Why Is This Place so Great?
As South Korea’s capital, Seoul is one of the world’s most modern cities steeped in rich history and still features a thousand-year-old temple, as well as Gyeongbokgung Palace, which housed Korean royals since 1395.
While Seoul has something to offer to every type of traveler, shoppers will especially love the city. With its fast-fashion trends, stores operate on an “everything-must-go” system at the end of every season. Discounts are so widely offered during this time, that it is likely for shoppers to find items up to 90% off. Since Koreans also highly value proper skin care and high-tech products, people are likely to find some of the best products in these sectors as well.
Luxury Hotel: SIGNIEL Seoul
SIGNIEL is the luxury brand of Korea’s most widely recognized hotel group, LOTTE Hotels & Resorts. This hotel is our luxury choice because of its great location in one of the nation’s most iconic buildings, Lotte World Tower, which gained its status when it opened to the public in 2017 as the country’s tallest building reaching 123 floors and 1,820 feet in height.
The hotel’s 235 rooms are located between the 76th and 101st floors of the building, providing all guests contemporary designed rooms featuring hardwood floors with some tasteful carpeting, marble twin vanities in the bathroom, separate bathtub and shower units, and panoramic views of Seoul’s skyline.
All guests staying at SIGNIEL receive complimentary access to SIGNIEL Club, which offers complimentary light drinks and snacks, but also features a sushi bar, a beverage bar that serves wine as well as various luxurious whiskeys and cognacs, and six private dining rooms that serve Chinese cuisine by celebrity chef Kyungok Yok. While children under the age of 13 are not permitted into the club space, families are compensated with tickets to child-friendly activities such as tickets to the aquarium and day passes to the Lotte World amusement park (which are all featured inside the same building as the hotel) instead.
The hotel also features a Korean restaurant named Bicena, as well as a Michelin starred restaurant named STAY that offers refined French cuisine by chef Yannick Alleno, who is most well known for his 3 Michelin starred restaurant Le 1947 at Cheval Blanc Courchevel hotel and Pavillon Ledoyen in Paris. SIGNIEL’s Bar 81 is also impressive, serving various liquors as well as the country’s largest champagne selection.
Luxury Activity: Get Dressed Up in Traditional Korean Hanboks and Gain Free Entry to the Palaces of Seoul
Hanboks are colorful traditional Korean clothing that originally used the color palette of Obangsaek, the traditional Korean color spectrum of the elements: white for metal, black for water, yellow for earth, red for fire, and blue for wood. However, the colors used on the clothing has since branched out to include other colors as well. The history of wearing hanboks can be traced back as far as the period of the Three Kingdoms between 57 B.C. to 668 A.D. and have continuously been worn on a daily basis until just a century ago. Since a person’s garment was used to classify social stature, hanboks were made using different materials. Ramie, silk, and satin were used for those in the highest class, while hemp and cotton were used for commoners.
Although wearing hanboks are no longer common, the people of South Korea still encourage people to embrace their history by introducing hanbok festivals and programs that allow free entry to the Palaces of Seoul as long as one wears the traditional garment. Consequently, we recommend our luxury travelers to rent a hanbok and visit at least one of the following:
- Gyeongbokgung: As the largest palace of Korea, which once housed the emperor of the Joseon Dynasty, it is the oldest and most popular of the palaces to visit. Originally built in 1395, it was the royal family’s home until its destruction during a fire created by the Japanese invasion in the 1590s and was reconstructed 270 years later with some architectural changes that combined traditional Chinese elements. The palace offers free guided English tours available at 11:00, 13:00, and 15:30 as well as a Changing of the Guard ceremony that takes place every hour on the hour between 11:00 and 15:00 on a daily basis except for Tuesdays when the palace is closed to the public.
- Changdeokgung Palace: Built just east of Gyeongbukgong in 1412 under Taejong’s (the third king of the Joseon Dynasty) demand, this palace was used as a secondary palace for the imperial family. Although this palace was burnt alongside Gyeongbukgong during the Japanese invasion, it was chosen to be reconstructed and became the official home of the royal family. Following this, the palace was consistently under attack by civil wars and invasions during times of unrest. However, Changdeokgung was continuously reconstructed and maintained as the royal residence for over two centuries until the fall of Sunjong in 1910, who was the second and last emperor of Korea. Due to its well-kept preservation, Changdeokgung Palace became a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Changgyeonggung Palace: The site of this palace was originally a summer home for the royal family during the reign of the Goryeo dynasty. It was changed to become the secondary palace that resided queens and the king’s father due to lack of space at Changdeokgung when it became the main residential hall for the king.
- Deoksugung Palace: Originally built for the purpose of housing Princes, namely brothers of the kings, Deoksugung gained its palace status in 1592 for housing the royal family when all the other palaces were burnt by the Japanese invasion. It continued to house the king until Changdeokgung was rebuilt. Deoksugung palace also holds a Changing of the Guard ceremony, which occurs at 11:00, 14:00, and 15:30 on all days except Monday when it is closed to the public.
- Gyeonghuigung Palace: This palace is another secondary home for generations of kings used as a resting place during daily excursions as well as royal council meetings and lectures. People looking for a more peaceful experience will enjoy visiting Gyeonghuigung since tourists tend to go visit the first two listed palaces more. Entrance to this palace is free to all visitors, but you can still get dressed up for the occasion if you’d like to.
The better Hanbok stores to rent from around the area are Seohwa Hanbok, which has a larger selection of more intricately designed garments, and Hanboknam which offers complimentary 90-minute rentals to those who hold a Discover Pass that provides free or discounted entry to many of Seoul’s major attractions. However, if you’re looking for more store selections, check out this article by Tripzilla.
Luxury Dining: La Yeon
La Yeon is an upscale Korean restaurant located on the top floor of The Shilla Seoul hotel in the Jung-gu district, providing discerning patrons with wonderful views of the Seoul Tower, Namsan Park, and the city. The restaurant has won numerous accolades, including receiving the first 3-Star Michelin award in Seoul and being named one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants consistently since 2015.
Patrons dining here can expect to receive a contemporary twist to traditional multi-course Hansik meal featuring some of the highest quality ingredients to help highlight the beauty of Korean cuisine. Some favorites of the restaurant are the red mullet fish, bibimbap, and sea bream dishes.
Lifestyle Hotel: Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul
Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul is located in front of Namsan Mountain in the center of the city, making it easy to travel between Ganbuk and Gangnam by car.
The resort’s 50 rooms are quite spacious spanning a minimum of 517 square feet and all feature hardwood floors, twin vanities, and separate shower and toilet space. Those looking for some extra-added luxury should book a pool room to receive a large private indoor relaxation pool.
This Banyan Tree Resort has a ton of activities for its guests. The property features both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool (its outdoor pool transitions into a skating rink during the winter months), a TechnoGym equipped fitness center, a separate yoga studio, a golf driving range simulator across two floors, a tennis court, basketball court, and also an outdoor field suitable to play soccer. Eco-conscious lifestylers can also relax enjoy this hotel as it has been awarded a bronze benchmark by Earthcheck, the leading sustainability benchmarking company in the hospitality and tourism industry.
Lifestyle Activity: Go for a Hike at Bukhansan National Park
In the past, Koreans thought mountains were sacred lands that held religious significance. Consequently, activities such as hiking and mountain climbing became popular pastimes to help reflect and deepen their faith. Although South Korea is now an admired modern country, hiking remains to be one of the most popular hobbies among its locals.
Avid hikers visiting or residing in Seoul are most likely to visit Bukhansan National Park due to its location in the northern parts of the city. In fact, this park receives so many visitors (an average of 5 million per year) that it has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most visited National Park per Unit Area”. While autumn is the best time to go on these hikes to see the beautiful leaves change color, avoid weekends during this time if possible because it tends to get jam-packed.
Since the National Park is so vast, it holds multiple different trails of varying difficulties that take hikers towards different peaks and attractions on the mountains. Amongst the choices, Bukhansanseong Course is the most popular of them all. Spanning 2.1 miles long Bukhansanseong takes hikers to Baegundae Peak, the tallest peak of Bukhansan National Park. While this course starts at a fairly easy level, it gets really tough towards the end, requiring visitors to hold onto the already attached rope railings to hoist themselves up further along.
Obong Course is another course popular for its beauty and picturesque setting that takes hikers toward Dobongsan Mountain. Along this 4 mile trail, people will be able to see Songchu’s beautiful waterfall and the mountain’s five peaks.
Those who are looking for a challenge should look into completing the Dulle-Gil trail which was completed in 2018. While the full trail spans a total of 2796.2 miles around South Korea’s perimeters (which even brings hikers towards the borders of North Korea), the Seoul Dulle-Gil section is only 97.6 miles long. Sectioned into 8 parts, adventurers will see Bulamsan Mountain, Achaean Mountain, Iljasan Mountain (this section is great for children and the elderly since the grounds are quite level), Wumyeonsan Mountain, Gwanaksan Mountain, Anyancheon Stream, Aengbongsan Mountain, and Bukhansan Mountain. Intended to be sectioned off and completed on different days, each of these trails starts next to a subway station for easy access. Visitors who tackle this challenge can purchase a passport (or just bring a sheet of paper with them) to stamp and mark off each trail that has been completed at the trail’s designated stations.
Koreans tend to take their hiking pretty seriously, so the majority of the courses can be seen as quite difficult. Consequently, those looking to hike should bring proper gear with them, especially hiking shoes, plenty of water, some snacks, and even a walking stick if preferred. Those who don’t have any gear can purchase them at any of the several stores featured on the bottom of the mountains.
Lifestyle Dining: Ose Gye Hyang
Seoul can be difficult for vegetarians, let alone vegans, but Ose Gye Hyang is one of the few restaurants that are able to serve a fully vegan traditional Korean meal. True to Korea’s tradition, the restaurant only offers floor seating on cushions with low standing wooden tables.
Their menu is quite vast and covers everything from fried “chicken” soy protein cutlets, dumplings, vegetarian Korean barbecue, stews, and noodles, this is truly a vegan’s paradise. While the menus are already fully vegan, it also denotes dishes that feature garlic and onion. While the menu only has these denotations, gluten-free patrons are welcome at this establishment as well; however, it would be wise to bring a Korean gluten-free/celiac card along with you to ensure that your food does not mistakenly have soy sauce or various other gluten-filled ingredients in it.
Boutique Hotel: L’Escape Hotel
L’Escape Hotel is located in the Jung-gu district of Seoul, which is a popular shopping district in the heart of the city close to numerous markets and museums.
This is an incredibly trendy property that was designed by French interior designer, Jacques Garcia, who assisted in creating notable boutique hotels around the world including Hotel Costes in Paris and The NoMad Hotel in New York. With the hotel’s concept being a Parisian escape, all 204-smoke free rooms are designed with lots of red tapestries and wallpapers to highlight Paris’s romantic appeal. Bathrooms are designed in an Art Deco manner featuring black and white checkered floors and gold finishings.
All rooms are also equipped with UHD Smart TVs with USB and HDMI capabilities, Nespresso coffee machines, Atelier Cologne bathroom amenities, and two complimentary soft drinks. Since most rooms also feature a bathtub (with the exception of “Mini” rooms), complimentary L’Escape signature bath salts are also provided in those rooms.
Those looking for some added luxury should book a suite to receive complimentary breakfast for two, an afternoon tea service for two, two-hour extended late check-out, partial complimentary minibar, exclusive access to the hotel’s library, and complimentary valet parking included in the rate. Those who want extra space or have a larger number of guests should book the L’Escape Suite Room to have complimentary use of the suite’s connecting room, as well as additional benefits.
In addition to its TechnoGym equipped fitness center and spa, the hotel also offers a number of dining establishments. Palais de Chine is the property’s modern Chinese Restaurant featuring a menu created by the chefs of Mott 32, one of Hong Kong’s best modern Chinese restaurants. Le Salon by Maison M’O is the hotel’s tea salon where afternoon tea is served. L’Amant Secret is the property’s contemporary restaurant in collaboration with New York’s “The Modern” restaurant which has been awarded with 2 Michelin Stars. Finally, the hotel’s bar Marque d’Amour by L’Amant Secret is situated on the top floor offering patrons with a romantic, regal atmosphere coupled with specially curated cocktails.
Boutique Activity: Watch a Comedic Local Show (NANTA) that Doesn’t Use Speech
You may have heard of the Korean original hit show NANTA that made its way to New York’s Broadway Theaters in 2004. Funny for people of all ages, NANTA uses slapstick comedy on a narrative about cooking shows. This coupled with everything from musical drumming with unconventional objects, acrobatics, and audience participation (language barriers don’t apply here, either!) has made this show consistently popular amongst locals and tourists since its debut in 1997.
Although the show runs every day of the week, we recommend interested parties to buy early bird tickets since prices tend to increase closer to the date of the show.
Boutique Dining: Maple Tree House
Maple Tree House is a Korean barbecue chain consisting of three restaurants in Seoul: Samchong-dong (the original restaurant), Itaewon, and Gangnam. Popular amongst both locals and foreigners, it has received recognition from CNN Travel as well as receiving a Top Choice Award.
Serving prime cuts of meat, it offers its patrons a wide number of options between pork cuts, beef, and rice or noodle dishes. Some of their more notable items are their marinated boneless short ribs, prawns, and kimchi stew.