Winter in Korea – the best things to do

Winter in South Korea - things to do and see

Traveling to South Korea in winter and you don’t know what to expect and what to do? Well, the first time I visited Seoul it was in a cold December. 2 years later, we moved from Hong Kong to Seoul in an even colder February. Needless to say, we have a little bit of experience with winter in Korea.

While the cold season might not be the perfect time to visit South Korea, there are still plenty of great things to do. Because of the low temperatures, you might find yourself looking for indoor activities, but beautiful outdoor destinations are also worth seeing.

In this guide, we will try to cover as many of the cool things worth doing in winter in Korea, so that you can have a memorable vacation. And we’re not talking only about the popular destinations you read of everywhere.

Depending on your travel style and interests, you will most likely find at least a few things worth considering.

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Table of Contents

Winter in Korea – what to do and see

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

But before we start digging into the cool things to do and see in South Korea during winter, let’s first go through some of the valuable things you should know when you visit the country for the first time.

We have put together a comprehensive overview of General Travel Information here, where you will find the answer to all your questions.

How do you pay for things in South Korea? How much cash should you have?

Truth be told, South Korea is one of the most cashless places I have ever been to. During our stay there, we’ve only used cash in the first week or so.

You can pay for anything by card, no matter the amount, and tipping is not custom (restaurants, or taxis). Moreover, there are stores that only accept payment by card.

However, there are only a few exceptions you will need cash for buying your T-Money card and/or buying individual train or transportation tickets from vending machines. You will be requested to pay cash for the card itself, but you can top it up by using your card.

You will be happy to learn that there is a workaround for this as well: this option offers both a SIM card with unlimited 4G data and acts as a  T-Money card. You can book it and pay for it online, and pick it up from the airport upon your arrival.

Another option would be to purchase the Seoul City Pass. That depends a lot on what you plan to do and see, and how many paid attractions you want to include on your list of things to do in Seoul. Usually, if you plan to see a few, the price of the City Pass will allow you to save significantly. Moreover, the card can have a T-money transportation card function.

If however, you would feel safer by having some local money, I wouldn’t have more than 50 USD, and I would either withdraw from an ATM or exchange it at one of the many exchange offices in Myeongdon.

VISA and K-ETA

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)

How to get from the airport to Seoul

Communication and transportation

Getting around South Korea

Other useful tips & links

Should you visit South Korea in winter?

Seoul in one day

While we strongly encourage you to visit Korea during spring or fall, because those are the most beautiful seasons in our opinion, we also know you do not always have the flexibility to plan your vacation.

Thus, if you can get to Korea during the winter months, you should be able to make the best out of your trip. And there are surely plenty of ways to do that.

Of course, the sky won’t be as blue as in spring, and everything might look a bit grey, but there are also plenty of winter activities especially if you choose to step outside of the main cities.

Temperatures in winter in Korea

Winters in Korea are sometimes freezing, snowy, and with average temperatures between -7 and just over 0 degrees. However, it is worth knowing that humidity is pretty high, making the low temperatures feel even lower.

If you are visiting Seoul and you want to see snow, December through February would be the perfect time to plan your trip.

What to pack for winter in Korea

what to pack for winter in Korea

As mentioned before, I first traveled to Seoul at the beginning of December and had no idea what to expect. Even though South Korea has a very similar climate to the one in Romania (our home country), we were living at the moment in Hong Kong – where you feel cold at 10 degrees.

Needless to say, I didn’t have the right type of clothing and accessories to bring with me for my trip to cold Seoul. I had to buy a few things, and a friend saved me with her jacket, but you will want to come prepared for your trip.

Here are a few things worth packing when you visit Korea during winter:

A heavy jacket – I would go for a down jacket, the longest you have available. I absolutely love my Canada Goose jacket and it saved me during our winter in Korea, but North Face, Columbia, or Lululemon have some great more affordable puffer jackets.

Sweaters – especially during winter, I love sweaters and I especially like to layer as many as possible. Because I don’t really like the cold weather, I put on as much as I can, so when I found out I was visiting Seoul in winter I went and bought a few good sweaters. They don’t have to be bulky and there are some really trendy options out there.

At least one cardigan – as you can see also from the above picture, I had a wool cardigan on. On top of a knitted dress and below a down jacket. And that’s how I survived wandering the streets of Seoul on those cold December days. My cardigan was from Uniqlo, but here are other great options

Thermal underwear and leggings – once again, Uniqlo is a great place where to shop for these kinds of items. They have great fabrics and technology, and as mentioned before, layers are life when traveling in cold weather.

Waterproof Boots – I think keeping my feet warm is one of the most important things when it comes to traveling in the winter. Thus, throughout the years I’ve looked for the perfect boot that would help me with that. While they aren’t the prettiest, UGG boots are the best at keeping me warm even when it is snowing. Other great options are the more fashionable black leather boots such as the ones below.

A scarf, gloves, and a hat – I didn’t have gloves on my first trip to Korea and I had to buy a pair since I couldn’t feel my hands. So, learn from my mistake and bring your own.

Trousers and jeans

Socks that will keep you warm

Knitted dress/skirt – if you are looking for all those Instagrammable places in Seoul and Korea, you will still want to look your best and not freeze.

Some travel-size cosmetics for the cold weather – yes, you will be in South Korea, the home of K-Beauty and all the best cosmetics in the world, but until you go shopping, it’s always a good idea to have some good skincare with you. A cleanser, a moisturizer, sunscreen, and a lip balm, are the least you should bring with you.

Hot Packs – I must admit that I first saw hot packs in South Korea, and we got them as a gift from the hotel once we checked in. Later on, when we moved there, I got them as a gift at one of the popular bookstores, because the lady saw I was freezing. Moral of the story: bring some with you, or buy some as you arrive. They will help you throughout your trip.

Things to do in Seoul in winter

Visit the Palaces

Seoul palaces in winter

No matter the season, and especially if this is your first time visiting South Korea and Seoul, you should not skip seeing the palaces.

While you might not have the time or desire to see all of them, adding one or 2 to your list of things to do in Seoul is a must.

Read this comprehensive guide for visiting the palaces in Seoul in order to get all the information you need. However, if you only have time or want to visit one palace, Gyeongbokgung Palace should be on your bucket list. This is the main palace, easy to access.

Bukchon Hanok Village

Tea House Bukchon Hanok Village

Walking down the streets of Bukchon Hanok Village is a must no matter the season. During winter, there are plenty of beautiful cafes you can stop at when you feel like the cold has gotten to you. Onion Cafe or Green Mile are just 2 of my favorites in the area.

Additionally, you should not miss the Cha-teul (차마시는뜰) tea museum with a rooftop terrace – search for it on Naver and you won’t be sorry.

If you are not into cafes or tea places, around Bukchon Hanok Village there are plenty of small shops and local businesses you can explore, but also some cool museums.

K Medi Center

The Seoul Herb Medicine Museum is another cool place to check out while it is cold outside. You will learn about oriental medicine and beauty from exhibitions but also from educational experiences.

You can take a foot bath and enjoy a herbal food experience based on Korean traditional medicine.

Where: 145 Cheonho-daero, Dongdaemun-gu, Dongdaemun-gu Office, Seoul.

Admire the winter displays at shopping malls

Every year, department stores and shopping malls outperformed themselves and set up some of the most impressive Christmas displays.

I wouldn’t say it is worth going to a specific place only for this, but if you are in the area, why not check them out? Lotte Department Store Avenuel is located in the heart of Seoul, in Myeongdong, which makes it easy to access.

Shop for Christmas gifts

Since you are in the area, why not shop for some great gifts to bring back home? Myeong-dong is the place to be when looking for K-beauty and K-fashion. On my first visit to Seoul I spent many hours wandering from one store to the other, trying out tens of different cosmetics, and of course, buying some of my favorites to bring back home.

Visit a cat cafe

Or it doesn’t have to be cats, there are plenty of other animal cafes all around Seoul. Of course, many of them are located in Myeong-dong, one of the main touristic places in town.

You can spend a few hours interacting with friendly cats, while sipping from a hot drink, and staying hidden from the cold.

Climb Namsan Mountain and head to N Seoul Tower

Getting to Namsan Tower is easy and you will have various options depending on the amount of effort you are willing to put into that. Since it is cold outside, you might want to take the public transportation or the cable car – both options will keep you warm and leave you steps away from the famous tower.

Once up there, make sure to visit the Observation Deck from where you will get a 360 degree view of Seoul. Inside the tower there are also a few restaurants, cafes, and cool photo spots.

The tower is 236.7m high and sits on top of the highest mountain you can find in the center of the city, at 243m above sea level.

The ice-skating rink at Seoul Plaza is closed in 2022

This was one of the cool activities to take part in during winter in Seoul, but it has been cancelled for a few years now. The ice-skating rink was located right in front of Seoul Plaza, next to Seoul City Hall.

Seoul Christmas Market

Normally taking place at Cheonggye Plaza, the Seoul Christmas Festival was cancelled in 2021, but might take place in 2022.

Come here to admire the beautiful lights and displays, a beautiful Christmas tree, or take part in one of the many activities organized.

Other important Christmas Markets are organized at Namdaemun Market and Dongdaemun Market.

Light displays and festivals during winter

As mentioned above, Koreans love beautiful displays and will make the best out of any picture occasion. That’s why, during winter, you will find many beautiful displays and you will have the chance to take part of local festivals.

A few notable ones:

  • Cheonggyecheon Stream Lantern Festival – between 26th of November and 5th of December
  • The Garden of Morning Calm – the perfect day trip from Seoul, it can be easily visited by organized tour together with Petite France, and Nami Island.
  • Busan Christmas Tree Festival and Haeundae Light Festival – end of November, beginning of December
  • Boseong Tea Plantation Light Festival

Spend time exploring the many cafes in Seoul

Best cafes and best coffee in Seoul

Seoul, and South Korea in general, is jammed packed with cafes. They have a coffee culture unbeatable anywhere in the world, with hundreds of Instagram-worthy places, but also places where you can have a really good quality coffee.

If you have the time, like coffee, and want to spend time inside, you should at least visit one cafe per day during your visit to South Korea.

I put together a comprehensive guide for some of the best cafes and coffee places in Seoul you can check out in order to plan your itinerary.

COEX Starfield Library

COEX Starfield Library Seoul

One of the main Instagram spots in Gangnam and in Seoul, this public library is incredibly photogenic. The thing is, the place has been built inside of the COEX mall with precisely this in mind: attracting people to the shopping mall.

You cannot actually borrow or buy books, and even if you could, they are all in Korean. However, you can enjoy the atmosphere and read or simply look at the pictures inside the magazines.

COEX Mall Aquarium

The largest aquarium in South Korea is hosted inside a shopping mall! Hosting around 40.000 sea creatures, this is the place to be for kids and adults alike. Why not spend a few fun hours learning about the incredible life of underwater creatures?

You’ll get to see sharks, penguins, a “mermaid performance” and much more.

Bongeunsa Temple and its beautiful Tea Place

Bongeunsa Temple Seoul

Bongeunsa Temple is set within walking distance of the COEX mall and it is one of the few Buddhist temples inside Seoul. In the past, many temples have been moved outside of the city, especially to the mountains, but Bongeunsa has fortunately survived.

Visiting this temple has been one of my favorite things to do in Seoul and I loved it.

Take a Korean cooking class

Korean traditional food - bossam

Korean food is delicious! You will fall in love with the rich taste of each and every dish – trust me! And why only eat it when you can learn to cook it, meet locals, and other tourists passionate by Korea and its fascinating culture?

Learn to cook some of the most popular local dishes, and also get to taste a 10 course dinner at a local’s home.

Korean Cooking Class with Full-Course Meal & Local Market Tour in Seoul

Go food tasting inside the markets

Some of the most affordable and yet delicious meals you can have in South Korea are those you will have at the market. Unlike many places in Asia, wet markets in South Korea are extremely clean so you should not worry.

Go at the Noryangjin Fish Market with a local guide and learn about the local food culture. More than that, you will get to taste some of the freshest fish dishes cooked in front of your eyes.

Relax at a jimjilbang (Korean SPA)

There are a few things worth knowing when you plan to spend a few hours or a day at the Korean SPA:

  • There are more traditional SPAs, and there are the fancier ones such as the one we have been to (Aquafield in Goyang or Hanam);
  • In every SPA, there are common areas to be enjoyed by both women and men, dressed with some special costumes you get at the reception – this is usually where you find saunas, massage chairs, and small pools for your feet;
  • The shower area has also hot water pools, steam saunas, and a scrubbing room – access here is done separately by men and women;

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.

Do a costume photo shoot (indoors)

Normally you would rent a hanbok and visit the palaces or run around Bukchon Hanok Village taking some amazing pictures. While we still did that even though it was a cold December day (you can read everything about our hanbok experience here), you might want to consider an indoors photo shoot.

As Koreans love photoshoots and dressing up, you will have a few options to choose from:

Professional Photoshoot with Hanbok Traditional Wedding experience in Insadong

Friendship Portrait Experience by Z-and

Korean-Style Photo Shoot Experience

Lotte World (indoors) or Everland

Lotte World Seoul

Set in the middle of Seokchon Lake next to the famous Lotte World Tower, Lotte World is the most popular adventure park in South Korea.

No matter if you are traveling with kids or you simply want to feel like a child again, spending one day at the amusement park should be on your Seoul bucket list.

Choose a Fast Pass when you don’t want to wait in line at any of the rides, or get the combo ticket and visit the Aquarium with a discount as well.

Everland Amusement Park is another cool option where you can easily spend one full day without getting bored. Get your day pass discounted ticket here!

Visit the many k-beauty concept stores

Sulwhasoo Flagship store Gangnam

As expected, beauty brands are going out of their way to stand out and attract tourists to their locations. For that main reason, the most important brands have their flagship stores with so many cool things to explore and discover.

You will find most such places located in Gangnam-gu, but there are some scattered all over the city.

Innisfree has its flagship store and cafe in Myeongdong, Amore Pacific is close to Seoul Forest, while Sulwhasoo, Coreana, Dear Klairs, Dr. Jart, and others are in Gangnam.

Go for a luxury SPA treatment

It is of course expected from a country famous for its skincare brands and treatments to have also luxury SPAs.

Read also: Your complete Seoul skincare shopping guide

If you have more time to spend in Seoul, try to fit into your schedule and itinerary, at least a visit to one of the many luxury SPAs.

There are plenty of great offers you should check out:

Learn how to create your custom perfume

It can be a fun experience to get the chance to create your own fragrance under the supervision of an expert. Mix and match scents and perfume bases in order to create your one-of-a-kind scent to bring back home with you.

The activity takes one hour and is held in the southern part of the river, so you might want to plan your itinerary accordingly.

Hangang River Cruise

An activity worth adding to your Seoul bucket list, sailing on the Han River will offer you the chance to admire the city from another perspective.

The river splits Seoul in two and by sailing on it, you will see some of the most important landmarks in town: the NSeoul Tower, Lotte Tower, some of the nicest bridges, Itaewon with its colorful buildings, Yeouido, Banpo Bridge Fountain Show, and more.

The yacht cruise lasts for 30 minutes and you can choose from various boat types.

Things to do in winter in Korea outside of Seoul

When you have more time to spend in South Korea in winter, you should consider stepping outside of Seoul. Nature is amazing and with so many mountains Korea offers some of the best ski resorts in Asia.

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.

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!

Other Ski Resorts outside of Seoul or Busan

Eden Valley Ski Resort Day Tour from Busan – 7 ski slopes only one hour and a half away from Busan. The tour includes a round-trip journey, ski equipment, and 1 ski lift ride. See more here!

Jisan Ski Resort with transfer from Seoul in only 40 minutes.

Oak Valley Resort with transfers, ski equipment, and 1-day lift ticket.

High1 Resort is the highest ski resort in Korea, set in Jeongseon, Gangwon province. Since the distance is done in roughly 4 hours, you might want to at least spend one night here. You will want to take your time and explore at least a part of the 20 slopes available. See your options here!

Go on a day trip to DMZ

DMZ Korea

No matter the season, a trip to DMZ is a must.

Unsurprisingly the area dubbed as ‘the world’s most dangerous border’ is also the number 1 tourist attraction in South Korea; over 1.2 million visitors flock every year to the infamous Korean Demilitarized Zone or DMZ. 

We have a full guide for the best day trip from Seoul to DMZ, that will help you choose the best option for your needs.

Wondaeri Birch Forest (인제 원대리 자작나무 숲)

A beautiful Instagram-worthy forest set in Gangwon-do Province.

Getting there is easy by car, but you can also go by bus, from Dong Seoul Bus Bus Terminal (동서울 종합버스터미널) take the intercity bus to Inje Intercity Bus Terminal (인제 시외버스터미널). The ride will take roughly 1.5 hours.

From the terminal, take a taxi or a city bus to 원대리 마을회관.

Once in the forest, you can go trekking, admire the 700,000 birch trees, and take beautiful pictures.

The Onyang Hot Spring (온양온천지구)

Located in the Asan Province, Onyang Hot Spring is the oldest hot spring in Korea and one of the most popular springs during the Joseon period.

In the region, you will find plenty of SPA Houses and Jimjilnags where you can relax and escape the cold.

Other activities worth considering in winter in Korea

Trekking in Bukhansan National Park

Pyeongchang Trout Festival – 2.5 hours away from Seoul, taking place from the end of December until the beginning of February

Seogwipo Penguin Festival (서귀포 겨울바다펭귄수영대회) – set on the southernmost point of Jeju Island, the festival aims to welcome the new year and takes place on the 1st of January.

Ice fishing in Gangwon-do, near Hwacheon and Sokcho

Other South Korea Useful Travel Guides

South Korea travel resources

Seoul travel resources

Busan travel resources

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