The secrets to shopping in Seoul
Some of it’s pretty obvious — like Dongdaemun Market — and some is a little off the beaten path — like Gangnam’s “Snowboard Street.” Hopefully the following list will save you some time and money.
1. Jewelry District
If you have someone to love and money to burn, head to Seoul’s Jewelry District on Boseok-gil (street). It’s in Jong-no (Jongno sam-ga Station, Line 3) so make a day of it and go to nearly Insadong for dinner.
The Jewelry District was established after the Korean War (1950-1953) and now crams in over 1,000 jewelry stores, some 300 design and manufacturing stores, and more than 20 licensed evaluators. You can get a good deal here — but you have to know your stuff.
Antiques are harder to come by in Korea than in most other countries — mostly because the country was obliterated during the war then achieved spectacular growth in the post-war decades. Nonetheless, if you know where to look and are willing to spend quite a bit of money, there are beautiful antiques to be had.
Start at Insadong
It’s often said that half of the country’s antiques are here. In the market for a 17th century Jeoson Dynasty sword? You’re in luck — there’s a whole store of ’em. Traditional goods such as pottery, hanbok (traditional clothing), hanji (traditional paper), and folk crafts could all make good gifts. To get to Insadong, take Exit 6, Anguk Station, Line 3; or Exit 5, Jongno sam-ga Station.
Janganpyeong Antique Market
Go here if you’d like anything from old record players to furniture. There’re about 150 stores. Even if you don’t want to buy, this is a great market to stroll through — not nearly as many tourists as the other big markets in Seoul. Directions: Google it.
Hwanghak dong Flea Market
Who doesn’t like flea markets? With a little digging, you’ll find something special here. Sift through piles of antiques, “ancient” artifacts, junk from the war — old watches, cameras and tacky jewelry — anything you can imagine. To get here go to Sindang Station, Line 2, 6, and exit 2.
Antique furniture in Itaewon
This is where to go if you’re in the market for foreign antiques. Furniture from Europe, China and Japan can be yours for millions of won. To get here, go to Itaewon Station and take Exit 4.
An easy way out if there ever was one: Buy your girlfriend some flowers for Christmas. Go the extra mile at Yangjae Flower Market, Gangnam Flower Market or Hansan Flower Market, where you can get custom made bouquets that will blow her away. Or do something special — buy some flowers wholesale and make the bouquet yourself. It won’t be as nice, obviously, but it will be from the heart (and you’ll save some money, too!).
Yangjae Flower Market
Quite a few nurseries in and around Seoul come here to sell their fresh flowers. Their auction room is quite a sight in the early hours of the day. Available here are flowers wholesale and retail. To get there from Itaewon, take bus 470, 471 and 140.
Gangnam Flower Market
Across from the terminal building, Gangnam Flower Market is located on the third and fourth floors of the Daehae building. You can get any kind of flower here you can imagine. Also check Terminal Flower Market in the underground shopping mall connected to Express Bus Terminal Station.
Hansan Flower Market
While not the biggest flower market in Seoul, its 50 or so shops will probably have what you need. Prearranged bouquets and the like are easy to come by here, as well as a large assortment of artificial flowers. The easiest way to keep your flowers alive in the winter — buy fake ones.
Seoul has one of the biggest electronics markets in the world. Yongsan Electronics Market has over 5,000 stores in about six main buildings selling computers, cameras, game consuls, appliances and cell phones. If it uses electricity — it’s here.
Annoying for some people: Be prepared to bargain for whatever it is you’re buying. Before you leave your house, price check on the Internet or risk getting fleeced. To get there, go to Yongsan Station, Line 1.
Another option is Techno Mart — a 39-story shopping center known for its electronics stores and shaky foundation. Warning: In June, 17 middle-aged gym rats literally shook the building during a warm-up exercise, causing 500 people to flee. The mall hasn’t been quite as robust since the incident. If you still want to risk it, go to Gangbyeon Station, Line 2, Exit 1,2.
5. Behemoth malls
Korea does everything big — especially malls. If you love shopping, there aren’t many places in the same league as Seoul.
COEX in Samseong-dong claims to be the largest underground shopping center in Asia. COEX is in every guidebook written for Seoul, so I won’t waste more space here. To get there, take the subway to Samseong Station, Line 2, Exits 5,6.
Go to Lotte Department Store, then go ice skating, see a movie, go to Lotte World —the world’s largest indoor theme park, a duty free shop and folk museum. If you have kids, or if you’re a kid at heart, don’t miss the daily Christmas Parade at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Adventure Theme Course.
Yeongdeungpo Times Square
Having just opened in 2009, Yeongdeungpo Times Square hasn’t made its way yet into Seoul’s shopping folklore in the same way that Lotte Department Store, COEX, Hyundai Department Store and Shinsegae have. It will. It’s two times bigger than COEX Mall — making it the biggest shopping center in the capital (I think there’s someplace bigger in Busan — a port city in the southeast, but media reports are scant). To get there, go to Yeongdeungpo Station, Line 1.
Shinsegae Department Store
Shinsegae was Korea’s first department store. Now it’s the biggest chain in the country, with three locations in Seoul. This is the place to go if you’re looking to pay full price for luxury brands. Directions: Google it to find the location nearest you.
I’Park Mall makes up about half of the Yongsan Electronics Mar ket in terms of the number of stores. There’s mostly electronics, but you can also find furniture and clothes.
Known as Rodeo Drive, this area is a hotspot for the latest high-end fashions. There are independent shops, department stores, theaters, upmarket cafes and parks. Come here to spend and be seen. It’s a 10-minute walk from Exit 2, Apgujeong Station.
The shopping area between the Ewha Train Station and Ewha Woman’s University is a popular destination for young women, as most shops specialize in affordable fashion. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants, too. Go to Ewha Woman’s University Station.
Myeong-dong is another of Seoul’s shopping areas that’s in pretty much every guidebook, so I’m not telling you anything you already don’t know. Go to Euljiro 1-ga Station, Line 2, Exit 6 or Myeongdong Station, Line 4, Exit 6.
Hongdae’s Sunday Bazaar
Similar to the Edae shopping area, Hongdae is a hotspot for the young and beautiful (and those that can’t afford to shop south of the river). Here you’ll find a maze of small fashion shops, dozens of art galleries, cafes and restaurants. Find bargains at the weekly flea market. Go to Hongik University Station, Line 2, Exit 5.
What would a list on shopping in Seoul be without a couple of its markets?
This is the country’s first-ever market — or that’s what a marketing firm will have you believe. Here you can pick up some great Christmas presents: silk anything or satin hanbok (traditional dress). Go to Euljiro 4(sa)-ga Station, Line 2,5, Exit 8.
Dongdaemun Night Market
A classic outing — even if you’re not into shopping — is the Dongdaemun Night Market. Come here to find some bargains, take photos, drink, or wander through an endless maze of fashion stalls. Go to the hilariously named Doota Department Store to stay warm. Get off at Dongdaemun Station, Line 1, 4, Exit 14.
8. Online: Fake Ikea & Gmarket
Get your shopping out of the way whilst sitting in your underwear in the comfort of your own home; save money and time by shopping online. Check out Gmarket, one of the biggest e-commerce sites in Korea (and the only one that’s in English!) Check it out at www.gmarket.com.
Expats have been waiting for Ikea to open its doors in Korea for years. Rumors persist that the global titan has purchased — or is looking for — land in Paju, north of Seoul. But until that actually happens, you’ll have to settle for www.icompany.tv and www.diykorea.biz.
9. Toys “R” Us
This Toys “R” Us is the real deal. They have a brick-and-mortar location in Mok-dong, western Seoul and can be found online at www.toysrus.co.kr.
10. Snowboard/ski gear
There are a lot of options if you’re in the market for some snowboard or ski gear. Start with these websites to get a feel for prices before heading to the store.
Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, 3F
Nonhyeon-dong Gangnam-gu, 2F
Nonhyeon-dong Gangnam-gu, 2F
Myeong-dong, Miliore Shopping mall, 6th floor
Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, 1F