Myeongdong is one of the most popular shopping destinations in Seoul. — Photo courtesy of Marissa Willman
If there's one thing Seoulites know how to do, it's shop. The city's shopping destinations are revered throughout Asia, and travel companies in countries like Japan and China even offer shopping tours to this market mecca. From traditional outdoor marketplaces to sprawling, Western-style shopping malls, Seoul has destinations to fit every shopping style. Here is 10Best's recommendations for shopping in Seoul.
Character socks are popular items in Seoul. — Photo courtesy of Marissa Willman
Discount Shopping Destinations
One does not shop in Seoul without spending an evening in Myeongdong, a shopping district where Korea's fashion trends are born. The streets are filled with a mix of street carts, popular Korean fashion brands and international shops like Forever 21 and Zara. Myeongdong is also filled with beauty brands such as Etude House and Tony Moly. Many stores offer shoppers free face masks or other samples just for taking a look inside, and if you're in the market for a new skin care regime or Korea's popular BB cream, the shops in Myeongdong are often your best bet for finding English-speaking beauty advisers.
Bins of discount clothing can be found in the underground shopping arcade at Express Bus Terminal. — Photo courtesy of Marissa Willman
Underneath Gangnam's Express Bus Terminal is one of the biggest underground shopping arcades in the city. Remodeled in 2012, the underground shopping arcade is home to hundreds of shops selling everything from fresh cut flowers and interior decor to clothing and costume jewelry. Trendy teens and young adults flock to this underground shopping arcade to stock up on the latest fashions without breaking the bank.
Another destination for fashionistas is Dongdaemun, which features several towers filled with clothing and trendy accessories.
Handcrafted souvenirs, like these diaries and albums, can be found in Insadong. — Photo courtesy of Marissa Willman
Traditional Markets and Souvenirs
If you're looking for old world charm and a traditional Korean experience, shop like the locals do at Namdaemun Market. The largest and oldest market in the country, Namdaemun is a bargain-hunter's haven. Haggling is expected here, and a good-natured negotiation is sure to knock down the price of most goods. Whether you're looking for clothing, accessories, kitchenware or a pair of designer eyeglasses, you'll find what you're looking for at Namdaemun Market.
If you're looking for traditional souvenirs and handcrafted goods, head to Insadong. Here, you can wander the streets and watch artisans at work. Known their preservation of Korean culture, Insadong's shops offer goods like celadon pottery, lamps made of traditional paper (Hanji), wooden masks and traditional clothing (hanbok).
The main Lotte department store location in Myeongdong — Photo courtesy of Marissa Willman
Korean department stores are upscale, one-stop shopping destinations but embody a concept unique to Korea. Department stores generally offer at least 12 floors of shopping, with floors dedicated to women's fashions, home goods, baby clothing and menswear. Rather than pick through racks of dresses or slacks from dozens of designers, department store shoppers browse by brand. Products are separated by designer and brand, rather than being mixed together. Also common in department stores is a food court on the upper levels and a basement dedicated to groceries.
There are three main department store chains in Korea: Hyundai, Lotte and Shinsegae. If you're headed to Myeongdong or Namdaemun, be sure to head across the street to experience Lotte and Shinsegae department stores. The Lotte department store is the brand's main branch, while the Shinsaegae in Sogong-ro was once home to Korea's first department store in the 1930s.
Brands like Banana Republic can be found in western-style malls like IFC. — Photo courtesy of Marissa Willman
Western-style malls (think large complexes with individual stores and big brand names) have swept the city as of late. While the concept of mega indoor complexes are relatively new to the country, their popularity has led to the construction of several giant shopping malls throughout the city.
Tourists can easily spend a day at CoEx Mall, the largest underground shopping complex in Asia as of 2013. Featuring independent shops, designer stores, bookstores and a Hyundai department store, shopaholics can do serious damage at CoEx Mall. A food court and dozens of Western and Korean restaurants provide fuel for the day, and after-shopping activities include stopping by the CoEx Aquarium and Pulmuone Kimchi Museum.
In 2012, IFC Mall opened in the business center of Yeouido. Touting itself as an "international-style" shopping mall, this three-level, underground complex features popular international brands like Gap, H&M and Uniqlo. The mall is also home to the country's second Banana Republic and first Hollister clothing store.