Winter in Korea | 27 Incredible Places to Visit in Korea during Winter [UPDATED 2023]
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 winter days in Seoul.
You definitely shouldn’t hibernate till the cherry blossoms bloom though, (no matter how tempting it is). There’s plenty of icy weather activities and interesting places to visit in Korea during winter.
So, throw on your long padding coat, equip yourself with hot packs, and venture forth bravely into the frostiest of Korea’s seasons.
In this complete guide to Korea in winter, you’ll discover:
- the climate and weather in Korea in December, January, and February
- perfect activities to take advantage of in Korea in winter
- the best festivals to attend across the country during winter in South Korea
- the best foods to eat to fortify your body for the difficult climate
- what to pack and wear to survive a Korean winter
In this guide
- 1 Winter in Korea | What to Expect
- 2 When is winter in Korea? | Winter Weather
- 3 Planning a trip to Korea?
- 4 Does it snow in South Korea?
- 5 Winter in Korea | Lighting Festivals
- 5.1 Haeundae Light Festival | 해운대 빛축제
- 5.2 The Garden of Morning Calm | 아침고요수목원 오색별빛정원전
- 5.3 Pinocchio & Little Prince Lighting Festival of Petite France | 피노키오 & 어린왕자 별빛축제
- 5.4 Boseong Green Tea Plantation Light Festival | 보성차밭 빛축제
- 5.5 Department Stores
- 5.6 Miracle Winter at Lotte World Adventure | 롯데월드
- 5.7 Snowman World at Everland | 에버랜드
- 6 Limited Edition Winter Tours in Korea
- 7 Best Winter Festivals in South Korea
- 7.1 Chilgapsan Ice Fountain Festival | 칠갑산얼음분수축제
- 7.2 Edelweiss Swiss Village | 에델바이스 테마파크
- 7.3 35th Busan Polar Bear Swimming Festival | 북극곰 수영대회
- 7.4 Pyeongchang Trout Festival | 평창송어축제
- 7.5 Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival | 얼음나라 화천산천어축제
- 7.6 Inje Ice Fishing Festival | 인제빙어축제
- 7.7 Daegwallyeong Snow Festival | 대관령 눈꽃축제
- 7.8 Taebaeksan Snow Festival | 태백산 눈축제
- 8 Winter in Korea | Sports and Activities
- 9 Winter in Korea | Rejuvenation
- 10 Winter in Korea | Places to Escape the Cold
- 11 Winter in Korea | Watch a sunrise
- 12 Winter in Korea | Give Back
- 13 Best Foods to Eat during Winter in Korea
Winter in Korea | What to Expect
In Korea in winter, the colourful vistas and cobalt skies of autumn transform into snowy landscapes, barren trees, and freezing temperatures. Ski resorts open across the country, festivals light up the night sky, and juicy strawberries are in season.
From mid-December onwards, it gets REALLY cold, at exactly the same time that masses of visitors descend upon Korea for Christmas vacations. If you’re planning to travel at this time, it’s important to book hotels and other accommodation in Seoul as early as possible.
Unique activities like riding the Tornado sled at Snowy Land sledding park, ice fishing at one of Gangwon-do’s snow festivals, or taking in the gorgeous sparkling lights at the Garden of Morning Calm, only take place during winter in Korea, so be sure to check those out.
When is winter in Korea? | Winter Weather
Winter in South Korea lasts for approximately 3 months, spanning the months of December, January, and February. Typically, cold weather starts in late November and begins to taper off 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, the best ski resorts, and the typical wintry scenes you’re dreaming of.
Not surprisingly, as you head further south on the Peninsula, winter in Korea gets shorter and ever so slightly warmer.
Planning a trip to Korea?
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Winter in Korea | Travel Essentials
Travel requirements, visas, and passport photos for a trip to South Korea
Hotels and Other Accommodation
Booking | Agoda | Klook | HotelsCombined
Travel Insurance for South Korea
Malaysian Residents | Singapore Residents | Thai Residents
Wifi, SIM Cards, and Portable Wifi
4G unlimited data SIM card | Portable and Pocket 4G WiFi
Airport Transfers and Luggage Delivery
AREX Incheon Airport Express Train
K Airport Limousine Bus from Incheon Airport
Incheon Airport to Seoul Private and Shared Transfers
Gimhae Airport to Busan Private Airport Transfers
Luggage Delivery To/From Hotel or Airport
Money-Saving Transit and Transport Passes
Discover Seoul Pass (doubles as a T-Money Card) with FREE admission to 66 attractions + 118 discounted
Visit Busan Pass with FREE admission to 31 attractions + 77 discounted
Korea Tour Card (T-Money) Transit Card
Korea Rail Pass: unlimited rides via high-speed rail and travel to over 600 stations on 80 different routes (2,3,4, or 5 days)
Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tours
Seoul City Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus Day | Seoul Night View Course
Daegu Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus Tour
Day Tours and Discounted Admission Tickets
Get Your Guide | Klook | Trazy | Viator
How cold is Korea in winter REALLY?
In Seoul, average winter temperatures range from a low of -7°C | 19°F in January to a high of 5°C | 41°F 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°C |°F. Yet I found winter in Korea with its 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. You definitely need to be prepared with appropriate winter gear.
Korea in Winter | December Weather
December is the first and warmest month of winter in Korea, with average temperatures ranging from -3°C | 26°F to 4°C | 40°F.
The first few weeks of the week can feel reasonably comfortable during daylight hours, but you’ll need to reach for warm winter clothing the moment the sun goes down. The nights feel significantly colder than the thermometer reading would suggest.
The first snow of Korean winter usually happens this month, but doesn’t tend to stick around long – particularly in Seoul.
Korea in Winter | January Weather
January is the coldest month of winter in Korea, with average temperatures ranging from 1.5°C | 35°F to -6°C | 21.4°F. Nightfall comes to Korea early in January, with the latest sunset occurring around 6:00PM.
If you’re planning a winter wonderland trip, hoping to see blankets of snow – this is the month to do it! Historically, January is the month with the most snowfall in Korea, with 7 snowfall days over the course of the month, accumulating about 11-cm of snow.
Korea in Winter | February Weather
February is the last month of Korean winter. It gets ever so slightly warmer with temperatures falling in the -3°C | 26°F to 5°C | 41°F range. There isn’t as much snowfall in February, but still enough for a quality day of skiing at resorts like Yongpyong and Alpensia.
The days get a bit longer in February, with the sun setting around 6:30PM. The balmy temperatures and pretty flowers of Korea’s spring season are finally within sight.
Does it snow in South Korea?
It snows all over Korea in winter, 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 late December or January for a better chance to see snow in Korea.
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. And even if you don’t ski, many of them have wintry activities, like sledding to participate in.
Another popular destination for seeing snow near Seoul, is Nami Island. They even have a snowman festival, every winter in Korea, that you can check out!
It takes a long time to get to Nami Island by public transportation, so it’s worth looking into these affordable and all-inclusive tours to make it a super convenient day trip out of the city.
Winter in Korea | Lighting Festivals
If bright, sparkling bulbs are your thing, you’re in luck. Because the cold season guarantees a country illuminated with twinkling Christmas lights from top to bottom. Here’s the best places to see them during winter in Korea.
Haeundae Light Festival | 해운대 빛축제
Festival dates: November 18th, 2022 – January 24th, 2023
Address: Haeundae Beach, U-dong, Haeundae-gu, Busan |해운대해수욕장, 해운대광장, 해운대시장, 온천길 일원
While Haeundae Beach in Busan is known more for sand, sun, and surf, every winter in Korea, it gets a brilliant makeover.
This unique lighting festival adorns the road from the beach, up to Haeundae Market and Hot Spring Road in a long line of sparking lights. Special activities include a Carolling Competition, 100 Santa Ceremony, and Wishing Tree Festival.
The Garden of Morning Calm | 아침고요수목원 오색별빛정원전
Festival dates: December 9th, 2022 – March 23rd, 2023
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 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.
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.
Pinocchio & Little Prince Lighting Festival of Petite France | 피노키오 & 어린왕자 별빛축제
Festival dates: TBA for 2022 / 2023, but usually December to mid-March
Address: 1063, Hoban-ro, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do | 경기도 가평군 청평면 호반로 1063
If you want a little taste of Christmas in Europe, Petite France is definitely the place to be during winter in Korea. This year, they’re holding a Starlight Festival with Pinocchio and Da Vinci Village.
Highlights will include a Starlight Photo Zone, and fairy tale lights imported directly from Europe that will be 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: cancelled for 2023, but usually starts in late November
Address: 763-65, Nokcha-ro, Boseong-gun, Jeollanam-do | 전라남도 보성군 보성읍 녹차로 763-65
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 in winter. Every year, their Christmas displays just seem to get more and more extravagant.
There’s always a huge Christmas Tree set 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.
Miracle Winter at Lotte World Adventure | 롯데월드
Festival Dates: November 11th – December 31st, 2022
Address: 240, Olympic-ro, Songpa-gu, Seoul | 서울특별시 송파구 올림픽로 240
Lotte World Adventure is a popular theme park in the middle of Seoul. With both indoor and outdoor spaces, it’s the perfect place to visit in Korea in winter with kids, if you need somewhere to escape the cold.
You can enjoy a special Christmas parade and performance, white winter village, special photo zones, and a ton of thrilling rides and attractions.
Full festival details on their website (Korean only).
DISCOUNTED LOTTE WORLD PASSES | Foreign passport holders can get Lotte World passes at a discounted price in advance. Book a combo ticket with the Lotte World Aquarium, or a Magic Pass to skip long lines at the rides of your choice. Check full details here.
Snowman World at Everland | 에버랜드
FESTIVAL DATES: December 1st, 2022 – March 1st, 2023
Address: 199, Everland-ro, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do | 경기도 용인시 처인구 포곡읍 에버랜드로 199 (포곡읍)
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.
EVERLAND SHUTTLE BUS and DAY TRIP PACKAGES | It’s possible to use public transit to get to Everland by heading to Jeondae∙Everland Station, Exit 4, then walking for a few minutes to the shuttle bus station. A much better option though, especially during the cold winter in Korea, is to book either a round-trip shuttle bus to Everland, or all-inclusive package.
Limited Edition Winter Tours in Korea
Sure, winter 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.
- Elysian Ski Resort + Nami Island + the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival | December 9th, 2022 – March 3rd, 2023
- Alpaca World + Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival | December 9th, 2022 – March 15th, 2023
- Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival, Snowy Land + Strawberry Picking | December 20th, 2022 – February 28th, 2023
- Vivaldi Park Snowy Land Sledding Tour | December 20th, 2022 – February 28th, 2023
- Eobi Ice Valley, Nami Island, and Strawberry Picking | December 21st, 2022 – January 30th, 2023
- Cheongyang Alps Village Ice Fountain Festival | December 26th, 2022 – February 10th, 2023
- Ice Fishing and Snowflake Tour in Gangwondo | January 1st – February 12th, 2023
- Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Fishing Festival Tour from Seoul | January 14th – 24th, 2023
- Skiing, Snowboarding, and Sledding Tours across Korea | Various dates
Best Winter Festivals in South 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 winter in Korea, for residents and travellers alike.
Chilgapsan Ice Fountain Festival | 칠갑산얼음분수축제
Festival dates: December 26th, 2022 – February 10th, 2023
Address: 175-11, Cheonjangho-gil, Cheongyang-gun, Chungcheongnam-do | 충청남도 청양군 정산면 천장호길 175-11
Every winter in Korea, Alps Village near Cheongyang holds an ice fountain festival with fantastical sculptures made out of ice. Aside from the huge ice sculptures, there’s also snow sledding, ice fishing, bobsleigh, ice sledding, a zip line, and more.
I recommend visiting when it’s really cold out, otherwise all the ice starts to melt and the whole festival turns into a slushy mess.
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 on one of these convenient day tours. Check full details and availability here.
Edelweiss Swiss Village | 에델바이스 테마파크
Address: 226-57 Darakjae-ro, Seorak-myeon, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do | 경기도 가평군 설악면 이천리 304
There isn’t an actual festival at Edelweiss Swiss Village, but it’s definitely an excellent place to feel some winter in Korea vibes. Nestled in the gorgeous mountains of Gapyeong, you can hear yodelling, eat Swiss fondue, and roast marshmallows over an open fire!
The yodeling performance starts at 2, and includes cowbells, singing and more. Don’t miss it!
35th Busan Polar Bear Swimming Festival | 북극곰 수영대회
Festival dates: December 23rd – 24th, 2022
Address: 47, Dalmaji-gil 62beon-gil, Haeundae-gu, Busan
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 35th Polar Bear Swim.
Considered one of the best festivals to participate in for winter in Korea, it costs 30,000KRW, and it looks like you get some really cute souvenirs out of it.
Registration is open until December 16th, 2022. Get more details here (Korean only so far).
Pyeongchang Trout Festival | 평창송어축제
Festival Dates: December 30th, 2022 – January 29th, 2023
Address: 3562, Gyeonggang-ro, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do | 강원도 평창군 진부면 경강로 3562
If you can’t make it to Hwacheon’s festival, don’t stress – there are several different places to visit during South Korean 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 | It’s cold on the ice! Stop by any convenience store, pharmacy, or Daiso and buy hot packs to keep your hands warm throughout the day.
Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival | 얼음나라 화천산천어축제
Festival dates: January 14th – 24th, 2023
Address: 137, Sancheoneo-gil, Hwacheon-gun, Gangwon-do | 강원도 화천군 화천읍 산천어길 137
Each year, Hwacheon is the first place to freeze over in Korea in winter, 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.
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.
- All-inclusive day tour from Seoul to the Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival (join-in group tour)
- Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival + Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival
- Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival Day Tour (4 people minimum booking)
Inje Ice Fishing Festival | 인제빙어축제
Festival Dates: January 20th – 29th, 2023
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 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.
Daegwallyeong Snow Festival | 대관령 눈꽃축제
Festival dates: January 20th – 29th, 2023
Address:135-5, Daegwallyeong-ro, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do | 강원도 평창군 대관령면 대관령로 135-5 강원도 평창군 대관령면 대관령로 135-5
With rolling hills 700-m above sea level, the Daegwallyeong 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.
Check their website for more details (Korean only).
SNOW AND ICE FESTIVALS IN GANGWON-DO | Gangwon-do is the province to the east of Seoul, and it’s Korea’s kingdom of snow and ice. Choose from any of the following festivals to experience the best of winter in Korea. Get full details here.
- Pyeongchang Ice Fishing Festival | December 30th, 2022 to January 29th, 2023
- Inje Ice Fishing Festivals | January 20th to 29th, 2023
- Daegwallyeong Snowflake Festival | January 20th to 29th, 2023
Taebaeksan Snow Festival | 태백산 눈축제
Festival dates: January 27th – 31st, 2023
Address: 168, Cheonjedan-gil, Taebaek-si, Gangwon-do | 강원도 태백시 천제단길 162 (소도동)
After 3 long years, the Taebaeksan Snow 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.
Learn more on their website.
Winter in Korea | Sports and Activities
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 something new!
Skiing and Snowboarding
Many people don’t realize that Korea is absolutely covered in mountains. Once snow blankets the ground in Gangwon-do Province, snowboarding and skiing become super popular activities during winter in Korea. 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.
If you don’t know how to ski, not to worry. You can sign up for lessons easily at any of the ski resorts in Korea. You can also rent equipment and any gear you need at the same time.
My daughter learned how to ski at Yongpyong Resort last year in just a few hours! The instruction was in english, all the gear was provided, and she absolutely adored the teacher. Check out a video of her ski day here.
SKI RESORTS NEAR SEOUL | If you want to ski during winter in Korea, there are a ton of convenient ski and snowboard packages to various resorts around the country. Most include transport, accommodation, lift passes, gear and clothing rental, and even lessons!
- 1 Day Tour to Ski / Snowboard/ Snowy Land Sledding Tour At Vivaldi Park Ski Resort: includes round trip transportation and optional ski/snowboard equipment rental and lessons at one of Korea’s most modern winter resorts
- Day Trip to Oak Valley Resort with Ski School: learn how to ski at the less crowded Oak Valley Resort near Seoul (available until February 18th, 2022)
- Elysian Gangchon Ski Resort Day Tour: opt for skiing, snowboarding or sledding at one of the most popular ski resorts in Korea
- 2D/1N Ski Trip to Alpensia Resort: a totally hassle-free package including everything you need for an awesome ski holiday
If you don’t ski or snowboard, you can still visit a ski resort or snow park for sledding. There are sledding hills located throughout Korea, but one of the most popular is Snowyland at Vivaldi Ski Park.
With several different sledding hills for ages 36 months and up, this is a great winter activity for families, friends and anyone else who wants to spend the day in the snow.
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.
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
Winter in Korea | Rejuvenation
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 in Korea.
Get a Korean facial
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, you cannot leave the country without indulging in a Korean facial. Avoid language barriers and get exactly what you want by booking in advance. Choose from tailored spa packages ranging from 60 -180 minutes at SPA 1899 in Gangnam, or snag an appointment at the luxurious Sulwhasoo Balance 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.
Aquafield Spa, which has locations in Goyang, Hanam, and Anseong Starfield malls is also foreigner-friendly, and worth a visit.
Relax in a Korean Oncheon
If your idea of winter in Korea relaxation is soaking in a steaming pool in the great outdoors, head to one of Korea’s oncheon or hot springs. The water in these springs is usually full of body soothing minerals, from deep below the surface of the earth.
Some popular oncheon around the country include:
- Onyang Hot Springs | 온양온천지구: Onyang Hot Springs was founded over 1,300 year ago, and is the oldest hot spring in Korea. Its alkaline water has a temperature around 57℃, and is known to be helpful for treating many diseases, including arthritis, skin problems, liver disease, and high blood pressure. There are over 120 hotels and motels in this area, but the Onyang Hot Spring Hotel is the original.
- Hurshimchung Grand Spa in Busan is said to be the largest spa in Asia. Its waters have high levels of magnesium, which is great for smooth skin. There are also a number of different pools of varying temperatures, as well as 40! seasonal baths.
- Termeden Spa in Icheon is a 30,000 square metre German-style spa resort located about 70-km south of Seoul. It features a ton of different outdoor pools, hot springs, jjimjilbang style saunas, Korean-style bathhouse, and much more. Be sure to find the jets shooting strong sprays of water for a revitalizing underwater massage.
Winter in Korea | Places 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.
Spend the day at the Aquarium
Don’t turn into a penguin yourself! Head into one of Seoul’s aquariums to admire them instead. There are several aquariums to choose from in Seoul, but the Lotte World Aquarium in Jamsil (discounted tix), and the Coex Mall Aquarium (discounted tix) are 2 of the most popular.
I’ve personally spent a ton of time at Lotte World Aquarium, and definitely recommend it – especially if you have children. However, the Aquarium at Starfield Coex Mall is also excellent, with the added bonus of being in the same mall as the Starfield Library.
See an indoor performance
Seeing an indoor performance is undoubtedly one of the best ways to escape the cold during winter in Korea. Whether it’s the longest running show in Korea, or a traditional gugak concert, you’re sure to enjoy your time.
Here are some popular options:
- Nanta: an energetic show filled with acrobatics, comedy, and percussion using kitchen utensils! It’s non-verbal, so anyone can enjoy this show.
- The Painters: combines live action drawing with 3D visual effects, dance performances, and comedy. It’s been one of the top 5 most popular attractions in Korea for the last 5 years running.
- Saturday Gugak Performance: a traditional folk arts performance at the National Gugak Centre is a great way to learn about Korean culture, while staying warm. It’s incredibly affordable too!
Head to the top of Korea’s Tallest Building
For incredible views of Seoul as far as the eye can see, there’s no other place to go than Lotte World Tower and the Seoul Sky Observatory. This gorgeous 123 story tower is Korea’s tallest building and an iconic landmark of the city.
If you don’t feel like heading to the top, you can still visit Lotte World Tower, by having a meal at the Sky31 Food Avenue instead.
Sure, its 31st floor location is a long way down from the 123rd, 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.
LOTTE WORLD TOWER DISCOUNTED TICKETS | Lotte World Tower is the tallest building in Korea, with epic views of Seoul from the top. A visit to the Seoul Sky Observatory on floors 117 – 123 is well worth your time, especially with discounted tickets. Check full details here.
Winter in Korea | Watch a sunrise
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.
Yeosu Hyangiram Sunrise Festival | 여수향일암일출제
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.
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.
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.
Spending New Year’s Eve in Seoul? Learn about all the best parties, events and fireworks in this complete guide to celebrating the New Year in Seoul.
Winter in Korea | Give Back
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.
2022 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.
Every winter, the Korean Unwed Mothers Foundation (KUMFA) 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
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 in Korea.
There are organizations that meet up on weekends to provide food to the homeless congregated around Seoul Station, which you can find with a quick online search. However, you might find more value doing this independently, with ALL of your money being used to buy food and support the homeless – rather than collected as “administrative fees.”
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 of winter in Korea. 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.
Winter in Korea | What to Wear
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 during winter in Korea for good reason.
Best Foods to Eat during Winter in Korea
Dolsot Bibimbap | 돌솥 비빔밥
Dolsot bibimbap takes your basic mixed rice bowl, and elevates it into a winter in Korea classic. The bibimbap is served in a hot stone bowl that keeps all the ingredients toasty warm. The best part is the scorched rice stuck to the sides of that hot bowl. Yum!
Tteokguk | 떡국
Come January 1st, nearly every Korean household is enjoying a bowl of hearty and satisfying tteokguk, or rice cake soup. Consisting of a beef-based broth (usually), and sliced garaetteok, it’s customary to eat this on New Year’s Day for good luck. Incidentally, you also age a year from eating it…. apparently.
Kimchi Jjigae | 김치 찌개
Kimchi jjigae or Korean kimchi stew is one of my personal comfort foods. It will forever remind me of my mom’s kitchen on cold winter days, growing up in Canada. Made with ripe kimchi and pork belly, in its most classic version, this spicy, fortifying and truly delicious stew is sure to keep the sub-zero temps of winter in Korea at bay.
Hotteok | 호떡
Sweet, cinnamon-y, doughy pancakes pan-fried to crisp, golden perfection. There’s a reason why hotteok is one of the most popular street foods to grab during winter in Korea. This treat warms you from inside-out.
Contrary to popular belief, hotteok isn’t just a winter street food. You can find it year round, and it’s always delicious… though maybe just a little bit more delicious in cold weather.
Roasted Chestnuts | 군밤 (Gun Bam)
The second cold weather hits Korea, roasted chestnut vendors make their appearance. Not only are Korean chestnuts incredibly flavourful, they’re usually fully peeled for you to enjoy. No annoying shells to deal with.
Added bonus: Standing next to the fire used to roast chestnuts on the street.
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Winter in South Korea: Essential Info and FAQs
Are there any other worthwhile activities or great places to visit in Korea during winter that I missed? Share your tips below.
Alial Travel Gal
Excellent post Shelley. The ‘Cardboard Grannies’ part made me feel so sad, I completely get your comment about feeling like your heart is being ripped out. I was raised by my Nan and we’re so close and I always feel this way when I see older people struggling in countries that have no welfare safety net.
I will specifically remember to keep a lookout for them when I visit SK. A little kindness goes such a long way when someone is doing it tough.
It’s so awful that this issue exists, and even harder when you know there’s nothing ‘significant’ that you can do at that moment to change their lives, although I bet that lady will always remember your kind help that day <3
Thanks! I feel so helpless when I see these poor men and women – like these are the people that lived through the Korean War and built the country from total poverty into a G20 country and there’s literally no social safety net for them. 🙁 Something needs to change.
I would be down to go ice climbing! & Ice skating. Ice skating is always fun.
I’d be absolutely terrified of ice climbing, but I have some friends who do it regularly here… ?
We ll be there in feb 2019, hope to see updated winter events soon… and, may i ask where the location of the photo above, pls?
Hi Mingga, sorry there are a lot of photos in the post – which one are you referring to? I’m in the middle of updating the design of my blog, but plan to have a monster winter post up in November sometime, so be sure to check back! 🙂
Sorry ?, the on on your blog title. Is it Gyeongbokgung palace?
Looking forward to seeing some more pics. Thx…
Hi Mingga, sorry for my slow reply – yes, it’s Gyeongbokgung Palace – and the post has now been updated with dates and tons more things to do. Enjoy your trip here! and do let me know if there’s anything else you’re curious about. 🙂
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Yes, definitely always looking for an excuse to go ice skating! #pyeongchang2018
Yass to ice skating, VR, escape rooms and jimjilbangs!! I had no idea Korea offered ice skating! Not the type of sport I’d go for because it seems scary and very cold haha. In winter, I tend to be quite content hibernating with my netflix and a glass of wine, but these are great (and probably healthier and more social) alternatives! In winter, I do like hosting lots of gatherings at my apartment so friends can come over while I stay in teh comfort of my house! This is a great thing for those with more spacious apartments.
We do a lot of winter gatherings at our place too, where we cook a meal together and play board games. To be honest, the introvert in me would rather hibernate watching movies too, but having a 2 year old doesn’t make that possible anymore. She’s super active and extroverted, so I’m constantly on the lookout for new activities for her… *sigh mom life is not the easiest at times 😉
A lot of great ideas here! It’s great especially because it is very easy to just stay inside and watch movies all winter. But you have provided some great ideas for getting out and about an participating in activities you just can’t do in the other months! These kinds of activities really help to fight off the winter blues! Thanks so much for sharing!
This winter was a tough one too. Thank goodness it warmed up this week, I was really at my breaking point with how cold it was. Honestly, I’d love to stay in all winter and binge-watch Netflix, but my 2 year old daughter doesn’t let me do that anymore… :p
This is a great list Shelly! I actually only knew of four of these events. My favorite one on the list is the ice climbing. Pricy, but what a cool experience! Definitely something I want to try before winter is up:D
You are braver than me. The thought of ice climbing terrifies me…but I have friends that do. And come to think of it, they’re scared too, but they still do it..hmm 😉
Travel with Karla
I did everything when I was in Korea! Yay!
My favorite part is visiting Korean Saunas. I really love how they exfoliate the skin!
You are good. I haven’t done everything and I’ve been living here for 9 years. :p The scrub at the jjimjilbang is the best thing ever. I always feel totally cleansed afterwards!
Your list is making me miss Korea – even though I know its freezing there at the moment! We loved the winter festivals, and the lighting festival at the garden of morning calm is just amazing!
This winter was probably the worst one I’ve ever experienced here (in 9 years), but the cold seems to have lifted in the last week…to be replaced by pollution. Ugh. Can’t win it seems. I’m still hoping to get out to the lighting festival at the Garden of Morning Calm before it ends!
Where is that ice climbing? It looks like a very athletic winter sports. SO, it’s something i can’t do:-(… but it will be great to take photos there, right? I was just talking to my husband about facials 2 days ago and this is a timely reminder!
Haha, I’m with you on the ice climbing…but it’s definitely a photogenic thing to see. That photo is actually from a friend who went there with her daughter and son. They watched daddy attempt ice climbing for the first time! 🙂
Brian Keith Dye
I love your updated options for the list. You know that my eyes went right for that VR cafe! I have to go there immediately. It looks like such fun. I’m always down for anything like that. Thanks for the tip!
I like that you can be slightly anonymous when you play at VRIZ…cuz let’s face it, people really do look like dorks when they’re playing VR games. 😉
Great list! I’m long overdue for a visit to the jjimjilbang… Will have to get on that before I leave.
I didn’t know about that new ice-skating rink in Seoul at the Design Plaza. That’s so cool that it’s free! I always enjoy a good free activity. Thanks for sharing 😉
I hope they keep that DDP rink around even though the Olympics will be over. What awesome surroundings to skate in!
Browsing the Atlas
I’d love to be there for the Olympics right now. Or just to see those snowmen. How cute!
Haha, I’d love to go to the Olympics too! But somehow cannot get there, despite it being just a few hours drive away. 😉 I def wanna get out there to see the Vantablack building though – it sounds super cool!
The winter doesn’t stop me unless the roads are bad for driving. Cheers
Fortunately, we have an amazing subway system here in Seoul, and driving on bad roads is rarely an issue! Easy to get around for all the amazing winter activities. 🙂
I’m a old follower of your family and Seoul stories. Before the time you’d conceived till the date she has grown up to this age. Love you all.
Aww, it’s so nice to hear that Priyanka! <3 I can't believe how fast she's growing and to what extent she's taken over our lives. 😉
There are so many excellent and varied ideas here, Shelley, most of which seem so exotic to me. That snowman festival looks adorable and I’d rather like to try ice climbing and see the recreation of Montpellier too. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles
There’s so much going on in this city all the time, it can get overwhelming…but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s so nice to have so many options to choose from all the time. The Montpellier re-creation is tops on my list too! 🙂
fifi + hop
The plantation light festival looks absolutely amazing! Wow! So does the ice climbing, though I could never get the courage to do it. I am constantly going through things to do during the winter where I live as well, because I hate being cooped up inside. All of these activities are a great way to “get through” the winter. Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles
I haven’t made it there yet, but it’s definitely on my list of things to get to before the winter ends. In Korea, we have these horrible “bad air” days and we have to stay cooped up inside. 🙁 It’s an unfortunately part of living in this part of the world.
heaps to do! i think i’d prefer Korea in the winter then in the humid summer!
I also prefer winter to summer here… at least the skies are usually super clear and the air is good in winter. But if you ever visit, def come in fall – like October. It’s the best time hands-down! 🙂
Claire at Tin Box Traveller
Great suggestions and proof that there’s always something going on. I love the idea of heading to the food courts and the festivals. What a vibrant place all year round! Thanks for sharing this on #MOndayEscapes
There seems to be a festival SOMEWHERE in the country almost every single weekend… there’s no doubt that Koreans love their festivals. We’re going through a crazy cold snap with wind chills of -26, so all I can think about is getting into one of the saunas at a jjimjilbang or bath house! 🙂
My goodness that’s a lot of fabulous options! I love the idea of ice climbing and snow festivals. I remember a snow festival in a small town in Finland where I used to live, but I don’t know if they have any here in Poland – this blog post got me curious, so I will give it a search 🙂 Your daughter looks absolutely adorable in the last photo!
Korea looks vibrant – I’d love to visit one day 🙂
There are a ton of options in Korea in every season. You certainly never run out of things to do! But we’re going through a crazy cold snap right, with a wind chill of -26! I’m scared to go outside. Haha. Let me know if you ever make it here – I’d love to meet up in person! 🙂
Wow -26 is indeed brutal.. Here in Poland it was up to -10 last week but this week it’s on the plus again and all the snow is gone. We’re having a bad winter hehe. I’ll surely let you know if I ever make it there – that’d be so fun! Thanks! 🙂
Many things to do during the winter! The ice climbing sounds a pretty cool thing to do 🙂
Yeah, you never run out of things to do in Seoul that’s for sure. Ice climbing looks cool but also really scary!
I MIGHT have missed winter a teeny bit when I saw the ice rink, the icicles, and the snow there! Is your cold a wet cold, and that’s why it feels worse than a drier Canadian winter? I have been strangely chilly here in Houston when the temperatures dip a little, and I’ve survived 26 Chicago winters, so all I can attribute it to is the dampness that seeps into my bones.
I thought that’s what it was – the humidity, but Koreans say that the winter is super dry…and my skin seems to agree. I can only think it’s the winds that we get from Siberia…but -5 never felt this bad when I was living in Canada. Maybe I’m just getting old…hahaha. 🙂
Just mildly off-topic, but I had to LOL at the imitation of Montpellier. It reminded me of the story of a Chinese girl from one of our Asian offices whom I delivered a course to. She’d gotten to Paris to do a summer course, couldn’t find anything but a bed in a dorm in Seine-St-Denis and, coming from an idea of France that was pretty much that of the Pétite France park, she got the shock of her life.
Haha, that’s not even the half of it. We also have full-on imitations of that famous horse fountain from Versailles, and the Fontana di Trevi at the Lotte Mall, a Paris Park (with a mini Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe), and a lot more that I’m not aware of I’m sure. But for that festival they went a step further and actually imported ALL the lights from Montpellier…trying to be more authentic I guess. :p
But have you heard of Paris Syndrome? It’s actually a thing.
Whoa, I just Google’d it and… I’m astonished! Never knew this thing existed, but I suppose it’s to be expected, it’s a little bit like for Italy, all that nonsense on the “dolce vita” and then you find yourself on a commuter train into Milan from the airport at peak time. Not so Dolce!
It’s funny you mention Italy because that’s exactly how I felt the first time I entered Rome by train. I was totally shocked by all the graffiti and how run down everything looked. Fortunately, the historic centre more than made up for the rest, but dolce vita? Not quite… though the pastries are not bad. 😉
Without descending too much into politics, Rome’s incredibly badly kept thanks to a new breed of “pseudo-politicians” who can only do populism, but even without them certain neighbourhoods would make Clichy-sous-Bois look positively gentrified. Google “Corviale” and see what I mean!
I had never heard of neither – I don’t watch the news, and Europe seems a long, long way from Korea sometimes… but wow…def a different world. (and to think, we’re contemplating a move to Italy)…
Once again so many things to do in Korea in winter! Didn’t know climbing the icicles were a thing. You would have thought normal rock climbing on normal rocks were hard enough. But on the ice must be slippery and you probably need a certain level of fitness.
If I’m not mistaken, that looks like The Little Prince at the lighting festival! So cool 😀 If I visited in Korea in winter I’d probably want to be indoors since I do not like cold one bit, lol.
Yes! It is the Little Prince…and I think it might actually be called the Little Prince Lighting Festival. 🙂 Winter in Korea is sooooo cold too…somehow I feel much colder here, than I ever did in Canada, even though the temperatures are much lower there.
You def need some special gear to climb those icicles, like shoes with spikes so you can dig in. For me, it looks really scary, but of course, Agri wants to try it out. 😉
Such exciting winter times but it just makes you lazy to go out really…hahaha ?
Haha that’s the truth! Though it’s much easier when the sky is at least blue. It’s been like Gotham City her the last few days. 🙁