Insa-dong Art Street, Korea’s Most Famous Street for Culture

Our orientation group went to noraebang on Sunday night, but previously, we spent our weekend touring various neighborhoods such as the foreigner’s district of Itaewon; however, Insa-dong was the district we loved, a traditional and cultural area with much to see. If you’re new to Seoul, Insa-dong is a must see attraction that you shouldn’t pass up. Let’s rewind and explore.

Traditional masks of Korea in Insadong
These are different traditional masks that you can find all over Korea, but especially so in Insa-dong. People would perform theater in these masks, with the two most common being Old Man and Old Woman.

What You Have to See in Insa-dong

Insa-dong is a cultural street where you can see into Korea’s past and future. To get to Insa-dong, we alighted at Anguk Station, exit 6, though you can certainly arrive from Jongguk as well. Walk out of the station 100 meters and the wide street will be to your right.

We walked through Insa-dong marveling at the traditional market. What caught my eye immediately were the 탈 (tal) that you see above. They were traditionally used artistically in theatrical and dramatic shows or ceremonially in Shamanism to drive away evil spirits; today they’re more like good luck talismans, and I think they’re gorgeous. Nevertheless, even if you want other items, Insa-dong is a great place to buy souvenirs while in Korea. It’s where I’ll go to get a few last minute things when I leave. Danny, though, couldn’t wait, buying what one of our friends called an “ajumma’s fan,” an ajumma (아줌마) being an older woman.

Danny with his ajumma fan in Insa-dong
Danny decided (against Seongmin’s sage advice) to purchase this decidedly ajumma fan. He rocks it, though. Danny has always had a wise old Jewish woman inside him, after all.

Down the street, we dove into art galleries where we saw great paintings. If you turn into any of the alleys, you’ll find a number of restaurants and tea houses just as we did, too. I recommend trying the street food first; honestly, the restaurants still make me nervous since much of what I do is simply point at pictures — but the street food is the heart of Seoul.

If you continue walking, you’ll find antique dealers and sellers of famous Korean ceramics; but you’ll eventually see Ssamziegil, a multi-level mall complex with an inner courtyard. Art decorates the walls and you’ll find so much in the way of contemporary culture, including a Ddong Cafe on its roof, if that’s your thing 🙂 This is a great date spot with craft activities you can sign up for in the basement of the mall.By the way, ddong means poop. No worries, though — as far as we know, no real poop is used in the making of their coffee.

Many Places to Check Out Nearby Insa-dong

Walking south will lead you to more modern stores where Ssamziegil resides. Otherwise, head towards the north to see Bukchon Hanok Village, a traditional area beside the growing neighborhood of Samcheongdong. West of there, you’ll run into Gyeongbokgung.

When we arrived at the palace, we realized it was too late to enter. Even so, we did get to look around the free National Folk Museum grounds. We saw cool things such as tombs, grave markers of soldiers, and zodiac statues.

Nearby, Gwanghwamun Gate stands, a lesson in history over the technologically advancing city surrounding it. Here’s a history lesson! 광화문 is the largest gate of the palace and was originally built in 1395 during the Joseon Dynasty; destroyed and rebuilt multiple times, the latest restoration (ending in 2010, costing 28 billion won) returned it to its wooden construction. Super cool.

We were nearby statues for King Sejong and General Lee Sunshin at this point, so we hoofed it over to Gwanghwamun Square before heading back home (past the American embassy, though I couldn’t take a picture of it as a guard didn’t want me to). Overall, we’ve made some pretty great friends here, and I’m going to be sad to see us dispersed in less than a week. Our orientation experience has definitely been positive these past two weeks.

Group photo in front of General Lee Sunshin Statue
All of us with General Lee Sunshin, the man who defeated the Japanese with Turtle Ships
Wall of flowers displaying Korean flag
A wall of flowers showing the Korean flag in Gwanghwamun Square!
Statue of King Sejong at Gwanghwamun Square
King Sejong, the man who invented the Hangeul alphabet

What About You?

If you’re teaching abroad, what was your orientation experience like? Did you enjoy how your school set up your first few days or weeks in your new country and did you make any new friends? Please comment below and let me know; I’m always curious about other people’s experiences abroad.

0 thoughts on “Insa-dong Art Street, Korea’s Most Famous Street for Culture

  1. You reminded me of when I lived in Bologna–and the extraordinary naivete of the American medical students transplanted from Johns Hopkins and other universities who were doing their medical training there. They disdained learning more than the most rudimentary Italian, largely eschewed friendships with Italians, and often lamented (drunkenly, in bars) about the difficulty of finding peanut butter in a city famous the world over for its fine cuisine. You’ll do better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge