Hanbok Experience – Wearing Traditional Korean Dress in Seoul as a Tourist

On the very first day in Seoul, in the very first place I visit, Gyeongbokgung palace (a renovated 14th century royal palace complex), I notice that a lot of the visitors are wearing very colorful clothing. Turns out, these beautiful dresses and costumes are Korean national dress hanbok! At this point I remember seeing a movie “Liberation Day” about  Slovenian rock band Laibach performing in North Korea and their vocalist Mina wearing something similar. Could I wear one too?

If you don’t have too much time or are concerned about planning your own trip, check out this list of vendors offering private tours in Seoul!

Planning a trip to South Korea? Check out Lonely Planet guidebook on South Korea, as this is what I used when planning my travel!

Gyeongbokgung palace seoul hanbok experience

Walking in the narrow streets nearby the palace I noticed a lot of small shops where you can rent the hanbok. Although most of the women wearing one are locals, I do see a few foreigners as well. Turns out, there is no particular reason for wearing the costume other than just take a nice picture, and it’s not just women who wear costumes! By the way, if you are wearing a hanbok, visiting Gyeongbokgung palace is for free!

The Hanbok Experience

Before deciding that I will actually rent the hanbok, I did a quick search on the Internet on how this might be perceived and if it weouldn’t be offensive that a 183 cm tall European woman will show up in one on the street. Conclusion – yes, it’s ok to wear it and it is even promoted as a part of the Korean culture experience for both men and women! You can rent not just the outfit, but also a wide array of accessories for the experience to be even more authentic!

On the day of renting it is very warm, +37°C, so I opt for renting hanbok in the first place that offers it, right next to the entrance to the palace. I have seen posters advertising hanbok rental for as little as 10-15 thousand won (7.5-10 euro), without further detail for how long this is, but my rental was 30 thousand for two hours (and fifteen minutes extra). I could have rented a more simple outfit cheaper, but of course, I needed the most colorful one!

Entering the store I an enveloped with a pleasant cool air coming from the AC. The lady at the counter immediately takes me to the “Large Sizes” section of the store to find something that would fit my height. The long skirt is actually tied at chest, so the length should not be measured from the waist but from your armpits! Fitting takes places in a separate room, and the shopkeep helps me put it on. She also gives me a bag for my own clothing. I keep my own shoes. By the way, for hygienic reasons it is not allowed to just try the outfit on and not rent it (and not pay), so you have to select one that you really like.

Once I exit the fitting room, I head to the hairdresser, who puts my hair up for 5 thousand won, adds a little wig for volume and offers a selection of ribbons and pins.

She also asks me if I’d like the special queen hair, which will cost me additional 2 thousand won, but I decline, saying regular is fine. She still proceeds to make the fancy one and says that I can take a couple of pictures here and she will take out the extra pins afterwards. Of course the hair looks really nice and I decide to pay extra to keep it, as 2 thousand is almost nothing! Hairdresser has a good upselling technique! She also gives me some red lipstick to put on for free (you can order also full make up) and I am ready to go!

Before leaving I pay at the counter (total of 37 thousand won or roughly 27 euros, cash) and get a receipt specifying the return time. Ladies also give me a few tips on what would be traditional poses in the outfit, and I was told I should put my hands under the jacket. I also get a small purse without having to pay extra for it (to put in my phone). If you wish to, you can leave your bags for safekeeping at the store.  

While I was trying on the outfits and getting ready, quite a few more people showed up and went to try on the costumes. Exiting the shop I notice that their poster actually has the same outfit pictures as mine! Of course, I could have probably found a cheaper place with fancy embroidery and not polyester print, but I really couldn’t make myself walk all that distance in the heat searching for one.

In the Palace

Five minutes later I was in Gyeongbokgung palace. There is no special free ticket to be collected, you just walk in through the gate (regular ticket is also not expensive, just 3 thousand won).

When we enter the palace, guard changing ceremony begins, so the palace is almost deserted. This time around it seems nearly half of all the visitors are wearing hanbok!  

In the two hours that we spent in the palace we saw two other European women wearing the hanbok, but none of them had their hair or make up done. The local girls had braids with ribbons and some had their hair up and had nice accessories on the head, but none had the kind of “wonders” as I did! A couple of times local girls and boys came up to me asking to take a picture with me (just a couple of days ago it was me who asked locals to take a picture with them!). In the remaining two other weeks in Korea this was the only time someone asked me for a picture together, not like it was in China or India! Everyone was really nice and from the communication I got my confirmation that wearing hanbok really is ok and it is not offensive to the locals.

Two hours later I was back at the rental. My costume was immediately put in a box and taken away for cleaning. Because of the heat all of the underskirts and my underwear were soaking wet! So I can appreciate how clean the hanboks are and that it is not allowed to just try them on! There are museums and palaces in Seoul you can try them on for free and take some pictures, even some of the restaurants in Bukchon Hanok folk village offer that, but of course, the hanboks won’t be pristine clean, so I definitely recommend renting your own! I would have wanted to buy one, but for someone my size it would have to be pre-ordered and it won’t be cheap, upwards of 200 euros for sure!

In Conclusion

Hanbok experience was definitely on of the most interesting things I did in Korea! Later, when visiting Busan and Jeju I often saw people wearing hanbok and taking pictures, and it seems such a lovely tradition to wear your national costume when visiting important historic sites! I would have definitely ordered my own hanbok, had I stayed longer in Seoul!

If you don’t have too much time or are concerned about planning your own trip, check out this list of vendors offering private tours in Seoul!

What else to see and do if you are in South Korea?

Visit the DMZ – the demilitarized zone – the border with the North Korea!

Second largest city in South Korea – Busan! Read this blog post to know what to see, where to stay and what to expect!

why you should try on the korean traditional dress hanbok when visiting seoul

Why you should try on the traditional korean dress hanbok

20 comments

  1. You look so pretty! Glad you tried it even in the heat of summer. I love South Korea but have never bothered to try these hanbok experiences – I prefer to take photos of others 😛

    1. I am blessed to have a husband who likes taking pictures of others, including me, so I have my own personal photographer with me at all times 🙂

  2. Very nice photos, so cute and gorgeous! You chose a really beautiful outfit and that hairstyle indeed looks really good on you! I tried them on at a museum/restaurant for photos and they will definitely not be clean, lol. A good experience you had =)

    1. Yes, the clean bit in such hot weather is something to think about, so I am glad this place really takes care of it 🙂

  3. The photographs are so beautiful. I think that wearing a traditional costume is part of learning about the culture. Visiting a historical site while wearing one isn’t something that I would miss. It is almost too good to be to be true!

  4. The costume you rented is stunning, love how colorful it is. And your hair, so intricate and stunning. I’ve never been to South Korea, but if I ever go, I’m definitely renting a hanbok.

  5. Hi. I just want to know if it’s okay to bring your bag around while wearing a hanbok. I’m traveling solo, so I have to bring my camera with me. I looked at different photos and they only have smaller purses. Thanks!

    1. Absolutely! You can take your own things with you. They have a shelf to leave your things in the store, but we opted to take our backpacks with us, as we had all the photo gear inside. The palace didn’t mind at all that we had them with us! The smaller purse they give you to put your phone in, if you want it. Hanbok experience described here was a self guided kind of thing – we wandered on our own, so there were no restrictions.

  6. I’m glad you had a good time! It’s similar in Japan with foreigners wearing a yukata or a kimono…it’s pretty well accepted since you’re able to experience the culture, especially during the festival season! The photos are beautiful! I’ll have to look into maybe renting a hanbok while in Seoul next month. 😀

  7. Hi, i would like to know the name of the shop where you rented your hanbok? By the way, you look so stunning in your choosen hanbok! 저아💕

    1. Hi there! I tried to find the address of the place, this seems to be the right spot! 126-3 Sagan-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul it was on the second floor, you can check on Google maps street view, I went in through that small open door and went upstairs to the second floor! It was right at the traffic light near the palace 🙂 I hope you enjoy your trip!

  8. Hey I’m curious if men do this too? I’m heading to Seoul with some friends, and we’d like to try this out. Also, none of us are Korean, I imagine wearing the Hanbok attire is encouraged for tourists (and not considered offensive or anything)? Any advice would be appreciated!

    1. You can definitely wear the male version of the costume (rental shops have hanboks for the whole family), and Korean tourism authorities are recommending hanbok experience as a way to learn more about the culture. As long as you are not making fun of the heritage, you should be ok!

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