Things to do in Seoul, South Korea

I was looking for a new year travel destination to satisfy to thirst for something different. The capital city of South Korea is known for its modern skyscrapers and high-tech businesses but scratch the surface and you’ll discover everything from historic temples to energetic street food markets. In five short days we tried an array of culinary treats, walked through amazing neighbourhoods and soaked up all the dynamic culture on offer.

Seoul

To Stay

Hotel Cappuccino – Located in the up and coming Gangnam district, Hotel Cappuccino is hip hotel with a small price tag. Just £65 a night for a very comfortable double room with all the amenities you’ll need during a city break.

Seoul

To Eat

Jungsik – We had such a special lunch at Jungsik. This sophisticated 2 Michelin star restaurant is one of the finest places to eat in town. Korean-born chef Jung Sik Yim shows his talent and respect for Korean flavours in his dishes at Jungsik, he also runs a successful eatery in New York. also It costs around £50 for a set 4 course lunch. Particularly memorable from our meal was the Gimbap rice rolls and an innovative dessert based on stone sculpture on Jeju island.

Hyodo chicken – If you ask any of the top Seoul chefs where they recommend for Korean Fried Chicken, most will say Hyodo. This small restaurant is run by chef Kim San, who gained experience working in Michelin star kitchens. The short menu offers a just a few options, order the signature fried chicken topped with dried tiny anchovies and charred green peppers.

Tuk Tuk Noodle Thai – If you are in the mood for Thai I recommend trying out Tuk Tuk. A lively restaurant with perhaps the most authentic Thai menu in town.

Tartine Bakery – The San Francisco export is popular as ever. Visit the expansive brushed concrete space for the classic Tartine bread and decadent pastries.

Cafe Onion – This was my favourite brunch venue in Seoul. Head to the original branch in the industrial Seongsu area and try the towering pandoro and delicate strawberry tart. The venue is naturally distressed, a converted metal factory that has so much charm.

Parc – Founded in 2013 in the heart of the Hannam area Parc is the best place to go in Seoul for home-cooked style food. The restaurant serves traditional food passed down through the generations by the owner Pak Mogua’s mother, Heo Junghee. We stopped by for a light lunch of broth, rice with BBQ pork and kimchee.

Daedo Sikdang – Most tourists head to Born & Bred for Korean BBQ, but for the real deal I recommend Daedo Sikdang… the experience is completely authentic and the Korean wagyu beef (grilled at your table) is melt in the mouth delicious.

Gwangjang market – This market is a must for any visit to Seoul. Gwangjang is one of the largest and oldest traditional markets in South Korea and was featured on Netflix’s Street Food series. Hunt down Yoonsun Cho for wonderfully fresh knifecut noodles at Gohyang Kalguksu stall and then sample mung bean pancakes by Geumsoon Park at Pakgane.

Zero Complex – The dining room of Zero Complex is understated and simple. There is lots of space between tables and plenty of light from the huge windows. Chef Lee Chung-hu’s “philosophy is that balance and harmony hold the key to great food”. This 1 Michelin star eatery favours French cooking techniques showcasing the seasonal Korean ingredients.

Other restaurants I heard were great in Seoul – Mingles, TocToc and Mosu. 

Seoul

To Drink

Charles H at four seasons – If you only have one cocktail in Seoul have it at Charles H. The Four Season’s prohibition style bar is hidden away on the lower ground floor. It is thrilling to sit at the bar and quiz the expert barmen about the menu of delectable cocktails. A tequila cocktail called Ms. Frida is their bestseller but we preferred the whisky based drinks.

Manufact Coffee Roasting – When Queenmamamarket shut so did the flagship Manufact Coffee. Luckily a new cafe has opened serving the same great coffee, cold brew and coffee beans.

Anthracite Coffee – Anthracite Coffee Roasters has six locations in Seoul. I recommend visiting the very impressive Itaewon cafe, a renovated shoe factory with loads of character. The three storey building has distressed concrete walls and chic furniture throughout. Order a coffee and sit down to admire your surroundings.

Fritz coffee – Go to the Wonseo branch of Fritz, where the cafe is at home within a traditional Hanok house. The pastries are absolutely divine, buttery and indulgent, and the speciality coffee is among the best in Seoul. I was also tempted by the very appealing items in the shop at Fritz, including some beautifully branded granola which I bought a pot of.

Southside Parlor – For a fun night out head to Southside Parlor, a prohibition style bar in Yongsan-gu. Friends (and native Texans) Phil, Robbie and Johnny opened Southside in 2013 and there fun cocktail den has become a staple for those living in the neighbourhood. Try the Dr Pepper old fashioned and order some chicken tacos from the menu of Mexican classics.

Seoul Coffee – Some visit Seoul Coffee for the drinks but most head here to try the perfect cubes of ice cream. The cafe is concealed among the busy Ikseon-dong alleyways, so can be a struggle to find… I recommend trying the affogato, ticking off both the coffee and ice-cream in one go!

Seoul

To Shop

Fermata – The Fermata showroom is hidden away in the Hannam-Dong area. Owned by designer Choi Hye-jin and patternmaker Yoon Kwon-jin, the shop is serene and arranged in an orderly way. The clothes are oversized and using lovely natural fabrics.

Millimetre Milligram (MMMG) – A stationery emporium for paper and pen addicts! This brand has several branches throughout Seoul, all selling the functional and stylish MMMG books, bags, pens, pencils and general desk paraphernalia. I spent hours in the biggest store in Hannam admiring every item.

Boon the shop – A big shiny concept store, selling bold fashion pieces from recognised international brands alongside interesting lifestyle products. I loved discovering the South Korea guidebooks by Magazine B, including a very useful guide to Seoul in English.

Object – Beautifully displayed stationery, books, artwork and artist’s accessories. Located in the university area of Hongdae this shop is often full of eager students shopping.

Tamburins – This Korean beauty brand ticks the product and packaging boxes. The flagship store is spacious and pretty with striking posters and plants in every corner. Chat through the products with the helpful staff or, if in doubt, buy one of their iconic Nude H handcreams. I noticed everyone in Seoul seemed to have flawless skin, perhaps down to effective and innovative beauty formulas… sign me up!

Gentle Monster – Gentle Monster is the only brand I have noticed outside of South Korea, after the sculptural shop opened in London a few years ago. This luxury eyewear brand designs striking eyewear that makes a statement. Visiting their main shop in Seoul is worth it just for the visual experience.

Sikijang- A small warehouse shop stacked high with locally made ceramics and cutlery. Heaven for kitchenware lovers.

Seoul

To Do

Sulwhasoo spa – Sulwhasoo is one of the best known luxury beauty brands in South Korea. It was founded in 1966 and the flagship is a stunning building in Gangnam, perfect for a range of revitalising and restorative treatments. You can also buy the famous ‘Abc Ginseng Cream’ here.

Leeum Museum of Art – Leeum Museum in Yongsan-gu is split into three buildings, each showcasing different art and exhibitions. There is so much to see here from historic stoneware and traditional Korean art to cutting-edge contemporary works and installations from local and international artists.

Gyeongbokgung – Gyeongbokgung is the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. The palace was built in 1395, and is considered the most beautiful of Seoul’s five palaces. Visit for the dramatic changing of the guard at Gwanghwamun gate.

Bukchon Hanok village – A busy tourist location for good reason. Bukchon is the largest area of traditional Korean homes in Seoul, with around 900 hanok. Admire the wonderful houses, with the modern metropolis in the background.

Ikseon-dong area – This hip area of Seoul is made up of many small maze-like streets. It’s fascinating to wander around taking in all the locals’ favourite cafes and shops.

Changdeokgung Palace and secret garden – Set within a large park in Jongno-gu, Changdeokgung is one of  the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The palace is wonderful to look around but do also book tickets in advance for the secret garden tour, which gives more of an insight into the story behind the palace.

The Grand Hibernian with Clodagh McKenna

A trip with Belmond is an invite you never turn down. The company have a brilliant collection of hotels around the world, but it is with their exquisite luxury trains that they really excel beyond all expectation.

Grand Hibernian

The Grand Hibernian takes passengers on a journey through Ireland. Teaming up with the fabulous, acclaimed Irish chef Clodagh McKenna, Belmond have created a trip that is centred around the finest food and produce that Ireland has to offer.

After a night in Dublin we were transported to the main train station where a group of playing musicians led us to our carriages. Once on board it was champagne all round and a lovely introduction from the train manager and Clodagh.

Grand Hibernian

Inside the Grand Hibernian furnishings are sophisticated and stylish… in the main carriage a bar is always open for drinks and the comfortable seating comes draped in blankets so you can get cosy and enjoy the views whizzing past.

Grand Hibernian

Bedrooms are located further down the train, a mix of double beds and twin to suit all passengers needs, you can also adjoin two cabins to make a larger family option. Decorated in a similar style the room was muted shades of beige and brown with lovely details and luxurious touches. The tiny but satisfying functional bathroom featured a shower, toilet and sink, and was stocked with Bomford toiletries.

Grand Hibernian

I couldn’t help but explore inside our little desk to discover Belmond postcards which I had an urge to send to everyone I knew!

GalwayGrand HibernianGalway oysters

The Belmond trains offer different length trips, travelling to a range of destinations. For this journey Clodagh had picked some of her favourite spots to show us. This included a visit to Ballyvolane House where we foraged in the garden, admired the grand house and tasted their delicious Bertha’s of Revenge Irish milk gin. On the second day we stopped for lunch in Galway, dining at the charming Ard Bia at Nimmos on the water’s edge. Here we were treated to a oyster demonstration from one of the city best known shuckers from Kelly Oysters, and feasted on a wonderfully wholesome lunch. After a quick wander round town it was back on the train for the evening meal and entertainment.

Grand Hibernian

The dining carriages were great fun on the Grand Hibernian, although, being with Clodagh on a London tube journey would be fun… she brings so much joie de vivre to the table and it’s impossible not to be swept up with it all. The menus we experienced were carefully curated by Clodagh and the Belmond chefs, a clever way to showcase the ingredients from the areas we were travelling through. Once we were all thoroughly fed and watered it was time for an Irish jig lesson, and the night finished with pints of Guinness customised with our faces on the foam!

Grand Hibernian

It was solemn faces all round as we stepped off the train for the final time. In two short days I felt I’d had the trip of a lifetime, and the staff felt like family. I can’t recommend this experience enough… for the keen traveller and foodie it really is unlike any other journey you’ll ever experience.

I was a guest of Belmond. More information and book a trip on the Grand Hibernian here.

Returning to The Alpina Gstaad

It was my second trip to the Alpina Gstaad, but the wow factor was certainly not diminished this time around. Perched among the snow-topped Swiss Alps, the setting is best admired from the Golden Pass train which travels up to Gstaad from Montreux station.

After an early morning flight from London, and several train rides, we were delighted to see the Alpina staff at the station ready to whisk us away in a shiny Tesla car.

Alpina Gstaad

Check-in was swift and within minutes I was sitting in my spacious but cosy suite sipping tea by the fire. My bedroom was on the fourth floor and from my balcony I had beautiful views across the mountains which at this time of year had a light dusting from the first snow of the season (Gstaad is best for skiing in February and March).

Alpina Gstaad

There are 56 rooms and suites in total at The Alpina Gstaad, ranging from Deluxe rooms to the amazing Chalet and Panorama Suites. Every room has a private terrace, perfect for al fresco breakfasts in summer and warming hot chocolate with a view in the winter months.

Alpina Gstaad

The decor is classic Alpine in style with details that represent the Saanenland artistic heritage. The woodwork has a warming effect and soft furnishings give the feel of luxury. The fireplaces are hand-built from local stone and there is traditional artwork on the walls, including charming paper-cutting art.

Alpina GstaadAlpina Gstaad

We had two blissful days at the Alpina, days were spent relaxing at the spa while evenings were a joyful chance to try the best food and drink the hotel has to offer. On our first night, after an immersive pasta class in the kitchen, we sat by the fire to enjoy a Alpina gin & tonic. The Alpina pride themselves on making as many of their own products as they can, which includes this herbaceous gin and a lovely Alpine honey (we can be sampled at breakfast).

The hotel is currently collaborating with English sparkling wine brand NYEtimber and you can try a variety of the bottles with the in-house sommelier, paired with complementing canapés from the kitchen.

Alpina Gstaad

There are two Michelin star eateries at the hotel, perhaps most exciting is Megu, a fine dining restaurant combining Japanese recipes with the best local ingredients. Head Chef Tetsujiro Ogata and Head Sushi Chef Tsutomu Kugota delight guests with wonderfully refining tasting menus and Japanese delicacies. Don’t miss the crispy asparagus lollipops!

Alpina Gstaad

At the spa we had time to use the state of the art facilities, from Himalayan salt room, sauna and cold plunge pool and of course the huge swimming pool. We were also treated to a rejuvenating massage, which sent me into a deep slumber! I woke up feeling completely refreshed, and was further soothed by ginger tea and dried fruit and nuts.

There are a variety of classes to get involved in at Alpina, I took part in a brilliantly taught Ying and Yang yoga class one morning, and also learnt to make face masks and intensely fragrant bath salts.

Alpina Gstaad

Breakfast was the feast for all the senses, either enjoyed in the room or at the Sommet dining room. I loved the freshly made juices, plump but light pancakes and delicious buttery pastries.

Alpina Gstaad

If you are feeling brave I recommend heading outdoors to the picturesque outdoor (heated) pool for a swim with the most magical surroundings. I also recommend saving some time to wander round the artwork at Alpina, there are many mesmerising pieces to see, exhibited throughout the building, including poignant photographs, striking paintings and a thoughtful installation with blind fish in the main lobby.

Alpina Gstaad

Our time at Alpina went by in a flash and before we knew it we were back on the retro emerald train heading back to reality and the chaos of city life. Whizzing past the epic Swiss countryside our time at Alpina Gstaad soon felt like a distant fairytale memory.

I can’t recommend this hotel enough, there is so much to entertain and excite inside even if you don’t intend going out of the slopes.

I was a guest of the Alpina Gstaad, more information and book a stay here.