Introduction: About Insadong
If Gangnam is for the K-Pop lover and Hongdae is for the young partier, Insadong is one part of Seoul where you can find tourists from all over the world of all ages. At any given minute, a tour bus full of Chinese tourists might be rubbing shoulders with a young couple from Italy or passing a group of older Koreans walking out from an exhibition.
Stretching just over 700 meters, the small street lines up a repeating mix of tea café, art gallery, crafts store and souvenir shop. The street’s reputation for arts and crafts even dates back to the Joseon Dynasty when a government-operated group of painters called dohwason populated the street. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, 40% of Korean crafts are still exchanged at this street.
Visiting Insadong won’t feel like you’re taking a path off the beaten track–after all, even local Koreans feel like tourists here. Instead, you’ll get a good sense of how much Korean traditions influence contemporary culture.
How to Get to Insadong
Insadong is located on a street that cuts through from Jongno 2-ga to the Insadong intersection. The main Insadong street is in walking distance from Anguk Station, Jonggak Station and Jongno 3-ga Station. However, the walk from Jongno 3-ga can be quite convoluted. If you are just visiting the city and not too map savvy, it might be easiest to leave from Anguk Station.
a) How to get to Insadong from Incheon International Airport (or Gimpo Airport)
- Subway Anguk Station (Line 3) - Take the AREX to the last stop, Seoul Station. Transfer at Seoul Station to the subway for Line 4. (There is no direct connection. You need to get out of Seoul Station, walk across the train line to the subway line.) Take Line 4 to Chungmuro Station, transfer to Line 3 for Anguk Station.
* Note that this is an unnecessarily long-winded way to reach Insadong from the airport. You might be better off taking a taxi from Seoul Station. (1hour 45minues)
- Subway Jonggak Station (Line 1) - Take the AREX to the last stop, Seoul Station. Transfer at Seoul Station to the subway for Line 1. (There is no direct connection. You need to get out of Seoul Station and walk across the train line to the subway line.) Take Line 1 to Jonggak Station. (1hour 10 minutes)
- Airport Buses to Anguk Station : No 6005, 6011
- Airport Buses to Jonggak Station : No 6002, 6701, 6015
- TaxiDepending on traffic and tolls, your bill will come out to approximately 60,000 won. (1 hour)
Anguk Station, Line 3 (Light Blue)
How to Get to Insadong via Anguk Station (Line 3)
- Exit 1 : Take a sharp right after you leave Exit 1 and you will be walking away from Insadong, towards Samcheong-dong.
- Exit 2 : Walking straight out of Exit 2 will take you to the Bukchon Hanok Village.
- Exit 3 : Walking straight out of Exit 3 will take you towards Changdeokgung Palace.
- Exit 4 :Walking straight out of Exit 4 will take you towards Unhyeongung Palace
- Exit 5 :Hidden between large buildings out of Exit 5, you’ll find dozen of small art galleries.
- Exit 6 :Walk straight out of Exit 6 until you see a Tourist Information Center before the Insadong Intersection. Make a left there for the main Insadong street.
Jonggak Station, Line 1 (Dark Blue)
How to Get to Insadong via Jonggak Station (Line 1)
- Exit 1 : Walk straight out of Exit 1 for 5 to 10 minutes to reach Gwanghwamun.
- Exit 2 : Walk straight out of Exit 2 to reach Jogyesa Temple.
- Exit 3, 7, 8, 11 : Out of this exit, you can reach Pitmotgol Street, Tapgol Park and the Jongno 2-ga Intersection. A left from the Jongno 2-ga Intersection will lead you on the main Insadong Street.
- Exit 3-1 : Walk out of Exit 3-1 until you reach Insadong 5-gil. This street will lead you towards the main Insadong street.
- Exit 4 : Right behind this Exit is the famous Jonggak Bell which is rung on the first day of the year and other special occasions.
- Exit 5, 6 : Walk straight out of this exit to go towards Myeongdong. Along the way you’ll see Cheonggyecheon Stream.
Popular Buses to Anguk Station: 272, 171, 7025, 109, 151, 162, 172
Popular Buses to Jonggak Station: 271, 150, 101, 143, 150, 160, 201, 260, 262, 270, 271, 273, 370, 710, 720, 470, 471
Tip : The wide availability of buses in the Jongno 2-ga area makes it the easiest way to travel as long as there is no traffic. This is especially true if you are going towards Gangnam. Traveling at non-peak hours can mean you’re at Gangnam Station in under 30 minutes.
Where to stay
Center Mark Hotel
Although the Center Mark Hotel’s website suggests that the hotel is located ten minutes away from Insadong, the truth it that’s definitely closer to 2-3 minutes. Popular amongst many families, many international students and expat-residents choose to put up their parents here. Not located on the main Insadong street, the street is extremely quiet at night while there is a slew of amenities nearby during the day.
- Best for families/ friends
- Central location
- Currency exchange on site
- 24-hour front desk
ibis Ambassador Insadong
A 10-minute walk away from Insadong, the ibis Ambassador Insadong has gained a bit more visibility with the rise of the trendy nearby neighborhood Ikseon-dong. Although the small alleyways around this hotel may feel dodgy at times, many of them have a dim charm at night (and are relatively safe). The rooftop garden, where drinks are served, is especially great during the summer. From the rooftop and several of the hotel’s rooms, you can get a clear view of Namsan Tower.
- Best for families/ couples/ friends
- Great view
- Rooftop space available
Located right across the street from Changdeokgung Palace, the AMASS Hotel is one of the best boutique hotels in the city. With an impeccably clean décor and industrial brick interior, small touches such as the welcome package and the rainforest showerhead are sure to be remembered. From the rooftop, you have a spectacular view of the palace.
- Best for families/ couples/ friends
- Boutique hotel
- Great view
- Rooftop space available
Hotel Sleepy Panda Stream Walk
Who knew that you could have a private room for two overlooking Cheonggyecheon Stream for less than $60? Although this “hotel” has much more of a hostel vibe and needs to work on its finishing touches, the small space does include a flat-screen television, clean bathroom and air-conditioning. Their attempt to have a “boutique feel” fails at times, but considering the price–a lot of it is forgivable.
- Best for couples/ friends/ solo travellers
- Great on a budget
- Central location
Namhyundang (Hanok Guesthouse)
One of the most popular hanok guesthouses in Seoul, Namhyundang offers three different types of Korean-style rooms–twin, double and family. Although it might be a bit uncomfortable for those who are not accustomed to sleeping on the floor, you are given thick mattresses to sleep on and it is truly a local experience. During the winter, the floor heating makes it especially nice and during the summer, having breakfast served to you in the hanok’s indoor garden is also a pleasant experience.
- Best for families/ friends/ solo travellers
- Central location
Where to eat
For a neighborhood so rich in traditions, it is surprisingly difficult to walk into a great restaurant in Insadong. While chain restaurants are probably a safe bet (not amazing, not terrible), what looks like a hole in the wall gem may turn out to be a disappointment–and an expensive one at that. If you are a vegetarian or a strict Buddhist, however, this neighborhood is one of the best options to have meat-free Korean-style temple food. Be cautious of the Korean course meals; unless you’ve been recommended one previously, as they can definitely be tourist traps. Although asking for menus before you enter is not common, you can go ahead and do that in this part of town.
Han Gwa Chae (한과채)
A vegetarian buffet restaurant open only for lunch, Han Gwa Chae offers various home-cooked Korean dishes. While the menu may vary from day to day, pickled vegetables, tofu and jeon (fried Korean-style pancake) is almost always available. The restaurant asks that you only use one plate, but you are welcome to fill it up as many times as you like. With plenty of options for vegans as well, you could make this a go-to if you’re feeling really hungry.
- Address: 13 Insa-dong 10 Gil Jongno-gu Seoul (Gwanhoon-dong 30-9)
- Phone Number: 02-720-2802
- Hours: 11:30am-2:30pm, closed Sunday
- Map Link: MAP LINK
Located on the second floor of the Temple Stay Information Center, Samso is an underappreciated temple-food restaurant that offers delicious dishes at a bargain. During lunchtime, the restaurant is open for an 8,000 won buffet in addition to the regular menu. For those looking for more authentically Korean dishes, you can try mainstays from the regular menu such as the cheonggukjang (fermented soybean soup) or the lotus-wrapped rice.
- Address: 56, Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30am-3pm, 5pm-8:30pm, Sun 11:30am-3pm
- Map Link: MAP LINK
Si Hwa Dam시화담
Proclaiming itself a Modern Korean Restaurant, Si Hwa Dam has two branches¬–one in Itaewon and this more successful branch in Insadong. The dishes here are well-prepared and never over-salted–making it a good introduction to Korean food if the bubbling stews don’t immediately win your heart over. The course menus are not unreasonable but may be a bit much for a struggling student on the go, so make sure to check the prices before you enter.
Taekdaerine Insadong Garlic Bossam(택대리네 마늘보쌈)
A local favorite, this restaurant serves exactly what it promises to deliver–thick slices of boiled pork smothered in garlic. Wrap your slice of pork in either the refreshing, white kimchi or the spicy, red one and prepare to enjoy a tantalizing combination of meat and flavor. Side dishes such as the binddaetteok are also delicious if you’re coming with a large group and looking to share dishes.
Kyo-dong Tofu (교동두부)
Located right near Anguk Station, this three-story establishment fills up with nearby police officers and office workers during the week. While the tofu stew here isn’t necessarily the freshest, you can tell that they don’t add MSG like many other stew restaurants these days and the portions that they dish out for the side dishes are quite generous. The welcoming staff make coming to this restaurant additionally nice!
- Address: 44-8 Yulgok-ro Jongno-gu Seoul
- Phone Number: 02-722-9351
- Hours: 9:30am-9:30pm
- Map Link: MAP LINK
Dduk Ssalong (떡싸롱)
If you’re in love with Korean street food but can’t bear to sit in those plastic tents, Dduk Ssalong is a nice alternative. Here you can find the best savory eats that street food tents have to offer in addition to real chairs and tables to eat on! The Ssalong Set that includes tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), twigim (Korean tempura), bibimbop soup and a beverage is a great deal for 11,500 won.
What to do in Insadong
While even being on Insadong itself might feel historical, there are many historical sites around the Insadong area to be explored. Many of these sites are filled with locals (as opposed to tourists) and often overlooked in today’s world of Hallyu travel.
Unhyeong Palace (Unhyeongung Royal Residence)
Right next to Anguk Station, Unhyeong Palace dates back to the times of young Gojong–later emperor during the Joseon Dynasty. While this palace may be the less frequented of the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul, the lack of large tour buses can give you the feeling that you have the place to yourself. Due to damage from Japanese colonial period, much of the palace is a reconstruction of its former self. The admission is free and you can also rent the audio guide for just 1,000 won.
Located at the entrance of Insadong on the Jongno2-ga side, Nakwon Arcade is every music lover’s dream. Built in 1968, the building is three stories of music stores all in one location. It is, in fact, the largest collection of instruments in Korea. Enjoy the different sounds as people test out new guitars or marvel at the drum pedals from 20 years ago. The tough salespeople inside are also quite the characters once you get chatting with them.
Located on Jongno2-ga, Tapgol Park is Seoul’s first modern park and a short trip here can walk you through the different obstacles that South Korea has faced in its history. Inside the park, you’ll find the Ten-story Stone Pagoda of Wongaksa Temple Site, Palgakjeong Pavilion, March First Independence Movement Monument, Statue of Son Byeong-Hee and the Statue of Han Yong-Wun. The park marks the beginning of the independence movement from the Japanese as the Korean Independence Proclamation was read here on March 1st 1919. (March 1st is now a national holiday). A location for several films and historical dramas, Tapgol Park is known as a hangout spot for many elderly men and war veterans–making it slightly intimidating at times to walk around. However, if you’re in Insadong, there is no way that you can miss this site rich with so much history.
- Address: 99 Jong-ro Jongno-gu Seoul
- Website: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264603
- Phone Number: 02-731-0534
- Hours: 9:00am-6:00pm
- Map Link: MAP LINK
If you’re a fan of shadowy history, you need to make sure that you visit Pimatgol Alley on your trip to Insadong. Meaning “Horse-avoiding alley,” the lower class walked on this 2.5 kilometer street in order to avoid conflict with the aristocratic class who rode on horseback. The street has long been symbolic of the blue-collar man even if that might not be as apparent on a visit there today. While there are some hole in the wall restaurants with questionable cleanliness and small love motels, Pimatgol Alley has changed immensely throughout the years–much due to gentrification. It’s a backstreet worth taking, especially in contrast to the large company buildings on the main street.
- Address: Jongno 1, 2, 3, 4-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Art Galleries in Seoul
Unlike the gallery areas in Cheongdam or Samcheong-dong, you might find the Insadong art area to be much more local. With so many galleries sardined right next to one another, it’s difficult to generalize what kind of artwork is showcased here. In one gallery, you might be looking at the photography of a hobbyist in a room full of the artist’s friends and in another; you might be seeing the groundbreaking work of a new artist from Taiwan. Artwork in Insadong does tend to include more amateurs (or those who can afford to rent out the galleries) and have more artwork from local artists. It’s quite rare to see a European artist exhibit here, for instance. Galleries also vary heavily depending on what exhibition they have on at the moment. If you’re not too choosy about what kind of artwork you’re viewing, just pop into some of these venues and check it out for yourself.
Insa Art Center
One of the larger galleries in the Insadong area, many tourists stumble into this gallery because of the bold, black entrance. While normally, small exhibitions run throughout the building, the center will occasionally have one special exhibition consume it. There may even be a cover charge at times so if you’re looking to stroll in and stroll out–this may not necessarily be the option for you.
Gallery La Mer
Randomly walk into Gallery La Mer and it’s difficult to know exactly what you’ll find. Past exhibitions have included media art, fine art as well as contemporary photography. It’s notable that, occasionally, the artists themselves sit at the doors and are willing to discuss the artworks with you.
Kyung-In Museum of Fine Art
One of the most loved art venues by tourists, this museum is divided up into an outdoor space, a store, three different exhibition halls and a renown tea café named Dawon. As the museum itself is a beautiful traditional hanok, it attracts tourists who are not only interested in the museum’s rotating exhibitions, but in architecture. It’s definitely one of our top art venue picks for this area.
Best Tea Houses in Insadong, Seoul
The main Insadong street is filled with small tea houses advertising “traditional Korean tea.” Although many of them have the worn-out aesthetic fun for photographing, you might not be getting the highest quality tea at most places. The price of tea can be even more than the price of a budget meal on this street so be careful where you go and be sure that you’re well aware of what you’re getting yourself into.
Likely the most well-known Korean tea brand, the tall O’Sulloc building across from Ssamzigil on the main street is hard to miss. Not only can you buy a whole wide range of teas on the first floor, you can also order a beverage and drink it on the third floor. The spacious seating and the large plush seats make it a great place to enjoy a drink or a dessert from the first floor. (During the summer, the green tea ice cream is delicious!)
Beautiful Tea Museum
If you’re not a tea fanatic, this museum may seem a bit off-putting and it may come across like overpriced tea and boring old ceramics. If you are crazy about teas, however, this is one place you definitely have to visit. It is in fact part museum, part store and part café. Tea items from Korea, China and Tibet are on display and if you’re there to imbibe–you have a great selection of over 130 teas to choose from.
Banjjak Banjjak Binnaneun (Twinkle Twinkle Tea House)
Banjjak Banjjak Binnaneun is a second floor tea café whose name means “twinkle twinkle.” The venue combines traditional Korean teas in a modern atmosphere and remains one of the most popular tea spots for young Koreans. The tight seating might make being there for long hours quite uncomfortable but the teas are exactly on point. The mugwort tea and the omija are two popular items and during the summer, the bingsoo (or shaved ice) is a loved seasonal dessert hit.
- Address: 28-1, Insadong-gil Jongno-gu Seoul
- Phone Number: 02-738-4525
- Hours: Daily 10am–12am
- Map Link: MAP LINK
A large hanok tea café located right in the heart of Insadong, this venue has partitioned-off, indoor seating for those seeking a bit more privacy and tables in the café’s sun-filled garden during the summer. The tea that is served here is handmade and everything from the red beans in the summer desserts are prepared in-house.
- Address: 33-1, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Phone Number: 02-723-4909
- Hours: Daily 10am - 10:50pm
- Map Link: MAP LINK
Things to Buy in Seoul, Insadong
The go-to neighborhood to get a hold of traditional-seeming products, Insadong is filled with dozens of souvenir shops.
Truth be told, it’s quite difficult to buy authentically Korean products on Insadong these days. (Many of the goods that you find in Insadong are either made in China or made in Vietnam). However, the reality is that so called authentic Korean products can simply be unaffordable. Make sure to buy products that you don't value for their authenticity per se (be especially careful with ceramics and artwork) or talk to a trustworthy shop owner beforehand. Postcards, key chains, magnets are safe bets. You can also get your hands on hanji (traditional Korean paper) as well as products made with hanji.
Souvenirs you might be willing to spend some money on are dojangs (customized seals with your signature engraved on them). Prices range from 30,000 won to 60,000 won and won’t differ from store to store. Often, you can find someone seated at a small booth willing to do the engraving for you.
In the past year, the street has also seen a rise of modern hanbok (traditional Korean clothes). While the street might not offer the best prices, there is a large assortment of chimas (skirt bottoms) that might be a hassle to find elsewhere.
This small mall located in the center of Insadong’s main street is one household name here in Seoul. With over 70 shops, there’s lot of window-shopping to be done and cute, quirky items for purchase. Popular goods to pick up at Ssamzigil include jewelry, scarves and collectable miniatures. On the top floor, there is also a nice rooftop space perfect for taking selfies.
National Souvenir Center
If we’re talking safe bets, the National Souvenir Center is full of them. Since the store is operated by the Korea Tourism Organization and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism; you can be quite sure they’re not trying to rip you off. It may feel like cheating to buy all your souvenirs so easily, but the multi-lingual staff and the decent prices make it a deal you can’t refuse.
For those that grew up in Korea anytime from 1960 to 1990, you can’t help but have a love and hate relationship with this store located right next to the main Ssamzigil entrance. A nostalgia shop of sorts, you can find all types of fun items–cut-out paper dolls, candy and gum from the 1980s as well as other toys from that area. It’s not as cheap as the corner store that many of us remember and the prices are marked up immensely–but if you’re paying 2,000 won for those paper dolls you loved during your childhood, it might feel like too much.
- Address: 48 Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Phone Number: 02-736-5142
- Hours: 10am-8pm
- Map: MAP LINK
Best Street Food in Insadong, Seoul
While Gwangjang Market might be the place to go to for trying all different kinds of traditional Korean street food, it can be somewhat of an intimidating space. During peak season, the lines can long and aggressive and during the summer, it can be swelteringly hot. You simply can’t there and pick up one or two snacks and walk around. Insadong, however, offers that option and doesn’t stoop low with taste either. Hotteok (hot filled pancakes) of several different variations are especially delicious on Insadong and some things like green tea hotteok can exclusively be found on Insadong. At the entrance through Jongno 2-ga, you’ll find a small square with tteokbokki, soondae, bungeo-bbang (red bean filled pastry shaped like a fish), corn dogs and ice cream. You won’t get the experiment street food like they have in Myeongdong, but trust us–you’re better off without it.
PR Center is actually a strange term for this cultural center and historical site. Located within a hanok built by Prince Ulchin who lived sometime from 1877 to 1955, the Insadong PR Center is one place you go can go with questions about Insadong, interpretation services and even to try on hanbok for 3,000 won. Their hanbok experience is only available within the center but has been one of the most popular services. It is only available from 10am to 5:30pm.