The best time to visit South Korea: by season

The best time to visit South Korea

One of the essential things you should consider when planning a holiday in South Korea is the weather. When is the best time to visit South Korea, you might be wondering.

Korea has four distinct seasons with significant differences in temperature and humidity. So, you should choose the right time to visit depending on what you would like to do during your holiday. Rest assured, though, there is no wrong time to visit Korea.

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Valuable things to know when you visit Korea for the first time

South Korea Visa

Depending on where you are traveling from, you will or won’t need a visa. Check your Visa requirements here!

Currently, South Korea has in place a visa-free online application process for certain eligible countries (you can check the list here) that you must obtain before your trip.

K-ETA or the Korean Electronic Travel Authorization must be obtained before boarding a flight or ship. Here is some useful information regarding the K-ETA visa:

  • The approval process takes more than 72 hours, thus it is useful to apply in advance;
  • You will need to have accommodation booked before applying for the K-ETA, the address is one of the required information.
  • The validity of the K-ETA visa is of 2 years from the date of approval;
  • With the K-ETA you can stay in South Korea for 30 to 90 days;
  • However, if you are visiting for travel purposes, and plan to return after your first visit, you will have to come back and update your visa with the new hotel address;
  • One person can apply for up to 30 persons and can pay for all at once;
  • K-ETA price: 10.000 won (around 9-10 USD)

Other Useful Tips

How to get from the airport to Seoul

Communication and transportation

Getting around South Korea

Other useful tips & links

The best time to visit South Korea (including activities)

Spring in South Korea (March-May)

Seoul in Spring

My favorite season, the Korean spring, covers the months from March to May. I believe it is the best time to explore the country’s natural beauty, forested mountains, and nature reserves.

March would be the coldest of the 3 spring months in South Korea, with temperatures between 4°C (39°F) and 9°C (48°F). If you are traveling during April, expect a daily average temperature that sits around 17°C (63°F), while May sees temperatures rise to an average of 24°C (75°F).

Majang Lake Paju

We spent most spring weekends traveling outside Seoul, drinking coffee on the banks of Majang Lake in Paju, enjoying a breathtaking mountain panorama in Chunchon, or strolling the pedicured lanes of The Garden of Morning Calm.

It is also a great time to visit one of the tranquil mountain-top temples.

The temple on Naksam Mountain in the country’s east was the first we saw. Apart from the charming architecture and the carefully maintained grounds of the temple complex, I clearly remember our gratitude, gazing at the sparkling sea below us as we stood at the cliff’s edge. After all, we reached the opposite end of the Old World, a moment I had dreamed of since childhood. For a couple of minutes, I imagined myself in the shoes of the great explorers of old, embarking on a journey on that mysterious sea towards wonderous and unchartered lands.

Naksam Temple Yangyang

If you happen to be in Seoul during spring, the city’s countless parks return to life after the winter slumber, and everything shines in the bright yellow sun. You can hike up one of Seoul’s mountains and enjoy a majestic view of a sprawling world city.

Or, you can have a picnic on the shores of the Han river, Korean style—you don’t need to pack and carry snacks, you order a basket from your mobile, and they’ll bring it directly to your picnic spot. You only need a local Korean number.

Cherry blossom Seokchon Lake

However, if you are in Korea from late March to early April, you are in for a colorful, magical experience— cherry blossom season. Words can’t begin to describe the beauty of it. It is stunning!

But wait, it can get even better. How would you like to be a fairy tale princess or prince for a day?

One weekend during the cherry blossom season, we rented a set of traditional Korean clothes and then walked the storied streets of Seoul’s old city, the Bukchon Hanok.

Unlike my beautiful wife, I am a rather bland, average-looking, middle-aged guy. So, imagine my surprise when I was repeatedly asked by Korean ladies, young and old, to pose for pictures while dressed in hanbok.

Read everything you must know about renting a hanbok in Seoul!

Once we left our admirers behind, we arrived at the grounds of one of the main medieval palaces of Seoul. The blossoming cherry trees enhanced the already impressive Gyeongbokgung palace complex with its gardens, pond, and mountainous background. And, as a bonus, wearing a hanbok came with free admittance to all of Seoul’s palaces.

Summer in South Korea (June-August)

Yeosu Cable car

Korean summer differs from the sunny and dry European season, although we are at similar latitudes. Korea has a humid climate as a peninsula surrounded by the ocean. While June is still pleasant, July and August are characterized by frequent showers and steamy and hot temperatures. Still, despite the occasional rain, it is the best season to enjoy the seaside.

Average temperatures by month during summer in South Korea:

June – Minimum 18.3 °C ( 65 °F); Maximum 27.5 °C (82 °F)

July – Minimum 22 °C ( 72 °F); Maximum 28.9 °C (84 °F)

August – Minimum 22.6 °C (73 °F); Maximum 29.9 °C (86 °F)

Read also: Rainy Season in South Korea – what to know and what to do

One of our favorite places in South Korea is its second-largest city, Busan. The city’s proximity to Japan made it an ideal staging post for Kubilai Khan’s attempted invasion of Japan and the landing spot of the invading Japanese armies a few centuries later. Moreover, Busan became the temporary South Korean capital and the last bastion of the UN-led troops during the early stages of the Korean War (1950-1953).

2 days in Busan itinerary

Despite its war-ridden past, Busan is a colorful and cosmopolitan metropolis and, in my opinion, the best city to live in Korea. It has several urban beaches, including the famous Haeundae, and countless restaurants and bars overlooking them. Also, its skyscrapers, diverse population, and party vibe reminded us of our earlier home in Hong Kong.

Another good seaside option is the area around the southern city of Yeosu. Although it is a small and tranquil place compared to Seoul and Busan, there are plenty of things to do in the city proper and around it. For example, you can visit the Boseong tea fields. This place should be on anyone’s South Korea bucket list!

Boseong tea plantations

Having ridden the train between the green tea plantations of Sri Lanka, our expectations were rather modest when we decided to go to Boseong one summer morning.

South Korea is not known for its tea, at least not in the West. Well, I am glad to say that we were pleasantly surprised. Not only were the lush green hills breathtaking, but we had the chance to sample the delicious tea-based local cuisine. Green tea ice cream, green tea coffee, green tea cold-noodle soup…you name it. Also, there is a small but beautiful bamboo forest open to the plantation’s visitors.

You can choose to rent a car and drive there from Yeosu or Busan, or you can go on a day trip from Seoul or Busan.

South Korea Bucket List

The Boriam Temple complex is a must-do if you are holidaying around Yeosu. Perhaps we were lucky, but during our trip, a thick fog blanketed the mountain complex. As we climbed the footpath to the main temple, the fog suddenly lifted, uncovering centuries-old buildings perched on cliffs’ edges at almost impossible angles. Despite my pragmatic nature, given the location and architecture, I could see the attraction of the spiritual life chosen by the resident monks.

YangYang beach

If you prefer surfing or similar water sports, the best option is the Yangyang area on the East coast. Apart from the wavey ocean, there are plenty of things to do in the area. For example, we had one of the best crab dinners ever in the nearby city of Gangneung.

Lastly, you can always choose a mountain camping spot if you are not into the seaside. Just be aware that Korean camping is more like what we call glamping in Europe, meaning that you’ll have almost all the comforts of a hotel even if you stay in a tent or camper van: running water and sanitation, high-speed internet, grocery store, hot showers, barbecue equipment and so on. It is not quite the luxurious glamping experience of Hong Kong, but it is definitely not the wild-nature camping practiced in East Europe.

Autumn in South Korea (September- November)

Autumn in South Korea

Autumn is probably the most colorful season in Korea, with nature putting on its Sunday clothes. The temperatures are pleasant, and the humidity is low compared to summer. It is an excellent time to visit if you plan to spend your time outdoors in Seoul or outside the capital.

Average temperatures by month during autumn in South Korea:

September – Minimum 17.2 °C (63 °F); Maximum 26.1 °C (79 °F)

October – Minimum 9.9 °C (50 °F); Maximum 20.1 °C (68 °F)

November – Minimum 2.4 °C (37 °F); Maximum 11.7 °C (53 °F)

Autumn in Seoul

Seoul is amazing in autumn!

The warm sunlight and the red, yellow, brown, and green of its countless parks lend the city a painting-like feel. You can explore the city’s high-tech streets and long historical heritage without fearing a sudden shower. Also, it’s a great occasion to enjoy a uniquely Korean experience, the jjimjilbang.

A jjimjilbang is a typical Korean SPA and bathhouse with traditional saunas, hot tubs, and massage tables. The smaller ones are fully segregated by gender, but some of the large ones can be enjoyed by couples with children, except for the hot tub area.

Popular jimjilbangs to try in Seoul: LK SPA near Myeongdong and Dongdaemun; Hwanggeum Sauna in Myeongdong; Dragon Hill Spa & Resort in Yongsan; and Aquafield in Goyaing or Hanam.

If you are traveling to Busan, you should not miss Busan SPA Land Centum.

Gyeongju-Bridge

Outside of Seoul, I would recommend a trip to Gyeongju, the ancient capital of one of the iconic Korean kingdoms (The Kingdom of Silla). It is a 2-hour journey from Seoul via the express train, but it is worth it.

The old city area is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you will understand why once you walk its streets. It is like literally going back into the past.

You can also visit Rich Man Choe’s former residence to get a glimpse of how a wealthy Korean family used to live.

Moreover, you’ll have the chance to admire the earthen Royal tombs of the kings of old, erected in a beautiful natural setting—these guys had good landscaping tastes.

Gyeongju Traditional restaurant

Since you are there, you should definitely dine in one of the traditional restaurants operating in the historic buildings. We had an exquisite 15-course lunch in one of the romantic wood and paper buildings, sitting on the wooden floor—allegedly, this was considered an average meal by the former kings and queens.

A few kilometers from Gyeongju’s old city, you can find another UNESCO site, the Bulguksa temple complex. The temple is a masterpiece of the golden age of Buddhist art in the Silla kingdom. Currently, it serves as the districtual head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.

Bulguksa Temple South Korea

I already mentioned Busan as a seaside destination, but you can also consider it in the autumn. For instance, I was swimming in the ocean in late September. It was a bit cold but enjoyable.

Since the weather is better, it is the optimal period for a visit to Busan’s Gamcheon Culture village or a trip to the Ahopsan Bamboo Forest.

Gamcheon Village Busan

If you are not in the mood for a relatively long train trip to the South-East, an exciting destination close to Seoul is Suwon. The main tourist attraction is Hwaseong Fortress or Suwon Hwaseong, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The fortress’ wall surrounds Suwon’s center, and once, it encircled the entire city. Walking around its walls through the wooded areas can take your mind away from the hustle and bustle of the 21st century.

Today’s visitors can admire the impressive fortress’s several gates and sentry towers. Moreover, Suwon is famous for its local beef dish, the Suwon Galbi. Make sure you try it because it is delicious.

Suwon Hwaseong Gate

One red flag, though, if you are planning an Autumn vacation. Try to avoid the Korean Thanksgiving celebration, Chuseok. The entire nation is on holiday for circa a week, so everything is crowded, and accommodation prices are higher than usual. Chuesok is usually in September, but the exact dates change yearly based on an archaic formula.

Please consider the dates before booking your visit.

Winter in South Korea (December-February)

Winter in South Korea - things to do and see

Winter is colder than one might expect due to the proximity of the ocean. Temperatures in Seoul can go below -20 degrees Celsius, and given the high humidity, it feels even colder than it actually is. However, due to some meteorological peculiarity that I can’t explain, cold days and warmer days alternate. During the winter we lived there, every bone-chilling day was followed by a few warmer days (around 0 degrees Celsius).

Average temperatures by month during winter in South Korea:

December – Minimum -4.1 °C (25 °F); Maximum 4 °C (39 °F)

January – Minimum -6.2 °C (21 °F); Maximum 2 °C (36 °F)

February – Minimum -3.8 °C (25 °F); Maximum 5 °C (41 °F)

Like any North and East European metropolis, the grey cityscape is brightened by winter-specific decorations and neon lights. There are countless public events and concerts during the cold season, and the enormous Korean department stores are bustling with shoppers.

Read also: The complete list of the best things to do in Korea during winter

Surprisingly, although South Korea has a majority Christian population, Christmas is not an official public holiday. However, no self-respecting Korean would forego the chance for a bit of shopping. So, if you are in Seoul in December, you’ll have a veritable Christmas experience with carols echoing in all the major shopping and entertainment areas.

The winter holiday season doesn’t end on 31st December, though. For those who are looking for a “Christmas” in January and February, South Korea is an excellent place to be. In late January or early February, depending on the year, Koreans celebrate the Lunar New Year. Parties, shopping, spending time with family and friends—basically, it is a re-run of late December, but instead of Mr. Santa Claus, you’ll have firecrackers and dragons.

Due to its mountainous geography and frequent snowing, South Korea is one of the favored ski destinations in the region. Many of our Hong Kong friends prefered to ski in Korea instead of Japan due to the high quality of service at more affordable prices.

Here are a few of the most popular ski resorts in South Korea.

Vivaldi Park Ski World

The perfect ski escape outside of Seoul, Vivaldi Park Ski World is set in the Gangwon-do province, roughly 2 hours away from the city.

Choose to go on a weekday if you want to skip the crowds, and choose the type of activity you like most, from skiing to snowboarding, anything is possible.

Book a day trip and you will have transportation and equipment covered, along with professional instructors that will teach you some basic skills.

Book your day trip to Vivaldi Park here!

Have more time and want to spend a few days longer? Rent a car and choose to stay at one of these cool hotels offering easy access to the Ski Resort.

Sono Felice Vivaldi Park is one of the few resorts in the area. Set between mountains, the hotel offers an internal and an external swimming pool. You should choose to stay here when traveling with a larger group of family and friends. See more here!

Moonlight Blue Pension – a little further away but still in a nice area, surrounded by nature and offering rooms with a stunning river view, this pension is worth checking out. See more here!

Yongpyong Ski Resort – a great resort located at the foot of Yongpyong ski slopes. On site, there are 2 restaurants where you can choose from Korean traditional food or Westerner style meals. See more here!

Conclusion

South Korea is a year-round destination, offering unique travel and leisure opportunities every season.

We prefer to go there in spring or autumn (or both), but if you don’t mind a bit of hot rain or cold snowfall, summer and winter are also good.

The most important thing is to align your desired activities with the right season. If you are an outdoor person, spring and autumn is the right time. While if you prefer water sports, summer might be a good time to go.

Finally, winter is the appropriate season for shopping, reveling and skiing.

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