Seoul Scenario

Where to stay in South Korea's capital

By: Allen Salkin

When booking a hotel in Seoul, it is very important to know why clients are traveling there and exactly where they plan to go in the city. That’s because the city’s hotels are, more than in many cities, specialized. Some are all business, some are family-friendly and some are pure fun.

What’s more, the city’s occasionally heavy traffic means that proximity to desired attractions can make the difference between a happy stay and a hellish melange of transportation hassles.

When booking a hotel in Seoul, it is very important to know why clients are traveling there and exactly where they plan to go in the city. That’s because the city’s hotels are, more than in many cities, specialized. Some are all business, some are family-friendly and some are pure fun.

What’s more, the city’s occasionally heavy traffic means that proximity to desired attractions can make the difference between a happy stay and a hellish melange of transportation hassles.

Happily, Seoul delivers many top international brands that will make the business traveler peaceful and many local hotel gems to satisfy the slightly more adventurous vacationer.

Tops on the list for those who want to be in the heart of downtown is The Shilla Seoul. Suitable for demanding business and leisure travelers who want luxury, the Korean-owned hotel is consistently top-rated for service. Most of the 508 rooms and suites have views of either the mountains south of the city or of downtown. Each room has an oversize executive desk and bathrooms are marble with separate showers and deep tubs for soaking.

Parkland Oasis

The property, ringed by an oasis of parkland in the midst of the city, is near the main train station, the National Theater, Namdaemun Market, the Itaewon shopping area and the headquarters of the Korean National Tourism Organization. It has six restaurants. On the menu recently at the Italian restaurant, La Fontana, was a lobster salad with mussels and orange and a beef carpaccio with arugula.

The Lotte hotel group has two properties in Seoul. Hotel Lotte World, which is being renovated, is designed for families and leisure travelers, but is also a good choice for business travelers who need to be near the COEX exhibition center.

The hotel most notably is adjacent to the famous Lotte World Adventure, which is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest indoor theme park. There are roller coasters, flume rides, a rocking Viking ship and the “Drunken Basket,” a ride that involves big baskets whirring around a giant wooden cobra in South Korea’s answer to Disney’s spinning teacups.

At the South Korean chain’s other Seoul property, Downtown Hotel Lotte, a renovation was completed this year. The best rooms in this business-oriented hotel are in the new tower, where spacious rooms have Internet access, fax machines and separate showers and bath. With two towers, the hotel totals a Vegas-like 1,479 rooms, with 16 restaurants, 15 meeting halls and what is purported to be the largest duty-free store in Asia.

For Business

The Grand Hilton Seoul is aimed straight at the business traveler. Located in the northwest part of the capital, the hotel is not far from downtown, but boasts its own new 2,500-person capacity convention center. It has 396 rooms and 107 apartments for long-term stays.

For clients who yearn to be closer to the city’s pulse, there’s the simply named Seoul Hilton, which has undergone a $50 million renovation of rooms, restaurants and bars in the past three years. It is a 10-minute walk from the Seoul train station.

Korea’s Oktoberfest

For an unusual twist, the Seoul Hilton has Cilantro, a restaurant specializing in California cuisine with a Sunday jazz brunch. Perhaps even more delightfully, on Sept. 26 and 27, the hotel is throwing a huge German-themed Oktoberfest with tankards of beer and a band from Munich.

Like Hilton, InterContinental Hotels Group has figured out that operating two hotels will allow it to target specific audiences, and in this case the hotels are only a quarter-mile apart.

The Grand InterContinental Seoul, which opened in 1988, is somewhat more focused on leisure travelers while the COEX InterContinental Seoul, which opened in 1999, tilts more toward business although both properties are very business-friendly and near the city’s main convention center in the Korea World Trade Center. Guests can even patronize both hotels and have all charges appear on just one bill.

The 530-room Grand InterContinental Seoul boasts some of the largest standard rooms in the city. They are decorated with a Korean touch, with traditional furniture and details.

At the 650-room COEX InterContinental Seoul, the Cosmopolitan Fitness Club boasts an indoor lap pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, massage and salon services. Unlike its sister property, rooms are designed in a standard Western style.

For business travelers with work to do in the Kangnam commercial district, a solid choice is The Ritz-Carlton Seoul. Rooms come in several styles, with the “prime deluxe” rooms offering the most interesting decor.

They have a sleek, modern feel and window seats to enjoy the panoramic skyline view. Blonde wood and black furniture provide contrast while, in the bathrooms, Italian tiles highlight the sinks.

WHERE TO STAY

The Shilla Seoul,

202, 2 GA Jangchung Dong, Chung-Ku, Seoul. 82-2-2233-3131; fax, 82-2-2233-5073; www.shilla.net. Rack rates start at $260 for a standard room, $400 to $6,000 for a suite. Commissions are 8 to 10 percent.

The Lotte hotel group:

800-225-6883 (in the U.S.); www.lottehotel.co.kr. Commissions are 10 percent.

Downtown Hotel Lotte, Sogong-dong, Chung-gu, Seoul, 100-721. 82-2-771-1000; fax, 82-2-752-3758. Standard room, new tower, $333; old tower, $300.

Hotel Lotte World, 40-1, Jamsil-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul, 38-220. 82-2-419-7000; fax, 82-2-417-3655. Standard room starts at $283.

The Hilton group:

800-445-8667; www.hilton.com. Commissions.

Grand Hilton Seoul, 201-1 Hongeun-dong, Seodaemun-Ku, Seoul 120-710. 82-2-3216-5656; fax, 82-2-3216-7799.

Seoul Hilton, 395, 5-ga, Namdaemun-ro, Chung-gu Seoul 100-676. 82-2-3173114

Grand InterContinental Seoul, 159-8 Samseong-Dong, Gang- nam-Gu, Seoul, 135-732. 82-2-555-5656; fax, 82-2-559-7990; seoul-grand.intercontinental.com.

COEX InterContinental Seoul, 59 Samseong-Dong, Gangnam-Gu, Seoul 135-975. 82-2-3452-2500; fax, 82-2-3430-8000; www.interconti.com. Commissions.

The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul, 602 Yeoksam-dong, Kangnam-ku, Seoul 135-080. 82-2-3451-8000; fax, 82-2-556-8280; www.ritz.co.kr. Commissions.

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