A New Seoul

The city offers a contemporary twist on tradition

By: Allen Salkin

Impressive hotel renovations and exciting upcoming festivals are attracting interest in South Korea’s capital city. Seoul is a city of neighborhoods, some busy with fashion, nightlife and the arts, while others are busy with business.

Fabulously Refurbished
Before booking a hotel, it’s best to ask clients which neighborhood they are most interested in. Below, are hotels throughout Seoul that offer something new.

In the business district, the Amiga Hotel is no more. The hotel now dons the impressive moniker Imperial Palace Hotel, and has some major improvements to go along with the name change. After $68 million in renovations, the hotel which was formerly a destination for domestic Korean visitors, is now ready for world travelers. A vast new lobby and a new convention center recently opened along with five new restaurants and a shopping arcade. After the remodel, the hotel has 430 suites, including a presidential suite.

To add to its notoriety, the Imperial Palace is also home to the largest indoor golf range and an outdoor swimming pool area reminiscent of a European public garden. As a special perk, female guests are given free valet parking service.

Famous for style and nightlife, the Apgujung-dong and Chungdam-dong districts are accessible when clients stay at the newly refurbished, 23-story Renaissance Seoul. The Marriot-owned property on the south side of the Han River has undergone a major transformation of its lobby, along with the addition of three new restaurant concepts. For example, the property’s Italian restaurant, Toscana, started featuring a fixed-price business lunch buffet.

A highlight of the 493-room hotel is the glass-ceilinged Club Horizon, which offers fine dining and live music every evening.

The Sheraton Grande Walker Hill has improved its already impressive duty-free shop by installing escalators on every floor. With an onsite casino, Korea’s largest, clients are offered a variety of entertainment: win it, spend it and sleep it off. The hotel also offers plenty of space. The 597 rooms are set on 139 wooded acres with views of Acha Mountain and the Han River.

One of the hotel’s oldest attractions continues to be its most popular. Since it opened nearly four decades ago, the Walker Hill show held in the 720-seat Gayagum Theater Hall, gives many visitors their first glimpse into Korea’s ancient heritage. During the show, a dance troupe performs a mix of folk songs, ancient musical instruments and intricate traditional dances.

Flourishing Culture
Along with the new hotel options, Seoul also offers visitors many ways to experience Korean culture.

During September and October, the Seoul Performing Arts Festival features Korean and foreign artists, several dance and musical performances, plays and more at various venues around town.

A particular highlight is a dance show called H2-2005; Break Dancers Keen on Philosophy performed by Brazil’s The Grupo de Rua de Noteroi. Another show sure to grab clients’ attention is the Twin Houses: Five Puppets, Their Fantastic Visit performed by Belgium’s Mossoux-Bonte Company.

In November and December, the popular Changing of the Guard takes place at Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gwanghwamun, in front of Heungnemun Gate. Royal guards, dressed in Joseon Dynasty garb, re-enact a ceremony that has taken place since 1469. This is ongoing event pleases crowds with the display of guards’ uniforms, weapons and accessories as well as the guards’ strict marching procedures.

Wedding Bells
Finally, through the end of November, clients can take in a Traditional Korean Wedding re-enactment at the Naminsa Performance Hall on the outskirts of Seoul. The popular festival takes place four times a week and is easily reachable via subway. No reservation is required to watch the free, 1½-hour ceremony, but foreigners are also welcome to participate if they apply two weeks in advance.

Re-enactments start with a matchmaking process and continue to the final task, when the groom proceeds to the bride’s house. On weekends observers can watch the groom riding a horse while the bride ride a palanquin. Other highlights include the exchange of chests containing marriage gifts; the Jeonallye ritual, in which the groom bows to a wooden goose; the Gyobaerye, in which the bride and groom exchange their first ceremonial bows; and the always welcome Hapgeullye, in which the bride and groom are united through exchanging ceremonial liquor.

Seoul is a blend of cultural tradition and modern-day pizzazz, and with a few upgrades, the city is now fresher and livelier than ever.


The Imperial Palace

Renaissance Seoul

Seoul Culture & Tourism

Seoul Performing Arts Festival

Sheraton Grande Walker Hill