Top 4 Shopping Streets in Seoul – Myeongdong, Hongdae, Ewha, Dongdaemun30 August, 2014
Seoul is a shopping paradise for all kinds of things e.g. skincare products, cosmetics, fashionable clothes, shoes – yup all the things you see the actresses and actors wear and carry in those Korean drama – Seoul is the place to get them all. So many things to buy and so many places to see in Seoul but where exactly to find them all – I will share with you top 4 shopping areas in Seoul in this blog post. If you need help planning your Seoul itinerary, you can download our Seoul 5D4N itinerary and 4D3N Jeju self-drive itinerary for reference. 🙂
Let’s start with Myeongdong…
The “Orchard Road” of Seoul – Myeongdong: Buy Your Skincare/Cosmetics Product Only At Myeongdong
The number one thing that my friends ask me to buy when I told them I am going to Seoul for holiday is Skinfood, Missha, Nature Republic etc. – all the skincare products that they are using. You can buy these skincare products in Seoul for 30% to 50% of what you are paying in Singapore and there are also some products that you can only find in Seoul – the secret to why those Korean actresses/models look so beautiful (besides the use of plastic surgery of course :-))
It is impossible to miss out any of these skincare product shops in Myeongdong because there are just so many of them – not just in terms of variety (some of them sound very similar e.g. Skinfood, It’s Skin) but there are so much duplication of shops of the same brand within Myeongdong – you can walk a few steps and you will reach another branch of Etude House just a few metres away from another branch.
A quick look at the Myeongdong map below will reveal that there are many many branches of Skinfood, It’s Skin, Etude House, Nature Republic, Tony Moly. We stayed at J Hill hotel (marked by “H” along the MyeongDong Ro. (St.) around where Myeongdong Gyoza (marked by 16) is located. If you are catching a Cookin’ NANTA performance in Myeongdong Seoul, the NANTA Theatre is marked by 12.
Do not buy your skincare products anywhere else in Seoul or in fact Korea – if you have to buy cosmetic/skincare products, buy them all here in Myeongdong. Because you get free samples when you buy at any of the Tony Moly, Missha, The Face Shop here in Myeongdong and they are very generous with them – in fact for some shops, you get a free facial mask from the point you enter the door! You won’t be alone in your quest to gather up all your facial masks, powder and everything that you need to make yourself beautiful – the shops are usually very crowded and expect long queues to buy your cosmetic products especially over weekends during late afternoons/early evenings.
Just another map to illustrate how many skincare/cosmetic product shops are there in Myeongdong – just look at the right sidebar.
Besides buy 50 facial masks get 50 free facial masks deal and the tonnes of free samples they stuff into your shopping bag upon purchase, you can enjoy more savings while shopping in Myeongdong by printing out the Visit Korea Committee vouchers which gives you discounts off purchases above a certain amount.
Ok – I believe you got my point to buy skincare products in Myeongdong but interestingly, Myeongdong is not just about skincare products – there are many other shops selling fashionable clothes, belts, watches, ties, T-shirts and shoes at the makeshift street stalls as well as in shopping malls in the area.
Here at Myeongdong you will also find big-name stores like Spanish fashion chain, ZARA and Forever 21. Migliore, easily accessible via Exit 4, Myeong-dong Subway Station, is a starting point to shop for many tourists coming out of the subway station.
If you are buying things that cost more than 30,000 won at a shop where you are eligible for tax refund, request for a tax rebate form – you will typically be given a blue or orange colour form. Fill it up and submit for tax refund in cash at one of the tax refund outlets here in Myeongdong or at the Incheon airport if you depart back to Singapore. All skincare/cosmetic/beauty products outlet are eligible for tax refund and it is quite easy to chalk up more than 30,000 won (about 30 USD) with your purchases!
There are also many street food stalls serving traditional Korea delicacies such as fish cakes, tteokbokki (a stir-fried dish made of rice cakes with vegetables in hot sauce) as well as new food inventions like the potato tornado! So if you don’t have time for a proper sit-down dinner/lunch, just grab some food on the go, shop through a few shops/street stalls and then grab something else from the next food stall and continue on!
We bought a lot with just about a day of shopping in Myeongdong – this picture below shows the free samples we received (excluding our purchased items)! So don’t forget – print out your VKC discount coupons (read more abt it in our pre-trip prep post) and claim your tax refunds for all these purchases – that way, you get even more money to shop for other stuff in Seoul especially when you have 3 more awesome shopping places to check out – see below for more info!
Non-Stop Shopping at Dongdaemun – Opening Hours: 10am to 5am!! This is not a typo – most Dongdaemun shops close at 5am.
Shopping is taken to the extremes here in Seoul – from the thousands of beauty product shops in Myeongdong to the wee hour shopping here at Dongdaemun! Dongdaemun is Korea’s largest wholesale and retail shopping district featuring 26 shopping malls, 30,000 specialty shops, and 50,000 manufacturers. If you look hard enough (and understand a fair bit of Korean), you can find almost anything here from silks and fabric, clothes, shoes and accessories, electronics, leather goods, sporting goods, office supplies, pet products and toys.
Dongdaemun shopping district is made up of 2 main sections – the retail shopping and the wholesale shopping areas. The best time to visit Dongdaemun is after 10pm when the night markets around Dongdaemun is set-up and you get complementary street food stalls to replenish your energy while you shop.
The big multi-storey shopping malls Doota (located within Doosan Tower), Migliore, Good Morning City, Freya Town, LOTTE FITIN and Hello apM are lined up almost side by side at the Dongdaemun retail shopping section. Around these big shopping malls, you will find quite a number of street stalls selling various items e.g. clothes, shoes, belts as well as food. There are also underground shopping malls all around this Dongdaemun shopping district. You can see the map below for a 3D-view of the Dongdaemun area – do note that this is an old map – the Dongdaemun stadiums had been demolished and replaced with a huge shiny object – you can’t miss it!
The opening hours of the shopping malls are from 10 am to 5 am the next day. You will find foreigner-friendly facilities such as money exchange counters and information desks with multilingual staff at many of these shopping malls.
Shopping at these shopping malls felt like the shopping experience in Platinum Mall of Bangkok except that it is more expensive (tops cost around S$30 – S$45) but these clothes are more fashionable and of better material than those you find in Bangkok. Most of these clothes boast of the label “Made in Korea” so these are not supposed to be cheap imports from China, thus the price. Check the labels before you buy – at least they should say made in korea before you splash out 40 bucks for them.
The Dongdaemun wholesale shopping section comprises smaller malls where the shopkeepers deal mainly in wholesale and retail, but mainly sell in bulk. These wholesalers are usually open at about 8 pm and close at 5 am the next day – they get quite busy late at night through early morning as the shopowners from the retail shopping district of Dongdaemun and other parts of Seoul come here to stock-up.
Don’t expect dressing rooms to try out the clothes since they deal mainly with wholesale purchases. Refunds and exchanges are not guaranteed, so make sure to check the quality and size carefully.
Younger shoppers usually shop at Designer’s Club, Migliore Valley, Nuzzon and Gwanghee Fashion Mall, while middle-aged shoppers tend to prefer shopping at Jeil Pyeonghwa, and Heungin Stardom.
You can also find a second-hand book street, located on the first floor of Pyeonghwa Market. The bookstores on this street have been around for over 30 years and sell all sorts of publications including novels, essays, poetry, magazines, foreign language titles and rare books, all at 30 – 40 percent off normal retail prices.
While you can snack on street food stalls while you shop, there might be times when you crave for a proper sit-down dinner then I recommend you head over to Mukja Golmok, located between Dongdaemun Shopping Complex and Jongno. Literally meaning “Let’s Eat Alley”, Mukja Golmok is a street famous for its various restaurants. Grilled fish and Korean chicken soup are the must-try when you are at this alley. See map below for info on how to get there – follow the arrows drawn on the map that lead to Chicken Soup/Grilled Fish from Good Morning City shopping mall.
From our travel experience in different countries, we noticed that the area around universities tend to take on a life of its own as entrepreneurial students or opportunistic entrepreneurs set up shops around the universities offering affordable clothes, knick-knacks and many other things – Seoul is no different.
Shopping Around Hongik University – Hongdae Shopping Area
One of the most popular shopping area around universities in Seoul is Hongdae. Hongdae (Hangul: 홍대) is an abbreviation of Hongik Daehakgyo, the Hongik University (홍익대학교). The term ‘hongdae’ is usually used in regards to the Hongik University.
Here at Hongdae, you can expect many shops to sell a variety of goods such as fashion items, accessories, stationery supplies, furniture. Since this is a university town, the clothes here are quite affordable – prices usually start at 10,000 won and up for most items. But the highlight had to be the sale of unique fashion or arts associated with Korean street culture, influenced by Hongik University known nationwide for its arts programmes. Hongdae is the center of Korea’s youth culture and is well-known for its bustling club scene so if you like to “chiong”, this is also the place to be. The whole area starts to open up around 1pm – if you go before lunchtime, most of the shops are closed.
Every weekend from March to November, Hongdae hosts flea markets of a unique nature. On Saturdays, the Hongdae Free Market is held from 2pm to 6pm around the Hongdae playground in front of the main entrance to Hongik University. At this art market, young artists get the opportunity to show their handmade work or performances. Some of the items on display include hats, shoes and t-shirts painted with interesting characters, ceramic accessories, dolls made from wire, diaries with handmade covers and many more.
There are also free concerts from 2pm to 5pm. Various genres of artists transform the corner of the market into an open stage for music, dance, performance art etc, and the crowd is as wildly enthusiastic as any audience at a big concert. After the performances, some musicians sell their home-recorded CDs.
On Sundays, the Hongdae Hope Market is held from 2pm to 6pm at the same place as the Free Market. The Hope Market shares the same ideals as the Free Market, as an art marketplace for innovative artists.
Getting to Hongdae Shopping Area is easy – take Line 2 Green subway to Hongik University station – take exit 9 and walk towards the pedestrian friendly street as shown in the map below. The first part of this pedestrian friendly street comprises pubs and restaurants. As you walk towards the tourist info (marked by TIC in the map), you will reach the Hongdae shopping area on the opposite side of the road.
A taxi ride from Myeongdong to Hongdae will cost you about US$8 – US$9.
The arrows below show how to get to the Hongdae Free Market on Saturday/Hope Market on Sunday from the Tourist Info Centre.
Shopping Around Ewha Women’s University – Ewha Shopping Area
The Ewha shopping area is located right in front of the Ewha Women’s University – enough said, this has to be the best place to shop for young women’s fashion. The prices are also very cheap compared to shopping at other parts of Seoul since it is targeted at students.
The area around Ewha Women’s University is commonly referred to as Ewha Women’s University Fashion Street. Here, you will find a number of stalls lining the streets selling fashion items, such as clothing, shoes and accessories, for young women.
Getting to Ewha Shopping Area is easy – take Line 2 Green subway to Ewha Women’s University station – take exit 2, referring to the map below, if you are in a rush for time – skip the “Main Shopping Street” labelled in the map, the best place to go to for shopping is labelled “Casual Clothes and Shoes Shopping Street”. You find a lot more variety and affordable shopping at this street compared to the main street. If you see an area like the picture above, then you are in the right place – this is also the most crowded area of Ewha.
If you are travelling in a group of 3-4 and is shopping around Hongdae, I recommend that you take a taxi from Hongdae to Ewha – it will cost about 3800 Korean won for the ride. Considering a single trip ticket for the subway cost a minimum of 1150 Korean won, you will achieve some savings and get to Ewha faster!
After shopping at Ewha, if you still have time – check out the Ewha Women’s University grounds too – it is quite beautiful.