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If you’re a K-pop fan in Seoul or into Korean youth culture, karaoke or shopping, the Hongdae neighbourhood is the place to be


While a grass-roots independent art spirit still permeates Hongdae, the area has lately become a popular destination for international K-pop fans looking to fully immerse themselves in the hallyu or Korean wave.

Booking.com and Ryse Hotel’s K-pop suite features a collection of Kang Daniel merchandise. Photo: Booking.com

From the moment you leave Hongik University Station, images of K-pop idols such as Jang Won-young of IVE and V of BTS are plastered across almost every advertising hoarding.

Given the characteristics of the area, it makes sense that, in 2021, the Seoul metropolitan government designated Hongdae as a special tourism zone – the 7th in the capital to get the title and subsidies, joining tourist favourites Myeongdong and Gangnam.

The local hospitality industry has been an active participant in supporting that K-pop tourism drive. Ryse Hotel, for instance, recently collaborated with Booking.com to offer two K-pop fans from Europe the full Hongdae experience, which included staying in a pop-up suite that was decorated with K-pop star Kang Daniel’s signed albums, the outfit he wore in his music video for “SOS” and a noraebang (or karaoke) machine.

Withmuu in Hongdae sells more than 60 different light sticks for K-pop fan groups. Photo: SCMP/Erika Na

K-pop fans have a choice of activities in Hongdae.

Shopping

You can pick up all the “K-pop essentials” at Withmuu. First up are the light sticks more than 60 major groups, each having its own design and colour.

The one for Blackpink, for instance, looks like a small toy hammer with a heart-shaped head, while the light sticks for EXO and Super Junior just show their logo.

The light sticks are not cheap – costing more than 40,000 won (US$30) each – but they are must-haves for devoted K-pop fans.

If you are a fan of girl group Twice, their merchandise includes a CD player, Velcro wallet set, transport card, pen, wireless charger and a toothbrush steriliser, all emblazoned with Twice’s logo.
K-pop fans can go on a treasure hunt for K-pop merchandise and obscure albums at Withmuu. Photo: SCMP/Erika Na

The most popular groups, like Blackpink, have a shelf devoted to all their records. Fans can hunt for any albums that are missing from their collection.

Also worth checking out are department stores like Olive Young that carry merchandise of many smaller Korean brands with lower price tags.

The streets of Hongdae are full of small clothing shops that sell the latest fashion items at low prices. Musinsa, which is very popular among younger Koreans, started out as an online fashion retailer and now has two bricks-and-mortar shops in Seoul, in Hongdae and Gangnam.

Hongdae is a centre of South Korea’s booming street performance culture, and draws large crowds. Photo: SCMP/Erika Na

Street entertainment

Seoul has a vibrant busking culture and Hongdae’s street performances draw large crowds.

Indie bands started performing on the streets of Hongdae in the 2000s; these days, the performances are much more regulated, probably because of frequent complaints from residents, and artists are given a strict two-hour time slot from 12pm to 2pm, and two-hour segments between 4pm and 10pm.

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Noraebang

Sing your heart out at the many noraebang, or karaoke lounges, with a catalogue of songs from the 1970s to the latest K-pop hits.

You pay by the hour, or per song – at places called coin noraebang. At Awesome Coin Noraebang, they charge 500 won per number.

One of the best-known lounges in Hongdae is Su Noraebang, which is open 24 hours a day; it’s the ideal haunt for those who want a singalong at 3am after snacking on Korean BBQ and downing soju bombs.

There are a lot of K-pop dance academies in Hongdae where tourists can take day classes. Photo: YN Company

K-pop dance class

There are many dance studios in Hongdae that offer day classes for tourists.

Every second Wednesday of the month at 2pm, visitors can take a free 90-minute dance lesson from the hottest dance crew, YGX.

Under Blackpink’s management company YG entertainment, YGX works with some of the biggest names in the business and is known for its creative dance choreography. The most prominent member of YGX, Lee Jung, choreographed Lisa from Blackpink’s solo hits “Lalisa” and “Money”, and Twice’s “Fancy”.

YN Company, a dance academy in Gangnam, holds four two-hour sessions on Saturdays and Sundays, and more frequently during the week.

Each session costs US$30 per person, and there is a full refund if you cancel the class at least 24 hours in advance. Sessions include photos and videos of your dancing to take home.

YGX Academy Headquarters, 14 Heewoojeong-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul

YN Company, 5 B1 775 Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

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Restaurant and bars with K-pop themes

Goobne is one of the biggest fried chicken chains in Korea and it has a flagship store called “Playtown” on Hongdae’s main street, serving their chicken with the most popular K-pop tunes blasting in the background.

The store is in a four-storey building, and on the second floor, you can pose for photos in a tunnel surrounded by screens playing colourful media.

E-run is a cafe run by YG Entertainment. K-pop fans love to hang out outside entertainment companies’ offices, hoping to catch a glimpse of their idols. It used to be frowned upon, seen as an infringement of privacy. But now, YG Entertainment has opened a cafe to cater to the hardcore fans outside their office.

You get a full view of YG’s new office and there’s a merchandise shop on the basement floor.

There are several damotori restaurants in the area, numbered from one to seven. These are supposed to be “hunting” restaurants – which in Korean vernacular means people go there to meet and drink with people and possibly find love.

Even if you are not interested in meeting your Koreaboo, damotori are ideal places to hang out to enjoy K-pop tunes and try typical Korean dishes.

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Fortune telling

On the main street of Hongdae, there are many tarot card reading and fortune telling shops that K-pop idols have frequented, either through a TV programme or on their own. These stores often have names and photos of the celebrities printed and plastered on the doors.

Before you head inside one, make sure that the card reader/fortune-teller can speak English or Chinese.



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