South Korea, older style buildings in foreground, high rise behind and mountains in distance
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Escape to the Land of Morning Calm: The Best Hotels and Experiences in South Korea

Ancient traditions meet futuristic flair in South Korea, with Seoul being the perfect place to start your journey.

Naomi Chadderton
Naomi Chadderton
An experienced editor and journalist specialising in news and lifestyle.

With its popular K-dramas and Oscar-winning films taking the world by storm, South Korea is currently doing the same. And it’s about time – its culinary scene, culture and picturesque landscapes (it’s one of the most rugged countries on earth with 70 per cent of its landmass made up of mountains) are up there with the best of them.

If you’re keen to explore South Korea but don’t know where to start, you’ll want to base yourself in Seoul. You’d be in good company, too – icons like Angelina Jolie and Hugh Jackman have graced its streets – the latter a good will ambassador for South Korea.

From picturesque temples and traditional cooking classes to the best hotels in the city, here’s everything you need to know.

Ancient traditions meet futuristic flair in South Korea, with Seoul being the perfect place to start your journey.

Cherry blossoms in spring by a temple in Seoul, South Korea

The Best Things To Do in South Korea

Take a Cooking Class With Star Chef Jeong Kwan

They say the best way to discover a new country is through its food, and there’s perhaps no better culinary South Korean adventure than a cooking class with Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan, who graced our screens in Chef’s Table third season, venturing through the wild mountainside and collects vegetables that she fashions into delicious meals. You can now spend the night at the temple from that episode, Baekyangsa Temple, spending your time meditating and learning all of Chef Kwan’s culinary secrets.

Visit Jeju Island

A short hour’s flight from Seoul, Jeju Island, located off the southern coast of South Korea, is a picturesque place famous for its natural beauty and several UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Manjanggul Cave, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, and the Geomunoreum Lava Tube System.

It’s also home to a few hundred haenyeo - typically older women who dive, without gear, to catch seafood and other edibles from the ocean. You can catch the Haenyeo Women Diver Show at Seongsan Ilchulbong at 1.30pm or 3pm, where you can listen to the women sing traditional songs and see them dive. It’s truly fascinating stuff.

Peruse Museum SAN

Tucked away in the mountains of Wonju, Museum SAN is the brainchild of architect Tadao Ando, who claimed he wanted to “create a garden museum in the sky, a dreamlike museum like no other”. An acronym for ‘space, art, nature’, SAN, which literally translates to mountain, you can spend your afternoon wandering through its many exhibitions while also finding your zen – in 2023, Ando opened the museum’s second meditation space which is softly illuminated by the cross-shaped opening in its roof, capturing the changing light over the course of the day.

Buddhist nun and chef Jeong Kwan in the kitchen
Jeju Island, South Korea
Museum SAN, South Korea

Take the USO Tour of the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone

After indulging in the vibrant energy of contemporary Seoul for a few days, it's easy to lose sight of the ongoing tension between North and South Korea. Delve into this living history by embarking on a journey to the Joint Security Area, otherwise known as Panmunjeom, where the pivotal Armistice Agreement was inked on July 27, 1953.

Be sure to opt for the full-day excursion to ensure a seamless experience, with convenient pick-up from central Seoul. You’ll get to visit all the DMZ's iconic landmarks, from the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel to the Dorasan Observatory and the JSA itself, but to secure your spot we highly recommend making reservations at least four days in advance.

Explore the Royal Palaces

Seoul is home to five magnificent royal palaces that are definitely worth exploring: Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, and Gyeonghuigung. Each exuding its own unique charm, they offer a fascinating glimpse into Korea's rich history and cultural heritage.

For a truly romantic experience, the city frequently organises moonlight tours where you can admire these architectural wonders illuminated by the soft glow of the night - the one at Changdeokgung, often hailed as the most exquisite among the five palaces, is particularly popular.

Delve into the living history between North and South Korea by embarking on a journey to the Joint Security Area, otherwise known as Panmunjeom, where the pivotal Armistice Agreement was inked on July 27, 1953.

Panmunjeom security area, South Korea
Deoksugung palace lit up at night, Seoul, South Korea

The Best Hotels in Seoul

Park Hyatt Seoul

Neighbourhood: Gangnam

There’s something very Blade Runner about the Park Hyatt Seoul, which comes surrounded by the towering skyscrapers of Gangnam. A place where both luxury and comfort combine, expect stunning vistas and some of the most spacious rooms in the city complete with floating beds, luxurious granite bathrooms and state-of-the-art toilets.

As to be expected, service at the hotel is also impeccably smooth, catering to a distinguished clientele that includes CEOs and prominent celebrities such as Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, and Gong Yoo, the acclaimed star of Squid Game, who often arrive in style via the rooftop helipad.

Banyan Tree Club and Spa

Neighbourhood: Jung-gu

For those after more of a wellness city break, look no further than Seoul’s Banyan Tree outpost. Nestled in a surprisingly green yet central location, facing the 500m peak of Mount Namhan, it may be just ten minutes from downtown Seoul but it feels a world away from the hustle and bustle thanks to its calming rooms with huge platform beds, pillow menus and big onsen-style soaking pools.

There are also indoor and outdoor swimming pools on site - the latter is flipped into an ice-skating rink in winter — plus a spa which is the perfect place to escape to after a long day of sight-seeing.

Signiel Seoul

Neighbourhood: Songpa-gu

Spanning from the 76th to the 101st floors, you’ll find this stylish bolthole within the sleek architecture of the iconic Lotte World Tower. A must-stay for a special occasion, each of the 235 rooms are adorned with captivating cherry blossom murals and features opulent marble bathrooms, with the added touch of personalized service from a dedicated butler. Guests can also indulge in extravagant experiences such as helicopter and Rolls-Royce transfers, pampering sessions at the luxurious Evian spa and exquisite dining at the esteemed restaurant overseen by celebrity chef Yannick Alleno, complemented by the country's largest champagne cellar. Don’t mind if we do.

Park Hyatt Hotel, Seoul. Lit up at night.
Banyan Tree Club and Spa, Seoul
Signiel Seoul at sunset

The Best Time to Visit South Korea

Between March and May is the most popular time to visit South Korea to witness the enchanting pink hues of cherry blossoms in full bloom. Alternatively, September to November promises pleasant temperatures ideal for outdoor adventures.

June, July, and August tend to be hot and humid weather, especially away from the mountains, while the winter months of December through February bring bitter cold, making them less favourable for travel.

Keep in mind that the Korean New Year marks the beginning of the lunar calendar, while Chuseok falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. During these occasions, many locals journey to their rural hometowns for festivities, leading to closures of numerous businesses.