48 Hours in Seoul
South Korea's bustling capital includes parks, trails, and mountains.
The cosmopolitan city of Seoul became even more polished after the 2018 Winter Olympics, thanks to newly landscaped parks, luxury hotels, and a revamped airport. Its international spotlight was also earned by the growing popularity of Korean cuisine and beauty products, and the K-Pop phenomenon.
But the city also features centuries-old palaces, a network of running and cycling paths, and it’s surrounded by 40 mountains offering plenty of opportunities for hiking and outdoor adventure. Here’s where to stay, eat, and play in South Korea’s exciting capital.
WHERE TO STAY
Check in to the new Ryse Hotel, a hip boutique in the Hondae neighborhood, known for its trendy restaurants, street fairs, and nightlife. The 272-room hotel’s décor blends Seoul’s industrial roots, like exposed concrete, with touches such as glossy pink floors, edgy wall murals, and gallery of local contemporary artwork.
Close to the Olympic park is the elegant Signiel Seoul, a luxury property housed in the 76th to 101st floors of the world’s sixth tallest building, the Lotte World Tower. The rooms, fitness center, and indoor pool provide panoramic views of the city. There’s also a spa, Pilates studio, sauna, and Michelin-starred restaurant.
Start your day at Grain, a charming cafe serving Nordic breakfasts. It’s a hotspot in Seoul, where locals dine on Instagram-worthy dishes. Order the oatmeal pancakes with Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and muesli or the eggs, avocado, smoked salmon, and bread, paired with a cold-pressed juice or latte.
Choose Your Afternoon Adventure
OPTION 1: CULTURE
K-Style Hub is an epicenter of South Korean culture. This five-floor attraction features interactive maps of the country, virtual-reality goggles for 360-degree tours, and a primer on K-Pop bands. There are also cooking classes and a traditional Korean clothing exhibit. Afterwards, head across town to check out Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a neo-futuristic cultural complex designed by the late Zaha Hadid. Inside the landmark building you’ll find galleries, design museums and shops, and art exhibitions.
OPTION 2: FITNESS
The sprawling Seoul Forest is best explored on bike. Rent one, and cycle through botanical gardens and wetlands. Then head to Seoullo 7017, an elevated pedestrian walkway built on a former highway with cafes, art installations, and a sky garden. If you still have the energy, run the Han River Path, a scenic greenbelt with 25 miles of flat paths and 35 bridges. You can do a 10K along Riverside Park, including a detour to the island of Banpo Seoraeseom. Time your run for the evening, when the bridge is lit up in brilliant colors.
For dinner, try the traditional temple cuisine (local recipes served by Korean Buddhists) at Balwoo Gongyang. The vegan restaurant serves sweet pumpkin soup with red beans and kimchi and tofu stuffed with shiitake mushrooms. Afterwards, take in the city views from N Seoul Tower, a 774-foot-high observation deck that’s open until 11 p.m.
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Your trip isn’t complete without a visit to Namdaemun Market, where you can sample street food and shop for souvenirs from over 10,000 vendors. For breakfast, go to Migabon for juk, a warm rice porridge. Order the signature version made with abalone, mushroom, oyster, and chicken.
Choose your Afternoon Adventure
OPTION 1: CULTURE
You’ll need hours to explore the iconic Gyeongbokgung Palace, a royal palace estate built in 1395. The grounds include gardens and museums. Don’t miss the National Palace Museum of Korea, which houses 20,000 royal relics. The changing of the guard there is worth witnessing.
OPTION 2: FITNESS
Less than a half-hour drive from the city is Bukhansan National Park. It’s home to Baegundae, Seoul’s highest peak at 2,744 feet. The hike takes about five hours roundtrip, and you’ll be rewarded with vistas of gorges, granite peaks, and the entire city of Seoul below.
Dinner is at Tosokchon Samgyetang. It’s famous for its namesake samgyetang, a chicken stuffed with chestnuts, garlic, and ginseng and slow-cooked for hours. Or opt for other Korean dishes, such as kimchi and a seafood and green onion pancake.
If you want a taste of Seoul’s wild nightlife, have a nightcap at 12 Stairs, a stylish speakeasy gem with a gilded chandelier and marble.