South Korea has a very distinct cuisine, which may take some getting used to for foreigners but provides an exciting and unique taste experience. The selection of Seoul restaurants is vast and varied, with everything from local specialities such as (pork or beef ribs cooked on a barbeque) to huge American cheeseburgers and exotic Moroccan kebabs on offer.
Options for eating out in Seoul range from cheap noodle stalls to fine-dining establishments. Travellers keen to mingle with the locals should note that Koreans like to share food and eating is a very communal activity. It's polite to accept offers to share food and friendly to offer to share in return.
The Itaewon entertainment strip has the best collection of Seoul restaurants, serving both local and international cuisine. Otherwise, good areas for traditional Korean food are Gangdong-gu and Yeongdeungpo-gu, while restaurants with international menus can be found in Gangnam-gu, Seodaemun-gu and Namdaemun.
Tipping is not customary in South Korea but some Seoul restaurants may add a service charge of 10 percent to the bill. Restaurant hours vary quite dramatically throughout the city and reservations are recommended for the more upmarket and popular venues, although it is generally possible to stroll into a decent restaurant off the street.
Shopping in Seoul is an interesting and sometimes chaotic experience, with a vast selection of products, busy malls, and communication barriers. However, there are many bargains that make it worthwhile. Most shops stay open until 10pm and some markets are open 24 hours.
Myong Dong is the most popular shopping district, home to sports and fashion shops offering cheap and trendy clothes for young people. In Tongdaemun, Doota sells cheap beads, accessories, and shoes, as well as every imaginable type of fabric for homes.
Second hand goods are numerous at markets like the Hwanghak-dong Flea Market. Chang-anp'yong Antique Market treasures include paintings, calligraphy, and old chests, as well as stone and ceramic artefacts.
Seoul's biggest department stores are also in the Myong Dong area: Shinsegae, Lotte, and Hyundai. These dazzling emporiums stock everything under the sun, from cheap electronics to high end fashion. All feature labyrinthine grocery selections and popular food courts.
The birthplace of leading global electronics companies such as Samsung and LG, South Korea is renowned for its cutting edge technology. The best place for it is Yongsan Electronics Market, where dozens of stores specialise in one or two of the latest gadgets and frequent sales mean excellent prices.
The Itaewon area has shops selling discounted designer clothes from brands such as DKNY, Nike and Adidas; stalls on the street sell hats and fake designer handbags. Apkujong has upscale department stores and boutiques, as well as the Kangnam underground shopping mall. Prada, Gucci, Armani, Stella McCartney and the Galleria are also found here.
The cosmopolitan city of Seoul is known for having quite a good nightlife, packed with just about every activity and all kinds of entertainment venues, and with a particular proliferation of karaoke bars. Itaewon is the neighbourhood where most foreigners start their explorations of Seoul's night scene, and is known to be a very 'foreigner-friendly' district, with lots of international restaurants and bars and more English-speakers and expats than most of the city.
The night markets in Dongdaemun see plenty of action, while Myeongdong is a great spot to start off the evening with a dinner or a few beers at one of the many cafes and bars. place to be seen in Seoul is at any one of the exclusive wine bars, clubs and expensive bars in Apgujeong-dong or Sinsadong, which attract a trendy crowd. The more relaxed, younger crowd tends to hang out in Gangnam, where plenty of Western-style clubs and bars can be found. Dongdaemun is great for a few quiet ales and a spot of theatre, or to stroll through a gallery. Hongdae is the best area for live music and great dance floors on which to move into the early hours.
Soju is South Korea's rice wine, traditionally served in small shot glasses and drank all at once with a shout of 'Gumbay!'. Although traditions often become blurred on the party scene, it is customary in South Korea for people to buy and pour each other's drinks rather than their own. Those who don't want their drinks refilled should leave a bit of liquid in them.