Too often, South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, is overshadowed by neighboring cities like Tokyo or Beijing. But with a population of 25 million people, Seoul is the second largest metropolitan center in the world, and as home to tech giants like Samsung, a growing hub for innovation.
So it’s hardly surprising that a visit to Seoul can feel a little bit like a trip to the year 2030, with ultra-modern shopping malls—many of them packed with luxurious labels like Margiela, Hermès and Louis Vuitton—bedecked in glowing LED lights, innovative new restaurants like Grill5Taco, which serves up spicy Korean-Mexican fusion, and boundary-breaking nightclubs like Club Octagon, where patrons can take a dip in the on-site pool before jamming to bumping electronic beats upstairs.
Here, the ten destinations you won’t want to miss on your next South Korean excursion.
SEE: Discover what Korean pop-star, Psy, really meant by "Gangnam style" and spend a day in this ritzy subsection of Seoul, which is home to upscale restaurants, top-notch shopping and the majority of Korean A-listers. Follow the paparazzi if you're looking for a celeb sighting.
SEE: While it's easy to spend the majority of your time in Seoul in malls and restaurants, it would be a shame to miss out on the city's spectacular palaces. Built in 1395, the Gyeongbokgung Palace is the primary palace of Korea's Five Grand Palaces, and has been extensively restored since being burned to the ground by the Japanese Empire.
SLEEP: The 5-star Ritz Carlton Gangnam feels more like a cruise-ship than a resort, with multiple restaurants, a Hinoki sauna (a bathtub fashioned from pine trees), and a plethora of original Picasso paintings adorning the lobby. From $350 per night; ritzcarlton.com.
EAT: After a day spent wandering the narrow roads of Bukchon Village—a traditional Korean town nestled at the northernmost corner of Seoul—nothing hits the spot like a plate of home-made dumplings at Koong Dumplings, which are made by hand by a 94-year-old grandmother at this old school eatery. For more information visit koong.co.kr.
EAT: The brainchild of Ban Joo-hyung and Kim Hyun-chul, Grill5Taco is a quirky taqueria that serves up spicy Korean-Mexican fusion like sweet short rib tacos and kim chi quesadillas—perfect for fueling up before a night at one of Seoul's thoroughly modern nightclubs. Get updates on the restaurant and its roaming food truck on Twitter.
PARTY: Work off your bibimbap to the thumping electronic beats at Club Octagon—the only club in Seoul (and possibly the world) that has its own pool. For more information visit cluboctagon.co.kr.
SHOP: When it comes to high-end shopping, we tend to think of European destinations like Paris or Milan. But Seoul is quickly climbing the ranks with a new generation super-luxe modern malls like the Hyundai Department Store, which features premiere designers like Balenciaga, Prada, and Chanel. For more information visit ehyundai.com.
SHOP: If you thought the Hyundai was impressive, the opulent Galleria—the exterior of which is festooned in color-changing LED lights—will knock your proverbial socks off. Hermès, Margiela, and Louis Vuitton all call the mega-mall (located on Seoul's "Rodeo Street") home. For more information visit galleria.co.kr.
SHOP: Korean fashion mavens know there's no better place to find unusual luxury goods than Milanese import 10 Corso Como, a boutique, bookstore, and gallery that also serves top-notch Italian fare and killer cocktails. For more information visit 10corsocomo.com.
SHOP: Dapper gents seeking immaculately-tailored jackets and pants need look no further than JJ Republic, where bespoke suits and button-down can be made to order for a fraction of the US price. For more information visit jjrepublic.co.kr.