Our Favorite Places: Seoul, South Korea

Seoul — the other city that never sleeps. The South Korean capital is an energetic fusion of past and present: stunning skyscrapers tower over its bustling streets, while historic palaces and tiled-roof temples are dotted throughout its districts. Seoul is creative and it’s current, and this sprawling East Asian metropolis has been propelled into the spotlight recently thanks to its status as a pop culture powerhouse.

Seoul is the destination on everybody’s lips thanks to the global success of its Korean pop (K-pop) stars. Then there’s the popular Netflix drama “Squid Game” and the movie “Parasite,” which stole the show at the 2020 Academy Awards. But the trailblazer was Psy back in 2012, who went viral with his horse-riding dance and that ubiquitous worldwide hit “Gangnam Style.”

There’s something for everyone in Seoul. Seoul is home to some of Asia’s best fine dining and street food, while mega malls and vibrant street markets are a shopper’s dream. This bustling, modern city also has wonderful glimpses of old Seoul with its sprawling palaces and Buddhist temples.  So, whether you’re in town for business or a vacation with the family, this mammoth city is bursting at the seams with things to do. Read on for our CIRE travel advisers’ guide to the best things to do in Seoul.

Stay: Luxury Hotels in Seoul

The Han River divides the city right through the center, and you’ll find fantastic accommodation options in both the north and the south. So, if you’re looking for a place to rest your head during your stay in the city, here’s a little insight into the best five-star hotels in Seoul.

  1. Grand Hyatt Seoul

The Grand Hyatt Seoul sits north of the river and is the epitome of an urban retreat. You’ll feel like you’re a world away from city life at this luxury 615-room property set amongst 18 acres of stunning gardens. Yet despite the backdrop of Mount Namsan and your leafy surroundings, you can easily access the central business district and bustling Myeong-dong shopping district. Business travelers are well cared for at the Grand Hyatt, with on-site restaurants and a business center, as well as a wellness zone that features squash courts, tennis courts, a fitness center and an indoor and outdoor pool. And who doesn’t love an ice-skating rink surrounded by twinkling lights?!

  1. Conrad Seoul

Seoul’s premier business hotel is a high-tech luxury property in the heart of the city’s business district. The Conrad Seoul is another excellent choice for the business traveler, with 434 luxury rooms over 37 floors. It’s also conveniently connected to the International Finance Centre (IFC) mall. After a day of business, unwind with a massage at the hotel’s lavish spa or work up a sweat at the high-end fitness club. If you’re keen to learn more, reach out to one of our corporate travel agents about a stay at the Conrad Seoul.

  1. Four Seasons Hotel Seoul

This sophisticated 29-floor property is in the perfect spot for first-time visitors to Seoul. It’s within walking distance of some of the city’s main attractions and shopping areas, and it’s also got a lot going on within its walls! Once you’ve seen all the sights and bought all the things, why not check out the hotel’s nine restaurants and bars or its luxurious, traditional Korean spa? Then there’s the Nail Bar and the bespoke Barbershop, and even a Kids’ Club for the littlest travelers, too!

  1. Josun Palace

Award-winning Josun Palace is ideally suited to its affluent Gangnam location. Once you step through that regal entrance, you’ll encounter a lavishly designed 254-room property that boasts impeccable service and fabulous views across the city. Named to Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s Gold List for 2024 as one of the Best Hotels and Resorts in the World, Josun Palace has a Michelin-starred restaurant on site, a sky-high heated pool, and hundreds of unique pieces of art on display.


Eat: Best Restaurants in Seoul

Seoul is renowned for its rich culinary scene. It’s a place where you can sample delicious dishes from street food vendors, like spicy rice cakes and Korean fried chicken during the day and enjoy an elegant Michelin-star fine dining experience that same evening. To give you an idea of where to start your culinary journey, here are our picks for some of the best restaurants in Seoul.

  1. Jungsik Seoul

Chef Yim Jung-sik is considered a pioneer of modern Korean fine dining. This superstar Korean chef opened his eponymous restaurant in Seoul in 2009 and a second one in New York two years later. Both restaurants have two Michelin stars. His South Korean establishment is a three-story building in a quiet alley in upmarket Gangnam, where diners can enjoy avant-garde creations, an extensive wine list and impeccable service.

  1. Samcheonggak

Set on a mountainside outside the city center, Samcheonggak is a traditional culture and arts complex where visitors can feast on a multi-course authentic Korean meal. Built in 1972, it’s been a meeting place for high-ranking politicians and used for negotiations between the North and the South. Situated behind the President’s official residence, you can also catch a traditional music performance within the pristine grounds.


  1. Maple Tree House

Korean barbeque has taken the world by storm. Meat houses (gogi-jip) are abundant in Seoul, so if you’re new to the concept, why not test the waters at the Korean barbeque chain Maple Tree House? This premium franchise, with its high-quality cuts of meat, is found in three locations across the city. Popular with locals and tourists, Maple Tree House combines sleek, modern décor with this fun traditional dining concept where you can grill your own or have it done for you.

Do: Best Things to do in Seoul

There are so many experiences to be had in Seoul. And when it comes to a city this size, the prospect of planning a trip yourself can be stressful. Never fear! Our team of luxury travel planners is on standby to help you get the most out of your vacation or honeymoon, ensuring that you don’t miss a second of what this exciting city has to offer.

  1. Walking Tour

Get your bearings and some historical insight with a walking tour of the city’s most famous attractions. Seoul is the perfect blend of the modern and the traditional and is bursting with historical treasures. If you’re keen to get out and immerse yourself in the city’s rich history, our team of travel experts can arrange a private, bespoke walking tour. Popular sites include the 600-year-old Changdeokgung Palace, with its renowned architecture and immaculate gardens, the traditional houses of Bukchon Hanok Village, and the changing of the guard at the largest of the city’s five palaces, Gyeongbokgung Palace.

  1. Cheonggyecheon Stream

Locals flock to this urban oasis to cool off in the hotter months. Once covered over by an elevated expressway, work began in 2003 to remove the road and revitalize the stream. Running east to west through the heart of the city, this restored waterway passes under 22 bridges and is surrounded by lush greenery. This popular spot hosts numerous events and festivals each year and is a wonderful place to relax and unwind. Don’t miss the Seoul Lantern Festival that lines the stream for three weeks each November.

  1. DMZ Visit

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is the buffer zone that separates North and South Korea and is regarded as one of the most dangerous borders in the world. Considered no man’s land, the DMZ is about two-and-a-half miles wide and about 150 miles long and still riddled with landmines. There are several points of interest at this historical destination, including Infiltration Tunnels, Freedom Bridge, and the Joint Security Area (JSA), where soldiers from both North and South Korea stand guard. To visit the DMZ, you must go with a guide, you can’t visit independently, so ask your CIRE Travel expert about including this stop on your itinerary.

  1. K-pop Capital

Some visit Seoul purely for the pop. Korean pop, or K-pop, has gone global, with acts like BTS and BLACKPINK performing sold-out shows worldwide. So if you’re traveling with a K-pop fanatic, you’re in the right place! Seoul is the birthplace of K-pop culture and music, and there’s a multitude of stores dedicated to K-pop merchandise, as well as a boulevard lined with artsy and fun statues dedicated to popular K-pop groups. And if you’re interested in seeing a K-pop show while in town, speak to one of our CIRE travel advisors, as you’ll need to book well in advance!

  1. Seoul Style

Shopping in Seoul has it all. High-end designers, local brands, sprawling markets — and a penchant for sizeable underground shopping malls! If you’re in the mood to shop, don’t miss one of the city’s premier shopping districts, Myeong-dong. Then there’s the sprawling underground COEX mall in upscale Gangnam district, which is also home to affluent Cheongdam-dong Fashion Street. Check out the Lotte World Mall for premium local and global brands and all your K-beauty product needs. And if you’re searching for a memento from your time in Seoul, the Ssamziegil complex in Insa-dong has four floors of independent shops and handmade crafts to choose from.

  1. Foodie Tour

In addition to our five-star dining advice, we also recommend doing a food tour during your stay in Seoul. Head to Gwangjang Market, a traditional market in the city’s center, for the chance to sample some of South Korea’s best street food. Gwangjang Market is one of South Korea’s largest and oldest markets — opened in 1905 — and an experienced guide can help you navigate the chaos to sample some mouthwatering Korean treats.

  1. Crazy Café Culture

While we’ve profiled high-end restaurants and foodie tours, there’s more to the city’s food culture than Korean BBQ and Michelin stars. Seoul is partial to the quirky and unique and hosts an abundance of themed cafes. Cat cafes started the trend, and you’ll find multiple feline cafes around town — there are a handful of dog cafes, too! So, if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, here are some additional unusual eateries to explore: the Greem Café is a quirky concept where the décor looks like it’s in 2D, Thanks Nature Café is a sheep café in Hongdae, Tongue Planet features eclectic furniture and quirky desserts, and the Pink Pool Café is so Insta perfect!

CIRE is Here to Help

As you can see, Seoul has a lot going on! If want to learn more about where to stay and what to do, our CIRE luxury travel advisors are on standby to give you a helping hand.

CIRE Travel is a full-service travel agency headquartered in New York, NY.  Our expert corporate travel planners, honeymoon travel agents, and luxury travel planners support clients across the country and around the world.

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