Seoul, South Korea
- More about your oliver guide: Sarah Collins
- Trip type: Adult, Group getaway, Solo, City
- Activity level: moderate
- Ideal length of trip: 3-4 days
to & from
I flew here from Hong Kong which was a breeze and back to SFO non-stop 10 hours. Traffic can be a challenge in Seoul so give yourself extra time to get into town and if possible, avoid rush hour.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Westin which was central and had all of the necessary amenities. There is a Four Seasons available and The Shilla Seoul was highly recommended.
Where to Eat and Drink
The food in Korea says so much about the culture and history of the country. It is largely vegetarian and Korean BBQ is a fairly new thing that came about in the 80’s, with the influx of money, came more meat. Kimchi is served at almost every meal and there are endless varieties. Bibimbap and Jeon (savory, pan fried pancakes) are staples.
Street food is the best way to experience the culture of Seoul. Gwangjang market is one of the most amazing street food expereinces one could hope for.
Coffee shops are everywhere is Seoul. The living spaces are very small and Korean generally don’t entertain in their home so most meetups occur in numerous coffee shops. There are so many that they go to extremes to differentiate themselves.
Koreans have an affinity for beer but in addition, there are several liquors that are in abundance. Soju and makgeoli are the two most popular. Sool Gallery in Gangnam is run by the state and will host you either by walk-in or a once daily in-depth tasting by appointment that is meant to educate tourists and introduce them to local breweries.
- C Through Coffee shop for the most instagrammable cup of joe you're likely to have in this lifetime. Black Essence Coffee Shop is another serious roastery and shop.
- Nagawan Market - oldest market in the city
- If you're looking for a sceney restaraunt, check out SMT Seoul. Fancy: Pierre Gagnaire a Seoul.
What to Do
Buckchon was my favorite part of the city. It’s a very old neighborhood with preserved homes called Hanoks. There are tons of artisanal shops and my favorites were:
Space D9 – art gallery
Ganhand – handmade scents and candles
Haren and Fox and Wolf – clothing
Gentle Monster – South Korean eye-wear brand whose store is in a renovated public bathhouse. The store is so beautiful, it’s almost like visiting a mini-museum.
Also, there is a street called masters alley where you can learn to make traditional Korean handicrafts.
- Find a shop that will hand carve a stamp for you as a lovely gift or souvenir.
- Gyeongbokgung Palace - Crowded with tourists dressed in traditional Hanboks.
- Walk around Insadong and while there, check out Ssamjigil. It's a small mall filled with local up and coming designers.
If possible, the first thing you should do is book a food tour with Veronica at Gastro Tour Seoul. It is a lovely way to get introduced to some of the history of the country and also see some of the sights mentioned above. Veronica is extremely knowledgeable about foods around the world and has quite the background. Hands Down – do not miss. www.gastrotourseoul.com
The neighborhood of Gangnam can be a little misleading. We were initially dropped off by the main transportation station which felt a lot like a giant shopping area. You have to wander a bit North to get to the area that is more interesting with better shops and restaurants. Ask the hotel for guidance before you set out.
- Have a Korean BBQ meal at Maple Tree then head out for a night on the town in the same neighborhood of Itaewon. District is a good choice for a lounge
- PP Seoul is a lovely rooftop bar in a neighborhood area - great spot for an afternoon cocktail on a nice day.
- April is a great time of year to visit. The weather is similar to San Francisco and the blooming cherry blossoms make everything that much more beautiful.
- Very few taxi drivers speak English and the first one who picked me up at the airport was amazing. He is also available for private hire at $25/hr AND has free WiFi. firstname.lastname@example.org He's also on what'sApp +82-10-9023-5066
Seoul is a city that is very spread out with a lot of traffic. Try your best to plan accordingly to avoid schlepping all over.
DMZ tour is a maybe. While interesting, it feels like a “tour” and is a pretty big time commitment.
Uber doesn’t really work here and taxi drivers are plentiful but do not speak English. Help yourself by getting the hotel concierge to write down your destinations for the drivers.