Only the most famous and well-known markets are suggested to travelers. And for good reason. They’re huge and have lots to see. But if you want to get a glimpse into the life of how local Koreans live, check out the 13 traditional markets in Seoul that only Seoul locals know about in the next pages. But just in case you didn’t know, here are all the markets that the guidebooks and Korea travel sites recommend. These markets are themselves tourist attractions. Their products range from clothes, food, fabrics, electronics, beef and everything in between. At some of these markets, you can literally spend an entire day shopping, bargaining, eating and people watching. Come here and get lost.
1. Namdaemun Market
This is one of the oldest markets in Seoul, and anyone coming to Seoul should know this one. Namdaemun Market is a place where you can buy Korean style metal utensils and bowls, art supplies, Korean style pillows, Gangnam Style socks, anti-cancer ginseng, eyeglass frames, camera parts and everything in between. It’s that huge. It’s the perfect place to buy souvenirs and also to have fun getting lost. The most famous things to eat here are mackrel broiled in red pepper sauce (고등어조림) and knife cut noodles (칼국수). Also, there are grannies in the middle of the market who are rumored to give the best exchange rates (but they’re also famous for being mega mean!).
2. Gwangjang Market
This 100+ year old market is a fabric and textile market. And although you can buy your own custom made hanbok (traditional Korean clothes) here, most tourists come here to eat the really good food at the stalls in the middle of the market. It’s a very genuine market eating experience complete with gritty ajummas (Korean ladies). One of the two famous dishes in this market is mungbean pancakes (빈대떡), which is pretty bomb with a bottle of soju or makkeolli on a cold winter night (also good if you’re by yourself acting out a dramatic scene from a Korean drama). If you’re just into snacking, try mayak gimbap (마약김밥) aka “drug” gimbap. It got the nickname because they’re THAT addicting. Just don’t try to smoke them, ok? ;).
3. Noryangjin Fish Market
Weird sea creatures always make people ooh and ahh. But here, you can say ooh and ahh and then stick it in your mouth 10 minutes later (sometimes still moving!). Pick a fish, octopus, sea cucumber, scallop, crab, whatever your fancy, and have the vendor slice it up for you. Bring it to one of the restaurants next door and start eating it raw or have the restaurant cook it. (See the whole process with Seoulistic’s video!). The market’s also really cool because it’s open super late too. So you’ll see salarymen coming in at afterwork hours, and once past midnight Seoul night owls will start to pour in. Yay for seafood eating vampires!
4. Garak Market
Garak Market is the main wholesale market of Seoul, and it is crazy huge. More than 100 thousand people go to this market everyday, so you might get lost in the crowd. If you’re going with babies, make sure you put on one of those really useful, but kind of strange-to-see baby leashes. It’s a lot of fun to see the auctions, but to avoid the biggest crowds, don’t go at night. Around after 9PM, people start pouring in to do their shopping for the gajillion restaurants in and around Seoul. If you’re visting at that time, make sure you have your own baby leash. Also, if you’re buying produce, bring friends to get the cheapest discounts.
5. Dongdaemun Market
This might be the sole reason some of you come to Korea: To shop, shop, shop for Korean fashion! And that’s a really good reason. Korean fashion here is cheap, unique, up to date and also open mega late (closes at approximately 7AM). So it doesn’t matter if your schedule is packed, just go to the clothes market late at night and start your shopping spree. Also, come here for the really good street food and the Korean drama style tent bars (pojangmacha / 포장마차). But no really… come here for the shopping :).
6. Yongsan Electronics Market
This market might not be considered a traditional market but we just had to add it to this list because it’s just so darn fun. Yongsan Electronics market is where anyone can go to buy cheap computers, camera parts, tvs, appliances, game consoles, and other things that can be plugged into a wall (new or used). The vendors are kinda annoying but also kinda fun to watch as they try really hard to get your attention. And although there are several buildings to shop for electronics, here’s a tip. I’Park Mall, which is connected directly to Yongsan Station (용산역), is convenient and all, but it’s mostly aimed at tourists. If you’re looking for the best deals in the lot, head over to some of the other buildings that aren’t connected to the station.
7. Majang Meat Market
This one we talked about before in our post about delicious Korean food towns to visit, but it deserves another mention here. Just like Noyrangjin Fish Market, Majang Meat Market supplies many of Seoul’s restaurants with their meat. So instead of getting it secondhand, get it straight from the source for fresher meat and a cheaper price — perfect for carnivores with light wallets. And there’s a fun system to boot. Go to a butcher stall, pick the specific type of meat and cut you want, then bring it over to a restaurant nearby where you can grill to your meat-eating heart’s content.
Tip: Seoul has a tour bus that goes to all the biggest markets. It’s an all day pass, which allows you to hop on and off of these buses whenever/wherever you want. See here for more info.
For markets most guidebooks don’t mention, see the next pages.
Keith Kim is a Korean-American living in Seoul, Korea. He likes espresso shots, photography art and he loves his Playstation 3. He started seoulistic.com as a hobby site, and is now in the process of turning it into a full-time business. Wish him luck! Check out his blog for an uncensored view on entrepreneurship, dating and life in Korea. Personal Blog: gyopokeith.com Facebook: facebook.com/gyopokeithkim Twitter: @gyopokeith Youtube: "Gyopokeith e-mail me anytime at: gyopokeith [at] gmail.com