There’s nothing K-Pop can’t conquer. Ever since the Korean Wave (or Hallyu) started around the beginning of the new millennium, it has swept over Asia and moved onto the rest of the world, making South Korea and its entertainment industry famous on a global scale. Today K-Pop idols and groups play in sold-out stadiums and arenas worldwide and have fans of every nationality that support them and want to see their home country, exploring its culture and food as well as its music.
If you’re also planning to wander around the streets of Seoul to retrace your favourite idol’s steps, then this is the perfect guide to everything there is to do and see in the birthplace of K-Pop.
Entertainment companies and music shows
K-Pop fans know that it all begins with Korean entertainment companies – part music labels and part talent agencies, they’re places where idols train and then stay for generally the entirety of their careers. Their headquarters are a good place to start your K-Pop journey and who knows, you might be lucky enough to see your favourite idol arrive at the company for another work day!
Entertainment companies are all located in Seoul, the beating heart of the K-Pop industry, and they’re generally in the central areas of the city, like the famous Gangnam district. SM Entertainment, the birthplace of groups like Girls’ Generations, Shinee, EXO and Red Velvet, is particularly worth a visit since it also has a special cultural space dedicated entirely to fans called SMTOWN@coexartium – it includes a museum of the company’s history, augmented reality spaces in which you can come face to (virtual) face with your favourite artists, and a hologram theatre for concerts and special performances, as well as a cafe and gift shop.
Another staple of the K-Pop industry are music shows, weekly television programmes where idols perform and promote their songs. Getting into one of the music shows isn't always easy and the method varies depending on which group you want to see, but if you plan in advance it might be your best shot at seeing your favourites perform live in front of you. However, depending on when you're visiting, you might be able to catch one of the big concerts instead – where multiple artists perform sets of their most famous hits. For example, the Lotte Family Concert is held around August in Seoul (while the Busan One Asia Festival takes place in Busan around late October or early November).
Seoul, and especially Gangnam, fully recognises how much the K-Pop industry appeals to tourists, and has created plenty of opportunities for fans to “meet” their idols when they come to South Korea.
You might want to visit the G+Star Zone inside the Apgujeong Rodeo Station, for example, a cultural space entirely dedicated to the Korean Wave and its stars that includes various photo zones and video stations, with new celebrities being added each year as they rise to fame. The Star Avenue at Lotte Duty Free in Myeongdong follows the same idea – a corridor leading into one of Seoul’s bustling shopping areas filled with photos and handprints of idols, actors and other celebrities. Myeongdong is also the best place to get some of your K-Pop shopping done, since the Underground Shopping Centre has all the albums and merchandise you could wish for.
A very cute attraction that you absolutely can’t miss is the K-Star ROAD, not too far away from Apgujeong Rodeo Station. The whole road is filled with dolls and statues representing specific K-Pop groups, more often than not also carrying the members’ signatures.
Cafes and restaurants
South Koreans love quirky and hip cafes, and K-Pop idols are no exception. Following their footsteps in and out of their favourite cafes couldn’t be easier, because most of them don’t make a secret of an idol’s visit. You’ll find pictures and memorabilia of famous patrons everywhere inside them, providing tourists with a perfect Instagram opportunity. Some cafes are even owned by idols, making your chances of meeting your favourite artists even higher.
For example, Kamong Café in Gangnam is owned by EXO’s Kai, and it’s an excellent place to try one of South Korea’s signature sweets, the bingsu – shaved ice with any kind of topping on it, from fruit syrup to red beans. The Street cafe in the Cheongdam neighbourhood is managed by JYP Entertainment and it’s been the haunt of famous JYP groups like Twice and Got7, with even some of the members’ handprints hanging from the walls.
The same goes for restaurants. The famous Laundry Pizza restaurant in the Yeoksam neighbourhood of Gangnam, for example, was the background for many idols’ photoshoots, from BTS to Apink, and it’s a must-visit if you want to boast a photo with the same backdrop as your favourite groups (or if you’re simply craving some pizza in a very aesthetically pleasing place!).
Music video locations
While K-Pop groups travel all over the world to film their videos, it doesn’t mean they don’t also make good use of the locations South Korea can offer. You might want to visit the Kyung Hee University in Seoul, for example, where Apink filmed part of their Only One music video on a rooftop. The university’s auditorium was also used as the iconic backdrop to Blackpink’s summer hit As If It’s Your Last.
The abandoned amusement park Yongma Land in the Jungnang district of Seoul features in many music videos and photoshoots, and you’ll recognise its carousel from the background of Twice’s Like Ooh Aah and B.A.P.’s 1004, as well as a number of Korean dramas.
On the outskirts of Seoul, you’ll find the Gyeonggi English Village of Paju, which features in two Super Junior videos, Magic and U, as well as in EXO’s Miracle in December. Outside Seoul, on the other side of South Korea, you’ll find the town of Gangneung: the bus stop at Jumunjin beach shot to global fame after BTS used it as the cover shot for their 2017 album You Never Walk Alone.
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