Header image courtesy of @goodworld1127 (via Facebook)
For decades now, Hallyu (한류; Korean wave) has taken the world by storm, with the global phenomenon breaking cultural barriers as much as it significantly drives tourism. A pilgrimage to Seoul (서울시) has therefore become an unmissable trip for all, especially if you are a fan of K-Pop (케이팝; Korean pop music), who only dreams of breathing the same air as your ultimate bias (최애; favourite member of an idol group). Whether or not it’s your first time exploring this city, below are itinerary suggestions that allow you to let out your inner K-pop fangirl.
There’s no better place to start your journey than at the headquarters of your favourite K-Pop artists, where they spend the majority of their time throughout their career. From the years-long training period, to when they finally reach their debut, these agency buildings have literally witnessed the blood, sweat, and tears of many well-admired idol groups. While you can only access public areas, random sightings on an ordinary workday are possible in spaces specially created for the fans.
SM Entertainment (SM 엔터테인먼트)—one of the biggest entertainment companies in South Korea—has opened SMTOWN &CAFÉ in its underground floor after moving locations a while ago. Since practice rooms are just upstairs, idols are sometimes spotted getting their coffee fix here, where the floor-to-ceiling windows are adorned with themed artist displays. Within the building, there is also SUM Market (썸마켓), which sells collaborative convenience store items—such as artist-branded instant noodles, carbonated drinks, and potato chips—alongside official merchandise.
SM Entertainment (SM 엔터테인먼트), 648, Samsung-ro (52-1, Samseong-dong), Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea | (+82) 2 6240 9800
Meanwhile, Big Hit Entertainment (빅히트 엔터테인먼트), the home of global superstars BTS (방탄소년단) and rising rookies TXT (투모로우바이투게더), is reported to be transferring to a bigger building by the end of this year. The new 26-storey office space, built primarily to accommodate the label’s growing number of employees and subsidiaries, is expected to have an in-house café as well as merchandise shops that aim to elevate the fan experience.
Big Hit Entertainment (빅히트 엔터테인먼트), 42 Teheran-ro 108-gil, Daechi-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea | (+82) 2 3444 0105
Perhaps the next best thing to having a candlelit dinner with your celebrity crush is dining at a restaurant he owns—and hoping he’ll coincidentally drop by! Over the years, many local personalities have turned into entrepreneurs, with K-Pop idols also venturing into the food and hospitality business. Idol-owned restaurants and cafés are usually decorated with the artists' photos and have corners dedicated to fanart, framed autographs, and precious memorabilia.
If you’re craving for traditional Japanese cuisine served in two-tier wooden steamers, head over to Ossu Seiromushi (오쓰 세이로무시), which Jin (BTS) co-owns with his brother. In the afternoon, enjoy some coffee and handmade snacks at Mouse Rabbit (마우스래빗 카페), a European-style café owned by Yesung (Super Junior; 슈퍼주니어). Cap off your night with live performances at Making a Better Place (좋은세상만들기), a live music café run by Chanyeol’s (EXO; 엑소) father that also displays the rapper’s personal musical instruments.
Ossu Seiromushi (오쓰 세이로무시), 30 Baekjegobun-ro 45-gil, Songpa 1(il)-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul, South Korea | (+82) 2 419 2222
Mouse Rabbit Café (마우스래빗 카페), 5-14, Hwayang-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, South Korea | (+82) 16 649 6758
Making a Better Place (좋은세상만들기), 14, Yangpyeong-ro 12ga-gil, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, South Korea | (+82) 2 782 5700
If Hollywood has the Walk of Fame, the affluent Gangnam (강남) district boasts a one-kilometre-long K-Star Road (케이스타로드) developed to pay homage to Hallyu stars through life-size art figures. Aptly called Gangnamdol—a compound word for Gangnam, idol, and doll—these symbolic human-scale bear statues are designed to represent 17 of the biggest names in the world of K-Pop, including BTS, TVXQ (동방신기), EXO, Super Junior, and Girls’ Generation (소녀시대).
The bustling road, which covers the Apgujeong-dong (압구정동) and Cheongdam-dong (청담동) neighbourhoods, gives you a glimpse of luxury living surrounded by various entertainment companies as well as high-end stores and restaurants frequented by famous K-Pop idols.
You can grab a guidebook at Gangnamdol Haus to increase your chances of star sightings and, while you’re there, also consider purchasing a miniature art toy as a souvenir.
K-Star Road (케이스타로드), 407, Apgujeong-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Myeongdong (명동) might be a shopping mecca for beauty and skincare enthusiasts, but even K-Pop fans are likely to find a piece of heaven in its underground passage that stretches along under four subway stations. Known as the Myeongdong Underground Shopping Centre (명동 지하상가), it features rows of stalls offering reasonably priced goods and services. You can easily spend a couple of hours here—and you haven’t even reached the main shopping district yet.
The underground mall is the place to be if you’re looking to bring home official and unofficial K-Pop merchandise, such as albums, posters, light sticks, calendars, keychains, enamel pins, and socks, to name a few. Some shops cater to the K-drama crowd too, selling items relating to the most talked-about television stars. You may take a break at one of the food stalls, then continue exploring the underground corridors for fashion bargains, traditional souvenirs, and more.
Myeongdong Underground Shopping Centre (명동 지하상가), 124 Toegye-ro, Chungmuro 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea | (+82) 2 776 8932
Seeing your ultimate bias in the flesh may oftentimes seem like a far-fetched dream, but being able to finally turn that into reality makes the years of waiting and saving up totally worth it. After all, securing concert tickets is a tough competition among millions of fans, with many having to resort to scalpers out of desperation. Multiday shows also get sold out within minutes, so consider yourself still lucky even if the seat you scored is at the farthest section of the stadium.
For up-close and personal interactions with your idols (Read: an opportunity to hold their hand and converse with them briefly), fan meetings are your best bet, especially if your trip happens to fall on comeback season. Purchasing their latest album entitles you to the lottery, but even buying multiple copies won’t guarantee selection. If all else fails, check out online travel agencies for a live music show, music festival, or year-end award packages offered specifically to foreigners.