For our next travel guide in partnership with TUMI, we’re taking it all the way across the pond to the bustling metropolitan city of Seoul, South Korea!
Just looking at Seoul’s skyline reaffirms what you already knew, this is as modern and futuristic of a city as it gets. While much of the city’s history and culture can still be found everywhere, from historic Buddhist temples to grand royal palaces, Seoul has a thriving and vibrant culture of art, architecture and design that’s only getting more widespread. Whether you’re staying for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, this guide serves only to augment what’s guaranteed to be a memorable trip to South Korea’s capital.
WHERE TO STAY
Discovering hip new hotels is always fun and exciting but don’t let a ubiquitous brand name hotel like the Park Hyatt Seoul fool you into thinking that it’s not as modern and innovative as a hotel that just opened. This luxury 5-star hotel located in the Gangnam financial district was designed by Japanese firm Super Potato to be minimalistic, thoughtful, and intimate. Rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, warm textures of wood and stone walls, and even Aesop toiletries. When you grow tired of being cooped up in your room (an impossible feat, if you ask me), the hotel also features a TechnoGym, an infinity pool, and three restaurants and bars to spend your time.
The Shilla Stay in Guro, Seoul is a newer hotel that also balances luxurious comfort with contemporary design. The interiors designed by Italian architect Piero Lissoni are moody but elegant, chic but welcoming. The 310 rooms all feature upscale details like 100% Hungarian goose-down bedding and Aveda toiletries.
If you’re insistent on a boutique hotel, the Imperial Palace is a trendy option, with a colorful exterior facade that make it easy to spot from the street. It’s the first Korean hotel to be honored with the TIME Readers’ Travel Choice Awards and rightfully so. It’s hard not to stop at linger in front of the hotel’s artful walls, including the ones in your room. Its proximity to local attractions like the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art make it easy choice for art lovers and museum goers.
WHERE TO SHOP
With all the districts and neighborhoods in Seoul, it would be impossible to list all our favorite boutiques and shops without creating a never-ending list so below is just a tiny sampling of the kind of unique shops Seoul has to offer for locals and travelers alike.
A visit to the Sulwhasoo flagship store is two fold. Beauty junkies like me already know that Sulwhasoo cosmetics are both made up of both make-up and skincare, so you’re actually nourishing your skin while also looking your best when you use its products. The other reason for visiting the store is because of its architecture designed by Neri&Hu Design and Research Office. The store’s exteriors and interiors were designed to bring customers into an immersive experience stemming from a centuries-old motif of the lantern. If this 4-minute clip soothes you into a zen-like ambience, imagine visiting the store in person.
The 유어마인드 (Your Mind) Selected Bookshop has a curated collection of small and independent publications both local and abroad. For a quick browse of the collection, the shop regularly features different books and magazines on their Instagram.
For those of you who love to find splurge-worthy souvenirs that aren’t just pretty or useful but will one day become heirlooms, stop by Sikijang to pick up some beautiful, handmade ceramics in muted hues.
Millimeter Milligram (MMMG) is kind of like a Poketo meets Muji shop. This contemporary design studio and store carries an array of stationery and paper goods, including planners, notebooks, calendars, pens, postcards, and more. There’s more than one in Seoul so be sure to research which one is closest to you!
And finally, the ManMade Wooyoungmi is a cafe and a gallery space for viewing the brand’s latest runway collection, as well as a curated collection of brands and collaborations on the 5th floor.
WHERE TO PLAY
To me, “play” means discovering unusual sites in the city that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. From arts to architecture, here are a few spots that are worth the visit for the experience and the beautiful Instagram photo you’ll no doubt upload. ;)
Seoul is home to dozens of museums, but if I had to pick one to visit before the rest, I’d choose the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art because it never ceases to exhibit modern artists who think out of the box, like Anish Kapoor who created this elegant sculpture.
This next one is a little bittersweet. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza was designed by late Zaha Hadid and Samoo. Also called the DDP, this spage-agey building looks like it came straight out of a Star Trek movie. We’d add it to our itinerary to pay tribute to one of the greatest architects of our time.
Going to a movie theatre while you’re on vacation may seem like a waste of time but this isn’t like any other movie-going experience you can get back at home. The Megabox Boutique M designed by Rohspace is a luxurious indulgent that’s worth the couple of hours to visit. This movie theatre greets you with water, a blanket, and slippers and offers premium cocktails and desserts for you to enjoy your movie.
There’s no scarcity of art galleries in Seoul so the problem you have is narrowing a couple to gallery-hop during your stay in Seoul. The Gallery Arario not only gives an introduction to Korean contemporary art but also works from India and Southeast Asia’s artists. Be sure to check the website to see what exhibits are currently on view.
One of the newer galleries in Seoul (it opened in 2014), Gallery Koo was founded by Nayoon Koo who works closely with curators to offer the best curated showcase of contemporary Korean and international artists.
If venturing an hour or so outside of Seoul is an option for you, we’d recommend a visit to the MMCA National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. It’s one of the newer museums, opening its doors just this past 2013. Located across the street from Gyeongbokgung, Seoul’s main palace, the MMCA features a balance between traditional and contemporary Korean artists and exhibitions (like Do Ho Suh!).
Last but not least, Nanette, one of our contributors, visited 하늘공원 Haneul Park and it looks like a beautiful place to end your trip because of the captivating, expansive views of the city. Be forewarned that you’ll be doing some cardio (there are 291 steps to climb!) but for views like this? Completely worth it to end the trip on a high (no pun intended) note.
While we’re quite proud of our travel guides, we know our readers have the best recommendations. Is there a place you make a straight beeline to when you land in Seoul? Let us know in the comments below!
This post is in partnership with TUMI. Our partners are hand-picked by the Design Milk team because they represent the best in design.