It is not often that a city easily outpaces the likes of New York City and London in population density and number of people, but Seoul is just full of surprises. The capital of South Korea, home to just under 10 million people, is one of the largest cities in the world, but that’s not what makes it special: it is also a thriving hub of business, economy, art, food, and culture.
But perhaps what most separates Seoul from other cities is its blend of the old and the new, of modern ingenuity and classical style. The city’s rich history spans as far back as 18 B.C. when it was known as Wiryeseong, the capital of the kingdom of Baekje; and its past includes a long tale of regime changes, conflict, prosperity, liberation, and dynastic rule; moments that have not been forgotten.
Take a stroll around the city, and you’ll quickly see that the influences of a time gone by remain strong. It’s not uncommon to see ancient temples and historic landmarks with traditional architecture stand right alongside ultra-modern skyscrapers that wouldn’t look out of place in any 21st century metropolis.
As it keeps its historical roots intact, Seoul continues to rapidly grow and evolve. This seamless-yet-noticeable blend of the old and new creates a unique atmosphere and an uncommon culture that cannot be captured in many other major population centers. The fusion of the past and the present can be experienced in the music, arts, food, technology, and pop culture.
When to Go
But the spring time is right in that sweet spot. From March to May, the temperatures are mild, the humidity isn’t oppressive, and the travel expenses are lower. Plus, in the dead heat of summer, Seoul gets a significant amount of rainfall, which could potentially put a damper on any outdoor activities and attractions.
Where to Stay
Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas
Located in the heart of the Gangnam District, the 507-room Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas puts guests in close proximity to major department stores, theaters and business centers like the Korean World Trade Center, a building complex that contains the ASEM Tower and the Trade Tower. This prime location is perfect for those who want to see firsthand the buzz and excitement of one of the city’s more popular areas.
The hotel has a fitness club, bar, airport shuttle service and a variety of dining experiences. The Grand InteContinental also has a newly upgraded grand ballroom adorned with crystal and flower decorations and high ceilings. The spacious room on the fifth floor can seat up to 980 guests and is a great venue for large-sized private weddings.
Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul
This five-star hotel near downtown Seoul truly provides luxury, high-end experiences. Its spacious rooms and suites can include (depending on which room is booked) king-size beds, in-room pools, a living room, a dining room and views of the Han River, the Namsan Mountains or the city itself.
The Banyan Tree also has a number of facilities that include a fitness center, a crystal ballroom, a golf driving range, a sauna, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts and an ice rink in the winter months.
The Vista Walkerhill Seoul
Guests that want to be close enough to the downtown area but want to “get away” for just a while can book their stay at the Vista Walkerhill Seoul. The luxury hotel is located in the scenic Achasan Mountain Range on the north bank of the Han River, to the eastern end of Seoul.
While it's closer to the more active areas of the city, this 250-room hotel is still just a short ride away from nightlife activities, the Gangnam business and financial districts, and popular attractions like Children’s Grand Park, Konkuk University, and Olympic Park.
The Vista Walkerhill has a heated indoor pool, a full-service spa, a golf course, fitness center, and tennis courts. Its dining options includes two authentic Italian and Japanese restaurants.
Meyong-dong is a dream destination for affluent tourists looking to indulge on high-end designer products. It is one of the primary shopping districts in Seoul and heralded as a must-see destination for tourists.
This “shopping mecca” is a hub of commerce, fashion, cuisine, and entertainment with a seemingly endless number of high-end stores, malls, kiosks, theaters, and restaurants. Meyong-dong sees a floating daily population of roughly two million people, and remains a favorite among those visiting Seoul.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a futuristically designed urban development landmark that serves as a venue for art exhibitions, design-related shows, conferences, festivals and other events and gatherings.
The new building is famous for its distinct and incredibly unique architecture designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid and Samoo Architects & Engineers (SAMOO). The building is now considered to be an iconic landmark in the design industry.
The Plaza is comprised of five halls: Art Hall, Museum, Design Lab, Design Market, and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park that host the many events that make the building an important cultural center in Seoul. It even has a number of shops and cafes for guests to explore as well.
Yeongdeungpo Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
For those traveling to Seoul in the spring, this seven-day festival is a can’t-miss attraction that showcases the natural beauty of the region. The festival takes place every year in early to mid-April in Yeouido Park, when its over 1,800 Korean Cherry trees are in bloom and showcase gorgeous cherry blossom flowers.
Visitors also get to see beautiful azaleas, forsythia, royal azaleas, and other flowers on display. At night, the cherry blossoms are lit up with various colored lights as many different street performances and art exhibits take place.
The Spring Flower Festival is something that can’t be seen anywhere else, so it is certainly worth a checking out. Admission and participation is free and guests are permitted to explore the grounds as they please.
Built in 1395, this reconstructed landmark in northern Seoul is a stunning view into the country’s cultural, royal, and architectural past. Perhaps the most famous of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon dynasty, the Gyeongbokgun houses the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea, providing an opportunity for guests to get a slice of Korean history.
Guests can also go on an English-speaking tour to gain a further understanding of the grounds and its historical significance. Also unique to the palace is the royal changing of the guard ceremony that is held twice daily at the main gate of the palace between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The ceremony consists of a reenactment of Joseon-era traditions where guards at the palace dress in royal uniforms, carry traditional weapons, and play traditional instruments in the main courtyard.
Where to Eat
The Michelin star-awarded Mingles serves up a blend of contemporary and traditionally influenced Korean cuisine. Under the direction of head chef Mingoo Kang, the popular restaurant has taken Japanese, Spanish, and French influences to create a one-of-a-kind menu with a reputation for excellence.
Kang trained under Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian, and worked previously at Nobu in Miami and the Bahamas. His impressive culinary background has resulted in an innovative seven-course tasting experience that changes every few weeks. Plus, its simple-yet-cozy design makes for a comfortable and elegant dining experience.
At Seokparang, guests can really get the royal treatment. Surrounded by a beautiful traditional garden, this hanok restaurant was built from a meeting room of a villa owned by Heungseon Daewongun, the father of King Gojong of the Joseon Dynasty.
Fittingly, the menu consists of royal court cuisine, comprising strictly selected ingredients and traditional menu items such as fish, eggs, beef, poultry, rice, vegetables and soup. Traditionally, royal cuisine is prepared and presented in a very specific way, where each dish, each bowl, and each plate has a very specific place on the table.
As guests dine on the traditional Korean fare, they can bask in the natural beauty of the surrounding gardens and take in the peace and quiet in the heart of the city.
If you want to go off the beaten path and seek out a new culinary experience, we suggest Braai Republic in Itaewon. This South-African run restaurant has been providing the city with authentic and traditional South African food since its opening in 2011.
The menu serves up a hearty selection of meat platters, sausages, lamb chops, seafood, ribs, meat pies, soup, and more. The drink menu consists authentic South African wines and other alcoholic selections, and the décor gives off a distinct South African vibe, as the walls are covered with African animal skins, pictures of the region, and other South Africa-related items.
Braai Republic is an excellent choice for an alternative to the expected night out in Seoul.