Paris is the city of lights. New York is the city that never sleeps. And Seoul is the city of non-stop shopping. If you’re looking to visit Seoul, arrive with an empty suitcase and plan on burning some plastic, because be it makeup, jewellery, clothing, K-pop merch or snacks, this South Korean city is a true oasis for shopaholics. But beware, not all Seoul shopping is created equal. Take it from a local and use the following guide to navigate you through the seemingly endless maze that is Seoul shopping.
Any well-heeled Seoulite worth their salt will name this as one of their top shopping districts. Its name translates to tree-lined street and while foot traffic here can be ridiculous, the verdant pathways make it feel like a peaceful, pretty place to shop up a storm. What’s it known for? In a word: beauty. From high-end luxe labels to indie local favourites and lower-end crowd-pleasers, Garosugil is the barometer of a brand’s success. With fantastical concept stores galore (check out Gentle Monster and Tamburins), Garosugil blends shopping with the intrigue of art installations so you can feel a wee bit cultured as you stock up on your Dr Jart masks. Garosugil is also popular among Korean couples because of its fabulous cafes, so if you need to rest your aching arms and legs, you can always find refuge in one of its many dainty coffee shops.
Fast fashion is prevalent worldwide but in Korea, it’s just a little bit faster. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gangnam. While the suburb is synonymous now with affluence, the shops near the main hub are actually low-priced and trendy, catering to a younger audience. Locals flock here when they need new additions to their wardrobe that simply need to last the season, not a decade. Unsurprisingly, the main streets are filled with bigger name brands, especially streetwear, but if you venture further into the alleyways, there are tonnes of massive stores tucked away in basements with beautiful dresses on display for $20 and below.
Once a shopping mecca for locals to shop for clothes, this has become a ground reserved almost exclusively for tourists. It’s worth a visit for the sheer scale—the area consists of big clusters of tall buildings of indoor markets. While there is still some budding talent in the Doota Tower, keep in mind that most locals know that they can get the same items cheaper in Gangnam or Namdaemun.
That brings us to Namdaemun, one of the oldest markets in Seoul. Namdaemun sells a bit of everything and is still the local go-to for buying super cheap accessories and beauty products. While you won’t find any of the newer, trendy indie brands beloved by locals, if you’re looking for a basic Innisfree shea butter mask, Namdaemun’s your answer. For food, Namdaemun is famous among Seoulites for its boiled Halibut, which is much more appetising than it sounds.
If, at some point, you get tired of shopping for makeup, Insadong and Ikseondong offer a more traditional fare with beautifully handcrafted tableware and local artwork. The area is also famous for tea houses so make sure to visit one for some seasonal Korean refreshment. Tteurang is well-known among tea-drinking Seoulites as it also sells delicious homemade Korean snacks to accompany the tea, and it is housed in a hanok (traditional Korean house) so you can get the full cultural experience.
Last on the list is Myeongdong. A tourist fave, Myeongdong is perfect if you want your fix for BTS badges, the latest Blackpink lightsticks or your body weight in sheet masks (don’t miss out on the Innisfree flagship store). Loud and bustling, Myeongdong requires a bit of warrior mentality and is certainly not a gentle stroll with friends and you won’t find too many cute cafes here (save that for Garosugil).
Text: Kelly Im