Located between the Five Grand Palaces of Korea, Insadong is a must-visit neighborhood during your vacation in Seoul. Historically the main street was inhabited by the arts and traditional culture. In the past decade, commercial businesses have trickled in, driving up rent prices. Skin care shops are turning Insadong into Skin-sadong! A handful of long-standing souvenir shops remain. Here are the top activities to partake in as you stroll down Insadong Street:
1. SOUVENIR SHOPPING
On the main street and in alleyways are shops selling specialized goods, including pottery, hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), and hanji (traditional handmade paper). Souvenir shops carry an assortment of standard Korean utensils, calligraphy materials, figurines, as well as tacky touristy goods.
2. EAT KOREAN FEASTS (HAN JEONG SHIK)
Rule of thumb: come to Insadong Street with an empty stomach. Restaurants such as Hanul Poong-Kyung offer dishes such as ginseng chicken with black rice, mung-bean jelly with beef and vegetables, soybean paste stew, abalone, natural pine mushrooms, various types of kimchi and more!
3. VISIT ART GALLERIES
With rotating exhibitions, soak in the paintings and sculptures while you can. Get lucky and you just might meet the artist themselves! They may be tending the floor where their work is being displayed.
4. EXPLORE THE TWISTING ALLEYS
Sure, it can be plenty of fun walking on Insadong's main street, but wait until you venture into the hidden alleys. From traditional tea houses to affordable Korean food to makeolli drinking, you'll want to come back again and again to try every hidden gem. These alleys may get busy during lunch hours, but makes for a meditative stroll when the calm sets back in. Observe. Chefs lay out their ingredients to dry under the sun while cats take a nap like it's a lazy Sunday afternoon.
5. GO ON A HANBOK PHOTOSHOOT
Grab your friends and get traditional! Ladies, dress up like a queen, princess or gisaeng (old-school entertainers). Gentlemen, be a king or warrior for the day. Even get your makeup and hair done at select hanbok studios.
6. EAT STREET FOOD
As long it's not raining, street food vendors come out to serve their specialties. From spicy rice cakes to saxophone-shaped ice cream cones, you'll leave the street with a full tummy. Watch their cooking and try to mimic the steps in your own kitchen!
7. HANG OUT AT SSAMZIGIL
A spiraling four-story building of arts, crafts, shopping and food, Ssamzigil will fulfill your appetite for all things cute and colorful. Head to the basement for workshops where you can paint on pottery and purchase handmade goods. The top floor hosts a cafe and an area where you stick lovey-dovey messages on walls.
8. RELAX AT A CAFE
A rainy day in Insadong? Street food vendors might've taken a day off, but some cafes will give you a discount for the wet weather! Most spots provide dependable Wifi as the majority of cafes in Seoul do.
Watch the KWOW episode on Insadong if you haven't already (below)!