Korean winters may be harsh, but there are plenty of fun things to do across the peninsula, despite the plunging temperatures. From skiing and saunas to ice fishing festivals, here are a few ways to experience South Korea during the colder months of the year.
Home of two-time Olympic medalist and figure-skating icon Yuna Kim, South Korea boasts a number of indoor and outdoor ice skating rinks. Head to the Grand Hyatt Hotel Seoul, Yeouido Park, or Seoul Plaza to brush up on your skills or enjoy a leisurely romantic date.
Wash away the winter blues
The most obvious and perhaps most effective way to stay warm during the merciless Korean winter is by spending an afternoon at a jjimjilbang, or Korean-style sauna. Here, one has the option to soak in hot tubs fed by natural hot springs, relax in steamy saunas, and even get a rather intense body scrub to rid of all that excess dry skin brought on by the freezing temps. Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul and Spa Land in Busan are two tourist favorites.
Catering to young couples looking to enjoy the holiday together, numerous venues host multiple concerts on Christmas and the days leading up to it. K-pop fans can head to Interpark, Korea’s premier ticketing site, to find out which shows are on.
Shop ‘til ya drop
There’s no better way to keep warm than by shopping hot deals at one of the nation’s many fashion districts. From Dongdaemun’s 24-hour clothing markets and Cheongdamdong’s luxury boutiques in Seoul, to the Korea Grand Sale held at multiple events throughout the country, South Korea is a world-renowned shopping mecca. At many of the country’s larger facilities, shoppers can also enjoy countless entertainment, dining, and nightlife facilities without even having to go outdoors, as many are attached to the country’s subway stations.
Hwacheon is known to be the first area that freezes when winter settles in, so it’s no surprise that it hosts one of the nation’s largest winter festivals. In addition to multiple snow-related activities, the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival in Gangwon Province offers participants the opportunity to experience ice fishing and bare-handed fishing — a very cool experience that’s not to be missed!
Do as the polar bears do
Busan’s annual Polar Bear Swimming Contest invites those courageous enough to brave the elements to channel their inner polar bear and take a dip in the ocean. While the contest is the highlight, there are plenty of other fun experiences to be had such as concerts and hot spring visits. Attracting some 2,000 people from around the peninsula and beyond, the festival is said to be one of the best winter events in the nation.
Hit the slopes
In a county that’s 70% mountains, skiing is perhaps one of the best ways to take advantage of South Korea’s landscape when the temperatures begin to drop. Many ski resorts open as early as November and each offer something a bit different to winter sports enthusiasts. Whether you’re a beginner looking to take snowboarding lessons or an expert hoping to try out night skiing, there’s no shortage of spots to find what’s right for you.
Traditional tea time
Although Koreans tend to drink more coffee these days, tea was once the preferred beverage of choice. They may not be as common, but traditional tea houses can still be found tucked away in areas like Jeonju’s Hanok Village and Seoul’s Samcheongdong and Insadong neighborhoods. Settle into a cozy nook and order a cup of yujacha, a vitamin-packed citron tea. It’s certain to warm you right up and keep you healthy throughout the cold months.
Chow down on seasonal street snacks
Tasty street food can be had any time of the year, but there are a few treats that are only sold in the wintertime. In fact, it wouldn’t be winter in Korea without the aromas of roasting sweet potatoes and chestnuts permeating street corners and bus stops. Healthy and inexpensive, the hearty snacks are the perfect pick-me-up on a chilly day.
Come in from the cold
There is perhaps no better way to warm up in Korea than by cozying up with a good book on the floor, as most are warmed by ondol, traditional underfloor heating. The majority of modern apartment buildings employ this technology, but for the full effect, partake in hanok stay where you can sleep directly on the hot spot on the floor of a charming traditional Korean home.