From old-world guest houses to forest-ensconced wellness retreats, there’s no lack of variety or originality when it comes to accommodation in South Korea.
Home to mountain-top temples, fragrant food markets and cutting-edge film schools, South Korea mingles ancient heritage with hyper-futurism. Nowhere is this more apparent than the capital, Seoul, filled with gleaming skyscrapers, neon-lit streets and bars blasting K-pop. Elsewhere, you can wander through mountain forests and guest houses built in time-honoured architectural styles. We round up the cream of South Korea’s hotels to suit the needs of every traveller.
Up-to-the-minute urbanites will find a home in Cappuccino Hotel Gangnam, a contemporary stay in Seoul’s most exclusive district. The look is minimalist and monochrome, echoing Gangnam’s forward-thinking attitude with interiors of concrete, glass and blackened steel. There’s a craft coffee shop on the ground floor and a window-walled bar and restaurant on the roof, where you can survey the skyline over sticky fried chicken and gin cocktails.
Small House Big Door puts shopaholics in the heart of Seoul’s premier shopping district, Myeongdong. The neon-washed streets cater to every whim, whether you’re in the market for Korean cosmetics, homegrown fashion or world-class street food. After a day of flashing the plastic, sip Korean beer in the hotel bistro before retiring to your ultra-minimalist room – the perfect counterpart to the fray.
No-frills stay Hongdae Jun Guesthouse is in hip Hongdae, an arty district that will appeal to night owls. The area gets its name from Hongik University, one of the best fine art schools in South Korea. Unsurprisingly, creativity is the lifeblood of the surrounding streets, which are full of indie music venues, independent galleries and vintage shops. Once a year, local art students band together to create murals, installations and live performances as part of the Street Art Festival.
In the heart of Busan’s bustling commercial district, Arban Hotel is a magnet for seasoned city breakers. The wood and marble-clad interiors cut a refined and modern figure in keeping with Busan’s cosmopolitan outlook. If you’ve been pounding the streets all day, you’ll find repose in the hotel’s rooftop garden, dotted with gnarled pines and decorative rocks.
Sun seekers will relish the rooftop pool at Shilla Stay Haeundae, which overlooks Busan’s skyline and the South China Sea. If you like variety in your tanning regime, you’ll be pleased to hear it’s just a five-minute walk to Haeundae Beach, Korea’s most famous stretch of sand. Every September, screen royalty descend on the beachfront for the Busan International Film Festival, making the city something of a Korean Cannes.
The rooms at Gyeongwonjae Ambassador Incheon are designed to invoke the spirit of Korean masters, so this hotel is a winner for fans of Far Eastern art. Wood-framed windows and blossom-flecked murals transport you to the era of the Joseon Dynasty, when Confucianist philosophy reigned supreme. If you want to go all in, plump for one of the Korean-style rooms, which have traditional futon beds and heated floors.
Wellness hotel Sun & Moon Resort overlooks rolling sand dunes on Jeju Island, scoring highly with serenity seekers. Every room has a sea view, and the lawned gardens are big enough that you can find a stretch to call your own. Several hiking trails run close to the hotel, and you’ll be just 6km (4mi) from the Yongmeori Coast, where the sedimentary cliffs have been carved into rippling shapes by the elements over millennia.
Prefer bang-for-buck accommodation so you can spend your cash on street food? If so, Guest House Dear Moon in Busan will be right up your alley. This laid-back and contemporary stay is on the doorstep of Jagalchi Market, the largest seafood market in South Korea. Many of Busan’s top chefs come for the fresh-off-the-boat fish, but you’ll likely be more interested in the prepared-food stalls, serving every kind of Korean seafood dish you could think of.
History buffs will get a heritage hit at Hongranmiduk, a traditional guesthouse in Jeonju. You’ll be staying in one of the city’s 800 hanok – old-world Korean houses with slate-tiled roofs, wooden beams and manicured courtyard gardens. The style first appeared in the Joseon Dynasty, when they were home to the city’s elite. Today, they not only function as places to stay, but museums, boutiques and restaurants, too; if you eat out in one, be sure to try bibimbap, a classic Korean comfort food which hails from Jeonju.
We Hotel, on Jeju Island, is one for the spa fiends. Surrounded by forests of fragrant pine and Japanese cedar, this wellness resort is a far cry from Korea’s bustling cities. It has indoor and outdoor pools, treatment rooms, yoga and meditation studios, nature trails and a restaurant serving Asian fusion food. To top it off, all of the hotel’s water is pumped from local springs that are naturally rich in minerals.