Much of Korean social life revolves around food and the city is packed with restaurants so it would take a determined man to starve to death in Seoul. This fate may still befall you if you insist on English menus and meals consisting only of easily identifiable, familiar ingredients. An alternative is to just point and eat, your hosts generally will accommodate.
In addition to Korean food, Japanese restaurants in Seoul tend to be excellent, featuring excellent sushi and sashimi. Chinese restaurants exist but are typically adapted to suit local preferences. There are a few Italian restaurants; these are generally excellent, with chefs trained in Italy, although flavors tend to be more or less Koreanized, with sugar in the garlic bread and meatballs.
Big chains are common in South Korea as well, with so many cafes and bakeries. If you ever get a chance to visit Seoul, so many uniquely designed cafes are common there so one would spend most of their time taking many pictures and eating delicious pastries and dishes.
These are some lists of the well-known chains in Seoul. Paris Baguette and Tous Les Jours are the two main cafes that are situated in some parts of the United States.
- Paris Baguette: Very popular in Seoul. This cafe serves tasty and delicious pastries, birthday cakes, rice cake breads, shaved iced creams, coffee, tea, and smoothies. The atmosphere is settling and is a good place to gather with people or study. A small chain is located in the U.S in MA, Cambridge, which opened last year in 2014. This chain cafe already exists in New York City and California in Koreatown. This cafe is spreading across the United States, and is under more developments.
- Tours Les Jours: Also very popular in Seoul. This cafe also serves many pastries, cakes, shaved iced creams coffee, tea, smoothies, and rice cake breads. A small chain is located in the U.S in MA, Burlington inside H-Mart, a Korean Food Market as well as in New York City Koreatown.
- Hello Kitty Cafe: Everything in the cafe is pink and full of Hello Kitty decorations and servings.
- Caffe Bene: Very popular in Seoul. This cafe serves shaved ice cream in various flavors, coffee, tea, pastries and more. This cafe is also open in New York City in Koreatown and Boston, Massachusetts.
- Palazzo: Serves gelato and ice cream.
There are many other cafes which are also popular inside Seoul, which are not yet internationally developed across the United States.
Cafes such as Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme, and Starbucks are also diversely known. In Seoul, however, these cafes have much more options to choose from such as drink flavors to pastries that are not seen across the United States.
Seoul has plenty of budget places to eat. Everything from convenience store junk food and noodles to street stall food and lots of 24 hr Korean fast food restaurants. The 24-hour restaurants are great because they've usually got a wide variety of foods, including mandu, odeng, dokbokki, naengmyeon, udon and ramyeon. Also open late into the night are Korean BBQ restaurants, which are everywhere in Seoul. These can be very cheap and are usually of good quality. Barbecue options usually are limited to pork and beef, and they often come with a smattering of side dishes. Korean BBQ is, in itself, an experience that makes you feel like a Seoulite. The larger department stores in the city have basement food courts that offer excellent food (not recommended if you care about the atmosphere).
- Ala-Too Cafe, (near Dongdaemun Stadium, exit 5). Along with some Russian, Mongolian, and Central Asian restaurants (including the excellent and cheap Ala-Too Cafe, above a bakery). Wander around and discover the area a bit - you'll be rewarded with delicious food and exotic experience.
- Sadongmyenok (사동면옥), 29-21 Jongno Gwanhun (Insadong 8-gil, down the alley). Justly famous for its manduguk, a soup of gargantuan homemade dumplings stuffed with meat and veggies and served with side dishes. English menu available.
- Loving Hut Achasan. Part of a vegan chain, this restaurant serves a mix of vegan Korean and international food. It serves food, coffee, and non-alcoholic drinks, and has a frozen food section where you can stock up on vegan essentials for home. The menu is in English and Korean and includes pictures. English is spoken by the friendly staff.
- Richard Copycat's All-American Diner, Itaewon (Itaewon stn, exit 4. Walk straight for 200 m. 2nd floor, Starbucks next to McDonald's). The only place in Seoul serving authentic greasy American food. Tons of food and drink. Open from 7 am to 2 am.
- Everest, Dongdaemun (Dongdaemun stn, exit 3. Walk straight for 100 m. Turn left at the pharmacy and walk 50 m). Nepali restaurant featuring dozens of delectable dishes ranging from mutton curry to butter naan. Bollywood music videos are free.
- The Frypan, Nationwide. This is a chain serving American-style fried chicken and chips, as well as draft beer. Set apart from the hundred of other chicken bars in the area thanks to a nice, hole-in-the-wall atmosphere and generous portions, not to mention the authenticity of the food.
- Jacoby's, 45-6 Yongsan-dong 2-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea (Noksapyeong stn, line 5, exit north toward Namsan tunnel. When you reach a large intersection, look for kimchi pots on the left side of the street, next to the Yongsan Garrison wall. Head up that side street, continue walking up the hill. On the right up the street, about 400 m past the kimchi pots). 02-3785-0433. Offers a wide variety of burgers, arguably the best for the value, in Seoul. In an area often known as the foreigner ghetto, a popular area for expats to live just west of Itaewon.
- Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan (전주 중앙 회관), Myeong-dong (Myeong-dong Station, exit 5), +82 2 776-3400. 8:30 AM-10:30 PM daily. This Korean restaurant specializes in the Jeonju variety of bibimbap, which features different ingredients and spices than other bibimbap dishes. Delicious and healthy.
- New Delhi Restaurant, Itaewon (Noksapyoung stn exit 1, cross overpass, turn right, 2 min up the hill on your left), 007. Run by a Canadian-Indian owner. Try the chicken vindaloo, the garlic naan, and the samosas.
- Pattaya, Itaewon (Itaewon Station, exit 1. Walk 50 m. Turn right at the KFC and walk to the end of the alley. Turn left and walk 70 m past the 3 Alley Pub). Thai restaurant, and perhaps the best in Seoul. With a menu featuring nearly 100 different items, you're bound to find your favorite dishes and make some new ones, too.
- 'Le Pied de Cochon (르 코숑), Dogok-dong 419 Kangnam-gu (Meabong 매봉 stn line 3 exit 4, cross overpass, turn left), +82 2 577-8503, +82 10 6336-8724, 11 AM-1 AM. A French restaurant specialized in pastas, pork meat, and Rosé wine. Come here to try the "Pied" with a glass of wine.
- Smokey Saloon, Itaewon, Apgujeong, Gangnam (Itaewon stn, exit 2. Go out the exit and walk 50 m. Turn left at the Hard Rock Cafe and walk 50 m. Turn right and walk 10 m). Featuring a selection of over a dozen authentic American-style hamburgers, freshly made onion rings, and hearty chili-cheese fries, Smokey's is one of the best places to get a taste of the U.S.
- Zelen, Itaewon (turn right at the KFC at the Hamilton Hotel. Follow the small alley until the end and turn left. Again walk to the end and take the stairs heading up). Fantastic Bulgarian restaurant featuring lots of stuffed everything - from tomatoes to mushrooms, peppers and chicken breasts. Well worth it as it is very unique to the dining landscape in Seoul.
- Kali, 170-3 2F Myeongnyun 4-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea (hyehwa Station Exit 4. Go straight about 100m until 4 juntion, than turn left go 30m on your right side 2F), 02-747-5050. 1st, 3rd Mon Off. Really good Indian food especially for south Indian food. Interior is quite exotic.
- Hanwoori (한우리), Nonhyeondong (south of Apgujung). An upper-end Korean restaurant that specializes in the Korean version of Shabu-shabu, which is a boiling pot to which you throw in vegetables and very thin slices of meat. Their menu is extensive and while their atmosphere may not be cutting-edge, it is classy and clean.
- J Pub Ryu. Amazing food and drinks, specializing in sake. The atmosphere is lively with the occasional celebrity sighting. A definite hot spot any night of the week with an innovative menu of Japanese fusion.
- Pizza Hill. An excellent pizzeria close to the Walker Hill hotel in Gwangjin-gu. As its name implies, the restaurant has a lovely view of Seoul on top of a hill and prices higher than the hill it sits on. However, the pizza is well worth the price. Worth a visit if you hit it big at the nearby casino.
Seoul features a mind-bogglingly large array of nightspots catering to every taste and budget, often being considered the best and most vibrant in the world. While most cities feature only a few areas for nightlife, Seoul features many such districts in staggering size and an array of locations to choose from. Not only the sheer volume of bars and restaurants but also the relatively low cost of soju (the number one alcohol sold in the world) attributes to the lively nightlife atmosphere in the city.
South Korea is the land of the coffee shops. It seems the number of such places can easily compete with the number of convenience stores. Many Koreans dream of having their own coffee place, although with the oversupply of such places the profit is probably very low. There are many big coffee chains around, which you will see repeatedly. You should, however, opt for any one that is smaller and cozier.
- Coffee Bar, 8 Eulji-ro 9-gil Jung-gu, Seoul (Enter the small alley on 9-gil, 40m north of the main Eulji-ro (road)). Closed Sundays. This is a very special place where the owners put a tremendous amount of time into preparing your Americano, Cappuccino or anything else they have on offer. They even roast their own beans using a gas flame and kind of kids play washing machine. Opt for something with caramel and ask for a real cup. They of course also have WiFi
Itaewon is Seoul's international district, with a wide variety of Western-styled venues to eat, drink and be merry. Since many foreigners congregate there, Itaewon remains somewhat of a niche nightlife area for Koreans interested in a more international scene. A number of notable bars and clubs spot the area, both on the main street and in the nearby alleys, and the area has become more gentrified as more upscale restaurants and chains move in. Due to Itaewon's proximity to the nearby United States Army base, a large number of the American military are found there in the evenings and weekends. However, the US army has decided to move the base to a location outside of Seoul within the next few years, so expect regular changes to the area.
Many bars in Itaewon celebrate Thursdays as Ladies' Night, which often means that women drink free before 12 am. There are also a few gay bars located two alleys east of the main street, with a mix of clubs and places to drink.
- Richard Copycat's All-American Diner. Recently moved locations. Tons of great food and drinks. Serves authentic Buffalo wings in Seoul. They also serve American breakfast.
- Geckos, (opposite Quiznos). A relaxed bar scene and good food. Very popular with GIs and expats.
- Dillinger's. #in the alley behind Geckos across from Quiznos/Family Mart#. Serves draft and bottled beers and good food. Sports played on a number of big screens, plus more tables upstairs.
- Metro. A lot of older expats and many Koreans hit up this joint. Only one Korean beer on tap, but the free pool. The front #or right side when you go up the stairs# seems to be for the expat crowd, while the back #the left door when you go up the stairs# seems to be more of style for the Korean crowd. They have a typical range of snacks available and free peanuts for beer drinkers.
- Bless U is another older expat haunt. You better be good with your pool game or you'll be waiting in a long line to go again. Darts are also available. They have great popcorn and decent draft beers. It changed ownership last year and has been running a tight ship since.
- The Rose & Crown. London-style pub with great fish and chips and interior decoration. Darts and sports on the big screen available.
- Soul Train. Small bar in the alley behind Hamilton Hotel that plays R&B and soul. Excellent sound system.
- Phillies. A Canadian-owned sports bar and grill with a pool table and darts in the basement. Beer prices are par and food is OK.
- Craftworks. Located across Haebangchon in the Gyeongnidan area. Find the NOXA bar and walk past it two or three stores down. No pool or darts, but their 8 craft brews are the best beers you'll find in Korea. Seriously.
Sinchon (신촌), home to universities including Sogang University(서강대학교), Yonsei University (연세대학교) and Ewha Womans University, is a great place to soak up a more Korean environment. Not to be confused with Sincheon, which is closer to Jamshil, Sinchon is set up like many Korean entertainment areas in which bars, clubs, restaurants, karaoke boxes and sometimes even motels are structured in a grid-like fashion. The only way to familiarize yourself with the area is to stroll the alleys and discover all of the different places. Korean bars tend to be rather anti-social compared with their Western counterparts, with people sitting at tables with friends and not tending to mix. Yet a number of Western-style bars in the area have opened up.
- Woodstock. Around since 1991, the bar has prompted a slew of copycats but is the best place to hear classic rock and pop. The sound system is awesome and the owner/DJ knows his stuff. Expect large crowds Friday and Saturday nights and seeing people dance next to their tables. Great place to mix with Koreans of all ages.
- Zen II.
- Nori Ha Nun Saram Dul. A basement bar infamous for both its great rock music and its decrepit interior with writing on the walls. Difficult to find and almost impossible to get a seat after 9 p.m. Secure valuables as theft is not uncommon in the bar.
- Beer O'Clock. This Canadian-run bar serves great pizzas and other grub in addition to showing sports on the big screen and offering darts. Weekends are pretty wild at this joint.
- Yaletown. Two Korean Canadians own this third-floor bar that serves up delicious burgers and another Western fare. Big screen TVs keep showing sports and this is also good if you play beer pong.
Hongdae (홍대), short for Hongik University, used to be the premier club area in Seoul. Located around Hongik University, clubs and bars are strewn everywhere around the place. The clubs aren't near the station but aren't hard to find. The most popular clubs are:
- M2 Trance/techno.
- Cocoon Hip-hop and dance music.
- Miroir, 405-5, Seokyo-dong, Mapo-gu (From exit 4 at Hapjeong station walk in the direction that the traffic flows, when you reach the fake airplane towards the minimart on your right, follow this road (watch out for taxis creeping from behind), turn right at main crossing, follow until you see Family Mart). Psychedelic hippie hangout with psytrance Fri and Sat, 60s and 70s rock during the week. No cover charge.
- nb (noise basement) Hiphop.
- Q-Vo Hiphop.
Some other popular clubs include:
- Club Saab Small Hip hop Club
- Joker Red Techno club
- Club Tool House Music club
- Club FF Rock music club that is popular with foreigners
- Harlem Hip hop club
- S Club hip hop club.
- Tin Pan A clubs/bars with cheap drinks and a dance floor. You must have a non-armed forces identification to enter.
On a Friday or Saturday expect all of these to be packed tight. Expect a packed crowd. A number of bars are popular with foreigners here too:
- Bricxx A hookah lounge with an intimate atmosphere and a large mixed drink and wine list.
The place is huge and you could party for a whole week in all the bars and clubs. The best way to see it is to stroll around and find something you like. An interesting note: the entire club district of Hongdae is officially off-limits to U.S. military personnel, Federal employees and their dependents. However, it is not unusual to see crew-cuts here on the weekends since it is rarely enforced.
Near Hongdae Park is Joon's, a popular little venue with a variety of clientele. They have beer pong, darts, and their own DJs.
In warmer months, don't pass up the closet-sized B-Dan on Hongdae's main strip, which offers up take-out draft beer by the plastic cup.
More recently, a number of LP bars playing classic rock and pop has opened up. One to look for is Suzie Q, which is near the 7-11 around the clubs.
Apgujeong (압구정) is the upmarket area of Seoul. Walk around the streets and you'll see teenagers valet parking their new Benz or Audi, strutting their new designer threads, and looking generally, well, rich. That said, a lot of people who party here aren't necessarily rich and live far away. Apgujeong is rather subdued when it comes to nightlife though it has a few posh clubs and bars. Places, where valet is unavailable, are unlikely to be great hits traditionally. There are, however, a few small clubs in the area. Expect English to be more commonly spoken in this area, too, due to many Koreans in the area having studied abroad or received a lot of private tutoring. This has also meant, however, a certain desensitization to foreigners, so don't expect people to stare or approach you as much as they would in other parts of Seoul. Consider Apgujeong a great place to hang out, not party. If you want to impress a date, for example, this is a great place to go to. The backstreets of Apgujeong tend to sprout and lose new clubs seemingly at random throughout the year, so getting off the main drag from time to time can yield a new "hot club of the month."
- Superclub Circle usually playing house music, sometimes hip hop.
- Club Air House/Techno club.
- Elec Small, trendy club that is quite difficult to find.
- Randy's Bar (RAndy's Pub), 동대문구 (Get off HUFS station line 1 and go out exit 6, walk 100 meters and turn left. RAndy's is on the little alleyway on your right), 5:30 p.m. - 2 a.m. Foreign-owned bar in front of Hankook University of Foreign Studies known for a varied clientele, great pool table, and affordable prices. Has Red Rock and Hoegaarden on tap.
Gangnam station (강남) is probably the No. 2 club area in Seoul. Also set up in a grid structure, clubs, bars, restaurants, and other entertainment venues decorate this upmarket location. While not as upmarket as Apgujeong, it definitely is busy and lively. If Apgujeong is the place for rich kids to hang out and look cool, Gangnam is the place for those rich kids to party and look sexy. The station is a transit hub and a ton of buses run through the heart of the entertainment area, so finding your way there is extremely easy.