Lotte World Tower: Dining in South Korea’s tallest restaurant

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — The journey to the highest restaurant in South Korea starts with a whale exhibit.

The airy 123F Lounge is located on the top floor of the Lotte World Tower in Seoul, 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 website.

But it turns out that getting to the restaurant isn’t as straightforward as hopping on and off an elevator; it’s quite an experience that can easily take up to an hour.

After purchasing an admission ticket — 27,000 Korean won (about $20) for adults and 24,000 won ($18) for children — visitors enter a waiting hall, bathed in blue light as whales swim across a giant screen on the ceiling.

Several different rooms follow – some with opportunities for professional photos, others showing the building materials that make up the tower – before a confusing series of whale-themed rooms.

A temporary exhibit displaying whale-themed multimedia exhibits at Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea.

Jessie Yeung/CNN

There are two long corridors – one dark blue lit as whales swim beside you on wall-length screens, the other with LED ceiling panels that rotate through colorful mosaic patterns, in stark contrast to black-and-white whale pictures on the wall . Whale-sounding calls add to the underwater atmosphere. Another room has fake clouds suspended in the air and whales painted on the wall, which appear mid-flight.

(I later learn that this is all part of a temporary exhibition celebrating the work of whale photographer Jang Nam-won.)

Sunset from the Sky Seoul Observatory located in Lotte World Tower.

Sunset from the Sky Seoul Observatory located in Lotte World Tower.

Jessie Yeung/CNN

Stepping out, visitors are guided to sit in a dark room while a video, apparently an artistic rendering of the history of Seoul and the Lotte World Tower, plays – before the screen splits into two giant panels that slowly rise like a curtain to reveal the breathtaking view of Seoul through floor-to-ceiling windows.

The observatory stretches over several floors with giant windows that provide a great 360-degree view of the metropolis. One can see the iconic N Seoul Tower perched on Namsan Mountain, bridges spanning the river, parks and sports stadiums, and even the rides at the nearby Lotte World theme park.

Each floor offers different attractions, such as small cafes on the 119th and 122nd floors. There’s the Sky Deck on the 118th floor, with a glass floor that lets you see all 478 meters (1,568 feet) between your shoes and the street far below. There is the Sky Terrace on the 120th floor, 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.

Sky Deck on the 118th floor of Seoul Sky, with a glass floor.

Jessie Yeung/CNN

After the appropriate amount of ooh-ing and aah-ing, you finally reach the lounge on the 123rd floor.

The restaurant is both spacious and cosy, with comfortable chairs and lamps on each table. Windows form an entire wall that extends up to the high ceiling to flood the room with warm light during sunset. A free viewfinder allows you to zoom in on the landscape.

The menu is on the expensive side by Korean standards—$28 for a beef stew, $19 for tomato spaghetti, and $18 for a Caesar salad—but we took our time as the sun dipped below the horizon, briefly turning the sky a fiery orange.

The restaurant also offers pizza, sandwiches, steak and appetizers, including a selection of cheese.

Window seats in the 123F Lounge boast sweeping views of Seoul's Han River.

Window seats in the 123F Lounge boast sweeping views of Seoul’s Han River.

Gawon Bae/CNN

The view was just as amazing in the dark, the city spreading out a grid of light before us.

Although 123F Lounge is a perfect place for a romantic dinner or a special date, there were also families with children and young adult groups of friends when we visited. The lounge can also be hired for special events such as wedding receptions and product launches.

Lotte World Tower is located in the Jamsil neighborhood of Seoul’s southeastern Songpa-gu district. It is open all week, although opening hours vary by day, and is accessible by metro, bus or private vehicle.

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