Namdaemun Market, first opened in 1964, is the largest traditional market in Korea with over 10,000 retailers, vendors, and wholesalers. The market, spread out over many blocks, is a dense maze of stalls, vendors, and restaurants. Nowhere else in Korea can you find such a large collection of interesting and traditional Korean items for sale in one place.
The market may be smaller and more compact than the sprawling Dongdaemun Market to the east, but is still one of the best places to shop in Seoul and packed at almost all hours of the day.
Namdaemun Market is named after nearby Namdaemun Gate, officially Sungnyemun Gate. The gate, which was designated the first National Treasure of Korea, was destroyed by an arsonist on February 10, 2008. The gate has since been restored and reopened in 2014. At a time, the market was known as “market within the south gate.”
The market is located between City Hall and Seoul Station in the shadows of Shinsegae Department Store just north of Hoehyeon Station on Seoul Subway Line 4. It covers over 66,000 square meters or 16 acres. You could visit everyday for a month and still see something new that you missed the day before.
Merchants have been selling items near this location since 1414 in the early days of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). Over the years, this area has been damaged by fire and been in the control of the Japanese during their occupation of Korea.
After the Korean War, United States military goods were sold illegally at a back corner of the market.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Seoul was rapidly expanding and commercializing. At this time, the market offered some of the best high quality hand sewn clothing. In comparison, Dongdaemun Market sold lower quality and cheaper goods.
You can find an almost every type of fashion item, jewelry, clothing, luggage, toys, stationery, carpets, hiking gear, flowers, electronics, and street foods. Namdaemun Market offers a large collection of Korean souvenirs for those tourists who want to take something unique and fun home. If it is sold in Korea, or anywhere else in the world, then you will most likely find it at one of the many stalls here.
Namdaemun Market is well known for its large selection of used camera equipment. Many of these camera shops are clustered near Gate 1. You can also find a street devoted to kids’ clothing.
Many shops sell hanbok (traditional Korean dress) at prices cheaper than anywhere else in Seoul. Those looking for eyeglasses or contact lenses will also find affordable prices.
The best time to visit though is at night when the market truly comes alive and gets packed with shoppers looking for great deals or those looking to sample some of the tasty street food.
The best way to enjoy this massive market is just to wander aimlessly and get lost in the maze like alleyways. Namdaemun Market is a great place to stroll through during the day or at night, even if you are not planning to buy anything.
If you are hungry, a number of tasty street food stalls can be found just outside exit 5 of Hoehyeon Station. Many of these stalls sell stereotypical Korean street foods such as dumplings, noodles, and pan fried foods.