Markets continue to evolve as Korea changes. Spontaneously formed by people, traditional markets offer a close look into the culture, history, and daily life of Korea. Traditional local markets are one of the most visited tourist attractions, not just for shopping, but for enjoying local culture and food unique to the area.
There are about 1,500 traditional markets in Korea, out of which eight were designated as culture and tourism markets. While traveling in Korea, be certain to stop by a local market and discover its hidden charms.
Sinpo Market is a permanent market located in Incheon, the first Korean port city to open to foreign lands in the modern era. The market was formed spontaneously as new culture and products came into the country from Japan, Qing (present-day China), U.S. and Russia following the opening of the local Jemulpohang Port in 1883. In 1895, a fish market was opened for the first time, and around the same time, Chinese farmers entered the country to sell produce such as cabbages, radishes, onions, tomatoes, and carrots. Once the center of Incheon, the market has now turned into a historical place. For more than 110 years, the market has been such an important cultural and economic center that there was even a saying that “whatever one cannot find in Sinpo Market will not be found anywhere else in Korea.”
The first thing that comes to mind when it comes to Sinpo Market is dakgangjeong (fried chicken pieces coated in a sweet-and-sour sauce). The entrance to the market is lined with the best dakgangjeong stores in the country, with people waiting in long queues to get their hands on the fried chicken. Other good eats are the vegetable sundae (Korean sausage), five-colored and steamed dumplings, gukwappang (flower-shaped pastry with a red bean filling), meat dumplings, gonggalppang (crispy bread that is empty inside), and seasoned pork skin, all of which draw in visitors for a tour of the market.
Nangman Market is the new name given to Chuncheon’s first traditional market. Originally called Jungang Market, the market was formed about 60 years ago in the heart of the city following the Korean War. Initially, the market sold manufactured goods from Seoul, American products from the nearby U.S. Army, and local agricultural produce. Gradually, it turned into a large-scale retail market. After experiencing ups and downs caused by the emergence of large-scale marts in the 1990s, Jungang Market’s name was changed into Nangman Market in 2010 to live up to its designation as a culture and tourism market.
Literally meaning ‘a river beckoning spring,’ Chuncheon is referenced in many Korean novels and pop songs as a place of romance and memories. The railway has carried countless travelers to the city for generations. The recent opening of the subway on a double track has shortened travel time to about an hour. The Nangman Market is a nice place to bring back old memories, where people can buy quality products at good prices and enjoy the unique hospitality of a traditional market.
The market is gradually turning into a lively space of culture and art, thanks to its advantageous location in the heart of the city and the enthusiasm of its vendors, cultural activists, and artists. Visitors can enjoy various paintings and formative arts, and have a unique experience in which the whole market turns into a venue for performances. Nearby attractions include Jungnim-dong Church, a modern landmark that’s been in its present location since 1928, Yaksari Pass, which used to be the only road connecting the downtown area with the marketplace, and the old alley where the famed Korean artist Park Soo-keun (1914-1965) spent his youth.
Onyang Oncheon is one of the oldest hot springs in Korea. The constant stream of both locals and travelers visiting the springs gave birth to the Onyang Oncheon Market. The market is relatively large, with about 500 stores and 300 stalls selling local produce, fish, livestock products, clothes, and various household items. The market has recently become more modern following the opening of Onyang Oncheon station in 2008 and its designation as a culture and tourism market in 2010.
The market is divided into several sections selling miscellaneous household goods, food and basic ingredients, and clothes and fashion items. The café called Yuyujajeok is a hot spot where market vendors play DJ and produce a radio program for the market. There are also programs for children to experience the traditional marketplace.
The oldest hot spring in Korea, Onyang Oncheon was historically a favorite destination for kings and is renowned for the abundant water and its medicinal effects. Nearby tourist attractions include Hyeonchungsa Shrine, Waeam Folk Village, and Sinjeong Lake, all within thirty minutes to an hour from the hot spring area. In the 1960s and 1970s, the area was a popular honeymoon destination. Onyang is accessible by Subway Line 1 from Seoul, so it is recommended for a one-day travel course.
Yangdong Market is the largest traditional market in Gwangju, Jeolla-do Province. Boasting a history of a hundred years, the market has about 1,300 stores selling a variety of items.
Initially, the market was held every five days under Gwangjugyo Bridge. First started in 1910, it was called ‘The Large Marketplace of Gwangju.’ In 1940, it moved to the Yang-dong 5 area and reopened officially with 600 stores. Recognized as the finest market in Gwangju, it is actually six markets in close vicinity to each other, namely Yangdong Market, Bokgae Market, a fish market, a dried fish market, a livestock market (selling fowls like chicken and duck), and an industrial goods market. The market is particularly strong in wedding goods and items for ancestral ceremonies. The hanbok section has long been a must-see for those preparing for a wedding and is crowded with visitors and locals alike. Some stores have been in business for over 30 years, and many have conducted business for generations. Besides hanbok dress for weddings, there are also various other hanboks for children and adults.
Gyodong Market first began in 1965 as a temporary market where merchants and customers gathered to sell or buy fish caught in the sea of Yeosu. The permanent fish market was established following the completion of Dolsandaegyo Bridge in December 1984 and grew into a large-scale market almost one kilometer long.
Gyodong Market is characterized by dynamically changing market scenes. At 1:00 a.m., while the rest of Korea is asleep, the market begins its day with a morning auction. After the auction closes, the market is opened by wholesalers at 4:00 am, and after the sun is up, it starts to be crowded with local residents and travelers.
After 3:00 in the afternoon, merchants call it a day and the market begins to cool down. But then, the spots that had been occupied by street vendors are taken by street stalls selling meals utilizing fresh seafood from the morning market. Lined up like open-air cafés, the stalls have turned into a must-stop destination for travelers visiting Yeosu.
Jagalchi Market is the leading fish market in Korea and the largest fish market in Asia. First opened on Jagalbat Field after the opening of Busanhang Port in 1876, the market became a place where fresh fish were gathered and sold. Following the large influx of refugees to the city during the Korean War, the place soon grew into a large-scale market.
With about a hundred years of history, Jagalchi Market has long offered a livelihood for those in Busan. Over time, it has grown into a must-stop destination for foreigners. In the market, there are fresh and dried fish as well as various necessities and food. Walking around the market, one will be greeted by high-pitched shouts of “Oiso (Come)! Boiso (Take a look)! Saiso (Buy)!” from the Jagalchi Ajimae (female vendors) who have become symbols of the market. The market is always filled with a dynamic energy, bustling with the lively sounds of vendors calling, fresh fish flopping, and customers haggling for the best price. More than a traditional fish market, Jagalchi embodies the history of the city as well as the joys and sorrows of its people. Going to the market is like getting inside the fast-beating heart of Busan. Every October, the Busan Jagalchi Festival is held, offering various hands-on programs.
Namchang Market in Ulsan is held every five days on dates ending with three or eight. Records show that the market was first formed in 1916, but some 18th century documents also mention it, so it is thought to have a very long history. The market was set up largely thanks to Namchang’s geographical location and importance as a major transportation hub. Before the 10th century, there used to be an international trading port nearby. Today, Namchang Station is located right at the entrance to the market.
On days when there are no markets, the area is used as a parking lot. But on market days, the area begins to bustle in early morning. Merchants take their place, put up their display boxes, and pile up fresh seafood, vegetables, and fruits. By the time the market is ready, people start to gather and the market turns busy.
Half of the merchants here are producers, bringing their own agricultural produce or fish raised in aquafarms. Sellers are proud of what they sell, and customers can purchase fresh food at good prices because they are buying directly from the producer. The most popular items are sweet and juicy Seosaengbae pears and the porous onggi pottery that keeps food from spoiling. The Onggi products of Namchang are only made with what nature offers: soil, water, fire, and wind. They are made in Oegosan Onggi Village, the largest onggi production cluster in Korea, solely using the traditional method. Also famous is Namchang makgeolli, a traditional liquor fermented in an onggi pot. The liquor recipe has been handed down over three generations for about a hundred years.
At the heart of the walking trend in Korea is the Jeju Olle path. The Olle path-walking craze has improved business for a traditional market in Jeju and even resulted in its changing the name. Initially held every five days from 1965, the market turned into a regular market named Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market. The emergence of large-scale marts and modernized distribution chains had taken away customers, but the popularity of Olle path and the arrival of those wanting to walk on this natural road revitalized the market.
Located in the downtown of Seogwipo in Jeju, the market is located on the route of the 6th Jeju Olle course (Soesokkak- Oedolgae). A leisurely walk inside the market offers an Olle experience among people’s daily lives. To promote an ‘Olle culture,’ the market strictly complies with its business principles of marking the source of production and prohibiting cars after noon. These principles were set to guarantee honesty in transactions and to create an atmosphere where people can walk in the market at ease. A stream runs through the market, one meter wide and 100 meters long. It is the first such ecological space established in a traditional market in Korea.