Are you traveling to South Korea’s capital for the first time and want to make a list of what to buy in Seoul ahead of time? Planning every trip detail will allow you to make the best out of your time, including shopping for the best Korean souvenirs.
If you don’t have too much time on your hands, and you want to see many of the amazing attractions Seoul has in store, make a list of all the things you want to buy and bring back home.
Here is a comprehensive guide we hope will help you!
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What to buy in Seoul: the best Korean souvenirs
Cosmetics – K-beauty
K-beauty is the perfect blend of traditional Korean culture and modern beauty rituals.
It merges skincare, makeup, and cosmetics into a unique regimen that emphasizes hydration, nutrition, and protection. K-beauty is all about taking time to pamper yourself with natural ingredients like aloe vera, green tea extract, and snail mucin.
From cleansers and essences to serums and sheet masks, K-beauty products are specifically designed to give you glowing results without harsh chemicals or synthetic fragrances.
You definitely cannot go wrong by offering Korean cosmetics as a souvenir, and you might find it challenging to choose the right products.
For cosmetics lovers and not only, we have created this comprehensive guide for where to buy skincare in Seoul. It is packed with useful information, including brands and products you should not miss out on, including where to find them.
Local art from Insa-dong
While strolling on the streets of Insadong, you will find plenty of art galleries to visit, but also local shops where to buy local art from.
Whether you’re looking for traditional Korean art such as calligraphy, paintings, pottery, or hanbok (Korean traditional costume), Insadong has it all.
You can also find more modern artwork in the form of photographs, sculptures, and even jewelry. With its perfect location in the heart of the city, there are plenty of other things to buy in Insadong, but Korean art it’s the main thing.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish that has been around for centuries. It is made with fermented vegetables, usually cabbage, and flavored with spicy seasonings like garlic and red chili pepper.
It is served as a side dish but can also be used in soups, stews, or even fried rice. Kimchi is full of probiotics and other health benefits, making it an excellent addition to any meal and all Koreans love it.
To many, the smell can be off-putting, especially in the beginning. However, as you start trying different types of kimchi you will end up loving it – as we did.
Koreans keep kimchi in special ceramic containers, many times outside, and I remember when I visited in winter I could smell it almost everywhere. After moving there, and once we were introduced to the art of Korean bbq, we ended up loving kimchi.
You can buy small sealed plastic bags with kimchi and transport them safely in your luggage. Look for the ones for children, since there is a certain type that comes mixed with apple and has a very fresh flavor, while not being too hot and spicy.
Bibigo is in our view the best kimchi brand, followed by Jongga.
Korean snacks from the convenience store
While I am not a huge fan of Korean snacks, they are extremely popular with foreigners and those who travel to South Korea.
Don’t get me wrong, Korean snacks are great, but they are usually sweet and we are used to snacking on salty stuff.
Choose to visit any convenience store and you will be impressed by the wide variety of snacks you can choose from. Many love the chocolate-covered sticks, while the Gilim honey butter peanuts are a must-try!
Once you are home, you can always choose a subscription box that will send you all your favorite snacks directly home from South Korea.
Korean Red Ginseng
Maybe the most popular gift Koreans make, red ginseng has plenty of beneficial properties and it is something they are proud of.
When we moved from Korea we received it in various forms from capsules to powder to tea extract or in cosmetics, and everything in between.
It is an ancient root that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It’s known to have a variety of health benefits, from boosting your immune system to reducing stress and fatigue. It also helps improve memory and concentration levels.
Thus, choosing red ginseng is a great idea for a souvenir to bring back home from South Korea.
Alex likes them and Ingrid hates them, thus there is always a bag in the house. Koreans love seaweed and it goes well with various traditional dishes.
It is easy to carry in the luggage and makes for a great authentic gift. You can find them at supermarkets like Emart, Lotte Mart or Homeplus, but also at some larger convenience stores.
Korean tea (Osulloc Tea)
Before visiting Boseong we had no idea tea grows in South Korea. However, it does, and especially the one from Jeju Island is very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Osulloc is a great popular brand that has beautifully wrapped local high-quality tea. They have beautiful gift sets, but also premium blended teas or matcha.
You can find it online (on GMarket or Coupang) or you can buy it directly from one of their beautiful store in Insadong or at their Tea House in Bukchon.
Also, the Amore Pacific flagship store in Seongsu has a tea house on the last level, where you can also buy Osulloc tea from.
Moreover, if you are from the US and don’t want to carry it back home, try it in Korea and order it directly on Amazon here.
Sweet Korean instant tea
It comes in a jar and you can prepare it fast and easy with cold or hot water. I used to drink it back in Hong Kong and loved it.
You can choose from various flavors, with ginger & yuzu or the Jeju hallabong orange as the most popular ones.
Rice Cakes (Tteok)
You can taste rice cakes in various Korean traditional dishes, but especially in Tteokbokki. They usually stir-fry them in a spicky sauce.
Rice cakes are gummy and don’t really have a specific taste, but they are very traditional and loved by Koreans. Thus, they make for a great gift to bring back home from South Korea.
Hotteok is a popular Korean street food snack. It’s made from a sweet dough filled with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts. The dough is then flattened into thin circles and cooked in a hot pan until golden brown on both sides.
You can find it also at supermarkets and makes a great gift for sweets lovers.
You simply cannot go to South Korea without trying soju, their traditional alcoholic drink.
This traditional Korean alcohol is made from rice, wheat, and other grains. It is clear in color and usually tastes slightly sweet or fruity. Soju typically has an alcohol content of around 16-20% and can be enjoyed as a shot, mixed with beer (a popular combination called soju-bok), or used to create various cocktails.
You cannot have Korean BBQ in the traditional way without at least one bottle of soju. It is not so strong so don’t worry about getting drunk.
Beacuse it is such a popular drink and it really represents a part of the Korean culture, we would always bring a few bottles back home for friends and family.
In Korea a bottle is very affordable and you can buy them from any convenience store.
Since we are talking abour alcohol, makgeolli is another great souvenir option.
Makgeolli is a traditional Korean rice wine. It has a milky white color and is slightly sweet with a tart, tangy flavor. It can be served cold or warm and usually has an alcohol content of around 6-8%.
Ingrid loved it but some people might find it hard to digest since it is a bit fermented and it is a bit frizzy.
Again, you can buy it from local convenience stores or supermarkets.
Instant drinks – traditional Korean teas or other types of drinks
Ingrid loves these and makes sure she always has some at home. They go well in every season but especially during cold days.
In Korea you would normally get one of these in certain restaurants at the end of the meal or as a dessert. Some are packed with cinnamon (Sujeonggwa) or ginger, making them a great drink for digestion and your stomac.
We also loved the barley tea we would get at one of the very local restaurants we used to go to for ginseng soup. The good news is you can find that as well in instant form. Just pour hot water on top and enjoy!
Cute stationary items from Art Box
I must admit that when I found this cute shop in Hongdae I ended up spending hours exploring and looking at all the fun things they sell.
I was actually looking for gifts to bring home to our pre-teenager niece and I surely found a few things that we enjoyed.
From funny wrist cushions to poop pencils, you will find something to buy from here. I strongly doubt it you can go out without something.
Another great option is to go to Daiso – they are easy to find and there’s a huge one in Hongdae steps away from the subway station.
Ramyeon is a popular Korean instant noodle dish. It’s made with wheat flour noodles and can be served either hot or cold. It usually comes with a packet of seasoning that adds flavor and spice to the dish.
At conveninece stores you can find plenty of options to choose from – no matter if you like it spicy or less so.
As you’ve seen in the picture above, soju is served in some very specific glasses.
They look like the shoot glasses we use for tequilla and you can find them with various cute cartoons (such as tge Kakao Friends characters) or even k-pop stars.
As we both are not K-Pop fans we knew close to nothing about popular groups before moving there. Of course, everyone has heard ot BTS, but the K-Pop movement is huge in South Korea.
If you have a favorite group or you want to bring back home great K-pop souvenirs head over to Myeongdong (at the Underground Shopping Center or at Music Korea), Gangnam (at the Tourist Information Center, or in COEX Mall), or in Hongdae.
You can buy music albums, t-shirts, posters, cards, hoodies, and much more.
Hanbok – traditional Korean clothes
A hanbok is a traditional Korean style of clothing that dates back centuries. It is characterized by long, flowing skirts and jackets with intricate designs and bright colors.
This clothing is often worn for special occasions like weddings or holidays and can be seen in fashion shows and cultural events throughout Korea.
During your trip you must rent hanboks and make memories around some of the most beautiful parts of the city (for example the Palaces), but you can also buy some beautiful traditional clothes to take home.
Depending on the style and quality hanboks can be quite expensive, but you can find something for every pocket around Insadong or Bukchon Hanok.
Prints of traditional folk paintings in Insadong
Just look around Insadong and you will find countless beautiful paintings, some even for you to color yourself.
Korean fashion has become increasingly popular over the last few years. It is characterized by unique silhouettes and pastel colors.
Korean fashion often combines traditional elements with modern trends, creating an effortless look that can be seen on both the runway and the streets.
You can shop for all kinds of hip items in Myeongdong, in Gangnam at the Express Bus Terminal Shopping Mall, or at local stores such as SPAO or Gentle Monster (eye wear at a cheaper price in Korea than internationally).
Customized perfume or jewelry
There are various local perfume brands waiting to be discovered in South Korea and my favorite one is Soul Seasons (you can find it at Chicor).
However, you can also participate in a workshop where you can learn about perfume and create your own fragrence.
You can also create custom-made jewelry with Korean symbols at a workshop in Seoul.
Korean dried seafood is a unique and popular way to enjoy fish and shellfish.
It is usually lightly salted and sun-dried, then consumed as snacks or used in cooking. Dried seafood is often served as an accompaniment to drinks like soju or makgeolli, but can also be eaten on its own and makes for a great souvenir from Korea.
Beef jerky is a popular snack in Korea that is made from beef. It’s usually prepared by marinating the meat in soy sauces and other seasonings to give it a unique flavor.
It has a chewy texture and can be enjoyed as an appetizer or side dish.
You can buy it from any convenience store or supermarket.
Just like k-beauty, Korean make-up has become very popular around the world, mainly because of its great qualities and affordable price.
K-beauty usually comes in very natural pale shades, it is very resistent, and creates an almost “no makeup” look.
Myeongdong is the place to look for skincare and makeup, with Olive Young or Chicor as your go-to places.
Spam gift sets
This is a funny option, but you will find these all over the place and they are trully Korean!