There are many reasons to visit Seoul. The city boasts an eclectic mix of attractions, ranging from a UNESCO World Heritage-listed shrine and palace to colourful markets, a vibrant nightlife and an impressive war museum. In fact, the food alone could justify a trip to the country’s capital. Young, creative and experimental chefs are pushing the boundaries of traditional Korean flavours, while the abundance of high-quality street food means there’s something for everyone. And when it comes to music, visitors can catch a K-pop concert almost any day of the week. You can even dance on stage in Gangnam (yes, to the blaring sound of Psy’s music, of course) or soak yourself in a 24-hour jjimjilbang (public bathhouse). Also, the nearby border with North Korea and the infamous demilitarised zone make for a fascinating day trip (contact the Korean Travel Bureau, +82 2778 0150; go2korea.co.kr, to organise the journey).
Basically, there’s tons to do and see in Seoul. And while the city offers plenty of attractions for people from all walks of life, it’s particularly inspiring for technology and design enthusiasts. The home of companies such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai, Koreans are used to being at the forefront of innovation. Their quasi-obsession with gadgets mixed with a recent surge in homegrown design talents makes the city an ideal design-inspired getaway. So, for all you tech fans, as well as those of you who just want to eat, here are our recommended must-sees while you’re in the South Korean capital…
For the technophiles…
Samsung d’light (Samsung Electronics Bldg – take Line 2 to Gangnam Station, Exit 8; samsungdlight.com) is well worth the visit. Located in the same building as Samsung’s headquarters, this three-storey complex showcases the tech-giant’s latest products and offers a glimpse into the company’s vision for the future. Divided into themes such as education, home and communication, the exhibition is interactive and visitors are invited to experiment and play with the gadgets on show. Entrance is free.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (281 Eulji-ro, Jung-gu – take Lines 2, 4 or 5 to Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Subway Station; ddp.or.kr) is an architectural masterpiece in its own right. Designed by Zaha Hadid and comprising 45,133 unique aluminum panels on the outside, this cultural hub includes art and exhibition halls, a design museum and Korea’s largest art and design shop, Design Lab, which is one of the best places in town to buy works from young Korean designers. Check the website for exhibition listings and plan to spend at least half a day at the DDP.
T.um (SK T-Tower, 65 Eulji-ro, Jung-gu – take Line 2 to Euljiro 1-ga Station, Exit 4; tum.sktelecom.com) is awesome. Few visitors come away from the T.um without releasing at least a few amazed gasps. Hosted by one of the country’s biggest telecommunications companies, this hi-tech museum easily tops the digital-lover’s must-see list. Upon arriving for the mandatory-guided tour, visitors receive a mobile device with a digital character called T.me, which is designed to interact with its user throughout the visit. Gesture-controlled homes, media walls, self-driving cars and avatar-assisted virtual shopping are not only on show but available to experience for yourself. It’s free to enjoy but reservations are required.
For the tech shopaholics…
There’s no shortage of opportunities to part with money in Seoul. Almost every street (above and below ground) is lined with shops. Many of the bigger underground stations are effectively mini-malls packed with stalls – often making it difficult to dash for a train. For a huge selection of phones, gadgets, cameras and other tech paraphernalia, head over to the aptly named Techno Mart (546-4 Guui 3 (sam)-dong, Gwangjin-gu, +82 23424 0114). Located opposite the Gangbyeon Subway Station (line 2), it’s estimated that around 2,000 shops and dealers occupy the eight floors, which are all dedicated to electronics. Geek heaven!
U-Street (Ubiquitous Street) refers to the 760m-long entertainment and shopping district between Gangnam and Sinnonhyeon subway stations. It’s worth a visit even if shopping is not your thing so you can try out one of the 22 digital Media Poles that line the street. These 12m-high structures offer digital content, including transportation information and maps, as well as a built-in-cameras so that users can email a photo or video of themselves to their loved ones.
For the foodies…
Ask Seoulites the name of their favourite barbecue restaurant and watch as they draw a blank. Most agree that little distinguishes one spot from another, so the best advice is to dive into the first one you see whenever you fancy throwing some meat on the grill and washing it down with a Korean beer. But, for a more upscale experience, make a reservation at Jungsik (11 Seolleungro 158Gil, Gangnamgu, +82 2517 4654; jungsik.kr). This is the only South Korean restaurant to make the San Pellegrino list of Asia’s Top 50 restaurants (ranking in at 20) and is a great venue where you can experience modern and innovative Korean cuisine. Chef Yim Jungsik is credited with being one of the first people to apply molecular gastronomy to Korean ingredients and his dishes are as much a feast for the eyes as they are for the palate. Tasting menus start from as little as KRW50,000, which is about $360.
The vastness of the city means long days on the go, so taking regular breaks is highly recommended – and coffee-lovers are in luck. South Korea is one of the top coffee-consuming countries in the world and it’s home to more than 12,300 cafés. In Seoul, you’re hardly ever more than a stone’s throw away from one and many are competing for the coolest shop design as much as they are for the best brew. Located a few minutes’ walk from the frenetic Gangnam district is the relaxing Café InBus (1316-5, Seocho 4-dong, Seocho-gu – near Gangnam Station Exit 9). This is the perfect place to unwind and sip a special coffee while tasting the venue’s famous handmade breads. Actually, it’s the perfect place to chill out in after a great technology, shopping and food-filled day in one of the most energetic capital cities in the world.
Where to stay
Hotel W-Seoul Walkerhill
(177 Walkerhill-ro, Gwangjin-gu, +82 2465 2222; wseoul.com). It’s the South Korean capital’s must-stay location. Less a hotel and more a celebration of design and trendsetting events, this Hotel W is the ideal place to call home during a tech and design-inspired getaway. Overlooking the Han River, it’s conveniently located between downtown Seoul and the Gangnam district. A free shuttle ferries guests to nearby Gwangnaru (line 5) and Ganbyeon (line 2) subway stations. Rooms from $1,567 per night.
+82 2720 5467; sophiagh.com). Just off one of Seoul’s most youthfully artsy streets, the hotel has an authentic dynastic feel. The dark-wood Josean structures and courtyard make you feel like you’ve gone back 150 years, creating a great contrast to – and respite from – modern Seoul on your doorstep. Rooms from $425 per night.
Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.com) and Korean Air (koreanair.com) both offer direct daily flights from Hong Kong to Seoul’s Incheon airport from $3,287 and $4,007 respectively.