See also: 30 Best Things to Do in Seoul
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a hotspot for the travelers. The metropolis has everything that will cater to their visitors’ needs. One of the famous areas around Seoul is Dongdaemun Market (also known as DDM). It is the ultimate shopping center of Korea, where everything is as affordable as products and services can get. Dongdaemun was declared as a ‘Special Tourism Zone’ in the year 2002 and happens to be an unbelievable paradise for tourists and residents alike. Other than being a shopping center, the place offers an array of things to do and places to visit around.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza – abbreviated as DDP – is perhaps the most visited places in the area, thanks to its awesome and ethereal structure. It is shaped in an unusual way, almost like a fluid spiral, and has around seven floors hidden inside the seemingly flowing structure, four above the ground, while three under. And yet, such division is not visible when one looks at it from the outside. This futuristic illusionary structure – which is now considered to be the sole important landmark of Dongdaemun – was envisioned and put into reality by Zaha Hadid, a world-famous architect. One can see a beautiful blend of art installations and exhibitions, along with bookshops, clothing stores and cafés, not to forget souvenir shops nestling in the curves of the building.
Heunginjimun (Dongdaemun Gate)
Dongdaemun Gate, also known as Heungingjimun gate, is one of the most visited places around here. It is an ancient monument, located at the outer wall of the Seoul Fortress. When it was built, three more gates – as large as this gate – and four other small gates completed the structure of the huge Seoul fortress around the city. Since the gates have a meaningful name attached to it written in Hangeul characters, this East gate was initially named as Heunginmun Gate, to indicate ‘benevolence’. However, Hangeul ‘Ji’ – signifying good energy - was added in the name, making it Heunginjimun gate. It has an ongsung, semicircular in shape, which is nothing but a small castle, that is built in front of the original one so that it offers extra and wholesome protection. This ongsung makes the gate a special one when compared to other gates. The entire structure might not serve its original purpose, but it has found another purpose – that of being an excellent tourist destination!
Dongdaemun Seonggwak Park
Dongdaemun Seonggwak Park is easily accessible from Heunginmun gate, but it is one of the quaint little tourist traps around the area. Behind the gate, there is an uphill road that leads to the park, and yet, due to the hidden quality of the park, people often miss out on this place. The park is furnished well and offers a full view of Dongdaemun, thanks to its elevated location. You can actually enjoy a sight of ancient architecture meshing with the modern buildings – such is the beauty of Dongdaemun. If you get the opportunity of visiting the park at night time, then you will see this beauty twinkling away in all its glory. The light of the Gate and the nearby buildings along with the moving lights of cars come together to give you a bird view of twinkling glory. It is something one needs to experience at least once in their lifetimes, isn’t it?
Seoul Fortress Wall
Seoul Fortress Wall seems like a little bit of history left behind in the throes of a thriving modern world. The wall is a part of Naksan Park, which is located on the Naksan mountain. A beautiful little pathway runs parallel to the wall, which hikers and other tourists frequently use. It was built in the year 1396 to protect Seoul and extends from Bugaksan to Inwangsan, covering Naksan and Namsan in line. The hiking trail here, leading to Naksan Park at the top, from where you could get a panoramic view of Dongdaemun. This is actually a very romantic spot, where not only couples frequently visit but also is a romantic hotspot of shooting Korean films. Walking down a little from the top, you can easily access the Mural Village, as described below.
Ihwa Mural village
Are you fascinated by everything artistic? Then paying a visit to this village is a must! Ihwa Mural Village happened to be a slum area, before the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism stepped in to transform it. Now, it is a proud artistic stop - an artistic landmark, if you will – with colorful murals painted across around the village. These artistic expressions were the works of artists and local university students together, who didn’t leave any surface unattended; there are Koi painted over the stairs too! This has made tourists crowd the place and click some aesthetic photos, which in turn has birthed an array of cafes to spring around. It is one of the quaint little tourist spots Dongdaemun has to offer, that’s for sure.
Not many are comfortable in crowded places, but for this one, they will surely make an exception. Meokja Golmok – or ‘Let’s Eat Alley’ – is situated between Dongdaemun market and Jongno and is nothing but a wide but cramped alley, filled with ajummas, who are middle-aged women. These ajummas are seen cooking the food on the spot and serving them at reasonable prices. Small stools are placed in front of all the stalls, where customers can seat and get their orders right in their hands. The entire setting feels like an open-air restaurant, in the addition of others lined up on the sides of the alley. While a variety of dishes are made and served, dak hanmari (i.e. whole chicken) restaurants still remain to be the top-visited ones here. One of them, namely Jinokhwa Halmae Wonjo Dakhanmari, is said to be the oldest one and still worth it.
One of the best cafés tucked away in the groves of DDP is Okrumong. What is fascinating about this join is that they prepare everything they serve using authentic and traditional Korean cooking methods. Their Bingsu is one of the reasons people frequently visit this café. Bingsu is a well-known dessert of East Asia and is found to be a common one in this area. The café’s Red Bean Bingsu is one of the authentic and tickles the taste buds. It has a much-loved homely ambience, with aesthetic walls and comfortable chairs. If you are around, swing by DDP’s basement level 2 to reach Okrumong; it is shop number11.
While other markets are open for the day long, this one comes alive in the night. Dongdaemun night market – also known as Sebit Market – is located just behind DDP. There is a pretty little owl mascot, greeting the visitors at the entrance. A seemingly endless row of stalls after street stalls follow the mascot, where you can get any and all kind of essential items. Along with this, you can see stalls dedicated to street food, because what kind of a market it would be if it doesn’t provide food items? Satiate your late-night cravings with traditional Korean food items such as gimbap, tteokbokki and sundae. It is not open for all the night; vendors set up their tents at around 7:00-8:00 PM and keep it upright till 2:00 AM in the morning.
Cheonggyecheon stream and the adjoining Cheonggye plaza’s main entrance happens to be near Gwanghwamun, but it is easily accessible from Dongdaemun station too. This stream seems to bring Jongno-gu and Jung-gu (downstream) together, ultimately leading them to the Han River. The stream also happens to be a popular hangout spot, especially for a group of friends. The waters and the adjacent greenery are surrounded by an urban setting, which becomes a convenient place to visit and have fun. During the sunset, the stream and the lighted plaza seems to be at its most beautiful. Cheonggyecheon is also seen to be hosting community events or even some amateur Korean concerts; make sure you don’t miss them while you are around.
This restaurant happens to be something altogether different from what Dongdaemun has to offer. However, it blends quite well with the culture; the Samarkand Restaurant is thriving as a tourist-friendly one. It is owned by a Muslim gentleman and serves everything, from Lunch to Dinner. The cuisines include primarily Uzbek, along with Western and the Mediterranean. There is also an inclusion of authentic Korean tea and local desserts on the menu. The prices are very reasonable, and the ambience is comforting enough. However, the only problem here is the location; since it is tucked away somewhere in the inside parts of Dongdaemun, not many people easily find the restaurant, and consequently, the entrance to this food paradise.
Lotte Fitin Building
Lotte Fitin Building can be said to be the first shopping center in the whole country. It is filled with shops of premium fashion designer brands, along with local designer stores. If you want to keep track of the latest trends of Seoul’s fashion, then Lotte Fitin is the place you should turn to. It is a perfect example of ‘global in local’, as there are world-famous brands of Nike, Polo, Adidas, among others residing with the local brands, side-by-side. Another attraction present in Lotte Fitin Building is K-Live, situated on the 9th floor. It not only gives a beautiful shopping experience but also makes it even more beautiful, with its lowered, more reasonable prices.
Even if people don’t know anything about Dongdaemun, they are sure to know about K-Live, especially those who are K-Pop fans. It is an unusual theatre, as it is exclusively Hologram one, which gives off the experience to the audience as if they are actually enjoying a real concert, when in fact, they are watching it virtually. It is on a 3 minutes’ walk from the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station, on the first floor of Lotte Fittin. The entrance to the theatre is through an exclusive elevator, where, once you step out, you will be greeted by beautiful K-Pop photo zones around the lobby. Now you know why no one gets bored there if they reach before the concert starts.
With all the travelling you will be doing in Dongdaemun, you are bound to feel your energy lowered. That’s where Sparex comes in the picture. It is a ‘jimjilbang’ i.e. a Korean-style spa, tucked away on the third basement level of Good Morning City Building. One of the great things about Sparex is that it is open and available for customers 24x7. You can enjoy a nice hot bath, get a soothing massage or better yet, you can even enjoy a refreshing nap. It is quite popular, enough that many international visitors are seen frequenting it. This has goaded the staff to be comforting and more importantly, English-speaking. One of the best Korean spas around Dongdaemun, the experience Sparex offers to you will be worth it.
Forest of Music
Forest of Music is a unique cafe, at a walking distance of 2 minutes from Dongdaemun’s station. What makes this café unique is that it is music-themed, hence the name. It has an extensive archive of vinyl records, ancient and well-preserved. The walls are also seen to be filled with invaluable autographs left by celebrities who visited the café. However, it is more famous for its appearance on TV. You might remember this café from ‘Sunny’, a popular Korean movie and the Jayuro Gayoje episode from ‘Infinite Challenge’. The DJs there are quick to play the most-demanded songs, which is very favorable for the customers. With the songs being easily available digitally these days, such a traditional approach of music brings fresh vibes to the café.
As mentioned above, Dongdaemun is a fashion town. As to answer the question of what lent the area this name, the answer lies within the confines of the history of Korea. The refugees of the Korean War made their way to the Pyeounghwa Market, where they sold cloths they stitched from the army uniforms of the USA. This market later developed into the wholesale clothing market, which is now considered to be the largest one in Korea. The market is a building of 3 storeys and consists of more or less 2100 shops and stores. The Pyeounghwa Fashion Plaza – as is printed on the building – also boasts of being home to second-hand books, which will be found on the first floor of the Plaza. The market is worth a visit, at least for its history.
There are a lot of places on the back of the earth worth visiting, but are they as affordable paradise as Dongdaemun? Certainly not. The place not only keeps its traditions and cultures alive but has also found a way to make them survive alongside modernity and globalization. Dongdaemun will give you a true experience of Korean culture.