Hundreds of neon signs give the streets an electric glow come nightfall
There’s an undercurrent buzzing beneath the South Korean capital – and not just because it’s the world’s most wired city. This feng-shuied, neon-flecked metropolis is renowned for its 24-hour lifestyle, which entices equally nocturnal travellers from all over the world.
Seoul is a sensory overload in all the best ways – from the ancient, ethereal splendour of its palaces and temples to the K-Pop-blaring Noraebangs (karaoke rooms). Shoppers will find Namdaemun market overflowing with bargain buys, and the Insa-dong neighbourhood full of one-of-a-kind handicrafts.
Seaweed wrapped Gimbap rolls make a satisfying anytime snack
For the ever-peckish, food vendors pepper the streets, selling sugary Hotteok pancakes and moreish Gimbap rolls. Itaewon (the ‘Western District’) is famed for having every type of restaurant, while Sikgaekchon’s delicacies are inspired by a Korean comic book. Local favourite, ‘Ddo-ong Café’, serves poo-shaped everything.
After dark, there’s the party glow of Itaewon, edgy Hongdae or achingly cool Gangnam – with clubs open till 6:00 am, and ‘afterclubs’ taking the revelry straight through to lunchtime. When sleep beckons, it’s back to the guesthouse, traditional Hanok or hotel to snatch a couple of hours before the fun begins again.
This wonderful chaos is overlooked by the mountains of the Bukhansan National Park, which are ripe with forested hiking trails, secluded shrines and postcard picnic spots. The views are said to be so striking that mountain spirit, Baekdu-San, returns again and again just to see them.
The Gangnam district was made internationally famous thanks to South Korean musician, PSY
When to go?
Springtime in Seoul means sunshine and lacy cherry blossom trees, while balmy autumns bring festivals and fire-coloured leaves – so both are lovely times to visit. Temperatures plunge to freezing between December and February (which is not ideal for sightseeing!) and the overcrowded stickiness of the summer months means visiting from June to August is best avoided.
Where to stay?
A House – Seoul, South Korea
Trendy ‘A House’ is just a kilometre away from Changdeokgung Palace, in one of the city’s best rated locations. The guest house’s quirky interior design and the views from its grassy roof terrace are the stuff of Instagram dreams. Guests love the hosts here, who can’t do enough to help.
Pacific Hotel – Seoul, South Korea
The Pacific is a timelessly classic hotel, clad in mirror-polished marble and deep brown wood. Five minutes’ walk from Dongdaemun Market, it makes a great base for souvenir seekers. It’s also less than a kilometre from Myeong-dong subway station, putting the rest of the city practically on the doorstep.
Han River Residence & Guest House – Seoul, South Korea
At Han River, each room, studio and dorm is decorated a different crayon-box shade, from bubblegum pink to sunshine yellow. And if that doesn’t get your day off to a bright start, their famously delicious breakfast will do the trick. The staff will even shuttle you between Gongdeok and Mapo subway stations, free of charge!