Seoul is one of the best shopping destinations in Asia and is the place to shop for a variety of items from beauty products to fashionable clothes and traditional ceramics. Travel to Seoul with an empty suitcase because you are going to need all the space you can get.
With the explosion of Korean culture in Asia – Korean BBQ meals, K-Pop craze, fashion wear, skincare and cosmetics revolution – a trip to Seoul in South Korea means many things to many people. Whether you are seeking culture, cuisine or entertainment, one of the things that you will invariably do in Seoul is shopping. And you can shop ‘til you drop, for Seoul has a plethora of shopping pleasures for all kinds of budget, even for the most reluctant shopper.
Catering to distinct types of shoppers, here are four shopping districts in Seoul that have you covered:
Beauty Heaven in Myeongdong
Myeongdong is one of the most popular shopping districts and is known as the skincare and cosmetics heaven of Seoul. The Korean beauty industry has taken the world by storm, introducing high-quality products, the latest beauty trends and innovative make-up techniques.
Almost every Korean beauty brand has outlets in Myeongdong – a multitude of cosmetic shops and skincare stores clustered around the central street of Jungang-gil and Myeongdong Theatre. The streets are lined with brand outlets such as Etude House, Skinfood, Tony Moly, Nature Republic, The Face Shop with multiple outlets of the same brand located every few metres from each other. One of the great shopping experiences in Myeongdong is the availability of free samples and discounts in most shops. You can get free facial masks and fantastic bargains while shopping. Also, the sales assistants can speak a few foreign languages including English and Chinese – to some degree – which makes for a pleasant shopping experience for international visitors who don’t speak the Korean language.
With giveaways and discounts, shopping for beauty products in Myeongdong is comparatively cheaper than in your home country. Do expect big crowds and long queues during the weekends, especially in the late afternoon or early evening.
Luxury Fashion Mecca in Apgujeong
More so than just about any neighbourhood in Seoul, Apgujeong drips with money as it is here that much of the city’s highest of high-end shopping is centered. Apgujeong is Seoul’s luxury fashion mecca and in the centre of Apgujeong’s fashion world is Rodeo Street, the name and concept take after the famed Rodeo Drive of Beverly Hills.
Rodeo Street of Apgujeong starts from the twinned Galleria Department Store which comprises two parts – Galleria East and West – a parallel divide between old money and the nouveau riche. Galleria East is the original site for high-end shopping where storefronts read Gucci, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana while Galleria West is mainly funky boutiques featuring youth culture and cutting-edge trends. Galleria East is elegant but understated but Galleria West is shimmering and multi-coloured.
Apart from luxury shopping, Apgujeong district flaunts high-end shops and businesses that would help to make yourself look beautiful and glamorous – there are hair salons and nail shops, dermatology and plastic surgery, and modeling agencies.
Being located in one of the wealthiest areas in the city, Apgujeong is an interesting place for people-watching and you might even spot the occasional Korean celebrity.
Go Traditional In Insadong
If you are searching for hanbok (Korean traditional clothing), hanji (traditional paper), traditional tea, calligraphy materials, pottery and folk crafts, Insadong is the focal point of Korean culture, giving rich opportunities for local and tourists to experience traditional arts and crafts. In fact, Insadong is renowned as the largest district for trading antiques and artwork in the country.
The entrance to the main strip, Insadong Street is marked by a giant stone paintbrush that symbolizes the district’s artistic roots. Streets are lined with art galleries, wooden tea houses, restaurants, cafes and small shops selling paintings, pottery and crafts. Most tourists tend to explore Insadong Street only but there are over one hundred unique art galleries in the area, therefore it is worthwhile to check out the narrow side lanes and back alleys that are also a treasure trove of antique shops, galleries and cafes. The most popular items are Korean ceramics, some dating back thousands of years ranging in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
The best time to visit Insadong is during weekends when vehicles are not permitted to enter the district, thus making it more enjoyable for visitors to shop in the area.
Non-stop Shopping in Dongdaemun
Imagine shopping in one convenient location where there are 26 shopping malls, 3,000 specialty shops and 50,000 manufacturers, at any time of the day? It might seem like the stuff of dreams but it’s real in Dongdaemun district.
You can find almost anything you need in Dongdaemun from silk and fabric, clothes, shoes and accessories, electronics, leather good, sporting items, pet products and toys, etc. The best part is that the shopping malls and shops in Dongdaemun are open from 10am to 5am the following day. Now that’s shopping to the extreme!
Dongdaemun district consists of retail and wholesale sections. You will find the big multi-storey shopping malls in the retail section whereas the wholesale section comprises smaller malls in which the shopkeepers mainly sell items in bulk. The wholesale section gets busy particularly late at night when shop owners from the retail section of Dongdaemun and other parts of Seoul come here to purchase their stock items.
If you run out of cash or unsure of the location of the shops, there are money changers, ATMs and information desks with multilingual staff available in these shopping malls. And if you are hungry, head out to the night markets to have street food which will help to replenish your energy while you shop.