You’ll see Korea’s history in its palaces and Korea’s present in its bustling downtown areas, but it is in Korea’s glittering department stores that you’ll see the Korean middle-class dream. Here, you can observe some of Seoul’s wealthiest carrying bags of imported luxury goods or buying $100 cantaloupes in the boutique basement grocery stores. Fortunately, not all of Seoul’s shopping complexes are exclusively high-end and offer much more than department stores: Some are connected to warren-like indoor marketplaces, and others have a variety of small, locally-owned shops, from family-owned floral kiosks to outposts of homegrown favorites like Fell + Cole and Vatos Urban Tacos. Take a break in a movie theater, water park or E-sports stadium. And if it is shopping you’re after, the convenience of running all your errands in one enormous, heated/air-conditioned, public transit-connected space is an alluring prospect. Whatever your purpose, here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to Seoul’s biggest and best shopping complexes.
For the foodie: Galleria Department Store
Venues of note: Vatos Urban Tacos, Pizzeria d’Buzza, Brooklyn the Burger Joint, Mama’s and Fell + Cole
Getting there: Apgujeong Rodeo Station (extended Bundang line). Or you can just leave your car with the complimentary valet service.
Thanks to its revamped food court, Galleria Department Store has become known for more than its retail therapy. Head to Gourmet 494, the tony basement-level food court that’s home to some of Seoul’s most celebrated eats (without the queues their original locations usually command). Tables can be hard to secure during peak dining hours, but you can order almost anything to go. Shop for overpriced (but hard to find) oils, spices and gluten-free flour in the food emporium. If you have extra cash to burn, go upstairs.
For the romantic: Central City at Express Bus Terminal
Venues of note: Ladurée, Dean and Deluca, Johnny Rockets, Megabox Cinemas
Getting there: Express Bus Terminal station (Lines 3, 7 & 9)
Adjacent to and beneath the Express Bus Terminal (고속버스터미널) is a vast network of shops that form a bustling indoor marketplace. Head to the third floor of the bus terminal for wholesale flowers and seasonal home décor (bottles, seashells, ribbons, baskets, etc.). Head over to the second floor of Shinsegae Department Store to grab a treat—or several—from the new Ladurée shop (some Samsung Card holders get a 10% discount!). Finally, don’t forget the kitchen essentials and indulgences at Dean and Deluca in the basement level of Shinsegae. An underground passageway connects shopper to JW Marriott Hotel where they can indulge in 20,000 won coffee at the lobby cafe. Tip: The wholesale flower market keeps unusual hours (flowers are sold from midnight to 1 p.m. and fake flowers & decor from midnight to 4 p.m.). The market closes at noon on holidays. It’s located on the third floor of the Gyeongui Line terminal (take exit 1 or 2 if coming from the subway station).
For the shopaholic: IFC Seoul
Venues of note: Conrad Hotel, Armani Exchange, Banana Republic, Lacoste, Guess, Mango
Getting there: Yeouido Station (lines 2 & 9), take exit 3 and turn right.
IFC is one of Seoul’s newest retail therapy centers in the heart of the Yeouido Financial District, billed as “the first international-style shopping mall in Korea.” True to its word, it houses Korea’s first Hollister and a Banana Republic. Naturally, it also features a movie theater, hotel and office complexes. Given its location in the heart of Seoul’s business district, you’re more likely to see suited-up professionals than stroller-pushing moms in its halls.
For the entire family: I-Park Yongsan
Venues of note: DIY multi-shop Brother Sewing Factory, Gundam Base theme shop (for the anime fans), California Pizza Kitchen
Getting there: Yongsan Station (Jungang line, Line 1)
Utilitarians, rejoice: I-Park Yongsan has it all. Everything-store Emart fills the basement level of this complex, with discount shopping, Korea’s first IMAX theater, and a huge wholesale electronics marketplace accessible via the upper levels. It also boasts the world’s first e-sports stadium, where gaming competitions are held and broadcast weekly (here’s a guide to watching Starcraft competitions live at the stadium). A small water park for kids is open through August 18th (entrance 5,000 won). The complex is also home to the Yongsan KTX station should you be en route to other parts of Korea, and Dragon Hill Spa is a five minute walk from the main entrance.
For a well-rounded weekend: D-Cube City
Venues of note: Gong Cha, Pororo Theme Park, Sheraton D-Cube City Hotel
Getting there: Sindorim Station (Lines 1 & 2)
D-Cube city was recently developed on the site of a coal-processing plant in the once-industrial Guro District. It’s a massive, gleaming structure with over six acres of public landscaping, parks and plazas. Inside you’ll find the typical megaplex shopping venues, musicals at their world-class art center and an indoor theme park for Pororo-worshipping children, among many other attractions. Hungry? Their extensive food court features the Korean Food Street, styled after traditional Korean architecture with curved tiled roofs and the option to dine hanok-style (floor-seating and low tables). For dessert, don’t miss out on the hobak-juk (pumpkin porridge) served up from huge steaming vats and Gong Cha, the Tawainese tea franchise that’s feeding Seoul’s bubble tea craze. Frankly, we found the food court at D-Cube City more impressive than the shopping!
For the person who wants it all: Times Square
Venues of note: MUJI, Kyotofu, Din Tai Fung
Getting there: Yeongdeungpo Station (Line 1)
Notable for its adjacent Marriott Courtyard hotel, Times Square also houses Kolon Sporex (the biggest sports facility in Korea complete with tennis, racquetball, bowling, golf, swimming and more), Kyobo Book Center, Jaseng Center for Alternative Medicine, Emart, Shinsegae Department Store and a CGV movie theater. Find retail ranging from all things cute at ARTBOX to Japanese minimalism at MUJI. While the shopping may be more oriented towards the teenage and twenties crowd, the food offerings are certainly more diversified. Notable eateries include patbingsu cafe Add Bing (try the oreo bingsu!) and Asian soy fusion restaurant Kyotofu (their signature sweet tofu pudding can only be found at this location). Go here and click the blue “실내지도” button to see a map of the stores.
For the Gangnam-bound: COEX/Hyundai Department Store
Venues of note: COEX Aquarium, Bandi & Luni’s bookstore, Megabox Cinemas, Hyundai Department Store
Getting there: Samseong Station (Line 2)
In its heyday, COEX was the place to go, torrential rain or unbearable shine. But the sun has set on its days of exciting shopping, movie premieres and arcade games, as half of it is under renovation and many locals consider it passé. Though it’s now become more synonymous with international visitors and business travelers, COEX is worth a mention as one of the few shopping and entertainment multiplexes in the Gangnam area. Movies still screen at the deluxe Megabox theater, fish keep swimming in the family-friendly aquarium and thousands of visitors continue to arrive for international conferences or trade shows. For a more local experience, watch the musical that’s playing at the COEX Artium performance hall or take the underground passageway that leads next door to the Hyundai Department Store for some of that famous patbingsu at Meal Top on the fifth floor.
For the inner child: Lotte World Complex
Venues of note: MUJI, Toys “R” Us, Pierre Gagnaire
Getting there: Jamsil Station, exit 4 (Lines 2 & 8)
The sprawling Lotte World complex in Jamsil is essentially a condensed version of the Lotte Group’s empire. In addition to Lotte World, Seoul’s largest indoor amusement park, you’ll find all thing Lotte, from Lotte Cinemas to Lotteria to the conglomerate’s non-namesake brands such as Angel-in-Us Cafe and Ashley. Look out for the extended family of Lotte-operated imports including Krispy Kreme Donuts, MUJI, Toys ”R” Us and UNIQLO, to name a few. Though its facilities can be overwhelmingly crowded, especially during the scorching summer months, you’ll find that the bowling alley and gun shooting range aren’t as full of families with small children (on that note, avoid the ice rink at all costs!). For families willing to shell out the amusement park admission, here’s a schedule of current performances/parades at Lotte World. For adults, there’s also the option to dine at the acclaimed Pierre Gagnaire restaurant at the adjacent Lotte Hotel.
Did we miss your favorite multiplex? Let us know in the comments below!