Shopping Areas in Seoul

Category : Surviving in Korea / Travel/Events
Nov 26, 2014
Shopping Areas in Seoul
by Gabrielle Bishop

Often described as a “shopper’s paradise”, it seems like no matter where you go in this city, somebody is selling something. The same familiar mix of cell phone shops, clothing boutiques, and cosmetic stores line almost every street in this megacity. Seoul boasts many shopping districts, each as different as the people who fill this city: there really is a shopping style for everyone. From bargain hunters, to student shoppers, to those seeking a luxury experience, Seoul really has it all.

 Die-Hard Shopaholic?
Check out WorknPlay’s articles on Shopping Tips and Survival Phrases for Korea, Traditional Markets in Korea, and Flea Markets in Seoul before you visit these areas! Happy shopping. 


 

Central Seoul

Central Seoul is a good place to start off your shopping journey before expanding into the broader areas of the city. The areas on this list attract large numbers of foreign tourists, so it’s likely that most shopkeepers you encounter will be able to speak a bit of English. You could easily dedicate a day to each area (perhaps longer) so allot your time accordingly!  
 

Myeongdong /명동

Myeongdong is easily the most well-known shopping district in Seoul. A lot of foreigners go here solely for the atmosphere of crowded streets, bright neon signs, and delicious aromas from the street food here. Myeongdong is especially popular for the Korean makeup junkies, as every Korean cosmetic brand has set up shop in this district. The Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) claims there are close to a thousand cosmetic shops and hundreds of makeup stores that fill Myeongdong.

 Another unique feature of Myeongdong is the presence of so many international brands. Familiar chains like H&M, Forever21, and Zara are easy finds here. However, smaller Korean-run clothing stores also fill the streets of Myeongdong, and sometimes offer a better deal than the international chain shops (although the former usually don’t have change rooms). If you’re a fan of Korean stationary or just need a unique, kitschy gift for someone, the huge Kosney branch in the M-Plaza building is great for a browse. Carrying everything from cupcake-shaped mugs to tin boxes filled with polaroids (hipster-approved), Kosney is always crowded with locals, especially on the weekend.
 

Namdaemun /남대문

Namdaemun is a bustling market filled with almost every good you could imagine. From live squid to generic-brand skin whitening creams and some of the best street food in Seoul, Namdaemun is a lovably chaotic mix of Korea’s most unique products.

While most of Seoul is modern and futuristic, Namdaemun market (founded during the Joseon dynasty) seems to have been frozen in time. You’re not going to find the pretty flashing lights and international brands like you would in Myeongdong. However, Namdaemun still offers a certain “je ne sais quoi”. You can buy almost anything in Namdaemun—from kitchenware to pigs’ heads and fur coats, and beyond. The underground market is a must-visit place for foreigners, as many vendors there carry imported foods from home.

Namdaemun is probably the best place to buy souvenirs – just make sure you bring cash, as many vendors don’t accept cards. A lot of prices aren’t posted either, so you’re going to need to barter if you want a good deal. Also, if your personal wardrobe is restricted to t-shirts and ajumma style MC-hammer pants (What? We’re not judging!), you’ll be able to find staple pieces for your wardrobe at 3,000KRW-10,000KRW a piece. The only thing you’ll be able to find for that price in the other shopping districts is a Starbucks latte. Long story short? Namdaemun is cheap!

Dongdaemun /동대문

Dongdaemun is Korea’s largest shopping center, comprised of several indoor and outdoor markets, malls, restaurants, wholesale and retail vendors. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in Dongdaemun, well, maybe it’s time to stop looking. Just try to avoid going on a Monday or Tuesday; that’s when most major indoor markets are closed. Wednesday and Thursday are the slow days. Go then if you want to score a good deal and shop with a little more elbow space. Most stores open around 10:30am and close at 5:00am.

 Often referred to in Konglish as ‘shopping malls’ or ‘department stores’, these building are several floors high, filled with countless stalls stacked tightly against each other (and no change rooms). The term ‘indoor market’ better suits the style of shopping inside these places. The ‘markets’ don’t always display prices, so it’s good to keep a calculator handy just in case. You and the merchant can pass it back and forth to bargain.

 Must-visit indoor markets in Dongdaemun include: Hello apM, Good Morning City, Miliore, and Doota. Doota’s a little different than the rest as the garments here are high quality originals, as opposed to just knock-offs. You can buy wholesale clothing directly from the designer or get a custom piece made. Several other places do this too, but Doota is the most well-known for its custom-made clothing options. Just remember: Doota has a strict ‘no barter’ policy while the rest encourage some haggling.

 

Insadong /인사동

Insadong is one of Seoul’s most popular tourist districts. Located in the heart of Seoul, near the historical business district of Gwanghwamun, Insadong offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Insadong is filled with traditional cafes, art galleries, and shops filled with handmade goods. Spending an afternoon in Insadong is a great way to observe traditional Korean culture. On weekends, the streets of Insadong become pedestrian-only, which makes for a great atmosphere.

If you’re looking for a unique, high-quality souvenir, Insadong is the place to go. They also have the standard “tacky tourist” souvenirs (like magnets, keychains, and t-shirts) but you’re better off buying those in Namdaemun where they’re much cheaper. Insadong is also one of the best places in Seoul to people watch. Grab a snack from one of the many street food vendors, sit down, and watch foreigners and Korean alike browse the shops. When you’re bored of that, observe one of the many eye-catching street performances put on here by non-profits to raise awareness around their cause. There’s always something entertaining happening in Insadong.

Itaewon /이태원

Ah, Itaewon. Some have referred to it as Korea’s “America-town”, but it’s really much more diverse than that. If you’ve been feeling a little homesick lately, walk down the main street of Itaewon, and soon enough you’ll feel like you’re not in Korea anymore. Itaewon is a lovable rainbow of shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars from around the world.

Since this place is crawling with foreigners, souvenirs and cheap designer knockoffs are an easy find here. There are also “big size” clothing shops that make garments non-Koreans can slip into. Yes, you can find shoes here above size 8, and shirts that don’t make you look like you just stepped off a Christina Aguilera music video set circa 2001.

 

West-Central Seoul

After you’ve finished shopping around central Seoul, you can head a little westward into student territory. While there are technically 37 universities in this city, the general Hongdae/Edae/Sinchon district is particularly famous for its student crowd. Four universities (Hongik University, Ewha Woman’s University, Yonsei University, and Sogang University) are all situated here. As a result, many student-priced restaurants, cafes, and shops have sprung up.

 

Hongdae /홍대

Hongdae is home to Hongik University, a well-known art and design school. It only makes sense that the general atmosphere around Hongdae is eclectic, youthful, and definitely unique. Shopping here is cheap, and some stores even stay open during the wee hours of the night. After sunset, Hongdae turns into a huge party, as many popular bars and clubs fill with students and young people from the neighborhood. The best stuff to buy in Hongdae is accessories.

A must-visit is the Hongdae Freemarket, run by the art students of Hongik University. No, nothing is free, and no again, it’s not a Konglish spin on the term “flea market”. Prices vary from cheap to expensive depending on the good. Vendors have to fill out an application in order to sell their works here, which have to be handmade. This isn’t the place to find mass-produced souvenirs that screams “Korea!” Rather, it’s a great place to find a unique item. It may not be distinctly Korean, but it’ll still have the Korean artist’s individual flare.

Ewha /이화

The shopping district of Ewha (also known as “Edae”) is right next to the university of the same name. The preppy and girly atmosphere of this district has been aptly molded to fit the tastes of this prestigious university’s students. The main frequenters of the businesses around here are girls that attend Ewha. Expect to find lots of lace, pastel color palettes, and sparkly accessories. You can recharge from your shopping at one of the cute cafes, teashops, or restaurants that line the streets. Even though this is a distinctly girly district, guys can find clothing shops here too. Haggling is a no-no in Edae. Prices are posted in nearly every shop.

 

Southwest Seoul

If you weren’t living under a rock for the latter part of 2012, you probably recall hearing a song called “Gangnam Style” once or twice on the radio or at the club. Gangnam, a real-life area in Seoul, is as fancy as the song suggests. Sinsa and Apgujeong (areas within Gangnam) ooze European-style luxury, while still retaining their Korean character. Where else in the world could you find ‘ice spinach milk’ or ‘sweet potato cappuccino soup’, for example? This is the place to come if you want the VIP experience. While you’re browsing some of the smaller boutiques, you might even get to meet the designer. This is where the K-stars come to shop.

 

Sinsa /신사

Some people have referred to Sinsa as “the Paris of Seoul”. The main thing to buy here is clothes, clothes, and clothes. This is where the city’s rich and beautiful people shop. Style here is about understated elegance. If you’re looking for a versatile ‘investment piece’, like an expensive little black dress or suit jacket, classy Sinsa is the place to go. It’s also far less touristy in comparison to Dongdaemun and Myeongdong. The Garasogil tree-lined street is home to several popular boutiques, cafes, and restaurants with European-style charm. Ivy-covered buildings and cobblestone streets are not uncommon here. Must-buys change with the seasons. If you want to stay on top of the latest Korean fashion trends, Sinsa is the place to go.

 

Apgujeong /압구정 and Cheongdam /청담

Like Sinsa, Apgujeong is not the place to shop if you’re a bargain hunter. Instead, this ritzy area specializes in designer boutiques and chic European-inspired cafes. Local Korean designs can be easily found here, along with major international brands. The Hyundai Department store, connected directly to Exit 6 of Apgujeong station, is one of the main attractions in the area, with several floors filled with luxury clothing and home furnishings. A must-see is the rooftop “sky garden” on the top floor, which offers a grassy, natural escape from the concrete jungle of Seoul.

Continue east through Apgujeong and you’ll eventually wander into Cheongdam. The main attraction here is Rodeo Street, named after Rodeo Drive in California. Like its namesake, Rodeo Street features many “Brand Shops” (Konglish for international designer stores), including Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Gucci. If you’ve still got a bit of dough to spend after Rodeo Drive, visit one of the many modern and trendy wine bars around the area. Who knows, you might even spot a K-star!

 

Name

Major Shops

What to Buy?

What to Eat?

Myeongdong

Myeongdong Station (Line 4, Exit 5)

Forever 21, Zara, H&M, Polo, every Korean cosmetic brand imaginable.

Korean cosmetics and cheap accessories.

30cm soft-serve ice cream cones are a must-try: these things are massive!

Namdaemun

Hoehyeon Station (Line 4, Exit 5).

Underground shopping center for foreign goods, Shinsegae Department Store.

Souvenirs, ginseng, accessories, fur coats, K-Pop paraphernalia.

Hotteok (Korean fried pancakes) from the lady near Exit 5 – look for the giant line (it’s worth it).

Dongdaemun

Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (Lines 2, 4, 5, Exit 14)

Good Morning City, Migliore, Doota, and Hello apM.

Accessories, clothes, knock-off designer stuff.

The mini pizzas near apM mall are to die for. You’ll need the fuel after all that walking.

Insadong

Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 6,)

Ssamziegil (a multi-level art boutique complex with many shops) various art shops that line the main street.

Traditional Korean goods (hand-made cards, paintings, sculptures).

The “dragon’s beard candy” (꿀타래 – “kultarae”) always comes with funny performance from the vendors.

Hongdae

Hongik Station (Line 2, Exit 5,)

Hongdae freemarket (every Saturday), various locally-owned shops

Funky accessories, like robot necklaces or dinosaur earrings.

The sweet potato latte at the Hello Kitty Café sounds strange, but actually tastes quite good.

Ewha

Ewha Women’s University Station (Line 2, Exit 2 or 3,)

Yes apM, Pretty Blue, Natural Laundry

Girly frocks and dresses – anything with lace.

Dine on tea and crumpets at “Afternoon Tea”, the ultimate girly experience.

Itaewon

Itaewon Station (Line 6, any exit,)

Chains like Adidas, Puma, Aldo, and smaller shops with specialty items.

Custom-made leather jackets, plus-size clothing.

Feast on 4,000w chicken kebabs at Ankara Picnic (exit 3), an Itaewon classic.

Sinsa

Sinsa Station (Line 3, Exit 8,)

Gallery Yeh (예화랑), 8 Seconds, Forever 21

Timeless pieces, like trenchcoats, quilted bags, or suit blazers.

Relax like a K-Star at one of Garosogil’s many chic wine bars.

Apgujeong

Apgujeong Station (Line 3, Exit 1 or 2,)

Vanessa Bruno outlet, Hyundai Department store (includes Zadig et Voltaire, Levi’s, Coach)

Designer products.

Try an ice coffee at the rooftop Sky Garden or the “Chocolixir” shake from Godiva’s shop in the food court.

 

Tags : Shopping. Dongdaemun.

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 gabrielle.bishop@hotmail.com.

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