Korea

Where to shop in Seoul (and some tips!)

8 July 2014

This is my review of the places I shopped at on my (er, not so) recent trip to Seoul. Recording it for my own reference because I feel like my memory is starting to fail lately… Hopefully it will be useful for other people too :)

Wondering where to shop in Seoul and interested in knowing about the best (and worst) places to shop in Seoul? Read on!

DONGDAEMUN

Dongdaemun has over 20 shopping malls and is a shopper’s heaven, for both males and females! Guys, you don’t need to be scared of being bored to death, because Fu did most a lot of shopping here and actually bought more stuff than me here!

We shopped most at the “hello apM” building. Something like 8 levels of shopping that opens till 6am! LOVE that they open till so late! (or early, depending on how you see it) hello aPM also has a foreign currency exchange counter on the first floor if you need to change money to return to the hotel after blowing all your cash on shopping lol.

Inside hello apM building

TIP: If you’re expecting Seoul to have low prices like Bangkok or Hong Kong (which honestly isn’t all that low anymore anyway), you’re going to be very disappointed. SGD 10 for a nice top? Think along the lines of SGD 30.

Why am I warning you? So that you don’t go through the same disappointment I did :(

hello apM buiding – Women’s

hello apM building – Men’s

IMPORTANT!: Be prepared to have to bargain like hell at Dongdaemun, or be prepared to be ripped off. Majorly. NEVER fall for the “Ok, I’ll give you a SPECIAL PRICE because… I love Singapore/we hit it off so well/you’re so pretty/insert other random nonsensical reason.”

Remember, it is a conflict of the seller’s interest to give you a low price. While he wants to make the sale, he still wants to get the most money he possibly can out of YOU.

Case in point: Fu saw a jacket he liked, and asked how much it was. The seller was all “The usual price is 150,000 won! (~SGD 185)” *makes a show of digging out the price tag to show us*

When we raised our eyebrows at the price, he immediately caught on and said, “But oh, I really love Singapore and since you’re here today, I’ll give you a special price.  I’ll charge you just 130,000 won! (~SGD 160)”

By then we were quite experienced already so we were like “Oh…? That’s a bit above our budget…” Then retract our hands and step back to look like we are backing away from the jacket (and lousy price).

At this point the seller went all “Wait, wait!” and counter-offered (sometimes he will ask you to state your price instead). He leaned in and lowered his voice, “Ok, only for you, I’ll give the special friend price (really now… we’re friends already?) 110,000 won! My jacket is unique and the quality is as good as the ones in Lotte mall, but half the price blablabla…”

BULLSHIT.

Most (if not all!) of the things sold in these wholesale malls and you’ll find replicates of it EVERYWHERE.

After lots of back and forth haggling, we were getting weary and ready to leave. At that point he conceded and was reluctantly willing to accept 70,000 won. That’s more than 50% off the price on the price tag! Imagine if you just accept the 150,000 won price tag at face value without bargaining?!

To be honest, I really hate all the bargaining. It’s just so bloody tiring. I just want to buy the thing I like at a fair price and leave happily! But at Dongdaemun, if you don’t bargain, you KNOW you’re getting ripped off very badly. There’s also the nagging thought of “Could I have gone lower and gotten it for cheaper?”

If you absolutely don’t want to deal with the tiresome haggling, there are also retail malls like Lotte at Dongdaemun. However, we’re didn’t really shop at those because they don’t really fit into our value-for-money scale.

Yellow-tented street stalls at Dongdaemun

We also visited the entiiiiirreee stretch of these yellow-tented street stalls, and my advice? SKIP IT. 90% are imitation products and they’re bloody expensive for fakes! What a waste of our time.

In short, Dongdaemun has excellent variety and great designs, IF you’re willing to put in the time and effort to haggle (or don’t mind being ripped off, I suppose), or if you have the moolah to blow on the more expensive retail malls.

Reach Dongdaemun via: Dongdaemun Station, Line #1 or #4

EDAE (or Ewha)

Main street at Edae, with Ewha Womans University right at the end of this street!

Edae is another place jam-packed with shops! The bonus is that there are lots of yummy street stalls!

TIP! Be sure to visit Ewha Womans University! The campus grounds and buildings are spectacular! We were having random fantasies of studying/teaching there haha!

However, Edae is a shopping area primarily for females, which makes sense, because of the nearby Ewha Womans University. Guys need not fret though, you can take the time out to feast on affordable and delicious street food! Or pop by a hair salon (this is the branch we went to) to get a super good head massage or cut?

In some sense, I like Edae more than Dongdaemun because the need to haggle is so much lesser!

Check out this shop I discovered:

BAGS GALORE!

Every. single. bag. in this shop is 10,000 won (~SGD 12) can?!! They are of good quality too, not some flimsy bag you have to chuck after one use.

I bought a total of…

7 bags. Shoulder bags, backpacks, top handles, clutches… a variety!

I bought all of these from Edae! All were 10,000 won each except the grey backpack, which was 20,000 won.

Edae is a more pocket-friendly place to shop, partly due to the nearby university students with limited budgets. We did bargain for better prices at a couple of shops, when we could leverage on quantity as a bargaining chip.

Reach Edae via: Ewha Womans University station, Line #2

HONGDAE (or Hongik University area)

Street at Hongdae

Like Edae, Hongdae is another area near a university that has many shops and street food stalls.

However, unlike Edae, this was actually a pretty boring place for shopping. Apart from food, I didn’t buy A SINGLE THING! Fu bought a grand total of 1 item – A jacket.

This place does have the rare crispy hotteok stalls though! (crispy hotteoks spotted only in Hongdae)

It’s not that we were all shopped out either, since we visited on day 2 of our trip! I think the things they sell at Hongdae is not to our style. That, and I only remember Hongdae having lots of food. Restaurants, street stalls, cafes. Lots and lots and lots of food.

The university is not much of a looker either. After visiting Ewha Womans University, Hongik University looks so… common.

Reach Hongdae via: Hongik Univ station, Line #2

INSADONG

Ssamziegil. a shopping complex at Insadong

Insadong is famous for being a traditional street, with many traditional shops and art galleries that blend in with modern conveniences like Ssamziegil above.

Ssamziegil is a pretty new shopping complex and interesting in that you can travel between floors without stairs!

(Excuse the heavy make up. Just finished a hanbok photoshoot!)

Can you see that the connections between floors are sloped? The entire complex is laid out in a giant winding pattern.

There are many handicraft and unique shops, with items that cannot be found elsewhere, but they somehow fall under the “Nice to look, but not something you will buy” category. Lots of people are window-shopping, but I hardly see anyone buying anything.

Still, it’s interesting to explore! On the first floor, you can find a stall selling poop-shaped snacks. Great for photo-taking! Lol.

Can you see the burnt poop pieces at the front? That person must have been really constipated…

On the top floor, you can find…

The gateway to love tags

Similar in idea to love locks at Namsan Tower :)

I rather like strolling down and shopping on the main streets of Insadong because it is very spacious and lined with shops on both sides of the road for easy access!

There is also a good mix of traditional and modern shops. I bought quite a bit of beauty products from Insadong! (Nature Republic, Etude House, Holika Holika, Innisfree, Tony Moly) I also bought more traditional things like the pretty drawstring bags (photo further down).

A traditional paper shop

Pretty metal bookmarks

Love the colors of these bags! They closely resemble the vibrant hanbok colors – LOVE!

For when I make Korean meals at home ;)

Reach Insadong via: Anguk Station, Line #3, Exit 6 or Jonggak Station, Line #1, Exit 3

MYEONGDONG

Row of shops at Myeongdong

While Myeongdong has several shopping malls and brand shops, I personally think of Myeongdong as the representative of Seoul in terms of beauty products! It’s really a mecca of beauty brands!

Another street in Myeongdong

Seriously, most beauty brands have multiple branches in that tiny area, some as many as SEVEN branches in Myeongdong alone!!! Redonks.

However, I don’t really like buying beauty products from Myeongdong. WIth the exception of a few brands, most of the sales staff at Myeongdong are less patient and generous when you buy in small amounts. Really, how many of us can buy masks numbering in the hundreds like the many Chinese tourists I saw?

Guys (and girls) who don’t give a hoot about beauty products will be happy to know that from 4pm onwards, push cart stalls come out of their hiding and flood the streets!

Fashion, accessories, food and more

One of my best shoe buys is from Myeongdong!

The blue glittery base reminds me of a night sky! <3

I first saw this pair at Edae for 59,000 won (~SGD 72) but it wasn’t a price that propelled me to take any action to purchase it.

But when I saw the exact same pair at Myeongdong for just 38,000 won… I bought it on the spot! The owner was a bit scandalized when I had the audacity to ask for a discount. But better to ask than to regret later! I guess Myeongdong isn’t like Dongdaemun when it comes to prices, which is a good thing!

The shoes are so pretty! ;D ;D

Something I bought in excess was…

SOCKS.

Good god. Only SGD 1.20 a pair and the store is exploding with literally hundreds of designs!!! Quality is pretty decent too!

I bought 20 pairs in total :D

Other places have these sock stalls too, but I saw the most at Myeongdong!

Reach Myeongdong via: Myeong-dong Station, Line #4, Exit 5, 6, 7, 8 or Euljiro Il-ga Station, Line 2, Exit 5.

NAMDAEMUN

4 words.

DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME.

or maybe even

SLEEP IN HOTEL BETTER.

I actually had some expectations for this place, because it’s one of the oldest, largest retail markets, blahblahblah.

The oldest part definitely made sense though.

Namdaemun Market’s clientele

Namdaemun Market’s clientele part 2

We probably disrupted the average age that morning with our presence.

The entire place was very crowded, with push cart stalls set up in the middle between two rows of shophouses and severely restricting the amount of walking space. The roads are poorly planned, haphazardly forking off this way and that. The roads slope up and down randomly, which made for horrible walking, especially with my injured knees.

Worst of all? Because Namdaemun Market is a wholesale market, almost everything that is sold in here is also sold elsewhere, BUT NAMDAEMUN MARKET HAS HIGHER PRICES.

OMFG THE CHEEK! Such a bad shopping experience and they still dare charge customers more?!

Seriously, 15 minutes and we couldn’t take it. We would have gotten out sooner if not for the fact we were lost in the crowded maze. We took way longer to travel to this place than the time we spent here!

SPECIAL MENTION: BUKCHON HANOK VILLAGE

You’ll probably not find Bukchon Hanok Village under the “Shopping” category of any guide. But I bought some really pretty things there and thought to list it as a special mention! Surely you’ll eventually tire of just fashion and beauty products shopping?

Bukchon Hanok Village houses many traditional Korean houses (called hanok) that dates all the way back to the Joseon dynasty! They are protected by the government so as to preserve the heritage and culture, so even if you technically own the hanok, you can’t randomly just decide to modify it!

With a hanok!

It is nice place to perhaps spend half a day to walk around and explore, take some photos, and perhaps buy some lovely souvenirs!

A notebook on the left, and stickers on the right

The notebook is soooo pretty! I must show you!

Pretty pastel watercolor drawings! EACH PAGE is different!!!

Gorgeous postcards!

I intended to mail them out, but never made it to a post office, so they’re still happily in my possession :D

Reach Bukchon Hanok Village via: Anguk Station, Line #3, Exit 2


Ok, that marks the end of this long, but hopefully informative post on where to shop in Seoul! :)

For other Seoul posts, check out the master post!

43 Comments

  • Reply yy 11 July 2014 at 2:29 am

    AHHH this makes me miss Korea. Hahah. I agree with so many things in this post I can’t even start listing them, just refer to above k. But mainly I love Bukchon! So many tiny artsy/crafty shops there, but so expensive! Also lol I had the same Namdaemun experience on one of my trips!! I walked out, walked around and was so stunned by the pasar-malam atmosphere I left after maybe 7 mins. Sleep in hotel better is right!

    • Reply Rin 11 July 2014 at 2:22 pm

      LOL Are you asking me to refer to my own points? HAHAHA.

      Yeah! Bukchon has so many cute shops right?! The area was a bit more lok pok than I imagined (I thought preserved cultural heritage area should look much nicer) but the shops made up for it. (btw, one of the postcards was meant for you… but, you know… read reason above lol)

      RIGHT?!! I’m glad we’re not the odd ones out that didn’t like Namdaemun! Pasar malan is spot on, all right!

      And however much you miss Korea, come Japan first ok. YOU MISS JAPAN MORE. *goes and schedule some Japan posts*

      • Reply yy 19 July 2014 at 4:35 pm

        Bahahaha ok ok. Ya, I DO miss Japan! Thinking of coming next October.. but as usual can’t decide if I wanna hang out longer in Tokyo or spend some time in Kyoto/Hokkaido or what. Lol never mind got one year to think!

        • Reply Rin 19 July 2014 at 9:02 pm

          It’ll be your 3rd time to Japan but I don’t think you’ve seen other cities apart from Tokyo, right? Depends on you! If you’re not bored of Tokyo yet, you can stay the entire trip here. Or you could travel around Japan to explore.

          It’ll be hard for an in-between due to the cost of transport. JR pass is min. 7 days and costs 29,000yen so you’d probably want to fully maximize it.

          You might find this post helpful ^^

          But like you said, have one year to slowly think! :D

    • Reply Raji Balachandar 21 May 2016 at 5:23 pm

      Hi.. I am travelling to Seoul next week and i was wondering wht to buy home from there and Lo! i found ur post.. verry informative. Thanks a bunch :)

      • Reply Rin 22 May 2016 at 12:07 am

        I’m happy it helped, Raji! Have a great trip!

  • Reply Jacie 25 July 2014 at 11:49 pm

    Wowow! These are some awesome advices indeed. So thankful. I’m going to Korea in 2weeks time~
    Glad I came upon your blog!
    It’s so helpful :D

    • Reply Rin 26 July 2014 at 12:36 am

      Hi Jacie,

      Glad you found the post helpful :) Enjoy your trip!

  • Reply Mandy 23 September 2014 at 2:23 am

    Hi Rin,
    I will be going to Seoul next month. Can you advice which area is best to buy skincare beside Myeongdong?

    What time the small shops around Edae start operating? About what time they close too? Thank you.

    • Reply Rin 23 September 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Hi Mandy,

      Personally, I liked buying skincare products from Insadong the most. But Insadong has a smaller selection of brands than Myeongdong, so you may not be able to find some brands there.

      As for Edae, I think 11am-12pm is when most shops start to open. I never did hang around till closing hours, but from what I found online, they close about 9+pm.

      Have a good trip!

  • Reply ezann 29 October 2014 at 7:06 am

    hi rin,

    do u recall seeing laneige brand in insadong? is it cheaper in insadong?

    • Reply Rin 29 October 2014 at 12:04 pm

      Hi Ezann,

      I don’t believe Laneige has a standalone store front. I saw Laneige in stores like Aritaum. I think Insadong has an Aritaum, but the signboard is in Korean (아리따움), so you might have a bit more difficulty locating it. In other areas like Myeongdong, the signboard is in English :)

      I find that prices are pretty standard for skincare brands regardless of the location of the shop. The only difference is the service and amount of freebies you get ;)

  • Reply fya zainal 20 November 2014 at 4:29 pm

    I’m glad I stumble upon your blog while doing a research for Seoul :3

    • Reply Rin 20 November 2014 at 7:52 pm

      Hi there! Hope you found the posts helpful :D

  • Reply salas 3 January 2015 at 1:42 pm

    hi rin …. i want to ask you lot of question… can i in private

  • Reply salas 3 January 2015 at 1:59 pm

    best place to shop from in seoul … i am after local designers …and close hotel to those area

  • Reply Giwen 18 March 2015 at 1:40 am

    Hellour post is really useful!! Makes me wonder did u speak korean? I heard tourists are harder to get discounts?

    • Reply Rin 18 March 2015 at 9:57 pm

      Nope, I didn’t speak Korean on this trip! But I learnt a few standard phrases before I went to Korea (like “How much is this?” and all the numbers)

      I got some discounts, but yeah, I think it is difficult for non-locals to get truly good discounts. But as long as I’m satisfied with the price I’m paying for the quality I’m getting, then that’s enough for me :)

  • Reply Rahul 25 April 2015 at 5:07 pm

    You give very important information. Thank you very much for the blog!

    • Reply Rin 25 April 2015 at 9:54 pm

      You’re welcome; Glad it helped! :)

  • Reply Wawa 18 May 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Hi Rin, where should I go if my teenage sons ages 13-15 want to shop for trendy Korean wear at affordable prices?

    • Reply Rin 19 May 2015 at 8:41 pm

      Hi Wawa, I’m not sure what your definition of “affordable” is, but I think Dongdaemun and perhaps Hongdae are good places to check out. Have fun shopping in Seoul!

  • Reply Michelle 7 July 2015 at 11:00 pm

    I absolutely love your tips!!! I will make my way to Asia at the end of the month ( China, South Korea, Singapore and Japan included) and already know where to shop!! Although I already feel disappointed by your mentioning prices are not so low as in Bangkok, I’m excited about it. Do you have any tips on where to get electronics in good price? Thanks a lot!!! :*

    • Reply Rin 8 July 2015 at 1:02 am

      Hello! Glad it was helpful! And yeah, in my imagination, Seoul has fashionable clothing at dirt cheap prices, but unfortunately that was not what I found. But hey, at least the blow is slightly cushioned you’re now mentally prepared for it…?

      As for electronics, I personally did not visit any in Seoul, but this is the info from the tourism website.

      Sounds like it’ll be an exciting trip for you; I hope you’ll have a wonderful time! :)

  • Reply Benny 23 July 2015 at 11:31 am

    Was planning to visit korea during January next year, but i heard that it would be the winter season. wondering is that really stuff to do during winter season in korea?

    • Reply Rin 23 July 2015 at 3:42 pm

      Hi Benny, I think there are things to do no matter what season it is. It’s more the question of what kind of activities you personally prefer.

      On that note, obvious winter activities are snow-related, like skiing, snowboarding and snow-sledding.

      Another thing to note is that January is typically the coldest month in Seoul, with mean temperatures dipping below zero. You may also want to take that into consideration when planning when to make your trip.

      In conclusion, when to travel still comes down to two words: personal preference :)

      • Reply Benny 25 July 2015 at 10:40 am

        Thx Rin. Yeah, would surely try out those snow activities. How about shopping? I get very excited about my korea trip after reading your blog.

        • Reply Rin 25 July 2015 at 3:08 pm

          Are you’re asking about fashion shopping? I have never been to Korea during winter, but I think it’ll probably be no different from other countries with four seasons. They will mainly be selling seasonal apparel, that is, winter coats/boots/etc during winter. When it’s zero degrees out, it seems a bit silly to be selling tank tops or flip flops, no? :)

          Some places might start selling stuff for the next season (in this case, spring) but those are not as common, so don’t get your hopes up haha.

          Your excitement is warranted! Korea is a fun place! :D

  • Reply Melissa 25 August 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Hello there! I stumbled upon your blog while researching for Seoul and I’m glad I did! It’s really useful with practical advise and photos, not choke-full of selfie shots which “famous bloggers” tend to post.
    Really appreciate your effort in putting this up. Cheers!

    • Reply Rin 26 August 2015 at 12:27 am

      Hello Melissa, I’m really glad this post is helpful in planning your Seoul trip!
      I appreciate you taking the time to comment! :D

  • Reply ting 5 October 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Dear Rin,

    May i know where u bought the dairy,stamp sticker and postcard? Have any detailed information? Around how much would it cost?

    • Reply Rin 6 October 2015 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Ting,

      I don’t remember the names or locations of the shops. But the postcard shop has a dog statue and bench outside the shop, and should be obvious if you see it. They’re just a couple of dollars, with the most expensive being the diary, but even the diary is less than 10,000 won.

  • Reply Jaki 3 March 2016 at 1:59 pm

    do you have an idea where to buy jigsaw puzzle in seoul?

    • Reply Rin 3 March 2016 at 7:38 pm

      Nope, no idea unfortunately!

  • Reply Anu 27 April 2016 at 2:18 am

    Hi, where can i buy household items, pottery, ceramics for best value in seoul? Also handicrafts ?

  • Reply Ammera 8 May 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Hi, loved your insightful review. Any idea if the prices of goods have changed recently? Also, is language an issue for people who don’t know Korean?

    • Reply Rin 8 May 2016 at 3:37 pm

      From what I heard from friends who just visited Seoul, the prices sound similar to when I was there. I didn’t know any Korean either when I visited, and I didn’t feel like I faced much problems getting around. Some of them (especially the younger generation) speak English, and many of the sales staff of chain stores can speak other languages (Mandarin, Japanese, English) so that they can communicate with tourists.

      I did find that it was useful to at least learn a few phrases though, like “How much is this?”, numbers, and the usual hello, please and thank you. People are generally friendlier and more receptive when they see a person who can’t speak their language making an effort just to communicate with them :)

  • Reply Amber 11 May 2016 at 11:32 am

    Hi, as a Korean living in Seoul, I really enjoyed your post. I feel sorry for what you had to go through in Dongdaemun, and was a bit surprised that Edae was so attractive, and feel the same for Namdaemun (my mom’s generation would go their for shopping).

    If I can add few words for future tourists to Seoul, I’d like to recommend two more activities- day trip to DMZ zone, and old palace tour. Though personal preference totally matters, I guess both will make quite unique experience.

    Glad you enjoyed Seoul and thnx for the post!

    • Reply Rin 11 May 2016 at 1:40 pm

      HI Amber, thanks for reading and commenting! I’m interested to know where locals usually shop! Could you share a few places where you or your friends frequent?

      Yes, actually I planned to make a trip to the DMZ zone, but that didn’t pan out. I also visited the palace, but it wasn’t included in this post since this is about shopping :)

      I do like Korea (I’m also learning the language!) and already have at least one trip planned this year ;)

  • Reply dis 28 September 2016 at 3:05 pm

    i m a ewha-koica graduate form sri lanka. i miss korea n my friends.ohh i remember these places where i went around with my sweet friends.i really miss those days in korea.love ur country very much.

  • Reply Simah 23 January 2017 at 7:51 pm

    Hi rin,found ur blog.I will be in seoul again for our 3 time durin summer.Regards Japan since u live there,any recommend place to stay like in myeongdong/namdaemun/dongdaemun area which can walk to shops?

    • Reply Rin 25 January 2017 at 6:51 pm

      Hi Simah, are you asking for recommendations in Seoul or Japan?

  • Reply Lisa 1 February 2017 at 9:37 pm

    HI! I’m going to Korea in a few more days……….. But how much money do I really need to bring for a week in Seoul?? I really don’t know and worse its my first time travelling TT

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