15 Best Things to Do in Insadog, Seoul’s Traditional District
Insadong is a traditional neighborhood in the heart of Seoul between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine. This small pocket of classical Korea is dotted with quaint shops, traditional teahouses, and art galleries.
If you are interested in experiencing the traditions of Korea, Insadong is the place you do not want to miss. This post will guide your adventure with 15 best things to do in Insadong.
What attracts me to Insadong is that it is one of a few areas in fast-paced Seoul that still keeps its old charm. While Insadong continues to be modernized and developed, the change is rather progressive as I observe it in the past 20 years. On my most recent trip, I was surprised that the same shops and teahouses from a decade ago are still there. This un-rushed pace of development is rare in Seoul, where the trend gets replaced with the new next thing in a blink of an eye.
Also, if you want to sign up for any hands-on experience programs, you are in luck here. You will find so many diverse activities from making kimchi to crafting traditional goods that you can spend an entire day in Insadong alone.
Otherwise, Insadong is a perfect half-day course in your Seoul itinerary. There is one main street with winding alleyways on both sides you can further explore.
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#1. Practice Tranquility at Jogyesa Temple
Jogyesa Temple is the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It was first established in 1395 during the Joseon Dynasty. But the temple has moved (and changed its names) a few times to the current location near Insadong in 1937.
Considering the fact that the most well-known and historical Buddhist temples of Korea are deep in the mountain, Jogyesa Temple is one of the rare gems you can access in the middle of a bustling city like Seoul.
Jogyesa Temple is small enough for you to spend 30 minutes on your way to the main street of Insadong.
But your trip would be well-worthy. You may find inner peace and calmness in a concert jungle, which is an unusual experience. Keep calm with the sound of Buddhist monks hum and the regular beat of wooden clackers. Snap a few shots with a 500-year-old pine tree decorated with colorful hanging lanterns.
The best time to visit Jogyesa Temple is in the fall during the Chrysanthemum Festival when you can see the temple ground beautifully decorated with gorgeous flowers. Buddha’s birthday and the Lotus Lantern Festival are also an exciting time to visit this temple.
Admission: Free (You can make donations.)
Location: 55, Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
>> If you prefer to tackle all key historic sites near Insadong, consider joining this history tour with a professional English-speaking guide. The stops include Jogyesa Temple, Gyeongbok Palace, Namdaemun Market, and more.
#2. Learn about Korean Buddhism
The surrounding area of Jogyesa Temple is a perfect place to fully get on the Korean Buddhism experience.
Get Buddhist souvenirs
Visit Buddhist specialty shops to find prayer beads, miniature Buddha statues, cute monk statues, lanterns, incense, bells, candles, etc.
Learn about temple stays
Right across from the Jogyesa Temple, you can visit the Temple Stay Information Center, where you can get all the information you need for temple stays around the country.
Learn about Korean Temple Food
Visit Korean Temple Food Center to learn about the philosophy behind Korean temple food, see the exhibits, participate in experience programs, sip a tea, and get recipes.
Korean Temple Food Center
Hours: Tues. – Sun. 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Closed on Mondays)
Nearest Station: Metro 3 (Orange Line), Ankuk Station, Exit #1
Eat Korean Temple Food
What better ways are there to learn about food culture than tasting it? After learning about temple food, head to Balwoo Gongyang. Balwoo Gongyang is a Korean temple food (100% vegan) specialty restaurant, located on the fifth floor of the Temple Stay Information Center. Reservation is required.
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 1:20 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Dinner: 6 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Closed on Sundays.
Reservation: 02-733-2081. Click here for more info.
#3. Rent a hanbok
Seoul has many hanbok shops where you can rent a traditional Korean outfit and take photos. But you would rarely see people walk on the street in hanbok outside the handful of areas in Seoul. Insadong is one of these few areas you could comfortably stride in hanbok.
Insadong has many hanbok rental shops. It is fun to get dressed, do makeup and hair, and roam around the street for a few hours. Of course, take lots of pictures to bring back home with your memory.
For a once-in-a-lifetime hanbok experience, I recommend this 4-hour hanbok professional shoot. I am surprised at how affordable this service is given the duration of hiring a professional photographer, studio, and hanbok rentals. Let me give you an idea of how awesome this deal is. When the Big O and I did an engagement photoshoot in Korea, we wanted to include a few hanbok shots in our album. On top of the engagement photo package, we spent an extra USD 300 to just rent one set of hanbok for each!
By the way, if you are interested in doing a traditional wedding ceremony photoshoot wearing wedding hanbok, this ceremony+photography package is available.
If you only want a quick trial, visit Insadong Information Center. You can rent a hanbok of your choice for 20 minutes, which is enough time to take a few shots and move on. And it is quite affordable at ₩3,000 (USD 2.50).
Location: 19 Insadong 11-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
#4. Appreciate Arts in Boutique Art Galleries
Some travelers – like me – love to go to all the museums in the world. (I will judge later whether I liked them or not.) Others may prefer to visit the famous ones. The others would insist on going to the ones of their specific interests only or not go at all.
No matter which category you fall in, try boutique art galleries in Insadong because the experience is quite different from going to established museums.
As these micro galleries are small, you might feel intimidated to pop in. But it gives an excellent opportunity to see local artists and designers you might never discover at a more massive exhibit. A small collection is easy to digest. It is okay to walk out if you are not interested in artwork.
The best part? Insadong art galleries exhibit everything from traditional paintings and antique crafts to modern art. Take your pick!
#5. Sip on Korean Tea at Traditional Teahouse
Insadong is perhaps the best neighborhood in Seoul to enjoy Korean tea. You will find plenty of quaint traditional teahouses in such a small concentrated area.
Korean tea, or cha, has many varieties infused with leaves, roots, flowers, fruits, grains, herbs, etc. A few of the popular choices you can find at these tea houses in Insadong include:
- Nokcha (green tea)
- Hyeonmi-nokcha (brown rice green tea)
- Jakseolcha (a variety of black tea)
- Yeonnipcha (lotus leaf tea)
- Gukhwacha (chrysanthemum tea)
- Maehwacha (plum flower tea)
- Daechucha (jujube tea)
- Maesilcha (plum tea)
- Mogwacha (quince tea)
- Yujacha (citron tea)
- Yulmucha (Jacob’s tears tea)
- Dorajicha (balloon flower root tea)
- Insamcha (ginseng tea)
- Saenggangcha (ginger tea)
- Ssanghwacha (herbal tea)
Shin Old Tea House
Shin Old Tea House is one of the most popular traditional teahouses in Insadong with a 30-year tradition. Sit in a traditional hanok, colorful fabrics brighten up the room with wooden furniture. This cozy teahouse features low tables where you can sit on the floor (cushion provided). Their menu book with photos includes diverse teas and traditional desserts.
Location: 47-8, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
Secret Garden is a fun tea house with an outdoor garden. Mixing traditional and modern styles, the atmosphere is more like a cafe rather than a traditional tea house. Also, it serves smoothies and shaved ice, as well as beer, which tells you how different this place is from other traditional tea houses in the area.
Location: 2F & 3F, 30-1, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
Gwicheon is a pretty special tea house for anyone who appreciates Korean literature. This quaint tea house pays tribute to Cheon Sangbyeong, a famous Korean poet. I heard the tea house moved its location since I last visited, and the ownership was passed onto a relative after his late wife passed away. But his legacy lives on.
Location: 14, Insadong 14-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
Beautiful Tea Museum
Beautiful Tea Museum is a tea gallery in a renovated hanok, where you can learn about different Korean teas and appreciate the displayed porcelain. You can also sip on a tea at Teastory, a tea house inside the garden.
Location: 19-11, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
#6. Shop at Ssamzie-gil Market
Ssamzie-gil Market is a modern shopping and culture complex in the center of Insadong. Built in 2004 by now-bankrupt Korean brand Ssamzie, it was one of the first modern complexes in the traditional Insadong street. Its unique architecture, featuring stairways ramping around the building and open-air courtyard, was talk of the town at the time.
The 4-story complex houses unique gift shops, artist’s workshops, and cafes. If you are hunting for unique Korean souvenirs, you may score something you like at one of the handicraft shops. Don’t forget to go all the way up to the rooftop terrace cafe.
Location: 44, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
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#7. Immerse Yourself with Arts and Culture at Insadong Maru
Insadong Maru is another lifestyle cultural complex. Just like Ssamzie-gil, there are many boutique shops here that sell handicrafts and unique gifts. What sets Insadong Maru apart, though, is the strong emphasis on cultural aspects.
Once you step in, you will notice the strong presence of micro art galleries. Some have striking art installations, while others have paintings by local artists. Each gallery features something of their own tastes.
For visitors who prefer to have a hands-on experience, diverse workshops like Hanji (Korean paper)-making and Kimchi-making classes (see #9) are offered.
Location: 35-6, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
#8. Visit Anyoung Insadong
Anyoung Insadong is the latest cultural shopping mall in the area. The eco-friendly contemporary complex attracts the younger crowd in the traditional neighborhood.
Shops here are more commercialized and modernized than the rest of Insadong. But you can still find gifts with the mix of traditional and modern tastes at shops like Your Goods Art Select Shop and Nolda Gage. Monami Flagship store also sells customizable pens of Korea’s long-loved stationery brand. Buku Book Cafe is a lifestyle concept bookstore with eye-catching essays and design books.
While Insadong cafes and restaurants are heavily geared towards the traditional flavors, Anyoung Insadong satisfies more diverse tasting buds. For example, CCOT on the second floor features traditional snacks and desserts with a modern twist. If you are unfamiliar with conventional Korean eateries, this could be the gateway for your Korean food experience.
Anyoung Insadong is annexed to the brand new hotel, Nine Tree Premier Hotel Insadong (Check reviews here:Booking, Agoda). Hotel guests can take advantage of various discounts at shops in the complex and parking, where parking is a super-premium.
Location: 49, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
#9. Experience Kimchi Culture at Museum Kimchikan
Would you be interested in learning how to make kimchi? Then, head to Museum Kimchikan.
Selected by CNN as one of the world’s top 11 food museums, Kimchikan is located at Insadong Maru (#6). You can learn all about kimchi and read books at the kimchi library. As a bonus, you can also try on hanbok.
As the representative of Korean cuisine, kimchi is the essential Korean dish that Koreans eat with every single meal. But did you know kimchi comes in different tastes and shapes of about 200 varieties? Also, not every Korean (me included, ahem) can make kimchi.
The highlight of visiting this museum is to learn how to make kimchi. Experience yourself this distinctive kimchi-making culture, a UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage!
Kimchi-Making Class: Additional ₩20,000. Every Wed. & Thurs. 2:20 p.m. – 3 p.m. Reserve your spot 4 days in advance by emailing “museum[at]pulmuone.com”
Location: Insadong Maru 4F-6F [Open Kakao Map]
Hours: Tues. – Sun. 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Closed: Mondays, January 1, Seollal, Chuseok, Christmas
#10. Enjoy Cultural Performances at Naminsa Madang
Naminsa Madang is an outdoor performance stage showcasing diverse cultural performances on weekends and holidays.
The content of performances often changes. Examples of the past performances include taekyeon and martial arts, Korean folk percussion (samulnori), traditional Korean music (kukak), and traditional wedding ceremony.
You can ask Insadong Information Center for a monthly performance schedule.
Location: 6, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
Hours: Varies by performance.
#11. Hunt for Special Souvenirs From Korea
If you want to bring home special something from Seoul, Insadong is an excellent place to find unique souvenirs to remind you of your Korean trip. Most of the shops here sell beautiful items made with traditional Korean motifs.
Scroll down to see [What to Buy in Insadong].
#12. Snack on Korean Street Food
Street food is an integral part of Korean culture. While Seoul has no shortage of it, some neighborhood has their signature snack food that you must try there.
In Insadong, make sure to include the following three in your checklist:
Dragon’s Beard Candy
Dragon’s Beard Candy, or Ggultarae in Korean (meaning honey threads), is a white, fluffy, sweet, hand-pulled cotton candy. When the candy is pulled, it looks like, you guessed it right, dragon’s beard, although the final product looks more like a cocoon. The candy is filled with almonds, peanuts, or sesame.
It is traditional sweets that Korean kings used to enjoy. But I’ve seen similar ones in Taiwan, and supposedly China has it, too. Regardless, Insadong is one of a few places in Seoul where you can treat yourself with this traditional confection.
Hotteok is another must-eat Insadong street food. The traditional way of making hotteok is to fill the dough with the nuts and sugar mix and press it flat on a hot oily metal pan to cook. These days, the hotteok in a thicker pocket seems to be more popular than the thin kind. And the fillings got more diverse and creative.
The famous Hotteok on a wheel sits at the entrance of Insadong street. There usually is a long line of people waiting to taste its hotteok. They sell two flavors – honey and japchae. If you have a sweet tooth, get the honey hotteok. If you prefer savory, go for japchae.
Yeot is a Korean sweet taffy. This traditional Korean confectionery can be made with glutinous rice, sweet potatoes, corn, or other grains. Once you melt the hard candy in your mouth, it turns sticky. (Be careful if you have any crowns or fillings in your teeth!)
Insadong has many street vendors who sell various flavors of yeot, ranging from pumpkin, peanut to ginger. You can even watch the craftsman cut (or sometimes hand plane) a massive chunk of yeot.
If you don’t see any on the street, visit the new bakery-like yeot specialty shop “Eat the Yeot” inside the Insadong Maru (#7 above).
>> Hungry? Join this food walking tour with Korean BBQ lunch. You will sample street food on your way to Korean BBQ, followed by a cooking class where you can learn how to make Korean seafood pancakes.
#13. Taste Traditional Korean Food
Insadong is a gastronomic destination to try both old and new Korean food. In the mix of traditional teahouses and quaint little shops, the winding alleyways are also home to many notable restaurants.
The choices here are abundant. You can taste anything from temple food (see #2) to Korean barbecue to hand-pulled noodles. But I may suggest trying Hanjeongsik (Korean table d’hôte) as it is the most distinguished Insadong food.
Doma is a modern hanjeongsik restaurant with a stylish hanok concept interior. Mayak Doenjangjjige (“Narcotic” Soybean Paste Stew) is its signature menu. As the restaurant warns you, you may get addicted to the stew with a generous portion of minced pork and wild chives. But don’t worry, no narcotics added. Other favorite menus include Sotbap (Rice cooked in Iron Cooking Pot) and Black Pork Hot Pot.
Location: [Open Kakao Map]
>> For your cooking inspiration, sign up for this Korean cooking class. Make a trip to a traditional market near Insadong with the chef to learn about local ingredients and how to cook delicious meals using them in class.
#14. Take a day trip to Nami Island
Fancy a day trip to Nami Island? Nami Island, also called Nami Nara, is a privately-owned island outside of Seoul that features stunning nature that changes its scenery every season. The famous Korean drama <Winter Sonata> was also filmed here.
Take a day trip to Nami Island with this tour (round-trip bus + admission package). The limousine bus leaves from Insadong near Tapgol Park (see #15), or Myeongdong. If you prefer to zip-line into the island instead of taking a 5-minute ferry, reserve your zipline ticket here.
Read this super-detailed article on how to get to Nami Island from Seoul for more details.
Also, enjoy my guide with photos of stunning autumn foliage coloring all over Nami Island and the Garden of Morning Calm.
>> I highly recommend joining this day tour to Nami Island and Garden of Morning calm, conveniently taking you to two gorgeous locations in Gangwondo. The round trip is offered from Hongdae, Myeongdong, or Dongdaemun, which might be more convenient for those who are not staying in Insadong.
#15. Have a Passing Nod to Korean History at Tapgol Park
Tapgol Park, also called Pagoda Park, is the first urban park in Seoul near the Insadong entrance. Besides offering greenery in the smack middle of the city, which is a rarity in Seoul, it is a historically symbolic place where 3·1 Independence Movement took place in 1919 against Japanese colonialism.
This historical urban park is home to a few national treasures, including Monument of Wongaksa Temple, Ten-Story Stone Pagoda of Wongaksa Temple Site, etc.
If I may share the cultural nuance of this park today, though, Pagoda Park is popular by Korean senior citizens and city doves. During the day, this is the place for senior citizens to come hang out, play Korean chess, and eat lunch. Volunteer groups often serve free meals for the underprivileged senior citizens here.
You may swing by this little park for a piece of Korean history. But I wouldn’t allocate more than a spare 30 minutes in your itinerary.
Location: 99, Jongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
What to Buy in Insadong
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How special would it be to have a customized stamp with your Korean name? Any stamp shops can help you write your name in Hangeul (Korean), design fonts, and engrave a seal in less than an hour.
>> Do you want more personal touch? Design your stamp and carve your hangeul name in this stamp making class.
Household Items Made with Traditional Fabrics
From pillow covers, floor cushions to hanging wall decor to table runners, any fabric items with classic designs will brighten up your home. You can also find a coin purse, cosmetic case, bag, apron, and so many more.
Insadong has a few shops you can purchase modern hanbok. These shops sell ready-to-wear hanbok fashion with practical designs for everyday wear. And they are much more affordable than the traditional kind.
Mother-of-Pearl Jewelry Box
If you are looking for a memorable gift for your mom or girlfriend, look no further. Mother-of-pearl jewelry case is a traditional Korean handcraft she will surely love. Although the price is slightly on the higher end, the beauty of this delicate gem makes it worth every penny.
Traditional Motif Jewelry
Insadong is a special place to find inexpensive jewelry designed with traditional Korean motifs. Rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and broaches, you name it.
Hanji is a traditional handmade paper. In modern Korea, hanji is used in arts and design products. One of my favorite hanji items is lanterns. They are gorgeous and practical. Most lamps are designed to work with any power outlets between 110V and 220V.
Insadong is the place to buy traditional Korean stationery. You will see many stationery shops selling calligraphy brushes, inks, and hanji. If you are not a calligraphy or ink drawing artist, more practical souvenirs to buy are hanji journals or greeting cards and envelopes decorated with 3D hanbok.
Traditionally worn during the traditional mask dance, Korean wooden masks, called Tal, make great wall decor.
Porcelain Tea Sets
After sipping Korean tea at a traditional teahouse in Insadong, you might be interested in buying porcelain tea sets to have your teatime at home. Insadong ceramic shops offer a wide range of collections, from high-end ceramic artworks to mid-range everyday tableware to cheap factory produces. Feel free to appreciate, compare, and shop the ones you like.
Play up your table with exotic cutlery! Insadong shops sell all kinds of utensils from chopsticks, spoons, teaspoons, fruit forks, etc. And whichever materials you prefer, you can find flatware made of anything from wood, ceramics, bronze, stainless steel, silver, to bangjja (mix of bronze and tin). Many of them are wrapped nicely in traditional fabric covers; they make a perfect gift.
Scarfs and Handkerchiefs
Scarfs are not necessarily the typical souvenirs you may think to buy in Insadong. However, the area has a few natural dyeing workshops. You may find natural dyeing scarfs and handkerchiefs, as well as clothing.
If you have an eye for antiques, Insadong has many antique shops you can check out. Note that some artworks are restricted to bring out of the country, so make sure to confirm before purchasing.
Where to Stay in Insadong
Upscale: Nine Tree Premier Hotel Insadong
Nine Tree Premier Hotel Insadong (4*) is a brand new, upscale hotel annexed to Anyoung Insadong. Centrally located in Seoul, the stylish hotel offers easy access to Insadong main street and other parts of the city. Take advantage of free parking for guests – it is premium in this neighborhood. Also, Anyoung Insadong restaurants and shops offer discounts for hotel guests.
Traditional Hanok Stay: Moon Guesthouse
Moon Guesthouse is a traditional hanok guesthouse with a homey garden. Guests sleep on a roll-out mattress on an ondol floor (air-conditioned in summer), with an updated en-suite bathroom. The hotel offers diverse cultural experiences on site (extra charge), such as tea ceremony, hanbok rentals, kimchi or gochujang making class, traditional instrumental lessons, etc.
Mid-Range: Makers Hotel
Makers Hotel (3*) is a stylish boutique hotel right in front of Jongno 3-ga metro station. The brick-exterior hotel sits in a quaint old district between Insadong and Ikseondong. Modern minimalist rooms are cozy.
Mid-Range: Moxy by Marriott Seoul Insadong
Moxy by Marriott Seoul Insadong (3*) is a new boutique hotel in a killer location. This snazzy hotel is an excellent place to stay for young and hip travelers who don’t want to break the bank. Be sure to check out their rooftop garden and bar.
Budget: The An Hostel
The An Hostel is an excellent budget stay, located less than 5 minutes from Jongno-3 ga metro station. Minimalist rooms feature a bed on a heated ondol floor – best of both worlds. A simple breakfast is provided.
How to Get to Insadong
Insadong is in the heart of Seoul and easy to access either by subway or bus. As parking is difficult to find, it’s best to use public transportation.
To visit the main street of Insadong, get off at one of the following metro stations:
- Jonggak Station (Line 1), Exit 3
- Jongno 3-ga Station (Line 1, 3 & 5), Exit 4
- Anguk Station (Line 3), Exit 6
Seoul City Tour Bus
Insadong is one of the Seoul City Tour Bus stops. If you prefer to take advantage of the hop-on, hop-off bus, purchase Seoul City Tour Bus tickets here.
Incheon to Insadong
From Incheon International Airport, take bus #6002 from Terminal 1 or 2.
Flagging down a cab on the street should be easy in Seoul. If you prefer to call a cab, use the Kakao Taxi app (iOS, Google). Just know that you might get stuck in traffic on weekends and depending on the time of the day.
What to Do Next in Seoul
- Fun Things to Do in Hongdae
- Day trip to Nami Island and the Garden of Morning Calm
- 20 Unique Experiences in Seoul
- How to Eat Korean BBQ Like a Local
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