People can be forgiven for assuming that Korea doesn’t have western styled malls.
Spend any time in Seoul or the surrounding cities and it becomes very clear very quickly that commercial areas are not laid out the same way as in the West. Back home, people hop in their cars and drive from strip mall to strip mall to visit outlet shops which sell everything from plumbing supplies to diamonds. As urban centers become denser, these strip malls pack together into massive buildings holding every type of store imaginable – they become large, western styled malls. Korea, on the other hand, seems to be a mass of high-rise buildings no matter where you are. Forget driving around from strip mall to strip mall – walk outside of your apartment and you immediately see kimchi restaurants stacked 5 floors tall. Oddly, despite the density, shopping for electronics or clothes still seems to mean bouncing from one small shop to another a block down the road.
Where Are the Malls?
I’ve been in Korea for 3 years at this point, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I actually found out that Korea does in fact have large indoor malls, just like the ones back home in the West. Part of the reason visitors never see them is because, in the West, we drive around all day and can instantly spot the gigantic bland architecture of a mall from our car. In Korea, though, we spend most of our time in a bus or a subway car, so completely miss those massive structures. To find out exactly where they are means engaging in a detailed discussion with a Korean friend.
Four Malls Worth the Trip
While there are definitely more malls available, these four malls are your best bet in terms of variety and quality.
Samseong Station, line 2
Southern Seoul, near Gangnam Station
Coex was the first mall I learned about during my first year in Korea. Even then, it took about 6 months to find out that Korea actually did have a mall, and a week trying to figure out how exactly to get to it from my apartment out in Suwon.
Coex is one of Korea’s largest malls, and is stuffed with a lot of shops that you would need, unless you’re buying high-end clothing. Coex also has one of Korea’s largest bookstores, and is owned by – you might have guessed – Samsung. That means that Coex is a a great place to test drive Korea’s latest electronic wizardry. It’s also a decent place to look for a room, since the complex also houses an upscale hotel and convention center.
Aside from shopping, Coex also has two great additions worth coming out for: a large movie theater and a pretty good aquarium. The aquarium is worth visiting Coex mall for, but don’t expect any jumping killer whales – it is inside a mall, after all.
Getting to Coex mall is very straightforward – just take the green line, subway line 2, to Samseong station and follow the crowds. There will also be signs to navigate from, if the station is a little sparse.
International Financial Center Mall
Central Seoul, near Seoul Station
As soon as you hit IFC Mall, you feel like you’re walking into something… important. Being smack in the center of Korea’s business district, helps, but essentially it’s just a mall with an important sounding name. IFC mall is a great place to look for up-scale products, stuff that’s not necessarily sold in Coex. IFC mall has better brands, and a cleaner, newer layout than Coex. It’s also big, but maybe not as enormous as Coex mall, at Samseong Station.
Aside from having a few more upscale stores, the reason to visit IFC is because it’s easier to get to for you, or because you’re sick of walking around Coex. Coex can be a bit of a maze – it’s often hard to find your way around the complex, which makes it really frustrating for people who want to visit specific stores. Don’t expect an aquarium at IFC Mall, though.. this places is pretty much just for shopping.
To get there, take exit 3 at Yeouido Station and keep walking. Eventually you’ll see the passageway open up into the IFC Mall.
Time Square Mall
Youngdeungpo Shi Chong Station, line 5
Western/Central Seoul, near Seoul Station
Time Square Mall doesn’t resemble that famous New York intersection in the slightest, well… aside from having a Krispy Kreme and a few other novelty stores. It is a really good mall when it comes to finding pretty much anything you would want to but, so long as you’re not reaching for the most upscale products available in Seoul. it also has a pretty great food court, home to a lot of baked goods and spectacular Korean foods. Not sure what to try? Pick up my 25 Essential Korean Foods eBook.
The mall is, just like all other malls in Seoul, far bigger than most malls you’d find back home, and far busier. Make the mistake of leaving your holiday shopping too late and you’ll be battling a tsunami of people fighting for walkway space.
Finding the mall is easy, despite the extended detour the subway exit leads you through. Just look for the signs and you’ll eventually find yourself along a stretch of stores in the underground and a narrow set of doors which lead into the mall.
Gimpo Gung Hang Station, line 5
On the Western Edge of Seoul
If you find yourself way out in the suburb cities surrounding Seoul, you might want to make the trip to Gimpo airport to go shopping. Lotte Mall is a very respectable venue when it comes to shopping, definitely not playing second fiddle to any of the malls listed here. While it doesn’t have the upscale shops that you can find in IFC Mall, and it lacks an aquarium, it does have robotic fish, a movie theater, and, as the self-proclaimed eco-leader when it comes to Korean malls, has a sizable eco-park ringing the complex. Sick of Korea? Want to escape for the weekend? Pick up some shoes, then take in a movie or relax in the park to escape for a bit. If that doesn’t work, head across the street to Gimpo airport and fly out for the weekend.
Lotte Mall is a pretty good spot to find a wide assortment of Korea’s essential brands, but, like Time Square Mall, getting to Lotte Mall can be a bit tricky. Head over to Gimpo Gung Hang Station on line 5, then follow the signs. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the mall, but you’ll know it when you see it.
So There You Have It
So there you have it – 4 western style malls in Seoul. If you miss the artificially constructed indoor environments that characterize western shopping, then any of these places will do. they’re also great places to pick up some top brands, assuming you can find your size, or escape Korea’s exaggerated cold during winter months, or frying-pan-like heat during June, July, and August.
Want more? Don’t forget to pick up my free 25 Essential Korean Foods eBook just below this post.