Inside notoriously ritzy Gangnam, 'the Beverly Hills of South Korea' that's home to the country's biggest celebrities

Guitar photographer/ShutterstockEver wonder what ‘Gangnam Style’ was all about?
  • The Gangnam district is known as “South Korea‘s Beverly Hills” for its exorbitant real-estate prices and wealthy residents.
  • Property in Gangnam is three and a half times as expensive as South Korea’s real-estate average.
  • The Gangnam neighbourhoods of Cheongdam and Apgujeong are full of luxury fashion houses, plastic-surgery clinics, high-end real estate, and the homes of many Korean celebrities.
  • PSY’s international song “Gangnam Style” famously lampooned the wealthy district, which has an outsized reputation in Korean culture.

Ever since PSY’s international mega-hit “Gangnam Style” in 2012, people all over the world have heard the name of Seoul’s most affluent district.

But few know what the area called “the Beverly Hills of South Korea” is actually like.

While the district is an economic hub for some of the most powerful companies globally, including Google, IBM, and Toyota, its real heart is its residential areas, where the deposit to rent a home costs 10 years of salary for the average Korean.

Living in Gangnam – and more specifically living in the Gangnam neighbourhoods of Cheongdam-dong and Apgujeong-dong – is a status symbol that many Koreans aspire to. Cheongdam-dong and Apgujeong-dong are home to many Korean actors, actresses, and idols, miles of luxury retail, a wild nightlife, and Korea’s biggest entertainment companies.

I recently took a walk through Cheongdam-dong and Apgujeong-dong to get a feel for what life is like in Korea’s most affluent district. Here’s what it was like:

Gangnam is in Seoul, south of the Han River, which cuts through the center of the city. It is one of many bridges in the city that connects Gangnam with the neighbourhoods north of the Han, including downtown.


Cheongdam-dong in southern Seoul is one of the city’s most affluent neighbourhoods. In 1967, it was full of pear orchards, but, starting in the late 1970s, it began to be developed into a district for the emerging superrich.

Source: Korea Herald

I started my tour of Gangnam on Apgujeong Rodeo Street. The street, named for its similarity to Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive, is a high-end shopping road featuring luxury brands, as well as many secondhand boutiques. Don’t expect to find a bargain at the boutiques, though — they are super expensive.

In Gangnam, land is about more than just money, especially when you own property in highly sought-after neighbourhoods. For many Koreans, owning property in Gangnam is about the status symbol.

But despite the high price tags, many apartment buildings look average.

The biggest signal that the neighbourhood is ultrawealthy is the cars. Car brands like Mercedes, Audi, Maserati, Tesla, and Range Rover are tucked into every side street.

Seriously, every parking spot is filled with luxury cars. Even on dingy streets.

Plastic surgery has become a huge part of Korean culture, particularly in wealthy Gangnam. Clinics are all over the district. By some estimates, there are more than 500 clinics in Gangnam alone and nearly 1 million procedures a year.

Source: The Telegraph

Down the road on Apgujeong Rodeo Street is the Galleria department store, the most popular luxury mall in Korea. It is filled with high-end brands.

Designers including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Prada can be found inside Galleria.

The Gucci store in Galleria is highly frequented by wealthy locals. It oozed opulence.

In the basement of Galleria, you’ll find Gourmet 494. It’s not your average food court. There were high-end stalls serving food from all over Asia and the world. If you need a perfectly made latte after a long day shopping, this is the place.

Next to Galleria is Cheongdam Fashion Street, one of the most famous streets in Korea. The entire street is lined with fashion houses like Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and more.

The street is also known as K-Star Road, because many of Korea’s biggest entertainment companies are headquartered near the road, including SM, JYP, and Cube Entertainment. There is now a GangnamDol to commemorate PSY’s big hit.

There are 17 similar statues representing the top K-Pop celebrities along the road. I saw more than a few young Koreans stop by to take selfies with the statues.

It would be hard to name a high-end brand that is not on Cheongdam Fashion Street.

This used to be the headquarters of SM Entertainment, one of the biggest K-Pop labels in the world. But, they have since moved to a bigger building a few blocks away. This is now their Global Artists Training Center.

There were more than a few K-Pop fans hanging out by the side door, waiting to see their favourite artist stroll out after a long day of training.

The street around the corner from SM Entertainment looked very affluent. The luxury apartment buildings looked brand new. I’m sure some artists-in-training live there due to its proximity to the training center.

Outside the apartment complex, I saw a bunch of security guards waiting around a Tesla and a Mercedes. When a young man came out of the building, they piled in and drove away.

Most of Korea’s richest families own massive lots of property somewhere near Cheongdam Fashion Street. For example, Lee Kun-hee, Korea’s wealthiest man and the former chairman of Samsung, owns nearly 17,000 square feet of real estate worth nearly $US58 million.

Source: Korea Herald

Cheongdam is often featured on Korean TV as a backdrop for wealthy characters. There was even an entire TV show called “Cheongdam Alice,” where the main character tries to work her way into its wealthy society.

If you’re into Korean dramas, you could spend an entire day scouting out shooting locations. Luka 511 is a high-end restaurant and wedding venue that has been featured on Korean TV. It’s situated between a Prada store and Rolls Royce dealership.

Source: KPopStarz

JYP is the second-biggest K-pop label and is frequently visited by locals and tourists trying to catch a glimpse of a celebrity.

There was a much bigger crowd outside of JYP than SM Entertainment. Maybe they were waiting to get a look at JY Park, the founder of JYP and a major singer-songwriter in the K-Pop world.

And if you don’t recognise the latest K-pop band, the crowd will. I’m not sure who these guys are but the crowd went a bit nuts as they went past and they rushed inside

Or you could just hide out at one of the many restaurants frequented by K-Pop stars, like The Class, which has appeared on Korean TV. It’s reputed to be a major celebrity hangout, like The Ivy in Los Angeles.

Source: The Class

Gangnam is also known for its wild nightlife. While I didn’t get to go, Club Octagon is where you’ll find K-pop stars partying. Girls Generation, Shinee, and Jay Park have all done showcases there.

TimeOut Seoul called Cheongdam “the epitome of everything that is dislikable about the Gangnam area. Expensive, exclusive and elite; Cheongdam’s the meanest of the Mean Girls.” Walking around, it’s not hard to see why.

Source: Time Out

While the neighbourhood may feel exclusive, it is full of upscale restaurants and cafés. You can be sure the fare will be top-notch.

High-end brands are sandwiched between global companies and luxury apartments so you don’t have to travel far from home for your necessities.

One of the things I liked the most about the neighbourhood was the parks. Cheongdam Park is just one of many in the area.

Cheongdam Park feels like a quiet hideaway from the bustling Gangnam streets. Walking in and around the park, I could see why the wealthy would want to live there.

The recreational areas of Cheongdam Park offer lots of space for sports, hiking, and just taking a nap. These two guys were having a blast playing badminton.

High-end hair salons and boutiques from Korean designers are tucked into every alleyway in Cheongdam.

The area around Cheongdam Park has a number of gated apartment complexes with beautiful views. I can’t imagine wanting to live on busy Cheongdam Fashion Street, but this area felt secluded.

Unlike many of the other complexes that I saw in Apgujeong and Cheongdam, the apartment buildings around Cheongdam Park looked like they had just been built.

Cheongdam feels like the kind of place where, if there isn’t a viable parking spot for your luxury car, you just make one. Who cares about parking tickets when you are rolling in dough?

No really, anywhere. A clerk from Céline was standing outside walking around this Porsche with a bewildered look on his face. I’m sure the man or woman inside was buying enough stuff to make it worth his while to keep watch.

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