Welcome to Backpacker’s Boutique. Every Sunday, this spot will feature a new travel blogger. Some weeks it will be a really fun interview about packing, fashion, and fitness so you can snoop inside their bags & lives a little bit and other weeks it’ll be a detailed luxury guide to a city the featured blogger/expat knows very well. E-mail me if you’d like to be featured.
A Luxury Guide to Seoul
Tell us a little about yourself and tell us why you’re an expert on luxury travel in Seoul.
Hey there! I’m Laura. I’m an American expat who’s been living in Seoul, Korea, for the past two(ish) years. While I certainly love budget-friendly travel, I’m a fan of luxury living as well. I’ve seen my fair share of both sides of the coin and I have to say that Seoul really does have a lot going on if you’re looking to spend a little extra for the luxury.
I currently live in Sinsa-dong, one of Seoul’s ritziest neighborhoods. I love all the food offerings, clubs and restaurants my neighborhood has to offer.
What makes Seoul a perfect destination for travelers seeking a glamorous trip?
To be quite frank, Seoul has it all! This city has incredible, state-of-the-art transportation systems as well as some of the most unique architecture on this side of the world. The food is great, the clubs and shopping are exquisite.
What 5 star hotel is the best in Seoul?
I think it’s a toss up between the Park Hyatt and the JW Marriot. Located on the upscale Teheran-ro, the Park Hyatt boasts modern rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, three restaurants, a spa as well as an indoor pool so it would have to be my choice. On the weekends, the JW offers a wine concession in the basement of its facility, offering all-you-can-drink wine as well as finger foods. There’s a lounge area if you’d like to mingle with friends or a room with live music as well.
What about boutique hotels in Seoul, of them all, which would you send your friends or family to stay at?
There are some really cool and trendy hotels in addition to the upscale options mentioned above. The most well-known would be the Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel located in Seoul’s lively and cultural Itaewon neighborhood. The colorful, modern interior matches the one-of-a-kind interior which comes equipped with cozy bedding and a welcoming atmosphere. Another great option is Hotel April, which is reminiscent of a New York City loft. The brick features of this Gangnam hotel give off an urban vibe and its location can’t be beat.
While these two options are wonderful, another popular choice of travelers are Air B&B’s. Many of Seoul’s wealthiest will offer their homes for an extended stay, which is an opportunity people shouldn’t pass up!
Are there any fun activities for the adventurous traveler in Seoul?
Travelers can cruise along the Hangang River at night or visit a number of top-notch spas throughout the country. Koreans love spa treatments and it’s something that is part of the country’s culture. There are a number of 24-hour spas, also known as jimjilbangs, located in Seoul.
One of my favorite spas is located a short walking distance from my apartment in Sinsa-dong. Spa Lei is a women’s-only 24-hour spa that offers anything from mineral baths (think chrysanthemum, mugwort, rose and kelp pools) to manicure serves and even massages. It’s a cultural experience unique to Korea as you’re doing most of these activities completely naked. I don’t think it gets more personal or adventurous than that!
Where are the best hang outs during the day in Seoul?
I really love to have picnics by the river in the summer or take trips out to some of the smaller islands close to Seoul. Seoul is filled with quirky cafes and restaurants if that’s more your style, though. There are cute cafes tucked away in every neighborhood, but my favorite ‘hoods would have to be Itaewon, Hongdae and Sangsu.
If you have a big date night, what are the most delicious restaurants in Seoul and what are their best dishes?
I really like Bamboo House for more upscale Korean fare. Located in the heart of Gangnam, Bamboo House offers quality Korean beef in a sophisticated and cozy environment. The multi-course menu offers an array of options from Korean pancakes to more traditional dishes such as jap-chae (glass noodles pan fried with vegetables.)
If you’re interested in an upscale Korean barbecue experience, be sure to check this place out!
658-10 Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Yeoksam Station (Line 2) Exit 7
Let’s talk desserts- what place makes the best?
My personal favorite is Han’s Bakery. I am legitimately obsessed with a specialty cheesecake they make. If I’m being completely honest, I was never a fan of cheesecake for the first 25 years of my life until I tried Hans’ version and now I’m hooked. The price tag for a small cake is a bit steep at $40, but it’s totally worth it – I promise.
I’ve been lucky to live by both of Hans’ locations. There’s one in Suji-gu, a suburb outside of Seoul as well as in Sinsa-dong, where I’m currently located.
Tell us all the hot shopping spots; who’s carrying the trendy local designers in Seoul?
One of my favorite local designers at the moment is New Kidz Nohant. The clothing style is certainly very Korean (think slightly conservative, extremely comfortable and sensible) but is totally universal. My favorite project by the design team is the Hangeul Fashion Project. The design team paired up with the famous Korean actor Yoo Ah In to create unique t-shirts like this one.
Seeing as I’ve lived in Korea for the past two years of my life, I really love the combination of English and the Korean alphabet and I love the sleek style. I have a t-shirt as well as a bag. The great news about supporting this brand is that Yoo Ah In donates all of the proceeds to the Beautiful Foundation, a non-profit that supports the wellbeing of underprivileged Korean youth.
There are plenty of local boutique shops located throughout Seoul. I highly recommend peruising through Sinsa-dong’s Garosu-gil street as well as skimming the shops in the nearby Apgujeong neighborhood. If you’d like a more comprehensive list of suggestions, check out this link!
Time for a great sunset view in Seoul… where would you go?
I highly recommend watching the sunset from N. Seoul Tower. I don’t think there’s a better view of the city, if I’m honest. One of my favorite activities is climbing the stairs to the top, walking around for a bit and heading down just before sunset. The views of the city on the way down are stunning and you get a nice workout in, too!
Now that the sun’s gone down, fill us on the best places to go for some evening drinks or a great pre-gaming spot.
I really like the cocktails at a place called The Beastro. Located in Seoul’s trendy Hongdae neighborhood, The Beastro is also close to a variety of clubs where locals party until the sun comes up.
If you end the night at a fancy club, which one do you head towards?
Octagon, one of the most talked about clubs in Seoul is a popular spot to dance the weekday blues away. The bottle service option is always a must as the tables are situated in an open space above the dance floor, providing space away from the crowd but still gaining access to the bumping atmosphere.
Laura Nalin is an American expat who has been living and working in Seoul since 2013. Laura currently lives in Gangnam, Seoul’s most affluent neighborhood that gained international fame after the hit song infiltrated bars and clubs across the world. She loves exploring the nooks and crannies this beautiful city has to offer and has made it a point to eat at every Indian curry house and pizza joint so long as she’s been in Seoul. An avid lover of the band Phish and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Laura has never been one to stay in one place for too long. Laura is about to relocate south of the equator to New Zealand, and will be traveling for six months with her boyfriend through Southeast Asia on the way. If she’s ever stuck in a rut, she remembers the lyrics from one of her favorite Phish songs: “the trick is to surrender to the flow.” Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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Definitely going to book mark this for my next trip to Seoul- all you can drink wine and rose baths sound right up my street!