Visiting Seoul – A City Guide
Seoul is a welcoming city where temples sit in the shadows of modern high-rises. Here, up-and-coming chefs perfect their dishes in markets, and the air fills with the sounds of K-pop. With its mix of old and new, it’s one of the most unique destinations on earth.
Seoul: city layout and top attractions
Seoul is a divergent city bisected by the Han River. It’s defined by the Gwanghwamun Gate in central Jongno, the art galleries of inner Insadong, the flashy clubs of Gangnam and the multicultural northern melting pot that’s Itaewon.
The best way to take it all in is to catch a hop-on/hop-off bus that stops at many of the city’s notable landmarks, including the National Museum of Korea, N Seoul Tower and the neighbourhood of Myeongdong. History buffs can see Bukchon Hanok Village, which dates from the Joseon Dynasty, while families should head out to Jamsil to visit Lotte World, the world’s largest indoor theme park. Hotels in Seoul include city-centre options and modern retreats with breathtaking views of Seoul.
The concierge recommends…
- Joining in a prayer at Jogyesa, a Buddhist temple set in Seoul’s city centre.
- Taking an invigorating night-time walk through Dongdaemun Market.
- Visiting a makgeolli (rice wine) bar to try Korea’s oldest traditional liquor.
- Catching the changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Eating Out in Seoul
Seoul is renowned for its street food, and Gwangjang Market is a great spot to dip into the local food scene. The bustling market in the Jongno-gu District is filled with vendors serving bibimbap (a rice dish with chili paste) and yukhoe (a kind of steak tartare). Its biggest draw is Jeon Alley, where competing chefs present their unique takes on the fried pancake.
If you want to dig further into Seoul’s street-food culture, then add tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), bulgogi (Korean barbecue) and patbingsu (a red-bean-paste and shaved-ice dessert) to your must-try list.
The chef recommends...
- Noryangjin Fish Market, a haven for seafood lovers who can have professional chefs turn their ingredients into surprising sushi or spicy stews – a great way to get creative with the day’s shopping.
- Jungsik, a restaurant serving molecular Korean cuisine that’s earned its chef, Jung Sik Yim, a global reputation. Of special note is the sous-vide pork belly.
- Mingles, a unique eatery that combines cutting-edge Asian cuisine with old-world charm and know-how. Make sure to sample some of their renowned cho jang (a traditional sweet-and-spicy chili sauce).
Shopping in Seoul
Seoul has its share of crowded markets, but the shopping scene isn’t all hustle, bustle and haggling. It also promises the opportunity to peruse the world’s best luxury brands and try out the latest tech.
Seoul’s best bets for shoppers
- Apgujeong is home to many of the city’s film stars and is known as Seoul’s Beverly Hills, with its Rodeo Street even being modelled after Rodeo Drive. It’s a prime place to pick up a Brooks Brothers suit, a Louis Vuitton purse or Prada shoes.
- Dongdaemun is a sprawling district with over 25 malls and 30,000 speciality retailers. Visitors can browse some of Korea’s hippest fashions, take in an outdoor concert and samp le some soju (distilled Korean alcohol). Dongdaemun is not only memorable, but it’s also open 24 hours.
- Parnas Mall is a contemporary mall catering to well-heeled visitors in search of premium brands, and offers a unique experience that transcends your average shopping trip.
- The COEX Center is the biggest underground mall in Asia, and it’s easy to spend a day here seeing a movie, journeying through the Undersea Tunnel at the COEX Aquarium, playing baccarat at the Seven Luck Casino and browsing for bargains at the duty-free shops.
Culture & Nightlife in Seoul
Seoul has some of the most vibrant culture and nightlife in Asia. You’ll find everything from K-pop venues in former parking garages to late-night jazz clubs and the Korea National Opera.
Every district has its own pleasures, but Itaewon, Gangnam and Hongdae are the best bets for night owls and culture lovers.
The best neighbourhood venues
- Itaewon is Seoul’s most international neighbourhood and is popular with locals and expats alike. People-watch at the glitzy Glam Lounge, catch the game at the Wolfhound Irish pub, or dig into some Serbian food on Belgrade’s rooftop terrace.
- Surrounded by Seoul hotels, Gangnam presents a world of not-so-casual wealth, sharp suits and sleek cars. Come for the VIP atmosphere and neon-soaked nightlife, and stay for the sunrise over the skyscrapers. For a taste of the highbrow, the Opera Gallery displays artworks by Hirst, Haring and Picasso.
- Hongdae is the stomping ground of Seoul’s young and creative and is home to some of the best venues in the city. The intimate Club Ta offers thrilling live shows, while Hongdae’s narrow alleys hide local treasure Bar Da – an old-school joint frequented by artists and musicians.
Leisure in Seoul
With its thriving music scene, acclaimed film industry, and burgeoning financial district that seems to sprout skyscrapers daily, Seoul is a modern boomtown. But it’s one where the present sits comfortably with the past, and traditional Seoul is well worth exploring.
A day out in traditional Seoul
- You can start with a tour of Gyeongbokgung Palace, which dates from the 14th century, then wander past the beautiful hanok – traditional wooden houses – in Bukchon Hanok Village.
- Samneung Park is a UNESCO site, and it not only offers the opportunity for a leisurely picnic lunch in the picturesque greenery, but also the chance to see the royal burial site of several Joseon-era kings and queens.
- You can stroll through the National Folk Museum of Korea, housing a collection of artefacts dating back centuries.
- A night game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium is the perfect way to enjoy a friendly and communal atmosphere.
- Adjacent to InterContinental Seoul COEX, the Bongeunsa Temple was founded in 794. Visitors will find its lush hillside grounds to be beautiful and inspiring, and the temple even offers tea ceremonies and the chance to make traditional lotus lanterns.