KDL 2021 Roundup #2: Neighborhoods of the Year

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by Marion & Mich KDL

And the shifts continue in our second KDL Roundup: Neighborhoods of the Year. But in contrast to our Most Seen Locations list, this seemed to be a little less surprising for us. This is mostly because K-Dramaland neighborhood staples continued to stand their ground, even as much as new neighborhoods were important for our characters this year.

In general and to summarize this year’s K-Dramaland landscape: our viewers’ attention was drawn to Seoul’s center, mainly North of the Han River, especially to the districts Mapo, Jongno and Yongsan; followed largely behind by Gangnam and Yeongdeungpo on the other side of Hangang.

Read on as we highlight the K-Dramaland neighborhoods that made an impression and impact in 2021.

Note: Numbers in brackets at the end of each header denote the number of locations seen in that K-Dramaland neighborhood this year!

2021’s List

— #01 Yeouido-dong (2020: #3; 2019: #1; 2018: #5)
— #02 Samcheong-dong & Bukchon Hanok Village (2020: #1; 2019: #2; 2018: #8; 2017: #4)
— #03 Songdo IBD (2019: #3, 2018: #3)
— #04 Tanhyeon-myeon (new!)
— #05 Cheongdam-dong (2020: #6; 2018: #4; 2017: #3)
— #06 Sangam-dong (2020: #5; 2018: #1; 2017: #2)
— #07 Samseong-dong (new!)
— #08 Hangangno-dong (new!)
— #09 Seogyo-dong/Hongdae (2020: #2; 2018: #2)
— #10 Pyeongchang-dong (new!)

— Special mention: Sangsu-dong (new!)
— Special mention: Hapjeong-dong (new!)
— Special mention: Janghang-dong (new!)
— Special mention: Daldongne (new!)

 

#1: Yeouido-dong [24]
(2020: #3; 2019: #1; 2018: #5)

Rising back to the top of our list is Yeouido, best known as Seoul’s central financial district, and where some of its tallest skyscrapers rise above the city. These include the Parc.1 complex and FKI Tower, which houses restaurant The Skyfarm on its 50th floor, seen in Penthouse. Hangang bridges like Mapo and Wonhyo were also back on our screens, but no Yeouido bridge was as popular as the Yeouido Saetgang Pedestrian Bridge. It clocked in at six features this year, in dramas like She Would Never Know and Love Scene Number. Watch out, Seogang Bridge – a worthy contender is on your tail!
— Mich KDL

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#2: Samcheong-dong & Bukchon Hanok Village [14+7=21]
(2020: #1; 2019: #2; 2018: #8; 2017: #4)


The Samcheong x Bukchon Hanok Village combo made it again to an impressive second place this year. It is even more impressive that it maintained a top tier position despite having only one new place featured over the entire year (an eye-catching café at that). What might have defined the area’s 2021 showcase was seeing characters wander through its side and back alleys quite a bit, such as Bukchon-ro 11-gil, the classic Yunposun-gil alleyway, Bukchon-ro 11da-gil or the alleyway Bukchon-ro 5ga-gil. But it was also comforting for us frequent K-Drama viewers to see familiar places like Mulnamoo Photo Studio, Bonum 1957 or (my all time fave) Yulgok-ro 3-gil. This area, especially Bukchon Hanok Village, already seems to aim at one of the top three tiers on the 2022 pedestal, with characters in end-year dramas such as Now, We Are Breaking Up and Our Beloved Summer are roaming its streets, visiting its lovely cafés and studying at one of its schools.

— Marion KDL

 

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#3: Songdo IBD [15]
(2019: #3, 2018: #3)


After dropping out of the list altogether last year, Songdo IBD returned in 2021 as if nothing had ever happened to its steady #3 spot from 2018-19; all thanks to dramas such as Navillera, The Devil Judge and Dali and Cocky Prince. This year, it showed off its best side: the glittery skyscraper world, with the introduction of Songdo IBS Tower and revisiting of all-time staples such as Meet You All Tower, Oakwood Premier Hotel Incheon —which also made it to our Most Seen Locations list— The Sharp Central Park, and (my personal favorite) Songdo ConvensiA Convention Center. We also saw new parts and perspectives of Songdo Central Park, which seemed more of a place for heart-to-heart talks compared to past years, while offering a much-needed touch of greenery and lake views amidst a fancy concrete world.

2021 was also the year that Songdo IBD’s central gateway, Central Park Station, finally became a drama location. So, if you’re planning to visit this neighborhood, it will most likely be your first stop!
— Marion KDL


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#4: Tanhyeon-myeon [15]
(new!)

It has certainly taken Tanhyeon-myeon long enough to make it to our annual neighborhoods list; but, better now than never, we say! This Paju township is probably best known for Heyri Art Village, home to K-Dramaland staples such as Artinus Farmer’s Table, Gallery Cafe Adamas253, and Gallery White Block. Some new locations we were introduced to this year include restaurant Mochuisle (Yumi’s Cells, You Raise Me Up), Camerata (Vincenzo), COMF Avenue and Azidong Theme Park – both seen in My Roommate Is A Gumiho. Vincenzo, in particular, took us beyond Heyri to Cafe Jacob and Yongguk Kalguksu.

Tanhyeon is also a base for some well-known film sets, such as Gyeonggi English Village — Paju Camp (One The Woman) and Royal Quest, which is #6 on our Most Seen Locations list.

— Mich KDL


 

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#5: Cheongdam-dong [15]
(2020: #6; 2018: #4; 2017: #3)

Even as Cheongdam continues to be a mainstay neighborhood on our list, the only constant in this lux district is change. This may also be the case for familiar K-Dramaland location sightings; for example: though we bid farewell to long-time staple Once In A Blue Moon last year, we were let into the glitzy live bar Get All Right Cheongdam this year, thanks to Taxi Driver. Interestingly too, 2020 favourite Luka 511 was nowhere to be seen, but other regulars such as Bottega Lounge and Queens Park continued to to featured in 2021. It was even exciting to see Wolfgang’s Steakhouse appear as an upscale Western restaurant in the 80s-themed drama Youth of May. We also got to see new addition House Edinburgh in its entirety: from its ground-floor flower shop in Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) 2 and second-storey cafe in Melancholia.

— Mich KDL

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#6: Sangam-dong [14]
(2020: #5; 2018: #1; 2017: #2)


Similar to Samcheong x Bukchon Hanok Village, Sangam as a neighborhood doesn’t need to prove its K-Dramaland importance through adding new locations (only one this year – even though a bar is a rather uncommon location for Sangam!). It can just be and still be important. Mainstays like DDMC, CJ E&M, Deurim Tower, MBC Broadcasting Station Building and the SBS Prism Tower adorned our screens, along with two of our favorite neighborhood parks and our preferred Japanese restaurant from this neighborhood were present, again, in 2021. The real nice surprise this year for me was seeing Haneul Park back after a four-year hiatus, and seeing that World Cup Bridge is now completed after initial sightings of its construction’s beginnings in 2015. All that said, Sangam still had one trick up this sleeve this year: showing off its darker side, as quite a lot of dramas this year were filmed here at night. This brings out the uneasy, scary side of this neighborhood’s otherwise slick, high-rise buildings and rather lifeless streets.

— Marion KDL


 

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#7: Samseong-dong [14]
(new!)

At Samseong, it’s clearly all about the hotels, which makes up about a quarter of 2021 features in this new neighborhood addition. Park Hyatt Seoul (Blue Spring From A Distance) and Shilla Stay Samsung (Doom At Your Service) were some of this year’s new inclusions, while Hotel in 9 (Monthly Magazine Home) made its return. My Name reintroduced us to Ramada Seoul Hotel, which seems to appear in K-Dramaland every seven (!) years. We were also reacquainted with the new faces of some previous locations, such as Cafe In The City (formerly Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory) and jazz club Sam Sung Ri (formerly CT Bakery).

— Mich KDL

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#8: Hangangno-dong [13]
(new!)

Seoul Dragon City had always been a stand-alone place for me; a building with no real surroundings, floating vaguely somewhere in Seoul, flanked by a huge golden man figure (by South Korean artist Park Balloon). Then came The Devil Judge, Nevertheless and Lost this year — and from now on (at least for me) this city within a city has firmly established itself in one very unique neighborhood: Hangangno.

This neighborhood is home to Seoul’s major retail market for electronic goods and equipment, Yongsan Electronics Market, which spreads out west of Seoul Dragon City; Yongsan Station, one of Seoul’s major train and subway station; and IPARK Mall [아이파크몰], South Korea’s largest shopping complex. But Hangangno is also more than just that. It is a hot spot for cafés, and especially restaurants; a spunky mix from trendy to homegrown, including K-Drama staples Seogang Ggobdaegi – Hangangno Branch and Golmokjib Hwarogui, and this year’s additions Mimiok – Sinyongsan Branch, Handam Gopchang and Uh Hang Ro. Last but not least, one of our favorite K-Dramaland streets, Ichon-ro 29-gil, is located right here in Hangangno.

— Marion KDL

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#9: Seogyo-dong/Hongdae [12]
(2020: #2; 2018: #2)

Each year, there would always be that one drama that centers itself in Seogyo and Hongdae; in 2021, Nevertheless was that drama. With its key characters being art students, it’s not hard to see why – and this, despite the actual universities not being anywhere in this popular Seoul youth district! It still doesn’t quite explain its massive drop from our #2 spot last year, though. One reason could be that production teams continue returning to beloved staples such as Eoulmadang Street (Mint Condition, Must You Go), colline (Dali and Cocky Prince), and Green Cloud Coffee Shop (Times) instead of sourcing for new locations. That said, we still got to discover some new locations (Club Track, Homi Art Shop) and revisit some familiar ones (Cafe Monobloc, Wausan-ro 22-gil) thanks to Nevertheless.

— Mich KDL

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#10: Pyeongchang-dong [12]
(new!)

It’s a pity Pyeongchang didn’t make it to our Neighborhoods of the Year list last year, particularly since we got to see a different side of it through A Piece of Your Mind. But this affluent neighborhood—known as the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Seoul—continues to play to its strengths, with 2/3 of its 2021 features being the towering mansions that it is known for. Notable houses include this one in Let Me Be Your Knight, first seen in 2007’s Bad Love; and the Stairway to Heaven mansion, seen this year in Undercover and Mine. These opulent homes weren’t the only neighborhood highlights, however. Reflection of You finally brought us into Gana Art Center —which houses Café Motte— while Human Disqualification had us hanging around D.Space, last seen in 2011’s The Greatest Love.

— Mich KDL

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Special Mention: Sangsu-dong [9]
(new!)

Mainly a residential neighborhood but also a silent K-Dramaland mainstay, Sangsu clearly didn’t hold back this year: with its hidden charms, its cozy restaurants and cafés. This is reason we’ve decided to honor it with a special mention. We learned about hanok restaurant Gyeongju Bistro through Hospital Playlist 2, Nevertheless and Yumi’s Cells, spotted more interior changes of Cafe Poete (formerly Café Blüte) through So I Married and Anti-Fan; were envious of characters in Nevertheless getting bapsim at Gonbap; discovered Fell + Cole; and was reminded again at how Kodachaya—Hongdae Outlet is still a perfect place to talk over dinner.

At the same time, we saw a bit more of Sangsu’s day-to-day side with Wau Children’s Park and neighboring apartment house Saetbyeol Villa, while its glittery Hangang restaurants Gortz and the Seogang 8-kyoung Building again allowed for spectacular views over the Han River and Seogang Bridge.

— Marion and Mich KDL

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Special Mention: Hapjeong-dong [8]
(new!)

Hapjeong, which lies just across Dongmak-ro from Hongdae, is probably less flashy and youthful as its northern neighbor, but also has its share of nice cafés, restaurants, and boutiques to discover. This year, K-Dramaland characters ventured a little off the usual route, i.e. Tojeong-ro (except its staple location Milky Way Cafe, of course). We were instead introduced and re-introduced to places that could well be on their way to becoming K-Drama staples. These include al,thing, Adult Grand Park—Hapjeong Branch, Kao Kao Pub, DEBUNK, MU (The Lost Continent of MU), as well as Gamsung Asia—Hapjeong Branch at Delight Square.

We also decided to honor Mangwon Hangang Park with its own listing this year (it was subsumed under Seongsan Bridge before); because who could possibly resist its charms after its lovely appearance in So I Married an Anti-Fan?!

— Marion and Mich KDL

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Special Mention: Daldongnes [5]
(new!)


Highlighting Seoul’s last three ‘moon villages’, or daldongnes, in this year’s round-up is something dear to my heart. Because these types of neighborhoods are about to disappear or be turned into a tourist/filming location. Maybe this is why we have never seen as much of them in recent K-Drama years, as we have this year (think dramas as Sell Your Haunted House, Mine or Navillera).

The graffiti-marked deserted houses seen in D.P. were real; marking the real-life end of Baeksa Village, of which redevelopment will be completed in 2024. Also, this was the year we’d probably see characters (like in Mine) walk through and live in Jeongneunggol for the last time. This village —probably best known as Kang Ma-roo’s hometown in Nice Guy— has also been slated for redevelopment since 2019. Only Gaemi Village is said to survive Seoul City’s redevelopment plans as it is intended to be preserved as a tourist attraction (and hence, high chances of it being a film set).

This is certainly a crucial turning point in the make-up of Seoul as a city: as it makes way for high-end detached houses and high-rise apartment buildings in the present day, only time will tell how much of the material memory of these neighborhoods will, and can be preserved during redevelopment.

— Marion KDL


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Let us know if any other neighborhoods should have made our list this year! As always, we’d love to hear what you think – so leave us a comment below.

You can also view our Neighborhood of the Year lists from past years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 – 1, 2.

We’re halfway through our 2021 KDL Roundups – watch out for the next instalment coming soon!

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