In 2012 South Korean singer Psy released the song ‘Gangnam Style’ and it went viral, the catchy tune and famous dance moves seemingly everywhere you went. But the K-pop and dance-pop song has more meaning to it than you might think. ‘Gangnam Style’ refers to a particular lifestyle associated with the Gangnam District of Seoul, South Korea’s capital and one of the fanciest, coolest neighbourhoods in the world!
Seoul is divided by the Han River (Hangang), with Gangbuk in the north and Gangnam in the south. Whilst Gangbuk is an older neighbourhood and includes the centre of Seoul, Gangnam is the most affluent district and home to the city’s modern attractions, a fast-developing neighbourhood known as “the Beverly Hills of South Korea”. An economic hub for some of the most powerful companies globally, the deposit to rent a home in Gangnam costs 10 years of salary for the average Korean. The district is home to many Korean celebrities and idols, miles of luxury retail, a wild nightlife and Korea’s biggest entertainment companies, so here are some of the attractions you shouldn’t miss!
1. Gangnam station
‘Gangnam Style’ is reflected even in the hustle and bustle of Gangnam Station area itself, which offers underground shopping, plenty of cafés and snacks and major shops like the Kakao Friends Flagship Store. Just outside the station there is even a tribute to the famous song, where tourists and locals can get on stage and record themselves dancing whilst the music plays on repeat. Definitely one way to get into the Gangnam mood!
The retail opportunities in Gangnam are endless, from department stores to underground shopping centres and malls, to bustling high streets, all filled with the latest designer brands , among others. The COEX shopping mall, underneath the Korea World Trade Centre, is one of the largest underground shopping centres in South Korea and boasts international brands, a concert hall, an extensive food court, the country’s largest aquarium, a cinema, an arcade and a kimchi museum. Hours if not days of entertainment, all in one air conditioned location. For some more street based retail therapy, Garosu-gil offers shopping, lunch, and cafes, with all kinds of brands from small to big, Korean to global. K Pop Road is also just a 30 minutes or so walk from here for any fans.
Seoul’s nightlife is known to be incredible, and it’s no surprise that the richest district is no exception. With plenty of choice for clubs, you can party until the sun comes up in the various venues around Gangnam, which usually play EDM or hip-hop music with separate rooms for different genres. Just remember the clubs are more spaced out than in other areas of the city, although relatively low taxi fares means you can still visit two or three in one evening.
The Korea World Trade Centre which towers above the CEOX shopping mall is of course not the only impressive building in Gangnam. Another worth visiting is Lotte World Tower, the tallest building in South Korea which stretches 123 stories and 555 meters high. At the top of the building is Seoul Sky Observatory, where you can get an amazing 360-degree panoramic view of Seoul and the city’s beautiful skyline without any obstacles in your way. The observatory even has an indoor glass floor which you can stand on to get that extra adrenaline kick!
4. Technology and entertainment
Technology and entertainment play a big part in the thriving Gangnam district. It is home to some of the largest Korean entertainment companies and their headquarters and studios attract many people, who visit hoping to spot a famous Korean idol or two. The buildings regularly even have large groups of fans and TV stations clustered around the entrances. Korean company Samsung also has their Samsung D’light exhibition space in Gangnam, showcasing their latest technology and attracting electronic aficionados and visitors alike who come to interact with the new technology on display.
But Gangnam isn’t just about the high-tech, glamorous celebs and designer shops. The neighbourhood offers history too, for example Bongeunsa, a Buddhist Temple in the centre of Gangnam which displays Korea’s traditional past right in the middle the busy metropolitan area. A haven of Buddhist mantras and peaceful landscapes, you can also stay here on a temple stay that allows you to sleep the night at the Buddhist temple and learn about Buddha’s teachings.
Green space is another joy of Gangnam, which has several parks all with their own unique features. Seokchon Lake and Park, is a space to relax and enjoy being outside, whilst Han River Park provides a lovely riverside location. Samneung Park is full of history, with several tomb mounds and burial grounds, including that of King Seongjong the ninth king of the Joseon dynasty, his wife Queen Jeonghyeon, and King Jungjong the 11th king of the Joseon dynasty, all UNESCO World Heritage sites as are all those of the Joseon dynasty. It’s surrounding beautiful forest is also a fresh change from the dense urban areas nearby. Seoul Olympic Park is a huge area offering everything you can think of including seven different cafés, three restaurants, shops, a K-pop museum, multiple fitness centres, basketball courts and skating arenas. A great place to spend the day and try out the many facilities on offer, such as the bikes, kites, balls and skates all available to rent at low prices. Banpo Han River Park has multiple attractions within the park itself and is a great place for evening walks where you can enjoy the city of Seoul at night and watch the city lights glisten on the water.
7. Night markets and food
Of course food is an essential, and Gangnam does not disappoint here either! As well as many restaurants, the neighbourhood has plenty of markets which are ideal for sampling the local cuisine. Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market, which opens every Friday and Saturday, has food trucks selling all sorts of food, both sweet and savoury, and to compliment your feast there is live music of various genres, as well as beautiful handmade products including jewellery and leather goods to admire and purchase.
8. The wow factor
‘Gangnam Style’ goes above and beyond; the glitzy glamorous neighbourhood seems to have everything and knows how to show off. Like the Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain a long the Banpo Bridge which uses an amazing display of colourful and intense lighting along with complementing music to flaunt the city’s beauty. You can watch the river shine an amazing array of colours, and whether watching from the riverside in Banpo Han River Park or from one of the boat and yacht rides available, it is an impressive sight. The spectacle truly shows Gangnam, and Seoul as a whole at its very best, a magical thriving place which won’t disappoint.