Spring in Asia: City Guide Seoul, the complete guide to the best high-tech designs,
glorious food and the Lotus Lantern Festival
There’s no better season to visit Seoul than spring time when Koreans prepare to celebrate the birthday of Buddha (end of April-beginning of May) during the Lotus Lantern Festival. Thousands of lanterns shaped like a lotus flower are lit everywhere in the city and then brought around during the parade to the Jogyesa temple: an ocean of lights and colours not to be missed.
To visit Seoul (pronounced “Saul” by locals) is exciting and frustrating at the same time. The second largest metropolitan area in the world is an unstoppable turmoil of innovation and new constructions: like the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, opened in March 2014, with its long curves, it’s without a doubt the most iconic building representing korean design.
New constructions bring unfortunately a lot of traffic: expect long queues if you travel by car or taxi; but don’t ever think to socialize with the taxi driver as no one barely speaks english and all the signs are in korean (in fact, remember to ask your hotel concierge to write down in korean alphabet the address of your destination). Instead, you can observe the local habits: did you know that newlyweds in Korea have to dress with matching outfit during the whole honeymoon? So don’t be surprised if you see them at Incheon International Airport departing for the Philippines, the favourite seaside destination of Koreans.
Seoul treasures thoroughly the symbols of its tradition: the royal palaces, the temples and the museums that testify the rich culture of this country, from the Three Kingdoms of Korea during the 1st century AD to the war against North Korea in 1950.
Koreans are considered “the Italians of Asia”, not just because Italy and Korea are located almost on the same parallel, but also for their incredible simpathy and their glorious food. They’re always ready “to party” and they are very proud of their traditional cuisine famous all over the world, based on rice, meat and vegetables: the renowned kimchi, veggies fermented with seasonings, or the superb bulgogi, marinated grilled beef with onions and garlic.
The Italian Eye chose Seoul as a spring destination and we’re not the only ones: Karl Lagerfeld just debuted his Chanel Cruise Collection 2015/2016. Take a look at the looks inspired by korean tradition.
WHAT TO SEE
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Designed by the famous Anglo-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid and the Korean study Samoo. Opened in March 2014, with its curved and elongated frame, it is certainly the most iconic building that represents the industry of contemporary design in Korea. Inside there are carried out exhibitions, workshops, performances. In 2015 Karl Lagerfeld has chosen it as the location for the Chanel Cruise Collection fashion show (see the outfits).
Korea Furniture Museum
A must! A beautiful and exclusive museum: 6600 square meters of furniture dating back to the Joseon Dynasty. They are only open by appointment and inside there is also a French restaurant, open for dinner only and for groups over 20 people.
The world’s largest underground mall with hundreds of shops, two food courts, an aquarium, the Kimchi Field Museum (museum dedicated to the most famous Korean dish, kimchi), cinemas and numerous exhibition halls.
Dragon Hill Spa
A spa with 7 floors open 24/24 where they offer all the possible treatments from the Korean tradition. Saunas, baths, swimming pools, energy and meditation rooms, plus a cinema and a Korean restaurant. If you have time, you can spend the entire day!
Bukchon Traditional Village
A traditional Korean village near the Gyeongbokgung Palace. During the Joseon Dynasty it was the residential area for the nobility and high-ranking officials; now it has been preserved to show the urban environment of 600 years ago made up of narrow streets and charming hanok (traditional Korean houses).
N Seoul Tower
Also known as Namsan Tower, this tower, with its 236 mt, it’s the highest point in Seoul. Built in 1971, today it’s a communication and observation center.
Typical neighbourhood consisting in narrow streets with galleries and tea shops; once there was held the largest market for antiques and art in Korea.
The most important royal palace under the Joseon Dynasty (read our guide to the Palace).
WHERE TO SLEEP
(202, Jangchungdong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul)
Luxurious and elegant, according to many it is the most beautiful hotel in Seoul. It has reopened its doors in 2013 after a seven-month renovation that made proof of the most demanding customers. It is in a great location, a short metro ride from most of the attractions of the “Old Town” (if you can consider “old town” the area where they are most of the Royal Palaces). It also has an outdoor pool and a beautiful spa with exclusive Guerlain treatments. Deluxe double room from 200 € per night.
IP Boutique Hotel
(221, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul)
Opened in 2010, it was the first boutique hotel in Korea. The super-glam design, the position in the fashion district of Itaewon and the prices (for Seoul) make it our Best Choice. Double room from 200 € per night.
Banyan Tree Club and Spa
(60, JangChungdan-Ro, Jung-Gu, Seoul)
First urban resort for the Banyan Tree hotel chain, it is a private club with ultra-luxurious rooms, some with swimming pool inside the room and stunning views of Mount Namsan and its forest. Great location and spa with staff from the best school in Bali. Prices on request.
WHERE TO EAT
(State Tower Namsan building, Myeongdong Station, Seoul)
Currently the trendiest spot to do brunch on weekends, so reservations are required. The menu is classic American, but revisited with a touch of French cuisine. The place to see and to be seen.
(263-2 Hannam-Dong, Yongsan-Gu, Seoul)
Young and cool, perfect for brunch, informal evenings or simply a salad while visiting the city.
Elbon The Table
(530-5 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul)
Absolutely a must and definitely our Best Choice as a restaurant in Seoul. The cuisine is contemporary Italian with Korean ingredients. It seems impossible but try the rice porridge with mullet or foie gras served with an ice cream made with kimchi spices. The chef, Hyun Seok Choi, is known as “the crazy chef” for its unique and innovative cuisine.
(Garosu-gil, Nonhyeon oppure Gangnam-gu, Seoul)
Go there for the spectacular Hanwoo, the Korean equivalent of the Japanese wagyu, and the funny rule that you can bring wine from outside. It has three restaurants in different neighborhoods of the city but for the menu of the chef you must go to the one in Garosu-gil.
WHERE TO EAT SWEETS
(403-3, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu)
A busy coffee place producing Korean-style cakes with fresh ingredients. You must try the cherry pie, mouth-watering!
BARS & CLUBS
Glam (2F Hamilton Hotel Annex, 116-1 Itaewon-dong, Seoul)
One of the best nightlife hotspot of Seoul, it is the ideal place for a drink with house music in the background. As a club, it looks like a Western lounge bar.
Octagon (645 Nonhyeon-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul)
Definitely the best club across South Korea if you want to set off for an evening. You can dance to the beat of electronic dance music and there is also the option of eating in the restaurant.
Craft One (35, Yeonhui-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul)
Very low key and relaxed environment: perfect for a good beer with friends.
B1 Lounge Club (119-7 Itaewon-dong, Yonsan-gu, Seoul)
The favourite place for Koreans to have a drink. Ideal for those who want to immerse themselves in the local atmosphere.
Woo Bar al W Hotel (177 Walkerhill-ro, Gwangjin-Gu)
Minimalist and trendy, the top floor of the W Hotel in Seoul has stunning night views. The bar is 18 meters long, the longest in Korea, and offers an endless variety of spirits: 40 different kinds of vodka, in a menu with 200 wine labels.