Looking for souvenirs to remember your Seoul sojourn? When you want to buy Korean gift items other than bottles of kimchi, the best place to visit in Seoul is Insadong.
Located at the Jongno-gu neighborhood, this shopping district used to be the largest antique and art market in Korea. Attracting lots of visitors on a daily basis, it was reported to have 100,000 shoppers and sightseers on Sundays in 2000. Its main street that is closed to vehicular traffic on weekends is connected to a multitude of alleys all filled with small shops that sell a variety of souvenirs and cute knickknacks that reflect colorful Korean culture and sure to bring joy to the people you’ll be gifting. These items include ceramics, antique furniture, hanbok (traditional clothes), hanji (handmade paper), calligraphy materials, teas, folk crafts, paintings, and other artworks.
It is also home to the city’s oldest bookstore (the Tongmungwan) and the oldest tea house (the Kyung-in Art Gallery). But not everything in Insadong is old. The whole area is a fine mix of past and present cultures. A stroll along the curved street on a cold winter morning sipping hot brewed coffee (just like what my friend and I did) is pure bliss. Also, prepare to be amazed and entertained by those men in white kitchen uniforms who demonstrate the production of hair-thin noodle-like sweets in an attention-grabbing performance. I bought a box of cinnamon-flavored sweets out of amazement.
Although my friend and I didn’t see one that early in the morning, there are usually musical performances, calligraphy demonstrations, and other art events as well as street festivals all year-round that will entertain culturally curious travelers. Aside from souvenir shops and teahouses, there are numerous cafes, restaurants, galleries, and ateliers along the main street and in the narrow alleys.