A few years ago, Psy’s outlandishly catchy dance hit “Gangnam Style” galloped its way into the hearts of millions, putting a spotlight on South Korea’s pop culture phenomenon. The popularity of K-pop, K-drama and the 2018 Winter Olympics, along with South Korea’s dynamic cuisine and trendsetting beauty and fashion industry, has turned Seoul, once an afterthought for Western vacationers, into a bona fide tourist destination.
Big Spender: American architect Adam D. Tihany redesigned the ground floor of the 1914 Westin Chosun Seoul, partially incorporating traditional Korean materials such as wood, bronze, and stone. Each room has a Nespresso coffee machine, free Wi-Fi, and a deep soaking tub. Hotel amenities include an indoor pool, a sauna, and a steam room. 011-82-2-771-0500; echosunhotel.com.
Indulge: Choosing from the more than 1,000 species, from abalone to blue crab, at Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market can be overwhelming. Narrow your picks to the meaty Russian spiny crab (around $80) and red snapper (around $50). At a second-floor restaurant, the cook will prepare your purchases to your liking—fried, stewed, steamed, grilled, or raw—for $5 per person. visitseoul.net.
Budget Bites: Tosokchon Samgyetang, a restaurant near the Gyeongbokgung Palace (pictured at the top), is famous for its ginseng chicken. Show up early because the line can get long during peak lunchtime. Opt for the basic milky soup ($13), which comes with a whole chicken stuffed with rice, dates, chestnuts, ginseng, and herbs. tinyurl.com/tosokchon.
Luxe life: The striking exterior of Galleria Department Store is adorned with more than 4,300 LED lights, while an equally glitzy interior showcases luxury European brands such as Yves Saint Laurent alongside local brands Lucky Chouette and Jain Song. dept.galleria.co.kr.
On the Cheap: The best bargains can be found in college towns, where streets are lined with trendy shops that suit a student’s budget. Open on Saturdays near the Hongik University, the Hongdae Free Market is an Etsy-style fair where you can have your portrait painted, see live performances, and purchase handmade accessories, note cards, and art.
Satisfy your cultural, shopping, musical, and adrenaline cravings at Lotte World Adventure, which encompasses the world’s largest indoor theme park, a folk museum, an aquarium, boutiques, restaurants, a water park, and an entertainment complex. Admission is about $40. https://tinyurl.com/hcfomcl
All photographs by Rachel Ng, who is food and features editors for Auto Club Enterprises magazines.