Insadong (인사동) is a popular cultural district in Seoul and is one of the top tourist destinations in the city. The area is basically one main strip of souvenir shops and other traditional goods, with little side streets branching off on either side of the strip. These little alleyways hold unique restaurants, tea houses, art shops and other cultural wares. The main strip has your usual souvenirs with a variety of older, traditional Korean items like pottery, fans, chopsticks and items made out of old hanbok material. (A hanbok is a traditional Korean dress).
They’ve also got some Korean pop music stores so if you’re into K-Pop you can get your fix there too.
Most items are reasonably priced and if you take some time to walk from shop to shop, you’ll see that most vendors sell a lot of the same things for the same prices. The only set-back of going into the little vendor shops is that the stores are often packed to the brim with merchandise which makes it overwhelming to browse and the staff tend to latch on. It’s difficult enough maneuvering through a shop filled with breakables without someone acting like a human blanket all over you. You’ll notice a bit of difference in the quality of some items from shop to shop, so pay attention and if something is a dollar or two more in another store, take a second look and you’ll probably see why.
There was a larger shop I went into that had many different vendor tables inside one big room. That was the place I ended up doing most of my souvenir shopping as I found the staff way less stalker-ish and the quality of merchandise to be better, so don’t feel pressured to buy at the first place you step into.
On weekend afternoons they close off the main strip from vehicle traffic, making room for a more carnivalesque atmosphere. Once the walkways are cleared of cars, street vendors move in selling everything from socks and jewelry to potatoes on a stick and old-fashioned Korean sweets. That’s the best time to experience the real Insadong. I’ve seen street performers doing b-boy dancing, ladies selling traditional Korean hair pins and doing street tutorials on how to wear them, jugglers and more. There are also fantastic Korean snacks to be had, hot off the cart. The whole area comes alive and all the while the shops are still open so shopping becomes a lot more fun!
If ever I’m feeling lonesome or homesick, I try to plan a trip to Insadong because it’s one of my favourite places to be in Seoul. It always reminds me of why I fell in love with Korea and why this chapter of my life is so precious. If you don’t have any souvenirs to buy and just want to check out the scene, it’s an inexpensive afternoon. Keep in mind that if you dine in one of the restaurants on the main strip, prices will be higher than regular Korean dining, but that’s to be expected as you’re in a tourist hotspot.
A walk through Insadong is always interesting and really lifts your spirits to watch all the excitement. Once you’re tapped out, you’re not far from the subway tunnel so you can get on your way with no stress. You can easily reach Insadong via subway by getting off at either Anguk station (line 3) exit 6, or Jonggak Station (Line 1), exit 3. Maybe next time I’ll see you there! Until next time Dear Readers, stay warm and be well.