The South Korean capital is energetic and sprawling; it’s a 24-hour city that’s home to some 10 million people and plenty of brightly lit billboards, skyscrapers and shops. But that’s not all. Beyond the colourful clutter you’ll find innovative building projects, lush green spaces and world-class museums, as well as a tasty spread of places to eat and drink. Hike up your hanbok and come and meet the people putting their hearts into Seoul.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. Language lessons: Address-related suffixes include ga (region or street), gil and ro (street), gu (district) and dong (neighbourhood).
  2. Natural wonders: The shores of the Hangang offer a soothing reprieve from the high-rises, as does the artificially revived Cheonggyecheon downtown.
  3. Playing nice: Koreans don’t do kissing – at least not when they’re greeting one another. A brief hug is more common among friends. If in doubt just smile and say “hello”: that’s ann-yeong to friends and ann-yeong ha-se-yo to strangers, elders and business partners.
  4. Money matters: Your safest bet is using American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard or Visa. Keep an eye out for machines that say “Global atm”.
  5. Middle of the road: The city’s new address system uses street names and numbers whereas the old system was based on administrative divisions. Most Seoulites are still transitioning and use a combination of the new and old so we’ve done the same.

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Hotels

Hospitality at its finest

  1. Park Hyatt, Daechi-dong

    Room with a view

    This striking glass box is all about the views: you’ll find floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the city sprawl (don’t fret, there are blinds in the bathroom).

  2. Handpicked Hotel & Collections, Sangdo-dong

    Select design

    This 10-storey hotel stands on the site of owner and general manager Sean Kim’s former family home and helped revitalise the neighbourhood.

  3. The Shilla, Jangchung-dong

    Landmark hotel

    The Shilla is an oasis perched on the peak of Namsan, which is reached by a winding road that passes a vast sculpture garden.

Vocabulary

Local lingo

  1. An-nyeong ha-se-yo: Hello
  2. Gam-sa ham-ni-da: Thank you
  3. Ban-gap sihm-ni-da: Nice to meet you
  4. Dae-bak: The best
  5. Cah-pee ju-se-yo: Please, give me coffee
  6. Mat-shi suh-yo: It’s delicious
  7. Gun bae: Cheers

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Keunkiwajip, Samcheong-dong

    Sticky fingers

    Koreans call ganjang gejang (raw crab marinated in soy sauce) “rice thieves” because they go so well with rice that they can make an entire bowl of it disappear in seconds. The secret to Keunkiwajip’s fresh-crab dishes is the marinade.

  2. O’neul, Dongbinggo-dong

    High-end classics

    Homely Korean standards reach fine-dining heights at O’neul, which translates as “today”. The yukgaejang (rich beef soup) is simmered for 12 hours and the kimchi here has been fermented for years, not months.

  3. Bimbom, Seongsu-dong

    Cinematic brunch

    Opened in 2011 by playwright-turned-chef Sim Ka-young and her kitchen-appliance-designer husband Kim Tai-Kyung, Bimbom has lent the city brunch options beyond French toast and eggs Benedict.

  4. Manufact Coffee Roasters, Sinsa-dong

    Craftsman’s brew

    Found atop concept store Queenmama Market, Manufact Coffee Roasters was opened by Kim Jong Phil and his brother Jong Jin. Its name, drawn from the Latin words manus (hand) and factum (made), captures the Kim brothers’ personal touch.

  5. Southside Parlor, Itaewon-dong

    Southern hospitality

    When Southside Parlor opened in 2013, craft cocktails were hard to come by outside Seoul’s five-star hotels. But after hosting a series of pop-ups, the bar’s trio of Texan founders discovered an audience enthusiastic for a taste of the American South.

Retail

Shop talk

  1. Beaker, Cheongdam-dong

    A lotta labels

    Launched in 2012 by Samsung’s fashion arm, Beaker features about 300 men’s and womenswear labels from the US, Europe and Asia, including Helmut Lang, Closed, Aspesi, Armor-lux and Maison Kitsuné.

  2. Queenmama Market, Sinsa-dong

    All under one roof

    The exterior of this nondescript grey-stone building may look a little lifeless but inside is a four-storey lifestyle shop so big and inviting that it’s a veritable ecosystem of its own, selling South Korean ceramics, plants and homeware.

  3. Sulwhasoo, Sinsa-dong

    Spa and partners

    Sulwhasoo’s first standalone shop is a handsome six-storey space inspired by a lantern. Visit at dusk, when the brass-and-wood interiors glow through the rectangular windows, and pick up the label’s signature ginseng cream, the original product launched in 1966.

  4. Vinyl & Plastic, Hannam-dong

    Listen up

    Housed in a glass-and-steel structure by Korean architecture firm Samuso Hyojadong, Vinyl & Plastic stocks South Korean and international records and CDs, with listening stations for you to sample before you buy.

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