Seoul, the mountain-ringed capital of South Korea, is fast becoming one of the hottest destinations to visit. The home of K-Pop and hit film Parasite, you’ll find ancient palaces and rich cultural heritage along with neon-lit modernity. Whether you’re after a Zen getaway, an action-packed escape or your newest digital nomad base, here’s our pick of the best new things to do in Seoul.
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In 2022, the historic Blue House in Seoul’s leafy Jongno – named for the 150,000 blue tiles that comprise its roof – was opened to the public for the first time in 74 years and is now one of Seoul’s most impressive tourist destinations. As the former residence and office of the president, the building spans 250,000 square metres, nestled in the royal garden of the Joseon Dynasty (which reigned for over 500 years from 1392). Now, the grounds are scattered with benches for relaxing on, while the palace is a monument to the country’s history.
A 15-minute drive from Gangnam in the eastern neighbourhood of Gangdong, Lightroom Seoul opened its doors in late 2023. Its debut exhibition immerses visitors in the kaleidoscopic universe of British artist David Hockney, with the artist’s colourful works projected onto 1400 square metres of wall space, surfaces and floor.
Step aside K-beauty – the latest trend taking over social media also has its roots in South Korea. Personalised colour analyses give dressing to impress a bespoke twist: over the course of your session, a consultant will hold up swathes of different coloured fabrics against your skin to help determine which shades suit you best and which to avoid. Afterwards, they’ll give you a succinct list of shade recommendations – including cosmetics – that will highlight your features best. Tip: there are often months-long waiting lists for these services, so book into somewhere like Color Society, in buzzy Hongdae, well ahead of your trip.
Perched on the Han River 60 kilometres inland from the Yellow Sea, Seoul has arguably one of the coolest surfing hot spots in the world. Hit the water in industrial Siheung at Wavegarden – Asia's largest indoor surf park about 30 minutes from Incheon Airport. Spanning 167,000 square metres, the lagoon offers almost 1000 waves an hour across a range of different zones suitable for both beginners and pros.
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Michelin stars abound in Seoul: 35 restaurants have been awarded the coveted culinary prize. The latest is chef Kim Yeong-bin’s intriguing fusion of Korean and Nordic flavours at Mater. Here, the art of fermentation is central to each dish, while the minimalist diner is crowned by a looping green sculpture, which floats above warm timber tables, raw textured walls and bamboo shoots.
Seoul is surrounded by a dramatic ring of mountains and hiking to the misty peaks of Bukhansan, Inwangsan and Bugaksan is an exciting way to view the city. Now, even this grand tradition has gotten a facelift. Opened in September 2022 (with a new branch opening in March 2024), the sleek Seoul Hiking Tourism Center in Gangbuk is the gateway to Bukhansan’s summit – it's a one-stop shop for all your climbing needs, offering multilingual area guides, hiking gear hire, lockers, showers and change rooms for guests.
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South Korea is decorated with enclaves of traditional buildings that stand proudly alongside the glittering skyscrapers of modernity, but much of it was affected by the Korean War. To celebrate and preserve its architectural heritage, the city of Seoul has built a series of hanok-style villages, with the intention of building many more to come. The latest addition is Donuimun Museum Village near the Seoul Museum of History, where you’ll be able to join a traditional danoseon fan-making class and nibble on local treats from food trucks.
As home to some of the best bars in Asia, Seoul has plenty of top-shelf joints to choose from. For whisky enthusiasts, Bar Harding in Yongsan – a short stroll from Sinheung Market – is dominated by a candlelit log-carved table that seats just eight at a time. If you’re lucky, you might have the whole venue to yourself during your visit. In which case, the team will be more than happy to play whatever music you desire as you sip award-winning whisky.
Josun Palace in chic Gangnam has housed well-heeled guests – including Marilyn Monroe and US President Gerald Ford – for well over a century and in 2021, the storied hotel entered a new chapter. The first thing you’ll notice upon entering the regal lobby is the hotel’s signature incense-tinged fragrance which permeates the building. From there, grand sculptures, smatterings of brass and plush velvet chairs define opulence. The property’s 254 rooms and suites take up floors 27 to 35 of the building, each delivering panoramic views over the city. Relax in the heated indoor pool on the 26th level.
Image credit: Rain Report
While the main drawcards of Itaewon are its pulsing nightclubs, bamboo-shrouded Rain Report makes a strong case for visiting during the day. Bow-shaped croissants, mango tiramisu and drip coffee will tantalise your tastebuds, but it’s what’s just outside the window that steals the show. Every half of an hour – for 15-minute cycles – the courtyard is blanketed in rain. It's not uncommon to see visitors posing under the downpour with the cafe’s own clear umbrellas for a photo opp.
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Seoul is a culture magnet, drawing in art lovers from all over the world for events including the annual art fair Frieze Seoul, hosted in Gangnam District’s vast convention centre, COEX, in September. The latest addition to the art scene is the newest outpost of London’s famous White Cube gallery, which will showcase artworks from across the globe, including paintings by Japanese artist Minoru Nomata and Brazilian creative Lygia Pape.
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Live like a local in a traditional Korean home or hanok in the village-like Seochon near Gyeongbokgung Palace. Homestay Habre hides a playful Swedish-style interior within a red brick exterior. The villa is equipped with a kitchenette, courtyard and dining room. From here you’ll be footsteps away from small restaurants and shops, including local favourite stationery store, Allwrite.
On the 86th floor of Lotte World Tower in Songpa, currently the sixth-tallest building in the world, you’ll find the decadent Retreat SIGNIEL spa. Your journey into bliss begins just past reception in the Oil Atelier where you’ll select an oil to be used throughout your treatments before sipping Korean tea in the lounge overlooking the city. Opt for the three-hour Timeless Away Journey and drift off with a head-to-toe African coffee scrub and baobab oil massage.
If a coffee in a design-led space is your ideal start to the day, beeline to Seodaemun district in the city’s north-western corner near the Independence Gate, where you’ll find Vonzzr. Decked out in red brick, polished concrete and warm timber, the cosy cafe dishes up sweet treats including baci di dama cookies and cinnamon carrot cake alongside French teas and espresso, of course.
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Hire a bike for a day and ride over to Jongno's famous Gwangjang Market, where you can feast on street food after working up an appetite. While there, check out Pleatsmama’s latest flagship store where you can snap up stylish bags woven from upcycled plastic.
Image credit: Matt Wang