Flights to Seoul (ICN)

Flights to Seoul will show you there’s nothing low-key about South Korea. Every district in the buzzing capital has its quirks.

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Flights to Seoul

Seoulites work hard and play harder, and flights to Seoul deliver you to a city that has some of the best restaurants, lounges and nightlife venues in South Korea. Add in the 24-hour ‘bangs’ (rooms) – used for everything from computer gaming to karaoke – and it becomes clear that Seoul doesn’t really sleep. And you don’t have to either.

Seoul is one of the most affordable capital cities in Asia. Travelling on the metro costs next to nothing, and mid-range and budget hotels give you plenty of value for money. From there, as long as you eat like the locals (easy to do when Korean food is so tasty), you’re unlikely to run out of the local currency won.

The city is a cool mix of old and new. Every Seoul district has its own quirks and finding your favourite is part of the fun: Insa-dong, Myeong-dong, Yongsan and Gangnam are just a few to add to your list. Hip student neighbourhood Hongdae is a good place to start, chock-full of fashion boutiques, trendy lounges and pet cafes. It’s more than likely that you’ll end up in Itaewon, which is a magnet for expats and has some of the best dining and nightlife in the city.

It’s amazing when you consider how quickly South Korea recovered from the Korean War to become one of the strongest economies in the world. And speed remains the name of the game – this is the land of super-fast Wi-Fi, an uber-efficient public transport system and a bullet train (the KTX) that travels at a dizzying 300km an hour.

Yes, Seoul is a modern city, but one that’s proud of its heritage. Throughout the city, you can see temples and teahouses being used the same way they have been for centuries. And don’t be surprised to see people dressed in colourful traditional clothing (hanbok), especially if it’s a national holiday such as Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving).

Stay up all night in Hongdae

Many of the city’s best nightlife venues can be found in Hongdae, a buzzing student neighbourhood. In between venues you can snack on some local street food, shop the market stalls or pop into a 24-hour barbecue restaurant. Start your journey at Hongik University, where there's a handy metro station.

Hongik University Metro Station
165 Donggyo-dong
Mapo-gu (Korean language website)

Shop the night markets

Skip the mega malls – haggling at one of Seoul’s markets is much more fun. For the best fashion finds, head to Dongdaemun Market near the Dongdaemun Station. Fuel up with some tasty South Korean street food, such as mandu (fried dumplings) and tteokbokki (spicy, gooey rice cakes).

Dongdaemun Station

Relax at the Dragon Hill Spa

A trip to a jimjilbang (bathhouse) costs next to nothing, and is a must-do while you’re visiting Seoul. Dragon Hill Spa is one of the best. Soak and steam in the baths and saunas to your heart’s content – there are even areas to nap – before splashing out on a full body scrub.

40-713 Hangangno 3-ga
+82 2 792 0001

Hike in Bukhansan National Park

Bring your boots – South Koreans love to hike, and even urban Seoul has mountains to explore. Just a 20-minute drive from the city, you’ll find Bukhansan, a beautiful mountain with its own national park. You can reach its highest peak (Baegundae at 836m) in around three hours and the views of the city from up there are amazing.

262 Bogukmun-ro
+82 2 909 0497

Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung is a terrific place to learn more about South Korean culture and tours of this stunning former palace take place throughout the day. It’s also home to the brilliant National Folk Museum of Korea. Make time to visit nearby Bukchon Village and see its restored traditional wooden houses.

61 Sajik-ro
+82 23 700 3900

Sing at the Luxury Su

Nothing beats some late night karaoke, and noraebangs (private singing rooms) will stay open as long as you can keep on belting out Bon Jovi. You can find noraebangs pretty much everywhere, but it’s worth making the trip to Luxury Su in Hongdae, if only for the funky rooms and free ice cream.

367-39 Seogyo-dong
+82 322 3111

Tosokchon (Korean)

In need of some comfort food? The signature dish here is samgyetang, which may as well translate into ‘chicken soup for the soul’; slow-cooked chicken stuffed with chestnuts, ginseng and garlic, served in a soothing rice broth. It’s so good that the late Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun was said to be a fan.

5 Jahamun-ro 5-gil
+82 2 737 7444

The Beastro (New American)

The Beastro has had a strong crew of followers since arriving on the Seoul dining scene. Located in trendy Hongdae, this bistro serves modern American comfort food, with creative twists on everything from Philly cheesesteak sandwiches to southern fried chicken. The rooftop seating is lovely when the weather is warm.

358-32 Seogyo-dong
+82 2 334 2500

Byeokje Galbi (Korean)

Whenever Seoulites argue about where to find the best galbi (barbecued beef ribs) in the city, you can bet Byeokje Galbi’s name comes up. The fact that all the meat is from organically-fed, farm-raised cattle makes the Korean barbecue here a little bit pricey, but very tasty.

205-8 Bangi-dong
+82 2 415 5522 (Korean language website)

Jungsik (Fusion)

Chef Yim Jungsik is a bit of a genius. Luckily for Seoulites, he’s taken all the molecular gastronomy know-how he picked up studying at New York’s Culinary Institute of America and brought it home. His excellent fusion restaurant is one of the best places to eat in Seoul.

11 Seolleung-ro 158-gil
+82 2 517 4654

Plant (International/ Vegan)

Vegan restaurants in Korea are becoming more and more common, and Plant is a real treasure. Seoul-dweller Mipa Lee (of the brilliant vegan food blog Alien’s Day Out) serves tasty Korean and international dishes, plus healthy baked treats, in this cosy, quirky cafe in Itaewon.

63-15 Itaewon-dong
+82 70 4115 8388

Le Saint-Ex (French)

Tucked away down a side street in Itaewon, this hidden gem is the best French restaurant in Seoul. It’s bright and elegant, and the food is impeccable, with a chalkboard menu that changes daily. The baguettes are the best in town, brought over from the French-run Guillaume Bakery.

‪119-28, Itaewon-dong
+81 2 795 2465

Sophia Guest House

This traditional guesthouse makes a superb base if your main interest is sightseeing. It’s right next to the Gyeongbokgung Palace and just a short distance from the fascinating neighbourhoods of Samcheong-dong and Insa-dong. The rooms are comfortable, even though you’re sleeping on mats, and the home-cooked food is superb.

Sogyeokdong 157-1
+82 2 720 5467

ShinShin Hotel

For a three-star hotel, ShinShin is really quite luxurious. The rooms are stylish and spacious, loosely based on traditional Korean designs, and perfect for a family on a budget. The hotel is located in Myeong-dong, which is great for shopping and makes a good base for visiting downtown Seoul.

17-5 Namdaemun-ro 5-gil
+82 2 2139 1000

Conrad Hotel

For a luxury stay, but in a low-key neighbourhood, try this five-star hotel. Located in stylish Yeouido-dong, you can keep fit by doing laps of the 25m indoor swimming pool or practising your golf swing in one of the seven driving ranges. If you’d rather just relax in your room, be sure to ask for one with views of the Han River.

23-1 Yeouido-dong
+82 2 6137 7000

Sopoong Guest House

Want a unique stay in Seoul? Skip the hotels and go to a hanok (traditional Korean guesthouse) instead. Sopoong’s a popular choice, thanks to its lovely owners. They’ll give you tips on the best places to visit in Seoul and make sure you’re well fed before you go exploring.

18 Gyedong 2-gil

Seoul Backpackers

Nothing beats staying in a hostel for meeting fellow travellers, and Seoul Backpackers is one of the best and most sociable. It’s just a short walk from the metro (Hoehyeon Station) so you can easily hop on the subway to explore the rest of the city. The rooms are basic, clean and comfortable.

205-125 Namchang-dong
+82 2 962 3113

Park Hyatt

This five-star hotel in Gangnam is perfect if you want to splash out on somewhere stylish. Soak up gorgeous city views from the heated indoor infinity pool, and in the evening head for the Timber House Restaurant to enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine and live jazz.

606 Teheran-ro
+82 2 2016 1234

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