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Seoul is an international shopper’s paradise for all kinds of things like luxury brands, the latest fashions, skin care products, cosmetics, shoes, souvenirs, you name it, they have it! All the wonderful things you see the actresses and actors wear and carry in those Korean dramas – you can find on sale here, be it with a hefty price-tag. If you can afford them, then you buy, on the other hand, if you happened to be somewhat frugal like me you will just have to convince yourself that “window shopping ” is fun too.
Let me give you some hints on how and where you can indulge your shopping spree, or bargain hunting in Seoul. Ready? Read on…
Probably the best place for your shopping, regardless of what you are looking for, would be Myeongdong. It is one of Seoul’s renowned commercial and shopping districts with tons of shopping malls, money changers, bars, restaurants, convenience facilities, and other outlets and services catering to all your needs. The most notable thing here are the beauty products. You’ll find every Korean beauty brand here. In Myeongdong alone, you’ll find multiple outlets of each brand. You can walk out of one Etude House shop for example, and just a few steps away you will pass by another outlet of the same brand.
This area is made up of streets joined together in the shape of a fish bone skeleton – one main street with narrow side streets branching off on both sides. Of course, this isn’t the only place great for shopping in Seoul, but it has probably the highest concentration of diverse shops in one location.
Since the competition is high you’ll get a free sample each time you enter a shop, and they are very generous with them. In fact for some shops, you get a free facial mask from the point you enter the door! Isn’t that lovely? If you are trying to be frugal you can settle for the free items hehehhe. You won’t be alone in your quest to gather up all your facial masks, powder and everything that you need to make yourself beautiful. Sometimes you might even need to elbow your way thru to grab the freebies.
Here in Myeongdong, you will also find international brands like ZARA, Guess, H&M and American Apparel; homegrown Korean fashion brands like Who A.U, Beanpole, and SPAO; luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and more. If you’re a “mall rat”, Myeong-dong also has large shopping centers and department stores like Lotte Department Store, Shinsegae Department Store, Migliore, M Plaza, and Noon Square. So many choices! No wonder it’s said that the estimated floating population of Myeongdong is close to 2 million people a day! Back in 2011 to 2013, Myeong-dong was actually listed as the 9th most expensive shopping street in the world. Don’t let this discourage you , though. From what I’ve seen, the popular shopping destination has a lot of affordable brands and unexpected bargains as well. It really has something for everyone.
There are also many restaurants and street food stalls serving a wide array of Korean delicacies, Korean BBQ, fish cakes, tteokbokki, fruits, ice cream, and a lot more. So if you don’t have time for a proper sit-down dinner/lunch, just grab some food on the go, shop and then grab something else again from the next food stall and continue on with your shopping, that simple!
How to get here via Subway:
Tip: Many stores in Myeongdong offer discounts for travelers to Korea. The type of discount and their requirements (e.g. spend over 50,000 won) differ for each store in the area. I suggest you bring your passport and/or e-ticket just in case – they are often required.
Insadong is a quaint old part of town where you can get a feel of Korean art – you can see every example of traditional Korean fine art from paintings to sculptures. Nearly half of Korea’s antique stores are located here. The most famous galleries are Hakgojae Gallery, which promotes many promising artists.
The tea houses and restaurants are the perfect complement to the galleries. At first, they might be hard to find, but if you take the time to stroll around the twisting alleyways, the window shopping in itself can be very entertaining. The shops in Insadong are very popular among all age groups because each one is unique.
There are street performers too.
Bbopki, a street food candy. You’re supposed to try to eat it without breaking the shape in the center, but it’s hard to do!
The shops selling local traditional candy will also put up a show for the tourists, demonstrating the ancient way of making candy using a giant hammer and wooden tools. They will even invite you to try.
It’s fun just to look around and check out what the artists and craftsmen are selling. But be mindful though when shopping in Insadong, make sure you check where the products were made. Recently, cheap Chinese goods such as teacups, wall tapestries, and small accessories have been brought into the Insadong markets and have spurred cases , where merchandise thought to be made in Korea, turned to be marked as “made in China”.
How to get here via Subway:
Itaewon is a unique place in Seoul – a melting pot of diverse nationalities and cultures. Itaewon’s best gift to Seoul is its food. This international food street, which runs parallel with the main street, hosts an array of restaurants representing different world cuisines: Indian, Italian, American, Brazilian, French, and even British. So, if you had your fill of kimchi and bulgogi for the week, you can pop over to Itaewon and give your taste buds a different pleasure. Be warned, though, for most of these international restaurants are on the pricey side. However, the food is nearly always worth the high cost.
Being a place where many foreigners congregate, it remains somewhat of a niche nightlife area for Koreans and tourist alike who are interested in a more international scene. A number of notable bars and clubs spot the area, both on the main street and in the alleys off it.
One place that frequently caught my attention was this Thai restaurant. Every time I walked passed it, there was always a lineup of people, which is a sure sign that they’re doing something right there. After a bit of dilly-dallying around, we agreed to have our lunch here. Inside there were only a few tables, but the overall atmosphere was very relaxed and everyone seems tobe having a good time. We were not disappointed with our choice. And the food was great as well.
Dongdaemun has every fashion item imaginable: fabric, clothes, accessories, and wedding goods. The newest fashion trends, along with the newest fabrics, often make their debut in the market. You know all those small little retail shops found on the streets? Those small shops found even in the subway stations? They all buy their merchandise wholesale here.
Dongdaemun is divided into two districts. Zone 1 aka the Golden Triangle consists of mainly retail shops and is better known amongst tourists. Zone 2 across the road caters to wholesalers where buyers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and even Japan come here to do their purchases.
There are quite a number of malls but the notable ones are Doota, Hello APM, Migliore which is dedicated to Korean made fashion. The best part is the Dongdaemun night market. The street vendors will start opening shop around 9PM, and you can shop till the sun rises – literally, as most of the shops here close at dawn.
How to get here via Subway:
And there you have it – a short guide on shopping in Seoul! Let me know if there are other places that you are interested in? If I have the material, I’ll update this post. In the meantime, I’ll be writing a post on 20 Places to Visit in Korea – check back again 🙂