EVERY TRAVEL guide on Korea has an extensive list of attractions and recommended restaurants to visit. However, foreign travelers are often left with the same question at the end of their trip: “What kind of souvenirs should I take back home?” From traditional Korean gifts to K-pop goods, here are some suggestions from a local Korean on what tourists should buy when they visit Korea.
Honey Butter Almond & Friends in Myeong-dong
The Honey Butter Almond & Friends flagship store is only a few steps away from the Myeong-dong subway station. Although visitors can also find the original honey butter-flavored almonds in nearby convenience stores and supermarkets, Honey Butter Almonds and Friends flagship store stands out as an attractive tourist destination with its “Instagrammable” backgrounds and decorations. The store is easy to find, as the first thing customers see is a giant almond character in the shape of a honeybee welcoming them at the entrance.
The overall interior of the shop looks like a factory. Upon entering, you will notice the sweet smell in the air from the myriad of products stacked in every corner. People can try out products that come in a variety of flavors; there are samples of almonds in different flavors, ranging from mint chocolate and wasabi to more unique flavors such as in-jeol-mi*, black sugar milk tea, baked corn, and tteok-bokk-i**. Tourists can either buy a 200g package of the flavors they enjoyed or buy the gift set that comes in small packages of assorted flavors. They can also buy merchandise of the cute almond-bee character, with goods including plush dolls, stationery, bags, and so on. When you feel tired from all the shopping, you can stop by the in-store café near the counter that sells beverages, baked goods, and ice-cream. After a long day of shopping around Myeong-dong, don’t forget to check out the Honey Butter Almond and Friends store for some snackable Korean souvenirs to bring home.
Opening hours: 9:00-23:59 everyday
Prices: ₩8,900 for the 200g package
Museum Shop at the National Museum
Permanent exhibition rooms at the National Museum of Korea are free entry for everybody—and so is the Museum Shop. Through its goods, the Museum Shop spreads the beauty of Korean art to its visitors. From simple postcards of Joseon dynasty paintings to neckties with traditional Korean prints, the store offers various products that are attractive to both foreign tourists and Koreans alike.
One such example is the glass cups with letters from the poem “Counting the Stars at Night” by Yun Dong-ju***, which created a buzz among Koreans. It was first made in 2015 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Surprisingly, the product sold out within a couple of minutes when it was released on the Museum Shop’s website. Contrary to people’s common misconception that official goods from the National Museum are plain and boring, the glass cups continue to be a steady seller. Other products that followed also caught the attention of the people and the media, including pencil cases known for capturing the beauty of Korean na jeon chil gi, a type of traditional Korean lacquerware inlaid with mother-of-pearl. If you’re looking for more quintessentially Korean gifts that encompass the country’s rich history and culture, make sure to pay the National Museum a visit before you leave.
Opening hours: 10:00-18:00 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays / 10:00-21:00. on Wednesdays and Saturdays / 10:00-19:00 on Sundays and national holidays
Prices: ₩7,900 for “Counting the Stars at Night” glass cup, ₩7,000 for na jeon pencil case
O’sulloc Tea House in Yongsan
You may have seen baristas making coffee at cafes, but have you seen “tea sommeliers” roasting tea leaves and serving freshly brewed tea? If interested, you should visit the O’sulloc Tea House in Yongsan that is located inside the Amore Pacific headquarters. Next to the tearoom, there is also the O’sulloc 1979 flagship store. The difference between the two cafes is that the former sells the same menu that every other O’sulloc Tea House store provides, while the latter has exclusive services. Named after its founding year, O’sulloc 1979 is a premium tearoom that represents the heritage of the brand. It is the only branch that serves the “Master’s Tea” and the “Afternoon Tea Set.”
The afternoon tea set consists of pastries paired with tea, and the “Master’s Tea” menu comes with brewing services of selected blends of tea from the tea sommeliers. The O’sulloc Tea House sells more affordable menus such as green tea-flavored ice cream and Korean bing-soo****. In addition to gift sets of loose-leaf tea and tea bags, the shop also sells green tea and Hoji tea (roasted green tea) milk spreads that taste delightful when paired with toast. There are also other tea-inspired goods including cosmetics (cleansing foam and sheet masks), chocolates, and tumblers. Whether you are a tea connoisseur or a mere fan of pastries, O’sulloc Tea House will provide you with both a delightful afternoon tea experience as well as delicately packaged gifts for your friends and family.
Opening hours: 10:00-21:00 everyday
Prices: ₩15,000 for 10 pyramid tea bags, ₩8,500 for the milk spreads
K-pop Store at Insa-dong
K-pop Store is one of the shops in the In sa il gil Complex Cultural Space at Insa-dong. The store was established so that K-pop fans could buy various merchandise all in one place. Before this establishment was built, K-pop fans had to go Gangnam to shop from SM Entertainment and go to Myeong-dong to shop from YG Entertainment. They had to travel to several places in order to buy the products they want. The K-pop Store solves this issue by displaying goods related to many different artists, regardless of which company they belong to. On top of that, the shop is at an accessible place, located near the city center.
Fans from various fandoms will rejoice, as they can buy light sticks*****, albums, and other merchandise at this store all in one go. Products from BT21, characters designed by the K-pop boyband BTS in collaboration with Line Friends Corporation, are also on display; fortunately for BTS fans, there is no need for them to line up in front of the Line Friends Store anymore. If you are a part of a K-pop fandom, you definitely wouldn’t want to miss out on all the merchandise you can buy at the K-pop Store before heading back home.
Opening hours: 10:00-21:30 everyday
Prices: vary by item
*In-jeol-mi: Sweet Korean rice cakes covered in soybean powder
**Tteok-bokk-i: Spicy Korean rice cakes
***Yun Dong-ju: a renowned Korean poet who wrote poems of resistance against the Japanese forces
****Bing-soo: Sweet ice flakes that Koreans enjoy for dessert
*****Light stick: fans use light sticks to cheer for their K-pop idols