When the Korean War finally ended in 1953, a US army base was established in Yongsan and a commercial district sprang up, catering to the area’s new residents. The new district was located at the foot of Namsan Mountain north of Noksapyeong Subway Station, and was called “Haebangchon (Village)”.
Later in the 1970s, the main shopping district moved to what is now known as “Itaewon, an area that continues to thrive as an exotic “foreign” section in the middle of Seoul. Thanks to its many unique restaurants and shops, Itaewon has become a must-visit shopping destination for foreign tourists—and even flight attendants—passing through the capital.
Over the years, as Seoul has become a central hub for international flights from all over the world, the number of flight attendants visiting Seoul increased dramatically. Today, many airline personnel use their layover time to head to Itaewon and visit the shops, some of which are even owned by famous Hallyu stars.
Beginning in the early 1990s, Itaewon saw an influx of foreign workers from the Middle East and Africa, each bringing their own unique flavor to Korea’s most diverse area.
Itaewon is almost like its own country in and of itself. It is where people from different countries and cultures meet, mix, clash, and blend, shaping and molding the colorful landscape of Itaewon as it is today.
Itaewon is the “land of a thousand faces” and offers a variety of attractions that are made all the more rich by the diversity of languages and people in the area.
From low-budget imported clothes to famous brand names, tailor shops and shoe stores, the assorted clothing shops that line the alleys are the heart and soul of Itaewon. Along with the nearby antique furniture street, Itaewon Fashion Street is the area’s major shopping street.
Far from just your average shopping street, Itaewon Fashion Street is packed with unique, hand-made goods lovingly crafted by long-time residents of Itaewon who have been perfecting their skills for years.
Venture down the alleyway behind the Hamilton Hotel, and you will soon find yourself enveloped in a bouquet of enticing aromas.
From Indian and Thai restaurants to American-style brunch cafés and Chinese dumpling stores, restaurants of the world line the city street.
Many restaurants along this street boast authentic dishes cooked by native cooks, taking customers on a gastronomic journey around the world.
An alley imbibed with the sweet allure of European craft beer, Gyeongnidan-gil is a trendy place among the younger crowds.
Gyeongnidan-gil in Gangbuk is so popular among the younger set that it is often compared to Garosu-gil in Gangnam. Starting from the Armed Forces Financial Management Corps (FMC), Gyeongnidan-gil runs approximately 700 to 800 meters uphill towards Namsan, ending at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The name of the famous street is derived from the Korean name of the FMC, and the road itself is lined with restaurants, pubs, and cafés that attract people from far and wide.
The street’s influence has spilled over to the surrounding alleyways, and today, Gyeongnidan-gil forms a considerably large commercial district.
After climbing the hill where men with dashing moustaches enjoy fine halal cuisine, you will soon come to an area with a distinct Muslim influence, complete with stores displaying hijabs and other goods and a Moroccan bakery.
The towering building of the Seoul Central Masjid (Islamic mosque), stands as an important landmark in this neighborhood and is a place of both beauty and mystery for many Koreans.
From the mosque, take the back alleyway out to the wide flight of stairs and you will find yourself in the heart of Gyedanjang, a pop-up market selling unique crafts and clothes. Many vendors even sell their wares spread out on the stairs, making for a fun and unique shopping experience hard to find anywhere else.
Weekend nights in Itaewon are completely different from the daytime. Fashionably dressed young people hailing from all over the world roam the streets. Even in the earlier hours, many people have rosy cheeks and shout joyfully to each other, enjoying the camaraderie that comes from an entertaining round of drinks.
Walking along this street, you will often hear strands of music from impromptu performances by alternative bands and aspiring musicians.
Further down the road are clubs crowded with young people who love to dance. Itaewon’s history of nightclubs dates all the way back to the 1950s when clubhouses would play popular Western songs to attract American soldiers. The presence of the US spurred the popularization of Western music in the area and turned Itaewon into a type of distribution center of Western pop music in Seoul.
Even today, Itaewon is a bustling area that thrives under a unique balance of dynamic activity during the day and passion by night.