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Insa-Dong, South Korea – Where Yesterday Meets Today

Parade in Insadong Seoul South Korea by Nathan Wilson via Flickr

Insa-dong, one of Seoul’s must-see spots, offers a glimpse into the city’s past. Be prepared to discover countless gems hidden in the alleyways. It's where traditional tea houses, old fashioned calligraphy shops, and modern art galleries coexist.

Traditional Korean Masks in Insadong, Seoul by Tim Walker via Flickr
Traditional Korean Masks in Insadong, Seoul by Tim Walker via Flickr

A Mecca for Art...

Insa-dong is a mecca for Korean art. The surrounding areas of Insa-dong were once home to a nest of affluent families during the Joseon Dynasty. Items that once belonged to the wealthier citizens of Seoul were auctioned off on the streets of Insa-dong. After that, the area became known as a hub for trading art and antiques.

Though the area is a haven for the arts, Insa-dong’s specialty shops, galleries and museums appeal to more than just art and history lovers. Insa-dong boasts a

variety of galleries and museums of different themes and sizes. This includes INSA Gallery, Kyung-In Museum of Fine Art and Gongpyeong Gallery.  The galleries and museums feature contemporary or fusion art that mixes the traditional with the modern in ways that immediately grab your attention.

Kyung-In Museum of Fine Art is the perfect example of a gallery that offers fresh surprises and unexpected exhibition themes. The exquisite art museum with four exhibition halls and an atelier is famous for its superb mixture of tradition and modernism. Its lush outdoor garden and tea house, a favorite among tourists, create a calm and surreal atmosphere, in intense contrast to the modern exhibition space.

Culture and Shopping

Once your pilgrimage to the galleries and museums is complete, check out other areas of Insa-dong. Ssamziegil, a culture complex of sorts, is perfect for those who love to shop. It's both energetic and traditional. I was quite fascinated with its colorful attractions that include an organic tea house, mini gallery and craft shops. There are even vendors who help you create your own art. How wonderful is that? Ssamziegil is definitely a must-see attraction for all you culture vultures out there!

Insa-Dong - Séoul, Corée du Sud by Ludovic Tristan via Flickr
Insa-Dong - Séoul, Corée du Sud by Ludovic Tristan via Flickr

For Your Tastebuds

Having tea in a traditional tea house or indulging in authentic Korean cuisine is another experience not to be missed in Insa-dong. Rather than those eateries that boisterously call to tourists from Insa-dong’s main street, I recommend you seek out the hidden gems in the back alleyways. When in Insa-dong, I wanted to try something new, so I decided to visit Insa-dong’s Buddhist restaurants, such as Sanchon, which specialize in tasty and healthy vegetarian cuisine. If you crave something hearty, take a chance on Korean traditional barbeque or naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles).

Delights at Sanchon by Richy via Flickr
Delights at Sanchon by Richy via Flickr
Naengmyeon by Prince Roy via Flickr
Naengmyeon by Prince Roy via Flickr

When you are ready to turn in for the night, nothing will complete the experience of Insa-dong like spending the night in a hanok, a Korean traditional house. A humble night’s sleep – like Koreans in the olden days – will make your trip to Insa-dong stand out from all the others.

Michele W.
Michele W.
Michele is a professional writer, editor, and visual artist. She is an avid traveler, who loves sharing tips and tricks to maximize one's travel experience. She's a quirky, imaginative individual with a heart of really good chicken soup.

3 thoughts on “Insa-Dong, South Korea – Where Yesterday Meets Today

  1. I love antique arts and this gave me great information about South Korean culture and art, tradition of life, food habit and so on. Now I’m very curious to see traditional Korean masks in Insadong.

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