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south korea in january | cheongyang ice fountain festival

Most of the sparkly Christmas vibes of Korea in December have faded away, but Korea in January begins with one of the most meaningful sunrises of the year. Sure, January might be the coldest and snowiest of months in South Korea, but it’s still packed with unique festivals and winter sports galore.

korea in january | edelweiss swiss village

Expect sub zero temps and snow in Korea in January – and yes, this is Korea, not Switzerland.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

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

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Visiting Korea in January

We still have relatively high tourist numbers for the first few weeks of January in Korea, as winter vacations around the world spill over into the new year. Things start to calm down a little from there, with the quietest tourist months of the year to come in February and up to mid-March.

January in Korea | starfield hanam mall happy new year

Christmas vacations tend to spill over into January in Korea.

If you can bear the sub-zero temperatures, mid-January or later is a great time to plan a trip to South Korea if you’re seeking a slightly less frantic travel experience.

Normally, I’d say it’s easier to book good value accommodation in popular neighbourhoods like Myeongdong and Hongdae in Korea in January, but there seems to be a major shortage of hotel rooms in Seoul these days. I advise you to book rooms as early as you can – particularly if you’re on a budget or looking for family rooms in the centre of Seoul.

korea in january | gamaksan suspension bridge

It’s cold, but beautiful in Korea in January © Park Hae-jun, Korea Tourism Organization

Korea in January | Weather

January in South Korea is the depth of winter. This is the coldest month of the year, with average temperatures ranging from -6°C | 21°F to 1.5°C | 35°F.

january in south korea | cafe at museum san

January is the coldest month of the year in South Korea.

Keep in mind that the temperatures you see in January are a bit misleading. It feels a LOT colder than the number would suggest, with a cold that sets into your bones, and freezing winds blowing in from Siberia.

It’s important to invest in the right gear to survive the Korea weather in January, or you’ll struggle while exploring the great outdoors.

korea in january | ice climbing

Invest in the right winter gear, and you’ll be ok © Ryu Sang-hoon, Korea Tourism Organization

The good news though, is that January in Korea also happens to be the month with the most snowfall. It’s the perfect time to head out to ski resorts, sledding hills, and any winter festivals that might have caught your attention.

Korea in January | Seoul Weather

It’s freezing cold in Seoul in January, with average temperatures ranging from -6°C | 21°F to 1.5°C | 35°F. It can get a lot colder at night though, with the mercury falling as low as -12°C.

There are around 5 days of snowfall in January, but it generally doesn’t stick around in the city, and only accumulates to around 30-mm | 1 inch over the whole month. Head to surrounding mountains, like Bukhansan, for a better chance of seeing a blanket of snow in Seoul.

korea in january | bukhansan

Head to higher ground for a better chance of seeing snow in Korea in January © Nam Kimoon, Korea Tourism Organization

* Personal note: I’ve lived in Seoul for the last 12 years, and I can’t remember a winter that’s been quite so cold or snowy before. It already snowed multiple times in December, and been so cold, that the Han River has already frozen over. Prepare serious winter gear if you’re headed to Korea in January.

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Korea Weather in January | Busan

While Busan is warmer than other parts of Korea in January, it’s still the city’s coldest month. Average temperatures range from 1°C | 34°F to 6°C | 43°F. There’s practically zero chance of snowfall in Busan, but you can expect about 5 days of rain, totalling 14-mm.

busan polar bear swim during winter in korea

Busan Polar Bear swim in winter © Busan Metropolitan city (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Unless you’re one of the crazy Busan Polar Bears, it’s definitely not recommended to go swimming in Busan in January. The sea temperatures sits at a dangerous 15°C | 59°F. Head to the Busan SEA LIFE Aquarium instead to meet over 250 marine species, see a mermaid show, and play in their snowy playground.

SHORT ON TIME IN BUSAN?  |  Explore all the best attractions in Busan with this affordable tour to the Busan Skywalk, Gamcheon Culture Village, Songdo Cable Car, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, and more. Lunch and transport included. Check full details here.

Korea Weather in January | Pyeongchang (Gangwon-do)

The Korea weather in January in Gangwon-do Province is typically quite a bit cooler than in the interior. Pyeongchang in January has average temperatures ranging from a high of -3°C | 28°F to a low of -13°C | 9°F.

korea in january | pyeongchang winter landscape

Pyeongchang turns into a winter wonderland in January © / Korean Culture and Information Service (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In my experience. it’ll feel a lot colder than that, especially if it’s windy, so be prepared with some super heavy-duty winter gear.

This region has quite a bit of snowfall, with approximately 5-cm of snow per week in January. It can be quite windy though, with wind speeds greater than 30-km per hour.

korea in january | oak valley ski resort near seoul

January is one of the best months to go skiing in Korea.

PYEONGCHANG SKI RESORTS  |   The ski resorts in the Pyeongchang region are considered some of the best in Korea, due to the higher amount of snowfall in the area. Head to Alpensia or Yongpyong Ski Resorts in January for some of the best skiing conditions in Korea.

Korea Weather in January | Jeju Island

Like the rest of Korea, January is the coldest month for Jeju Island, with temperatures ranging from 3°C | 38°F to 8°C | 47°F.

There’s approximately 13 days of rain, totalling about 65-mm of precipitation. Despite the positive temperatures, Jeju does experience snowfall –  especially at the peak of Hallasan and in other higher altitude regions.

korea in january | hallasan on jeju island

Count on snow at the top of Hallasan on Jeju Island © kangbch

If you’re visiting Jeju in January, be prepared for potential flight delays and cancellations, due to difficult weather conditions.

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).

Limited Edition Winter Tours in Korea

Don’t let the cold stop you from getting out and taking advantage of these special winter events and activities. They’re only available for a limited time, for 2 or 3 months of the year in Korea.

korea in january | snow sledding

January is an excellent month for sledding and skiing ⓒ KTO Lee Beomsu

korea in january | sanjeong lake sledding festival

There are so many fun festivals in Korea in January

Korea in January | Public Holidays 2024

New Year’s Day is the big public holiday in Korea in January.

korea in january | sunrise festivals

Many Koreans spend New Year’s Day watching the sunrise.

If you’re planning to travel around South Korea at year-end, or want to bring in the new year at a luxury hotel, it’s very important that you book accommodation as far in advance as possible. The best hotels in the best neighbourhoods get booked up fast, especially in areas with New Year’s Eve celebrations planned.

Korea in January | Best Festivals and Events

As the month with the most snow and coldest weather, January in South Korea is a reliable time to have winter festivals that rely on sub-zero temperatures. From sunrise to snow sledding to ice fountain festivals, you’re sure to find something that strikes your fancy.

korea in january | jeongdongjin sandglass park

Winter festivals abound in Korea in January © Kim Jiho, Korea Tourism Organization

To see weather and festivals for other months in Korea, check out the following guides:

Sunrise Festivals in Korea

Festival dates: December 31st  – January 1st, 2024

Address: Various locations

January in Korea begins with a number of sunrise festivals across the country. These are held to celebrate the dawn of a new year, with wishes made while watching the first, most powerful (to Koreans) sunrise of the year.

korea in january | homigot village sunrise

There are a number of sunrise festivals in Korea in January © Kim Jiho, Korea Tourism Organization

I’ve written about a number of these sunrise festivals in this guide to New Year’s Eve in Seoul, but here’s a few tours to look into if this is how you’d like to start a new year.

The Garden of Morning Calm | 아침고요수목원 오색별빛정원전

Festival dates: December 1st – March 17th, 2024

Address: 432, Sumogwon-ro, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do | 경기도 가평군 상면 수목원로 432

The Garden of Morning Calm is one of the best places to see a lighting festival during winter in Korea. It’s the biggest one in the entire 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.

south korea in january | garden of morning calm lighting festival

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

In Korea during January, 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.

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 details here.

Haeundae Lighting Festival | 해운대 빛축제

FESTIVAL DATES: December 2nd – January 31st, 2024

Address: 264, Haeundaehaebyeon-ro, Haeundae-gu, Busan, South Korea

Korea in January | Oysters in Busan

Try searching out some fresh oysters in Busan in January (they’re in season).

Taking place in Korea in January for the 10th time, the Haeundae Lighting Festival features various lighting works. Don’t miss a large scale installation that looks just like the waves on Haeundae Beach.

VISIT BUSAN PASS  |  With free admission to 31 top attractions + discounted admission to 77 more, the Visit Busan Pass is an excellent way to see the city. Use it in combo with with Busan City Tour Bus for the ultimate affordable DIY trip. Check full details here.

Seoul Winta Festival | 서울윈터페스타

Festival Dates: December 15th – January 31st, 2024

Address: Various locations including DDP, Sejongdaero, Gwanghwamun Square, Cheonggyecheon, Seoul Square and more

WINTA is a brand new festival that will run for the first time this winter in Korea. This festival brings together several important events, including the Seoul Lantern Festival, Seoul Light, under the theme of “Light.” It is large scale, taking place at 7 main attractions in Seoul in January and February.

There are some huge events planned that will light up the city during the festive season, including a 12-diametre midnight sun, and several light festivals. This is definitely one not to miss!

Pyeongchang Trout Festival | 평창송어축제

Festival Dates: December 29th – January 28th, 2024

Address: 3562, Gyeonggang-ro, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do | 강원도 평창군 진부면 경강로 3562

If the limited dates of the Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival don’t work for you, don’t stress – former winter Olympics site, Pyeongchang in Gangwon-do also has a popular trout and ice fishing festival that lasts for nearly the entire month of January in Korea. Check their website for info.

Festivals in Pocheon | 포천 백운계곡 동장군축제

Festival dates: late December – mid-February, 2024

Address: 2381, Hwadong-ro, Pocheon-si, Gyeonggi-do | 경기도 포천시 이동면 화동로 2381

Pocheon is the land of snow and ice, and there are a few winter festivals in the area to take advantage of that.

  • Sanjeong Lake Sledding Festival (full guide): December 30th – February 12th, 2024
  • Herb Island Lighting Festival: until March 31st, 2024
  • Dongjangkun Festival at Doridol Village: December 22nd – February 12th, 2024
korea in january | sanjeong lake sledding festival

January is a great time to visit the Sanjeong Lake Sledding Festival.

At these festivals, you can ice fish, ride a sled, or play traditional games. Don’t forget to eat some famous galbi (ribs) and makgeolli (rice wine) – which the region is famous for.

PS: The duck sled is at the Sanjeong Lake Sledding Festival.

Chilgapsan Ice Fountain Festival | 칠갑산얼음분수축제

Festival dates: January 1st – February 18th, 2024

Address: 175-11, Cheonjangho-gil, Cheongyang-gun, Chungcheongnam-do | 충청남도 청양군 정산면 천장호길 175-11

January in South Korea is probably the best month to go to the Alps Village Ice Fountain Festival near Cheongyang. It’s so cold at this time, that none of the fantastical ice sculptures will be anywhere close to melting.

south korea in january | cheongyang ice fountain festival

Let it gooo! Let it gooo! Elsa Forever.

You can also try out snow sledding, ice fishing, bobsleigh, ice sledding, a zip line, and delicious winter foods like fire-roasted sweet potato.

ICE FOUNTAIN FESTIVAL OR EOBI ICE VALLEY |  Need to see a wall of ice? Choose between the Cheongyang Ice Fountain Festival or head to Eobi Ice Valley, along with Nami Island, and the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival. Check full details and availability here.

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival | 얼음나라 화천산천어축제

Festival dates: January 6th – 28th, 2024

Address: 137, Sancheoneo-gil, Hwacheon-gun, Gangwon-do | 강원도 화천군 화천읍 산천어길 137

Every January in Korea, Hwacheon is one of the first places to freeze over in winter. Hwacheon Stream becomes a thick sheet of ice perfect for fishing, skating, hockey, bobsledding and other cold-weather sports. If you’re brave enough, you can even try bare-handed fishing in the icy water.

korea in january | hwacheoneo ice fishing festival

Ice fishing festivals are popular in January © Korea Tourism Organization

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.

This festival site is close to Yongpyong and Alpensia ski resorts, so it would be easy to spend a day skiing and also visit the Ice Fishing Festival at the same time, if you’ve got your own transport.

HWACHEON ICE FISHING FESTIVAL  | This Festival is very popular and day tours DO sell out in advance, since the dates are so limited. I recommend booking in advance if it’s somewhere you really want to go. Here’s a few options.

Circle Chart Music Awards | 써클차트

Festival dates: January 10th, 2024

Address: Busan BEXCO 1st Exhibition Hall, 55, APEC-ro, Haeundae-gu, Busan | 부산광역시 해운대구 APEC로 55

The Circle Chart Music Awards (formerly the Gaon Chart Awards) celebrates the most popular artists and albums of the year. It’s one of the biggest K-pop awards shows around, with an incredible line-up of performances guaranteed.

Last year’s line-up included aespa, STAYC, ENHYPHEN, NCT, NMIXX, Kep1er, (G)I-DLE’s Miyeon, and Choi Ye Na, so you just know 2024’s show will be equally as amazing.

There are various ticket packages for the Circle Chart Music Awards in Busan, including ones with round-trip transport from Seoul. Check full details here.

Yeongdong Dried Persimmon Festival | 영동곶감축제

Festival dates: January 19th – 21st, 2024

Address: 1, Yeongdongcheon 2-gil, Yeongdong-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do | 충청북도 영동군 영동읍 영동천2길 1

Persimmons can be eaten year round, but during winter in Korea, the dried version is considered the most delicious. At the Yeongdong Dried Persimmon Festival, sample sweet, chewy, and nutritious “gotgam,” grown right in the area.

korea in january | gotgam dried persimmon

Dried persimmon are delicious in winter.

You can also listen to traditional music, see how gotgam are made, and shop at the traditional market, while at the festival.

Taebaeksan Snow Festival | 태백산 눈축제

Festival dates: January 26th – February 4th, 2024

Address: 168, Cheonjedan-gil, Taebaek-si, Gangwon-do | 강원도 태백시 천제단길 162 (소도동)

The Taebaeksan Snow Festival returns to South Korea in January. This festival takes over the tiny former coal boom town Taebaek City, and its namesake mountain Taebaeksan, with non-stop winter activities.

If you’re into large scale snow sculptures, sledding, and hiking, this is the winter festival in Korea to go to. Learn more on their website.

Daegwallyeong Snow Festival | 대관령 눈꽃축제

Festival dates: January 27th – February 11th, 2024

Address:135-5, Daegwallyeong-ro, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do | 강원도 평창군 대관령면 대관령로 135-5 강원도 평창군 대관령면 대관령로 135-5

korea in january | daegwallyeong snowflake festival

Snow sculptures at the popular Daegwallyeong Snow Festival © Kim Jiho, Korea Tourism Organization

With rolling hills 700-m above sea level, the Daegwallyeong region is known as the “Asian Alps.” The popular Daegwallyeong Snowflake Festival is in its 28th year and features a winter wonderland of snowflakes and ice.

SNOW AND SHEEP FARM IN DAEGWALLYEONG  |  This day tour to Pyeongchang includes round-trip transport, admission to Phoenix Park’s snow village AND a visit to the Daegwallyeong Sheep Farm for less than it costs to visit independently! Check full details here.

Inje Ice Fishing Festival | 인제빙어축제

Festival Dates: Cancelled for 2024, but January 20th – 29th last year

Address: 555-2 beon-ji, Bupyeong-ri, Inje-gun, Gangwon-do | 강원도 인제군 남면 부평리 555-2번지

We checked out the Inje Ice Fishing Festival a few years ago. My daughter couldn’t get enough of trying to catch the tiny bingeoho fish. For a tasty treat, be sure to try it twiggim (battered and deep fried) style at one of the vendors near the ice field.

korea in january | inje ice fishing festival

The Inje Ice Fishing Festival is a great family activity during winter in Korea

Korea in January | What to Wear

With frigid temperatures and gale-force winds, you’ll need a super warm winter parka, and heattech inner wear to survive the January weather in Korea. Hats, scarves, and mittens are also recommended to avoid turning into an icicle.

korea in january | what to wear

Gear up properly to survive the January weather in Korea.

It gets a lot colder as the sun starts to set, so if you’re exploring Seoul at night, throwing a couple of hot packs into your pockets can be very helpful. These can be picked up for very cheap in any convenience store, Daiso, or supermarket.

It’ll likely snow multiple times before the end of January in South Korea. 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.

south korea in january | snow in seoul

It’ll definitely snow at least a couple times in Seoul in January.

I wear waterproof sneakers around Seoul, almost year-round. It’s enough for me, even in winter. But 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 extra toasty.

korea in january | museum san

I mostly wear waterproof running shoes around Korea in January (unless it’s snowing).

Tips for What to Wear in Korea in January

It's cold from the beginning to end of January in Korea, so prepare with serious winter gear. You need the full set-up, with gloves, hats, scarves, boots, wind-blocking, padded parka, warm clothes and inner layers for underneath.
It's concurrently very dry, and humid this month. The humidity makes the cold seep into your bones, while the high winds leave hands, lips, and any exposed skin chapped and raw. Chapstick, hand cream, and hot packs are an essential part of your January in Korea arsenal.
Indoor environments are mostly super heated in Korea in January (though many public bathrooms may not be). It's best to wear layers to deal with the big changes in temperature when moving from the deep freeze of winter to any indoor location - subways included.
korea in january | baekhakbong peak

These snowy scenes will be more enjoyable if you’re properly geared up © Yeo Jin-mo, Korea Tourism Organization

Visiting Korea in January | Packing List

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

Bring from Home

  • travel documents: passport, itineraries, hotel reservations, plane tickets, travel visas, insurance
  • adaptor / plug
  • long sleeved shirts, sweaters, hoodies, cardigans
  • warm pants, fleece-lined 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, snow pants if you plan to ski or snowboard
  • any special medications you might need

Buy in Korea

  • 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)
  • umbrella if it rains
  • 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 january | seoul lantern festival blue dragon

2024 is the year of the Blue Dragon!

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Korea in January: Essential Info and FAQs

Is January a good time to visit South Korea? January is the coldest month of the year in Korea, so it can be challenging to explore outside. However, if you gear up properly and are interested in winter sports and seeing snow, January in Korea is an excellent time to visit.
How cold is Korea in January? January is the coldest month in Korea, with average daily temperatures ranging from to -6°C | 21°F to 1.5°C | 35°F. It can feel a lot colder with the windchill though, so make sure you have appropriate winter gear.
Does it snow in South Korea in January? January is the month with the most snowfall in Korea. It's an ideal time to head to ski resorts, sledding hills, and out for any cold weather activities you're interested in trying out.
What are the best things to do in Korea in January? There are various ice fishing, lighting, snowflake, and lighting festivals to go to all over Korea in January. It's the best time for outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, and sledding.

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

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