7 Traditional Markets To Visit In Korea For A Taste Of Local Life

7 Traditional Markets To Visit In Korea For A Taste Of Local Life

Want a glimpse into the local Korean life? Visit these markets for an exciting time feasting on delicious street eats!

Unlike common perception, the wonderful land of Korea is not all just about Korean Pop, charismatic Korean idols, Korean dramas, shopping and Korean barbecue. Instead, delve deeper and you’ll find an intriguing depth of Korean tradition and culture, a glimpse of which can be found within the labyrinth of traditional markets.

After all, a big part of travelling is to see how people on the other side of the world live, and how better than to immerse yourself into the sights and sounds of a bustling local market? These traditional markets are lined with stalls peddling just about anything, and manned by crinkly-eyed ahjummas (Korean aunts or married women) who can shoot off Korean phrases like bullets from their mouths. The scene at any of these markets is a frenzy of shouts amidst a whirlwind of light and colour; it’s frantic, loud, chaotic even, but absolutely ideal for a completely different experience the next time you’re in Korea. What say you?

If you’re up for an adventure, book your holiday pronto and step right into the shoes of the local Koreans. The traditional markets of Korea await!

1. Gwangjang Market (광장시장), Seoul

Image credit: donchili

Located in Seoul, Gwangjang Market is Korea’s very first permanent market that was established back in the year 1905. Yes, it’s been around for over 100 years! Apart from being one of the longest standing markets in Korea, it is also one of the largest – with more than 5,000 stalls spanning an area of a whopping 42,000 square metres. While this market has always been a tourist hotspot, it has been acquiring even more attention lately after its feature in the popular Korean variety TV show “Running Man”.

Being a textile market, the market’s second floor is dedicated to selling bed sheets, silk, satin and any type of fabric that you may need. If you’re looking to bring a part of the Korean culture back with you, why not make your own custom hanbok (Korean traditional clothing) while you’re here? Tip: Entry to Seoul’s Palaces is free when you wear a hanbok, so it’s really a win-win situation!

Image credit: tongeron91

Although this market is well-known for its fabrics, many people flock here for the authentic street food. You might not have the time (or stomach capacity) to try the many food stalls here, but make sure you don’t miss out on classic Korean comfort foods like Sundae (Korean sausage), Bibimbap (Korean mixed rice) and Bindaetteok (mung bean pancake). Locals and tourists alike sit alongside each other along long benches – making it perfect for solo travellers, or for visitors looking to make a new local friend.

Address: 88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

How to get there: Exit 8 of Jongno 5-ga Station (Seoul Subway Line 1)

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2. Nambu Market (남부시장), Jeonju

Image credit: Korea Tourism Organization

Nambu Market is Jeollabuk-do’s most famous market. An incredibly authentic representation of Jeonju (the city it’s located in), the roots of this market goes all the way back to a time when markets existed outside Buseong in former Jeonju – more than ten centuries ago! Some of the foods to try while you’re here are Pisundae-Gukbap (stronger-flavoured Korean sausage served with hot soup and rice), Kongnamul Gukbap (Korean soybean sprouts soup served with rice) and Pat Kalguksu (red bean noodle soup).

Image credit: Korea Tourism Organization

The morning market, Early Morning Dokkaebi Market, opens as early as 4am – offering a large selection of fresh goods for early risers. Do note that the morning market closes at 10am, bringing the meaning of ‘the early bird catches the worm’ to a whole new level.

If you’re not so much a morning person, there’s also the Nighttime market you can check out! Open on Fridays and weekends from 6pm onwards, you can find vendors tending their little carts all around the first floor. But if you happen to visit the market when the Nighttime market is closed, another alternative you have is the Cheongnyeon Mall (Youth Mall). Here, there are about 30 stores set up by young entrepreneurs, located on the second floor, that sells a variety of items from food, snacks to accessories. Show these energetic youngsters a little support by dropping by the Youth Mall and purchasing something from them!

Address: 295-4, Jeon-dong, Wansan-gu, Jeonju-si, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea

How to get there: Take a bus to Jeonju Intercity Bus Terminal from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal. At Jeonju Intercity Bus Terminal, take bus 61 or 684 and alight at the Pungnammun Gate Bus Stop. The market is located about 115m away.

3. Tongin Market (통인시장), Seoul

Image credit: (left) Luvepoli; (right) Korea Tourism Organization

Located just a few minutes away from the Gyeongbokgung Palace, this market is a good place to fill your stomach after you’ve toured the historical palace. Something that is special to Tongin Market is the unique lunch experience that you can get at the Dosirak (lunchbox) Cafe.

If you have a hard time deciding on what to eat and want to try a little bit of everything from different vendors, at this market you actually can. Grab a lunchbox and fill it with whatever you like from stalls involved in the cafe’s lunchbox programme. Participating stalls have signs that say Gamaengjom (가맹점), and food is purchased with Yeopjeon (brass coins) that you can exchange for with cash. What a novel experience, huh!

Image credit: Tongin Market

If you’re one of those people who constantly worry about getting lost, you don’t have to worry as Tongin Market is one of the smaller markets in Seoul, with only 75 stalls along a long narrow alley. This means that it’s much easier (and a lot less daunting!) to navigate the market on your own – even if you’re completely hopeless with directions.

Address: 18 Jahamun-ro 15-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

How to get there: 5-minute walk from Exit 2 of Gyeongbokgung Station (Seoul Subway Line 3)

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P.S. Don’t forget to bring your cameras along, you’ll need them!

4. Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market (서귀포매일 올레시장), Jeju

Image credit: Visit Jeju

Situated in Jeju, Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market is Seogwipo’s largest market. This market is devoted to showcasing the best of Jeju Island’s delicacies, so look no further if you’re searching for a taste of Jeju!

Image credit: Visit Jeju

The market was set up in the early 1960s and has expanded to accommodate its growing popularity with visitors since then. It is designed in a way to make navigating around the market easier for its shoppers, including free delivery service. Talk about treating their customers right!  Even if the market is located rather out of the way, it’s well worth a visit to get lost in its cacophony of sights and sounds.

Address: 35 Jungang-ro 54beon-gil, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea

How to get there: Bus 281 from Jeju City Intercity Bus Terminal to the Seogwipo-si Old Intercity Bus Terminal bus stop (1.5 hours travel time)

5. Gukje Market (국제시장), Busan

Image credit: Korea Tourism Organization

Gukje Market is Busan’s largest market, and one of the largest in Korea. Gukje actually means international in Korean, which is why you’ll see plenty of foreign products being sold here that you can’t find anywhere else. This market has a very rich history, with its beginnings tracing all the way back to the post-Korean war era – where refugees set up stalls to make a living after fleeing to Busan.

Image credit: (left) Korea Tourism Organization, (right) taylorandayumi

Containing about 690 stalls, the market sells a wide variety of products. Apart from food and clothes, you can also purchase kitchen appliances and electronics here. The must-try foods at this market include Yubu-jeongol (fried tofu stew), Ssiat-Hotteok (sweet Korean pancake stuffed with seeds) and Bibim-dangmyeon (spicy glass noodles).

Gukje Market is also connected to other smaller markets like Kkangtong Market and Bupyeong Market, if you’re up for even more exploring.

Address: 36 Junggu-ro, Jung-gu, Busan, South Korea
How to get there: Exit 7 of Jagalchi Station (Busan Subway Line 1); Exit 1 of Nampo Station (Busan Metro Line 1)

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6. Jeongseon Arirang 5-day Market (정선아리랑시장), Gangwon

Image credit: Republic of Korea

Jeongseon Arirang 5-day Market used to be a super popular market back in the early 1980s, with close to 130,000 visitors swarming the market every year. However, the market became an unfortunate victim of industrialisation – suffering a substantial decline in both farmers and customers once people started moving away to live in the city. Today, the market is called “5-day market” because it is opened five days (on the 2nd, 7th, 12th, 17th, 22nd, and 27th) every month.

In spite of this, the market still has an assortment of local produce up for sale, and is absolutely worth a visit! From garlic and Korean chilli peppers to bellflower root to potatoes, all of the produce at the market are sold directly by the farmers harvesting them – which means, extra low prices because no middlemen are involved!

Image credit: Republic of Korea

On the other hand, the Jeongseon Arirang 5-day Market is also known for their medicinal herbs that are highly sought-after by tourists all over the world. So if you’ve been searching far and wide for a remedy for some ailment that’s been bugging you, you know where to go. While you’re there, do try the Modeum Jeon (assorted Korean pancakes), Gondeure Bap (rice with cirsium) and Kotdeungchigi Guksu (buckwheat noodles)!

Address: 349-20, Bongyang-ri, Jeongseon-eup, Jeongseon-gun, Gangwon-do, South Korea

How to get there: Take an intercity bus to Jeongseon Bus Terminal from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal. At Jeongseon, take a taxi to the market (approximately 5-minute ride).

7. Seomun Market (서문시장), Daegu

Image credit: JI HOON KIM

Being the largest traditional market in Daegu, Seomun Market is home to a range of stalls split into a whopping 8 different districts. Together with Ganggyeong Market and Pyeongyang Market, it used to make up the three main markets back in the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897).

This is one market you ought to visit if you want to experience what life in Korea used to be like in the past. The market has retained the names of some of the historic alleyways – such as Hongdukkaejeon and Daekjeon – despite its growth in size and shift to its current location.

Image credit: Korea Tourism Organization

Seomun Market is known for their fabric products, like satin, cotton, silk, linen and clothes – all of which contribute to majority of the market’s sales. Because the main focus of Busan’s economy is the clothing and textiles industry, you know you can’t go wrong whilst shopping for fabrics here. If you’re feeling peckish after all that shopping, you have to try the famous Seomun fish cake, dumplings, Sujebi (soup with buckwheat dough flakes) and Kalguksu (handmade knife-cut wheat flour noodles in soup)!

Address: 115-378 Daesin-dong, Jung-gu, Daegu, South Korea

How to get there: Exit 2 or 3 of Seomun Market Station (Daegu Metro Line 3);  Exit 2 or 3 of Sinnam Station (Daegu Metro Line 2)

Or, if you prefer to experience winter wonderland, head over to Korea on this 8D Korea Enchantment + Jeju (winter) tour for a wintry escape. Revel in the crisp cool air, take a dip in hot springs, and warm up with some piping hot street food at Seomun Market.

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Indeed, Korea has an immensely rich history and culture; it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all,  but paying a visit to one (or all) of its traditional markets will allow you to have a slice of it – even if just for a day or two. Are you up for going off the beaten track and experiencing Korea in all its authentic rawness? For more information on Korea’s traditional markets, bookmark Korea Tourism Organization’s official website and Facebook page. In addition, you’ll find that this Experience Korea! page is a total godsend for your trip planning – be spoilt for your choice with a variety of tour packages and accompanying articles to make your next trip that much smoother.

In addition, the month of October also happens to be the Visit Traditional Korean Markets Month! To celebrate, the Korea Tourism Organization is offering a bunch of free coupons to motivate more people to visit and appreciate these traditional markets – an important, but often overlooked, part of the Korean culture. There will also be market tours happening throughout the month, for those who are not as confident in exploring these markets on their own. Curiosity aroused? Head over to the official event page now to find more information on the event right away!

So the next time you’re in Korea, why settle for the usual sightseeing? Go beyond the surface and, see Korea for what it really is. Start dreaming about your next trip, and make it a reality, right away!

Brought to you by Korea Tourism Organization.

About Author

Brenda Poh
Brenda Poh

Brenda loves to travel and explore. She wishes to travel the world and experience living like a local as much as she can. New experiences and unfamiliar places excite her, and writing about them gives her great joy. When she’s not going on an adventure or daydreaming about exploring the world, she enjoys binge-watching Taiwan dramas, reading, going to gigs and jamming out to punk rock music.