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Seoul, Korea

September 15, 2008 By: Maureen O'Crowley Travel Agent

Stay awhile and soak up the sights and spas of Seoul

Seoul is a city on a mission to attract 12 million visitors in 2010. To meet the goal, all 25 of the city’s municipal districts are competing with each other in developing various new attractions for visitors to enjoy. The city has created five different walking tours centered around the Royal Palaces. Gyeongbok Palace is the flagship of Seoul’s five Royal Palaces. The oldest and most regal, it served as the chief palace of the Joseon Dynasty from 1392 to 1910. Located on the grounds are both the National Folk Museum of Korea and the National Palace Museum of Korea. Advise clients to time their visit in order to watch the Changing of the Guard Ceremony, usually scheduled every hour from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Another gem is Changdeok Palace, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built on a hillside in 1405 as a residence for members of the royal family, the grounds are home to secluded gardens, most notably “Biwon,” The Secret Garden where the royal family gathered to study, exercise and perform ceremonial rituals.

w seoul walkerhill

A guest room at the W Seoul Walkerhill

Agent Advice

"My absolute favorite bit of the whole trip to Seoul was the changing of the guard at Gyeongbok Palace," says Jane Jazayrli, of Escapes Unlimited in Santa Ana, CA; she traveled to Seoul in March on a fam hosted by the City of Seoul. "it was a spectacularly colorful event and well worth the visit. Cherry blossoms were equally as superb as in Japan and seem to be in bloom a little longer."

Jazayrli also enjoyed the combination of shopping in the modern Myeong-Dong districts and the traditional Namdaemun Market.

"Korean cuisine was a gastronomical adventure," says Jazayrli. "While in the Insadong antique district, I enjoyed the bean paste-filled confectionaries of street vendors and felt very comfortable trying the array of dishes served in the neighborhood's traditional restaurants." 

The Han River runs through the center of Seoul. The original city is north of the river, while the newly developed area lies to the south. Keep this in mind when considering hotel recommendations for your clients— especially business travelers, as commute times from one side of the city can easily take one hour. Enjoy the Han River on short one- to two-hour cruises day or night, or for a longer excursion, an evening cruise with dinner buffet is also available. Visit for more information.

To grasp Seoul’s modern history, and a chapter of U.S. military history as well, visitors to South Korea can take a trip north to the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean peninsula at the 38th parallel. Here in Panmunjom at the Joint Security Area (JSA), American, South Korean and North Korean representatives signed the Armistice that ended the Korean War on July 27, 1953. Many local tours operate half-day and full-day excursions to the region, although not all nationalities are permitted into the Joint Security Area, so carefully scrutinize itineraries. Generally, those designated “DMZ” are limited to visiting symbolic sites, such as the Bridge of Freedom and Dora Station. Look for tours that specifically mention JSA, considered the most important site in the area. The comprehensive tour operated by the USO (United Services Organization) is highly recommended ( Designed primarily for U.S. military personnel, the reasonably priced tour ($44) is open to the public.

Where to Stay
After a long day of sightseeing in the big city, your clients can retreat to one of the five-star hotels in the peaceful sanctuary of Seoul’s mountains.

The first W hotel to debut in Asia, the W Seoul Walkerhill is perched on the side of Mt. Acha, offering commanding views of the nearby Han River. Opened in 2004, the 252-room property features four room types: Wonderful, Fabulous, Spectacular and Cool Corner, with either river or mountain views. The Away Spa ([email protected]) has 17 treatment rooms offering 52 programs. The outdoor Hinoki soak tub is a special feature of the spa, which also has a swimming pool, fitness center, restaurant and sauna. Advance reservations are recommended. Contact Spa Manager Racheal Lee at 011-82-2-2022-0400.

The hotel has two restaurants: Namu serves contemporary Japanese dishes and features the largest sake cellar in Seoul, while Kitchen serves globally inspired cuisine. The hotel’s bar, WooBar, boasts the longest bar in town with a selection of 40 different vodkas and 200 wines. The hotel has a red Jaguar for private transfer service. The general manager is Nick Heath, but agents can reach out to Catherine Kang, the hotel’s marketing manager ([email protected], 011-82-2-465-2222).

millenium seoul hilton

A King bedroom at the Millennium Seoul Hilton

Built in 1983, the Millennium Seoul Hilton is a 681-room property at the base of Mt. Namsan in central Seoul. Rooms facing Mt. Namsan are especially popular for their stunning views. September through November are peak months and require advance reservations. The newly renovated Premier suites, featuring a parlor, separate bedroom and Jacuzzi-equipped bathrooms, are in high demand. Eric Swanson is the Millennium Seoul Hilton’s general manager. Deepak Subbaiah, director of sales and marketing, can field queries from agents ([email protected], 011-82-2-753-7788). The hotel has two bars and six renowned restaurants with dining experiences featured in seasonal room packages. Its impressive three-story atrium lobby hosts frequent art exhibitions. The Clinique La Prairie Spa has nine treatment rooms that use only Swiss Perfection products. Contact the spa directly for information and reservations ([email protected], 011-82-2-777-7208).

grand hyatt seoul

The Presidential Suite at the Grand Hyatt Seoul

Sitting on 18 acres of landscaped gardens at the foot of Mt. Namsan, The Grand Hyatt Seoul has been the hotel of choice for European royalty and American presidents. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the 601-room hotel has recently undergone extensive renovations. The property has a resort ambiance and in the summer peak months, guests enjoy the hotel’s outdoor pool and patio with breathtaking views. This setting serves as the perfect locale for barbeque sunset dinners. The pool doubles as an ice rink for winter fun. To enhance the views of Mt. Namsan or the Han River, all rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows. Grand Club rooms are in high demand as guests have exclusive access to the Grand Club Lounge, which offers a number of privileges ranging from meals to complimentary meeting rooms.

Grand Hyatt Seoul’s general manager is Peter Walshaw. Agents with special requests can contact Jean Kyungseo Park, the hotel’s marketing communications manager ([email protected], 011-82-2-797-1234).

The Spa (011-82-2-799-8808, ext. 808) has 14 treatment rooms combining Korean and European methods into the programs and 12 Spa Suites each with private shower, toilet and dry grooming area.

Cuisine is a focal point for the hotel, which has 12 specialty restaurants and bars. The Paris Grill and The Deli both have European flair, while both Akasaka and Tenkai provide a wide range of Japanese delicacies.

Learn more about South Korea at our Korea Resources page.

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