Traveling to South Korea soon and wondering what to buy? Seoul is the perfect place for shopping so make space in your luggage for all the things you will want to bring!
South Korea – and Seoul, in particular – is very big on shopping, and when you explore their markets and malls, you’d see why. They’re very good at creating cute, cool or fashionable products you’d never want to leave behind. But while it’s so tempting to just go on a shopping spree and buy everything you can find in South Korea, there are a few staples that you really need to have your eye on – whether you’re thinking of souvenirs to take home or gifts to give away. Here is a list of what to buy in Korea for yourself or to bring as souvenirs to your friends.
1. Ramyeon (Instant Noodles)
If you want to challenge yourself and your friends to endure South Korea’s spiciest dishes, you definitely need to buy Ramyeon – this is one of the most popular dishes in South Korea. Its noodles are usually thick and soaked in (very, very) spicy broth, but don’t worry: you can tone down the spiciness levels and experiment with different flavors.
- Where to buy: Convenient stores, markets
- Budget: Prices vary but can start from 400 won
Dine like the locals do: drink Soju with your meal for that authentic South Korean dining experience. Soju is a clear, colorless beverage and is so popular that it’s the number one selling liquor in the country, and it has a strong taste that warms your throat when you chug it down. Some find the original version too strong, so there are various flavors of Soju available like raspberry, pineapple, and grapefruit.
- Where to buy: Convenience stores, markets, usually served on restaurants
- Budget: Around 3000 won
3. Korean beauty products (Innisfree)
Koreans take their beauty seriously, and if you do too, we suggest you go on a beauty products haul while you’re in Seoul. Innisfree is one of the more popular brands here – they’re big on naturalism, and carry products from skincare (we love their face masks!) to make up for both men and women. It’s no wonder Innisfree is a crowd favorite here: they simply have everything, and no matter what you pick, you’re sure it’s of high quality. Some of the must-buys from the brand Innisfree include the Super Volcanic Clay mask, Olive Real Cleansing Foam, and the Wine Peeling Jelly Softener. (Sadly, we don’t think the last one is edible).
- Where to buy: Can be bought at Myeong-dong shopping district
- Budget: Prices vary
4. Korean Red Ginseng
Dubbed as Korea’s “secret superfood,” Korean Red Ginseng is known for its special medicinal properties. It’s typically used to strengthen the immune system and fight off stress – kind of like how vitamin C works. Korea’s one of the best producers of ginseng all around the world because they’re able to perfect the environment needed to grow this special tea. A good buy to take back home!
- Where to buy: Local stores
- Budget: Starts at 33, 800 won
5. Character socks
Get your fix of cute Korean socks! They’re all the rage in South Korea, and they go well with any outfit – you can use them as a fashion statement, or even just a general declaration of love for your all-time favorite characters. If you have friends and family back home asking for souvenirs, buy character socks in Korea – there are so many in malls and shopping streets that it’s hard to miss out on them. There are even character socks vending machines all around Seoul!
- Where to buy: Myeongdong shopping district, department stores
- Budget: 1000 won above
Here’s an interesting tidbit you probably didn’t know: not all chopsticks are created the same. They aren’t created for the same purpose, either. Korean chopsticks, in particular, are shorter than Chinese chopsticks but shorter than Japanese ones, and you’re not meant to eat with chopsticks alone – you’re meant to pair these with a spoon. Don’t forget to buy the stainless steel ones sold in Korea.
- Where to buy: Supermarkets
- Budget: Starts at 2000 won
7. Cute nail clippers
We’re not sure why, but cute nail clippers are everywhere in South Korea. We’d venture a guess that it’s because in general Koreans like cute things, and they make no exceptions in nail clippers. These range from colorful nail clippers to clippers with character icons on them. You can buy a set or a whole bunch of them at wholesale prices if you’re thinking of bringing them home to sell.
- Where to buy: Stands and markets
- Budget: 1000 won above
8. Zodiac figurines
The twelve animals in the zodiac calendar come in cute, tiny figurines you can put in your pocket and take home with you. It makes for a great souvenir item too – each zodiac figurine has its own unique characteristics, and they’re made in beautiful gold colors. You can keep them for yourself or give them out as gifts to your friends and family back home – a cute way to say “I was thinking of you (and your zodiac) while I was in South Korea.”
- Where to buy: Local markets
- Budget: Varies
Seoul is known for its fashion-forward tastes, and you can see this on clothes and all fashion accessories – you can see this in backpacks too. It’s pretty easy to find backpacks all around Seoul, so if we were you, we’d avoid buying travel backpacks here in Singapore and just wait to land in Korea. They come in different colors and designs and can range from cheap finds to high fashion bags.
- Where to buy: Shopping districts and markets
- Budget: Can reach up to 427,000 won
What to buy that is really, really Korean? Look for Hanji. Hanji, or Korean paper, is the traditional handmade paper made in Korea. It’s not flimsy at all and can last you years after you’ve bought them. You can use it for many different things, too – from handicraft items to journals.
- Where to buy: Hanji Chueok, Insadong District
- Budget: 1,000 won above
Korea is known to have what they call “stationery culture,” and yeah, you guessed it right – it means Korea is full of stationery items. From pens to paper, stickers, stamps, and notebooks, you will find yourself in heaven if you’re a stationery lover traveling to Seoul. They’re all very cute, useful and pretty too, so make sure to buy a lot while you’re here.
- Where to buy: Kyobo Bookstore, Artbox, Line friends
- Budget: Prices vary depending on the product
12. Hadong tea
One of the finest teas South Korea has to offer is what they call the Hadong tea. It’s not at all watery and is, in fact, quite savory (if you make it right, of course). Like their ginseng, Hadong tea has many health benefits to the drinker too.
- Where to buy: Some supermarkets
- Budget: 150,000 Won for 100g
13. Dried Seaweed
Dried seaweed is a great buy in South Korea too because they come pretty cheap but still of high quality. This delicacy is quite tasty and has many health benefits, and you can use it for a lot of things too, like mixing it with your food. You won’t have a hard time finding dried seaweed as it’s everywhere in South Korea, so make sure to remember to grab a bunch before you leave.
- Where to buy: Supermarkets, convenience stores
- Budget: 5,000 won for packs of 6 to 10
14. Hanbok, the traditional dress of Korea
You might have seen this in postcards and your favorite Korean drama series, but it’s a totally different story when you see it up close and touch it for yourself. The Hanbok is as elegant as the people who wear them – it’s the traditional clothing of Korea and is made of jeogori (a shirt or jacket) and the chima (a wrap-around skirt that is worn from waist to floor). Koreans don’t usually wear the Hanbok anymore, but they do come in handy for semi-formal events and special occasions – not to mention, they come in handy too when you want to relive your own K-drama fantasies.
- Where to buy: Gwangjang market, Dongdaemun market
- Budget: Prices vary depending on quality and fabric
15. Dojang or stamps
In English, the Korean Dojang is also known as a stamp or seal. They make for really cool souvenirs, especially because they’re small and they don’t easily get worn out as time passes. Seoul has many dojang stores you can go to to buy these stamps, they come in all types of stones and sizes. Some also come with their own engraving already and designed – but you can also get stamps customized however way you want.
- Where to buy: Insadong
- Budget: Starts at 26,000 won
Shop ’til you drop at Seoul, South Korea
We’re pretty sure you’d want to shop until your legs give out, and by all means, you probably should – it’s part of the experience when traveling to South Korea and especially Seoul, one of the most fashionable capitals in the world.
But even then, that doesn’t mean you should burn an irreparable hole through your pockets – you still have to shop the smart way (and make sure everything you buy can fit into your luggage allowance going home, of course!). Before leaving for your trip, decide on what to buy and allocate a budget for it. One way to save is to buy plane tickets and rent out accommodations the smart way.
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