South Korea’s booming metropolis is a heady mash-up of old and new—industrial districts sit beside sprawling urban parks, while ancient temples and palaces share street corners with edgy design houses and night markets. How best to navigate this city of contrasts? Start with checking into one of Seoul’s best hotels.
On a quiet city block next to the 23-acre Jangchungdan Park, The Shilla is a true respite from Seoul's congested cityscape. The hotel's look is a swift departure from the Far East’s tendency for gilded opulence—think blond-wood furniture, sliding rice-paper window shades, and eggshell-hued wallpaper. An on-site arcade features big-name fashion brands like Issey Miyake and Hermès, but our favorite features might be the outdoor pool—a rarity for Seoul, a Guerlain Spa (which specializes in anti-aging treatments and hydrotherapy), and the 10-acre leafy sculpture garden, which displays works by 40 leading Korean artists.
Park Hyatt Seoul
Business meets serious pleasure at this 24-story glass tower, in the heart of Seoul’s Gangnam business district. The design holds up to any boutique stay—with gold-tier service to match. Japanese design firm Super Potato combined earthy elements with contemporary touches, such as rough-cut granite baths and polished oak floors and headboards alongside top-of-the-line extras like Aesop toiletries, 300-thread-count linens, and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the city skyline. The same jaw-dropping views are shared throughout the hotel, from the fitness center to the top-floor spa (and stunning infinity pool) to the three restaurants and bars. Don't miss Timber House for its sake and soju bars, live jazz, and traditional hanok (house) décor.
Sucker for a view? You can’t do any better than Seoul’s new Signiel hotel, which occupies floors 87–101 inside Lotte World Tower, currently the fifth tallest building in the world. Each room has unparalleled panoramas of Seoul and the mountains beyond, but tear yourself away from your vista and you’ll discover a list of amenities just as impressive: the spa-like bathrooms are stocked with Diptyque products, both restaurants have Michelin-star cred, there's an Evian Spa with its own emerald-tiled indoor pool overlooking the Han River, and the swank champagne bar has one of the most extensive selections in the country.
This towering hotel in the International Finance Center pulls out all the stops when it comes to courting clients or colleagues. There’s a 37th-floor fine-dining restaurant for closing deals and a more casual lobby lounge for the quick meet-and-greet, a full-service spa and gym for primping before meetings and events, an on-site florist for sending an extra “thank you,” and a shopping mall for picking up some last-minute accessories. Even the smallest guest rooms top out at a roomy 500 square feet; all accommodations come with picture windows that put the city on full display and every convenience today’s travelers need—including reliable WiFi, lots of outlets, in-room work spaces, and blackout curtains that keep the bright urban sprawl at bay.
Four Seasons Hotel Seoul
Sure, you’ll find all trademarks of East Asian hospitality at this posh city center high-rise—a sprawling fitness center, endless dining options, jaw-dropping interiors including a 9th-floor sauna with sweeping city views—but there are also surprises to be found in spades. Just look at Charles H., an enticing speakeasy where a NoMad Hotel alum mixes up creative cocktails using ingredients like black vinegar and chamoe melon, and the hotel's 317 high-tech guest rooms, which come tricked out with customizable beds, iPad Minis, and “smart” toilets. Work off the calories you picked up at Koiku’s 36-foot sushi counter or the 1920s Shanghai-esque Cantonese restaurant with a walk through the 14th-century Gyeongbokgung Palace, just down the road.
No, this isn’t Brooklyn—even though all signs at Hotel Cappuccino point to “Williamsburg hip.” This trendy bolt-hole in fashionable Gangnam looks like the vintage loft of your artsy best friend: 18 stories of floor-to-ceiling windows, reclaimed wood and exposed piping, pressed tin ceilings, self-serve laundry rooms, and—get a load of this—a social platform that invites guests to participate in what they call “feel-good partnerships.” If you ride to your room in the hotel's designated "angel" elevator, 500 won (roughly 0.50 USD) will be added to your hotel fee and donated to charity. Order something from the restaurant’s “angel menu”? A portion of the proceeds will go to water.org. (Couples and families, be wary: as part of the hotel's hostel-like mentality, many of its 141 rooms are single occupancy.)
What Hotel28 Myeongdong lacks for in some areas—there’s no lobby, sprawling gym, or pool to be found—it packs a punch in others. Namely, unexpectedly spacious guest rooms equipped with goose-down duvets and marble floors (including one, the Director’s Suite, where everything from the furniture to the tableware was designed by Hermès) along with a pop-up art gallery, swoon-worthy library, and tranquil rooftop “walkway” for quiet reflection. Bonus: all hotel guests receive 10% off any purchases from stores inside the building, including famous neighborhood pharmacy Boons Apothecary.
Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul
Banyan Tree’s first urban foray proves its mission works just as well beyond beachy far-flung locales. This full-scale spa resort occupies 17 acres at the foot of Mt. Namsan, just 10 minutes from the frenzy of downtown Seoul. Nearly every guest room, inspired by the four seasons and five oriental elements (earth, water, fire, metal, and wood), has a pool of its own, along with walk-in closets and wall-to-wall windows that look out onto either mountain slopes or the twinkling lights of the distant city. There are places to relax at nearly every turn (including at the spa, whose therapists are trained at the brand’s own spa academy in Phuket), but if you’re looking for action, you’re also in luck: a driving range, soccer field, basketball and tennis courts, and even more pools are all at your disposal.