There are a lot of ‘must-visit’ places in Seoul, but most of them aren’t really all that great.
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 also already heard about it. However, there are many tourist hot-spots that really aren’t as great as they are hyped up to be. On the other hand, a few of them really 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 though, but there is also a multitude of authentic Korean food, and it is a fun place to explore.
It’s a bustling day in Namdaemun, much the same as every other day in the past 500 years. Neither the Korean War or fires could stop the market from continuing to grow and attract people from all over.
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Namdaemun is VERY easy to find, and that makes it fantastic for people visiting Seoul. Located on Line 4 (light blue), Namdaemun can be found at Hoehyeon Station. From Hoehyeon station (which is located right next to Seoul Station and Myeongdong), simply walk to exit 5. You are already in 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 main road and remember that the subway station is right at the end of it.
Namdaemun sells nearly anything you can imagine. From souvenirs and trinkets to Halloween goods!
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. I actually wrote an article covering shopping locations in Seoul here. 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 (and it’s the first place you’ll see obviously!). 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, and I think that many of them are disappointed with the market because of it.
As I was exploring I stumbled upon this food alley which had nearly every kind of Korean dish imaginable!
Really 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 possibly be the thought of safety. It is important to remember though that Korea is very safe, and I have never heard of anyone I know every 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 really cool!
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. If you find the hidden gems. In saying that though, here are some of the places of interest that I found on my visits there!
Whether you have tried hotteok and love it, or if you haven’t tried it yet (you must!) there is a great stall located on the corner as shown below. The pin is pointing to a store, but right on that corner, there should also be a stall selling hotteok!
If you are interested in shopping for nearly anything you can think of, then there are two big shopping malls. These malls have hundreds, if not thousands, of stores inside them. Everything from candles to thread can be found in them, and there are many unique stores that sell their own goods too.
Namdaemun Camera Market. This is my favourite part of the market and it is located at the opposite end of the main road to the subway station. The camera market is great for both second hand and new gear and many of the prices are decent. If you would like to read more advice about buying cameras at the market, check out this article here.
There are more than 20 or so (and probably more if you explore) camera stores, and each has its own pricing and gear. I would highly recommend shopping around before making any purchasing decisions.
General Advice and Information
- Remember to take cash! Many of the street vendors won’t accept cards, and 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, however, there are better markets for specific goods. Refer to my article here for the best shopping locations in Seoul.
- 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 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.
- Credit card purchases will have a 10% surcharge. Out of the stores that do accept cards, most will have a 10% surcharge on them.
- If you are interested in the cameras or electronics I have an in-depth purchasing guide here.
A lady prepares some food on the streets of Namdaemun.
Namdaemun Market – One of the Must Visit Locations in Seoul
This about concludes my article on Namdaemun Market. I originally wrote another article about the market but it didn’t cover the market as well as I wanted. There is a lot to Namdaemun and it is really hard to cover it all in one post… I have barely scratched the surface in this post! However, I believe this article is a much better look at the market and I hope that it proves useful for anyone wanting to visit the market. If you have any locations of interest that you have found on your journeys feel free to add them in the comments below. I would love to add more to the article!
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