Towering skyscrapers and Asian pop culture sit alongside Buddhist temples and the Gyeongbokgung Palace in the South Korean capital of Seoul.
Seoul is a city old meets new; where contemporary artists meet local bazaars and high-tech subways run beneath 600-year-old royal palaces. Whether you’re admiring the fascinating history of the Bukchon Hanok Village or perusing street stalls for local bites, Culture Trip shares the best boutique hotels to stay at.
In the hilltop Bukchon Hanok Village of Seoul (known for traditional Korean hanok homes), Bonum1957 offers rooms that feel like small, private houses. Terraces, along with little gardens between rooms, add to the sense of private space. The high ceilings, large bathrooms and creative takes on wooden panelling and floor tiles make this a comfortable and stylish base for exploring Seoul.
If you’re a fan of minimalist design and quirky furnishings, you’ll be chuffed with Small House Big Door in Myeongdong. Situated near Lotte Department Store, this 25-room hotel comes with a ground-floor café, a sunken art installation gallery space, and simple, elegant rooms on the upper floors. Enjoy the complimentary espresso each morning before you hit the city.
The Makers Hotel, in the Jongno District, offers a chic haven in a lively area home to temples, the Dongmyo Flea Market and the street-food stalls of the Gwangjang market. Exposed brick walls, plush Chesterfield armchairs and wood tables give off an old-world vibe, somewhat reminiscent of a European cigar lounge. The small but comfortable rooms tend to be more modern than the common areas, with a fresh, clean-lined design.
The Myeongdong shopping district is home to the cinematic Hotel 28. Retro cameras in the foyer, portraits of South Korean film stars on the walls, sleek modern rooms, plus a small cinema and bijou Korean cinema museum define this boutique retreat. For a special night, stay in the Director’s Room, curated by South Korean film great (and the hotel owner) Yeonggyun Shin. It comes complete with a sink-into-me freestanding tub, Nespresso coffee machine and Hermès furnishings.
If you want to be on the south bank of the Han River, book Hotel Loft, near the Dangsan metro station. It features a free parking garage for folks with rented cars, plus a variety of rooms, from smaller deluxe accommodations to a penthouse suite with a barbecue. Some even come with a jacuzzi. The on-site Brix Restaurant serves Western cuisine, including Italian fare, a wine “buffet” and cuts of juicy steak.
Win Art House was designed by J. Shim with a subtle use of Korean décor elements. Each room presents a unique aesthetic appeal with soft tones and modern furnishings, plus air-con and high-speed WiFi comes as standard. The lodge also features a spacious rooftop garden where organic vegetables are grown. The cuisine at the hotel’s restaurant is globally inspired and enjoyed by both locals and visitors.
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If you prefer a spiritual stay in Seoul, the Bongeunsa Temple offers dorms within the 1,200 year old Buddhist sanctuary. By staying on site, you’ll have the unique experience of being part of the Yaebul chanting and monastic rituals (like the Seon meditation), plus you can listen to talks by the monks during the Da-do tea ceremony. Programmes last for two nights and will give you an authentic insight into the Buddhist religion.
The Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel is known for its artistic décor – a trendy playground of contemporary hues, bright furnishings and pop art murals. The hotel is closely located to the National Theater of Korea and therefore houses a number of young aspiring artists. Downstairs, you’ll find the Hibarin restaurant, which serves noodles and katsu curry, plus a Godiva chocolate shop and a nightclub called Club Made that hosts local DJs.
Designed by one of Korea’s most famous architects, Kim Swoo Geun, the Banyan Tree weaves together earthy decor with urban glamour. Over 90% of the rooms have their own private plunge pool with views across the city skyline. Admire local handicrafts in the art gallery or drop into the spa for a full-body massage. There’s also an onsite ice skating rink during the winter months, plus a golf driving range, as well as basketball and tennis courts.
The Shilla Hotel represents the time-honoured customs of South Korea, graciously blending in with the natural elegance of its surroundings. Inside, the spacious rooms are artistically furnished, and welcoming staff are on hand to ensure a comfortable stay. Stroll through the sculpture garden, a 1.6km trail past contemporary statues and Seoul’s ancient fortress wall. Back at the hotel, unwind in one of three pools or book a facial in the Guerlain spa.
The first official tourist hotel in South Korea when it opened in 1960, the central Metro Hotel, in lively Myeongdong, now offers large family-sized rooms, a spacious lobby and common area – often hard to find in the centre. It’s well suited for a family break in Seoul – with Korean- and European-style buffet breakfasts, a laundry room plus a colourful play area for the little ones.