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Now Departing: More Flights to Seoul

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Seoul is on a growing number of travelers' wish lists, and Korean Air is obliging with expanded nonstop service.

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Travelers interested in flying from San Francisco to Seoul will now be seeing double: Korean Air is expanding its service from 7 to 14 weekly nonstop departures to keep up with demand. As of April 29, new flights leave SFO at 12:50AM, with 12 flights per week, growing incrementally to 13 in June and 14 in September.

Korean Air’s Boeing 777-300ER jets are outfitted with state-of-the-art Kosmo Suites 2.0; Prestige Suites featuring direct aisle access from every seat; and New Economy’s ergonomic 18-inch-wide seats with personal TVs. During the 12.5-hour flight, passengers can sample signature Korean dishes like bibimbop.

With this rollout, San Francisco becomes the third U.S. city after New York and Los Angeles from which Korean Air flies twice a day to Incheon, one of Asia’s best international hubs. Incheon is a leading regional gateway—with a second passenger terminal set to open in late 2017—and Korean Air offers direct connections to 73 cities in Asia and beyond, from Bangkok to Brisbane.

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Still, there are plenty of reasons to stick around Seoul, an increasingly dynamic capital where cutting-edge modernization melds with centuries-old tradition. In 2017, both locals and visitors alike will alight upon the newly opened Seoul Skygarden, a former highway overpass that has been transformed into a spectacular half-mile pedestrian park, akin to New York City’s High Line. Set 50 feet above street level, this four-season arboretum of some 24,000 trees and plants is at a literal remove from the urban jungle, with tea cafés, flower shops, greenmarkets, and libraries vying for your attention.

For a compact blend of old and new Seoul, meander through the alleyways of Seochon, which translates to “west village,” from to its location just west of Gyeongbokgung Palace. Unlike the touristy Bukchon (“north village”), whose traditional hanok buildings attracted aggressive commercial transformation, Seochon’s transformation into a quietly hip and artsy destination has been more gradual. Its many hanok buildings are now retrofitted with (non-chain) cafés, restaurants, bakeries, galleries, bookstores, and craft shops.

Seoul is a shopper’s paradise and there is no shortage of street markets, department stores, and seemingly entire neighborhoods hawking the latest trends and gadgets. One of the city’s more unique shopping spaces is Common Ground, which opened in 2015 as a collection of some 70 pop-up shops and eateries in 200 bright-blue modular shipping containers, located in Gwangjin-gu.

Instead of setting up the usual storefronts for established global brands (shoppers should head to Gangnam for that), Common Ground showcases up-and-coming Korean fashion and accessories labels, as well as food trucks and outposts of popular restaurants found elsewhere in Seoul. Concerts and other festivities often take place here on weekends.

Whatever else you do in Seoul, be sure to do as the Koreans do and spend some time at a jjimjilbang, where you can refresh and decompress by lolling in and out of saunas, steam rooms, scrub down massages, relaxation lounges, and more. (First, read up on some Korean spa etiquette dos and don’ts.)

The eight-story Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan is one of Seoul’s largest jjimjilbangs, and one of the most accommodating to visitors and non-Korean speakers. In addition to its assortment of sauna, steam, and massage, and relaxation spaces, Dragon Hill offers some notable extras: an all-season heated outdoor pool, a cinema space, and a horseback riding simulator. You’ll leave refreshed and ready for your next immersive experience, whether you’re spending extended time in Seoul or headed back to Incheon after a quick stopover.

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