Traditional Markets in Korea

Category : Food/Nightlife / Surviving in Korea
Nov 26, 2014

Traditional Markets in Korea

While it seems that areas like Seoul’s Myeongdong or Gangnam get all the attention for being “shoppers’ paradises”, Korea’s traditional markets often go underappreciated. You’re not going to find designer clothes or trendy cafes in these areas, but you’ll definitely have a unique experience that you probably won’t be able to have back home. The key is to have an open mind, and not be afraid to try something new.

Traditional Markets in Seoul

Noryangjin Wholesale Fish Market /노량진 수산시장

The Noryangjin market, located in the Dongjak neighborhood of Seoul, is one of Korea’s largest seafood markets, with over 700 vendors selling everything from giant tentacles to baby shrimp. Open 24 hours, this place is perfect for the night owls. Those looking for a decidedly unique experience should head to Noryangjin around 2:00am for the wholesale fish auction. Restaurateurs from around the city gather to buy the catch of the day here, and it’s quite the spectacle. It’s highly recommended to pick up some seafood and take it to one of the nearby restaurants – think of it as BYOF (bring your own fish). They’ll cook it for you (for a fee, of course), and you can wash it all down with some good ol’ soju and beer.

Garak Market /가락시장

Running since 1985, Garak Market was the first-ever public wholesale market to open in Korea. This place is massive. We’re talking almost 550,000 square meters of all the fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat, and spices you could ever want. Like Noryangjin, Garak is open ‘round the clock. However, unlike Noryangjin, it’s best not to go too late in the night. That’s when things start to get really busy as distributers roll in on their big trucks. Arrive a bit earlier -around 6:00pm or 9:00pm. That’s the time the auction happens, so things are still lively. However, you’ll be beating the crowd. Since the market is so big, you should grab a map at the visitor’s center and plan out which sections to visit before getting lost in the labyrinth.

Gyeongdong /경동시장

If you’ve been curious about Korean traditional medicine, then Gyeongdong Market is a must-see. Stalls upon stalls in this central Seoul outdoor market offer a cure for almost every ailment, from chrysanthemums (influenza and acne) to cinnamon bark (fever and diarrhea) and imported deer. The market’s hours are from 9:30 to 18:30, so you’ll need to get up sometime before the late afternoon. The obvious popular item here is ginseng root, which Korea is famous for. You can find them pickled or in pill form. Either way, they make a great souvenir. Gyeondong closes every first and third Sunday of the month.

Majang Market/마장 축산물시장

Vegetarians beware! Majang is the biggest meat market in Korea. Fresh cuts from every corner of Korea arrive hourly to this 28-acre market of meatiness. Majang also sells meats from international destinations, which are a fraction of the cost of Korean meats. Supplying 70% of the meat for Seoul’s 25 million residents, the Majang Market is big. The smell might be a bit overwhelming for even the most unabashed carnivores, so be prepared for that. Those with weak stomachs might also be better off skipping this trip, as everything from pig brains to cow tongues are out on display. Though, if you’ve been in Korea for a while, this may not frighten you the slightest. Most wholesalers and business owners visit the market early in the day. Dinner time can be pretty quiet. It’s best to go then, that way you’ll have a bit more elbow room. After you buy a slab of meat, take it to one of the many restaurants in the area to have it cooked – or, do it yourself Korean BBQ style. The charge is normally around 4,000KRW per person.

Nakwon Instrument Market /낙원상가

Up until this point, all of the markets on this list have been ones selling various kinds of food. Well, you can’t eat anything at Nakwon, but if you’re in need of a cheap musical instrument, this place is your best bet. Located near Seoul’s Insadong district, you could definitely make a day out of browsing around the market. Then finish up with a cup of tea at one of the nearby traditional cafes. Like any other market in Korea, it’s best to do a lap of browsing before buying anything. Browsing the many instruments will let you compare what the price range is at the market, so you can make the smartest purchase. Beware, though – many of the instruments here are knock-offs; the Gibson Les Paul you’re eying up may or may not be an authentic one. Some vendors are up front about it, others aren’t. It’s best to ask.

Gwangjang Market /광장동시장

Gwangjang market is the oldest of its kind in Korea. If you read the article about Shopping Areas in Seoul you’ll remember the dirt-cheap area of Namdaemun that carries cheap clothes and textiles. Well, guess where most Namdaemun vendors get their wares from? Yep, Gwangjang, and if that still doesn’t put things into perspective for you, I’ll put it bluntly: Gwangjang is super cheap. If you need linens, towels, fabrics, or even hanbok /한복 (Korean traditional dress), this is the place to be. Serious foodies will also be impressed with the massive selection of street food here. Favorites like sundae /순대 (blood sausage), mandu /만두 (wonton-style dumplings), and jeon /전(fried savory pancakes) are abound here, so come hungry! Even bibimbap /비빔밥, a rice and vegetable medley that is “assembled” rather than cooked, is also found here, despite the fact that it’s not often served as a street food.

Jungbu Market /중부시장

If you’re already in the Jongno area (perhaps after visiting Nakwon or Gwangjang), consider hitting up Jungbu Market. Nowhere near as massive as Noryangjin, Jungbu offers a smaller selection of seafood, specializing in dried fish, seaweed, and Korean sweets. Since fishermen sell directly to the market, you can find discounts of anywhere from 10% to 30% off what you’d pay in a normal grocery store. You can visit between the hours of 4:00 to 18:00. The market is closed on Mondays. Go before 15:00 to give yourself lots of time to browse, as most shopkeepers start closing down around 16:00.

Traditional Markets outside of Seoul

Yangdong Market /광주양동시장 (Gwangju)

Over 100 years old, Yangdong is the largest market in the southwestern Honam region of Korea. Now held in four separate buildings clustered together in the city, Yangdong used to be located on the sandy beaches below Gwangjugyo Bridge. The market also holds some historical significance, as it was the site of many demonstrations during the May 18 Democratization Movement, which took place after the controversial Park Chung-hee’s military coup. Vendors provided protestors with food and medicines while also participating alongside them. Today, the market is a great place to pick up everything from produce to textiles. It specializes in “jesa” products (used by Koreans in their ancestral memorial services) as well as wedding gifts. The market is open from 9:00 to 21:00, with produce shops opening early as early as 3:00. From April to September, Yangdong closes on the first and third Sunday of the month.

Jagalchi Market /자갈치시장 (Busan)

Jagalchi Market is a famous symbol of Busan. Located right on the ocean, it’s a great place to visit during the summer. Like many of the markets on this list, an essential experience is to buy some food from one of the vendors and have it cooked at a nearby restaurant. In the case of Jalgachi, the most popular thing to do is get the fish sliced up and made into sashimi. Most nearby shops outside of the market will slice them up for you, costing as low as 8,000KRW for the fish, filleted, chopped and served with a side of hot pepper paste and wasabi.

Daejeon Jungang Market /중앙시장 (Daejeon)

Daejeon Jungang Market is a cluster of several markets in downtown Daejeon. Items sold include: dried seafood, hanboks, herbal medicine, hardware, and more. It’s not as busy as it was in earlier days. As time passed, many customers were lost to chain grocery stores like Home Plus or E-Mart. However, the market still offers a lively experience during its hours between 9:00 and 19:30. Each September, the market is the host of Korea’s only puppet festival, a time where the city comes alive with entertaining characters. Some of the market specialties include chontteok /천떡 (stuffed buckwheat wraps), dak kalbi/닭갈비 (spicy chicken), and makguksu /막국수(cold buckwheat noodles). Jungang Market is popular among Japanese and Chinese tourists, as a scene from the internationally famous K-drama ,“Winter Sonata” was filmed there.





What to Buy:










노량진 수산시장

Noryangjin Station (Line 9) Exit 1. Walk over the bridge for 100m.

Fish! More fish! Seriously though, get one of the king crabs. Or try a salmon for some fresh sashimi.



Garak Market Station (Line 8, 3) Exit 8

Fruits and vegetables! You won’t find them for much cheaper anywhere else in Seoul.



Jegi Station (Line 1) Exit 2. 

Korean traditional medicine


마장 축산물시장

Majang Station (Line 5) Exit 2.

BBQ alley is nearby.

Imported beef makes a delicious (and affordable) dinner; Korean beef is triple the price. Order accordingly!



Jongno 3-ga Station (Line 1, 3, 5) Exit 5.

Knockoff guitars, used instruments, “collector’s items”.



Jongno 3-ga Station (Line 1, 3, 5) Exit 12.

Linens, mung bean pancakes, and (the not-normally served as street food) bibimbap.



Euljiro 4-ga Station (Line 2, 5) Exit 7.

Dried seaweed is the biggest draw here. Take it home and snack on it by itself, or eat it with rice.




Yandong Market Station (Line 1) Exit 1.

Traditional wedding gifts and produce are great buys at Yangdong.


Gabrielle interned as a Content Creator for Work'n'Play during her exchange trip to Chung-Ang University in 2012-2013. She graduated from Vancouver Island University in May 2014 with her BA in Global Studies. She is now a Master's student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, Canada. The things she misses most about her year in Korea are: going for makgeolli + jeon with friends, exploring Seoul's new and old hidden treasures and getting to practice Korean every day. You can connect with her on Twitter at @MsGabrielle or email her at