Shopping in Seoul (and eating tons of street food along the way) can be a lot of fun, but it can also be quite affordable depending on where you go. Seoul is a great place to do shopping hauls because not only can you find a lot of very tempting deals all over the city, there is also a wide variety of goods to be bought.
From K-style fashion, to cosmetics and skincare, and even packaged snacks to take back home, you will never run out of things to shop for.
In many places, you can buy Korean-style clothes for as cheap as 10,000 Won (or around 400 pesos), and have some good filling food for just 3,500 Won (around Php 140). Shopping can be hard work (lol) so you do need some sustenance in between. In this list, I will share with you my favourite shopping spots from my trip last spring, and also possible food-related sidetrips you can take!
Head here for: Yummy Korean food; delicious strawberries; skincare super-deals; cheap cute Korean socks; bargain ladies clothes, accessories, and bags
I have a full blog post on this market so I’m not going to go into super long details about it, but the thing you need to know is that this place is more of a traditional market. With just one glance, you’ll find yourself with the impression that this place caters to a somewhat older population. However, if you head to the underground shopping arcades and complexes, you will find something for people of every age.
Cute socks are cheap and abundant here so I recommend stocking up! The quality is actually pretty good for the price. They even have special discounts if you buy 10 pairs or more. Like 1000 won per pair isn’t pretty cheap already!
There are some cosmetics shops scattered throughout Namdaemun, but the stores are quite tiny. This probably isn’t the best place to buy your makeup and skincare products BUT this was the only place I managed to score huge deals for skincare items.
Maybe it was by chance, but at the time I didn’t see any other Tony Moly branch having a 20+20 Face Mask deal. I ended up paying only Php 25 per piece (about half a dollar!) for sheet masks that lasted me over half a year. Most stores here have specially packaged skincare sets that offer awesome discounts. I also received lots more free samples here compared to anywhere else.
Among the street food I’ve tried during my short visit, I was most impressed by the ones I ate here at Namdaemun Market. Even having a meal here is quite cheap, but quality and taste-wise– pretty good. It’s probably because the ahjumma and ahjusshi storeowners over here really know what they’re doing! Don’t be surprised if they suddenly call out to you and invite you to have a meal at their restaurant as you walk down the street or enter one of the alleyways.
How to get here: Alight at Heohyeon Station and take Exit 5
Head here for: Cheap clothes and shoes that highlight Korean fashion style; artsy and unique stuff from the DDP
Dongdaemun is probably every shopper’s dream because it is open for a good amount of the day and well into the night! There are about 26 malls in this area alone, translating to over 30,000 shops both aboveground and underground. You can get your fill of shoes, clothes, bags, and lots of other stuff in between!
I particularly enjoy walking around HELLO APM because I found a lot of great clothes at bargain prices here. Other malls I checked out were Doota Tower and Migliore, but I still liked HELLO APM better. (Check out their selection of branded shoes at the basement level!)
Shopping in malls like this can be a bit stressful at times, because some storeowners really raise their voices to try and draw you into their store to the point it becomes a little scary. (They also get a little angry when you don’t buy anything.) The moment you make eye contact with them or their wares, they practically jump out at you haha! You can politely decline though so don’t worry.
Some of the elderly Korean storeowners also have this superstition that if their first customer of the day walks away from their store empty-handed, they will be unlucky in sales for the rest of that day. So they will do everything to make you buy anything, including giving you a ridiculously large discount even without you asking! I heard about it way before I went to Korea, but it was different to actually experience it firsthand. (Seriously you guys, it was a bizarre experience but my wallet sure was happy!)
Aside from shopping, I think you can allot a bit of time looking around at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (or DDP for short). The DDP normally holds events like the Seoul Fashion Week, but on normal days it’s like a place where start-up companies and specialty stores test out whether their products will do well in the regular market. You’ll see lots of neat stuff here. Many of the products here are expensive but they’re rather unique.
Alighting at Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station brings you right at one of the doors of the DDP, but if you’re not in the mood to go inside, at least take a look at the cool LED flowers “planted” outside the spaceship-like building. At night, the LED flowers are quite a lovely sight!
Right across the street from the DDP where the department stores are located, you can also satisfy your street food cravings if you don’t feel like eating at the cafes and restaurants inside the complexes. A cheap and delicious way to stave off hunger while you shop and explore!
How to get here: Alight at Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station and take Exit 2 or 14; Alight at Dongdaemun Stadium Station and take Exit 8 or 9
Head here for: Affordable and youthful fashion items; a glimpse into Seoul’s university culture; and the Trick Eye Museum
My brother’s favourite spot to shop for clothes is here at Hongdae. Since this area is populated with students, the prices of food and apparel sold here also cater to students. That means you’ll probably get a lot of budget-friendly finds from clothes to phone cases, more socks and cosmetics too.
In contrast to Namdaemun Market, you’ll notice that most of the shops here are tended by a younger crowd– usually local designers trying to break into the market. The clothes sold here are trendier as well, and whatever fashion item is the hottest among Korean celebrities during that moment, you will certainly find a cheaper reincarnation at the shopping streets of Hongdae. Right now, it’s all about the off-shoulder and bell-sleeved blouses.
Right off the subway exit, you can grab some street food and park yourself at a good spot along the Hongik University Street to catch some performances. Students gather around here at different times of the day to showcase their talents, whether it be singing, rapping, dancing, or even acting. This sort of environment reminds me of festivals like Coachella, except this happens pretty much everyday and not just once a year.
And like any university neighbourhood, this place has lots of hip cafes that cater to students who enjoy trying out different things.
If you’re ready for a bit more fun, you can check out the Trick Eye Museum as well. Quite a popular location among locals and tourists, this museum has paintings that are angled in such a way that when you step into the picture and have your photographer stand at a certain spot, it will seem as if you’re part of the scene! Most of them are designed in a hilarious way too so you’ll be sure to have fun here. 😉
How to get here: Alight at Hongik University Station, then take Exit 8 or 9
Myeongdong Shopping Street
Head here for: Variety of Korean roadshop brands; street food; the Nanta Show
If you’re looking to shop for skincare until you drop—LITERALLY— then this is the place to be. Within just the Myeongdong Shopping Street alone, there are multiple shops of the same brand on one street. And once you round the bend, you’ll spot yet another shop of the same brand! The shops come in different sizes so there’s a big chance that if one shop doesn’t have what you’re looking for, the other branches will.
Myeongdong comes alive mostly in the evening, and while it can be quite crowded, it’s not a suffocating kind of experience. There’s a certain sort of fun energy amongst the locals and tourists shopping or eating along Myeongdong, and you feel like you want to join in rather than stay away. And this is coming from someone who dislikes crowded places.
When you’re tired of shopping (if that’s even possible) and want a little break, you have a lot of choices when it comes to street food. My personal favourite is the gyeran bbang or egg bread; just a really classic-tasting but filling snack. I miss it so much I even made some at home and I’m planning to make another version again soon!
And yes, I am kind of addicted to tteokbokki. On a stick or in a bowl, as long as it’s a little spicy, give it to me! You can really tell which my favourite street foods are from the Korean recipes you can find in my archives. A tteokbokki recipe is one of them. 😉
The NANTA Theatre here in Myeongdong hosts the performances of the Cookin’ Nanta Show. It’s basically a live show where the actors tell a story without speaking, using only drumbeats and knife skills. I honestly can’t imagine how long it must’ve taken these actors to master all those unusual performance skills.
This show ranks highly on my list of unique and impressive things I’ve ever seen. I laughed so much I found myself in tears at one point, thanks to the lead actor’s comedic chops! Chang Hwan Ko-sshi, you made me cry tears of joy! Try and book the day and the hour when he performs. I promise you will come out of the theater with a lighter heart. 😉
How to get here: Alight at Myeongdong Station, Exit 5, 6, 7, or 8; Alight at Euljiro 1 (ij-ga) Station, Exit 5 or 6
BONUS: For Korean Snacks, you can try Lotte Mart, E-Mart, or Home Plus. Their products are priced pretty closely with each other so just buy from whatever is closest to you. I’ll be writing about my recommended snacks from Korea after this.
PS. Where’s Gangnam on this list, you might ask? For people like me who aren’t really looking for high-end shopping, I decided to skip Gangnam altogether. But don’t you worry, when I do decide to visit, I’ll make sure to write about it! 🙂