Shopping Paradise in Insadong: Discover Traditional Korean Art and Culture

Many people coming to Korea have one thing on the forefront of their minds: shopping. Known for its global beauty and fashion products as well as vibrant commercial culture, Korea is home to hundreds of small shops that attract customers of all interests. Most of these shops are concentrated in the capital city, Seoul, where there are many shopping districts and centers for tourists and locals to enjoy. These destinations include places such as Hongdae, Itaewon, Lotte Mart, Garosu-gil, and Insadong, just to name a few. 


Each of these locations has its own unique vibe and caters to a different type of customer. Are you looking for a more trendy and young environment with affordable prices? Visit Hongdae, where college students and young adults spend time with friends, enjoy delicious food, and shop for clothing and memorabilia. You may be looking for a more refined and high-class place to shop. Stroll down Garosu-gil, a shopping street in Gangnam, Seoul’s premier business district. Or maybe you are looking for something more traditional and artistic. Enter Insadong, a shopping district in the heart of Seoul, near Gyeongbokgung Palace and many other government buildings. 

Just a few days ago, I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon perusing the stores and galleries of Insadong. Insadong is known for its traditional Korean stores and attractions, such as classical art stores, street food carts, or long-established tea houses. I was drawn to this location because I love seeing and collecting art from all cultures worldwide. For me, this was a must-see location. 


Upon arrival, visitors are greeted with the inviting scents of bungeo-ppang (붕어빵), a popular fish-shaped pastry service with ice cream and honey, and dozens of other delicious street foods. Continuing down the main street, dozens of small, specialized shops and restaurants have their doors open, beckoning shoppers to have a look inside. As one of these shoppers, I happily obliged. Within these stores, I found a myriad of Korean works of art and culture. From sculptures and paintings to tea sets and extravagant fans, there was something for everyone to enjoy. Each shop had unique and distinct products to offer from all the other shops around it, making my visit to each one more exciting than the last.  

Communicating with the shop owners was also relatively easy, as many of them spoke enough English to give you the prices and descriptions of the items they had on sale. Speaking of pricing, Insadong also caters to a wide range of consumers with cheap options and expensive and extravagant pieces to choose from. Furthermore, many of the shops were very tourist friendly, with small labels in English placed next to their Korean counterparts. This made shopping a seamless and enjoyable experience there, as I spent hours wandering from shop to shop, looking for affordable art pieces I wanted to purchase. 


Eventually, I found two pieces that were exactly what I was looking for, nothing too expensive but something traditional and handmade. I was pleased to get two paintings for ₩47,000 (~$36.00). As I looked around in a few more shops, I saw even more beautiful Korean works of art that I would have loved to buy but perhaps another day. Before I left, I stopped at one of the street food stalls and got myself a nice pastry with ice cream to enjoy after a hot day shopping in Korea. For anyone who appreciates art and Korean culture, Insadong is a place you should absolutely visit; I promise a day there will not disappoint. 

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