Is Namdaemun Market Actually Worth Visiting?

Namdaemun Market

There are a lot of ‘must-visit’ places in Seoul, but which of them are truly ‘must visit’?

If you are planning on shopping in Seoul, then you already know about Namdaemun. If you have looked at any lists of ‘must visit’ locations in Seoul, then you have already heard about it.

However, many tourist hot-spots aren’t as great as they are hyped up to be. On the other hand, a few of them are must-visits. Places like Namsan for amazing and free views of the city, the Han River, and of course, Namdaemun Market (남대문시장).

Even if you aren’t interested in shopping, Namdaemun is great for many reasons. It lets you see some of the (admittedly more touristy now) older and traditional sides of Seoul.

Both Gwangjang and Namdaemun are great for seeing this different side of Seoul. Not only that, but there is also a multitude of authentic Korean food, and it is a fun place to explore.


Quick Facts:

Cost: Namdaemun Market is free to enter and explore

Namdaemun Market Opening Hours: Almost 24/7 | The market is open for all daylight hours and some stalls remain open until 4 am | Avoid Sundays if possible as some stores will be closed | Namdaemun Night Market hours are 10 pm – 4 am

Location: Hoehyeon Station (located near Seoul Station) | Location

Tours: History of Seoul Tour | Insadong, Namdaemun, and palaces

Where to Stay: Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Namdaemun | K-Guesthouse Namdaemun | Fraser Place Namdaemun


Namdaemun Market in Seoul

How to Get to Namdaemun Market

Namdaemun is very easy to find. Not only that, but it is also in the main tourist area of Seoul. This makes it ideal for visiting!

There is no unique Namdaemun train station. Rather, Namdaemun Market is located on Line 4 (the light blue line) at Hoehyeon Station.

Hoehyeon Station is located right next to Seoul Station and Myeongdong. This makes it a very easy place to visit. It’s also very central, meaning that there is a lot to do in the area.

The Namdaemun Market subway exit is exit 5. Taking this exit will lead you right into the market. There are more detailed directions and information here if needed.

As soon as you step outside exit 5 you will notice the market around you. If you turn to the right you will see a big street with hundreds of stores – this is the main road of the market.

Many stores will be found on the roads leading off of this main road. It’s good to remember the location of the main road. The subway station is right at the end of it!

If you need help understanding the public transportation in Seoul, check out this guide to Seoul public Transport.


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Overview

Getting clothes repaired in Namdaemun

Namdaemun is particularly famous for its camera, clothes, textiles, and food markets. It’s important to keep in mind that while Namdaemun is fantastic, it isn’t always the best market depending on your needs.

Seoul has a lot of great shopping areas. Depending on what you are looking for, there are areas better than Namdaemun.

In short, If you want electronics, bulk foods, toys, stationery, or even clothes, there are other better markets out there. Namdaemun is great as it is a general market that has tons of variety. However, if you are looking for something specific it may not be the best market for you.

Namdaemun’s main road is very easy to find. Make sure you explore further though, as most of the main attractions are beyond the view of the main road.

When exploring the other day, I found a cool food street that is just sitting in between two of the bigger roads. Many visitors never get to see past the main few roads. Many of them are disappointed with the market because of it.

Most of the unique stores and vendors are located within these small alleys and backstreets. I don’t know what deters most visitors, but it could be the thought of safety.

It is important to remember though that Korea is very safe. I have never heard of anyone I know ever getting into any sort of trouble. If you see a cool alley that you want to check out, here is my recommendation – do it! You may find something cool!

Namdaemun Market Map

The market can seem like a maze upon first glance. However, VisitKorea has made a fantastic map for navigating the market.

Locations of interest

Namdaemun has a LOT of interesting places to check out. Honestly, if you visit I would simply recommend that you explore yourself. For as many guides as you follow, Namdaemun is much more fun if you take it as you go. In saying that though, here are some of the places of interest that I found on my visits there!

Namdaemun Camera Market

Namdaemun Market has every camera you can imagine!

Namdaemun Camera Market is one of the largest attractions within Namdaemun Market. This is why I usually visit! Namdaemun Market houses the largest camera market in Seoul.

The camera market has nearly everything you can dream of – provided that it is camera related. I have purchased multiple cameras here and have always had positive experiences. However, some bartering is often required!

No matter what brand or price range you are looking for, Namdaemun Market will have it. To learn more about bartering in the market read on below!

The Namdaemun Camera Market is located at the end of the main road. Simply exit via exit 5 and walk until you reach the end of the road. Turn left at the Namdaemun Underground Arcade and you will see the camera stores.

Food Street

There are tons of food options in Namdaemun!

Perhaps the highlight for most people, the Namdaemun Food Street has an amazing variety of food. There are hundreds of different traditional (and not so traditional) dishes to try.

I would love to describe all of the food here, but there are too many! Instead, let me show you some pictures of the food around the market.

The food street can be found near the end of the main market road. Simply exit from exit 5 and walk straight down the road! The map above shows the location.

E-dong, D-dong and C-dong Shopping Malls

The shopping malls have almost anything you can imagine. And lots of stuff you can’t!

These two shopping malls are located in separate buildings but are one large mall. Each part specialises in different goods. Together, they make a shopping mall that has nearly everything imaginable.

The malls are well signposted and some guides cover the layout of the buildings. If you have something specific in mind, these will point you in the right direction.

If you are just in Namdaemun to explore, then these malls are mazes to get lost in. Who knows what you will find?

Daedo Shopping Center

Another shopping centre in Namdaemun Market is Daedo. This shopping centre is 5 floors high and stocks a large variety of goods.

Everything from food to cosmetics to luxury products and bags can be found here. It’s another shopping mall to get lost in!

While E, D, and C-dong shopping malls are more locally focused, the stores in Daedo are aimed at tourists. If you want to look around Namdaemun but are feeling a little bit less adventurous, this is the place to go!

A full floor plan of Daedo Shopping Center can be found here.

Galchi Street

This street is named after the fish that it is famous for serving. Galchi, known as cutlassfish are medium-sized fish that are stewed or grilled.

The food is generally liked by foreigners and is a unique Korean dish to try. If fish isn’t your thing, then most of the stores offer a variety of other Korean foods also!

Galchi Street is located parallel to the main road and can be easily found using the Namdaemun Market map above.

Namdaemun Food Alley

The food street offers hundreds of different dishes!

The food alley also runs parallel to the main street and is a continuation of Galchi Street. While Galchi Street specialises in cutlassfish, the food alley has hundreds of different dishes on offer.

Every kind of Korean food that you can imagine is served in this alley! It is a popular place for both locals and tourists alike.

If you are looking to experience some of the Korean food culture then this is the place to go.

Namdaemun Gate

You may have noticed that there are many gates around Seoul. These gigantic structures are parts of the old Seoul. In the past, a large wall encompassed the entire city and these gates provided a means to enter and exit Seoul.

Namdaemun Gate also has a second name – Sungnyemun Gate. This gate is over 600 years old and was one of three gates originally in Seoul.

The gate was unfortunately burned down in 2008. However, it has since been rebuilt. It is now a symbol of Seoul and stands alongside Dongdaemun Gate.

The gate is an iconic part of Seoul and an amazing piece of architecture. Make sure to visit it if you get the chance!

To get to the gate, simply walk down the main street from exit 5 and turn left at the Namdaemun Underground Arcade.

Other locations

Namdaemun has a lot of places to explore. Not only have I not visited all of the market myself, but it is far more fun to explore yourself.

The market offers so much more than what I have listed above. Most of the best places aren’t located in the main area, but rather on the side roads and alleys.

Namdaemun Night Market

Namdaemun Market after dark!

While Namdaemun is most popular at daytime, many people also enjoy visiting at night. Since the market is open (partly) throughout the night, this is a great idea for people who want to escape the heat. Or for people who just prefer the dark!

Namdaemun Market is open at all hours. However, more stores tend to be open during the day. The great news though, is that lots of Namdaemun market will remain open even until dawn.

The best time to visit the night market is between 10 pm and midnight. These are the hours that have the largest variety of stores open.

Every store in the market has different hours, so what you will find open can be quite hit or miss. However, there will always be some stores open. Even if you visit at 3 am!

If possible, visit on a day other than Sunday. Sunday is the one day where lots of Namdaemun is closed. This also applies to the night market.

General Advice and Information

  • Remember to take cash! Many of the street vendors won’t accept cards. It is therefore important to remember to always have cash on hand. If you forget to take cash, never fear. There are a lot of ATMs located around the market.
  • Namdaemun is a great all-around market. But, there are better markets for specific goods.
  • The market is open pretty much 24/7, but parts of it will be closed at times. It is best to visit between 11 am and 10 pm, as this is when most of the stores will be open. On Sunday there will also be parts of the market closed, so if possible, avoid visiting then.
  • Korean is not required at all for these markets. If you have your phone with you, it’s easy enough to communicate what you want. Just show an image of the item and you will be on your way to getting what you want. The price is also easy to debate, just open the calculator on your phone and write the amount you want. As long as you have a notepad/calculator app, you will have no problems at all.
  • Most of the vendors will speak English. As the area is a tourist hotspot, most of the vendors will speak at least limited English.
  • Credit card purchases will have a 10% surcharge. Out of the stores that do accept cards, most will have a 10% surcharge on them.

Should You Visit Namdaemun Market?

Namdaemun Market often has mixed opinions. Some people love it, and some people believe that it is overrated. I’m somewhere in the middle.

I think that everyone visiting Korea should visit a market. Not only because they offer great shopping, but also because they have authentic food and show Seoul’s past.

On the other hand, there are better markets in Seoul. While Namdaemun is the most famous, I prefer Kwangjang Market. While shopping there is much more limited, the food options are far greater.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide which market you would prefer to visit. Kwangjang is fantastic for food, and Dongdaemun is great for shopping. Namdaemun market is in the middle – it has both great food and shopping.

I think that the people that are disappointed by Namdaemun feel that way because the market is very touristy now. It lacks the authentic feel that other markets in Korea have. It can also be very crowded at times.

If you want a more authentic experience visit Kwangjang. It is slowly following Namdaemun’s footsteps and becoming more touristy also. However, it’s still a way off becoming as popular as Namdaemun.

If you just want to go shopping and experience some delicious Korean food, the Namdaemun is ideal.

Bargaining Advice

From Sony to Nikon, Namdaemun sells all camera gear.

This part of the article is aimed at shoppers interested in electronics and cameras. This is where bartering is most often required. However, if you aren’t interested in either of these fields, you can find some value. Most of these points stand for non-electronic purchases too!

You might be like me and have come from a country where bargaining doesn’t exist. Everything in my country is bought at the labelled price, or not bought at all. To be frank, when I first came to Korea I was terrified of these markets. I had no experience at all with bargaining.

After an incident or two of paying more than I should have, I want to share my experiences with you, and what I have found to work when shopping for electronics, and in particular, cameras (Namdaemun is famous for cameras!).

These are my experiences. They are by no means the ‘be all and end all’ of market shopping advice. Other people may experience something different to me. In saying that, I have included lots of general advice that everyone will find helpful.

Selling Old Gear?!

Never sell your old electronics gear at these markets. You will ALWAYS be selling at a loss.

Remember, these people need to resell your gear at a profit, and that means that they need to purchase it from you at a lower price. Twice I have asked what my cameras would be worth to sell here, and twice I got disappointing results. Sony A7Rii – Offered 1,300,000 Won (approx. $1200 USD), Nikon D7500 (with 18-200 f/3.5-f/5.6) – Offered 1,200,000 won (approx. $1100 USD).

These prices are incredibly low for what I was trying to sell. I managed to later sell these cameras through other methods for 2,000,000 and 1,900,000 respectively. I gained around $550 gained per sale simply by selling the gear myself. By selling your gear yourself you are cutting out the middleman and gaining those profits.

Bartering Tips!

Never pay the initial offered price. If you are looking at a camera that is 2,000,000 Won initially, don’t settle for that price. That is the price they want you to pay, not the price you want to pay.

However, you can’t just say ‘too expensive’ and walk out. My advice is to spend a long time talking to the seller. Appear interested and try lots of different options.

This means they are investing time in you, and it makes them more desperate to sell when you refuse to buy. Often I have managed to drop the price by 10% and get bonuses included for free. Things like batteries, bags, straps, can all be gained for free if you try hard enough.

After you have been interested in the product for a while, simply say that the price is too much and walk out. More often than not, the person will try to stop you with something like ‘Deal deal! I will give you two spare batteries!’ Or ‘just 1,800,000 then!’. This is when you make your purchase. If they refuse to lower the price, go somewhere else.

Don’t be afraid to test all of your options. Don’t get stuck at one store, move around and see what your options are. I have heard on many blogs that all of these stores will offer around the same price, but that is not true at all.

When I was trying to sell my camera I moved one store down and got offered $250 more for it. Always barter in a few different stores before purchasing. No matter how friendly the seller, if you don’t want to purchase, don’t purchase. They want to be friendly so you will buy the product out of guilt. But remember, that’s all part of their business

Language Barriers?

Korean is not required at all for these markets. If you have your phone with you, it’s easy enough to communicate what you want. Just show an image of the camera, or the specs of the lens (16-35mm F/2.8 E mount) and you will be on your way to getting what you want.

The price is also easy to debate, just open the calculator on your phone and write the amount you want. As long as you have a notepad/calculator app, you will have no problems at all.

Be Careful!

Always check the market price before purchasing. If you have your eyes on a certain camera model, always make sure to check Amazon/eBay/local sites and compare the price.

Usually, I find the prices at these markets very competitive for new products, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The second-hand prices are also usually very good at these markets. I got my A7Rii second-hand (when it was still the latest model) for about 1,800,000 Won. And as I said above, I sold it for 1,900,000 six months later, and when it was outdated. That’s a good deal I would say!

Be careful with the off-brand gear they will offer you. Usually, when they offer free gear they will try to give away stuff from brands you have never heard of. Bad quality tripods, batteries, memory cards, etc. When it comes to gear for something as expensive as a DSLR (or mirrorless) camera, you want something you can trust.

You don’t want to put your $2000 camera on a tripod that will drop it, or use a battery that may damage it. I’m not saying that everything they offer is bad, but make sure to check it first. People often think that free stuff is great, and they will feel like the deal is much better if they get some free gear with their purchase. But this is their method, the gear is often not good quality at all.

 

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