Gwangjang Market, Seoul - What to eat, when to go, and more
Gwangjang Market is one of the best experiences you can have in Seoul. It's a place where tradition, culture, and delicious Korean street foods all meet in one lively and colorful market in the heart of Seoul. Our food tour in Gwangjang Market was one of our absolute favorite experiences during our three weeks in Korea, and today we're sharing what we learned during our visit so be sure to keep reading if you're planning to book your own trip to Seoul, Korea.
Checkout our video from our food tour at Gwangjang Market!
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Every time we land in a new country, our first mission is to find food. In part because I usually barely touch whatever food like substance the airline is serving, but also because there's no better way to experience a new culture than through local cuisine. Usually as soon as we get to our Airbnb or hotel, we drop our bags and head to the street to see what local food we can find. Korea was no different as we sought out the tastes and smells of Korean street foods.
After 24 hours of flying and a 12 hour time zone change, we knew we needed to force ourselves to stay awake a while longer. Fighting jet lag is never easy, but was made easier by the excitement of a new city and new culture waiting on the streets just below our hotel room. What better way to keep ourselves awake than by wandering streets letting your noses be our guide?
So off we went. Dog in tow (because, yes, we did take our dog to Korea) we wandered the streets down alleyways and around corners looking for delicious food. It takes about two seconds to find some delicious smell wafting onto the street in Korea. Korean food is strong in smell and flavor, which is one reason I love it so much.
Prior to arriving in Korea we knew very little about Korean food. We knew Korean BBQ, but being from Tennessee, finding Korean food is difficult. Oh, and kimchi. I knew about kimchi but I had no idea I would actually enjoy a dish that's essentially fermented cabbage with a whole lot of chili and anchovy sauce.
While we usually do self-guided food tours through markets and restaurants, for Seoul we wanted a guide to lead us through Gwangjang Market.
Traditional markets are a glimpse into Korean life. The locals shop and cook and eat in these markets, showing a bit of what it might be like to live the way the locals live. I know many Koreans get their groceries from normal grocery stores now, but Gwangjang Market had lots of locals waiting in line for their favorite fresh seafood and sitting at food stalls throughout the market.
I'm not going to pretend that Gwangjang Market is complete cultural emersion, because truthfully, there are a lot of tourists in the market. Especially at night when most food tours take place.
We visited Gwangjang Market twice during our three weeks in Seoul and had very different experiences both times. The first time we visited in the late afternoon/early evening when things were in that weird lull between daytime rush and dinner time/food tour craziness. Seeing the market at a slower time was fun to take in the sights, sounds, and smells. In the evening time you can almost guarantee you'll be shoulder to shoulder with others. And, if you're not on a food tour, you can expect to be waiting for a seat at the most popular food stalls.
If you're like us and want to experience some of the best foods Korea has to offer, Gwangjang Market is the place for you. Sure there are other markets that are smaller and have far fewer tourists walking through their alleyways, but Gwagjang is famous for a reason. It's centrally located, home to some of the best foods in the city, and there's feeling energy about the place that's contagious.
The hustle and bustle of the fast paced vendor stalls is part of the fun to me. Mixed with the hanging lights, smells, and sounds that are common throughout the market, Gwangjang is a must see.
Go hungry, wear stretchy pants and comfy shoes, and plan to eat as much delicious Korean food as possible!
Where is Gwangjang Market?
Gwangjang Market is located in the heart of Seoul, South Korea. While Seoul is a massive city, the market is conveniently located just a few trains stops away from some of Seoul's most popular spots including Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Bukchon Hanok Village. If you're planning on visiting the market during your time in Seoul (which, obviously, we're highly recommend!), try combining it with a trip to one of the other popular locations in the area. Perhaps Dongdaemun Design Plaza or Changgyeonggung Palace.
How do I get to the market?
Getting to the market is easy. The nearest metro station is Jongno 5-ga Station which is directly in front of the east entrance of the market. If you prefer to take an Uber or taxi, any driver in town will know exactly where the market is and can easily get you there if you give them the address below.
If you need help getting around Korea, checkout our article about planning your first trip to Korea. We talk all about your different transportation options and what apps to use to navigate the city. It's important to note here that while I'm using Google links in this article, Google does not work in Korea. You should be sure to download their local Korean apps before leaving your home country so you can easily navigate the country.
What time should you visit Gwangjang Market?
The entire market is open from 8:30am-6:00pm daily, but the food sections will stay open until 11:00pm. If you're visiting the market solely for the food, we'd recommend visiting in the evening when the booths are most lively with both locals and tourists alike. There's something special about the lights hanging over each booth as smells waft out into the alleys that's so special! If you're visiting the market in hopes of checking out the other vendors (fabric and produce), you'll want to visit earlier in the day when they're open.
Is the market open all year?
Yes! While Gwangjang Market is popular amongst tourists these days, it's still a major part of many Koreans everyday lives. Because of this, the market is open year around even through the hottest days of summer and the coldest days of winter.
Note: Korea gets extreme hot and cold temperatures in the seasons and the market is essentially outdoors. Yes, there are walls that block the wind and a roof that shades you from the sun, but you should definitely dress appropriately and know that those warm dumplings and pancakes will be a warm reward in the winter, but the steaming pots of food might be uncomfortable in the summer.
Why is Gwangjang Market famous?
For a few reasons. First, it's the oldest and largest market in Seoul with stall selling both traditional goods like folk crafts and fabric to everyday necessities such as kitchenware. While that alone makes this a special place to visit, its also home to some of the best street food in Korea! It's a great place to experience traditional Korean culture, shop for unique items and most importantly, eat! So if you're looking for a truly unique market experience, this is the place.
Internationally the market has recently been made famous to foreigners for its Korea street food largely due to its appearance in a variety of tv shows which you should definitely watch before you visit the market. More on this in a minute though!
What all do they sell at Gwangjang Market?
Gwangjang Market has two main sections, one dedicated to shopping and the other to food.
In the shopping section you'll find a variety of traditional goods such as fabrics and folk crafts as well as every day necessities such as kitchenware and items for your home. The market is famous for selling beautiful fabrics, specifically for hanbok (tradition Korean dress). Fun fact, tourists are welcome to try wearing traditional hanboks like the ones you see at the market.
The food section is definitely what makes Gwangjang Market so unique though. Here you'll find all kinds of traditional Korean snacks and street foods as well as traditional Korean dishes. If you want one place to try a lot of Korea's most famous foods, this is it.
Can you take a tour of Gwangjang Market?
Yes! If you're primarily interested in visiting Gwangjang Market for the food, we'd highly recommend booking a food tour. We booked our tour through Airbnb per another friend's recommendation and had such a good time! Not only was the tour guide friendly, knowledgeable, and spoke perfect English, but she also did a wonderful job helping the other group participants get to know each other.
Hiring a guide instead of navigating the market on our own saved time and took us to the best spots to try certain dishes vs. winging it and hoping that we sampled the best at the stalls selling all sorts of delicious foods. Because the tour guide leads tours there multiple times a week, she's built relationships with each of the vendors and they always have a seat waiting for her and the food ready to go which helped us avoid the long lines. We're not prone to booking tours everywhere we go, but for a market like Gwangjang, a tour is definitely the way to go. The evening we spent on a food tour was definitely one of our favorite evenings while in Seoul!
Must try foods at Gwangjang Market food alley
Oh man, there are so many delicious foods available at the market! We have a whole article about 16 must try foods in Korea, many of which you can find in Gwangjang Market. I'd say a few can't miss ones in the market are Tteokbokki, mung bean pancakes, dumplings, kimbap (rice rolls), and yukhoe. If you try yukhoe, it should only be at Buchon Yukhoe (more on this below).
Must visit Michelin-starred restaurant in Gwangjang Market
Tucked away in Gwangjang Market is a Michelin-starred restaurant called Buchon Yukhoe, which as the name suggests, is famous for yukhoe. Buchon Yukhoe has been serving up delicious food to locals and tourists alike since 1965. If you're not familiar with what yukhoe is, it's raw beef. Think of it like Korean beef tartare. I'm not a huge meat eater, especially when it's raw meat, but this place was so highly reviewed that we couldn't pass up the chance to try it. Unlike many Michelin star restaurants, this one is very affordable. We tried the Yukhoe Bibimbap which cost 9000 won, which is ~7 USD.
If you want to snag a seat at Buchon Yukhoe, you need to plan ahead. The restaurant is open daily from 10:00 am-4:00 pm then again from 5:00 pm-9:00 pm. We arrived at around 4:45pm to get in line for their 5pm opening. We were third in line, but by the time they opened the doors at 5:00 pm, there were about 15 more groups behind us. When we left the restaurant, the line was wrapped around the corner when dozens of people in line. While arriving at 4:45 pm worked for us, you might want to get there earlier if you're absolutely certain you want to try their famous yukhoe!
Checkout Gwangjang Market on Netflix
Gwangjang Market has been featured in a variety of Netflix's Street Food Asia and Somebody Feed Phil. We'd highly recommend watching both show's episodes on Seoul before visiting. We didn't until afterwards, but we wish we had. Street Food Asia's episode specifically holds a really special story of one of the vendor's in the market. We actually had a chance to meet the lady featured and try her now world famous dumplings and they were delicious! I just wish I had known her story ahead of time to better appreciate the crowds flocking to her booth and the amazing flavors and texture of her dumplings. Somebody Feed Phil is one of our favorite shows as a whole, so we always recommend watching his episodes of places you're planning to visit.
Gwangjang Market is a must visit if you enjoy trying local foods when traveling. The market is lively and colorful, full of delicious smells and tastes. We can't recommend a visit to Gwangjang Market enough when visiting Seoul, Korea!
Like this article? Checkout our other travel guide for Korea!
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We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!