Winter in Korea is TOUGH. Gale force Siberian winds, freezing temperatures and super dry, sometimes polluted air make it tempting to sit inside, binge-watch Netflix and drink coffee all day long. At least that’s what I want to do most Seoul winter days.
You definitely shouldn’t hibernate till the cherry blossoms bloom though, (no matter how tempting it is). There’s plenty of cold weather activities and interesting places to visit in Korea during winter, so throw on your long padding coat and vogmask and venture forth bravely into the frostiest of Korea’s seasons.
Jump to what you want.
- 1 Winter in Korea: What to Expect
- 2 Does it snow in Korea?
- 3 Lighting Festivals during Winter in Korea
- 4 Festivals to visit during Winter in Korea
- 5 Sports to Try during Winter in Korea
- 6 Where to Rejuvenate yourself during Winter in Korea
- 7 Places to visit during Winter in Korea to Escape the Cold
- 8 Welcome the New Year, Korean Style
- 9 Spread Holiday Love during Winter in Korea
Winter in Korea: What to Expect
Winter in Korea lasts for approximately 3 months. Typically, it starts at the beginning of December and finishes by the end of February.
All of Korea experiences the chill of winter, but Gangwon-do Province in the NE corner is typically the coldest part of the country. That’s where you’ll find the most snowfall, ski resorts, and the typical wintry scenes you’re dreaming of. Not surprisingly, as you head further south on the Peninsula, winter gets shorter and ever so slightly warmer.
How cold is Korea in winter?
In Seoul, average temperatures range from a low of -7 degrees Celsius in January to a high of +5 in February. It’s colder in Gangwon-do, and warmer near Busan. And while those temperatures might not seem TOO cold from a strict degrees point of view, I must warn you that it feels a heck of a lot colder.
I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Yes, that’s the land of 6 month winters, colossal piles of snow and temperatures as low as -40. Yet I found Korea’s winter, with it’s much milder temperatures to be insanely cold. There’s a brutal wind that blows in from Siberia, and the cold just seeps into your bones. It’s totally unexplainable and painfully shocking.
What should I wear during winter in Korea?
I can’t reiterate this enough. The winter months in Korea are freezing cold. If you live in a hot climate like Singapore or Thailand, you will feel like an icicle twice frozen. Guaranteed.
You need to be extra prepared with super warm clothes, thermals, thick socks, a hat and gloves. There’s a rush on Uniqlo heattech products in the colder months in Korea for good reason.
We’re living through strange times. QR Code check-in, masking, and social distancing are standard behaviours to follow wherever you happen to go in Korea this year. Stay safe.
Does it snow in Korea?
It snows all over Korea, but more in certain regions. If you’ve got your heart set on experiencing snow, head northeast for the best chances of catching it. Look to the months of December or January for this.
Does it snow in Seoul?
If you’re staying in Seoul, your timing will have to be absolutely perfect to catch snow. Because snowfall is actually a pretty rare occurrence in Seoul. If you’re lucky, and happen to be here when it DOES snow, get outside as fast as possible to enjoy it. Because it melts just about as fast as it appears.
Where to see snow in Korea
You’re guaranteed to see snow at any of the ski resorts around Korea. Even if you don’t ski, many of them have wintery activities to participate in.
Another popular destinations for seeing snow near Seoul, is Nami Island. They even have a yearly snowman festival you can check out! Book one of these all-inclusive tours to make it super easy.
Lighting Festivals during Winter in Korea
If bright, sparkling bulbs are your thing, you’re in luck. Because the winter season in Korea guarantees a country illuminated with twinkling Christmas lights from top to bottom. Here’s the best places to see them during winter in Korea.
The Garden of Morning Calm (아침고요수목원 오색별빛정원전)
Festival dates: December 4th, 2020 – March 14th, 2021
The Garden of Morning Calm is one of the best places in Korea to see a lighting festival during winter. It’s the biggest one in the whole country! Prepare to be wowed by the sight of tens of thousands of glowing lights in every possible colour covering acres and acres of land.
In winter, the Garden of Morning Calm has extended evening hours, so visitors can enjoy the spectacle after dark. The lights come on at sunset, and the Garden stays open until 9PM on weekdays, and 11PM on Saturdays.
TIP | During winter in Korea, there are tours available with later starting times, so you can enjoy the various lighting festivals around the country after dark. Be sure to select the winter itinerary when booking. Reserve an all-inclusive tour to the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival on Klook | On Trazy.
Petite France Korea Lighting Festival
Festival dates: TBA
If you want a little taste of Christmas in Europe, Petite France is definitely the place to be during a Korean winter. Starting near the beginning of December, it will do its best imitation of Montpellier, France with fairy tale lights strung throughout the village.
TIP | Traveling with a large group? It might be more affordable and convenient to book a private car to take you where you want to go, with no limitations. Check prices to reserve a chartered car for up to 10 people.
Boseong Green Tea Plantation Light Festival (보성차밭 빛축제)
Festival dates: TBA for 2020, but usually starts in late November
Located in the south of the country, the Boseong Green Tea Plantation is wonderful to see in every season. During winter in Korea though, the entire plantation gets a festive facelift with twinkling lights adorning its pleasing symmetrical bushes and covering the entire grounds.
If you plan on visiting this festival, be sure to take extra warm clothing. I can tell you from personal experience, that it’s incredibly cold in Boseong. Much colder than in Seoul.
If traveling out of the city is a distant dream for you, add the Hyundai and Lotte Department stores to your list of places to visit in Korea during winter. Every year, their Christmas displays just seem to get more and more extravagant.
There’s always a huge Christmas Tree is already up outside the Hyundai Department store near Starfield Coex Mall. And you can count on some type of festive holiday installation inside the Starfield Library, if prior years are any indication.
Last winter, the Lotte World Tower next to Jamsil subway station had an over-the-top display with literally thousands and thousands of bulbs, a huge Christmas tree, and lights strung up over a full 2 block length… and I would expect nothing less this year.
Everland Theme Park
Everland is one of the biggest and best theme parks in Korea. It’s full of heart stopping rides and 5 amazing themed zones. It even has one of the steepest wooden roller coasters in the world. Ride it if you dare.
During Korea’s winter season, Everland really pulls out all the stops. There’s a towering Christmas tree, several special parades, a Magic Garden and brilliant fireworks to enjoy. Everland has over 40 rides and attractions to explore, so you could easily spend an entire day and night there, without seeing it all.
TIP | You’ll want to stick around Everland until after dark to enjoy the lights at their best. Trazy is one of the few companies to offer a later return shuttle bus to Seoul. Book discounted Everland admission tickets with a night bus option here.
Festivals to visit during Winter in Korea
There’s no doubt Korea loves its festivals and during winter, there’s a huge variety to choose from. Attending one of these outdoor events is undoubtedly one of the most popular things to do during a winter in Korea, for residents and travellers alike.
Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival | 화천산천어축제
Festival dates: January 9th – 31st 2021
Hwacheon is the first place to freeze over in Korea during winter each year, with Hwacheon stream becoming a thick sheet of ice perfect for fishing, skating, hockey, bobsledding and much more. If you’re brave enough, you can even try bare-handed fishing.
The prime catch at the Hwacheon Ice Festival is the Sancheoneo fish. Full of vitamins, amino and fatty acids, it only survives in super clean, super cold water.
50% OFF DAY TOURS TO HWACHEON
Dates for the 2020 festival have just been released, and Klook is currently offering packages that include round trip transport and admission to the festival at 50% off. This festival is very popular and day tours DO sell out in advance, so try to book as soon as you can.
Pyeongchang Trout Festival | 평창송어축제
Festival Dates: Cancelled for 2020
If you can’t make it to Hwacheon’s festival, don’t stress – there are several different places to visit in Korea during winter, for ice fishing. Former winter Olympics site, Pyeongchang in Gangwon-do also has a popular trout and ice fishing festival that you can check out.
TIP | Stop by any convenience store, pharmacy, or Daiso and buy hot packs to keep your hands warm throughout the day.
Inje Ice Fishing Festival | 인제빙어축제
Festival Dates: TBA
We checked out the Inje Ice Fishing Festival last year and had a total blast. The tiny bingeoho fish is the main catch there. For a tasty treat, be sure to try it twiggim (battered and deep fried) style at one of the vendors near the ice field.
Taebaeksan Snow Festival | 태백산 눈축제
Festival dates: TBA
This festival takes over tiny former coal boom town Taebaek City, and its namesake mountain Taebaeksan, with non-stop winter activities.
This is the winter festival to go to in Korea for large scale snow sculptures, sledding, and hiking.
33rd Busan Polar Bear Swimming Festival | 북극곰 수영대회
Festival dates: TBA
If you’re just a little bit crazy, you can become one of 5,000 Busan Polar Bears, by diving into the icy cold waters off Haeundae Beach, during the 33rd Polar Bear Swim.
Considered one of the best festivals in the country, participation costs 20,000KRW, and it looks like you get some really cute SWAG out of it.
Registration and detailed information can be found HERE.
Sports to Try during Winter in Korea
Don’t turn into a couch potato watching Pyeongchang Winter Olympics re-runs when there’s tons of sporting options you can get involved in yourself. Winter in Korea is the perfect time to try out something new!
Places to visit in Korea during winter for ice skating
In Seoul, you can take your pick from a huge range of municipal, university, indoor, or hotel skating rinks that open during winter in Korea. Prices range from totally free to upwards of 40,000 KRW for admission (skate rentals not included).
Here’s a few popular ice rinks in the city to check out:
- Seoul Plaza Ice Rink: admission fee + skate rental for just 1000 won
- Lotte World Indoor Skating Rink: admission + skate rental for 13,000 won
- Olympic Park Ice Rink: admission + skate rental for 3,000 won
TIP | Wanna skate where famed Olympic figure skater Kim Yuna trained? Head to the Korea University Ice Rink and choose from hockey, speed, or figure skates for a fun-filled icy day. Be sure to check out the campus too. It’s gorgeous! Reserve your spot on the ice at least 2 days in advance here.
Where to snowboard & ski during Winter in Korea
Many people don’t realize that Korea is absolutely covered in mountains. Once snow blankets the ground in Gangwondo Province, snowboarding, skiing and sledding become super popular activities. The best thing is that many of these ski resorts are super accessible from Seoul, so it’s easy to visit on a day or overnight trip.
WHERE TO SKI IN KOREA
If you want to ski in Korea, there are a ton of convenient ski and snowboard packages to various resorts around the country. Most include transport, accommodation, lift passes and even lessons!
- 3D/2N Ski/Snowboard Tour at High1 Resort: includes, lift passes, round trip transportation, accommodation and ski/snowboard rental at one of Korea’s most modern winter resorts
- 2D/1N Ski and Snowboard Tour to Vivaldi Park: just 80 minutes from Seoul, Daemyung Vivaldi Park Ski World is one of the most popular ski resorts to visit in Korea for snowboarding, skiing and sledding.
- 2D/1N Ski Trip to Alpensia Resort: a totally hassle-free package including everything you need for an awesome ski holiday
There are a plethora of options for sledding, snowboarding and skiing in the country, but how about trying ice climbing for something new. With its mountainous terrain, Korea has climbs for all levels where you can try this challenging sport.
Sanirang offers beginner ice climbing courses for individuals who have never climbed before. It’s pricey, but it might start you on a lifetime of adventure, scaling heights you never thought possible.
Where to Rejuvenate yourself during Winter in Korea
The changing of seasons in Korea is so definitive, it’s violent. And the transition from autumn’s crisp, blue skies, warm days, and gorgeous leaves to the freezing winds and negative temperatures of Korea’s insanely cold winter might be the worst of all.
Here’s what you can do to rejuvenate mind and body from the brutality of winter.
Go for a facial in Korea
The dry air and freezing winds of Seoul’s winter are seriously bad for the skin. There’s no better time to hop on the K-beauty bandwagon and pamper yourself with a super moisturizing facial than now. Added bonus: the heated bed you get to lie on while your skin is getting spoiled.
TIP | If you’re into skincare, a Korean facial is a must. Avoid language barriers and get exactly what you want by booking in advance. The excellently reviewed Whoo Spa in Nonhyeon uses luxurious Korean products and you’re sure to leave feeling totally refreshed. Be sure to book this at least a few days in advance as it does get fully reserved. Snag an appointment at Whoo Spa here.
Visit a Jjimjilbang or Mogyoktang
A weekly visit to the humble neighbourhood mogyoktang or bathhouse is on most Koreans’ agendas, for relaxation, revitalization and a skin-bruising scrub. Consisting of hot tubs, saunas and a cold plunge pool, it’s an ideal way to recharge the body and spirit in the depths of a winter in Korea.
A visit there is not for the faint of heart though, since the entire experience is enjoyed completely in the buff. If that thought is too much for you, you can check out a jjimjilbang, which offers both the naked bath house area PLUS a clothed area with various dry saunas and entertainment areas.
If you’re looking for something really special, the newest jjimjilbang on the block is Cimer at Paradise City. Expats and Seoulites are raving about the incredible saunas and photo-friendly scenes at this modern jjimjilbang in Incheon. It’s sure to heal your aching winter bones.
Some other foreigner friendly jjimjilbangs, you could try out that are in or near Seoul are: Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan, and Aquafield, which has locations in both Goyang and Hanam Starfield malls.
Visit the Salt Cave Healing Centre
Breathing in tiny micromillimetre particles of salt at the Salt Cave Healing Centre near Namdaemun might just cure what ails you. Said to help with asthma, certain types of allergies and general fatigue – at the very least, it’ll get you out of the cold and surrounded by the womb-like warmth of a cave made entirely out of sun-dried Pacific salt.
Get there by taking Exit 3 out of Hoehyeon Station.
Places to visit during Winter in Korea to Escape the Cold
If you’re one of those people who can’t get warm, no matter what, here’s a few places to visit in winter, that are designed just for you.
Go strawberry picking
Are Korean strawberries the most delicious ones in the world? Possible, I think. And what better way to eat them, then by picking them yourself, while escaping winter in Korea in a super warm greenhouse. It also happens to be the perfect family-friendly activity.
We visited the 대가농원 farm in Namyangju, and ate a ton of delicious strawberries, but there are tons of greenhouses all over the country. It’s worth booking an all-inclusive tour that includes transport, because most of these farms are not exactly in public transit friendly locations. Here’s a few options to check out.
Eat at a food court with a view at Sky31 Food Avenue
If you’ve wanted to get inside Korea’s tallest building and the Seoul Sky Observatory, but can’t stomach the 27,000KRW ticket price to go all the way to the top, you can head up to the new Sky31 Food Avenue instead.
Sure, its 31st floor location is a long way down from the 124th, but you’ll still get incredible winter views of Seoul and the Han River, totally free of charge. Just visit the information desk on the first floor of the Tower, and obtain a pass card that allows you access to the building and the 31st floor.
Ride the Hallyu Wave
If there’s a secret K-pop fan girl hiding inside you, winter’s the perfect time to bring her out of hibernation. Stay warm AND fulfill all your Hallyu dreams at these indoor activities perfect for winter in Korea.
Go behind the scenes of SBS MTV The Show, and see how K-pop spectacles are are produced for television. You might even get front row seats to see some of the biggest K-pop stars performing on stage. This activity sells out MONTHS in advance, because it’s only available on Tuesdays, and demand is super high. Book is as SOON as you know your travel dates.
- Reserve a SBS MTV The Show Tour on Trazy – earliest available date February 4th, 2020
- Reserve a SBS MTV The Show Tour on Klook – earliest available date February 4th, 2020
> If you can’t get tickets to The Show, you can visit MBC World, Korea’s first Hallyu Theme Park. If you’re taking the AREX into Seoul, this is a great stop to make on the way to or from Incheon Airport, since it’s en-route. Get discounted tickets to MBC World here.
Welcome the New Year, Korean Style
From December 31st to January 1st, thousands of people are standing on high mountains or lined up on a coast in the bitter cold waiting for the sun to rise. Welcoming a new year this way, is one of the most popular things to do in Korea in winter, because Koreans believe that wishes made while witnessing the first sunrise of the year, are more powerful.
Gangeolgot Sunrise Festival | 울산 간절곶 해맞이축제
The Ganjeolgot Sunrise Festival (울산 간절곶 해맞이축제) in Ulsan is the place to be if you want to witness the earliest sunrise of the year in Korea.
Homigot Sunrise Festival | 호미곶 한민족 해맞이축전
If it’s the first sunrise of the year you’re after, the place to be in Korea on NYE is Homigot Village. It’s the furthest east you can get in the ROK.
At this festival, you can witness cultural performances, a sunrise concert, kite-flying and the launching of hope balloons with wishes attached. Be sure to have a free bowl of tteokguk – a traditional New Years Day dish.
Want to make wishes on the first sunrise of the year? Check out these awesome New Year’s Eve tours from Seoul and Busan. DRESS WARM!
> Watch the fireworks and countdown to 2020 at COEX Mall, then head to Korea’s East Coast and make a wish, while watching the first sunrise of the year at Gyeongpo Beach. Book a NYE tour from Seoul.
> Welcome the New Year from Busan Tower, stop in at Gamcheon Culture Village and Hwangnyeongsan Mountain, before arriving at Homigot Square for the first sunrise of 2020. Book a NYE tour from Busan.
Spread Holiday Love during Winter in Korea
For me, the winter holiday season is about connecting with those we love and being grateful for everything the year has brought and taught us. I’ve been incredibly blessed in my life, and it’s important to remember that not everyone is so fortunate.
Sponsor an unwed mother and her child in the 2020 KUMFA holiday gift drive
Being a single mother in Korea can be incredibly difficult, not just financially, but because of outdated ideas and social stigma.
This holiday gift drive allows you to sponsor a family by buying a gift for the children of unwed mothers. There’s a list of wishes on their website, and most of the requests are so humble, that I couldn’t make it through the list without shedding a tear. Ok…a lot of tears.
Detailed information about this year’s holiday gift drive has not been released yet, but in the meantime, you can DONATE HERE.
Feed the homeless with PLUR
Sadly, the homeless population in Korea continues to rise… with little social safety net in place yet to help them make it through the long, bitterly cold winter.
You can help out just a little bit by volunteering with PLUR to hand out some food to the homeless congregated around Seoul Station. They meet each and every Sunday evening.
Join each week by signing up on their Meetup page.
Korea’s Cardboard Halmonis (Grannies)
If you walk the streets of any Korean city, you’ll inevitably see a “cardboard granny.” These elderly women (AND men), pick up used cardboard and other recyclable materials to earn a little bit of money to survive.
Often bent in half from malnutrition and osteoporosis, these old women push huge and heavy carts up and down the streets in the bitter cold and wind. Every time I see one, my heart literally feels like it’s being ripped out of my chest, but I always feel powerless and frankly a little shy to approach them with help.
One day though, I came across a halmoni who’s cardboard boxes were being blown off her cart by the wind, and stopped to help her pick them up. The total gratitude and humbleness with which she received this simple help sent me to the nearest bathroom in painful tears. I realized in that moment, that ANY help is appreciated and my shyness was not only silly, but totally selfish.
If you see a cardboard granny on the street this winter in Korea, just walk up and lend a hand. Help push her cart, give her a pair of warm gloves, a hot drink, or cash if you feel inclined to do so. Whenever I have approached a granny with money, she inevitably refuses, but persist, and she will accept, because she really truly needs it.
Are there any other worthwhile activities or great places to visit in Korea during winter that I missed? Add your tips in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you! <3