Seoul city guide: 48 hours

Adding 'play hard' to a 'work hard' ethic, the South Korean capital is the new city that never sleeps

By Mark Stratton
Published 8 Aug 2014, 11:10 BST, Updated 1 Jul 2021, 12:07 BST

Day one

10am: Market Brunch

Seoul marches on its stomach. Its workforce cherishes noisy fast-paced meals of multiple dishes. Squeeze your derriere onto Gwangjang's crowded wooden benches to enjoy bindaetteok (savoury pancakes) and spicy tteokbokki (rice cakes with sweet chili sauce) accompanied by makgoelli rice wine — all for under a tenner. 88, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu.

1pm: Cookery class

With your newly acquired love for Korean food, how about learning to cook it? Korea House cultural centre offers 90-minute classes under expert tutelage. You'll learn to conjure up, among other dishes, the omnipresent kimchi and sanbyeong (rice cakes). Book in advance. 

4pm: Gangnam style

For the latest craze in just about everything head to Gangnam, Seoul's financial district, hosting ultra-hip designer shops and every coffee bean variety known to mankind. The three-storey Samsung d'light (combining the words 'digital' and 'light') showroom, at 11 Seocho-daero near Gangnam Station, guarantees techno-geeks will purr with, er, delight.

7pm: International Itaewon

Mingle with the funsters in Seoul's party district, Itaewon, and saunter down International Food Street — a smorgasbord of eateries and great bars. Mix with the fashionistas at Glam Lounge (T: 00 82 2 796 6853) or kick back at tropical-themed The Bungalow (T: 00 82 2 793 2344) before grilling a rib-eye steak at your table at Maple Tree House.

11pm: Woo who's who

Enter the twilight zone with cocktails and a DJ set at the Woo Bar, in the lobby of design tour de force, the W Hotel.

Day two

9am: Royal palace

Spend the morning delving into six centuries of the Joseon dynasty by ticking off its two finest royal palaces. The royal quarter has its very own 'Forbidden Cities' in the form of the 14th-century Gyeongbokgung Palace, with its theatrical changing of the guard, and nearby Changgyeonggung Palace, which has impressive imperial gardens.

12pm: Temple food

Near the Royal Quarter, the atmospheric Jogyesa Buddhist Temple on Gyeonji-dong may put you in the mood for wholesome temple food. Your best bet is directly opposite — the Balwoo Gongyang Restaurant, where Buddhism goes nouveau cuisine with vegetarian set courses of cold noodle soups and gingko-and-chestnut sticky rice parcels. T: 00 82 2 2031 2081.

2pm: Classier souvenirs

With its well-preserved hanok architecture of yesteryear, the charming Bukchon Hanok Village is a character-filled enclave of traditional homes. Exploring by foot, a self-guided walking trail takes in quaint teahouses and artisan workshops offering classier souvenirs, such as jewellery and ceramic tea sets.

5pm: Steamy spa

You're probably footsore by now, so take some time out and give yourself a Korean public bathhouse (jjimjilbang) experience. Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan-gu offers a raft of different packages, including sauna, massage, communal chill-out rooms, plus a seawater bath. Yes, it's time to strip off! Besides, naked bathing is a great leveller.

8pm: Fine dining

Scrubbed up nicely? Splurge on the ultimate celebratory Seoul meal at Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul, the eponymous love-child of the French three-Michelin-star super chef, on the 35th-floor of Lotte Hotel Seoul. The offering is unashamedly French molecular cuisine in a setting inspired by Versailles with set menus from £99. The wine list boasts wines that are rare — even in France.

11pm: Hongdae finale

Hongdae's avant-garde student scene is home to clubs and copious coffee shops, and by 11pm, it rocks to the hippest music and dance venues in town. Try the legendary jazzy acoustic sets of Club Evans (T: 00 82 2 337 8361) or Club NB (T: 00 82 2 333 2769), with a younger hip-hop-loving crowd. If your larynx is up to it, multitudinous karaoke rooms murder popular tunes long into the small hours.

FREE South Korea guide

Pick up a copy of the September 2014 issue today for your free South Korea guide. Discover its clutch of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, from Jeju Island to Gyeongju Historic Areas, or hunker down with monks in a Buddhist temple and eat your way through its mind-blowing culinary scene.




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