Charlotte Cho’s Ultimate 72 Hour Guide to Seoul

By June 28, 2017

Here’s my complete Seoul travel guide on all the beauty spots you need to hit when you visit South Korea’s capital!

So you’ve finally bought your tickets to Seoul and you’re beyond excited. You should be! You’re about to explore the beauty mecca of the world, scouring exciting new shops to see the latest beauty trends with your very own eyes.

I travel to South Korea pretty frequently (about a 6-8 trips a year) and I know exactly how you feel. Even though I go often, the excitement is the same for me right before I jet set to Seoul. And now that K-beauty is more easily accessible in the US than ever before, I’m here to remind you that a trip to Korea means so much more than just shopping for the sake of shopping. It’s about the holistic beauty experience, seeing and doing things you still can’t experience stateside!

So here’s my ultimate K-beauty Seoul travel guide, carefully curated and recommended just for anyone from a K-beauty newbie to K-beauty expert. If you have at least three days to spend in Seoul, you can manage to visit a good amount of these places. I hope you enjoy!

Myeongdong Beauty Shopping

If you want to see the most amount of Korean beauty brands in one location, you must check out Myeongdong, the iconic beauty shopping district in Seoul. While you can see tons of K-beauty brands, here are the shops you shouldn’t miss:

Olive Young

Olive Young is a multi-branded beauty shop (it’s kind of like the Sephora of Korea) and they showcase tons of both Western and Korean brands, as well as everything in between! While there are over 700 Olive Young’s in Korea, the Myeongdong store is their flagship location and is the largest I’ve ever been to, so you’ll get the most variety and selection of products all in one place. Brands to look out for: Neogen, Mediheal, Son & Park, COSRX.

StyleNanda Pinkhotel / 3CE

This place is blowing up on Instagram as a hotspot for IG shots. I explored it last time I was in Seoul and fell in love. It’s a super cute multi-storied hotel concept shop that was created by the fashion brand Stylenanda. Every floor is decked out with a different look, but you feel like you’re at a fancy hotel the whole time.

Don’t forget to check out the fourth floor for the really cool cotton-candy dessert or the rooftop for some chill outdoor vibes. (Tip: 3CE has another concept shop at Garosugil called 3CE cinema that you must check out as well.)

Innisfree

Innisfree’s newly built flagship is in Myeongdong and you’re not going to want to miss checking out their cute cafe featuring green tea drinks.

But drinks aside, may I direct your attention to the virtual reality experience that Lee Min Ho fans will adore? Innisfree created the most amazing VR experience that I got to try last time I was there. You get transported to Jeju Island, along with Lee Min Ho, and he shows you how Innisfree harvests the ingredients for their products. He even grabs your hand (swoon!). It’s so realistic, it’s almost scary.

When you’re back on the stateside, don’t forget to check out their first US store, coming soon to NYC!

Etude House Color Factory

Korea’s color brand Etude House takes customization and experiential concept shops to a whole new level with the launch of their Color Factory. Here, you’ll get to meet with an Etude House Color Consultant to understand what lip tones are most complimentary for your skin tone and the look you want to achieve.

You can pick out a unique case design and engrave special messages on the case with your custom shade made-to-order right in the shop. The totally unique experience takes 1-1.5 hours and the lipstick you go home with costs less than $20. Reservations are required though, so plan in advance! (Tip: There is another color factory located in Garosugil, Seoul if this one is too difficult to secure reservations)

Garosugil Beauty/Fashion Shopping

Garosugil, which translates to “tree-lined street,” is the place to be if you want to do some major people-watching, check out the cutest coffee shops, and shop for clothes and beauty products. People call it the SoHo of Korea, which I honestly believe is an understatement. While I have my recommendations below, give yourself a full day to explore the alleyways and side streets outside the main strip. There are so many boutiques and places to shop, eat and explore!

You must visit: 

The Skinfood Concept Space

The Dr. Jart Filter Space

Line Friends (Yes, you’re going to want the photo with Brown Bear)

C27 Cheesecake & Coffee (and they have wine here too!)

Where to stay:

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Korea has pretty affordable accommodations, but I usually opt for Airbnb since I stay for 2-3 weeks at a time and I like the feeling of having my own place (with a kitchen and an in-house washer dryer) versus being in a hotel.

In the case that you prefer an affordable hotel option with more amenities, I recommend the L7 Hotel. It’s a super chic, newly renovated hotel by Lotte that has all the perks of staying at a hotel, plus a friendly, English-speaking staff. Bonus: It’s located right next to Myeongdong and a few steps away from the Myeongdong subway station.

Spas & saunas:

Korean saunas (AKA jimjilbang) are a must in Seoul because they charge a fraction of what you’d pay to go to one in the US when it comes to admission and treatments. Plan to lounge half a day away at a Korean sauna (perhaps as the last stop after exploring and shopping) and don’t forget to get a body scrub. While there are tons of Korean saunas in Seoul (and some nicer than the ones I will recommend below), I tend to frequent the ones that are more centrally located.

My must visit spas:

Dragon Hill Lodge (located in Yongsan, Seoul)

Spa Lei (located in Sinsa, Seoul)

The Korean treatment you must get:

Pampering Massage/Facial

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If you’re looking for a pampering skin experience that truly embodies traditional Korean culture, look no further than the Sulwhasoo Flagship in Apgujeong. It’s a facial that will set you back at least $150 but is far more luxurious and pampering than your typical American facial. The treatment includes massages starting from the scalp, then the neck, to the back to your arms and fingers to help with circulation. Plus, all the treatment products are from the luxurious Sulwhasoo line.

Derm Clinics

If you’re looking for a less pampering facial and more of a clinical type facial (extractions, skin assessment) by an esthetician or a dermatologist, you must visit a pibuu-gwa (which means derm clinic in Korean!)

My favorite is Oracle Dermatology because they have a large network of clinics and it’s a trusted, affordable brand for skin. I’ve gone to Oracle for their laser toning, which uses laser to make your skin look brighter and more even toned. And yes, they’ll do everything from mole removal, Botox, and other noninvasive procedures for the skin (and at more affordable prices than the US!)

Acupuncture

This is one of those experiences you should get in Korea, because you’re going to get access to one of the top acupuncture clinics in the country! I received traditional therapies such as cupping, steamed herbal wrapping, hydrogel mask application, and acupuncture to relieve stress, promote circulation, and treat muscle aches. I felt like an entirely new person after my hanbang treatment!

Microblading

Believe it or not, Koreans have been microblading for decades before it became a thing here in the States. There are professionals in Korea who charge only $150-200 for your first visit, and a mere $50 for any touchups. My favorite was a recommendation from Joyce Kong, called Aria Beauty, who really took her time to design my brows before going in with the blade. I recommend going with a Korean-speaking friend or translator to help with any language barriers.

Nail Art

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It honestly doesn’t matter where you go for your nail art in Seoul. There are plenty of nail art salons everywhere, and they’re ALL so good at making unique and creative art (which you cannot say about all nail salons in the US!) Expect it to be a bit pricier than your typical manicure ($60-100) because it all takes time and great skill to make those chic designs, but it will be worth it, I promise!

If you truly want the latest, cutting edge designs, visit the talented and famous Park Eun Kyung nail artist. Her salon is in Chungdam and you can get everything from glass nails to wire nails!

Hair salons

Even if you’re not due for a trim, I highly recommend stepping into a Korean hair salon just for kicks. You’ll probably spend no more than $40 for a trim, and you’ll get so much more than just a haircut! The whole experience will likely include an iced coffee, head massage, and a blowout, even at the most luxurious of Seoul salons, like Jenny House or Jakeunchai. If you want to go all out and get permed or dyed, go for it! They do it all and do it well.

Special thanks to the Korea Tourism Organization for introducing me to many of these hot spots!

+ What place are you most excited to visit in Charlotte’s Seoul travel guide? Share your pick in the comments!