When I used to think of Seoul, images of a bright, hyper-modern metropolis and peppy k-pop music always came to mind. Imagine my (pleasant) surprise when my trip involved hundred-year-old tea houses and touring a grand palace? From shoppers to history buffs, Seoul has something for everyone and its definitely more than just the amazing barbecue, which I certainly had more than my fair share of but hey, calories don't count on vacation.
I will keep saying that until its true.
Stay: The Four Seasons - Seoul
Centrally located in Gwanghwamun, the Four Seasons is a sleek urban oasis in the heart of Seoul. The rooms, and specifically the bathtub, were large, open and spacious. Not to be missed is the vast state of the art fitness center and three heated spa-pools, ready to relax away the stresses of the endless shopping and eating you're bound to do. (Why buy one of something when you can buy ten, right?)
Do: Shop, Eat and Learn
1) Myeongdong is the place to be if you're looking for some retail therapy. With shops lining the streets and street food vendors lining everything in between, this buzzing neighborhood is a shopper/eater's paradise.
Korea is very well known for their beauty products so no haul is complete without a few trips to local favorites like Innisfree, Nature Republic, Laneige and Missha. While these brands are available in many markets worldwide, you may be able to score your favorite products for a little less here so go ahead, treat yourself.
2) Bukchon Hanok Village was one of my favorite parts of Seoul. Only about 10 minutes from Gyeongbokgong palace in the city center, this charming part of town features traditional hanok style houses that are still in use today. Exploring the village in traditional Korean dress is popular so give it a try if you feel like being a part of history.
3) With tons of cool coffee shops, galleries and even its own theme song, Garosu-gil was a great neighborhood to get lost in. Of course, I had to check out Mr.Holmes Bakehouse to take a peak at the infamous "Cruffin" (a croissant muffin for those of you who aren't in the know about the latest carb related developments in the world).
Despite the allure, I ultimately ended up stuffing my face with a matcha croissant...and also a churro croissant, but who's counting? Luckily for me, there were plenty of boutiques and cool spaces to explore so I was able to happily burn some calories while wandering and window shopping.
4) There is no shortage of amazing Korean barbecue and soul-warming stone pot soups in Seoul but most unique dish I tried here had to be the Soy Sauce Crab (ganjang-gejang) at Pro Soy Crab. The name says it all, these people are pros at serving this Korean delicacy. Raw, blue crabs are marinated in a special blend of soy sauce and spices and served with white rice for a simple but incredible meal. It may not look appetizing but the crab actually tastes a lot like uni so this is a must-try for all you sushi lovers out there. If you're feeling extra adventurous, try the "dancing octopus" on for size. Sannakji is sliced raw octopus served so fresh that it literally "dances" and wriggles on your plate. Bon appetite!
5) If you're looking for a night cap, Itaewon is where all the cool kids hang after hours and I like nothing more than stalking cool people. Full of bars and eateries, locals and visitors alike come to this trendy neighborhood to wind down or turn up, depending on your mood. Pizza Muzzo was great "first drink" type of place, especially in the "beer garden" area which was a plant-lover's paradise.
Image: TimeOut Seoul