A holiday in Seoul never disappoints the avid shoppers and food junkies! This city comes alive at night with locals and tourists heading out to hunt for bargains and devour sumptuous snacks. The heart of the action is Seoul’s bustling night markets, and here’s our best five!
1. Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market
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First opened in Yeouido in October 2015, the Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market is often referred to as the market that “opens at night and disappears by morning”. Bam means night in Korean, while dokkaebi refers to a mythical character of Korean folklore and fairytales that appears at night to trick humans and disappears in the day, thus the name.
The popularity of the market saw it expanding in 2016 to four locations at different venues — Yeouido, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Mokdong Stadium and Cheonggye Plaza. Since the market is not constrained to a single location, which we feel makes this market unique of its kind, visitors can expect different experiences across the different venues. They are held every Fridays and Saturdays at different times of the year between March to October.
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Dongdaemun Design Plaza
At the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, one can take in the exuberant night scene in the mid of the enticing aesthetic of Dongdaemun. You can find dishes prepared by young chefs and trademarked handmade items to young Korean buskers and unique fashion shows. The Design Plaza turns into the DDP Youth Runway and Dance Night for youths looking for a great night of shopping, music and dance.
If you are looking for more traditional and cultural experience, the Yeouido Night Market will be the best option. Apart from the huge array of food choices — offered by young chefs as well — which include chopped steaks, pork belly sandwiches and pineapple shrimps, all whipped up and served in a creative way, visitors can also enjoy traditional performances from around the world set against the nightscape of the Hangang River. You can also purchase cultural handicrafts and other handmade items!
Termed as ‘leports’ — a compound word used by Koreans to combine leisure and sports, the Mokdong Stadium Recreational Sports Market offers, apart from healthy but tasty food, a sharing market where locals can buy and sell sports equipment and even repair items such as broken bicycles. There will also be extreme sports spectacles for your awe!
The Cheonggye Plaza Seasonal Market, as its name suggests, comes in different seasons — May, July and September — and offers a multitude of food options, handicrafts, and performances perfect for a great family night outing.
The markets opening hours vary, between 3pm to 4pm in the afternoon till 11pm to 12am at night. If you are looking forward to the Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market next year, be sure to check the dates the markets will be set up. To add a bonus? It has been said that the market will expand to 10 locations in 2017, so you will be spoilt for choices!
2. Dongdaemun Night Market
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One of the most patronised shopping districts, Dongdaemun is hard to miss. Dongdaemun boasts multi-level fashion plazas such as Doota, Migliore, Hello apM and Good Morning City, selling anything from apparels, stationery, souvenirs and not forgetting… food. These malls are open around 10am in the morning till 5am the following day.
Be sure to step out of these retail enclosures. The space gleams with neon and the air fills with loud music — the outdoor stage comes to live with regular dance performances and concerts. And then, there is more shopping to be done.
The Open Market
The Open Market, often recognised by their bright yellow tents, draws in crowds to the quiet streets at 10pm with endless rows of leather apparels and shoes, bags, souvenirs and other items that are sold at discounted rates. The Open Market is just one outdoor shopping outlet that is located near Exit #4 of Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station.
Pyounghwa Fashion Town
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A walk along the Cheonggyecheon Stream at 9pm will bring you to Pyounghwa Fashion Town that has been known for selling fashion clothing and accessories since the end of the Korean War. According to the official Korean Tourism website, North Korean refugees in 1953 began selling clothes made from army uniforms of American soldiers. In the hope of survival through such means, their market was named Pyounghwa, that translates to peace, in faith that no more wars will occur in the country.
Divided into four districts — Gu Pyounghwa, Shin Pyounghwa, Dong Pyounghwa and Cheong Pyounghwa, the Pyounghwa Fashion Town is a historic fashion venue that sparked the growth of the shopping district of Dongdaemun we know of today. All outdoor markets also close around 5am.
3. Myeongdong Night Market
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Myeongdong is probably a name that is all too common, but it still deserves a mention. After all, it is one of the most popular areas patronised by tourists visiting Seoul for the first time. Well, why not? Myeongdong is home to two anchor department stores — Lotte and Shinsegae — and many stores line the area selling clothes and accessories. The area is also famous for its cosmetic line-up. You will be able to find every Korean cosmetic brand in Myeongdong!
But that aside, let’s talk about food, shall we?
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At around 5pm, street vendors set up their stalls for the night market along the main street. Here, you can find all sorts of Korean street food — tteokbokki, Korean fried chicken, baked chestnuts, Korean egg bread called gyeranbbang, and much more. The stalls here close earlier around 10pm unlike the other markets but that should not deter you from exploring it.
4. Namdaemun Night Market
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Namdaemun is another open-air market that sees crowds at both day and night from 10am to 5am. It is said that you can find anything that you need here — clothing, handicrafts, accessories, shoes, hardware, electronic appliances and what not. But of course, that list misses out one important commodity — food! While most stores open all night, some vendors work according to their own hours, and a lot of shops may not be open on Sundays.
The shopping spaces in Namdaemun are not necessarily outdoors. There are shopping centres like Sungyemun Imported Goods Shopping Centre that sells, as its name suggests, imported goods like electronic appliances and other miscellaneous goods; Daedo Shopping Centre that sells anything from imported goods, men, women and children clothing, and food to natural and artificial flowers; Daedo Arcade for children clothing such as jeans, T-shirts and shoes at affordable prices. These are just a few!
You can also check out the Mesa Shopping Centre that was the first shopping mall built in the district. With 32 floors with 9 underground, the family shopping mall also offers dining avenues at any of the 50 over restaurants that cater traditional Korean cuisines as well as fusion feasts. Be sure to check out the restaurant on the 16th floor that gives a brilliant view of the Namsan Mountain and Seoul N Tower. The mall is opened from 10am to 5am, and is closed on the first and third Sundays of each month.
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The food stalls that line the streets in Namdaemun’s food alley offer a wide range of dishes such as dried cuttlefish, anchovy and octopus, braised scabbard fish, chopped noodles, dumpling and shellfish soup, skillet-fried mung-bean pancake, bibimbap and many other interesting delicacies. The Restaurant Alley also boasts a great range of Korean restaurants!
5. Gwangjang Market
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The oldest market in Seoul, Gwangjang Market, established in 1905, is a popular go-to place among Korean shoppers, yet it is still lesser known to tourists. Gwangjang Market is situated at the corner from Dongdaemun Gate. If you had been shopping at Dongdaemun, you should take a kilometre walk down to this traditional Korean market.
While the higher level boasts a splendid collection of fabrics and textiles (the market is known for selling the traditional Korean attire, hanbok), the street level is equally enticing when night falls — the food alleyway, meokja-golmok, opens up for both the fabric sellers and foodies touring around the area.
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From freshly cooked noodles and dumplings, tantalising meat and seafood to Korean mung bean pancakes (bindaetteok) and spicy rice cakes (tteokbokki), the food alleyway is like a food haven, with steam rising out from each of the tiny kitchens, all busy preparing delicious Korean street food for their eager and hungry visitors. Fresh sashimi anyone? You can have some beer or soju with it too!
The market is open all night — so if there is still time on you after exploring Dongdaemun, give this market a try!
If you’ve visited Seoul often enough, do you know of more exciting night markets not mentioned here? Share your experiences with us — you’d excite many more travellers, we bet!