. Other gay bars in the area include the established Queen (which has happy hour daily 8-11pm) and the more modern bar next door, Always Homme (tel. 02/798-0578), where the party doesn't end until 4am (6am Fri-Sat). Across the way are the more moody Why Not? and Soho.

Cafes & Teahouses

Koreans love their tea and in some ways they love their coffee more. Even some of the small hole-in-the-wall restaurants will offer a free (or very cheap) machine that dispenses tiny cups of sweet instant coffee. Bad coffee aside, Western-style cafes have swept across the city, popping up in every neighborhood. Although you'll find the American chains like Starbucks everywhere, Korean coffee shops usually have a more interesting decor, though they're higher in price (some of them tend to be rather smoky too).

For just an honest cup of joe in Samcheongdong, try Beans Bins, 62-26 Samcheong-dong (tel. 02/736-7799), just across the street from Samcheongdong Sujebi. Just follow your nose to the smell of roasting and brewing beans. Open daily from 11am to 11pm, this place sells coffee at W5,000. If you want to unwind with a good book and a cafe latte, you can do just that at the aptly named Book Café, 27-6 Palpan-dong, Jongno-gu (tel. 02/730-1087). The owner is a book lover who loves art, music, and travel. It's open daily 11am to 11pm. Another great place to tuck yourself away in a corner with a book and a steaming mug is To Go Coffee ★★, 32-21 Jae-dong, Jongno-gu (tel. 02/720-5001). You can get a cup for W4,000 (a bargain in this town!) and browse the selection of books or ceramics on display. They're open Monday through Saturday 7am to 11pm and Sunday 10am to 10pm. For a fresh-roasted cup made by a real-live barista, try Bar 0101 ★★, 124-2 Samcheong-dong (tel. 02/723-1259). Don't let the name fool you, because their specialty is coffee, with a cup of Americano starting at W5,500. They're open Tuesday through Sunday 10am to 1am.

Of course, there is no shortage of traditional tea shops in the area. One for animal lovers is Shin Yeutchatjib (tel. 02/737-5019), whose name means "new old tea house." Inside a hanok, birds, rabbits, chickens, and other animals hang out among traditional masks and kimchi pots. They have traditional floor seating in the main room and in the private rooms as well. A popular place for traditional beverages is Juntong Chatjib (tel. 02/723-4909), which is located across from the Insa Art Plaza. It has antique decor and instruments in a wood and hanji (traditional paper) interior. The outdoor courtyard is nice for warm evenings. Nearby on the second floor is the Yeut Chatjib (tel. 02/722-5332), which has a distinctive old-timey feel with everyday tools hanging from the warm, clay walls. You can have your choice of seating from traditional floor tables, or chunky wood tables and benches. If you had to choose only one chatjib (tea house) in the area, a good choice would be Gwicheon (tel. 02/734-2828), a favorite among writers and poets, since it's owned by the wife of famous poet Cheon Sang-byeong. She serves high-quality teas with ingredients she grows at home. Gwicheon is open 11am to 10pm daily. If you want to get the feeling for Korea about 70 years ago, go and find Appa Uhlyeosseul Jjeok-eh (tel. 02/733-3126), whose name means "when Dad was young." Enter the crowded space and it's like stepping into a time warp. They have a black-and-white TV, old memorabilia, and a menu made from an old primary school board. Open daily from 11am to midnight, they're in the alley on the right side of Insa 3(sam)-gil.

Other than traditional tea shops, there are plenty of modern teahouses. One of these is O'Sulloc Tea House, which has several locations throughout the city. The one in Myeongdong is next to Woori Bank (near Myeongdong Cathedral) and is open daily 8am to 10pm. The one in Daehangno is huge, with a nice upstairs terrace. You can't miss it, just up the street from the Coffee Bean; it's open daily 9am to 10:30pm. It has a variety of food items and green tea blends, herbal infusions, and even green tea soaps for sale, in a charming atmosphere. Drinks range from W5,000 to W9,000, cakes W3,000 to W4,500.

There are a large number of eclectic cafes that cater to the college kids in Hongdae-ap. One place to enjoy a lovely cup of tea is the Tea Loft (tel. 02/772-3996) on the 14th floor of the Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong. Open daily from 10:30am to 9:30pm, they specialize in teas and a nice variety of ddeok (rice cakes). Menu items run about W6,000 to W8,000. A quieter place to enjoy a cup of English tea is the nearby Nina's Paris (tel. 02/777-2974). Open 9am to 10pm Monday through Friday and 1 to 7pm Saturday; a personal pot of tea starts at only W4,000.

You can enjoy a cup of coffee and get an unusual fish pedicure at Namu Geuneul (tel. 02/599-1210), located on the second floor above the clothing store Basic House (subway to Gangnam Station, exit 6). Open 10am to midnight; beverages cost W4,000 to W10,000 and you can indulge in baked goods from their "buffet," while the fish nibble at your feet. It's W2,000 for 15 minutes of ticklish fun.

In Apgujeong, a place for tea or coffee and pretty cakes is Amelie (tel. 02/547-9003), which is located in the area's "Rodeo Drive." They're open daily from 8am to midnight; menu items range from W3,000 to W5,000.

An unusual place to enjoy a cup of joe and the view of the Han River is the Han-gang Jeongmang Café Rainbow (tel. 02/511-7345), located on the south side of the Hannam Bridge. Open 11am to midnight (until 11pm Nov-Feb); beverages are a reasonable W3,500 to W5,000. The cafe is easily accessible from Han River Park (you can take a water taxi to the Hannam River stop) or take bus no. 140, 142, 144, 241, 402, 407, 408, 420, 421, 470, 471, or 472 (going northbound over the bridge).

Sing Your Heart Out

A popular part of South Korean nightlife is the noraebang (singing room), where you can rent a private room with a karaoke machine so that you and your friends can belt out your favorite tunes. You choose from a menu of songs, input the numbers into the system, and take turns singing and dancing along to old American, Korean, and other Asian favorites. You can't swing a dead cat in Seoul without hitting a noraebang. The hipper ones are in the college areas of Hongdae-ap and Daehangno. Most of them have songs in English (albeit, older pop hits from the '80s and '90s). Some of them in more expensive areas, like Apgujeong, can get pretty steep (over W100,000 per hour), so be sure to ask the price before you step into a room. Most of these places are open daily from around 5pm to 2am, and you rent rooms by the hour (W12,000-W20,000), depending on the place and the size of the room. They serve only sodas and beers.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.