If you want to experience the markets of Seoul, but you are also someone who likes an adventure, then add Gwangjang Market to your bucket list right now!
Gwangjang Market opened in 1905 and has over 5000 shops now, making it one of the biggest markets in Seoul. Not only this, but it is the oldest market remaining market in the city. Gwangjang is great if Namdaemun Market is too touristy for your tastes, or if Dongdaemun Market is too modernized. The market still has an element of the older Seoul. It feels more traditional and unique compared to the aforementioned markets.
Gwangjang is famous for its jewelry market.
If you plan on purchasing anything at Gwangjang, remember to bring cash. This goes for many of the markets in Seoul. Most of the smaller stores won’t accept cards of any kind. There are many ATMs around though so this usually isn’t a problem. It’s better to come prepared however. Then you don’t have to worry about the ATM fees and the 10% surcharge for cards (at the stores that accept them, most won’t).
If you are planning on purchasing items at the market then feel free to have a look at my bargaining guide here. It isn’t essential that you bargain, and not all stores offer discounts, but it can definitely save you some money. If you can’t speak Korean don’t worry, with a translator in hand (smartphone) you will be fine. However, Gwangjang isn’t the best place for all of your shopping needs.
Gwangjang Market is located right outside Jongno 5-ga Station (종로5가역) and is within walking distance of exit 8. The market itself is very obvious and easy to find, and there will be both English and Korean (광장시장) markings.
The entrance to the market is quite large and there will be many stalls scattered throughout the warehouse. This is the area that most tourists visit and will be by far the busiest section of the market. If you are interested in just shopping and don’t want to explore, then this is the best place to stay.
However, if you are interested in looking a bit deeper, then there is a lot to discover behind the main gates! If you just explore the area around the main market you will find a lot of cool little stores that give the market its true character. Many people are worried about the safety of the market as it gets quite narrow and people may stare at you (as many foreigners don’t go to this part of the market). It is important to remember that Seoul is incredibly safe though, and these alleys are no different. If store owners stare at you then it is for no reason other than you may seem out of place.
Gwangjang Market is definitely one of my favourite places in the city to explore!
Why Visit Gwangjang?
So far Gwangjang seems much like a normal market though. So, what makes it really unique? As I mentioned above, the market is a sprawling maze once you pass the initial area. To me this is what makes it so special. Gwangjang is known for jewelry, textiles, clothes, electronics (cameras and high-tech electronics are better found at Namdaemun and Yongsan respectively), and much more. Going deeper into the market will make thousands of stores that aren’t visible from the streets appear, and you may even be overwhelmed by choice. The market is filled with store after store, and each store is trying to sell its own unique goods.
Further, if you are into food then Gwangjang is a MUST. I am not a foodie myself, so I won’t cover the food (there are already 100 blogs out there doing that, just search ‘Gwangjang Market food’ on Google). There is a lot of traditional Korean food at decent prices. If you want to experience authentic local cuisine then definitely check it out.
A man in a business suit walks through the market.
A Unique Experience
I was initially worried about getting lost in the market, however, this isn’t a worry. If you walk for more than five minutes in any direction you are sure to find a road and from there finding the station isn’t too hard. There is no need to worry too much about getting lost, which trust me, you probably will.
The market has a lot of life and is constantly buzzing with activity. It really feels like a whole new world compared to the rest of Seoul – a hyper-modern and very busy city. Namdaemun and Dongdaemun feel like they have adapted to the increasing amounts of tourists visiting the city, but Gwangjang feels like it is stuck in the past. I mean this in a great way though, as it has a unique character. A character that most people don’t get to experience much in Seoul anymore. I have this hope that Gwangjang always remains a small, old, hidden market, although I know this won’t always be true.