Last year around this time I was lucky to have an eight-hour layover in Seoul on my way to Shanghai. As one of my favorite cities in Asia, Seoul is nothing short of famous places to explore. However, after having spent over a month in this city the summer before, I was already familiar with all the main sights and wanted to use this time to visit a place I hadn’t been to before. I made my final decision to check out this place when I watched hundreds of fishing boats off Korea’s coast from my plane window while approaching Incheon Airport at 4 am.
My journey led me to Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market (노량진수산물도매시장).
As the largest fish market in Seoul, Noryangjin Market belongs to one of the top tourist attractions in the city. The fresh and often exotic seafood sold at Noryangjin Market is a huge motivation for foodies from across the world to flock to this place. Filled with vendors selling all kinds of sea creatures, the market lets you choose your food (often alive!). Afterward, your vendor will help you find a restaurant inside the market hall that will prepare your food in any way you like. However, despite the incomparable flavor of fresh fish, there are some things that (solo-) travelers should be aware of when visiting this place on a layover. In this guide, I will give you 5 tips for exploring Noryangjin Fish Market on a layover!
1. The Location
674 노들로, 노량진동, 동작구, 서울
Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market
674 Nodeul-ro, Noryangjin-dong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul
If you plan to squeeze multiple destinations into a layover, organized planning is required in order to minimize the time spent getting from A to B. Located in Dongjak District, Noryangjin Market lies slightly south-west of Seoul’s other main attractions, without many places to visit nearby. Therefore, my recommendation is to visit this market either on the way from the airport to the city or on the way back.
The easiest way to access the market is by metro via lines 1 and 9, getting off at Noryangjin Station. If you plan to also visit Gangnam or Songpa District during your layover, you will most likely pass through Noryangjin Station. It takes about an hour and twenty minutes to get from Incheon Airport to Noryangjin, and twenty more minutes to reach Gangnam Station by metro.
If you want to visit the attractions north of the Han River (Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Gyeongbukgung, etc.) instead, passing through Noryangjin may not be the fastest route, however, you can still incorporate it in the beginning or end of your visit. To get to the city center, I recommend taking the Airport Railroad to Seoul Station, which will take about an hour, and from there all the other destinations will be only a short ride away by metro. On the way back, you can then take line 1 and transfer at Noryangjin Station.
Whichever way you choose to get to Noryangjin Station, it will cost you around 5,000 won (~$5 USD) by metro. For more information on Seoul Metro, I recommend you to download the Subway Korea App (super easy navigation, available in English and Korean) and check out my Seoul Metro Guide (coming soon).
2. The Best Time To Visit
Noryangjin Fish Market is open 24/7, so it’s a great place to visit whenever your layover is. However, it gets the busiest during dinner time. I visited early in the morning at around 7 am and it was very empty, so if you get stressed out by crowds, this time is perfect for a calm breakfast and genuine conversations with the fish vendors. Another tip is to come at 3 am for the famous fish auction when local vendors and restaurant owners compete for fresh seafood.
DISCLAIMER: Although the market is open 24 hours, Seoul Metro stops operating at around midnight, so if you visit in the middle of the night, consider taxi or night bus options
3. The Prices
This part is a bit trickier, especially for solo travelers, because if you’re not careful you might end up eating a very expensive meal!
That’s what happened to me. I selected a fish, some mussels, had it all cooked up for me at a restaurant and ended up spending 50,000 won (~$50 USD). How did that happen? Well, there are several mistakes I made.
First, I was a solo traveler. Oftentimes, people come to this place in groups, as it’s common in Korea. This means you can easily select a big fish for the entire group, sample through some seafood, and split up the bill. I, however, was alone and in the mood for fish, so I had no chance but to select an entire fish for myself and struggle to finish it all. In this way, I ate for an entire group and, not surprisingly, also paid for an entire group.
My second mistake was not haggling. Like in most markets in the world, vendors at Noryangjin pretty much expect you to haggle for the price. When you ask for the price, they will name a higher price than what’s considered normal, expecting you to bring the price down. However, if you don’t, they’ll happily accept a higher price. When I went to Noryangjin Market, I was tired, hungry, and just wanted to eat. That explains a lot!
So what can you do to avoid paying 50,000 won for a meal? Here are some tips:
- Choose small things if you’re visiting alone. Maybe find something other than an entire big fish. Or if you can, just bring a couple of friends with you!
- ALWAYS try to haggle. Whatever price the vendor tells you in the beginning, name a lower price, then gradually move towards a middleground. Don’t be scared to suggest a low price, it’s normal business, and in case it’s way too low your vendor most likely won’t even sell it to you.
- If after haggling the price is still too high, find another type of seafood or vendor.
- Avoid going when you’re extremely tired or hungry. You likely won’t have the nerves to walk around a lot and look for the lowest price.
Also, remember that you have to pay the fish vendor and the restaurant separately. A good thing though, the restaurant I ate at accepted international Visa cards!
This one can be a little tough too if you don’t speak Korean (if you do, this is a great chance to practice!!). Some vendors may know some English, others don’t. I always recommend to use Google Translate or a small dictionary if you don’t speak each other’s language. However, I’ll tell you some of the most important phrases here:
- 이거 얼마예요(igeo eolmayeyo)? – How much is this one?
- 너무 비싸요 (neomu bissayo)! – Too expensive!
- 네,괜찮아요 (ne, gwaenchanhayo). – Yes, okay.
- 아니요 (aniyo) – no
- 생선 (saengseon) – Fish
- 해물 (haemul) – Seafood
- 감사합니다 (gamsahamnida)! – Thank you!
It’s always a great idea to speak as much Korean as you can, even if it’s just a few words. Locals will greatly appreciate it and vendors might even give you a better price! Besides, being able to communicate more helps you better express what you’re looking for and the vendor will, in turn, be able to show you the best fish and recommend a preparation method.
5. Tips For The Faint-hearted
Lastly, despite being a great cultural experience and foodie paradise, the Noryangjin Market experience is not for everyone. Most of the fish and seafood sold at the market is alive, meaning you select a live animal and it will be killed for you. This ensures high quality and food safety, however, if you can’t handle seeing your meal alive before eating it, this may not be the place for you. This is especially true for the one snack Noryangjin Market is most famous for, live wiggling octopus! Definitely not everyone’s taste. However, don’t worry if that’s not your cup of tea, the market has plenty of other delicious things to offer.
Besides this, the floor is almost always wet and it smells like fish because, well, it’s a fish market. You might want to avoid this place if you’re wearing nice clothes unless you want them to smell like fish. The recommended footwear is definitely rubber boots but most likely you won’t be wearing that on a layover. Generally, a casual outfit and sneakers that aren’t brand new will do.
As one of Seoul’s top attractions and foodie paradise, Noryangjin Fish Market is definitely worth a visit and it’s absolutely doable on a layover. Ideally, your layover should be at least seven hours long due to the time it takes to get from the airport to the market and back. Keep the time in mind and beware of the prices at the market, don’t forget to haggle. But most importantly, don’t worry too much! Koreans are very friendly and will without a doubt help you to get around the market and find the best fish.
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This market seems so cool! I love how it’s open 24/7 🙂
It was perfect the first time. I learn so much from you as well! Keep it up great post.
Haven’t checked this one out yet but looks so cool! One of my favorite things to do (that my husband got tired of and I dragged him to) was browsing all the amazing markets in the city, especially Seoul! The more low key ones like this fish market are full of rich culture and I loved interacting with the locals! Gosh, I miss it!