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Seoul’s current status as a global cultural force is so major – K–pop, K–beauty, K–dramas – there’s a word for it: hallyu (Korean Wave). But these blockbuster exports only scratch the surface: On the ground, explore the city’s exciting contemporary art, trend–making street style and food and drink scene (hipster design cafés included).
Where to stay
- seoul-shillaThe Shilla SeoulFor the fine dining
- seoul-RakKoJaeRakkojae SeoulFor the tradition
- seoul-JW-marriottJW Marriott Dongdaemun Square SeoulFor the architecture
- seoul-four-seasonsFour Seasons Hotel SeoulFor the central location
- seoul-grand-hyattGrand Hyatt SeoulFor a resort getaway
Eat & Drink
Street–food at Gwangjang Market What was once Korea’s largest hanbok (traditional clothing) and silk market is now the country’s hottest street–food destination, with more than 200 places to eat and countless snacks to choose from. Must–eat local specialties include mayak kimbap and nokdu bindaetteok (Korean–style pancake).
Korean barbecue at Maple Tree House A line of maple trees greets visitors inside this Korean barbecue hot spot in Itaewon. Grill your own meat over charcoal (aged hanwoo sirloin is the house specialty); then wrap it in lettuce and top it with the restaurant’s secret sauce and your choice of vegetables.
Grilled eel at Songgang The house specialty at this Gangnam restaurant is grilled eel, which is served with Japanese–style sweet soy sauce, gochujang (red chili paste) or salt. Sit Korean–style on the heated floor at low tables, and wrap each mouthful in fresh lettuce, ginger, garlic, chili and soybean paste. Wash it all down with sweet raspberry wine.
Coffee and pastries at Fritz Coffee Co–owned by Park Geun–ha, recipient of the 2014 Barista Champion of Korea title, this two–storey café offers single–origin coffee beans. But coffee isn’t the only draw here. Fritz is also famous for baked goods like flaky pain au chocolat and warm baguettes.
A night on the town at Glam Lounge Seoul’s fashionable set flocks to this luxurious lounge bar in the heart of Itaewon, one of the city’s best nightlife districts. The interior features dark walls, checkered flooring and a stark central bar with an ultra–shiny metallic light fixture.
Western–style brunch at Made This American bistro offers a customizable menu of comfort–food staples. Keep homesickness at bay with brunch dishes, from eggs Benedict with hanu beef meatballs to fried chicken with pancakes, bacon and maple syrup.
Korean liqueur at Slow Village Brewery and Pub With its exposed brick walls, industrial–size windows and restored metal chairs, this pub feels like it’s straight out of Williamsburg, but that’s where the similarities end. Slow Village specializes in Korean–style liqueurs like makgeolli, a rice wine made with local rice and no artificial sweetener. Pair your drink with a plate of blanched tofu with sautéed beef and kimchi.
What to do
Palatial tours at Gyeongbokgung Palace Built at the end of the 14th century, Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first and largest royal palace erected by the Joseon dynasty. Over the last decades, the palace has undergone extensive renovations to restore its classic Korean architecture. Free English guided tours run three times daily, and admission to the palace is $3.50.
Carp–spotting at Cheonggyecheon Stream This 5.8–kilometre waterway, which runs through downtown Seoul, was uncovered as part of the city’s renaturalization efforts. The stream is now a popular destination for locals and tourists who want to experience nature in the city (and spot orange carp). Visit the Cheonggyecheon Museum to learn more about the revival of this once paved–over waterway.
Glimmers of old Seoul in Bukchon Hanok Village Dating back to the Joseon dynasty, this historic neighbourhood reveals over 600 years of Seoul’s history. Stroll through the narrow streets of Bukchon to see hundreds of hanok houses made of stone, wood, rice paper and traditional sloping roofs. Several of these old houses have been restored and converted into cafés and art galleries.
Cutting–edge design at Dongdaemun Design Plaza Designed by Zaha Hadid, Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP for short) is a cultural playground and one of Korea’s most iconic landmarks. Located at the centre of Dongdaemun, the DDP hosts a variety of shows, conferences, exhibitions and events focused on art and design.
Emerging local designers at Aland Myeongdong This multilevel department store houses concept boutiques that highlight the work of emerging Korean designers. A–Land also carries international brands like A.P.C., accessories and beauty products. It’s the perfect place to shop the latest trends out of Korea.
Luxe treatments at Banyan Tree Spa At this spa, located just 10 minutes from downtown in the shadow of Mt. Namsan, enjoy the apple–green tea scrub or opt for the Tropical Rainmist experience (steam bath, invigorating body scrub and cascading rain shower). After a day of exploring the city, try the Foot Release, a 30–minute footbath and massage.
Scenic hikes at Namsan Park The largest park in Seoul is famous for its scenic walking trails, featuring mineral springs and water lily–covered ponds. Hike, walk or bike to the top of Mt. Namsan for postcard–worthy views. Enjoy a picnic or relax at Palgakjeong pavilion or Namsan library.