Korean Travel: Shopping in Seoul
Seoul Shopping 서울
Seoul is becoming, if it is not already, one of the major shopping hubs in Asia. From luxury goods in Apgujeong to jeans at Dongdaemun market to funky t-shirts in Hongdae - there really is something to suit every taste and budget.
Seoul Shopping Districts
These few streets in downtown Seoul are always jam-packed and have long been a favourite of Japanese visitors. All kinds of clothing stores, many of them familiar around the world, are here complete with the requisite number of pubs, bars and restaurants. It's not trendy or flashy but not gaudy or cheap either, this is just good solid shopping as would be familiar to anyone in the western world.
Access: Myeong-Dong Station on Line 4 of the Seoul subway.
Seoul's shopping options include department stores and markets
Shopping in a Lotte Department Store in Seoul
This is a trendy part of southern Seoul and expensive too. 'Rodeo Drive' is the main shopping drag through the district, also known for its exclusive nightlife (this is where David Beckham went clubbing in 2008 when he visited, and while it is not as painfully superior as the Los Angeles original, it is not too far off. Rich kids drive around in sports cars and spend their afternoons shopping here and then dance away into the night.
Access: Apgujeong Station on Line 3 of the Seoul subway.
24-hour markets, what more can the serious shopper ask for? Whether you are jetlagged, drunk, just desperate to spend some money or on a Friday or Saturday evening date, you can waste a couple of hours in Dongdaemun with store after store (piled floors high) selling clothes. Dongdaemun is always pretty busy whatever the time and there is some interesting street food to be had. There are still glimpses of the old Seoul around Dongdaemun, not as many as there used to be but it is definitely worth a visit.
Access: Dongdaemun Station on lines 1 & 4 of the Seoul subway.
If Apgujeong is all luxury goods and diamond studs then Hongdae, at the opposite end of the city, is all students, independence and funk. Hongdae is the centre of the country's alternative music scene with all kinds of nightclubs catering to all kinds of scenes. Hongdae is a great place to go shopping with independent shops selling clothes, jewelry and accessories for those who like something a little different and original. All shops open pretty late but best to get there before dinner, do the walking and then take your pick of hundreds of restaurants and drinking and dancing establishments in one of Korea's liveliest districts.
Access: Hongik University Station on Line 2 of the Seoul subway.
Seoul neon and the iconic 63 Building
Insa-dong is one of Seoul's liveliest shopping districts
One of Seoul's more hidden secrets, this district just behind (to the north-east of Gyeongbuk Palace) is a fairly quiet area (in Seoul terms at least) full of galleries, small coffee shops, interesting little restaurants and places to buy clothes, antiques and jewelry. Samcheong is a place just to wander around the tree-lined streets and savour something of a different atmosphere.
Access: Gyeongbokgung Station on Line 3.
Not far to the south is the much more famous shopping area of Insadong. For anyone who wants that Korean gift to take home, Insadong is one of the busiest tourist areas and is set up for tourists. It's busy, especially on weekends but it can be fun wandering around the buddhas, the scented candles, the green tea kits and incense sticks. There are lots of small side streets that offer a special tea-drinking experience to rest weary legs. Some of the interiors have to be seen to be believes (as does the range of teas on offer) but not all the claims of Guus Hiddink's patronage should be. Give the restaurants around here a miss, they are nothing special, but a good place for a souvenir and soothing tea.
Access: Subway Line 3 to Anguk or a Line 1 train to Jonggak.
Itaewon is Seoul's most international district, on the doorstep of the large US military base in the city, and the area is not just about beer, burgers and buffalo wings, there are some decent goods on offer. Of course, you should probably look past the tacky street stalls but in some of the side streets leading off the main drag, you can find decent tailors that will do you a made to measure suit for a reasonable price. Most speak English.
Access: Itaewon Subway Station, Line 6.
Seoul Shopping Malls
COEX is located in Samsung-Dong, on the eastern end of Teharan-ro, one of Seoul's main thoroughfares that runs from Gangnam station. It is also next to Seoul's World Trade Center and a couple of Intercontinental hotels. COEX also has the largest underground shopping mall in the world. COEX is full of the chain stores that you would usually expect with a food court and various western restaurants. It is also home to one of the busiest cinemas in the world in terms of visitor numbers and the Kimchi Museum.
Access: Samseong Station on Line 2.
Times Square - It's double the size of COEX and is in the western part of the city at Yeungdeung-po. Times Square has everything you'd expect from a mega mall.
Seoul Department Stores
Expensive and loved by, mostly female, visitors for floors of cosmetics, jewelry and clothes. The three big boys are Lotte, Shinsegae and Hyundai.
Lotte - There are eight in Seoul: Jamsil, Yeungdung-po, Myong-dong, Nowon, Gangnam, Mia, Gwanak, Cheonyangri.
Shinsegae - Myong-dong, Gangnam, Yeungeung-po, Incheon, Suji.
Hyundai - Apgujeong, World Trade Center, Cheonho, Shincheon, Mia, Mokdong, Bucheon, Ilsan
Namdaemun - A huge sprawling market, sometimes indoor, sometimes outdoor situated between Myong-dong and Seoul Station. Here you can buy pretty much anything from those hard to find spices to toys to clothes to pig's heads. Worth a wander even if you are not intending to put your hand in your pocket.
Yongsan Electronics Market - Just behind Yongsan Station is one of the biggest electronics markets in the world rivaling Akihabara in Toyko and selling pretty much anything you can imagine. There are some good deals at to be had at Yongsan Electronics Market if you know what you want, know how to negotiate and pay in cash.
Noryangjin Fish Market - As the name suggests, fish can be found at Noryangjin and this is Seoul's equivalent of Tokyo's Tsukiji Market. Rows and rows of fish - both alive and dead, but freshly caught. You can ask for the stall holders to cut up almost anything into sashimi or just go for the tuna or mackerel or, if you are feeling a little more adventurous, live octopus. Located not far from the 63 Building, Seoul's tallest office tower.
A dealer with live crabs and live octopus at Noryangjin Market in Seoul
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