A well known cultural neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea, Insadong has become quite a popular tourist attraction for culture vultures, foodies, and art connoisseurs.
With an extensive range of shops and restaurants, traditional teahouses, markets, fine art museums, and mouth watering street food, if you plan on visiting Asia, Insadong should be a priority.
Seoul is a city known for its sleek skyscrapers and futuristic cityscape, though Insadong is one of the rare strongholds for traditional Korean culture. It’s here where you’ll find wooden tea houses, calligraphy materials, traditional clothing and paper, and antiques that dates back thousands of years.
As one of the most culturally rich neighborhoods in the country, the following are four things you should know before visiting.
Things To Know Before Visiting Insadong
Use of Korean Language
English is widely spoken throughout Seoul, though as one of the most historic neighborhoods in the city, you might consider learning some basics in Korean before visiting.
Many of the shops and restaurants here will offer English translations, though the Koran language still dominates, especially among the older generation who have less of a grasp on English as the younger generation do.
Of course, making an attempt to communicate in Korean is a sign of respect for both the locals and their culture. But in such a traditional neighborhood, having a basic grasp of the language will unlock a wide range of experiences, and allow you to connect with locals in a really authentic way.
Pro tip: As Insadong is known for it’s markets, shops, and food culture, learn basics for ordering food, asking how much, etc.
You’ll find that learning Korean will mean there is a wider range of things to do in Insadong; you’ll be able to barter in the markets, and have a much more immersive experience when exploring antique shops, traditional paper shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants.
Genesis of Insadong
Just like any other place, Insadong has a history of its origin. And if you take the time to learn about the history of the neighborhood before visiting, it will give you a deeper understanding of what you’re experiencing.
Insadong’s history dates back 500 years, to a time when it was split into two towns whose names ended in the syllables “In” and “Sa.” The stream that divided the two towns ran along what is now Insadong’s main street.
The neighborhood features some of the oldest businesses in the country, and during the Japanese occupation (1910 – 1945), rich Korean residents were forced to move and sell their belongings. This gave rise to an antique trade which is still very prevalent to this day.
One of the most culturally and traditionally preserved neighborhoods in Seoul, there are many historically significant buildings as you’re walking through the streets, including mansions, temples, and churches.
Prior research into traditional Korean culture, and the history of the town means you’ll have a more enriching experience as you’re exploring, and feel a stronger connection to the streetscape, knowing its stories.
Image: Katie Haugland Bowen / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr
The Best Time to Visit
Being that Insadong is such a huge tourist draw, there’s often a lot of congestion of people and cars in the city. To control this situation, the government has blocked many of the streets and alleys to vehicles on Saturdays (14:00-22:00) and Sundays (10:00-22:00).
This is the best time to visit, and the safest as streets become pedestrian friendly, though note that this is also the most popular time to visit, so it’s wise to go in expecting a bustling, energetic, and lively, packed, experience.
Walking down the streets of Insadong you’re likely to share the experience with thousands of other people, though this is a great experience for anyone traveling to Seoul.
The main street runs for 700 meters, though there are many other streets and narrow back alleys to explore, where you can find traditional wooden tea houses, colorful shops, and galleries that exhibit traditional Korean art like paintings, pottery, and folk art.
The Food Culture
Insadong may be known for its rich history and preservation of tradition, though food here has become a big part of culture.
The neighborhood is particularly known for its street food, and you’ll find many locals walking around with a sweet snack called Hotteok (sweet Korean pancakes). Also look for a corn cookie filled with vanilla ice cream; there’ll be an especially long line on hot days!
The food culture in Insadong has been passed down through generations, so it’s highly likely the food you find here are part of hundred years old recipes.
For more things to know about Insadong, visit the Information Center, 100 meters west of Ssamziegil Market as you’re walking towards Jogyesa Temple. It’s open daily 9.30 am – 6.30 pm and has both information and interpretation services, and free internet.
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