Winter in Korea | 27 Incredible Places to Visit in Korea during Winter
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.
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Jump to what you want.
- 1 Winter in Korea: What to Expect
- 2 Does it snow in Korea?
- 3 Places to visit in Korea during Winter for Sparkling Lights
- 4 Festivals to visit during Winter in Korea
- 5 Places to visit during Winter in Korea to Escape the Cold
- 6 Where to Rejuvenate yourself during Winter in Korea
- 7 Welcome the New Year, Korean Style
- 8 Ring in the New Year at the Bosingak Bell Ringing Ceremony
- 9 Sports to Try during Winter in Korea
- 10 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.
Does it snow in Korea?
It definitely snows in Korea, and if you’ve got your heart set on experiencing snow, head northeast for the best chances of catching it. Nami Island is a popular destination for this.
- See Nami Island, Petite France, Garden of Morning Calm + Ride the Gangchon Rail Bike in 1 Day
- Day trip to Nami Island, Petite France + Daemyung Vivaldi Park Ski World Tour
- Nami Island + Everland Amusement Park 1 Day Tour
However, if you’re staying in Seoul, your timing will have to be absolutely perfect to catch it. 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.
Places to visit in Korea during Winter for Sparkling Lights
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 9th, 2019 – March 31st, 2020
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.
During winter in Korea, 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.
Save time by reserving a package that includes round-trip transport, admission tickets, and transport to other popular destinations in the area, like Nami Island and Petite France.
- Trazy offers round-trip transport from Seoul with later departure times, so you can enjoy the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival in all its glory, without feeling stressed for time. This package also includes a visit to Nami Island, and all required admission tickets. Reserve a trip to Nami Island and the Garden of Morning Calm.
- This all new tour includes the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival + Strawberry Picking + Vivaldi Park Snowy Land, where you can try sledding, snow tubing and snowboarding.
- See The Garden of Morning Calm, Petite France, and Nami Island PLUS have lunch and ride the Gangchon Rail Bike all in one day. Includes round trip transportation, all admission tickets, and lunch. Book a convenient all-in-one tour of snowy Gangwon-do highlights here.
Petite France Korea Lighting Festival
Festival dates: December 1st, 2019 – February 29th, 2020
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.
Boseong Green Tea Plantation Light Festival (보성차밭 빛축제)
Festival dates: November 11th, 2019 – January 5th, 2020
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.
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 there, without seeing it all.
If you’re a foreign passport holder, you can get huge discounts on Everland admission tickets by booking in advance, plus you’ll avoid the queues on-site, with direct entry. There’s lots of packages to choose from – some include a fast track pass for a ride of your choosing called the Q-Pass and round trip shuttle bus transportation.
- Trazy offers Everland admission tickets at a 37% discount. Options include a Q-Pass, and round trip shuttle transport. Book discounted Everland admission tickets here.
- Everland is quite far from Seoul. It takes 90 – 120 minutes via subway, and costs between 5 – 8000 won per direction. I recommend booking a round-trip shuttle bus to maximize your time at the park, rather than sitting on public transit. Klook has the best price around. It’s even cheaper than taking the subway! Reserve roundtrip shuttle bus transportation to Everland.
LED Rose Garden at the DDP (temporarily closed for renovations)
Sure, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza’s LED Rose Garden isn’t technically just a winter in Korea thing, but you should still check out this selfie hotspot. You’ll be glad you did.
The roses were initially planted as a promotion for OMEGA watches in 2014, but didn’t become a permanent installation until Korea’s 70th National Liberation Day in 2015. The 25,550 LED roses are symbolic of the number of days since liberation – 70 years (in 2015) multiplied by 365 days equals 25,550).
It’s free to check out, and can be seen every night of the week from 5:30 to midnight in the Grass Plaza area of the DDP. Get there by taking exit 1 at Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station.
Read our full post about the LED Rose Garden at DDP.
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 Seoul during winter. Each winter in Korea, their Christmas displays seem to get more and more extravagant.
The huge Christmas Tree is already up outside the Hyundai Department store near Starfield Coex Mall, along with a gorgeous festive installation of books inside the Starfield Library.
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.
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 4th – 26th, 2020
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
Festival Dates: December 21st, 2019 – January 28th, 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.
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: Jan 13th – Jan 22nd, 2020
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: January 4th – 5th, 2020
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.
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 Korea during 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 just a matter of finding the tour that works best for you.
- Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival + Strawberry Picking + Vivaldi Park Snowy Land
- Nami Island + the Garden of Morning Calm + Strawberry Picking in 1 day
- Strawberry Picking near Busan + Gamcheon Culture Village
- Strawberry Picking + Day Tour to Daemyung Vivaldi Park Ski Park
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.
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.
If you’re into skincare, a Korean facial is a must. There’s a reason K-beauty is taking over the world. Avoid language barriers and get exactly what you want by booking in advance. The excellently reviewed Spa 1899 in Gangnam offers super rejuvenating facial and bodycare packages. Book this one at least 3 days in advance, as this spa does get fully reserved.
> See where I go for an affordable facial in Seoul.
Visit a Jjimjilbang or Mogyoktang
A weekly visit to the humble neighbourhood mogyoktang or bath house 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.
Learn about every sauna, pool and restaurant available at Cimer on Adventures with Nienie, then pre-book discounted tickets to Cimer at Paradise City here. You know you want to.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Achasan Sunrise Festival (아차산 해맞이축제)
If you’re in Seoul, and want to avoid traffic congestion out to the East Coast, you can attend the Achasan Sunrise Festival (아차산 해맞이축제). It’s easy to access using public transportation and it takes just 15 minutes to hike up to the viewing spot.
Be warned though, this is one of the more popular places to visit for NYE in Korea during winter due to its proximity to Seoul – last year, 40,000 visitors attended.
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.
Ring in the New Year at the Bosingak Bell Ringing Ceremony
If you want to ring in the new year (literally), in the most traditional of ways, head over to Jongno and listen to the Bosingak Bell being rung 33 times by 16 different people, including the Mayor of Seoul, starting at the stroke of midnight.The tradition of ringing the Bosingak Bell began way back in Joseon Dynasty times, when it was rung every day at the start and end of the day.The closest subway station is Jonggak on Line 1. To accommodate the ceremony, Seoul metro will be kept running until 2AM on December 31st.
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
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.
Make things easy with a convenient ski and snowboard package to various resorts around the country. Most include transport, accommodation, lift passes and even lessons!
- 2D1N ski trip to Alpensia Resort + Pyeongchang Ice Fishing Festival, including round trip transport, accomodation, ski clothes and equipment, 30 minute skiing lesson + Trout Festival admission ticket.
- 3D2N 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
- 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. Get round trip transport + ski/snowboard tickets.
- Spend more time on the slopes by visiting Jirisan Ski Resort, near Seoul.
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.
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