CuriousCities | Seoul
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SEOUL TRAVEL GUIDE
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SEOUL TRAVEL GUIDE

The South Korean capital is lining up architectural design icons, as fast as you can down shots of Soju – the traditional rice spirit

FIVE OF THE BEST

1. BOON THE SHOP

Destination designer department store in the heart of Gangnam

More than a fashion store, Boon the Shop is an architecture marvel located within the narrow streets of the high-end Gangnam district. Designed by Peter Marino, the imposing Shinsegae-owned store, offers an impressive international designer mix that spans womenswear, menswear and accessories. It also houses the casual Rubrica Café & Ristorantefor a mid-shop pick-me-up, along with the top floor’s blonde wood clad, Japanese sushi restaurant Kojima, which has impressive views over Seoul at sunset.

TRAVEL TRUFFLE: This area is jammed with seriously cool architecture, buzzy cafés and fashion stores. Check out smaller multi-brand designer destinations Space Mue and Rare Market, along with Korea’s most highly regarded men’s fashion export Wooyoungmi, before finishing up the day with a gelato sundae at Dior’s rooftop Pierre Hermé café.

2. DONGDAEMUN DESIGN PLAZA (DDP)

Zaha Hadid’s must-see spaceship has landed in central Seoul 

It’s hard to miss the intergalactic curves of Zaha Hadid’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) that houses Seoul Fashion Week as well as a design museum and a tranquil garden respite in the heart of Seoul’s historic Jongno-gu district. Visit day or night, it is as equally awe-inspiring when it’s all lit up with its panels flickering on and off at random after dark.

TRAVEL TRUFFLE: The park complex includes 30,000 square metres of green oasis, which is often utilised beyond its urban greening intentions. When we visited, its green carpet was ‘planted’ with 20,000 white LED rose lights that transformed the parkland into a star galaxy at night.

3. PARC

Family run restaurant serving modern Korean in one of Seoul’s coolest areas

Nestled in the Hannam district of Seoul, which has the vibe of Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills (for landscape) and NYC’s Lower East Side (for nightlife), Parc is a modern spin on traditional Korean food, inspired by the family recipes of owner Pak Mogua’s mother. A low-key dining treasure, Parc’s fusion menu and local plum wine (think Rosé meets dessert wine) is best shared with friends, while the latter has a softer landing than the customary Soju (think sake or vodka) for beginners.

TRAVEL TRUFFLE: After dinner, walk via the nearby Hyundai Card Music Library in Itaewon – an outdoor stage for up-and-coming music talent – to hole-in-the-wall bar ATM (an abbreviation for ‘against the machine’). This grungy corner drinking spot may be decorated with an eclectic mix of jumble sale furnishings, but the odd array of Marvis toothpaste and Lucas’ Pawpaw lip balm that litters its bar counter offers tell-tale signs of its cool creative clientele.

4. DRAGON HILL SPA

No frills traditional Korean spa with an impressive global reputation

There is NOTHING luxurious about this jjimjilbang. Be prepared for plenty of public nudity (there are no robes or flip-flops here, for better or for worse, and the towels on offer are hand-towel sized), but Diamond Hill is a Korean institution and a must-do for the world’s biggest make-up artists when they’re in town. The idea is to buy a package (girls try the Emerald for around £80), which entitles you to a precarious body steaming session (you’ll laugh later!), hammam-style all orifice exfoliation, a dip in multiple hot and cold pools, a facial and whole body massage. Thankfully, they give you shorts and a tee for this section; which is good because you also have to leave the confines of your gender-segregated bathing area, and walk through what looks like an arcade-game alley. Did we mention it’s also open 24 hours, so if you fancy a 4-hour relax session without running into friends from your group you can do a late night run solo.

TRAVEL TRUFFLE: One indulgence asks for another, and Si Wha Dam is the gastronomic equivalent of South Korean fine dining with up to 23 courses on offer. Presentation-wise these are food selfies to frame, then it’s back to Dragon Hill to detox all over again.

5. THE SHILLA

This luxury 5-star business hotel with star power sits atop prime real estate

The Shilla, centrally located just up the road from Zaha Hadid’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza, may be a business hotel at heart, but it is also Karl Lagerfeld’s hotel of choice in Seoul. Other high-flying benefits include The Shilla’s modern spin on the traditional Korean spa (however note that group nudity is still involved), indoor and outdoor pools (complete with raised day bed arrangements to court K-Pop stars), the city’s best Japanese restaurant, the comfiest beds in the business, and the best breakfast spread we’ve seen in years.

TRAVEL TRUFFLE: Forget room service. The Shilla’s multi-cultural breakfast buffet will see you through to the early afternoon, whether you fancy starting with the made-to-order noodle station or the omelette stop. They also offer the option of tea/coffee to go in takeaway cups, which means there’s more time for the freshly made waffles.

FIVE OF THE REST

A HUNDRED CITIES

“Exploring the South Korean city with a filmmaker, a novelist, a designer and a musician who reveal keys to comprehending this place of ceaseless transformation.”

BEST OF SEOUL

“In Seoul, you can shop at brilliantly lit malls at 4 a.m., sing karaoke an hour later, then get McDonald’s delivered to your doorstep for breakfast.”

SEOUL CITY GUIDE

“South Korea’s bustling capital is an exciting city to explore, with millions of discoveries to be made in each strikingly different neighborhood.”

KOREAN FASHION

“Seoul, the plucky capital of South Korea is quickly claiming the spotlight as Asia’s Style Central. With the help of some plugged-in denizens, we discover the Korean fashion hotspots you’ll want to know in this sprawling metropolis.”

THE CONCIERGES’ GUIDE

“Seoul’s best restaurants, bars, attractions and more, revealed by concierges in the city’s best hotels.”