the urbanist

A Beauty Editor’s Guide to Seoul

The “Korean Sephora,” an art-filled wine bar, and a mountainside wellness resort.

The Myeongdong shopping district of Seoul. Photo: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Myeongdong shopping district of Seoul. Photo: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s commonly understood that the best way to explore a new place is to go straight to the locals. Each week in the Urbanist, we take that wisdom one step further by seeking out not just locals but local experts — those who are especially well versed in their cities’ newest and most noteworthy scenes — to give us insider tips. This week, we asked Zoohyun Lee, beauty director at Vogue Korea, for her recommendations in South Korea’s capital city.

“Seoul is definitely one of the trendiest cities in Asia. There is plenty to do in Seoul all year round, but I recommend spring and autumn as the best times to visit. Summer months can be hot and humid, and winter is cold and icy. Seoul is a unique destination for various reasons. The area of Dongdaemun offers 24-hour shopping, which is ideal for fashion and beauty fans. Korea is also known for its healthy food and, of course, the K-beauty boom. The keywords for K-beauty are ‘cheap and chic’ — the idea behind K-beauty is to be practical yet work effectively, so I am not surprised that the products are so appealing to Western consumers as well. I highly recommend ‘one day, one sheet’ masks — the difference they make to your skin is incredible.”

Her Other Musts


Four Seasons Hotel Seoul. Photo: Courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul

“One of my favourite hotels is the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul (97 Saemunan-ro). It’s close to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the iconic seat of the Joseon dynasty, which is now a major tourist attraction. The Four Seasons is also close to the shopping area Myeongdong, where you can find all the international fashion brands, as well as numerous Korean skin-care and beauty shops, such as Innisfree, Nature Republic, and Too Cool for School.

“I am also a big fan of the Shilla Seoul (249 Dongho-ro). The rooms are cozy, with breathtaking views of the city. With five restaurants, you are spoiled for choice. They serve traditional Korean, Japanese, and Chinese cuisine, as well as French cooking — the food is simply divine. Pick up a dessert from the Pastry Boutique on the first floor on your way out — they serve some of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten!”


Apgujeong’s Rodeo Street. Photo: artran/Getty Images

“Shopping in Garosugil is a must for anyone visiting Seoul. The tree-lined main street still boasts plenty of local boutiques, as well as big international brands. You can find many K-beauty flagship stores in Garosugil, which makes it a dream destination for beauty enthusiasts. My favourite boutiques are Huxley, Isoi, Tamburins, and Too Cool for School. If you’re looking for home and lifestyle inspiration, visit Jaju. It has everything from homeware to accessories, and is often compared to the Japanese brand Muji. Head there in the autumn to see the gingko trees turn a beautiful golden yellow. Seongsu and Hangangjin are trendy shopping spots — lots of great eateries there too. Blue Bottle Korea opened its doors in Sungsu recently. Cafe Onion is the hot spot in Seongsu. It’s made of concrete, and its raw interiors give it a unique look. They serve delicious bread and coffee. The shoe brand Yuul Yie flagship store is also located in Seongsu. Their shoes are fun and quirky. If you want to buy the latest trends, head over to Beaker in Hangangjin. It stocks various brands, such as Rag & Bone, Opening Ceremony, and of course their own brand Beaker. I also love to visit Jem & Pebbles, a jewelry shop. Its timeless designs are worth splurging on. For luxury fashion, head to the boutique stores in Apgujeong and Cheongdam.”

Beauty Store

Photo: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“For beauty products, you must visit Chicor, which is a Korean version of Sephora. The selection of different brands and products is all-encompassing, so you could easily spend an hour or two testing out what the store has to offer. The shop stocks over 250 makeup, skin-care, and hair brands. My favorite products are currently Gummy Sheet Mask from Abib, Liquid Pen Liner in brown from VDL, Mad Matte lipstick from Clio, cushion foundation from Amore Pacific, and Crystal Tint Oil from Amuse. I recommend trying Femmue, a clean beauty brand that is cruelty-free. Chicor’s own brand is also worth trying. It released its makeup line last year. ”

Local Restaurant

Korean barbecue means grilling meat table side, like here. Photo: Jaehwa Jung/Getty Images/EyeEm

Koh Suh (21-2 Cheongdam-dong) is my favorite restaurant for a nice dinner. The interior is chic and stylish, with dim lighting, which makes it a great spot for a date. The wine list is also fabulous. Koh Suh specialises in meat, so vegetarians should try somewhere else. I recommend trying the pork neck and belly, it is delicious. The best Korean-barbecue restaurant has to be Hanwoori (91-18 Nonhyeon-dong) in Gangnam-gu. They serve the best Korean-style shabu-shabu I have tasted (that’s a beef-and-mushroom pot). Don’t forget to order the porridge after the noodle course — it’s a traditional hot, sticky rice dish. Trust me, you won’t regret it.”

Wine Bar

Miajeon in Gangnam-gu. Photo: Courtesy of Miajeon

“Wine is my beverage of choice, and the Cucciolo Terrazza (33 Seolleung-ro 152-gil) is worth checking out. They also serve delicious small bites. The interior is quite simple, but it definitely has character with its dark wooden stools and cute floral china. Another great spot for a glass of wine is Wine Works, inside the Hyundai department store (165 Apgujeong-ro), one of the three major department stores in Seoul. Wine Works has over 1,500 different wines, so there is plenty to choose from. It also has a restaurant. For traditional Korean snacks and a glass of wine, head to Miajeon (34-1, Eonju-ro); it has a great atmosphere with spectacular art on display.”

Art Museum and Gallery

Kukje Gallery in Samcheong-dong. Photo: Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images

“The LEEUM, Samsung Museum of Art (60-16 Itaewon-ro 55-gil), provides a good balance of traditional and contemporary art. Its collection includes traditional Korean art like blue-and-white porcelain from the Joseon Dynasty as well as Korean modern artists like Lee Bul. For contemporary art, head to the Kukje Gallery (54 Samcheong-ro) in the heart of Seoul. Not only does it host impressive art collections, the building is pretty spectacular too.”

Day Trip

A view of the Seongsan Ilchulbong, or “Sunrise Peak,” on Jeju island. Photo: Tuomas Lehtinen/Getty Images

Jeju island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a volcanic island with a stunning natural landscape. Hike up Mount Hallasan, explore the lava tubes (the island’s underground caves), or just relax on one of the island’s white-sand beaches. If you’re looking to relax and spend time in nature, visit Park Roche in Jeongseon-gun County. The wellness resort is just over two hours by car from Seoul, making it the perfect weekend-getaway destination. Here you can practice yoga and meditation or get sweaty in one of their exercise classes. After a class, head to the treatment center, which offers various massages and facials. All this and healthy, organic food will make you feel rejuvenated.”

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A Beauty Editor’s Guide to Seoul