Samsung Electronics SA recently invited me to Seoul in South Korea for the launch of their chic new Curved UHD TV. While we spent the bulk of our time listening to interesting techie talks and soaking up fascinating design presentations, Samsung also treated us to a bit of playtime, which allowed us the opportunity to do the teeniest bit of exploring and, as a result, we spent every minute of our free time absorbing as much of this magical metropolis as we could. The result… my list of top things to do and see in Seoul in (roughly) 48 hours…
- Start your morning off with a walk through the streets of Insa-dong. It’s located in the heart of Seoul and packed with sweet little stores selling everything from antiques and art and crafts to traditional clothing, souvenirs and teas. Meander off the main road and you’ll stumble on a handful of traditional restaurants, delightful galleries, old-fashioned teahouses and quaint corner cafés.
- After working up an appetite on the streets of Insa-dong, enjoy a delicious lunch at one of the most famous eateries in Seoul, Min’s Club Restaurant. It’s set within a traditional Korean house and caters for both Western and Korean palates. To get the best of what their fusion menu has to offer, try the salmon salad as a starter (squeeze in the cold potato soup if you can) and order a bowl of Bibimbap (this is a signature Korean dish and an absolute must-try) as a main course. End off with a cup of traditional tea, which is served with bits of rice and pumpkin.
- Take the cable car up to the top of the N Seoul Tower. It’s located on Mount Namsan and offers spectacular panoramic views of the city. Whatever you do, don’t forget to check out the ‘love lock deck’ before you head back down to the bottom and make sure you grab a fridge magnet at the gift store on your way out.
- Make your way to the tourist friendly (and uber-trendy) neighbourhood of Itaewon. It’s packed with dozens of bars, clubs, restaurants and retail stores. We enjoyed a round (okay, maybe two) of Korean beers at Prost Pub & Grill before making our way over to The Maple Tree House Restaurant (just next door) for a traditional Korean BBQ dinner. You have never tasted a braai this good – we tried the grilled prawns, beef and pork, which were served with a few bowls of cold noodles and complimentary sides including Kimchi and green salads.
- Treat yourself to a night cap at J.J. Mahoney’s Lounge & Bar at the Grand Hyatt Seoul – they offer live entertainment on most nights and boast an incredible cocktail menu.
- Grab a quick breakfast at your hotel and then make your way to the Changdeokgung Palace. This is an absolute must during your trip. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it was once the palace for many of the Joseon kings. You’ll be able to walk around the very same grounds once frequented by ancient royals and you’ll also get to see the king’s office, the royal family residences and explore the enchanting gardens.
- Hop into a cab (they’re surprisingly inexpensive) and head over to the Gangnam district. Absorb everything you see. Gangnam is an upmarket shopping area where people go to see other people and to be seen. You’ll be able to take advantage of budget-friendly off-street shopping spots, high-end fashion labels, and it’s also home to a wide selection of cafés, bars, restaurants and clubs. Grab a bite at one of the many Japanese noodle bars before you leave.
- No visit to Seoul is complete without spending at least a few hours at a night market. Dongdaemun Market, though open 24 hours a day, is most popular after dark. Here you can buy ‘almost anything under the sun’ at any time of the day for ‘the best price’ – from food, fabrics and groceries to jewellery, accessories and clothing.
Text and photographs Katharyn Williams-Jaftha