The locals’ guide to Seoul

South Korea’s dynamic capital city has a futuristic approach that’s deeply rooted in tradition. Explore its mix of cutting-edge architecture, design, temples, palaces, food and fashion

CITY SLICKER

Jade Shin is a professional guide who has  showed everyone from diplomats to travel writers around her hometown. She reveals her list of top attractions

What do travellers have to see and do in Seoul?

Seoul’s history dates back hundreds of years meaning that we have a rich cultural offering. There are five grand palaces from the Joseon Dynasty that are all worth seeing. You will see many people (locals and foreigners) wearing traditional dress called Hanbok walking around the city, too. These clothes can be rented from various outlets and it can be fun way to immerse yourself in our customs. Ikseon-dong is a hidden ‘village’ that’s on its way to becoming the next hotspot. Despite being one of the oldest neighbourhoods, it’s drawing young artists and entrepreneurs who are opening up cafés, restaurants, and concept stores selling handicrafts. You can’t miss the Cheonggyecheon Stream that runs through the city. It was part of a massive urban renewal project and landscaped walkways, footbridges and waterfalls surround it. In the summer, you can dip your feet in the water.

Which art galleries and museums do you suggest?

The National Museum of Korea houses hundreds of thousands of relics. The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art is a museum run by the Samsung Foundation of Culture. It comprises two parts that house traditional Korean art and contemporary art from around the world.

Where can we see good views?

About 70% of Korea’s landscape is made up of mountains and because of this we have many hiking and walking trails. Climb to the top of the peaks surrounding Seoul for amazing panoramas of the city.

What’s an easy day trip?

The Demilitarized Zone (a buffer area between North Korea and South Korea) is a famous spot for foreign visitors. For something completely different, check out The Garden of Morning Calm. This expansive space was conceptualised by a Korean professor who was inspired by the words of a great Indian poet. As the oldest private garden in the country, it’s home to about 5,000 kinds of plants, including 300 varieties native to the spiritual Baekdusan Mountain. This is a good family destination.

FOODIE FORWARD

Itaewon is home to an expat community and Jay Ken is a leading chef in this suburb. Find fusion fare inspired by his travels at his restaurant, Midnight Bistro Jubari Project

How would you describe the food scene in Seoul at the moment?

There’s a focus on ‘new Korean cuisine’, which sees up-and-coming young chefs moving away from presenting purely traditional dishes. They look at the latter for inspiration but they also focus on fusion food. Pop-up restaurants are trending at the moment, and modern interpretations of the cold-noodle dish naengmyeon are popular, too.

There’s a focus on ‘new Korean cuisine’, which sees up-and-coming young chefs moving away from presenting purely traditional dishes

Where is the best place to go for street food?

Many people will tell you that Myeong-dong, Insa-dong and Hongdae are famous places for street food. I’d say if you want a truly authentic Korean experience, head to either the Namdaemun or Gwangjang markets.

When you’re not in the kitchen what do you eat and where?

I mostly eat traditional food such as naengmyeon, a beef-bone soup with rice called gomtang and seolleongtang, a soup made from bones, brisket and other cuts. Woolaeok or Neung Ra Do are both good casual restaurants. For fine dining I’d suggest Mingles in the Cheongdam-dong district and Joo-OK.

What’s one must-try local dish in Seoul?

I recommend you try a Korean BBQ. I usually head to a casual spot called Yeokjeon Hoegwan, where various local side dishes are served with the meat.

South Korean side dishes
South Korean side dishes

STYLISH SUGGESTIONS

Lee Ji-Yeon is a fashion designer based in Seoul. She shares her tips on where to find everything from cutting-edge couture to beauty quick-fixes

Which designers should travellers look out for in Seoul?

Jain Song is known for minimalistic designs for women; Sonja Park is a good footwear and accessories designer, Choi Beomseok presents unconventional menswear; and LIE SANGBONG is one of the most famous fashion houses. You can find a number of emerging local designer boutiques at DOOTA fashion mall.

Where is best for high-end shopping?

The street from the Cheongdam Station intersection to the Galleria Department Store is lined with luxury boutiques, many of which offer items that can only be found in Korea. Shinsegae Department Store is a popular premium shopping destination.

What are the best markets in the city for artisanal handicrafts?

I would recommend you head to the areas of Insa-dong, Bukchon or Samcheong-dong – one of Seoul’s most hip hangouts.

South Korea’s skincare brands are making a name for themselves globally. Where can we find them?

Laneige, Sulwhasoo, O HUI, Whoo and HERA are a few of the top beauty brands to buy. Some of them are only available in department stores in the city.