Where & How to Shop Til You Drop in Seoul
Tourists to Seoul, Korea are drawn for numerous reasons from seeking that top of the line plastic surgeon to the wanderer looking for some culture and traditions. There’s also a large number of people headed here each year just to shop.
Here’s how fun it really is to shop in the Land of the Morning Calm… though in the hustling bustling shopping neighborhoods, Korea seems anything but calm. With the holidays just around the corner, make sure you know where to go to get what you need and want! Don’t forget to take a break in a café, eat up some good food, and just have some fun while you’re out and about though.
This is your guide to the spots that tourists flock to as well as the lesser known spots that only the locals and long-term foreigners like me enjoy to frequent. Get off the beaten path or stay on it, either way, there’s a shopping district for you!
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Hongdae has seen a huge make-over in the past decade and was a very artistic (don’t miss the street art in the area), live music college student area has become a go-to place for anyone needing a night out. Of course along
with the hoards of people came the shops that wanted to partake in the cash swapping action. Western brands like H&M, Forever21 and Zara have opened up in the past couple of years but they haven’t driven out the many boutique shops and vintage clothing stalls that abound. Clothing in the area is sold at reasonable prices and interspersed between the apparel shops are the popular Korean make-up and skincare brand shops as well. This district is a great stop for someone looking to spend the day shopping and then stay for the night out too. Also to note, from March to November there are special flea markets held in Hongdae Park on Saturdays and Sundays. Saturdays, the Hongdae Free Market is held from 2:00pm to 6:00pm and on Sundays, the Hongdae Hope Market is held from 2:00pm to 6:00pm. Both markets are known for the unique items that are sold. Young artists sell handmade items from t-shirts and hats to ceramics, dolls and jewelry. You could easily spend the entire day… or weekend in the area. Start with brunch at one of the great restaurants, get in some shopping, visit a cool café that is aesthetically pleasing, and then do some more shopping before grabbing a bite to eat Korean style and going all night long. Want to see what Hongdae looks like after a crazy night out? Don’t miss this post because you’ve probably never seen Hongdae like this.
Hot Hotel In the Area: The Designers Hotel (Hongdae)
Directions: Hongik Subway Station, exit 8 or 9.
If you ask most people where to go for a cathartic shopping adventure in Seoul, they would probably direct you to Myeondong. This neighborhood is centered around big name brands like Zara, H&M, UNIQLO, Forever 21, American Apparel and of course Lotte Young Plaza and then Lotte Department Store where all of your hands free duty free shopping can take place (buy it now, pick it up at the airport on your way out). Not only are the big western brands there, but the alleyways are door after door of small Korean boutiques with everything from K-pop icon look alike clothing and trendy attire to make-up and skin care product touting shops too. Cosmetic shops like Tony Moly, Missha, The Face Shop, Nature Republic, The Saem, Etude House, Too Cool For School and more line the road. They often have salespeople standing out front beckoning you in with a free product… which you can keep even if you don’t buy something. I’ve spent a walk through in Myeong-dong just seeing how many freebies I could walk away with WITHOUT purchase. It’s a fun little game. If you want something more unique to your trip to Korea, stop in Codes Combine, A-Land or Basic House while you’re in the area. Also don’t miss the quirky Style Nanda Pink Pool Cafe and definitely eat it up in the delicious Hadongkwan, among some other fantastic spots like a café with an adult friendly ball pit and more.
Hot Hotel In The Area: Myeongdong TMark Hotel
Directions: Myeongdong Subway Station, exit 6 or 7. OR Euljiro 1-ga Subway Station, exit 6 or 7.
Vintage and traditional is what this market is all about. Opened in 1905, this market has history too. While many people are now heading to Gwangjang Market for the foodie delights on the ground floor, upstairs are stalls and stalls of gorgeous goods. This is THE place to go to get a great deal on a custom Hanbok that can be purchased for anywhere from W150,000 to W500,000 depending on the material and embroidery work chosen. A bit more difficult to find, but worth the hunt is also a very substantial vintage market on the second floor. Goods from all over make their way here BEFORE they head out to the smaller boutique vintage shops and as you can imagine, that means this is the place to go for the cheapest vintage attire in Seoul. It takes a little digging, but the vendors are young, stylish and friendly and will help anyone that makes their way upstairs to the stall after stall of retro attire. Clothing here is sold from W10,000 to W100,000 for vintage name brand goods.
Hot Hotel In The Area: Morning Sky Hotel
Directions: Jongno 5-ga Subway Station, exit 7 or 8.
If second-hand is your passion, then head to the Seocho Saturday Flea Market, one of the biggest tourist markets in Seoul which can be found outside of Sadang Subway Station, exit 14. The Seoul Folk Flea Market outside of Sinseoldong Subway Station, exit 9 is great for souvenirs and knick-knacks.
One of the chicest places to stroll, Garosugil is also a great place to visit boutique shops and get everything from fashionable finds to unique and must have gifts too. The popular avenue is less than a kilometer long but is packed with must have items. While name brand shops abound, the boutique shops like Spicy Color, 9 Owls and other aesthetically pleasing shops in the vicinity are what people really head here for. This area is also widely known for having some of the hippest cafes and eateries too. A morning spent here is bound to be fabulous, that’s for sure. This is NOT the street to head to if you’re looking for budget shopping which is to be remembered but if you’re looking for the hottest up and coming local Korean designers, then this is the perfect boulevard to seek out in the city.
Hot Hotel In The Area: La Casa Hotel
Directions: Sinsa Subway Station, exit 8. Walk straight and turn left on the third street.
COEX Shopping Mall
Asia’s LARGEST underground shopping mall should not need an introduction, but here’s the info just so you know. Two hundred and sixty retailers sit beneath the ground stretching from Samseong subway station to Bongeunsa station. Beauty, electronic, entertainment and fashion apparel and products along with a cinema, a food court, an event hall for concerts and shows and an aquarium line the halls that go this way and that. This is the perfect place to spend the day inside when the weather is too frigid or wet to trek through the shopping districts above. From shopping to fun and food, too, there’s something for everyone inside of COEX.
Hot Hotel In The Area: The Designers Hotel Samseong
Directions: Samseong Subway Station, exit 5 or 6.
Dongdaemun is where the thrifty or frugal shoppers go rather than going to Myeondong for namebrands. While the items may look similar to what you’ll find in Myeondong, they are much cheaper but beware, the price should tell you something. Items bought in Dongdaemun will likely not make it past the third washing. The popular malls here include HELLO APM, Migliore, Doota Tower, and Good Morning City. Items that you see vendors selling from street carts and in subways are purchased in bulk from Dongdaemun so if you really want that item from the subway salesmen for W20,000, head to Dongdaemun to get it for W10,000. If you just want to shop til you drop and literally drop at sunrise, then head to Dongdaemun because the night market, which opens at 9PM is super fun and you can stay up well past most peoples’ bedtimes for some fun purchasing action.
Hot Hotel In The Area: Skypark Kingstown Hotel
Must Try Activities: The Belle Spa Experience
Directions: Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Subway Station, exit 14. OR Dongdaemun Subway Station, exit 8.
Insadong is a street that rarely needs introduction because every tourist, local, and foreigner in Korea will likely walk up this thoroughfare at some point but I’ll mention it just in case. This neighborhood might be the best place to get the Korean souvenir you’re looking to take home. From daily Hanboks to the most gorgeous ceremonial ones, it is here. There are also beautiful chopstick sets, Hanji paper crafts, vintage and antique goods as well. You definitely can’t go shopping in Seoul and NOT visit Insadong at some point. When you visit, be sure to stop into Moon Bird Only Thinks Of The Moon a small traditional tea house that serves the best cup of tea in the area… if you can find it.
Hot Hotel In The Area: Hotel Aventree Jongno
Directions: Anguk Station, exit 6 or Jonggak Station, exit 3.
If you want to partake in some subway shopping. The best subway underground malls can be found in Bupyeong Subway Station & Express Bus Terminal Station
Itaewon probably isn’t where most tourists looking to shop will head unless they want a custom tailored suit but if you’re taller, hippier or bustier than the average Korean and have a problem shopping in most Korean clothing shops, then Itaewon is where you should head. The shops market to the people looking for clothes at larger sizes and shoes with a bit more length or width. The area is also popular for anyone looking for a foreign bite. There’s everything from Indian and Thai to Italian and Japanese bistros too. And if that’s not enough, there are also some great art museums in the area as well. Don’t miss out on all of the fun in this foreign district in central Seoul.
Hot Hotel In The Area: IP Boutique Hotel
Directions: Itaewon Subway Station, any exit.
Ewha Women’s University Shopping Street
If you’re looking for the young trendy vibes, this is the spot for you to check out. Being so close to numerous universities and of course the women’s university it’s named after means that the clothing, shoes, and accessories are always on trend and tend to cater to the females in abundance here. Goods on offer are relatively inexpensive since the shops cater to the student budget but you’ll also find attire that is Korean student-ish, aka short skirts, cute dresses and lots and lots of accessories. Cosmetics are discounted and you can expect to see all of your favorite Korean brands in an easy criss-crossing neighborhood of streets.
Hot Hotel In The Area: H Avenue Hotel Idae Shinchon
Must Try Activities: Ewha Korean School Uniform Rental Experience
Directions: Ewha Women’s University Station, exit 2 or 3
Gangnam Terminal Underground Shopping Center
Some of the best shopping areas in the city are actually under your feet and if you want to visit just ONE, do NOT miss out on the 800 meter long tunnels that branch out from Gangnam Terminal. While numerous stations across the city have underground stretches of shopping, this is the biggest in Seoul and the most popular. Expect to find all of those items you saw above ground but at discounted rates. I’ve had friends that recommend walking the streets of Hongdae or Ewha to see what you want to buy and then head here to get it at the best rate. One last tip, if you head here, don’t miss out on visiting the top floor of the Express Bus Terminal for an amazing view of Seoul. Most people don’t even know you can get a great view here, so take advantage of this one quiet spot in the area.
Hot Hotel In The Area: JW Marriott Hotel Seoul
Directions: Express Bus Terminal, just stay underground and you’ll see it.
If you’re looking for something a bit more local, definitely head to Common Ground where small local designers showcase everything from the quirky to the cool. The latest local designs and unique items are on display and this is definitely the spot to get something special that you can really only get in Seoul and even features the “Made in Korea” tag inside too. Expect clothing that is a bit more expensive but you’ll also get higher quality.
Hot Hotel In The Area: Hotel The Designers Premier Kondae
Must Try Activities: Seongsu-dong
Directions: Konkuk University Station, exit 6