Where did our collective obsession with Seoul start? Gangnam Style? K-Pop? K-Beauty and Korean snail cream? No matter. The source of it all is Seoul.
The West has never felt closer to this city of 10 million—or to its terrifying neighbor to the north. Multi-faceted Seoul ranks nearly as highly for Programming (#13 in our measure of arts, culture, entertainment, culinary and shopping—a two-spot jump from last year) as it does for Product (#18), which considers things like institutions, attractions and infrastructure.
First, the fun: Seoul is #11 in the world for shopping, and Myeongdong is the place for the suddenly must-have skincare product. Dongdaemun, open between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. (yes) features 26 shopping malls, 30,000 specialty shops, and 50,000 manufacturers. The modern Common Ground complex is built from 200 shipping containers, and trendy Hongdae is another must-stop for mavens on the make.
But where will you eat, with your hands full of shopping bags? Everywhere. The food scene is ascendant, from Mukja Golmok, literally “Let’s Eat Alley,” to the vegetable-centric Temple Cuisine at Doore Yoo, Michelin-starred chef Tony Yoo’s oasis, to Gwangjang Market, a century-old food hall where you can eat everything from a soup of rice cakes and kimchi-tofu dumplings to mung bean pancakes to to squirmy live octopus (yes).
Full? Now feed your mind: Seoul is #6 for Fortune Global 500 companies and its universities, like Seoul National University, are ranked #18 in the world. Not surprisingly the city is one smart cookie—#16 in our Educational Attainment subcategory. Seoul museums are ranked #5 globally and first on your list should be the Leeum, Samsung’s Museum of Art, a juxtaposition of the contemporary and the traditional, as well as architecture by Jean Nouvel, Rem Koolhaas and Mario Botta.
For a deep dive into the soul of Koreans, visit the National Folk Museum of Korea, which includes a room devoted to the deep and pervasive roots of Confucianism in Korean culture. The museum is on the grounds of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, which once had more than 7,000 rooms. Yes, you read that right, too.