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Seoul is bustling metropolis where you can find anything and everything from mountain hikes to the largest underground shopping mall in Asia. There’s a thrill at every turn as you engulf yourself in what the world has termed Hallyu (the Korean Wave). It’s a city that has a restaurant and cosmetics shop serving at every corner and everyone looks like they came straight out of a K-pop music video.
If you’re planning a visit to Seoul, understanding the layout of the sprawling metropolis can be quite difficult. People generally get confused about the neighbourhoods and various areas. When I help people plan a trip to Seoul I usually ask three things:
1. Why are you visiting?
2. What do you want to see?
3. How long are you staying?
Once these are answered, you’ll have a much better understanding of where to base yourself. Other factors also come into play like time, whether you’re traveling alone or with a family and if you’re planning a visit to other parts of Korea. If you’re only there for a weekend, for example, it’s better to stay in the center, above the river (I’ll explain why later).
Once you’ve answered the three questions, you can start to select an area, and from there start looking for a hotel.
In this article you will find an in-depth guide on how Seoul is gtheeographically laid out, including the best area to stay in Seoul for tourists, as well as the stand out sites and brief descriptions of each area. When you’re done reading this article, Seoul won’t be such a gigantic maze.
- Geography of Seoul
- Introduction to how Seoul is organised
- Where to stay in Seoul
- Gangnam Greater Area
- Central Seoul
- Gangbuk Greater Area
- Where should first time visitors stay in Seoul?
- Tips for choosing the best place to stay in Seoul
- The best luxury hotels in Seoul
Geography of Seoul
Seoul is large. It has a population of over 10 million people, it spans over 605km2 (234 square miles) and has 25 districts (or gu in Korean). While it has roughly 2 million more people than New York it is almost 200 km2 (75 square miles) smaller, that means that deciding where to stay in Seoul and choosing the best hotel in Seoul is really important. Pick the wrong place and you will spend more time traveling than sightseeing.
I’ll use my knowledge of the city (having lived their for 4 years) to help you decide where to stay in Seoul with this handy guide to its neighbourhoods. Later on I’ll recommend the best hotels in Seoul.
Introduction to how Seoul is organised
The layout of South Korea confused me so much when I landed. The first place I lived was in Gyeonggi Province which surrounds Seoul completely, similar to the country of South Africa surrounding Lesotho. So it was confusing that my friends lived in the same province even though I had to drive through Seoul to get to them. The image below shows Seoul in gold and Gyeonggi in red to demonstrate my point.
Seoul’s geography is also pretty complex at first glance, but once you break it down, it’s quite simple to understand. Luckily, each area in Seoul has every type of accommodation, from 5 star to cheap hotels so when deciding where to stay in Seoul based on your kind of trip, you are not bound by your budget.
The ubiquitous convenience stores, kimbap restaurants and BBQ chicken franchises make each area look very similar. In fact, it took me 2 hours to find my apartment on my first day (before smartphones had taken over). But each separate area of Seoul has its own unique charm and is famous for something specific so you will have a different experience staying at each.
If you want electronics, you go to Yongsan. Craving for lamb? Hit Lamb Street in Kondae (Konkuk University area). Looking for a musical instrument? Head on over to Nagwon Arcade in Jongno. You get the point.
To make your decision of the best location to stay in Seoul easier, I divided the city into three main areas: North of the Han river, South of the Han River and Central Seoul. There are 25 official districts in Seoul, but I have not included all of them, only the major tourist districts.
Here’s a little on how South Korea’s administrative divisions are split up, so you have a better understanding of the areas. In descending order by size, it looks like this:
1. Province (do)
2. City (si)
3. District (gu)
4. Neighbourhood or Ward (dong)
For example, Gangnam (in red below) is a district (gu). Gangnam Station is in Yeoksam-dong (in gold below). The grey areas are the rest of Seoul with the Han river dividing north from south.
It’s good to note that sometimes districts can have the same names as neighbourhoods, for example, Seocho-gu and Seocho-dong, where the Seoul Arts Center Complex resides.
These are the three areas in Seoul you should stay at and we will now look at each in more detail:
1. Gangnam Greater Area. Gang means river in Korean and Nam means south. So this is literally “South of the River”. I have included the three main districts and tourist hotspots in the eastern Gangnam area (Gangnam, Songpa, Seocho). I have also included Yeouido as many of the financial business travelers will be based there.
2. Central Seoul. This is the epicenter of the city and includes mainly Jongno-gu as this is where the majority of the tourist hotspots are based.
3. Gangbuk Greater Area. Just like Gangnam, Gangbuk means “North of the River” and includes the districts just above the Han River.
Note: The Gangnam and Gangbuk Greater Areas are not official names, but ones I have created for this article.
So the areas will be divided as follows:
Where to stay in Seoul
Seoul has everything and caters for all types. So where to stay in Seoul is largely dependant on whether you’re visiting for business, pleasure or K-pop (yes, people come to Seoul just for this reason).
While Seoul transportation is the best that I have experienced and can take you to any part of the city, riding times can be long. The Green Subway Line (Line 2), for example, is the second largest subway loop in the world after Beijing and runs a total of 60.2 km (37.4 miles). So a trip from Hongdae to COEX Mall can take up to 50 minutes in the metro.
The subway, as well as buses, also extend out of Seoul to other areas in surrounding provinces, so if you’re looking to explore the mountains, temples and other cities, you may want to base yourself on the outskirts instead of bustling Myeong-dong or Itaewon. Here’s a map of the Seoul Subway, it looks intense, but is pretty easy after the first day.
Gangnam Greater Area
Gangnam is the most affluent of all the areas in Seoul. It’s packed with Korean yuppies, business people of all shapes and colours and is the place where the uber rich and famous live. If you walk over the Hannam Bridge from north to south, you’ll instantly notice the difference.
The vibe is more glamorous and affluent. Celebrities drive fancy cars on the wide streets, the malls look like they are covered in glitter and everybody looks like they are part of a K-drama. It’s the vibe that Psy talks about in his hit Gangnam Style. So you can imagine that staying in Gangnam will be a bit more extravagant and will come with a higher price tag, although you can find a few cheap options if you’re a budget traveler.
The Songpa area is where traveling families should look at staying because of its close proximity to Lotte World, flash malls and the Han River. This is also a hub for transportation, so travel by bus or subway is convenient. There is an airport bus limousine that drives directly to Jamsil Station, which is nice for families.
Seocho is not the best place to stay as there are not many tourist sites to visit in the district, but is mentioned here as an area of interest.
Why stay in Gangnam
Although it’s below the river, the north side of Gangnam is very central to the heart of Seoul. While it is bustling and always busy, it’s less frantic and cleaner then the Jongno area. Gangnam-gu is best suited for extended stays as travel times to the centre are longer. It’s also a good base if you’re planning day excursions to south Gyeonggi province like UNESCO-listed Namhansanseong or Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon.
Who should stay here
• Families because of the expansive green spaces, shopping and amusement parks.
• Those coming for business, particularly conventions at COEX should base themselves in Gangnam too.
• Finance industry business people would probably have most of their meetings in Yeouido. Other than the meetings, there is not much to do on the island and south of the island. Staying in Yeouido would therefore not be the best option for a vacation.
High-end shopping meets celebrity excess.
Apgujeong / Cheongdam / Sinsa
Apgujeong is the place to go to feel like a celebrity. Nearby Garosugil in Sinsa-dong is a trendy street lined with snobbish coffee shops, international restaurants, and designer boutique stores. You can really feel the wealth around this area, where one square meter can cost up to $10,000. When you come out of the subway you’ll notice the millions of “before and after” posters advertising plastic surgery. You’ll also see more people in bandages and masks than anywhere else in Seoul.
High-end shoppers flock to Apgujeong, where they can spend the day seeking luxury brands at glamorous Galleria, top-notch Hyundai Department store, or Apgujeong Rodeo street with all the high-end brands you can dream of.
Cheongdam, portrayed as “luxury town” by the media, is the place to go if you’re a true K-pop fan as all the biggest management companies are based here, including S.M. Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, Cube Entertainment, and J. Tune Entertainment.
There’s not much more to say about Gangnam that Psy hasn’t already covered. It’s a business district by day and party haven by night. When you walk the infamous road between Gangnam and Shinnonhyeon Stations you’ll be mesmerized by the big screen TVs, music pumping, throngs of people and gigantic skyscrapers. Fancy restaurants sit side by side with high-end shopping stores and everyone seems to be having a fun time taking in the sights.
North of the street, you’ll find some of the best restaurants and most hipster coffee shops in Seoul. It’s a great place to people watch as dapper men try to swoon beautiful women. South of the road is packed to the brim with nightclubs and pubs. An expat favourite where you can request songs (international rock only) is Woodstock. There is also a gigantic bookstore at Shinnonhyeon Station called Kyobo in the basement where you can find an extensive array of English books. If you’re lucky, K-pop groups often have album launches and signing sessions there.
Samseongdong / COEX
Samsondong is all about business and shopping. As the largest underground shopping mall in the world, Starfield COEX will have you busy for hours. The area is known for international business conferences and exhibitions, so it’s probably where you’ll be based if you’re coming to Korea for business or trade.
If the family is coming along on the business trip, they can visit the Aquarium in COEX, COEX Mall or a more cultural experience for the slightly older kids at Bongeun Buddhist Temple.
As Samseong is an international business hub there is also an Airport Terminal (CALT) where you can check in your luggage and get your plane seat assigned before actually going to the airport. You can also catch the airport bus limousine from here. Airlines are limited so it’s best to check on their website to see if your airline is valid.
Family fun filled with shopping, green walks and amusement parks.
Jamsil / Olympic park / Lotte World
The Jamsil area is a family favourite as Korea’s Disney World (Lotte World) is based here. Right next to Lotte World and the massive Lotte Department Store is the even bigger Lotte World Mall. The new mall houses the impressive Lotte World Tower which stands 123 storeys high. It’s a clean area of extravagance and excessiveness and can keep both kids and adults entertained for hours, if not days.
Couples can take a romantic walk around Seokchon Lake while watching the screaming thrill-seekers ride the Gyro Swing in Lotte World. There are also coffee shops and both international and Korean restaurants to suit all tastes. It has a sort of Parisian feel along the lake. If you’re adventurous, you can walk the back streets and try some real Korean fare.
One station away from Jamsil station on the Pink Line (Mongchontoseong Station near the World Peace Gate) is the lovely Olympic Park. This area is best visited in warmer months as it is tranquil and peaceful with an easy walking loop among the super green grass. There are families having picnics and lovers stealing kisses on benches. The Peace Gate is filled with rollerbladers and bike riders of all ages. Art enthusiasts can pop into Soma (Seoul Olympic Museum of Art) for a dose of culture.
Seocho is one of the top art centers to get lost for days.
Seoul Arts Center
A must visit in the metropolis is the Seoul Arts Center. It holds everything from modern to classical art to a sprawling opera house. It’s also a fun family visit as the exhibits are top-notch, usually with interactive components.
Yeouido is worth a quick mention for those traveling for banking and finance as you will most likely be holding meetings in this area. It’s often referred to as Seoul’s own Manhattan because it is an island filled with skyscrapers. It’s also home to Korea’s Exchange Center, Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), the National Assembly Building and the LG headquarters.
If you’re traveling with your loved ones and are staying on the island, they can take a stroll along the Han River, visit Yeouido Park or go to the top of the 63 Building which has an art gallery and café on the top floor.
This is the true heart of the metropolis. You can pray, play, shop and pig out in the epicenter of Seoul. The area is always busy, at any time of the year, and is where you will find most of the historic and cultural artefacts and can experience the true vibrancy of Seoul.
Those staying in Central Seoul can expect a frenetic energy. As it is central, it is a good place to stay if you have limited time. Yet staying in one of the other areas is a better choice for longer trips as it can be quite chaotic and polluted, unless you’re staying at one of the uber luxurious, best hotels in Seoul that is – then this is the place for you.
Why stay in Central Seoul
Central Seoul, which is mostly Jongno-gu, is the heart of the city with loads of historic sites. This is the busiest and most chaotic part of the city. Yet it is the most central to all of the major tourist districts. It’s also good to base yourself here if you plan to climb Bukhansan Mountain.
Who should stay here
• Tourists with a limited amount of time and who don’t mind a more frenetic energy should stay here
• Backpackers and digital nomads would love this area as there are coffee shops on every street corner to connect to free wifi
• Those coming for shorter stays as you can visit more places in a shorter period of time
• Hikers planning to scale Bukhansan can base themselves in the north.
Historical artefacts meets business hub and foodies dream in the heart of the city.
Gwanghwamun / Jongno / Insadong
As the business, history and cultural hub of Seoul, Jongno is where most of the local major corporations are based, it’s basically the CBD of Seoul.
The Cheonggyecheon River runs through Jongno where the annual Seoul Lantern Festival is held in November. Jongno is also a foodie’s heaven as there are so many restaurants condensed into a tiny area for all the business people on their lunch breaks. My personal favourite coffee shop in Korea, Caffe Themselves, is also in Jongno.
Jongno is also famous in Korea for all the art movie theatres like Seoul Cinema and Cinecube. You can catch art-house Korean and international movies here with subtitles if you’re a film geek.
Jogyesa Temple near Insadong is another popularly frequented landmark and a fine example of Korean Buddhist architecture. It is the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. There are even “temple stays” available where participants can experience living a monastic life within a metropolis.
In north Jongno is the only place to visit to get souvenirs for your loved ones, Insadong-gil (street). You can find everything here from high quality art, copies of famous paintings, tea houses, traditional food, statues of Buddha, and general Korean memorabilia like magnets, pens and t-shirts.
There is a feel of national pride here as all signs, from Starbucks to the Body Shop, are only written in Hangeul (Korean alphabet). At the beginning of Insadong is Nagwon Instrument Market, an indoor arcade that houses multitudes of instruments.
At the other end of the street is the famous Gyeongbokgung, the royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. You’ll also find the statue of the inventor of Hangeul, King Sejong the Great, just near Gwanghwamun (the main gate of Gyeongbokgung). When standing at the King Sejong statue there is an epic view of the gate, the Palace, the Blue House of the presidency and Bugaksan mountain.
Gwanghwamun is also a famed area for massive peaceful protests, such as the one million person protest against former president Park Geun Hye. There is also another large Kyobo book store at Gwanghwamun Station.
Samcheongdong / Bukchon (hanok village)
The area to the right of Gyeongbokgung is an affluent, artsy area and is the place to go for waffles, coffee, boutique shopping and a bit of art. All mediums can be found here, from street art on the walls to the huge and fairly new National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA).
The area around Gyeongbokgung is also filled with history, the two most prominent are Seochon (West Village) and Bukchon (North Village). Bukchon is the more famous, where Instagrammers flock to take selfies. The scene is of metropolitan Seoul in the background, with traditional Hanok houses in the foreground.
A fun activity for all lovers of Hallyu (the Korean Wave) is to hire traditional Korean clothing (hanbok) and walk the streets of Bukchon. Seochon is also filled with hanok, but is a bit less visually pleasing. But what it lacks in scenery it makes up with traditional food.
Up north, a short bus ride away, is a fantastic temple compound called Kilsangsa. Visitors can stroll around the former brothel that was converted into a Buddhist Temple. You are also free to meditate at any time and can participate in a Temple Stay for longer periods.
There are two major places to experience college life in Korea as an expat or traveler. The lesser known area is Daehangno which is where Hyehwa station is situated. It’s the stop where students at Seoul National University Hospital & Yeongeon Campus (Medical School) alight.
Younger travelers would find Daehangno the perfect place to visit for the university feel, amateur theater productions and hipster cafes and restaurants. It’s a great place to try makgeolli, the milky Korean rice wine (not to be confused with soju, the clear rice wine). There are a few makgeolli houses, which are dimly lit eateries where giant cauldrons of makgeolli are served.
Dongdaemun is another shopper’s paradise and one of Seoul’s top wholesale shopping destinations. It’s famous for the many wholesale markets which are open during the night and make Seoul one of the shopping meccas of Asia.
Some of the best places to visit in Dongdaemun include Lotte Fitin, Migliore, Doota, U:US or any of the apM franchises. Discounts are usually given for cash purchases. And again, if you decide to visit, bring comfy shoes as there are levels and levels of stores.
Similar to Myeongdong, there are musical performances from time to time. The fairly new Dongdaemun Design Plaza, designed by Zaha Hadid (the same architect that designed the Morpheus Hotel in Macau and the Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan), is also an interesting structure that’s great for an Instagram shot.
Gangbuk Greater Area
The Greater Gangbuk Area is most well known for cultural integration, vibrant college life and green areas. Younger travelers will want to stay near Hongdae for the enthusiastic and authentic college life. Itaewon is for foodies and those who think they’ll miss home due to the large expat community.
Why stay in Gangbuk
The area immediately above the Han river is very diverse as it covers a lot of land. The eastern side is greener and farther removed from the businesses in Seoul. There are some nice hotels along the Han river like the W that is trendy and calm. Yet it is further away. So this is a good place to retire after a day of travel.
The west side has more of a student vibe with areas like Hongdae and Ewha that are always trendy, hip and more free spirited.
The central area above the river, like Yongsan is a nice place to stay for Westerners who are prone to culture shock. Due to the high frequency of expats in this area, it allows for easier cultural adaptation.
Who should stay here
• Parents with teenagers, and parents coming to visit their children who are teaching English would love staying in the central area
• It’s close enough to the major tourist sites and all the other areas without being too much in the frantic centre.
• Young adults coming to party and experience Seoul’s nightlife and students looking for a fun time could base themselves in the north near Hongdae.
Shop till drop then take the cable car up to N Seoul Tower and admire the view.
Namsan Area / Myeongdong / Namdaemun
Namsan is Seoul’s most central mountain, with the N Seoul Tower perched on top. There are options to hike up or around the mountain with well-maintained paths and outdoor exercise machines. There’s even a place to practice archery at the bottom. The circular walk is easy and refreshing and provides views of all areas of Seoul, it’s also flat so you can take a stroller.
There are two paths going up to the top, one being steep and direct, the other gradual and goes around the mountain. The other way up is to catch the cable car from the Myeongdong area. The views up top are spectacular and provide a deeper insight into the geography of this bustling metropolis, particularly from inside N Seoul Tower.
Myeongdong and Namdaemun are two prominent shopping areas in Seoul. Namdaemun is Korea’s oldest and largest market and is the best place to try out a pojang macha (small tented vendor selling street food). You can also find everything from vintage cameras to cartoon clad backpacks and beyond. It has small alleyways, is incredibly crowded and is a fantastic experience.
Myeongdong on the other hand is the place to visit for all true fans of Korean culture. It is a melting pot of cultures looking to grab the Korean Wave and experience shopping as only can be done in Korea. Expect promo girls coming up to you offering cosmetic samples in all different languages, the tallest ice cream you’ve ever eaten and every single fashion brand you can imagine.
Wear comfortable shoes if you decide to visit because you will be in and out of shops for the entire day. There are also frequent cultural and K-pop performances all over Myeongdong at any time of year.
2. Mapo-gu & Seodaemun-gu
Party it up with the students of Seoul in a free-spirited, hedonistic melting pot.
Hongdae / Sinchon / Ewha
You cannot leave Seoul without visiting Hongdae/Sinchon area. It’s the top place to go for an interesting day or fun night out. The name “Hongdae” is a combination of “Hongik” and “daehakyo” (Korean for university). If you want to study architecture or art in Korea, this is the place to go.
Due to its art-forward inclination, the area surrounding the university is a haunt for all things artistic and free, a fresh take on the more rigid salaried life of the majority of South Korea. It’s not difficult to find breakdance battles, graffiti-lined walls, epic clubs, hipster coffee shops, boutique handmade clothing, international fare and a general ambiance of energy and fun.
Nearby is the Seodaemun area where famous women’s university, Ewha, is located. There are some nice mountains to climb in the area, like Mt Ansan, which is a popular tourist attraction as it is only 295.5m high and provides views of the higher and more famous Bukhansan Mountain.
A place for Westerners to balance the culture shock with expat pubs of all kinds.
Itaewon / Haebongchon
If you’re an expat living in Seoul, Itaewon and Haebongchon (or HBC) are the two areas where you’ll spend most of your time. While Itaewon seems to attract more people from the US, Canada and Australia, HBC has a more European feel to it. Suffice it to say, both areas are packed with foreigners.
It’s the place to go for all international fare from Bulgarian food at Zelen to South African favourites at Braai Republic. There are shops on the main road with some Big and Tall stores and all the fast food chains you can imagine. Up north of the main road are swanky clubs, fine-dining restaurants, and pubs of all kinds. Due to the boisterous drinking, nights should be an adults-only affair. It is similar to Tokyo’s Roppongi.
Leeum contemporary museum is also located in Itaewon and is a must visit for all art lovers.
Haebongchon is a bit more subdued and quieter, but still lively and one of the best places to go for international cuisine. Pioneer of the craft beer scene in Korea, Craftworks is on the cusp of Itaewon and HBC and the area has now become known as “craft beer alley” with other local favourite Hidden Cellar nearby. HBC is trendy, hipster and a fun break from rowdy Itaewon.
4. Seongdong-gu & Gwangjin-gu
The greenest part of Seoul with local shopping centers, a forest and a student vibe along the Han River.
Seongsu / Kondae / Seoul Forest / Wangshimni
One place that is not on many tourist’s bucket list in South Korea, but is worth a mention if you are staying in the area is Kondae Station (near Konkuk University). It’s another university area with fantastic restaurants and a lively energy.
There are two fairly nice shopping malls nearby, Enter 6 in Wangshimni Station and Lotte Department Store at Kondae Station. They are nowhere near as flash as Apgujeong, but nice to stroll around and find some deals while experiencing Korean culture untainted by tourism. Try Common Ground, the flea market meets art fair made entirely of blue containers. See the video below.
Seongsu is an up and coming hipster foodie area where old warehouses are being converted into coworking coffee shops. Some are calling it the Brooklyn of Seoul due to its industrial, gentrified feel.
Seoul Forest is also close by and another place to experience green in the concrete jungle. If you aren’t able to hike to see the leaves change colour in Autumn, this is the place to go.
Where should first time visitors stay in Seoul?
First time visitors to Seoul should probably stay above the river and to the center of the city. Somewhere like Yongsan is a good pick. This area is central enough to all tourist places and is also closer to Incheon and Gimpo airports, so it could save you a few good hours getting in and out of the city.
The area is also tourist friendly with a lot of international restaurants and has loads of expats frequenting or living in the area.
Wherever you decide to stay, make sure it’s near the metro. The bus system, while amazing, may be a bit scary without a guide, as some buses don’t have English.
Tips for choosing the best place to stay in Seoul
Some of the cheapest hotels in Seoul are known as “love motels”. They can be quite unclean and unsavoury as they’re often not only used for sleeping. So it’s best to stay at an actual hotel.
If you are on a strict budget, then a love motel is fine for a few nights, but I would recommend looking at reviews on booking sites before making your reservation.
There are hotels and motels all over Seoul, so it is possible to arrive without making a reservation, yet it is highly recommended to reserve a spot especially if you are looking for a specific type of accommodation in Seoul. This way you can also get the best deals and not waste time going from place to place.
As I said at the beginning, where you base yourself in Seoul will depend on your travel style, how long you have, if you plan on visiting another city, if you are traveling with your family and what you want to see and do.
Base yourself in the neighbourhood or district where you think you will be spending most of your time. The subway system is wonderful and can get you almost anywhere, but travel times can be long if you’re traveling from one end of the city to the other.
Another good option is to stay in several different areas, especially if you’re traveling light or backpacking. Starting your journey in the north east and then moving to the south west, for example, could be a nice plan.
For those who are looking for the best accommodation options, here are our recommendations for the top hotels in Seoul to stay at.
The best luxury hotels in Seoul
There’s no shortage of luxury hotels that dot the cityscape. Watch the Han River go by, stay on the outskirts, or place yourself right in the thick of it all. No matter where you stay you’re sure to have a dynamic vacation. Here are the best luxury hotels in Seoul.
1. The Shilla
Photo from Leading Hotels of the World
Part of the Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) Group, The Shilla shines and surely lives up to its intention of being ‘the hotel that represents Korea’. Much like Seoul itself, it blends modernity and tradition seamlessly as well as East and West. The Shilla is slap bang in the center of Seoul, but on the edge of the Jangchungdan Park, so you can blend your shopping at infamous Myeong-dong with spectacular views of Namsan Mountain.
Once inside you’ll breathe a sigh of relief as you experience a spacious lobby in the midst of a crowded city. The interior was completely refurbished recently so it still feels new and fresh. The bedrooms are a blend of wood paneling and expensive upholstery with all the little finishings fit for a luxe stay. And the service is typical Korean, always busy and quick but in a meticulously trained pampering way. You’ll love the USB ports in the bedside drawer and the massive beds in the Executive Grand Deluxe rooms. There are also 6 restaurants to choose from and the renowned Guerlain Spa in the nine-hectare property. So go on and indulge.
2. Four Seasons
Image from the Four Seasons
A stone’s throw away from Gwanghwamun station, the gateway to Gyeongbok Palace complex and statue of King Sejong the Great, a stay at the Four Seasons will see you in the midst of busy salarymen grabbing their morning coffees. But worry not, the outside hustle and bustle is worlds away once you enter the magnificent and spacious property.
With white Italian marble bathrooms and carpeted interiors, the rooms feel regal and more suited for Venice than Asia. All the amenities are checked, like requesting your turndown service time via iPad. The service is intuitive and attentive without being overly robotic like many other Korean hotels. The vitality pool is opulent, the sauna is panoramic and the screen golf is luxurious. You can also choose from seven restaurants and bars to indulge your taste buds, including a wine bar, something lacking in Seoul.
3. Intercontinental COEX
Image from Intercontinental Hotels
Situated in the World Trade Center, 350m from the largest underground shopping mall in Asia, the Intercontinental COEX is as lavish as they come. You’ll be staying in central Gangnam, the prosperous district that gained popularity through Psy’s catchy tune. The Sky Lounge restaurant has one of the best skyline views of Seoul and if you’re feeling peckish, the Brasserie has a delicious all day buffet.
The rooms are covered in a natural green carpeting, giving it a lovely garden feel. You should choose a room facing the temple for a gorgeous morning view. And The service is sophisticated with muted elegance, especially at Asian Live, a 5 in 1 concept restaurant that includes fare from 5 Asian countries. It also has 17 private dining rooms if you’re in the mood for some private luxury. It is worth mentioning that COEX is probably the best place to stay if you are on business or have a convention at COEX as the hotel is connected to the underground shopping complex, where you can also shop to your heart’s content or eat till your tummy is satisfied.
4. GLAD Hotel
Image from GLAD Hotels
Before the enormous Lotte World Tower (123 storeys) was constructed, the 63 SQUARE (63 storeys) on Yeouido island, Seoul’s main finance and investment banking district, was the tallest in Seoul. Very close by is where you’ll find the very unique GLAD Hotel. Set apart from its glass tower neighbours, the brick-faced GLAD is something fresh and new in a district that is termed the Manhattan of Seoul.
But just because it has a relatively an-fashioned façade it does not mean it lacks modernity. You’ll find high-speed wifi that is synonymous with Seoul along with hypo-allergenic and memory foam bedding in each room. All rooms provide a very different experience, from industrial to minimalist and everything in between. Be sure to visit the Mark T whiskey bar, inspired by the infamous tippler Mark Twain.
5. Park Hyatt
Image from Park Hyatt
If you’re looking for some timeless elegance, then Park Hyatt Seoul should be your top pick. The minimalist interiors could be something out of an Ikea catalog, albeit much classier. The floor to ceiling glass windows stand as a testament to Japanese architectural firm Super Potato’s sleek and post-modernist design.
Walking into the hotel suite’s bathroom, you may be mistaken that you were in a spa with its gorgeous stone cut walls. If you’re tired of soaking in your own grand bath, you can spend even more grooming time in the Park Club spa and fitness center. Forgot your gym clothes at home? No worries, the Park Hyatt provides everything, including a personal trainer. After your personalised workout, lounge in the infinity pool with a gorgeous view of Seoul. As the Park Hyatt is also located in trendy Gangnam, you’ll be right in the center of the action.
6. The Conrad
Image from Conrad Seoul
The massive property of the Conrad with 434 rooms is, like GLAD, situated on Yeouido island along the mighty Han River. The area is a mix of financial prowess (being close to the Stock Exchange) and nature (with proximity to running trails in Yeouido Park along the Han River). On arrival, you’re welcomed by a spectacular spiral staircase in the center of high ceiling, polished marble countertops and golden hues.
The Conrad has a glossy corporate feel and fits meltingly into its surrounding financial district. The rooms are calming, with a blend of muted Rothko-esque tones and mixed materials from carpeting to marble to leather. After pampering yourself at the spa you can have trim at the Toni & Guy Hair Salon. In fact, why not go all out with a complete make-over and extend your indulgence with a mani and pedi. It does not have to be mentioned that service is fantastic. Or jump in the 25m lap pool for a bit of exercise. The choice is yours.
7. Grand Hyatt
Image from Grand Hyatt Seoul
The Grand Hyatt, apart from being a luxurious hotel, is also a popular place for expats to have a classy cocktail, so you can mingle with people from all walks of life at the popularly frequented JJ Mahogany’s. The hotel is located atop a hill in the always vibing and expat heavy Itaewon and Haebongchon districts. The space has a modern-kitsch feel with a dash of elegance and is catered for tourism.
With its hilltop location you are rewarded with panoramic views of the city and Namsan. It also affords quick access to the Namsan nature preserve if you want to go for a run or take a quick stroll. Talking about fitness, the Grand Hyatt also comes with 3 tennis courts, 2 squash courts, a fitness center and saunas. Take advantage of the free city shuttle bus and the indoor and outdoor pools. Going in winter? Even better. This is when the outdoor pool transforms into an ice rink!
8. JW Marriott Hotel Seoul / JW Marriott Dongdaemun Seoul Square
Image from JW Marriott
Another Gangnam district staple, the monolithic JW Marriott Hotel Seoul stands out as a massive rectangular block atop the luxurious Shinsegae Department store. If you’re not fussed with taking the subway or bus, its centrally located at Express Bus Terminal on lines 3, 7 and 9. It’s also the active traveler’s dream, boasting a climbing wall, scuba diving pool, squash court and screen golf. You could also mistake the enormous lap pool for an Olympic training facility.
If you are planning on working with your stay, you’ll find several boardrooms and meeting rooms. There are several restaurants to whet your appetite ranging from Western to Asian cuisine. Service is staple Korean professionalism. And for sightseeing, it is a 20-minute walk to the fantastic Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain, the world’s longest bridge fountain.
Image from JW Marriott
The JW Marriott Dongdaemun Seoul Square is also a fantastic choice if you want to be closer to the action as it is more centrally located. You’ll be in walking distance from the popular Dongdaemun shopping complex and Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Subway Station with subway lines 2 & 4 & 5. It is much smaller than its Gangnam counterpart, but a luxe stay no less. You’ll also have quick access to the beautiful Cheonggyecheon river. Waking up to a view of Dongdaemun gate in winter will blow you away.
9. Lotte Hotel Seoul / Lotte World Hotel
If you like the Lotte conglomerate, you’re spoilt for choice. This massive enterprise named after Goethe’s Charlotte in the Sorrows of Young Werther has two locations in Seoul. The first, Lotte Hotel Seoul, is extremely centrally located in Jung-gu, which is a short distance from heritage attraction Gyeongbok Palace and the impressive Dongdaemun Market. There are 7 restaurants to choose from, as well as a spa, indoor pool and health club.
The second location in Jamsil is part of the Lotte World complex which features a Disney-esque theme park and golden hued department store. They have also completed a much more glitzy department store across the road at the bottom of the ever imposing 123 Building. So you can shop till you drop, duty-free, and then shop some more!
The first option would be more for the business traveler or couple’s getaway. The second would definitely be for a luxurious family getaway as some of the rooms are decked with caricatures of the Lotte World franchise, basically if Mickey and Minnie Mouse were raccoons. The service at both are typical Korean professional.
10. W Seoul – Walkerhill
Image from W Seoul – Walkerhill
The W Hotel franchise is for the hipper audience. Boasting trendy finishes like pod chairs and highly stylised interiors and proto-modern rooms. Think Blade Runner meets A Clockwork Orange. It is not your classic luxury chic, but rather has a playful touch. Is is the furthest luxe option from the city center, which can be both comforting and distant depending on what you plan to do in Seoul.
We absolutely love it for its Han River night views where you can also go strolling at any time of the day as Korea is very safe. But just because you’re away from the city center, doesn’t mean you’ll have to suffer in silence. The 10,000 square foot WooBar in the spacious Living Room includes interactive art displays, a spaceships-like DJ booth and an 18-metre shining white bar. It’s trendy spot for the Seoul socialites too. The scheme is all grey, white, rouge and party with an attentive, warm and friendly staff. And if the location scares you, there is a free shuttle bus into town.