It is in no way an exaggeration to say that Seoul is the ultimate shopper’s paradise. Whatever you’re looking for, whatever your financial situation, you can find a plethora of different shops and shopping areas to meet your needs (and wants!).
An ideal shopping day in Seoul can begin anywhere, but will usually encompass the following areas: Myeongdong in Jung-gu, Gangnam Station area, Apgujeong in Gangnam-gu, Hongdae in Mapo-gu, Jamsil in Songpa-gu and around Insadong in Jongno-gu. These areas have a vast array of high-end to low-end shopping, with fancy department stores standing alongside shoe vendors and the like. Another great thing about Seoul is that these shopping areas are all relatively close together and are easily accessed by bus or subway.
If you’re looking for bargains, you can head to the massive outdoor market areas of Dongdaemun and Namdaemun, where you’ll find anything from “designer” clothes and accessories to traditional Korean herb and flower shops. These markets make great day trips and have delicious street food. You can also shop at many of the larger underground subway stations throughout the city. A local favorite is “Express Bus Terminal”. This is just as good as any of the outdoor markets, and you can often haggle for better prices.
Seoul’s businesses usually open a bit later than other countries, particularly on weekdays. It isn’t unusual for a shop (even a coffee shop!) to open later than 10 AM. The shops do, however, stay open much later, so while you can’t go shopping early in the morning, you can certainly shop well into the evening. Sometimes you can shop for clothes until as late as three or four a.m. in most of the outdoor markets. In Dongdaemun, especially, you can find many local clothing store owners doing their wholesale shopping until break of dawn, with all of the food stalls being open late as well.
It should be noted that many foreigners have difficulty finding large enough sizes when shopping in Korea, so items like jeans, shoes and undergarments should be shipped from home. Alternatively, you may be able to find larger sizes in the foreigner area of Itaewon. Generally, if you are a woman and wear a size 8 (28) or less in jeans and wear a size 8 or less in shoes you should be be able to find appropriately-sized clothing. If you’re a lady with a small chest, you’ll fit right in with most Korean shoppers!
For men with a shoe size of 11 (UK) or less, you’ll be able to find footwear in Korea. If you’re six feet tall or shorter and if you’re less than 180 pounds you should be able to find clothes that fit. Unfortunately, that means a lot of expat men have a hard time shopping in Korea. Your best bet is to shop in Itaewon or Namdaemun Market, or order your clothes off the internet.