Myeongdong…or paradise as it’s known to K-Beauty shoppers. If you want to buy cosmetics in Korea, this is where you need to head to. I don’t know how true it is, but I hear there’s around 1000 cosmetics shops in the area. Bearing that in mind, it’s easy to see how this could be overwhelming, particularly to visitors who don’t have long to get a handle on it! So voila, a shopping guide to tell you subway info, eating suggestions, and a simple shopping route to get the most out of your visit. (My photos are not fabulous…grey sky plus a distinctly average camera/iPhone do not produce picture perfect snaps- my apologies).
So first you need to get on the blue Line Number 4 and head to Myeongdong station (명동 역). I suggest you go for around 11am when most shops open and to avoid the crowds that gather later.
When you arrive head up to the exits. If you need to drop any bags off, there are lockers of various sizes before you exit. Prices are around 3000 Korean won, and you can use a T-Money card to pay.
When you come through the toll gates head for exit 6, and you should come out into the area seen in the third photo below.
Now you’ve made it to Myeongdong, don’t get overwhelmed by either the number of people or the number of stores! Go down to the large Nature Republic with the green-covered exterior (this should probably be your first store hit) and turn left.
Down this bustling street you’re going to find the Line Friends Store as well as the Iope Cushion Store, among plenty of other cosmetics stores including Innisfree, Too Cool For School, Aritaum etc. I really like the Innisfree and TCFS down here, however I would suggest that you hold off on some of the other cosmetics stores for now, because you’re just at the beginning! And believe me, there are probably at least 5 more of the same brands stores in the area.
Wander down to the end of this street until you reach a small crossroad, where you can see a rainbow parking lot ahead, and a restaurant with lanterns hanging on your right (photo below). Turn right here.
Head down past the Seoul Chinese Primary School and Chinese Embassy and keep going until you see the Lotte Young Plaza on the other side of a big road.
On a sunny day the skyscrapers around here are a beautiful view against the blue sky- don’t forget your camera. The quickest way to reach the department stores is to dip down underground and walk across to the opposite exit (number 13). Here you can get straight into the Lotte Young Plaza underground entrance.
In the Lotte Young Plaza you can find some really cool clothes and accessories because they cater to the street style of Seoul’s young people. In all honesty you can often find the same or similar styles at small stores/stalls in university areas such as Hongdae or Ewha, for a much cheaper price. But the real reason I go in the Lotte Plaza? For 3CE and Moonshot. Both of these brands are slightly pricier, but (I’m talking largely about Moonshot here, I’m not as familiar with 3CE) I can vouch for the quality of both the shopping experience and the products. I always get my make up done when I shop at Myeongdong Moonshot, and as a member usually receive some great free gifts.
When I’m done I head over to the Lotte Department Store for luxury shopping. Here you can find all of your Western brands such as Nars, Chanel, Dior, but also my favourite Korean luxury brands like Hera, Sulwhasoo and History of Whoo. Downstairs on the same floor as the food mart is Su:m37. I often just come to this department store for a browse, but if you do want to buy, the saleswomen are lovely, and I believe they offer Duty Free shopping and Tax Refunds for tourists. This is something you should look for all around Myeongdong as many stores offer Tax Refunds, which you can conveniently claim back at Incheon airport before your flight home. Just remember to take your passport when you go shopping!
When you’re done spending -or not spending- the big bucks, you go out of the main Lotte Department Store exit, back underground, to pop up on the other side out of exit 15. You’ll immediately be heading into a wide (mostly) pedestrianized street, which is effectively the bottom street of Myeongdong.
There’s a CGV cinema, banks, a big HnM, plus many more beauty stores. I tend to bypass most of the cosmetics stores along here as they’re smaller than their alternatives up the other streets that branch off this main walkway. However if you want to stock up on Leaders masks there is a store that sells in bulk on this street.
If you keep going you come to a Daiso- perfect to purchase any cheap souvenirs, or if you need something practical. Right next to the Daiso is a doorway to Shinhan bank ATMs. This is handy if you have a foreign card as their ATMs work with non-Korean cards (many Korean ATMs do not, as I learned when I arrived in the country). Just look for the ATMs that have a sign saying ‘Global’ above. They all also have English (and other) language options.
If you keep going you will come to the large Olive Young. I enjoy browsing Korean drugstores like Olive Young and Watsons, and as this is the largest OY in Korea, I usually pop in to see what’s up. I love the aisle with all the sheet masks! They also have a fabulous selection of Japanese makeup brands.
I know I am usually starving by this point. If you turn right up the street opposite Olive Young, you need to look for a restaurant called Myeongdong Kyoja (명동교자). They have two restaurants on this street. If you’re walking up from Olive Young direction, the first is very quickly on your right. You’ll probably smell something delicious before you see it. The other is further up almost opposite Forever 21 also with a brown entrance. For me, this is the only place to eat. It’s actually one of my favourite restaurants. Their menu only contains about four items, and I always go for their specialty kalguksu- noodle soup. It is so filling and delicious, only 8000 won for a huge bowl, and comes with the best kimchi I’ve tasted. The restaurant is always busy, so I try to go either just before or after lunch time, but even if you hit their busy period, the turnover is so quick I wouldn’t worry too much. Each restaurant has about 150 seats I think!
If this hasn’t filled you up, or you fancy a snack/something different, Myeongdong’s street food is fantastic. There are so many different choices, from juices, to fruit covered in various things, octopus tentacles (not for me), chicken…lots of options! I personally love the covered strawberries but they are painfully expensive IMO. Also don’t forget Korea’s famous themed cafes like cat and dog places or the Hello Kitty Cafe. By midday each street is bustling with food vendors, and there are hundreds of coffee/snack/food places, so take your pick!
Shopping route continued
By now you’ve taken a route around Myeongdong, so you can go up and down the smaller parallel vertical streets at your leisure, with some idea of where you are. I would definitely suggest hitting the Laneige store which is down the street opposite the Daiso I mentioned earlier, as well as the beautiful Faceshop stores that have been redecorated gold with chandeliers. The Forever 21 is bigger here than Hongdae and offers many more clothing/accessories options. Forever 21 and HnM are some of the few places in Korea I can find bottoms to fit (and I’m around an average size at home) so if you find yourself in this position too, I would visit these stores. I also love to go to Artbox (on the same street as the restaurant I talked about) for all my stationary needs- its just adorable.
By snaking up and down these streets you will eventually find your way back up by the subway at some point and you’re back where you started, hopefully loaded with shopping bags to take home.
It can be a tiring day but if you want to shop cosmetics in Korea, this is the place to do it! Hopefully this little guide can give you a bit more clarity and some visuals if you’re a newbie to the area, or maybe something different to look at even if you’ve visited before. Happy shopping! Please write in the comments if you have any other suggestions or tips for shopping in Myeongdong! I’d love to hear about your shopping experiences or any questions.