Seoul, Korea, has been one of the world’s fastest-growing cities (now topping 10 million residents) and is populated by people of every background and class. From the early Korean caste system has emerged a society teeming with everyone from the low-income to the super-wealthy.

The Namdaemun shopping district reflects this huge variety in a broad spectrum of vendors, all condensed into a few blocks bordered by the Blue and Green subway lines. On the north side, entering from Myeongdong (the higher-class shopping destination), the largest branch of the Lotte department store features 12 floors of endless retail shopping and events. (Think “Nordstrom” on steroids.) We happened to show up on the same day as a new clothing line launched, which was apparently attended by a string of Korean celebrities.

Lotte main branch in Namdaemun

Celebrity status in South Korea attracts plenty of attention!

The outdoor areas around these upper-class stores are beautifully cultivated and show off cool architecture and art to boot:

Metal sculpture outside Lotte department store

But the classy department stores quickly give way to Namdaemun streets packed with shops, booths, tents, and countless displays of clothes, shoes, souvenirs, food, luggage, jewelry, and all sorts of accessories.

Shopping in Namdaemun

 

Scarf shop in Namdaemun Market

Art store in Namdaemun, Seoul

We visited Namdaemun early in the day when there was less foot traffic, but it’s one of the busiest places to find yourself in the later afternoon and evening. Thousands of vendors compete for your attention, and it’s not an experience for the claustrophic!

Our favorite deals from the outdoor markets in Seoul?

  • Socks (great quality and well below $1/pair) in every style you can imagine
  • Leather belts (under $5 and tailored immediately to fit your size)
  • Kids’ clothes (huge bins with fantastic prices)
  • Hats (almost all under $5)
  • Luggage (we got a big duffel bag for $10 to take home everything else we bought)
  • Jewelry (good prices, tasteful styles)
  • … and did we mention socks? These have to be one of Korea’s largest exports. Endless socks.

As long as you’re not picky about brand names, these outdoor stands are the place to go for good deals. Even better, we managed to haggle the prices down without knowing a word of Korean. Either they took pity on us, or were just trying to shut us up! Either way, our experience at the Seoul markets was entirely unique.