Pandemic Travel Update: After two years of being largely closed to foreign nationals, South Korea finally has reopened to vaccinated and even unvaccinated travelers. However, pre-departure and arrival testing as well as other conditions apply. If you are not in Seoul already, be sure to check this helpful guide from Korean Air for up-to-the-minute details related to your specific departure location. Double check to make sure that specific attractions of interest are open for the dates of your visit, too.
If you head west on the Green Line (Line 2) from the historical core of Seoul, you will reach three metro stations in a row — Ewha Womans University (이대역), Sinchon (신촌역), and Hongik University (홍대입구역) — that are sometimes collectively called the "University Quarter" when translated into English.
These metro stations serve parts of neighborhoods commonly referred to as Sinchon (신촌) and Hongdae (홍대). Because there are several universities in the vicinity — not only Ewha Womans University (이화여자대학교) and Hongik University (홍익대학교), as you can guess from the station names, but also Yonsei (연세대학교) and Sogang (서강대학교) — this area is young, creative, and fun whether you live in Seoul or are just passing through.
There are some great walking streets in these neighborhoods which make it particularly pleasant to explore the mostly affordable student-targeted restaurants, coffee shops, bars, clubs, music venues, KTV rooms, indie theaters, and shopping malls that permeate the area.
If you have time, travelgasm.com would recommend that you go to each station, either independently or using our suggested walks below, as the overall area is our favorite in Seoul among districts commonly visited by tourists. As is common for university areas, it starts to wake up in the early afternoon, so an afternoon or evening visit is suggested.
Three University Neighborhoods to Explore
The character of each area is a little different, and you might choose to focus on one or another depending on your primary interest:
- Ewha Womans University: Because Ewha is the first modern educational institution for women in Korea, and still a women's only university, you could guess that shops in the area cater primarily to a female student crowd, and you would be correct. Basically all of the Korean cosmetics chains and many clothing chains with a store in Myeongdong also have a branch in the area. The side streets tend to have more local and indie clothing and accessories designed for young or young-at-heart women.
The main street that directly connects the metro station to the university — Ewhayeodae-gil (이화여대길) — is tree-lined and small scale with wide sidewalks so it is a nice walk. Additionally, in 2008, rather than sprawl outward or establish a satellite campus, Ewha cleverly decided to build a massive expansion to the university underground by effectively carving out new space into the sides of a hill, and in doing so, the university also created Korea's largest underground campus. Designed by architecture firm Dominque Perrault, the central "ditch" of the underground campus has become a photo op for young female tourists in particular.
- Sinchon: Sinchon Station hosts a cluster of large shopping malls, including The Hyundai and U-PLEX, before transitioning to the smaller Yonsei-ro (연세로) street that serves as the main route to Yonsei University. Yonsei got its start as a medical school, and now it is considered to be one of the best overall universities in Korea.
In 2014, Seoul redeveloped Yonsei-ro to give priority to people and turned it into a transit mall for buses, but no longer allowed private cars to use it. On the weekends, it is closed to vehicles entirely, and it takes on a street market feel that is particularly fun. Weekend afternoons and evenings are the best time to visit. There also literally are hundreds of shops, bars, and clubs to explore nestled in the smaller streets in this area between Sinchon and Ewha.
- Hongik University: Hongik Daehakgyo (홍익대학교), widely considered to be one of the best art universities in Korea, lends this area its Hongdae (홍대) nickname with its first and third characters. It also infuses the neighborhood with its cool, artistic vibe.
The best street in the area is Eoulmadang-ro (어울마당로), which sometimes is translated into English as Hongik University Street. This street once was the back street behind a freight rail line, but it has been redesigned several times starting in the 1990s to be an attractive, self-described people "friendly" street flanked with bars, BBQ restaurants, and lots of snack foods. In the evenings, street performers often take over the entire stretch and the whole place effectively becomes a stage. It's a lot of fun.
The back streets in the area are not as attractive, and people and cars share the narrow, grimy spaces, but these streets are full of local bars, cafes, music venues, and various other independent shops, and are well worth exploring. Music venues come and go in the best of times, and the pandemic hit the scene particularly hard, but two long-term, well-known clubs in the immediate neighborhood for live music that still are hanging on include Evans and FF.
There also is a convenient Seoul Pub Crawl centered around Hongik University station on Thursday and Saturday nights that you might like to book. Available for those 18 and up, it promises entry into at least three bars/clubs and three shots for a flat price and also would make communication much easier if you do not speak Korean.
To eat in this area, we enjoyed Tongtong Dwaeji (통통돼지) for Korean BBQ, Gosami (고삼이) for grilled fish, and New York Apartment for a hamburger at one time or another, and you might as well, but there are hundreds of other restaurants near Ewha, Sinchon, and Hongdae alike, so definitely feel free to find your own favorites.
If you plan to stay out into the small hours, be sure to refer to the metro schedule and night bus options. Remember that the last train runs around midnight and the first train doesn't start again until around 5:30 AM; so, you will want to make sure that the N26 night bus can get you where you need to go if you choose to stay after midnight and your accomodation is not in the area. Alternately, you will have to take a taxi or stay out until the train is awake again.
We have mapped out the best walks in the area below. We generally enjoy walking the smaller, charming streets between Ewha and Sinchon and again around Hongik University. We typically prefer to take the metro between Sinchon and Hongik University, but we've also mapped out a tolerable "backdoor" route between Sinchon and Hongik for those who would prefer an on foot option, as well.
How to Get Here: Take the Green Line (Line 2) toward the west. If you wish to follow our suggested walks, we think that the best exits to use are Ewha Womans University, Exit 3; Sinchon, Exit 2 (or duck through the U-Plex Mall); and Hongik University, Exit 9. Depending on your next destination, it may make sense to return to Hongik University station or it may be more logical to use Sangsu Station, Exit 1, on the Brown Line (Line 6).
Like Ewha, Sinchon, or Hongdae? Tell your friends and frenemies on social media that you discovered them first:
Be sure to see our 7 Things Tourists Don't Do in Seoul, but You Should, too.
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