If you have to shop in Seoul, you have to go to Namdaemun Market before anywhere else. Namdaemun Market is Korea’s largest open-air traditional market located between Seoul Station and Myeongdong to the east of Namdaemun area. This sprawling market was named after Namdaemun, which actually refers to the oldest wooden structure in Seoul. It is Korea’s National Treasure #1. During the Joseon Dynasty, Namdaemun was the southern gate, one of the four gates that led to the castle. Today, this ancient gate is loved by Koreans everywhere as it symbolizes the country’s rich history. Namdaemun Market, however, is more popular as a place for shopping than a place of history.
Namdaemun Market opened in 1414 during the reign of King Taejong. It used to be managed by the government, and originally, mainly sold fruits, crops, grains, fish and miscellaneous goods. Through the years, Namdaemun has been plagued by so many misfortunes. It was taken over by the Japanese in 1922, greatly damaged during the Korean War, burned down in 1953, and again swept by fire in 1968 and 1975. It had truly stood the test of time.
Today, the different shops inside the market sell clothes, textile goods, utensils, household items, electronics, traditional crafts, local produce, imported goods, souvenir items, and so much more. About 90% of all the children’s clothes sold in the country are distributed here. There are more than 5,000 shops selling these goods at very affordable prices on retail or wholesale. Every day, about 500,000 visitors and buyers from all over the world come here. The market is always full and hectic with so many people buying, haggling and talking at the same time. What’s really amazing is that there is no language barrier here; everybody seems to understand what everybody wants. Some come to buy while many just for the experience of it. Tourists should definitely visit the market for whatever reasons, since there is no better way to experience traditional Seoul living than here. Because of the market’s popularity, the surrounding street shops and nearby tourist attractions are also always jam-packed.
The other traditional market that used to be very similar with Namdaemun is Dongdaemun Market. However, Dongdaemun had under gone major urban developments and improvements that today it is hardly recognizable as a marketplace. Namdaemun shops, on the other hand, remain humble and traditional. Other attractions here are the food stalls that offer traditional dishes, which include kimchi, pork hocks and beltfish.
Getting to Namdaemun Market is not a problem, although it cannot be accessed by any form of transport. Visitors may take the subway or bus going to Hoehyen Station, Line 4 or Seoul Metropolitan Station. The market is about 10 minutes away on foot. The street leading to it was built in a time when the automobile was not yet invented, and so until today, not a single car has passed through it. Vendors and traders use either a motorcycle or hand-drawn carts to transport their goods, while visitors simply walk. Namdaemun Market is so huge it occupies a number of city blocks. The surrounding areas would get very congested with people trying to look for parking space.