street scene in Myeongdong street, Myeongdong shopping district, Seoul, South Korea.
Myeongdong is a dizzying shopping mecca where every major Korean cosmetic and fashion brand has a store—or several. The Korea Tourism Organization estimates that more than 1 million visitors pass through the area every day. Anchored by the Lotte and Shinsegae department stores, Myeongdong is packed with stalls and shops, both above- and underground. Don’t worry about a language barrier—most salespeople speak English and will even try to lure you in with the promise of free goodies like sheet masks. (Remember to bring your passport to qualify for tax-free refunds at participating locations.) At night, the energy intensifies with mazes of neon lights and vendors selling street food like rice cakes, egg toast, tornado potatoes, dumplings, steamed corn, and anything that fits on a skewer.
This shopping district is the throbbing, materialistic heart of Seoul. Constantly crowded and abuzz with traffic, this place puts me on sensory overload every time. But no one makes department stores like Korea (home to the world’s certifiable largest in the southern city of Busan), and it’s worth the slight agoraphobia to make the trek. Shinsegae, Lotte, and Hyundai are Korea’s big three department-store brands, and two of them—Shinsegae and Lotte—have their flagship stores in Myeongdong. Both offer over 12 sparkling floors of retail therapy in the form of clothing, shoes, accessories, cosmetics, home goods, specialty groceries, and wine.
bright lights, roasting chestnuts
In the midst of the crowds, this roasted chestnut stand caught my eye in Myeongdong’s nighttime chaos. This bastion of neon and pedestrians in the heart of Seoul is known not just for its shopping, but also for its eating. In addition to international chains (there’s a four-story! Starbucks here), the lanes of this district are full of traditional street-fare... This stand’s sign is a play on words: one expression involving being hard-headed and a chestnut-homonym, and the other asking passers-by if they want some roasted chestnuts. Trends and fashion-fads come and go, but snacking is timeless...