SEOUL, An Extraordinary Confluence of Past, Present, and Future
What does it feel like to stand on the banks of the Han River, Seoul’s topographical dividing line? To the north, ancient history is maintained in the royal palaces and hanok villages, while the south is home to modern cultural exports like K-pop and K-fashion. In other words, to visit Seoul is to feel a visceral pull to modernity in a city that wears its ancient history on its sleeve.
So what’s the best way to explore Seoul? The Monocle Travel Manual is below with important highlights like “When to Go” and where to find the most “Unexpected Flavours” in one of the most unique cities on earth.
1. Queenmama Market
Take your pick
To take the temperature of Seoul’s top retail scene visit this standout lifestyle shop in Gangnam-gu that sells a mix of Korean and international homeware brands, including Onjeom Plate and Kinto. Founded by former fashion designer couple Yoon Hanhee and Kang Jinyoung, the seven- story building overlooking Dosan Park was designed by leading Korean architecture firm BCHO. Ceramics, stationery and beauty products can all be found here – alongside a sprinkling of plants and gardening tools – and upstairs Parrk bookshop stocks the latest Korean and international titles. Once your retail needs are met, get a brew at Manufact Coffee on the top floor.
On the fast-changing Korean fashion scene, Bastong stays true to its identity. The men’s fashion label started by Seoul native Alt Ki and his wife has grown steadily since 2011. Today it has two standalone shops in Seoul and 10 overseas markets, including the UK, the US, and Denmark. “I wanted to create simple, wearable, high-quality clothes,” says Ki. “I studied how brands such as Leica and Porsche have grown but maintained their craftsmanship.” Ki and his small team source materials from around the world – waxed cotton fabrics from the UK and denim from Japan, for example – and produce small collections of durable wardrobe staples. “There are many highly skilled factories in Korea,” says Ki, noting that he also makes original fabrics here.
3. Balwoo Gongyang
Seoul may not be readily associated with slow food but the bustling capital’s tasty cuisine isn’t just about topokki and barbecue. Korean Buddhism’s 1,700-year history has established a unique vegan food culture known as temple food – and it’s causing quite a stir. While the city’s talented and creative chefs are incorporating traditional Korean cuisine into their modern recipes, this Michelin-starred restaurant serves authentic temple food guarded by the revered Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Four-course meals use seasonal ingredients and medicinal plants; what results is a farm-to-table practice that promotes healthy eating with little leftover waste.
4. Artisan Bakers
Rising to the occasion
Owner Mo Taesung makes superb pastries, rye bread, croissants and much more. Try his modern sourdough with sweet potato and cheese, or a softer corn ciabatta with a Korean twist – but be sure to arrive early, as the goods are known to fly off the shelves fast.
5. Vatos Urban Tacos
Kimchi carnitas fries and galbi tacos are the creations of owners Kenny Park, Juweon Kim, and Sid Kim. The trio was raised in the US, eating authentic Mexican cuisine and homemade Korean dishes, and their idiosyncratic mix of cultural flavors has proved to be very popular with Seoul locals.
When to go
Autumn, in time for the
Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism.
How to get there
Korean Air flies direct from Tokyo, Sydney,
Hong Kong and London.
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Best Way to Go Korean
Hire a modern take on hanbok (traditional Korean costume)
and then head to Samcheong-dong