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Seoul Itaewon by Nat Urazmetova 

 

South Korea is equally known for its lush, rugged, hilly countryside and centuries-old Buddhist temples, its coastal fishing villages and sub-tropical islands, its ultra-modern innovations, frantic pace of life and blazing cascades of neons in the urban centres. The country’s fashion scene, refreshingly offbeat and often channelling the futuristic, flourishes at Seoul Fashion Week, where avant-garde and street-style dazzlingly coalesce. Whereas the established designers such as Juun.J , Kiminte Kimhekim, Wooyoungmi and others are making waves abroad, regularly showed at Paris Fashion Week and stocked at influential retailers such as Dover Street Market. Lately, South Korean rapper and producer Mino, who once was an ambassador of Burberry, walked in Louis Vuitton's Spring 2020 menswear show by the artistic director Virgil Abloh.

 

Seoul Hongdae by Nat Urazmetova

 

Despite the country’s strong image in a global context and the allure of stark contrasts, South Korea is still a relatively uncharted destination, full of pockets where no foreigner has ever set foot. After the war, which split the Korean Peninsula, the South gradually embraced democracy and has since gone on to become a powerful and dynamic economy, rising from the ashes and out of the shadows of Japan and China into the ‘The Miracle on the Han River’. Korean highly distinctive culture with its colourful heritage, Confucian ideals, high-tech frenzy, culinary oddities and wild contradictions is an absolute joy to dive into.

 


SEOUL

Seoul Myeong-dong Namdaemun Market by Nat Urazmetova


Bursting with huge markets, old villages, historical palaces, entertainment districts and shopping plazas, vibrant Seoul is the metropolitan city like no other - it seems to be at the zeitgeist of coolness, radiating the ceaseless energy round-the-clock. To experience the diversity and immerse yourself in the richness of Seoul’s eclectic neighbourhoods, we would recommend to dedicate at least four full days to the city. The well-developed and easy to navigate public transportation system in Seoul makes its exploration a breeze.

 

Myeong-dong

 

Seoul Myeong-dong shopping street


Myeong-dong is a shopping mecca packed with international fashion brands, luxury department stores, such as Shinsegae & Lotte, and homegrown cosmetics shops, where you can be rewarded with the samples of newest beauty products without actually buying anything. The area is also famous for its night market with over 200 street food stalls, which are set to fuel you with enough energy for a shopping spree and offering the local delicacies ranging from Korean Grilled Cheese Lobster to Pan Fried Dumplings (Goon Mandu).

 

Seoul Myeong-dong Namdaemun Market by Nat Urazmetova

Seoul Myeong-dong Namdaemun Street Food by Nat Urazmetova

 

If you want to see a piece of history and to get a taste of the Korean Traditional Market, contrasting with the sophisticated gleam of Myeong-dong, head to Sungnyemun Gate, one of the Eight Gates in the Fortress Wall of Seoul, behind which you can find a 24-hour Namdaemun Market, the biggest one dating as far back as the year 1414.

The market is a sprawling labyrinth of roughly 10,000 shops and vendors, selling almost anything imaginable - from Asian medicines and electronics to clothes, artworks, daily living essentials and more. 

No Korean traditional market exists without a plethora of food stalls. Some of the most popular things to taste at Namdamenun are Eomuk or fishcakes and Japchae Hoddeok also known as Vegetable Noodle Pancake.

 

Seoul Myeong-dong Namdaemun Street Food by Nat Urazmetova

 

Jongno-gu

 

Seoul Jongno Ikseon-dong by Nat Urazmetova

 

Located in the heart of Seoul, Jongno, which means ‘Bell Street’, is full of contrasts: some areas are ultra-modern, while wandering the others it feels as if time has stopped entirely.

One of those neighbourhoods is Ikseon-dong, a maze-like village, established in the 1920s and being one of the oldest. Here, tucked behind the facades of traditional Korean houses called Hanoks, vintage and flower boutiques, artisan bakeries, coffee shops and traditional tea houses, craft beer bars, small trinkets, accessories and fragrance shops are creating a truly unique, rustic, yet contemporary, atmosphere.

 

Seoul Jongno Ikseon-dong Craft Beer Bar by Nat Urazmetova

 

A short walk away is the World Heritage–listed Changdeokgung, recognised as the most beautiful and well-reserved of Seoul's five main palaces. It has 13 buildings remaining on its ground and 28 pavilions in the gardens and is considered an outstanding example of East Asian architecture, integrating harmoniously with the landscape that surrounds it.

 

Seoul Changdeokgung Palace

 

After seeing the palace, we recommend savouring the results of the millennial culinary tradition of Korean Buddhist temples at Balwoo Gongyang.

A multi-course menu is seasonal and vegan, the dishes are simple yet sophisticated, each of them seeking to represent the food as interconnected with nature, harmony, meditation, the mind, and happiness.

 

Balwoo Gongyang multi-course menu


Another Hanok village in Jongno worth visiting is picturesque Bukchon (which translates as "northern village”), dating back almost 600 years to the Joseon Dynasty. Recently, the hanoks, which count up to almost 900, were beautifully restored to highlight their architectural features like small courtyards, decorative outer walls and dark tiled roofs, and many of them operate as guesthouses, handicraft shops, cultural centres and art galleries.

 

Seoul Jongno Bukchon by Nat Urazmetova

Seoul Jongno Bukchon by Nat Urazmetova

 

Right next to the historic Bukchon, there is a branch of The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), opened in 2013. The spacious and innovative architectural design of this museum branch adopted the Korea’s traditional concept called madang (yard), which seeks a reconciliation between the exterior and interior of the building and the urban surroundings, and serves as a public leisure space. The emphasis is on the temporary exhibitions showcasing the new media works by both pioneering and young Korean artists, such as Soungui Kim and Cody Choi (the latter represented Korean in the 2017 Venice Biennale).

 

Seoul National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA)

 

After plunging deep into art, don’t forget to recharge and treat yourself with a green tea dessert or a snack at Ossuloc Tea House, located in the museum’s building.

 

Seoul Jongno Ossuloc Tea House by Nat Urazmetova

Seoul Jongno Ossuloc Tea House by Nat Urazmetova

 

The area of Samcheong-dong, bordering another royal palace, Gyeongbokgung, is the home to the Seoul art scene which has bloomed exponentially in the last decade. Gallery Hyundai, Arario, Perrotin, Art Sonje Centre has hosted the exhibitions by the artists such as Tomás Saraceno, Michael Craig-Martin, Paul McCarthy, Koo Jeong A, Nam June Paik and many others.

 

Seoul Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul Jongno Art Sonje Center by Nat Urazmetova


Yet another unmissable area of Jongno is Dongdaemun, a large commercial district, mainly specialised in all things textile, comprised of the narrow, twisted alleys where hundreds of traditional markets are nested. In this area you can find a few prominent landmarks. Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), was designed by world-renowned architect, late Zaha Hadid, is shaped like a neofuturistic swirling curve, representing the dynamics of Dongdaemun Fashion Town.

 

Seoul Dongdaemun Design Plaza

 

DDP is a home to the Seoul Fashion Week that is driving the home-grown fashion forward and introducing some of most interesting local talent onto the global fashion industry’s radar. With more than 60 brands recently showed their Fall/Winter 2019 collections, a few stand out in particular. 

MOHO menswear compels with its sombre and brutalist aesthetic, while Münn, who made its debut at London Fashion Week, exhibits a modern twist to tailoring fusing couture and street-wear with the elaborate layering and details. Seokwoon Yoon’s collection ‘Claustrophobia’ engages deconstruction at its best, abounding in distorted silhouettes and worn upside down garments.

 

Seoul Jongno Cheonggyecheon by Nat Urazmetova

 

Another landmark is Cheonggyecheon, a 10.9-kilometre-long green oasis in a concrete jungle, which opened in 2005 after the removal of the elevated highway and restoration of the stream. It’s one of world’s largest urban projects ever undertaken.

 

Seoul Jongno Sebit Market by Nat Urazmetova

 

In Dongdaemun, as in almost any other area of Seoul, the architectural and urban planning spectacles of the 21st century reside next to its traditional counterparts. Sebit Market, also known as Yellow Tent, is where you can see Pojangmacha (“covered wagon”) - food stalls consisting of a cooking area and small dining tables where customers seat shoulder to shoulder while observing the culinary process and feasting on spicy food and soju.

We recommend trying Jo Jungja’s Baked Baffles. Adjacent to the Sebit Market and offering an authentically local dining experience too is Grilled Fish Street.

These restaurants are very affordable, despite fish is delivered to them fresh daily, then pickled in Korean sea salt and refrigerated to allow it to “ripen”, and grilled upon the order.

 

Seoul Jongno Sebit Market by Nat Urazmetova

Seoul Jongno Grilled Fish Street by Nat Urazmetova

 

As you continue navigating Dongdaemun, your food journey continues at Gwangjang Market - a staple on the Seoul market scene first established in 1905, and it most recently blasted to fame with the Netflix documentary, Street Food.
There’s a seemingly endless number of food options available, including Ganjang-gejang (raw soy sauce marinated crab), Bindaetteok (mung bean pancake), Kalguksu (handmade, knife cut noodle soup), Kimchi Dumplings and Sannakji (live octopus).

 

Seoul Jongno Gwangjang Market by Nat Urazmetova

Seoul Jongno Gwangjang Market by Nat Urazmetova

Seoul Jongno Gwangjang Market by Nat Urazmetova

 

Itaewon

 


Seoul Itaewon by Nat Urazmetova

 

One of the most multi-cultural and foreign-friendly hubs of Seoul is Itaewon, centred around the U.S. Army headquarters. Regarded as the cornerstone of the Korean gay, drag and trans community, the area is brimming with bars serving handcrafted cocktails (Blacklist, Concrete Bar and Flower Gin) and night clubs. One of them is Faust, known for the main room featuring a world-class hand crafted Kirsch Audio system, where it hosts top international DJs as well as the best of the local Korean scene. True lovers of the underground, audiophiles and those who are seeking a richer nightlife experience are welcomed here. Two other clubs in the area are Rabbit Hole (Bass Music - DnB, Dubstep, Jungle, Trap) and Volnost (minimal, techno). Itaewon’s food scene reflects its international vibe and today, just about every kind of world cuisine can be had here, from vegan avocado burgers and Bulgarian kiufte meatballs to Taiwanese gua bao and KoMex fusion fajitas.

 

Hongdae

 

Seoul Hongdae Jewellery Store by Nat Urazmetova

 

Set in western district of Mapo-gu, near Hongik University which is well known for its fine-arts program, Hongdae is always in flux and thrives on creative edginess and dashingly youthful spirit. This is where you can find some of the best street art in Seoul, meet-up spots of LGBTQ+ community, souvenir and jewellery stores, and pub-club hybrids (Factory Underground and Thursday Party), where dancing, darts, beer pong and cheap drinks coexist.

For a more serious music adventure, head to vurt. - a small underground concrete bunker operating under the slogan 'Ancient Future', located down an alleyway near to Seoul's bustling Hapjeong station.

Perhaps the top world-known Korean spirit is soju, yet the oldest one is makgeolli - Korean Rice Wine with cloudy appearance and slightly sweet, tangy taste. Wolhyang is a bar in Hongdae, specialized in organic and rich makgeolli, where you can taste its different types such as brown rice and chestnut makgeolli, along with fusion Korean food such as black bean tofu, white Kimchi Buchimgae (savoury pancake), Tteokbokki or stir-fried rice cakes and seafood japchae in a cosy atmosphere.

 

Tteokbokki Spicy Korean Rice Cakes 

 

Gangnam & Sinsa-Dong

 

Seoul Gangnam by Nat Urazmetova

 

South of the Han river lies one of the most affluent areas of Seoul, Gangnam, frequently portrayed as Mayfair or Beverly Hills of Seoul. This is where you can find the sky-scraping concentration of shiny high-rises and cutting edge restaurants, plastic surgery clinics and design bureaus, K-pop stars and caffeine-fuelled tottering fashionistas on the boutique-lined streets of Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam. Make sure to visit Gentle Monster Sinsa Flagship store, which has more in common with an avant-garde museum than with a sunglasses boutique, and the innovative cosmetics store Tamburins, offering a very personalised aesthetic experience.

 

Seoul Gangnam Gentle Monster by Nat Urazmetova

Seoul Gangnam Gentle Monster by Nat Urazmetova

 

In the same section of Seoul, near Dosan Park, you can also find a newly opened Juun.J flagship store - a 1,300-square-foot enigmatic configuration of black concrete.

One of the cult Korean fashion designers, known for the extraordinary volumes and sleek monochrome looks, Juun.J debuted at Paris Fashion Week in 2007 and has been a regular there since then. For a multi-brand shopping experience check Boon The Shop - a minimally designed vast retail space and the first luxury editorial store in Korea that introduces a variety of fashion, from high-end to not-so-easily-found emerging designers. Elsewhere, Seoul’s Gangnam district is home to the international boutiques such as Rare Market and 10 Corso Como, as well as monobrand stores for OFF-WHITE, Celine, and Alexander Wang.

 

Seoul JUUN.J Flagship Store 


The food scene in Gangnam is noticeably more refined: there is a multitude of Nordic and French bakeries, milk tea parlours and fine dining restaurants per square meter. In Two Michelin Starred Mingles, chef Kang Min-goo marries tradition with new techniques and modern sensibilities for the contemporary palate. If you are a little weary of Korean food, try the Italian gourmet Ristorante Eo, affordable yet delicious and authentically Japanese Gatten Sushi or upscale Sushi Koji.

 

Seoul Gangnam Japanese Food by Nat Urazmetova

Seoul Gangnam Japanese Food by Nat Urazmetova


Further east the Han river is situated Jamsil with the 555 metre Lotte World Tower, which was added to the Seoul skyline in 2017 to become the world’s 6th tallest building. It encloses all kinds of businesses, entertainment facilities, food courts, a luxury hotel, the immeasurable shopping mall and department store, and an observation deck with panoramic views of the capital city.

 

Seoul Jamsil Lotte World Tower by Nat Urazmetova

 

Outside Central Seoul

 

Seoul MMCA, National Science Museum


If you have an extra day, it’s worth venturing south of the central Seoul to Gwacheon and Yongin to check the main branch of MMCA, National Science Museum and Nam June Paik Art Centre. The collections of MMCA in Gwacheon includes around 7,000 artworks by the internationally recognized artists such as Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Georg Baselitz and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

The Gwacheon National Science Museum, which design was inspired by the phenomenon of a nebula, a cloud of gas and dust that leads to the formation of stars, features interactive exhibits including immersive earthquake, aeroplane, and typhoon simulators, and the Astronomical Hall, the largest dome in Korea, where you can witness a magnificent and realistic view of celestial sphere and space development.

Nam June Paik Art Centre in Yongin, named after the Korean-born art visionary. The Centre regularly organises the exhibitions which are performative, experimental and interdisciplinary in nature, and holds retrospectives of Nam June Paik Art Centre Prize Winner - Doug Aitken and Haroon Mirza in the past, most recently, Trevor Paglen.

 

Seoul Nam June Paik Art Centre

 

Nat Urazmetova

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