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Best Souvenirs to Bring Back From Seoul

Seoul is an absolute treasure trove for souvenir hunters. Not for this classy Korean metropolis the tacky trinkets that plague the streets of every European capital. I mean, sure, if you absolutely have to have a Lotte World Tower fridge magnet or Buddha bottle opener you can probably track one down. But you’re so much better than that. Instead, stuff your suitcases with traditional Korean handicrafts – glazed chinaware, silk fans, decorative paper parasols – and make sure you leave space to bring back all the foods. We’re talking rice cakes, seaweed, green tea, ginseng and more. See? Stacks of great ideas already, and not a ‘kiss me quick’ hat in sight. Read on for our guide to the best souvenirs to bring back from Seoul for loved ones – and for yourself, of course.

Where to Shop?

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Seoul isn’t short of a shop or two. Let’s put it this way: you could walk into just about any store in this vast city and come out with armfuls of snacks and other souvenirs. But that would be to miss the fun of souvenir shopping here. Instead, make for the arts and crafts mecca that is Insadong, a super-cool city center neighborhood where the alleys are crammed with traditional teahouses, contemporary galleries and more handicraft stores than you can shake a very large stick at. There’s even one store here that calls itself (somewhat grandly) the National Souvenir Center. And if that’s not a clue to this area’s appeal, we don’t know what is.

Also worth a look are the various markets around the city. Myeongdong and Namdaemun are great for general shopping, with foodstuffs, clothes, cosmetics and more being the order of the day but there are more specialized markets in case you’re specifically on the lookout for, e.g., electronics (Yongsan), medicinal herbs (Gyeongdong) or international arts and crafts (Yeouido).

Best Traditional Seoul Souvenirs

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So you’ve made it to Insadong. Great! You’re now well on your way along the path to enlightenment. Or, more accurately, to sending your bank balance into freefall as you fail to resist cute hanji paper lantern after fine celadon pottery owl after sweet and sticky tteok rice cake. And who can blame you?

Celadon ceramics are as Korean as kimchi and it would be remiss to return home without picking up at least one piece of this distinctive jade-green pottery. Always beautifully glazed, it comes in all shapes, sizes and formats, from delicate tea sets to great urn-sized vases. Know someone who’s about to get married? The traditional gift of a pair of celadon ducks makes a cute wedding gift for the lovebirds, even if it does seem a little bit quackers.

Also available in a huge variety of forms (or, more accurately, expressions) are traditional hand-carved Korean masks or tal, used for centuries in everything from shamanic rituals to stage dramas and dance performances. Bag a jolly-looking harlequin to (quite literally) put a smile on the face of your grumpiest relative.

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All puffy Jane Austen sleeves, great ground-skimming skirts, baggy trousers and silk robes, hanbok is Korea’s colorful traditional costume. You can rent hanbok at various locations around the city, including the royal palaces. Better still, buy your own and wow the neighbors back home when you wear it out and about on the streets of, say, Birmingham. Full his-and-hers hanbok is something of an investment though, so opt for sweet teddy bears and dolls in the distinctive garb if your credit card limit doesn’t stretch quite far enough.

Perhaps one of the prettiest souvenirs of your Seoul stay is Hanji paper, a durable waterproof paper with a pedigree that goes back centuries. Pick up Hanji lampshades, umbrellas, greetings cards, folding fans, Chinese lanterns and more in an infinite variety of intricate designs and colorful patterns.

K-Souvenirs from Seoul

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So you’ve done the K-pop tour, whizzed over to Nami Island to pose for selfies in iconic locations from K-pop drama Winter Sonata, and unleashed your inner Psy at a traditional Korean karaoke joint. Now to ferret out some Gangnam-style souvenirs of your very own. Our advice? Get out of Gangnam (too expensive) and head over to fashionable Myeongdong where dozens of cosmetics stores mean you’re sure to discover the Blackpink look you’ve been dreaming of.

Just outside Myeongdong metro station, Music Korea is a vast emporium of K-pop merchandise including CDs, posters, branded tees, mugs, keyrings, stickers, calendars, notebooks and more. Signing events at the store mean you might even get the chance to see your favorite K-pop idols. If you can push your way through the shrieking hordes, that is.

Stacks more K-pop specialists in the subterranean treasure trove that is the Myeongdong Underground Shopping Centre make this district well worth a visit for the souvenir-hunting K-pop aficionado.

Best Edible (and Drinkable) Seoul Souvenirs

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Alas it’s not really possible to fly gallons of spicy kimchi stew home in your luggage, not without raising a few eyebrows at airport security anyway. Even Korean fried chicken doesn’t travel well, and you’d only scoff the whole delicious lot during the flight anyway.

Fear not though for, other than the above, foodstuffs make for some of the very finest Korean souvenirs known to man. We’re talking pretty presentation boxes packed with deliciously chewy tteok rice cakes. Sweet, sticky and available in all the colors of the rainbow these are sure to make your loved ones smile. Then there’s dried seaweed. Use it to make your own authentic soups and stews back home, or add a smidgen of salt and sesame oil and serve it as a snack, like a proper Korean.

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Korean tea also makes for a fine souvenir. Assuming you like tea or know someone who does, that is. Pair a box of black jaeksol or (very similarly named but entirely different) jakseol green tea with a pretty celadon crockery set for a real flavor of this tea-obsessed country. Fancy something a little... stronger? Pick up a bottle or two of the national beverage soju, a clear spirit that’s usually drunk neat. Or try makgeolli, a lightly sparkling cloudy rice wine that comes in a cornucopia of flavors including grapefruit, pineapple, strawberry and, um, cheese. It might also be worth including a few of Korea’s famously health-boosting ginseng products on your souvenir shopping list, in order to reset your equilibrium after all that good living. You can pick up supplements, teas, liquors and even candies in most convenience stores.

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