It’s every beauty editor’s dream to browse the beauty shops in South Korea. The East Asian nation is a veritable hotbed for glow-giving makeup and next-generation skin tech. So, when our London-to-Osaka flight offered up a three-hour stop in Seoul, it only made sense that we extended the layover to a two-night stay with just enough time for shopping.
Between a Sunday night arrival and our Tuesday flight to Japan, we had a full day with which to stock up on sheet masks, and scratch the surface of the city’s most famous attractions. So, on two hours sleep – and with nothing in the way of a plan for the day – here’s how we set about exploring Seoul. Note: sturdy shoes are needed for this itinerary…
Morning Hike to N Seoul Tower
Jamie and I are big believers in avoiding public transport when exploring somewhere new. Even if there’s a good hour between sight-seeing stops, racking up your step count is a great way of getting a real feel for the city. So, we set off from our hotel, Shilla Stay Gwanghwamun, on the 40(ish)-minute walk to the base of Namsan mountain, where we began an uphill hike to N Seoul Tower.
I should probably mention that, during the hike, we were battling the worst jetlag of. our. lives. We’d been awake since midnight, despite getting zero sleep on the 11-hour flight from London. Still, we made it to the top of the mountain in around 45 minutes, stopping along the way to take bleary-eyed selfies that must never see the light of day.
But, seriously – this walk was exactly the pick-me-up our jetlagged bodies needed, and checking out the incredible view at the top was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments. After stopping in the Tower gift shop to pick up a few postcards for my study back home, we got the cable car back down to the bottom of Namsan feeling far more awake than we did pre-hike.
Beauty Shopping in Myeong-dong
Myeong-dong is the epicentre of skincare shopping in Seoul. I knew the streets would be lined with beauty boutiques, but nothing could have prepared me for just how many stores there are. Beauty lover or not, the number of brands on offer is overwhelming. so I’ll make it easy for you by narrowing down the three must-visits…
Because Myeongdong-dong is something of a labyrinth of beauty stores, it took us a little while to realise that there are a number of Etude House branches in the district. Visit one for frankly adorable makeup that helps you achieve all manner of Korean beauty trends. Think, gradient lips, statement blush and a chok chok (ultra, ultra dewy) complexion. The packaging delivers just the right amount of kitsch, the products do exactly what they say on the bottle, and it’s home to the Dear Darling Water Gel Tint; a surprisingly balmy lip stain that I now wear every day.
The Face Shop
This was my favourite shop of all. Selling bumper packs of sheet masks at insanely low prices, it’s pretty much a haven for anyone partial to covering their face in slimy sheets of paper for a plump, pillowy complexion. I stocked up on the Damask Rose, Olive Oil and Hyaluronic Acid masks, as well as a £3-ish Herb Day Peach Cleansing Foam, which I’m told is a cult classic.
Like a South Korean Sephora (or maybe a CVS…), Olive Young is home to all manner of beauty brands, from the herbal and holistic to the cute and quirky. Stands selling The Simpsons sunscreen and Shrek face creams took centre stage, and I ended up leaving the store with a pack of (yet more) sheet masks featuring an angry-looking bear on the packet.
A Note on Shopping
Wherever you choose to shop in Seoul, make sure you take your passport along with you, as it may mean you receive a 10% tax refund on your purchases. Korea4Expats.com has plenty of info how this works and whether you’ll be eligible.
Sunset at Gyeongbokgung Palace
After warming up with a drink in the Lotte department store, we retraced our steps back to Gwanghwamun Plaza, then wandered over to Gyeongbokgung Palace. By this point, it was early evening and the jetlag meant we could barely form sentences. We did, however, manage to snap some photos of people wearing beautiful hanbok in the palace grounds.
In just one day, we saw so many sides of #Seoul; the panoramic city views from the top of #Namsan, the hustle and bustle of #Myeongdong, and people wearing hanbok at #GyeongbokgungPalace. I didn’t know it at the time, but if you wear a hanbok at any of the capital’s four major palaces, you’ll be granted free entry. Just look at how beautiful they are… 🇰🇷
Though we didn’t actually enter the palace, we must have stood outside for at least 40 minutes, just taking in the atmosphere; peaceful and buzzing all at once. Once it started to get dark, we headed back to the hotel with a stash of snacks, and the sole intention of reclaiming some sleep before our morning flight to Osaka.
Wishful thinking, indeed.