Let's start with the infamous Myeong Dong (명동).
I think I can call this my second home because I'm there almost every weekend.
Myeong Dong is like a shoppers dream, especially if your coming from North America with the USD and CAD.
Most of the stores are clothing, makeup and cafes. If you happen to go during a Friday or Saturday night, you might notice a ton of police officers lined up with shields and running about. They're there to prevent protests from going overboard and these protests happen quite often in MD...not too sure what they're about.
MD is quite easy to get to because it's in the heart of the city. You can get there by 2 different subway lines. The easiest is just going to Myeong Dong Station. If I tell you to go to Euljiro 1 Ga, you might get lost, so I'm gonna skip that.
It's easy to get lost at MD, so I'll try my best to direct you through it.
When you get to the station, you need to take exit 5/6. Once you head up the stairs you'll see a Migliore and Tabby shopping complex. Both are filled with a lot of small clothing and accessory stands. Migliore is definitely the bigger out of the 2. If you're ok with crowded shopping, then these complexes are for you. They look very wholesale-y and a bit run down at times (imo) and I find that it's difficult to find something I like. I don't really like searching through each store to get something, especially if they usually carry 1 size. I think the sizes for the tops are usually between a small and a medium and most of the time they're fitted on me. I've only shopped there maybe 2-3 times.
After Migliore, you can head out and start swimming through the crowd of people. I'll have to direct you this way: stand outside so Migliore is to your left and Tabby is to your right. On the first intersection, if you turn and head left you will find a big Gap, Giordano(a HK clothing store) and Uniqlo. While you're walking towards Uniqlo, you should see a small street to the right and there's a lot of cheap accessory and clothing stores there.
If you look right across from Uniqlo and a little bit to the left, you will see some ice cream dispensers, that's where I got the 30cm ice creams for 1000won. But be warned, they don't taste like proper ice cream. If you look across Uniqlo and towards the right, you'll see a Beauti Plex and a Hello Kitty store. I don't think a lot of people go into that Beauti Plex. I've only been once and none of the cosmetics really interest me.
When you start walking back to the intersection where Migliore is, on the left you should see the Kraze Burger. It's right next to a hotel. You should give it a try I think it's pretty tasty, plus this Kraze Burger has drinks included. One of the Kraze Burger exits leds to the Mother's Crepe store, you should go! One more food place to go to is Nolita. It's a pretty good Italian restaurant that's got a nice atmosphere. If you're facing Kraze Burger and the hotel, Nolita should be a few steps to the right on the second floor, so keep your head up.
Now if you go back to where you started when you stood in between Migliore and Tabby, instead of turning left towards Gap, to the right there is a Mister Donut cafe, Olive Young (Korean drugstore) and I believe a Sakuten restaurant. Continue walking past Mister Donut and you'll see a smaller street to your left. If you decide to talk on that street, you'll see a Forever21 and Kosney to the left. Across from the plaza where F21 is, you should be able to find the Orbis store. You can continue down this street and eventually you'll see an ABC Mart in front of you.
I'm gonna start directing you again from the starting point where Migliore is.
This time, if you walk straight, you'll walk right into the most crowded area of MD.
As you walk along this crazy street, to the right you should see Tony Moly, 2 Hanskins, Etude House, Forever21 (the otherside of the complex) Kosney and Zara. To the right you'll see Banila Co, Aritaum, and Laneige.
There is a new store that opened called Baviphat. Weird name... but anyway, they use Beyonce as the model, but it kinda doesn't look like her. The store sells cosmetics and skincare and they look like a cross between Benefit, Lush, Etude House and Banila Co. They're really cheap too! Not sure how long this store will be around because stores tend to change very quickly here.
If you happen to want to go to Lush, I can try to direct you. It's a bit complicated. OK, start back at the Migliore/Tabby starting point. Walk straight and when you get to I think the 4th or 5th street, turn left and you should see a bath tub outside the window, unless you can already smell it. It's a small store and things are marked up quite a bit so I 've never purchased anything there. For example, the Honey Trap lipbalm is about $6USD, here it's 15,000won!
I'll led you to Lotte Department Store then let you walk around yourself. There's too many things to go through at MD.
Back at the starting point, if you walk all the way to the end of that street, you should see the Myeong Dong Theatre to the left in the corner and ABC Mart on the right. Turn left and walk to the end of the street and you'll see the Lotte Young Plaza, Avenue and Lotte Department Store!
Next place to shop is at Ewha Women's University.
To get there, take the green line to Ewha Women's University Station (이대)
This place is filled with university students, duh.. Haha.. there's a few universities at the nearby stations.
When I first walked around this area, it was really nice and had almost a cafe street cozy-ness to it, especially on the street right in front of the university. BTW, if you get a chance, take a walk around the university, it's gorgeous and huge!
**First a warning about the clothing stores around here. I find that most of them are owned by men and they're very rude to foreigners, at least what I've experienced. When I shop, I always ask for the price before trying anything on, especially because nothing has a price and the store owners set it depending on whether you're a foreigner. I went shoe shopping and asked the man how much it was. He kept insisting for me to try it on and wouldn't tell me the price. I didn't want to try it on so I put it back on the shelf and started to walk away. Then I heard him say in Korean "go away" very rudely.
Then another time I went to the large shopping complex, called Yes Apm. I saw a pair of flat sandals, nothing special except the strap. I asked the sales lady how much it was and she went to ask another lady in the store. I heard them say "foreigner" in Korean then they told me it was 60,000won (about $50USD)!!!! Ha..ha..and they thought I didn't understand. "Foreigner" in Korean sounds similar to the Mandarin one. Ridiculous...**
On with the shopping...
When you get to the station, look on the map to find Ewha Women's University. I can't remember the exit. There's a lot of unique stores around here and lots of streets for you to walk through. I'm just going to tell you the main path I take when I go there.
Once you get out, you should see a Rimini Italian Restaurant. It's mediocre, but they have set meals for 2 people if you happen to have a friend.
When you exit the station and see Rimini, the big road should be on your right and you should see a slope to the left leading towards the university.
Turn left and you'll see a bunch of stores. A few steps forward and you'll see the Yes Apm shopping complex to the left and marion crepe on the first left. The Yes Apm is similar to Migliore, but this one is a lot less crowded.
If you continue straight, you should see a Watson's, Kesalan Patharan, Faceshop and Etude House to the right. Walk to the end of the street and you'll be at the entrance/gate of the university. Look to the left of the gate and you should see a Nolita Italian restaurant on the second floor and a small street that looks kinda like an alley. Don't miss that because there's some nice clothing stores back there, but keep in mind that almost all the clothes are one size fits all.
When you start walking to the left of the main gate, you should see a giant pink shoe and that's the entrance to Kosney and some clothing stores at the top. The clothes are usually on sale, it includes Codes Combines but I can't remember the other brands.
If you keep walking left past Kosney, you'll see a Hanskin and Smoothie King across the street. Walk towards Smoothie King and you should see a street that goes to the left, that's where most of the shoes are sold. If you walk straight past the shoe street, there's another shopping complex to the right which I haven't been in. You should also see Sinchon Station by the shopping complex.
If you go back to the subway station, you can take the subway to Hongdae Station. That's where a lot people people supposedly goes for clubbing. There's also a lot of unique clothing and accessory stores there. I got my most recent necklace purchase at a street stand by Hongik University. I haven't really been there enough times to direct you properly, especially because there are no street names that I can use. You just gotta look at the subway map of where Hongik University is and you'll be fine. It's like a maze there almost. If you're lucky, you'll spot the DHC store, Freshness Burger and Mongolian Hotpot.
If you like the touristy spots, you should definitely go to Insadong.
Insadong is not a station, you can get there by going to Anguk Station, Jongno 3 Ga Station or Jongak Station. I can't remember which one is closer, but I usually take it to Anguk Station and look on the map.
Once you get there, you'll feel like you're in a traditional looking area that sells touristy souvenirs. They're not like super cheap, I'm sure you can get most of the souvenirs elsewhere for a cheaper price. The area is kinda small, you can finish walking around in maybe 2 hours.
Insadong has a lot of tea cafes and supposedly one that has birds flying around in it. I haven't been to that one yet. Actually, I've only been to Insadong about 3 times. It doesn't have the things I want to buy, but if you like the traditional Korean goods then take a look.
There are plenty of Ho Bars around. If you see the flourescent lights in the back streets with signs saying Hof, Soju or Beer, you're likely to find a Ho Bar. I haven't been, but I hear it's decent if you're into bars. Ho bar got the name from the Chinese word 好.
If you like bars then the area around Insadong/Jongno 3 Ga is probably where you'd like to go, other than that, it's quite boring imo. But for better bars I'd direct you to Gangnam or Hongdae.
Other shopping areas:
- Co-Ex Mall: Go to Samseong Station on the green line. I can't remember which exit it is, but the mall is pretty much connected to the subway. If you can't find it, look on the subway map or try and ask someone. This mall has Kraze Burger, an Aquarium (sadly with small living quarters for the mammals), a Kimchi museum, Pepper Lunch (terrible in Korea, better in HK), and a movie theatre. This mall is connected to a bunch of areas including the Hyundai Department Store, so I'd recommend maybe an afternoon of walking time. There is also an Enter-6 plaza inside. It's like a large store that has a lot of smaller stores inside.
- Dongdaemun: Dongdaemun Station or Dongdaemun Stadium Station should get you to the cheap wholesale-ish shopping complexes. I personally don't like shopping at the stores in Dongdaemun because the store owners are often rude and I feel they look down on foreigners. I also can't find my sizes there, just like the Migliore in MD. They tend to lean towards the small to medium sizes and even if I can wear them, I don't like the fitted-ness of most clothes. Dongdaemun has 3 main shopping complexes for clothes that you'll want to buy. Migliore and Doota are 2 of them, I can't remember the name of the other one. I won't be able to direct you to the shopping complexes because I can't even direct myself. I usually go by where I think it was and end up finding it. You can always ask someone or look on the subway map. Other than the 3 shoping complexes, Dongdaemun has a lot of wholesale markets, which I don't find interesting.
- Ipark Mall: This is at Yongsan Station and it's connected to the electronics plaza. Yongsan has I believe 5 levels but there are not a lot of stores on each level. There's a movie theatre and a department store, I think it's called the Ipark Department Store. That's where I got my Lunasol base makeup set from the nice lady. It's not really crowded in the mall and it closes around 8pm. I don't think there's much to shop, except for the stores inside the department store. Just a warning, if you are looking for electronics, don't get them at Yongsan. They rip people off and all the men SAs are so perverted!
- Enter -6: This is a rather small shopping plaza/mall. It's the same as the one inside the Co-Ex Mall except this has like 3 levels to it and it's a lot nicer. It's located at Wangsimni Station, just go up the escalators and you'll see it. It's got a nice atmosphere and a lot of stands outside the stores with the sale items. Whenever I go, a lot of the workers there are in some sort of masquerade themed costume. It's got a movie theare, Banila Co and 2 buffet restaurants called VIPS and Marisco across from E-mart (it's all the way at the top of the escalators). I've been to VIPS and it's about 25,000won per person. It's pretty good considering they had smoked salmon the last time I went. The E-Mart here has Integrate, Faceshop, Skinfood and Etude House. Although there are a bunch of clothing stores here, I wouldn't recommend you to go out of the way just to go to this plaza/mall as you might be disappointed at the size.
I'm not too fond of shopping in Seoul, aside from the cheap and rare Korean cosmetics like Hanskin, Skinfood and Etude House. Most of the clothing or shoes aren't really the styles I like. I much prefer the styles in Hong Kong or something like Aritzia's style or the girls from Vivi magazines, that's why this shopping guide isn't as comprehensive as the Hong Kong one.
I would definitely recommend you to go to Hongdae to find the handmade accessories, Myeong Dong and the Co-Ex Mall if you happen to go to Seoul, but anywhere else, is kinda "meh" to me.