Hongdae takes its name from the nearby Hongik University (with the Korean word for ‘university’ being ‘daehag’ so ‘Hongdae’ simply being the first hald of each word smooshed together). The area of Hongdae, Seoul itself is considered by many to be the modern hub of the city. It’s not the place to go for traditional culture, architecture, or a history lesson (for that you’ll want to visit Gwanghwamun Square). Instead, Hongdae is a place of electricity and colour. K-beauty shopping, live street music, animal cafes, and a really quirky museum. There’s so much fantastic food and coffee here, and of course the presence of Hongik University makes Hongdae Seoul’s atmosphere all the more electric.
Wondering exactly what to do for a full day in Hongdae, Seoul? Let’s explore the best Hongdae shopping, cafes, and more, as well as a good Hongdae hotel (or a Hongdae guesthouse, if you’d prefer) for you to stay in to finish off a perfect 24 hours in Hongdae!
For people who live in Seoul, the phrase “Hongdae Station exit 9” is a joke in and of itself. Exit 9 of Hangdae Station (or Hongik University Station, to be technically correct) is where you need to go for all your Hongdae shopping adventures. The joke is that Hongdae Station exit 9 is a narrow staircase where, at all hours of the day (especially on weekends) hundreds of people funnel in and out to go shopping. The exit of Hongik University Station, as well as the area around it, is frighteningly crowded so bear that in mind. But once you get past that initial trial by bustle, you’re in the best part of Seoul and you’re about to go shopping!
Near Hongik University Station exit 9, you’ll find Kakao Friends main store. Kakao is the messenger app of choice in Korea, and the company has built a whole universe around itself with cute characters, K-pop connections, stickers and accessories, cosmetics and skincare, and of course cute cuddly toys. If you’ve been sucked into the deep lore of Kakao Friends, then the Kakao Friends store in Hongdae Seoul is probably going to be one of your first stops.
To get to Kakao Friends, you need to come out of Hongdae Station exit 9 and turn back on yourself towards exit 8, and you’ll see it like a beacon.
Hongdae Street Shopping
Hongdae shopping is mostly done, fittingly, on Hongdae Street (or Hongdae Shopping Street as it’s even more fittingly known). As you come away from Hongdae Station exit 9 and move further south (let the crowds carry you forth), you’ll notice the shops rising before you like a capitalist sunrise. ABC Mart first, then huge Adidas and Nike stores. From there, it’s an ocean of vintage clothing stores, the very best K-beauty and skincare shops (Etude House, Skinfood), and between them all a lot of great Korean cafes. You’ll find a few boutique shops but for that side of Korean fashion Myeongdong offers even more. Hongdae shopping is very much big brands rather than little boutique fashion stores.
Read More: A Day in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul
Something you’ve probably heard a lot about when researching where to go in Seoul or the best places to visit in Korea are Seoul’s animal cafes. They’re delightful places, and some of the best ones can be found in Hongdae, Seoul. Let’s look here at two of Hongdae’s best animal cafes: Thanks Nature Café (the sheep café) and Meerkat Friends (the meerkat café).
This Seoul café is a nourishing and charming place. If you’re a little worried about the ethics involved in a café in a city like Seoul being packed full of meerkats, you’re not alone. We were sceptical and a little worried, too. But when you do at least visit, and you see the love and attention given to these meerkats by the wonderful people who work there and look after them day after day, all your fears will melt away completely. The meerkats are happy, well looked after, and absolutely beloved.
Visiting Meerkat Friends costs the equivalent of $10 and includes a drink in the price. The only downside is that the drink has to be bottled because coffee machine noises scare the meerkats. So, don’t come here if it’s coffee you’re specifically after. Once you’re in, you’ll find more than just meerkats. Wandering the café by themselves are several gorgeous cats, and there’s a pen in the corner where an arctic fox lives!
The meerkats themselves are kept in a pen in the centre of the café, and there are around ten of them. You line up outside the pen in a group, and when it’s your turn you get ushered inside. You’ll sit on the floor in a circle with a blanket on your lap, and the meerkats will climb over you, sit in your lap, and play. They’re friendly and happy little guys, and the experience is so lovely we actually visited three times in the space of a year. Oh, and no shoes or anything in your pockets when you go inside the pen, for obvious reasons. You can take your phone for photos, but it has to be in your hand.
Read More: 24 Hours in Myeongdong
Thanks Nature Café
Two sweet and fluffy little sheep named Sugar and Honey, an impressive indoor tree decorated with shimmering things, and a hearty pile of waffles. It’s certainly not your average café-going experience (although you’d be surprised – you’re in Seoul, after all), but it is an absolutely delightful one. There’s nothing to worry about here with regards to the safety and happiness of the two sheep; they are cared for and shown so much affection by their owners.
Visiting Thanks Nature Café is also a great time to sample some traditional Korean bingsu (shaved ice covered with various fruits and sweet sauces). Japan and China have their own versions of the same formula, but we think you’ll agree than Korean bingsu is the best of the lot.
Read More: 7 Awesome Day Trips from Seoul
If you’re going to visit one museum in Hongdae that’s totally unique to Seoul, then it must be the Trick-Eye Museum near Hongdae Street. This interactive museum is an incredible hour or so of hysterical fun with friends. When you first walk in, you’ll be instructed to download an app onto your phone (it’s free) that will use your phone’s camera setting to bring the museum’s exhibits to life. Keep the app open and your phone in hand as you wander through the museum’s exhibitions.
The museum experience itself consists of wandering slowly from colourful room to colourful room, and in each one is a selection of fantastical artworks that you can interact with. These pieces are either clever distortions where one of you stands within the artwork itself (it’s usually on the walls or floor) and then the other takes a photo (using the app) from a specific angle to make the art look 3D, as though you’re being swallowed by the art or falling off a cliff (to name a few examples).
Some of the artworks are pieces which, when viewed using the app, come to life (like a dragon breathing fire or a Pegasus flapping its wings). You can film or photograph your friends interacting with the art through the app and bring their experiences to life. As you can probably gather, the Trick-Eye Museum is not the most serious gallery or museum in the world, but the Trick-Eye Museum is a morning or an afternoon of delightful fun with friends that should not be missed during your 24 hours in Hongdae.
Read More: The Ultimate 3-Day Seoul Itinerary
Where to Stay in Hongdae
9 Brick Hotel is a fancy, upmarket hotel experience that won’t break the bank. In terms of balancing a really nice and relaxing hotel experience with reasonable prices, this Hongdae hotel is the best of the bunch. 9 Brick Hotel offers stellar views of the surrounding area (like Hongdae Street) and the rest of the city beyond. It also has spacious rooms with big TVs, luxurious beds, and the absolute height of cleanliness that encourages complete relaxation after a full day of shopping and exploring Hongdae. The restaurant offers a buffet of international cuisine, and there’s also outdoor seating options and a bar where you can grab a drink to sooth your soul as you collapse after a day of solid Hongdae shopping. 9 Brick is certainly the best Hongdae hotel for its location, price, and promises of luxury.
Heima Guesthouse Hongdae is the best Hongdae guesthouse you’ll find. It’s a clean and sparse place in a perfect location for Hongdae shopping and exploring. It’s also a super secure Hongdae guesthouse that offers the cleanest and quietest rooms, as well as private bathrooms and a shared kitchen. There are family rooms, too, which is always nice for a family looking to stick to a reasonable budget. Many of us have to stay in guesthouses for the sake of budgeting and it’s always wonderful to know when the quality is high despite its low price. This Hongdae guesthouse is definitely that. You’ll have a good time at Heima Guesthouse.
Will predominantly writes about the books of Books and Bao, examining the literature of a place and how the authors have used the art of storytelling to reflect the world and the culture around them.