Shopping is the soul of Seoul. With fabulous malls and multiplexes, you would find it hard to abstain from retail therapy. In addition to the high quality, hand made products reasonable prices are a great attraction too. Shopping here is accessible, enjoyable and available in nearly every area.
Many Koreans can manage to converse in English. They may indicate the prices on their calculators either in South Korean Won or US Dollars. If you can manage a smattering of Korean, it would help to break the ice with shopkeepers.
After reading our Seoul Shopping Guide you will know all the best places to shop and what to shop for whilst on your Seoul holiday. One of the most popular areas for shopping in Seoul is Insa-dong, filled with antique shops, markets, traditional teahouses, tasty Seoul restaurants and bookshops. You should also take a look at our South Korea Shopping Guide for general information on shopping throughout the country.
For those interested in high-end boutiques, Apgujeondong-dong is the place to go to, located south of the river Han. Stylish as it is, it is often referred to as Seoul's Rodeo Drive.
For a down to earth shopping experience, try Insa-dong, which is a cobblestone street in the heart of Seoul. Here you will find shops selling souvenirs, handmade paper and gift cards and traditional patterns on Celadon, with classic white porcelain reminiscent of the Chosun Dynasty. You can also browse through paintings, metal work, wooden artefacts, traditional masks, earthenware, lacquer ware, art supplies and exquisite clothing made from Korean silks, linen and cotton.
Most foreign tourists flock to shop at Itaewon-dong. Apart from clothing, shoe and souvenir shops, the main street also has series of vendor carts. You could also pick up antiques or reproductions and source skilled tailors. Itaewon is also a fine place to pick up handbags and suitcases.
Another shopping area is Myeong-dong, located in the centre of Seoul. The youth favour this place and enjoy picking up the latest in clothes, shoes, accessories and cosmetics. Just like any street shopping experience, you must explore the narrow alleyways on foot to get the best of everything.
In the east of Seoul, you'll find Dongdaemun Market, which is the largest one in Korea. It is well known for its fabrics. If you go further east, you'll come across Kwangjang Market, which is also known for its cloth and haberdashery, particularly its ‘button alley.'
Below the Express Bus Terminal, there is huge underground market that runs the entire length of a city. You'll love the selection of freshly cut flowers here. Alongside you'll find artificial flowers and decorations, ceramic pots, gardening supplies and seasonal decorations. Open all day until 9 pm, the market is closed only on the first and third Sundays of the month.
Namdaemun Market is another market located in central Seoul near the Great South Gate. Primarily an export market, it is known for its cloth merchants, flowers, fashion accessories, art supplies, china, glassware and wrapping paper. For those looking for authentic medicinal herbs, this is the place to shop for ginseng, medicinal mushrooms, seaweed, beans and local herbs and spices. To carry a part of traditional souvenir along with you, pick up white wine jar called Hanju.
Janganpyong Antique Market stocks an array of unique curios, reproductions, genuine antiques, paintings, ironware, chests and much more.
If you are looking for furniture, Nonhyeon-dong is also called the Furniture Street, and has a wide range of speciality furniture both Western and Eastern, ranging from affordable to expensive. You can pick up real bargains during its annual sale where you could get almost 40% off.
The love for flowers abounds in Korea. Yangiae Flower Market is located in Yangjae-dong in Seocho-gu. You can find all sorts of flowers, plants and gardening supplies here.
If electronics shopping is top of your agenda, head towards Yongsan Electronics Market. Located in Yongsan area, not far from Itaewon, it is the best place to go to for computers, accessories and electronics of all sorts. The only thing to watch out for is established shops as opposed to temporary vendors who may be leasing out premises temporarily.
For fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and seafood, head to Garak Market. Here you will find fresh, great quality produce at much lower prices than at the supermarkets.
If you prefer to go to government approved shops, try Noryanjin Fish Market, which is operated by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and is located near the 63 Building. A small vegetable market flanks this fish market, selling the crunchiest of green beans, brussels sprouts and greens that are usually not available in supermarkets.
Shopping etiquette here is such that Korean vendors don't like to haggle with foreign customers. If they feel insulted by too low an offer, they may not sell you the goods even at their original price. As a rule of thumb, start by offering about 20% less than the price offered. If the merchant is agreeable, the deal is on. Generally speaking, Westerners tend to pay more than what Korean speaking expats, Asians or locals would.