By: Sandra Mae Laureano
The glitz and glam of K-Pop has allured a lot of curious spectators. The phenomenon has gone beyond music – it’s a culture, a lifestyle, and it continues to engulf the world in wonder. K-Pop artists like BTS, EXO, and BIGBANG are currently transcending language barriers by breaking through global charts with only minimal international promotion.
For anyone who has fallen deep into the charms of K-Pop, setting foot in Seoul is the dream. For at least once in their lives, they have to breathe the same air as their favorite artists, eat the same food, and walk in the same streets.
The buzzling metropolitan of Seoul is a wonderland for K-Pop enthusiasts. We’ve narrowed down the absolutes for you. Here are 7 stops you need to make your Seoul pilgrimage worthwhile.
1. Chill out at Hongdae.
Short for Hongik Daehakgyo (which translates to as Hongik University), Hongdae is the place to be if you’re young or if you simply want to feel young. At day, the streets are hushed as students and young professionals go through their daily routines, but come night, the scene roars into life. You will find everything there – from common street eats to rare gourmet finds, indie cover bands to the booming rave clubs, bargain fashion hauls to mid-range novelty apparel.
Trivia: Many young hopefuls, composed of rappers, bands and dancers, busk in the area at night. Some famous Korean artists have revealed that Hongdae was their playground before they officially made their debut. Keep your eyes peeled. You might be watching the stars in their most natural state.
2. Go ‘Gangnam Style’ at Apgujeong Road.
Yes, it’s the place mentioned in that song we all heard a lot (willingly or unwillingly) in 2012.
Located in the District of Gangnam, Apgujeong Road is literally where the rich and the famous walk. Just around the corner is the prestigious Galleria Department Store which houses luxury boutiques such as Prada, Goyard, and Chanel. Aptly, it is also the home of major K-Pop entertainment companies including SM, JYP, FNC and CUBE. You can also take a stroll at the K-Star Road to find the famous Gangnamdols, which are designer toy sculptures uniquely customized for top K-Pop acts.
Pro-tip: If you’re lucky enough, you might just bump into some celebrities roaming around the area.
3. Shop, shop, shop at Myeongdong.
If you want to upgrade your K-Pop merch collection, head on over to Myeongdong – the Underground area, to be specific. Connected to the subway’s exit, you’ll find shops selling CDs, DVDs, photobooks, and concert memorabilia. If you know your stuff, you might just spot some rare collectibles lying around. Their prices are relatively cheaper than record stores in malls so make sure to take what you need when you get there.
Once you’re done with that, do go up to the see the massive shopping district above. Take a gander at the dizzying selections of clothes, cosmetics, shoes, and what have you. Grab a bite or two at the food stalls laid out across the streets while you’re at it.
4. Explore the relics of the past in Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Time for a taste of culture! You’ll be surprised to find the grandest palace in the history of Korea surrounded by multitudes of tall buildings. Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 as the residence of the royal family during the Joseon Dynasty. The palace had gone through several reconstructions and restorations over the centuries, but its antiquity remains. Walk around the ornate pavilions lined with rows of blossoming trees, and you will immediately feel like you’re in one of those historical dramas, minus the royal garb. For a quick run-through of the country’s rich history, the National Palace Museum of Korea can also be found inside the palace.
5. Go up above the N Seoul Tower.
You must have seen that tall glowing tower with the very pointy end in the background of a handful of K-drama scenes. The N Seoul Tower has become Seoul’s iconic landmark. Majority of tourists are obliged to make their visit to ride the cable car which floats through the lush landscape of Seoul.
For reference, this was where Junpyo and Jandi had their first date in Boys Over Flowers, where Hae Joonjae waited for Sim Chung in the snow in Legends of the Blue Sea, and where Do Minjoo and Cheon Songyi placed their love padlock in My Love from the Star.
6. Rediscover K-Pop at SMTOWN COEX Artium.
Located inside the COEX Mall in Samseongdong, SMTOWN COEX Artium is a six-floor haven for aficionados of SM Entertainment artists. In the SUM Market, you can proudly say that you’ve tasted a piece of your favorite K-Pop groups through the wide array of food choices crafted after their name. Fancy munching on Super Junior Sea Salt & Pepper Potato Chips? How about some Girls Generation Charm Greek Yogurt? EXO jjamppong noodles, anyone? The SUM Celebrity Shop also features exclusive artist merchandise such as albums, clothes, paper toys, and tons of other collectibles.
The LIVErary Café is a dreamy rest area, featuring cakes, macarons and ice cream customized after SM artists. Take your time browsing through the archives of costumes and photos of some of the most iconic SM Entertainment performances.
If you want to elevate your experience, treat yourself to the SMTOWN Studio wherein you get to experience the life of a K-Pop star by going through dance tutorials, vocal lessons, and music video shooting while being assisted by pros in the field. To maximize your visit, try out a whole new experience by seeing past concerts and musicals in the illusive hologram format.
7. Go see the real thing: Experience K-Pop live in Seoul!
Well, the best way to get the most out of your K-Pop pilgrimage in Seoul is to go see your favorite artists perform live right in their home country. K-Pop is known for having some of the most extravagant productions the world has ever seen. Of course, you can always wait for them to visit our land, but believe it or not, the production in Korea is a hundred times more explosive.
The concert experience itself is more sacred. Finding comfort in their home, the artists tend to be more spontaneous both in performing and in speaking. The audience etiquette is also very different. If you have any plans to vlog the concert as it happens, be prepared to be escorted outside as security is very strict. The greatest reward in this is the more solemn concert experience. You get to breathe the music, feast your eyes on the stage, wave those lightsticks, and cheer your soul out.
Note: Plan ahead. Sadly, if you intend to wing it and get your ticket on the concert day, chances are there won’t be any available. Most major K-Pop concerts get sold out minutes after ticket selling opens. To ensure your slots, it is advisable to be a member of their official fanclub or to have some mighty, quick internet connection.
Seoul exudes K-Pop down to its core. You’ll hear the music in the alleys. You’ll see the artists’ faces smiling at you in the advertisements left and right. You’ll see their style in people’s daily fashion. When you get there, take the chance to bask in its culture, and make your pilgrimage memorable.