Jam-packed with sprawling department stores, sidewalk vendors, chain shops, designer boutiques, and K-Beauty retailers, if you can’t find what you’re looking for in Korea’s capital, it may not exist. From the Parisian-inspired streets of ultra-chic Garosugil, to the futuristic Zaha Hadid-designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza, break out your credit cards, save room in your suitcase, and get ready to shop until you drop in Seoul.
Note: Don’t forget that Korea offers tax-free shopping to foreign tourists spending between 30,000 won and 300,000 won per purchase while in Korea (the maximum refund is currently 5,000,000 won). Ask for a VAT refund receipt when shopping at tax-free approved stores, and be sure to submit your receipts at the airport prior to departure.
Possibly Seoul’s most famous shopping destination, this vibrant district has it all. Score designer goods at the flagships of Korea’s two most popular department store brands, Lotte and Shinsegae. Browse the racks of some of Korea’s top fast fashion brands such as Codes Combine and Stylenanda, plus international labels like UNIQLO and Zara. Grab some sheet masks in bulk for your friends back home from beauty brands Nature Republic, The Face Shop, and Etude House. Hungry from all that shopping? Pop by any of the street food vendors for treats like twigim (Korean-style tempura), gimbap (a food similar to sushi rolls), or odeng (fish cake skewers), just name a few.
Myeongdong is often crowded since it’s also filled with restaurants, bars, karaoke rooms, and coffee shops, but most stores keep hours between approximately 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. Bring a mix of cash and cards, as the smaller vendors may only accept cash (there are plenty of banks in the area, and ATMs with international service can also be found in most convenience stores).
Garosugil Street in Sinsadong
Set in the upscale Gangnam district, Garosugil street in the Sinsadong area is known for chic boutiques, photogenic coffee shops, and celebrity sightings. The wide, ginko tree-lined avenue has been compared to Paris, and the area is indeed a well-known fashion hub housing labels by both domestic and international designers. You’ll find concept stores like Gentle Monster, an eyewear brand featuring an ever-rotating, museum-like space, as well as the flagship store of cult beauty brand Dr. Jart+, which is themed like an oversized laboratory.
You should have no trouble using a foreign credit or debit card in this area of Seoul.
As Korea’s largest and oldest traditional market, Namdaemun is the place to go for a bargain. Meaning “Great South Gate,” the geographic location for which the place is named, Namdaemun Market has everything from clothes and kitchenware, to flowers, food and souvenirs. Tourists often flock here at daybreak to photograph the morning hustle, but the market remains busy throughout the day. Notable souvenirs to watch for include hanboks (Korean traditional clothing), paper fans, ginseng, dried seaweed, and tea or tea-related trinkets.
Daily operating hours vary by vendor, however the entire market is closed on Sundays. It’s best to bring cash for the best bargains.
Once called the Rodeo Drive of Korea, Apgujeong is a Seoul fashion hotspot and home to designer labels at the ritzy Galleria department store, which is set in two distinctive buildings across the street from each other (one resembling a modern Light-Bright board, and the other set in a sober Italianate-style structure). Just like the real Beverly Hills, Apgujeong is also home to a plethora of salons, plastic surgery clinics, and see-and-be-seen eateries, but you can also find modestly priced boutiques purveying trendy clothing, shoes, and hair accessories.
The Galleria is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and accepts foreign credit cards.
If you’re looking for cheap, trendy souvenirs to commemorate your time in Korea, the area surrounding Hongik University is the place to find them. Filled with thousands of storefronts bursting with baubles such as phone cases, hair accessories, fans, t-shirts, jewelry, and various other doodads, Hongdae is a bargain hunter’s paradise. The area is also known for colorful graffiti, plentiful buskers, and the Hongdae Free Market, which features artworks and handmade products.
Bring cash for the street front stalls. Larger stores accept foreign credit cards. Most shops in Hongdae are open very late, to correspond with the area’s energetic nightlife scene. The Hongdae Free Market operates every Saturday from March to November.
Located south of the Han River in the Guro area, this futuristic shopping complex is a destination in itself. Though it is a mall, and thus features common mall attributes such as the requisite H&M and Zara, where it really shines is in the food court meant to resemble a Korean folk village, and the seven-story waterfall in the atrium. D-Cube City is also home to a movie theater, arts center, music hall, and the Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel, worth a visit if only for the spectacular views from the indoor pool on the 27th floor.
Credit cards accepted, and generally open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
While Myeongdong may be the most famous of Seoul’s shopping locales, the largest is without a doubt Dongdaemun Market. The area has a whopping 26 shopping malls and 30,000 specialty stores where you can buy almost anything, and is home to the iconic Zaha Hadid-designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza. The streamlined structure resembles a giant spaceship, and is the city’s art and culture hub, housing a convention center, exhibition halls, museums, cafes, and shopping areas.
Much of Dongdaemun Market, including the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, is open 24 hours. Either cash or cards are accepted based on individual vendors.
Itaewon Antique Furniture Street
For a quirky day out, head to Itaewon Antique Furniture Street in the international district of Itaewon. Set near the once bustling Yongsan U.S. Army Garrison, this street was where soldiers would try to sell their old furniture before they headed back to the U.S., or at least that's how the story goes. Since then the street has blossomed into one of Korea’s largest antiques markets. Peruse through the nearly 100 shops selling quirky tchotchkes, genteel china, and Queen Anne-style furnishings, or return on the weekend for the laid-back Weekend Flea Market. Another, similar, place to check out is the Seoul Folk Flea Market, which also sells interesting crafts, foods, and regional items from around the peninsula.
Hours and payment methods vary by vendor.