Dance, Theater, and Music

Sejong Center for the Performing Arts

Split-level cultural center hosts visiting big-name classical musicians and traveling Broadway productions. One of Seoul’s oldest theaters, convenient downtown location. Tickets from $10. 81-3 Chongno-gu; tel. 82 2 744 8066.


“I always get lost, but kids love this underground shopping jungle.”—Michael Breen, author, The Koreans. Massive subterranean mall beneath the COEX Convention Center; Western, Japanese, and Korean restaurants, Internet game rooms, video arcades, a Cineplex, and Korea’s top aquarium. Ticket prices vary depending upon exhibition. COEX World Trade Center, Samseong-dong; tel. 82 2 6000 1121.

Chongdong Theater

“Cozy, active programs of experimental and traditional theater.”—Kim Hyuncha, projects development director, Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture. Small theater set in quiet, leafy neighborhood of Chongdong behind Deoksu Palace. Showcases predominantly traditional and avant-garde local productions, often with subtitles for foreign audiences. Tickets from $20. 8-11 Jeong-dong; tel. 82 2 752 1500.

National Theater of Korea

“Don’t miss masterpieces by Korean National Dance Company.”—Kim Hyuncha. Performance space for both modern and traditional local and international productions. Home to National Drama Company, National Dance Company, and National Orchestra. Tickets from $20; occasional free performances in plaza. 158 Jangchungdan-gil; tel. 82 2 2280 4115.

Seoul Arts Center

“[The] most carefully designed theater for acoustic and stage performances in Korea.”—Kim Hyuncha. Huge cultural complex, includes a theater rated among the top five globally for sound quality; also exhibition spaces and opera house. Stages everything from traveling international plays to violin concertos. Tickets from $20. 700 Seocho-dong; tel. 82 2 580 1300.

Nanta Theater

“Energy and humor of Koreans at their best.”—Michael Breen. This is the show that kicked off Korea’s craze for manic, nonverbal performances. A group of zany chefs pound out Stomp-like rhythms and indulge in gymnastics and slapstick comedy while preparing a wedding banquet. Lots of audience participation. Renamed Cookin for Off-Broadway. Tickets from $40. Nanta Theater, 15-1 Jung-dong; tel. 82 2 739 8288.

Jump Theater

“Hilarious martial arts comedy.”—Kim Hyuncha. All performances were sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2006. Nonverbal show blends martial arts, gymnastics, and buffoonery. Tickets from $40. 9F Cinecore, 33-1 Gwancheol-dong Jongno-gu; tel. 82 2 722 3995.


W Hotel

Boutique hotel, popular for high-end parties, but the music is versatile. The split-level lobby lounge, with its capsule seats and long bar, is the place to hang. No cover charge. 21 Gwangjang-dong; tel. 82 2 465 2222.

J.J. Mahoney’s

The Grand Hyatt’s nightclub, popular with the over-30 expat crowd. Sometimes has live jazz or guitar in the chill-out room. Music varied; includes classic pop. No cover charge but very pricey drinks. 747-7 Hannam 2-dong; tel. 82 2 797 1234.


“For house music lovers and anyone with expensive tastes, this is it!”—Edward Chong, former event organizer, 21Communications. Arguably Korea’s top nightclub, in pricey Cheongdam-dong (“Seoul’s Beverly Hills”), it boasts a rotating bar—hence the name—and hosts everyone from Paris Hilton to Beyonce. Lively DJs and pricey drinks. Tickets: $30. Cheongdam-dong 91-2; tel. 82 2 546 5933.

Club Catch

“Korean-Americans enjoying themselves like in LA.”— Edward Chong. Draws Korean rappers and singers who perform live and hosts frequent parties. Spacious dance floor, VIP floor, fair-priced drinks, rap and techno, invited DJs. Tickets about $15. Come out of Hongdae station exit 6, walk straight about 300 yards from Hongdae University front gate. Tel. 82 2 320 9393.

Club NB

Quintessential Hongik University-area club—claims to be first hip-hop club in Seoul. Fills up most nights; crowd often dances along in synch. One bar, two stages; DJs have their own radio show. Tickets about $15. Tel. 82 2 326 1716.

Club Q-vo

Similar to Club NB, another Hongik University hip-hop haven. Multiple mixing decks for DJ crews, large, strobe-lit basement dance floor with overview area. Always crowded. Tickets about $15. Ohoo B/D, 367-11 Seogyo-dong; tel. 82 2 3143 7573.

The Bungalow

“Neo-Asian ambience.”—J. Scott Burgeson, editor Bug magazine. Beach-theme cocktail bar set in converted Itaewon bungalow. Candle-lit spaces, sand floors, swinging chairs, and lounge Muzak. Thai-style outdoor seating on the deck in summer. No cover charge. In the alley behind Itaewon’s Hamilton Hotel, on the right. Tel. 82 2 792 2344


“You’ll find yourself singing along to Pink Floyd, then realize it’s 4:00 a.m.”—Michael Breen, author, The Koreans. Tiny hole-in-the-wall on Itaewon’s “Hooker Hill.” Friendly bar girls keep classic rock playing and glasses brimming until wee hours; you’ll meet every patron in minutes. No phone.


Buddha’s Birthday

Dates vary, usually falls around mid-May. Seoul’s temples are illuminated with thousands of paper lanterns, and a huge Buddhist-theme, lantern-lit float parade winds its way through Jongno, downtown. Tip: The liveliest temple festivals take place in the vicinity of Bongwon-sa Temple.

Hi Seoul Palace Festival

May. A “digital palace” is built on Seoul Plaza, outside City Hall, and the city’s five major palaces host various historical reenactments and musical performances.

Hi Seoul Hangang Festival

July-August. Water sports, a rock concert, and other activities take place both on the Han River (Hangang) and along the parks lining its banks.

Seoul Drum Festival

October. Drummers, traditional and modern, from around the world converge on Seoul. Most of the action takes place in and around the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. Tip: Hang around the plaza behind the center at lunchtime when free performances often take place.

Hi Seoul Art Festival

October. Showcases the work of young, experimental artists at gala concerts, parties, and a festival art market; includes a busking Festival in Cheonggyecheon, the restored city center stream.

Hi Seoul Light Festival

December-January. Elaborate light displays decorate the wintry city center. There’s also a temporary skating rink installed on Seoul Plaza, site of an ice ballet. Tip: If you want to go skating here, buy a ticket as early in the morning as possible.


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