An Insider's Guide to Seoul
In a monthly column produced for the Australian Financial Review's Boss Magazine, we highlight the best of a city for biz visitors and sophisticated travellers alike. This month LUXE Seoul resident curator Inès Cho dishes on her top spots in the ever-buzzy South Korean capital.
Seoul is a city of past, present and future. A technology hub and Asia’s top trendsetter, the capital city also has plenty of history to offer: one can be transported to bygone eras by happening upon the grand palaces and monuments scattered all over the city. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss.
The City in a Nutshell
Almost everything moves at lightning speed in Seoul – from the bullet trains to the sky-high LED displays and mobile internet speed, which is by far the world’s fastest at 26.7Mbps. But unfortunately the traffic can be grindingly slow, especially if you are trying to cross the Han river, so allow plenty of travel time. There’s no bad time to visit the South Korean capital with an array of cultural, art, music and sporting events all year round, but, if you can, come during the ravishing cherry blossom season (between March and April). One activity that’s weatherproof? The year-round, 24-hour shopping in the Dongdaemun markets.
Changdeokgung Palace. Photo credit: cozyta / Shutterstock.com
The One-Day Itinerary
Start your trip with a crash course on Korea’s glorious past via a trip to the magnificent Changdeokgung Palace (99 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu), famed for its beautiful gardens, then keep your regal romp going at Gyeongbokgung (161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu), the largest and arguably most stunning palace in town.
Break for lunch at Sanchon (30-13 Insadong-gil, Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu), a traditional hanok house in a little alleyway serving up veggie temple food, then fast-forward to the future at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (281 Eulji-ro, Jung-gu), an imposing masterpiece created by the late Zaha Hadid. The gargantuan cultural complex is home to art halls, museums, design markets, parks and so much more. Unsurprisingly, this spaceship-like structure was 2015’s most-tagged Instagram location in Korea.
In the evening, hip denizens and expats can be found mingling at Glam Lounge (2/F District, Hamilton Hotel Annex, 116-1 Itaewon-dong), a trendy bar in the heart of Itaewon, the city’s international entertainment district. Dress smartly to make a good impression amongst the famously fashionable Koreans.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Photo credit: Nattee Chalermtiragool / Shutterstock.com
Where the Business Crowd Meets
There are street food carts and casual diners aplenty, but when it comes to treating clients or business-related celebrations, Koreans take protocols seriously. Classy upscale restaurants – ranging from the traditional Bicena (267 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu) to the contemporary fare at Jung Sikdang (11 Seolleung-ro 158 gil, Gangnam-gu) – will surely impress. As for formal sips, biz crowds prefer the elegant speakeasy-style bars in Gangnam. Le Chamber (42 Dosan-daero 55-gil, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu) and Alice (47 Dosandaero 55-gil, Gangnam-gu) are preferred venues for intimate talks over fancy absinthe or whisky cocktails crafted by award-winning bartenders.
Eat, Stay, Play
Park Hyatt Seoul: Experience true Gangnam style at the sleek and simple Park Hyatt, a glass tower located in the heart of the business district.
SUM Cafe: S.M. Entertainment, a showbiz giant behind prominent pop acts like Super Junior, EXO and Girls’ Generation, opened this celebrity-endorsed cafe within its head office to much fanfare. A touristy stop for sure, but it’s exciting to be surrounded by the young energy of South Korea right inside the beating heart of Korean pop culture.
Rickshaws: An old-fashioned rickshaw ride around historic areas such as Bukchon Hanok Village or Seochon Village is a whimsical way to enjoy sightseeing. From hidden alleyways to bustling thoroughfares, all without breaking your heels.
Namsan Cable Car: Ride a cable car up to Namsan Tower for the best view of the futuristic downtown district.
PP Seoul: Get a blast from the past at this laid-back rooftop lounge facing red brick buildings built in the ’70s and ’80s.
- A version of this story originally appeared on the Australian Financial Review.
Find more of Inès Cho's recommendations in the LUXE Seoul city guide...
Creative director, author, TV host and writer Inès fell into journalism by chance, and as a founding member of the International New York Times, is a pioneer of cultural media in South Korea.
- Inès LOVES... A perfectly chilled glass of champagne with good company anywhere, anytime
- Inès LOATHES... Negative energy
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