Seoul, South Korea (CNN) – The trip to South Korea’s highest restaurant begins with a whale show.
The open-air 123F Lounge is located on the top floor of Seoul’s Lotte World Tower, 555 meters (about 1,820 feet) above the ground. The tower is the tallest building in the country, and the fifth tallest building in the world, according to its official site.
But as it turns out, getting to the restaurant isn’t as simple as going up and down an elevator; it’s a whole experience that can easily last an hour.
After purchasing an entrance ticket — 27,000 Korean won (about $20) for adults, and 24,000 won ($18) for children — visitors enter a waiting room filled with blue lights as whales swim by on a giant screen on the ceiling.
Several rooms follow — some with professional photo opportunities, others displaying the building materials that make up the tower — before a stunning array of whale-themed spaces.
A temporary exhibit featuring whale-themed multimedia displays at the Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea.
There are two long corridors: one lit in dark blue with whales swimming past you on wall-length screens, the other with LED ceiling panels rotating in colorful mosaic patterns, in stark contrast to the black-and-white whale photos on the wall. The faint sounds of whales add to the underwater atmosphere. Another room has fake clouds suspended in the air and whales painted on the wall, appearing in mid-flight.
(I later learned that this is all part of a temporary exhibit celebrating the work of whale photographer Jang Nam-won.)
Sunset from Sky Seoul observatory, located at Lotte World Tower.
At the exit, visitors are guided to sit in a darkened room while a video plays out what appears to be an artistic re-enactment of the history of Seoul and the Lotte World Tower, before the screen splits into two giant panels to reveal it slowly rising like a curtain. A breathtaking view of Seoul from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The observatory has several floors, with huge windows that allow a wide 360-degree view of the metropolis. You can see the iconic N Seoul Tower located on Namsan Mountain, bridges spanning the river, parks and sports stadiums, as well as rides at the nearby Lotte World theme park.
Each floor offers different attractions, such as small cafes on the 119th and 122nd floors. On the 118th floor is the Sky Deck, with a glass floor that allows you to see 478 meters (1,568 feet) between your feet and the street in the distance. On the 120th floor is the Sky Terrace, an outdoor balcony with a perfect view of the winding Han River.
Sky Deck on the 118th floor of Seoul Sky, with a glass floor.
After a fair amount of ooh-ing and aah-ing, you finally reach the lounge on the 123rd floor.
The restaurant is spacious and cozy, with chairs and lamps at each table. Windows form an entire wall, stretching to the high ceiling to flood with warm light at sunset. A free viewfinder allows you to zoom in on the scenery.
The menu is on the pricier side by Korean standards — $28 for beef stew, $19 for tomato spaghetti and $18 for Caesar salad — but we took our time, watching the sun dip below the horizon, briefly turning the sky fiery orange. .
The restaurant also offers pizza, sandwiches, steak and appetizers, including a selection of cheeses.
The 123F Lounge’s window seats offer stunning views of Seoul’s Han River.
The view was just as amazing in the dark, the city spread out in a grid of lights before us.
While 123F Lounge is the perfect place for a romantic dinner or a special date, there were also families with children and groups of young adults when we visited. The lounge can also be rented for special events such as wedding receptions and product launches.
Lotte World Tower is located in the Jamsil district of Songpa-gu district in southeastern Seoul. It is open all week, although the hours depend on the day, and you can use the metro, bus or private vehicle.