Some call it Mary’s Alley, some call it Disney on kimchi, whatever you call it, it’s touristy, but fun to totter down, and is a nifty onestop shopping strip if you’re after traditional rice paper crafts, calligraphy brushes and ceramics. Despite the government’s best efforts to revive this once-prime antique market, serious collectors will have to really root and rummage among the faff and faddle. Or for the best of Seoul’s selection, make a day of it at Janganpyeong Antique Market (see Standout Stores).
Commence at the Anguk-dong Rotary end of Insa-dong /안국역인사동입구 / by the GS25 mini-mart and note the carts and stalls selling everything from bamboo utensils and doughnuts to pottery. All you need to do is head down this brick-lined street and pop into whatever takes your fancy. At Todok Gongbang /토독공방 / 8844 3812 / on your left, watch craftsmen carve out fancy Oriental seals. Stay on the main strip; totter halfway down to spy on your left the SSamzigil mall / ssamzigil.co.kr, a heap of styley lil’ stores selling jewellery, hats, bags, and knick knacks. The mall’s open, ascending spiral layout means you can only go one way and can’t get lost. At the very top is a café and outdoor snack bar; once done, head back down to the main road, and directly opp. is a small street that leads to Mokin Museum / 722 5066 / mokinmuseum.com / where you can view a spectacular private collection of trad wooden figurines, and sleek Palazzo Due / 744 9240 / for Italian bites, while opposite the resto is the Insa-dong Tourist Information Center / 737 7890. Retrace to the main drag, on the right is Gana Insa Art Center / 736 1020 / insaart center.com / exhibiting fission-hot local contempo artists. Carry on and twirl left at Sudo Drugstore /수도약국 / where there’s an English sign for the Kyungin Museum of Fine Art / 733 4448 / kyunginart.co.kr / for culture and a cuppa at sweet hideaway Dawon / 730 6305. Facing the museum gate is Koong / 733 9240 / koong.co.kr / the area’s oldest and tastiest North Korean dumpling spot. Exiting the museum left, nip left again and a few steps down you’ll find a backstreet packed with food stalls; try Cha Iyagi / 차이야기/ 735 8552 / for grilled meat and bamboo-steamed rice, best enjoyed with liqueurs like makkeolli or dongdongju. Or, opposite is Min’s Club (see Rest./Relaxed) for a fancy bite and wine in 30s architecture. Retrace your steps to the main street and continue to find Tong-In on the left with neat ceramics, paper and silk on G/F – don’t bother with the other floors. Exit, keep left and spin left into the next alley, following it round to find Sanchon (see Rest./Casual), run by a dear old ex-monk in suspect footwear. Grab a veggie snack if so inclined. Come out of the alley the way you came and turn left at the main road. At the four-way intersection are Gyeongil Cultural Store / 733 8233 / for gorgey rice paper, and Nagwon Tteokjip /낙원떡집 / 733 9009 / for rice cake morsels to go. Keep going and at the next corner turn right, then shoot straight for the end of the lane to power up with Korean green teas, herbal mixes, pastries, and retail at the Beautiful Tea Museum / 735 6678 / in a hanok with pretty skylit atrium. Cha-aaah!