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korea in december | myeongdong at christmas

The incredible autumn colour of Korea in November is all but finished, but there’s still a lot to look forward to in Korea in December. This is the first month of winter in Korea, and while it might be colder than you ever thought possible, the country is alive with festive cheer and sparkling lights.

korea in december | nutcracker ballet

It’s winter in Korea in December, but there’s a ton to see and do.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • what the December weather in Korea is like
  • the Seoul weather in December and other major cities and tourist hotspots, including Busan, Jeju, Pyeongchang and Gangwondo
  • the best winter festivals to attend in Korea in December
  • what to wear and the best things to pack for a successful trip to South Korea in December

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Visiting Korea in December

There’s a major uptick in travel to South Korea in December, with school vacations starting around the world, SE Asian visitors hoping to see snow, and the holiday season upon us. If you’ve planned your trip to Korea in the month of December, prepare for arctic weather, crowded streets and busy festivals.

korea in december | donggung palace in gyeongju

Many travelers to Korea in December hope to see snow © Jeon U-seok, Korea Tourism Organization

This is a challenging time to book good value accommodation in popular neighbourhoods like Myeongdong and Hongdae. It’s best to reserve your hotels as early as possible, particularly if you’re traveling to Korea in the last 2 weeks of December.

Hotels and resorts are jam-packed with international tourists, as well as Korean couples and families enjoying Christmas staycations.

korea in december | myeongdong at christmas

Christmas is a very busy time of year in Myeongdong. Book hotels EARLY!

In Korea in December, it gets progressively colder, with sub-zero temperatures and snowfall around the country. If you’re coming from a hot country like Singapore or the beaches of Thailand, you’ll feel the chill even more. You’ll definitely need extra-warm winter gear to cope with the December weather in Korea.

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Korea in December | Weather

December is the first month of winter in Korea, and while it may feel incredibly frigid, it’s actually the warmest month of the season. During daylight hours, average high temperatures reach just 4°C | 40°F.

december in korea | snowy land vivaldi park

It’s very cold in Korea in December. Bundle up!

The average lows are -3°C | 26°F, but it can feel significantly worse than the temperature would suggest. If it’s windy or there’s an absence of sunshine, it can feel impossibly cold.

December in Korea also has the shortest days of the year, with approximately 9.5 hours of daylight available. There’s a lot of cloud cover in December and a chance of rain, mixed rain and snow, and snowfall across the country.

korea in december | geumsansa temple

It snows across Korea in December © Jeong hyo-won, Korea Tourism Organization

Korea in December | Seoul Weather

The sun sets before 6 PM, Siberian winds are blowing, and it reaches a maximum high of 4°C | 40°F during daylight hours. You’ll need to be prepared with real winter gear to survive the frosty December weather in Seoul.

korea in december | garosugil

Even the trees wear sweaters in Seoul in December!

There’s a mix of rain and snow in Seoul in December, with most of the snowfall concentrated near the end of the month. If you’ve got your heart set on seeing snow in Korea, there’s a decent chance your dream will come true.

Snow in Seoul tends to melt almost as soon as it hits the ground though, so if you see the white, fluffy stuff floating through the sky, get outside as soon as you can.

korea in december | jamsil hangang park

Snowfall in Seoul tends to melt quickly, but on rare occasions, it sticks around.

* Personal note: I grew up in Canada – land of 6 month winters and – 30°C temps, yet I barely survived my first winter in Korea. Although the thermometer readings look relatively gentle, Korean winter is a beast I’d never experienced before. It’s REALLY cold. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Korea Weather in December | Busan

Busan is located on the southeastern coast of Korea, so it’s a bit warmer than Seoul in December, with temperatures ranging from 4°C | 39°F to 8°C | 47°F. There’s approximately 10 hours of daylight in Busan in December.

december in korea | gamcheon culture village

Snow is unlikely in Busan in December, but you should still wear warm clothes © Doit Company, No Sihyeon, Korea Tourism Organization

It’s impossible to have a white Christmas in Busan though, because there’s literally zero chance of snowfall!

TIP  |  Short on time? Explore the best attractions in Busan with this jampacked tour to the Busan Skywalk, Gamcheon Culture Village, Songdo Cable Car, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, and more. Lunch and transport included. Check availability of this day tour to all the Busan hotspots here.

Korea Weather in December | Pyeongchang (Gangwon-do)

For the most chance of seeing snow in Korea in December, get thee to Gangwon-do Province, which lies east of Seoul. There’s a reason why most ski resorts in Korea are concentrated in this region.

Average snowfall in Pyeongchang in December is around 25-cm, with the most snowfall occurring in the last week of the month.

korea in december | daegwallyeong sheep ranch

Daegwallyeong Sheep Ranch in Pyeongchang is wonderful in winter © Kim Eundo, Korea Tourism Organization

Pyeongchang in December has average temperatures ranging from -9°C | 15°F to 0°C | 33°F. Bundle up and be sure to have a warm hat and gloves if you plan to visit this area of Korea. While there is quite a bit of sunshine in this region, it’s on another level of cold.

december in south korea | garden of morning calm starlight festival

The Garden of Morning Calm is one of December’s best festivals in Korea.

TIP  |  Seeing the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival, sledding at Snowy Land, and picking sweet strawberries are 3 of Korea’s best winter activities, and you can do them ALL on this convenient one-day tour. Check full details here.

Korea Weather in December | Jeju Island

Jeju in December has very similar weather to Busan, with average temperatures ranging from 5°C | 42°F and 11°C | 52°F. As in the rest of South Korea in December, the days are short, it’s relatively dry, and there’s quite a bit of cloud cover.

korea in november | hallasan in winter, jeju island

The odds of snow at the peak of Hallasan are high © kangbch, Pixabay

You won’t see much snow on Jeju Island’s cities or beaches, but head up the slopes of Hallasan Mountain, and you’ll increase your odds greatly. Keep in mind though, that Jeju is known for having fairly fickle weather, so you should be prepared for just about anything!

GETTING AROUND JEJU ISLAND  |  Public transit on Jeju Island is not as efficient as in Seoul. Distances are long, and it’s a lot slower, so most visitors either take day tours, hire a taxi, rent a car, or book a private car charter.

To rent a car as a traveller to Korea, you MUST have: a book type international driver’s permit (obtained in your home country), your passport, and your driver’s license from home. Check full details and availability of rental cars on Jeju Island here (reserve as early as possible for the best selection and prices).

Korea in December | Public Holidays 2022

In Korea in December, there are 2 observances and 1 public holiday, but not a single day off work. Christmas Eve and New Years Eve are both observances that happen to fall on a Saturday, and Christmas in Korea lands on a Sunday in 2022.

korea in december | christmas tree at starfield library in seoul korea

The Christmas tree at Starfield Library changes every year.

Christmas Day and Buddha’s Birthday were removed from the list of alternative holidays in Korea in 2021, which means that should either of their dates fall on the weekend, the day off won’t be moved to a weekday. Bummer.

GOOD TO KNOW  |  While Christmas is a national holiday in Korea, it’s not celebrated in quite the same way as in the western world. If you’re worried about stores and restaurants being closed, don’t be. Almost everything will be open and running as normal.

Limited Edition Winter Tours in Korea

Sure, December in Korea might feel downright frosty, but there’s still plenty of fun things to do to help you forget the cold. Don’t miss these special events and activities that are only available for 2 or 3 months of the year.

korea in december | snow sledding

Hit the slopes in Korea in December ⓒ Lee Beomsu, Korea Tourism Organization

Korea in December | Inje Ice Fishing Festival

Cook what you catch at ice fishing festivals around Korea in December.

Korea in December | Best Festivals and Events

After a relatively quiet November, the festival schedule is back in full force in Korea in December. Major holidays like Christmas and New Years Eve herald some of the biggest events and festivals of the year. So equip yourself with hot packs, a long padding jacket and get out there!

Visiting Korea at another time of the year? Learn about weather and festivals for other months in Korea, in the following detailed guides.

cherry blossoms in seoul | gyeongbokgung palace

Cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Korea in the first week of April.

Seoul Christmas Festival | 서울 크리스마스 페스티벌

Festival Dates: TBA for 2022, but usually starts in the first week of December

Address: 41, Cheonggyecheon-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul | 서울특별시 종로구 청계천로 41

The Seoul Christmas Festival was cancelled last year, but look for it to make a big comeback this December in Korea. Held at Cheonggyecheon Stream, watch out for LED light displays, a Santa Village, huge Christmas tree, and a ton of incredible photo zones.

Korea in December | Seoul Christmas Festival at Cheonggyecheon Stream

All the pretty lights at Cheonggyecheon Stream for the Seoul Christmas Festival.

Festivities run from 5 to 11PM, and admission is free.

Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival | 아침고요수목원 오색별빛정원전

Festival Dates: December 9th, 2022 – March 23rd, 2023

Address: 1632-1, Seogok-ri, Panbu-myeon, Wonju-si, Gangwon-do | 강원 원주시 판부면 용수골길 326

There are a ton of lighting festivals for the holiday season, but the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival is probably the best. It has an awe-inspiring display of glimmering lights and festive cheer.

korea in december | garden of morning calm lighting festival in winter

The Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival is sure to brighten a cold, winter night.

You’ll be totally wowed by the sight of tens of thousands of twinkling bulbs brightening the night sky, as far as the eye can see. I loved it so much, I’ve gone twice!

Read my full guide to visiting the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival for all the details.

ALPACA WORLD + THE GARDEN OF MORNING CALM LIGHTING FESTIVAL  |  Pet fluffy alpacas and see the Garden of Morning Calm’s stunning Starlight Festival on this day tour designed with plenty of time to explore. Check full details and availability here.

Seoullight at DDP | 서울라이트

Festival Dates: December 17th, 2022 – January 1st, 2023

Address: 281, Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul | 서울특별시 중구 을지로 281 (을지로7가)

Seoul Light is a large-scale media light event that takes place multiple times a year at at Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

The theme for this December in Korea is Universe – appropriately imagining that a spaceship has landed in the middle of Seoul.

This is a free event that runs from 19:00 – 22:00, with special shows to celebrate Christmas in Seoul from December 22nd – 25th, and a NYE Countdown scheduled for December 31st at 23:50.

Be sure to visit the Rose Garden of Hope, filled with 2023 LED roses to bring in the new year.

December in Korea | LED Rose Garden of Hope at Dongdaemun Design Plaza

The Rose Garden of Hope will showcase 2023 LED roses to usher in a new year.

I’ve personally seen Seoul Light on a few different occasions, and been in total awe at the scale. It’s worth checking out. Get more details here.

Busan Christmas Tree Festival | 부산크리스마스트리문화축제

Festival Dates: December 17th, 2022 – January 17th, 2023

Address: 58-2, Gwangbok-ro, Jung-gu, Busan

After being cancelled last year, the Busan Christmas Tree Festival is back this December in Korea. Enjoy the festive streets of Gwangbok-ro with LED light displays, free concerts, street performances and more brightly lit Christmas trees in one place than you can possibly imagine.

december in Korea | busan christmas tree festival

The Christmas Tree Festival is Busan’s annual winter event ⓒ Kim Jiho, Korea Tourism Organization

LOTTE WORLD BUSAN  |  The newly opened Lotte World Adventure in Busan will hold its very first winter festival this year. Perfect for the whole family to enjoy together with holiday parades, a talking tree, caroling and all the fun amusement park rides you could want. Skip the holiday line-ups with advance tickets. Check full details here.

Seoul Lantern Festival | 서울빛초롱축제

Festival Dates: December 19th – 31st, 2022

Address: 172 , Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu, Seoul | 서울특별시 종로구 세종대로 172 5호선 광화문역

Taking place in the second half of December in South Korea, the Seoul Lantern Festival is one of the biggest and most popular festivals to attend in the city, around the holiday season.

korea in december | seoul lantern festival

The Lantern Festival is one of December’s biggest events © Live Studio, Korea Tourism Organization

Gorgeous large-scale paper lanterns and colourful LED sculptures bring a 1.3-km long path along Cheonggyecheon Stream wonderfully to life every winter. Nearly 3 million visitors attend the Seoul Lantern Festival, so prepare for crowds.

*It seems like this event has been moved to Gwanghwamun Square for this year, but the website hasn’t been completely updated yet. Will update as I find out more.

This is a free event. Learn more here.

Boseong Tea Plantation Light Festival | 보성차밭 빛축제

Festival Dates: TBA for 2022 / 2023, but usually for the month of December

Address: 775, Nokcha-ro, Boseong-gun, Jeollanam-do | 전라남도 보성군 보성읍 녹차로 775

Located in Jeollanam-do Province, the Boseong Green Tea Plantation is wonderful to see in every season, but during December in Korea, the entire plantation gets a festive facelift with twinkling lights adorning its symmetrical bushes.

south korea in december | boseong tea plantation light festival

Green tea fields covered in Christmas lights? Sign me up!

If you plan to go, dress extra warm. There are few indoor areas to warm up at Boseong, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so cold. Hot packs and warm boots are a must!

Korea in December | Sunrise Festivals

Festival Dates: December 31st, 2022 – January 1st, 2023

Every year, from December 31st to January 1st, thousands of people are lined up on a coast or standing on high mountains in the bitter cold, making wishes and waiting for the sun to rise.

Korea in December | sunrise festivals in Korea

There are sunrise festivals all over Korea in December.

Welcoming the new year by watching the first sunrise of a new year is one of the most popular things to do on the last day of December in Korea. Join the locals who believe that wishes made while witnessing the first sunrise of the year, are most powerful!

I’ll rundown a few of the most popular sunrise festivals in Korea here, but there are a ton more.

Achasan Sunrise Festival | 아차산 해맞이

Festival Dates: December 31st, 2022 – January 1st, 2023

Address: 127, Walkerhill-ro, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul | 서울특별시 광진구 워커힐로 127 (광장동)

The Achasan Sunrise Festival is a good one to visit if you don’t want to travel too far out of Seoul. It’s easy to access using public transportation, and it takes just 15 minutes to hike up to the viewing spot.

korea in december | achansan sunrise

Wishes made on the first sunrise of the year are more powerful. Photo by Michael Kim/3-legged-crow@Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Be warned though – this is one of the more popular places to visit for New Year’s Eve in Korea, due to its proximity to Seoul. Pre-pandemic, 40,000 visitors regularly attended this event at the end of December in South Korea. I expect that numbers will rival that, now that all social distancing measures have disappeared.

KOREAN FOLK PERFORMANCES AT THE GUGAK CENTRE  |  Seeing a performance at the National Gugak Centre in Seoul is a must-do activity for any culture enthusiasts interested in Korean traditional folk arts. Be sure to visit the excellent free museum nearby to try out some traditional instruments yourself! Check availability and reserve tickets for a traditional performance at the National Gugak Centre.

Seongsan Sunrise Festival | 제주성산일출축제

Festival Dates: December 31st, 2022 – January 1st, 2023

Address: 284-12, Ilchul-ro, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do | 제주특별자치도 서귀포시 성산읍 일출로 284-12 (성산읍)

I can’t quite think of a better place to see the first sunrise of the year in Korea than Seongsan Ilchubong (Sunrise Peak) on Jeju Island. This is one of Jeju’s gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage sites, renowned for a gorgeous sunrise that peaks over an ancient volcanic tuff cone.

korea in december | seongsan ilchubong sunrise jeju island

Seongsan Ilchubong is UNESCO World Heritage © Kim Jongo, Korea Tourism Organization

This festival was held online last December in Korea, but live events appear to be on the agenda again this year. Check for updates on their website (Korean only).

Ganjeolgot Sunrise Festival | 울산 간절곶 해맞이축제

Festival Dates: December 31st, 2022 – January 1st, 2023

Address: 39-2, Ganjeolgot 1-gil, Ulju-gun, Ulsan | 울산광역시 울주군 서생면 간절곶1길 39-2 (서생면)

Ganjeolgot Cape in Ulsan is the first place to see the sunrise in Korea, because it sticks out into the ocean. This festival includes special performances, fireworks displays, traditional bowls of tteokguk, and much more.

korea in december | tteokguk rice cake soup

A traditional bowl of tteokguk will warm you to your toes © Jeon Han, Korea.net (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

GYEONGJU UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES  |  See stunning Gyeongju UNESCO world heritage sites like Seokguram and Bulguksa Temple on an easy and convenient day trip from Busan. Check availability and full tour details here.

Homigot Sunrise Festival | 호미곶 한민족 해맞이축전

Festival Dates: December 31st, 2022 – January 1st, 2023

Address:136, Haemaji-ro, Nam-gu, Pohang-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do | 경상북도 포항시 남구 호미곶면 해맞이로 136

If you’ve ever wondered where the striking images of a sunrise peeking over hand sculptures in the ocean are from – it’s Homigot Village in Pohang.

korea in december | homigot village sunrise

A simply stunning sunrise © Kim Jiho, Korea Tourism Organization

At the Homigot Sunrise Festival, enjoy cultural performances, a fireworks show, sunrise concert and other inspirational events like kite-flying and launching hope balloons filled with wishes for the new year.

Be sure to sample some free tteokguk – which is a traditional New Year’s Day dish for Koreans.

Jeongdongjin Sunrise Festival | 정동진 해맞이 축제 모래시계회전식

Festival Dates: December 31st, 2022 – January 1st, 2023

Address: Jeongdongjin2-ri, Gangneung-si, Gangwon-do | 강원도 강릉시 강동면 정동진2리

Jeongdongjin is mostly known for that crazy cruise ship on a cliff (Sun Cruise Resort), but on New Year’s Eve, the bigger draw is Sandglass Park.

december in korea | sandglass park jeongdongjin korea

This massive sandglass is turned over at midnight on NYE © Kim Jiho, Korea Tourism Organization

This sandglass is so huge that it takes from the first day of January to the last day of December in Korea for the sand to trickle completely through it. Weighing a whopping 40-tons, it’s turned over precisely at midnight on New Year’s Eve (December 31st).

Yeosu Hyangiram Sunrise Festival | 여수향일암일출제

Festival Dates: Festival Dates: December 31st, 2022 – January 1st, 2023

Address: 70-4, Hyangiram-ro, Yeosu-si, Jeollanam-do | 전라남도 여수시 돌산읍 향일암로 70-4

Hyangiram Hermitage in Yeosu is one of my favourite places to visit during autumn in Korea, but it’s probably just as worthy for New Year’s Eve.

korea in december | hyangiram hermitage in yeosu

Watching the sunrise from Hyangiram Hermitage is a wonderful way to bring in the new year.

Hyangiram actually means “hermitage facing the sun,” and its annual Sunrise Festival celebrates that fact. This is an awe-inspiring place to take in the first sunrise of a new year, as it peeks over the horizon and lights up the sea.

Korea in December | What to Wear

Well, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The Korea weather in December is crazy cold, with temperatures slightly milder at the beginning of the month.

korea in december | myeongokheon pavilion

I don’t think that a hanbok is appropriate clothing for Korea in December © Yang Sung-young, Korea Tourism Organization

You might be able to get away with layers of clothing and a thinner jacket if you’re someone that’s usually hot for the first few weeks. However, by the end of the month, I don’t know many people who aren’t freezing cold from the gale-force winds and icy temperatures.

Most Koreans wear “long padding,” jackets and heattech inner wear to deal with the December weather in Korea.

korea in december weather | what to wear

Long padding jackets, “kimo” leggings, and warm boots for December in Korea.

It’ll feel a lot colder once the sun goes down. Hats, scarves, and mittens are recommended to avoid turning into an icicle. Fortunately, it’s easy and affordable to pick up what you need on the fly. This type of gear is literally everywhere.

There’s a good chance it’ll snow at least once in Seoul before the end of December. If the snow sticks around, it’s useful to wear some type of waterproof winter boots, with good tread. The streets can get pretty slippery.

korea in december | sangsodong forest park daejeon

Shoes with good grip are necessary for slippery surfaces.

I wear waterproof sneakers around Seoul, almost year-round. It’s enough for me. If I plan to be outside for a long period of time, or if the snowfall sticks around, I wear waterproof Uggs to keep my toes toasty.

*Personal note: it’s been unseasonably warm so far this year. I’m writing this on November 23rd and it’s still reaching highs of 15°C. If you tolerate cooler climates well, it’s warm enough to be out in a hoodie, jeans, and light jacket during daylight hours. No promises for December in Korea though. The weather changes fast here.

korea in december | bukchon hanok village snow

It’ll definitely snow in Seoul before the end of December © Lee Jae-kuk, Korea Tourism Organization

Tips for What to Wear in Korea in December

1
It's a bit warmer at the beginning of December in Korea than at the end, so prepare accordingly. If you're visiting in the last few weeks of December, expect it to be a lot colder with high winds and freezing temperatures. Hot packs are your friends.
2
It feels very dry in Korea in December, with ondol heating and strong winds. You'll definitely need chapstick, hand cream and sunscreen.
3
Moving between indoor and outdoor environments in Korea in December can be challenging. It's very warm inside malls, stores, and subways, and very cold outside. Be prepared for big changes in temperature, and take your vitamins to keep your immune system strong.
korea in december | ice fishing

Come prepared for Korea in December with warm scarves, gloves, and hats © Kim Jiho, Korea Tourism Organization

Visiting Korea in December | Packing List

Here’s a rough guideline of items to pack for the Korea weather in December.

Bring from Home

  • travel documents: passport, itineraries, hotel reservations, plane tickets, travel visas, insurance
  • adaptor / plug
  • long sleeved shirts, sweaters, hoodies, cardigans
  • warm pants, leggings, thick tights
  • winter skirts or dresses
  • sunglasses
  • deodorant, feminine hygiene items
  • comfortable running shoes for lots of walking (water resistant shoes are good at this time of year)
  • warm winter boots if you plan to be outside a lot
  • winter gear like a down jacket, scarf, mittens, gloves, and hat, snowpants if you plan to ski or snowboard
  • any special medications you might need

Buy in Korea

  • umbrella if it rains
  • hot packs (at the convenience store or DAISO)
  • gloves, scarves, and winter hats are cheap and easy to buy everywhere
  • HEATTECH inner layers for warmth (Uniqlo)
  • disposable air pollution / medical masks
  • batteries / charging cables (super cheap at Daiso)
  • skincare products like sunscreen (high quality and cheap in Korea!)
  • eyeglasses and contact lenses can be purchased just by walking into a store (a free eye test will be provided)
  • birth control can be purchased over the counter, without a prescription (but all brands may not be available)
korea in december | myeongdong

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Korea in December: Essential Info and FAQs

1
Is December a good time to visit South Korea? It's winter in South Korea in December, so it's very cold. If you prepare with the right gear for the weather though, December is an excellent time to visit with exciting festivals, winter sports, and a ton of holiday events happening.
2
Does it snow in Korea in December? There's a chance of seeing snow in Korea in the months of December, January, and February. It's important to note that it doesn't snow much in Seoul though. Your highest chances of seeing snow in Korea are in Gangwondo Province to the east of Seoul.
3
Is Korea cold in December? Korea in December is very cold. It gets progressively colder over the course of the month, and by the end, it can feel bitterly cold, with average temperatures ranging from -3°C | 26.2°F to 4°C | 40°F.
4
What is there to do in Korea in December? There are ice fishing, ice fountain, snow, and lighting festivals to go to all over Korea in December. If you're into winter sports, this is the time to ski, snowboard, sled, ice climb, or ice skate in Korea.

All ready for the perfect trip to South Korea in December? What have you got planned?

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