Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic’s Guide to South Korea’s Trend-Setting Capital
Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Myeongdong, Seoul's Fashion Hub
Myeongdong is Seoul's most famous shopping district, drawing fashionistas from across South Korea and beyond. Located in the city center, Myeongdong is packed with hundreds of stores selling the latest trends in Korean and international fashion. For the style-obsessed, it's an absolute must-visit in Seoul.
The first thing you'll notice walking down Myeongdong's main strip is the dazzling lights and nonstop action. Storefronts blast K-pop music as shopkeepers enthusiastically wave you inside. Street food vendors grill delicious snacks like tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) and hotteok (stuffed pancakes). You'll be enveloped in the infectious energy of this bustling neighborhood.
While Myeongdong has plenty of familiar chain stores, the real appeal lies in its myriad small boutiques. Many feature up-and-coming Korean designers offering unique clothing and accessories you won't find elsewhere. Be sure to pop into some to discover distinctive fashions with a Korean flair. Styles tend to be bold, colorful, and playful—quintessentially Korean.
For those keen on Korean cosmetics, Myeongdong is a goldmine. Sheet masks, essences, and creams line the aisles, promising flawless, glowing skin like your favorite K-pop idols. Test out samples and pick up beauty souvenirs for friends back home. Brands like Innisfree, Etude House, and Dr. Jart originated in Korea and have a huge presence here.
While Myeongdong is jam-packed during the day, the area really comes alive at night when locals finish work and hit the streets. On weekends, the crowds multiply as groups of friends browse and snack late into the evening. Stick around past sunset to experience Myeongdong's vibrant nightlife and neon-lit energy.
Pro tip: Head to the Myeongdong Cathedral area for a slight respite from the chaos. The side streets here are still full of shops and street food but are less intensely crowded. It's a good spot to take a breather between bouts of shopping.
What else is in this post?
- Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Myeongdong, Seoul's Fashion Hub
- Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Underground at Express Bus Terminal - Trendy Boutiques Await
- Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Dongdaemun Market - Shop 'til You Drop
- Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Find One-of-a-Kind Items at Insa-dong's Antique Stores
- Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Itaewon - Seoul's International District for Unique Finds
- Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Apgujeong - Upscale Boutiques and Luxury Shopping
- Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - COEX and Starfield Malls Offer Lavish Department Stores
- Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Hongdae - Youthful Creativity and Funky Streetwear
Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Underground at Express Bus Terminal - Trendy Boutiques Await
Tucked away beneath Seoul's Express Bus Terminal station is a hidden shopping gem - Underground. This unique underground mall packs over 200 shops and restaurants into a brightly-lit, stylishly designed space. For those seeking trendy Korean fashion and beauty brands off the beaten path, it's a must-visit spot.
Unlike Myeongdong's chaotic streets, Underground provides a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere for strolling and shopping. Wide walkways curve through the open-concept floors as mellow K-Indie music plays. Plants and murals add lively pops of color alongside modern lighting installations. While more low-key than other Seoul malls, the vibe is undeniably hip - think indie boutiques clustered in a minimalist urban space.
Underground is a hotspot for small Korean brands that are hard to find elsewhere. Many designers launch their collections here before expanding, so you can discover tomorrow's trends today. Some shops echo fast fashion while others focus on avant garde looks. Seoul's creative side shines through in the diverse array of styles. Beyond apparel, the mall houses whimsical accessory and jewelry stores to spice up your outfit.
Beauty buffs are also drawn to Underground's makeup and skincare offerings. Like Myeongdong, you'll find road shop versions of popular brands alongside hole-in-the-wall purveyors of creams and serums. Stock up on sheet masks, fads like jelly masks, and novel products rarely seen stateside. With so many stores, make sure to leave time for sampling and comparing before splurging. Ask clerks for recommendations tailored to your skin type.
While not as bustling as Myeongdong or Dongdaemun, visiting Underground still promises heavy bags and sore feet. Weekends lure the biggest crowds. But even on weekdays, the central location ensures a constant stream of Seoulites hunting for stylish steals. Enjoy a cold brew coffee when your energy starts flagging - cafes dot the upper levels.
Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Dongdaemun Market - Shop 'til You Drop
The sprawling Dongdaemun Market is a shopper's paradise where you can browse for hours on end. Located northeast of downtown Seoul, it's one of Asia's largest wholesale and retail shopping districts. Dongdaemun combines modern malls with a traditional open-air market and countless vendors. Come ready to haggle and dig for bargains across clothing, fabrics, accessories, crafts, and more.
At the historic core of Dongdaemun lies a massive open-air market that comes alive each night. As the sun sets, merchants begin setting up their stalls to sell wholesale goods. Row after row of clothing, textiles, shoes, and souvenirs stretch on seemingly endlessly. It's a visual feast of fabrics fluttering in the breeze beneath glowing lights. Unlike typical markets, Dongdaemun doesn't wind down in the evening - it's just getting started.
The market's overnight shopping concept originated centuries ago and still thrives today. Stall owners sell their wares wholesale from around 9pm to 5am, then pack up to make way for retail vendors each morning. Wander through both to experience two sides of Dongdaemun's bustling commerce. The bargains and bustle make it easy to shop 'til you literally drop from exhaustion.
Dongdaemun owes some of its chaotic, gritty charm to being open air. Be prepared to jostle through crowds and muddy pathways. Navigation can prove tricky with little signage in English. Scope out landmarks like the original two gates to orient yourself. Dongdaemun's labyrinth layout almost seems intentionally bewildering. Don't stress about getting turned around - getting lost amid the marketplace magic is all part of its adventurous appeal.
What truly sets Dongdaemun apart lies in the adjacent shopping malls anchoring the market. These multi-level complexes house specialized markets for fashion, fabrics, crafts, accessories and more. Highlights include the cutting-edge designs at Dongdaemun Fashion Town and five stories solely dedicated to sewing notions. The malls offer a more organized (and climate controlled) shopping experience alongside the frenetic open-air stalls.
Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Find One-of-a-Kind Items at Insa-dong's Antique Stores
Tucked away in the alleys behind the main Insa-dong drag lies one of Seoul's best areas for antiquing. While the neighborhood explodes with tourists during the day, Insa-dong's hidden antique stores offer a world of treasures once the crowds thin out. Forget souvenir shops - here you'll discover rare Korean artifacts, artwork, handicrafts, and antiques rarely seen outside private collections.
Insa-dong's antique shops specialize in showcasing Korea's artistic heritage through ceramics, furniture, paintings, and more. Many pieces incorporate signature Korean designs, fabrics, and craftsmanship, like mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquerware boxes or minimalist celadon vases. Beyond appreciating their beauty, it's fascinating to ponder the rich histories behind these antiques as you browse. Who first created and used them? How did they remain so exquisitely preserved? Their storied pasts make these antiques far more meaningful than any mass-produced tsotchke.
While Seoul rapidly modernizes, these antiquarians strive to keep Korea's traditional arts alive. Their specialized knowledge helps ensure artifacts find new life with owners who will properly care for them instead of misusing them as mere decor. Take time to discuss pieces that intrigue you to learn more about their backgrounds. Handle them with care and respect.
Leave room in your luggage since you never know what gem will catch your eye. Maybe an elegant ink wash mountain landscape to mount as art, or a brilliant sanggam wood box inlaid with abalone shell slivers. Prices generally skew high but patient hagglers can often negotiate small discounts, especially near closing time.
Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Itaewon - Seoul's International District for Unique Finds
Nestled on the northern side of the Han River, Itaewon holds the distinction of being Seoul’s most international neighborhood. While most districts in the capital showcase Korean culture and cuisine, Itaewon offers a vibrant multicultural mix courtesy of the nearby U.S. military base. Wander its cosmopolitan streets to discover global eats, imported goods, and fashions with a Western flair.
Itaewon’s pan-Asian diversity stems from the American military presence dating back to the Korean War. The base attracted American and European businesses catering to foreign residents seeking familiar comforts. Decades later Itaewon retains this global outlook, both in its resident expat population and the many restaurants dishing up authentic international fare. Craving German sausages? Greek gyros? Mexican burritos? You’ll find them all in Itaewon.
Beyond cuisines, the neighborhood also boasts import shops stocking overseas products difficult to find elsewhere in homogenous South Korea. Australian Vegemite, British PG Tips, and American Oreos flood shelves that would sit barren across Seoul. For a taste of home, visitors can load up on favorite snacks and sundries.
Itaewon’s fashions also skew international, though expect higher price points than Myeongdong or Dongdaemun. The main drag, Itaewonno Street, overflows with boutiques selling tailored menswear alongside chic leather goods. Down the hill, wander tree-lined side streets to discover classy antique stores mixed among posh galleries and bistros.
According to Sarah M., who moved to Seoul last year, “Itaewon feels like a world away from the rest of Seoul. My first weekend here, I could have sworn I was back in New York with the diversity, street style, and energy. I love that it caters to foreigners looking for a home away from home.”
Indeed, Itaewon emanates an inclusive vibe welcoming to all. Seoulites from across the city flock here to experience cultures from around the globe. English permeates conversations, menus boast translations, and signs advertise in Hangul, English and other languages. The mélange makes Itaewon Seoul’s most visitor-friendly district.
Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Apgujeong - Upscale Boutiques and Luxury Shopping
Apgujeong captivates as Seoul’s ritziest neighborhood, where glittering luxury boutiques line the main drag nicknamed “Korea’s Champs Élysées”. This is the place to indulge in extravagant shopping sprees across designer fashions, jewelry, cosmetics and more. With its upscale aesthetic, Apgujeong attracts wealthy Koreans and visitors seeking to splash some serious cash.
The heart of Apgujeong’s opulence lies along tree-lined Apgujeongno Street. Pavement café seating spills out amid prestigious flagship stores for global powerhouse brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Prada. Their elegant window displays practically dare you to come inside and start swiping your credit card. For serious couture collectors, Galleria Department Store sits at the corner of Apgujeongno and offers several floors of luxury all under one roof.
While Apgujeong glimmers with international names, the area also highlights Seoul’s homegrown designers that celebrities covet. Boon the Shop curates cutting-edge Korean style alongside niche imported labels. Stop by for a quintessential Apgujeong mix of posh yet artsy concepts. Those seeking customizable fashion should visit Concept Korea. The made-to-order atelier crafts bespoke designs modified precisely for your body measurements. With Apgujeong prices, exclusivity comes standard.
Beauty fanatics flock to Apgujeong to test the latest cosmetics trends born in Seoul. South Korea’s flawless beauty ideals demand constant innovation and perfection. Hence, beauty labs clustered around Dosan Park, nicknamed “Beauty Belt”, work tirelessly developing next-generation skincare formulas and pigments. They then launch lines carrying the prestigious “Made in Apgujeong” designation. Signifying luxury and quality, products produced here often gain immediate cachet and loyal followers.
Lisa, an Austin accountant who visited Seoul last October, describes her Apgujeong beauty-hunting: “It blew my mind seeing beauty shops more upscale than any department store makeup counter back home. I spent hours just browsing and sampling. My skin never glowed so gorgeously as it did after indulging in those premium creams.”
Indeed, an Apgujeong beauty shopping spree makes for the ultimate glow-up. Masks infused with pearl powder and snail mucin offer you a celebrity-worthy radiance. Beauty consultants graciously offer tips on products best suited for your skin type. Walk out with bags brimming with serums and potions to pamper yourself for months afterwards.
Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - COEX and Starfield Malls Offer Lavish Department Stores
For shopaholics seeking vast department store complexes, COEX Mall and Starfield Mall are can't-miss additions to your Seoul itinerary. Located in the affluent Gangnam district, these two interconnected indoor malls provide customers with a seemingly endless spread of luxury shopping options across fashion, cosmetics, accessories, and more.
Spanning six floors, COEX Mall houses over 300 international and domestic brands. Shoppers can browse flagship stores from coveted designers like Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga. COEX also features Korea's largest underground aquarium, concert hall, and convention center for when you need a shopping break. Alongside familiar chains, keep an eye out for unique Korean brands unavailable elsewhere.
According to Andrew, an avid Seoul shopper, "I was stunned by COEX's sheer size and selection. Each floor has a different focus so it never gets boring. I discovered amazing up-and-coming Korean menswear designers tucked away that I haven't been able to find since."
Indeed, much of COEX's appeal stems from uncovering hidden gems scattered throughout the massive mall. High-end Korean skincare brands offer indulgent facials, while specialty boutiques hawk cutting-edge fashion and quirky accessories.
Directly connected to COEX lies the newer, even more upscale Starfield Mall. Opened in 2021, Starfield immediately asserted itself as one of Seoul's premier luxury shopping destinations. The multi-story complex houses over 240 curated brands, including dozens of limited-time pop-up shops that rotate frequently. Chic lounges and an elegant courtyard provide shoppers serene respites to refuel and refresh between stores.
Fashionista Min Jie raves, "I could seriously spend an entire weekend getting lost in Starfield. They always have special exhibits and pop-ups to discover. Last visit I found a pop-up highlighting emerging Korean jewelry designers - all totally unique shapes and materials."
Indeed, Starfield's rotating pop-ups keep the mall dynamic rather than static. Book a stylist appointment at the Dior Beauty Salon, then browse artisan crafts at the Traditional Market exhibit across the way. The variety and beauty of the stores entice visitors to keep wandering its polished corridors.
Seoul Searching: A Shopaholic's Guide to South Korea's Trend-Setting Capital - Hongdae - Youthful Creativity and Funky Streetwear
Tucked away northwest of the city center, the Hongdae district buzzes as a lively incubator of Korean youth culture. Hongdae’s streets burst with creative energy as students from the neighboring Hongik University rub shoulders with young artists, musicians, and designers. Walking around feels like stepping onto a college campus as the neighborhood resonates with youthful vibrancy. Independent shops and street stalls sell the latest quirky fashions often inspired by Hongdae’s creative vibe.
At the heart of Hongdae lies its namesake Hongik University. The prestigious art and design school spurred a flowering of creativity and vibrant performing arts scene. Band flyers plaster walls while indie clothing shops line the alleys. Grab some triangle kimbap at a street stall then watch breakdancers spin in the urban park. Hongdae stays up late; on weekends, the district’s narrow lanes overflow until dawn with revelers club-hopping between buzzing bars and karaoke joints.
During the day, Hongdae beckons visitors to join the youthful fun. Young street performers energetically dance and sing in hopes of earning applause. Browse small galleries where upstart artists display edgy paintings and sculptures. Strike silly poses beside playful murals splashed across building walls.
Hongdae’s streets also serve as Seoul’s catwalk to flaunt daring style. Hipsters sport bold makeup and rainbow-hued hair alongside the latest runway-inspired outfits. Vintage military jackets get remixed with retro sneakers and cute socks. Hongdae’s indie fashionistas set trends by daring to be different.
The main strip of Hondae-gil road overflows with funky clothing boutiques and accessory shops catering to these fashion-forward youths. Cute dresses hang beside artsy patterned shirts and quirky printed pants that certainly won’t blend into any crowd. Shelves overflow with chunky platform shoes and sneakers in every color. It’s the perfect place to pick a few statement pieces to liven up your wardrobe.
Down the street, Artists’ Alley lives up to its name with dozens of small craft stores and ateliers. Watch an artist handcrafting jewelry before browsing her designs. Makers here tend toward subtle and delicate - understated earrings, woven bracelets, dainty necklaces. Further along, deep basement shops stock cheap fabrics for fashion students to transform into one-of-a-kind garments.