Planning a trip to South Korea and looking to pick up a few new things there? If shopping is your game, you’re in luck; Seoul is the shopping haven for locals, tourists, and expatriates alike. No matter if you’re a beauty junkie, a brand name expert, a hipster, a tourist looking to pick up something to remind you of your trip, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Seoul. Connected by the efficient, easily-navigable, and cheap Korean metro system, each of these places can be reached with minimal effort. Spend all day at one, or do a whirlwind tour of all of them in one day; the choice is yours.
This cozy, contained shopping area is filled with shops aimed at those looking for a quality, authentic piece of Korea to take home with them. Populated by such shops as elegant tea shops and art galleries, the one-shop-stop nature of Insadong appeals primarily to tourists and visitors with limited time to spend in Korea.
This series of packed streets jammed with shoppers is nothing short of a spectacle.
Considered an absolute shopping mecca, Myeongdong features hundreds of stores ranging from foreign brands like Calvin Klein to local shops crammed with ‘Konglish’-bearing shirts and dresses. Of course, no shopping center in Korea would be complete without a plethora of the famed Korean beauty stores such as Innisfree, Tony Moly, and TheFaceShop, among many others. Foreigner favorites such as Forever21 and UNIQLO are also a strong presence; expatriates are drawn in by the stocking of larger sizes of clothing, as opposed to typical Korean sizes, which runs much too small for the average Westerner. The diversity of sizes and styles makes Myeongdong a destination for locals, tourists, and expatriates alike; even for those with no interest in shopping, Myeongdong is well worth the stop just to gawk.For my own personal experiences with Myeongdong, click here to visit the blog I wrote about it once.
Itaewon is the type of place better experienced than imagined. The main street consists of dozens of sock vendors, and if you think sock vendors sounds terribly boring, you are not acquainted with the South Korean idea of socks. For many expats sending gifts home, socks are the favored gift, and often fought over by the recipients. Frequently priced at $1/pair, these novelty socks can feature anything at all from George Washington to PSY to President Obama to Starbucks. Intrigued? A quick search for ‘socks Korea’ will provide endless variations and settle your irritation that you just spent a whole paragraph reading about the gloves of the feet.Itaewon, located near the American military base at Yongsan, branches off into veins of smaller streets filled with every ethnic cuisine imaginable. At night, it transforms into the center of nightlife in Seoul. Its proximity to the American base mean that young servicemen used to be found wandering the streets at wee hours of the night, but the observant visitor will notice signs on many of the bars indicating that these young men are banned due to a long history of poor behavior around local women and alcohol. Regardless, if a cheap drink and ample opportunity for people-watching late at night is your fancy, Itaewon is the place to go. Just keep an eye on your wallet, valuables, and person, as Itaewon attracts a number of different types of people, some of whom may not have your best intentions at heart.Itaewon is also home to the foreign food market, where such goods as Cheetos and Cheerios can be bought for marked-up prices that will make the foreign consumer’s eyebrows raise at the difference between import prices and those of their home country. Nevertheless, for tourists in need of a fix of American junk food, or expatriates who simply cannot go another moment without a huge block of real cheese, the prices are well worth it.
- Kyobo Book Centre
If endless material consumerism is less appealing to you, you may prefer something entirely different: how about a bookstore with nearly half a million volumes of over 250,000 different titles? Located in the ritzy Gangnam portion of Seoul made famous by PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ of 2012, the Kyobo Book Centre features tens of thousands of titles in English, Chinese, and Japanese, in addition to its countless Korean-translated collections. Spend hours browsing and taking in the fresh smell of new, crisp books, away from the crazed city streets – and perhaps even choose one to take home with you.
- Seoul Station
Finally, no list of shopping in Korea would be complete without the mention of subway stations, particularly the large ones, the most prominent of which is Seoul Station. Featuring above-ground shops such as the Korean conglomerate Lotte Mart, every Korean beauty shop imaginable, plus a maze of kiosk-style shops within the subway walkways itself, the metros are a surprisingly great place to shop. If you have the extra time to nose around between trains or at the end of your journey, the subways are often a fun place to browse for good deals or unusual goods you may not find in major stores. As always, of course, keep close tabs on your wallet and other valuables, as pick-pockets in the metro are as common in Seoul as any other major city.
Hopefully by now you’re feeling pumped up about your visit to Korea – or, if you haven’t got one planned, perhaps now you’re plotting how to draw out your stopover at Incheon or Gimpo Airport to dip your toes in the Seoul shopping scene. Questions or corrections? Please leave me a comment or use the ‘contact me’ form to get in touch. Kahmsamnida!