Chuseok in Seoul is undoubtedly one of the best times to be in the city. The city empties out and the weather is close to perfect. In fact, Chuseok is one of the rare times when I actually CHOOSE to stay in the city, rather than booking a plane ticket to parts unknown.
Over the 12 years I’ve lived in Korea, I’ve discovered plenty of great things to do during Chuseok in Seoul. Read on and discover free, fun and unique options for what to do during Chuseok.
Jump to what you want.
- 1 When is Chuseok?
- 2 Things to do during Chuseok in Seoul
- 2.1 Visit a Korean Heritage site for free during Chuseok in Seoul
- 2.2 See Seoul from above
- 2.3 Dine in Style during Chuseok in Seoul
- 2.4 Take an easy day trip to the Garden of Morning Calm
- 2.5 Go hiking on one of Seoul’s Mountains
- 2.6 Try some Uzbek Food at Fortune Cafe
- 2.7 Get Virtual at the Trick Eye Museum
- 2.8 Catch up on your reading at the Starfield Library
- 2.9 Enjoy a blissfully empty city during Chuseok in Seoul
When is Chuseok?
In 2021, Korean Thanksgiving or Chuseok, lands on Tuesday, September 21st. The public holiday dates for this year are Monday, September 20th to Wednesday, September 22nd, meaning everyone will have a 5 day weekend.
Chuseok is an important time for family to gather together, so usually, that means gridlocked roads and a strangely empty city, as Seoulites head to their hometowns all over the Peninsula. It also means truly insane prices on flights out of the country, as more and more Koreans choose to take advantage of the extra days off by taking a vacation, instead of battling traffic.
Of course, Chuseok in 2021 is a total crapshoot, due to coronavirus, closed borders and increased social distancing measures all over the world. Health authorities in Korea have asked people to stay home, KTX train tickets have been reduced by 50% and for certain, no one will be traveling out of the country.
Seoul during Chuseok is usually quiet and serene in a way that it rarely is, but with most people unable to travel out of the country or city as usual, it’s hard to know exactly what Chuseok will look like this year. One thing that’s certain though, is that it’ll definitely be different.
If you do plan to wander around in Seoul (and it’s hard not to because the weather is pretty much perfect), be sure mask up, wash your hands, and practice social distancing as much as possible.
Things to do during Chuseok in Seoul
This list of things to do during Chuseok is gleaned from over a decade of living in the city. Some are special events just for Korean thanksgiving, some are free, and some are just way more pleasant to do without all the crazy crowds around.
*Note: many attractions may be closed or limited due to coronavirus this year, so be sure to check details before you go
Visit a Korean Heritage site for free during Chuseok in Seoul
If you haven’t ventured into one of Seoul’s historical sites yet, Chuseok is the perfect chance to finally go. Major royal palaces and tombs across the country will stay open during the entire Chuseok holiday. Best of all admission into all sites is free!
There’ll be various performances and special events during Korean Thanksgiving, and you can participate in folk games at different sites. You can also visit Jongmyo Shrine, which is usually reservation-only. It will be totally open to the public during Chuseok in Seoul.
Renting a traditional Korean hanbok when visiting these traditional sites is a must-do activity in Seoul with good reason. The pictures are a unique and affordable souvenir of your time in Korea. I recommend reserving your hanbok in advance because even though the city will be empty, these sites will be a hub of activity, and this is a very popular activity for tourists and locals alike.
See Seoul from above
With its crisp blue skies, and clear air, autumn is the best season to see Seoul in all its mega-city glory.
My pick for the best birds-eye view of the city is from the Seoul Sky Observatory in Korea’s tallest building – the Lotte World Tower. During Chuseok in Seoul, there’s a chance you could even get pictures without other people in them.
There’s 7 different levels from which to take in the incredible views, but the 120th floor outdoor Sky Terrace is the highest outdoor observatory in the world. It sits at a whopping 486 metres high and you’re guaranteed a breathtaking unobstructed view of the city.
Dine in Style during Chuseok in Seoul
A fine dining experience in a Seoul restaurant at dinnertime can be pretty darn pricey, as it is in most major cities around the world. At lunchtime though, prices drop significantly, for almost the exact same thing.
The problem is that most people are working during the week, and a lengthy lunchtime meal just isn’t in the cards. Not during Chuseok though. It’s a glorious day off for just about everyone, and the perfect chance to try out one of the city’s fancier food experiences, at a reduced cost.
Jungsik has locations in New York and Seoul, both with coveted Michelin Stars, and offers modern interpretations of Korean classics. 4 course lunch menus start at 73,000 won, which may seem expensive, but compare that to dinner which starts at 145,000 won for pretty much the exact same thing.
Lab XXIV is one of my personal favourites, because it offers delicious and clever molecular gastronomy course menus at an incredible price. From its new location in Gangnam at Le Meridien Seoul, it serves lunch course menus including amuse bouche, appetizer, main, dessert, coffee and petit fours starting at just 55,000 won, tax and service included.
Don’t be surprised to see celebrity chef and owner Edward Kwon wandering around the dining area, checking in with guests. Reservations are definitely recommended.
Take an easy day trip to the Garden of Morning Calm
The Garden of Morning Calm is a 30,000 square metre private garden, with 20 different themed sections, and 5000 different kinds of plants. It’s located just an hour away from Seoul in Gapyeong. It’s accessible by subway, meaning you won’t have to deal with potential Chuseok traffic jams.
Nami Island, Petite France and the Gangchon Rail Bike are popular destinations in the same area. I’ve visited all but Petite France, and highly recommend a visit. Nami Island is particularly gorgeous in autumn, and riding the old train tracks on the Gangchon Rail Bike is a total blast.
GOOD TO KNOW | If you plan to also see Nami Island and ride the Gangchon Rail Bike, it’s best to take a guided tour, because there’s a lot of distance to cover in a short period of time. This is the most popular day trip to take near Seoul with good reason. Book your all-inclusive day trip to Gapyeong here.
Go hiking on one of Seoul’s Mountains
Let’s face it, hiking the mountains close to Seoul is not always the peaceful communing with nature it should be. But during Chuseok, there’s a distinct possibility that you might have a mountain to call your own.
Both Bukhansan and Gwanaksan are reachable by subway and bus and may even be showing the first signs of autumn colour during Chuseok.
If you want to ensure yourself a solitary experience, head to one of the lesser known trails around Bukhansan, like Hyangnobong Peak.
Try some Uzbek Food at Fortune Cafe
Visiting the Russian district and trying some Uzbek food is one of the top things to do in Dongdaemun. It will be full of workers from Central Asia with real time off and missing a taste of home. The area will be bouncing with life and for certain, nothing will be closed during Chuseok in Seoul.
The restaurant my Uzbek friend Diana recommends as the best in the city is Fortune Cafe. Try the samsa – a seasoned lamb and onion filled pie!
Get Virtual at the Trick Eye Museum
If you’ve lived in Seoul for any length of time, chances are you’ve already visited one of the city’s many optical illusion museums. There’s multiple Trick Art Museums in the Insadong area, but the Trickeye Museum in Hongdae has upped its game, by adding Augmented Reality to its already eye-bending art.
By downloading a free app onto your phone, you can take video or pictures of yourself interacting with pandas, sword-fighting with skeletons or dodging sharks. It’s a ton of fun, and less people in Seoul during Chuseok should mean more space for you to get that perfect shot!
Catch up on your reading at the Starfield Library
If books are your thing, the new Starfield Library in Coex Mall is not to be missed. It’s truly grand in scale, with 2800 square metres of space spread over 2 stories. Without a doubt though, it’s most eye-catching feature is 3 gigantic bookshelves stuffed with over 50,000 books and magazines.
Visit during Chuseok, or in the morning and you’re guaranteed a comfortable and inspiring spot to catch up on your reading.
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Enjoy a blissfully empty city during Chuseok in Seoul
And finally, simply enjoy Seoul without gazillions of people in it. Wander the streets aimlessly without crashing into wayward Koreans. Eat in your favourite restaurants without waiting, and maybe, just maybe find silence in a cafe.
Are you staying in Seoul for Chuseok? What are your favourite things to do during Korean Thanksgiving?