The only way to really appreciate Seoul is from above. The city sprawls in all directions, a motherboard of skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. On the ground it’s every bit the hyper frenetic, culturally paradoxical super metropolis you’d thought only possible in Blade Runner-type films. Nothing is 2D about Seoul. It’s the urban equivalent of a roller coaster; a series of experiences each more different and unexpected than the one that came before. Sometimes it’s ancient temples and imperial palaces, other times it’s bullet trains and neon lights. Sometimes it’s Buddha, sometimes it’s Hello Kitty. One thing is certain in this crazy crucible of fermented food, all-night bars, towering buildings and non-stop hustle: you’ve just discovered your new favorite place in the world.
Located in the heart of Yeouido island, Seoul’s banking and finance district, the Conrad Seoul offers visitors incredible views of the Han River. It’s an area worth exploring, from the nearby parks to the busy riverside where, even late at night, you’ll spot musicians performing. When it comes to luxury, Conrad Seoul has you covered, with restaurants offering local and international cuisine as well as an ultra-modern spa to rest weary feet after long days spent exploring.
Where 10 Gukjegeumyung-ro, Yeoeuido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu
The Shilla Seoul
With a duty-free shopping arcade, a restaurant for almost every day of the week and some of the most luxurious rooms in the city, The Shilla Seoul is one of the Jung District’s most popular choices for discerning travellers.
Where249, Dongho-ro, Jung-gu
Under the guidance of chef Kang Mingoo, Mingles has become a perennial favourite on the city’s notoriously capricious dining scene. Known for pioneering a more modern take on traditional Korean cuisine, expect unconventional flavour combinations, such as the use of fermented elements and vinegar in sweet desserts.
Where 94-9 Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu
In the Cheongdam-dong area of the Gangnam district, luxury and wealth is par for the course and no one understands this better than chef Jungsik Yim. Influenced by his training in New York and Spain, he fuses Korean flavours and international techniques in an offering that truly does the neighbourhood proud.
Where11 Seolleungro, 158 Gil, Gangnam-gu
Si Wha Dam
Dinner at Si Wha Dam is not so much a meal as it is a visual experience, with its gallery-like interior that contrasts ultra-modern art installations with antiques and artisanal ceramics (all the food is served on local, handmade tableware). The selection of plates on offer is tightly curated and, humorously, there’s a poem to each one on the menu.
Where 75 Hoenamu-ro, Yongsan-gu
Though the trend of speakeasy-type bars might be thoroughly exhausted, Charles H (named after peripateticcocktail-writing legend Charles H Baker) has the goods to back it up. Located on the basement level of the Four Seasons hotel, the scene is all plush velvets and dim lighting – just what you need when knocking back some of the finest old-fashioneds the city has to offer.
Where 97 Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu
When the entrance to a bar is hidden behind a bookshelf in a library (you have to pull the right book to unlock it) you know you’re in for something different –
and that’s exactly what Le Chamber is all about. Glittering chandeliers, dark leather and over 200 whiskies on offer, this is the need-to-know bar you have to try. 42 Dosan-Where Daero 55-gil, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu
Step across the threshold of an unmarked door on one of Seoul’s trendiest streets, Gyeongridan, and you’ll find yourself in a Texan bar that would be right at home in the States. They also serve a selection of Tex-Mex tacos and, in summer, the rooftop offers views of Namsan Tower.
Where 527 Itaewon-dong ,Yongsan-gu
Boon the Shop
As achingly cool on the outside as it is inside, Boon The Shop is to Seoul what Colette is to Paris, a designer-swag Mecca. Spread over seven floors, the Peter Marino-designed concept store stocks everything from the big names to uber-niche designers.
Where 17 Apgujeong-ro 60-gil, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu
With what is arguably one of the coolest shop exteriors in Seoul, stepping into Works Out feels like a trip through the Stargate a hundred years into the future. It stocks difficult-to-find brands that rarely make it outside of Asia.
Where 20-4 Seolleung-ro 157-gil, Gangnam-gu n
For the best view in Seoul, visit the Lotte World Tower, the city’s (and the world’s fifth) tallest skyscraper and take a ride up 123 floors to the Seoul Sky viewing deck. Or try something a little more cultural and stop at the Changdeokgung Palace. Hire a hanbok (traditional Korean wear) and walk the grounds of the former imperial palace (it’s the stuff of Instagram gold) or enjoy a traditional tea ceremony at the secluded Suyeonsanbang teahouse, the former home of Korean novelist Yi Tae-jun. For a heady dose of futuristic architecture, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which was designed by the late Dame Zaha Hadid, is a must. The DDP hosts a variety of fashion shows, exhibitions and design forums throughout the year.