11 Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea (and 3 New Year’s Sunrise Festivals)

If you’re planning a trip to Korea between December and March, you’ll need to know the best places to visit during the cooler months. So grab your big coat and get ready to explore winter in Korea!

Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

Whether you’re a fan of winter sports, looking to immerse yourself in traditional Korean activities, or seeking a New Year like no other, Korea’s winter destinations promise adventures and memories to be made. Grab your big coat and get ready to explore winter in Korea!

what to do in korea in winter

South Korea is a wonderful place to visit all year round. There is so much to see and do, a plethora of culture, arts, cuisine and history to revel in. As the temperatures drop and South Korea dons its winter coat, a magical transformation unfolds across the country, which you wouldn’t want to miss. From icy landscapes to New Year celebrations, Korea becomes a winter wonderland waiting to be explored. 

I’ve put together some of the best places to visit in winter in Korea, discovering the wonder of snowy escapes, frozen lake festivals, palaces and sunrises! 

The best places to visit in winter in Korea

There are lots of wonderful places to visit in Korea during the winter months, from palaces to islands and ski resorts to festivals.

1. Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Open all year round, but an especially glorious sight to behold in winter, Gyeongbokgung is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. There‘s so much gorgeous architecture within the palace and plenty of opportunities for great holiday snaps!

where to go in seoul

A few highlights of the palace include Geunjeongjeon, the main throne hall, where the king formally granted audiences to his officials. There are also not one but two stunning pavilions, Gyeonghoeru and Hyangwonjeong, which are situated on islands within the palace grounds. 

Visitors can witness the ceremonial Changing of the Guard at Gwanghwamun, the main gate, and experience the daily reenactment of the traditional royal guard-changing ceremony. Open to the public, the palace offers an exploration of its grounds, providing insights into Korean history amid beautiful gardens. Gyeongbokgung Palace is also illuminated at night, offering more excellent photo opportunities. It would definitely be one of the most beautiful places to visit in winter in Korea.

2. Namsan Seoul Tower, Seoul

Namsan Seoul Tower, also known as N Seoul Tower, is an icon of the area and is located on Namsan Mountain in the heart of Seoul. If you fancy it you could take a hike or a cable car to the top of Namsan Mountain which is one of the best places to visit in winter in Korea for its breathtaking views of Seoul covered in snow. 

Namsan Seoul Tower Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

Over the years, the tower has become a popular tourist attraction, offering two observation decks that offer stunning 360-degree views of Seoul and its surrounding areas and the beautifully illuminated at night too making for an excellent backdrop to your holiday photos!

3. Jeju Island

Just a short flight from Seoul, you’ll find Jeju Island. Visiting Jeju in December has been one of my favourite wintry trips. The island was quiet, the beaches were still beautiful, and it was great value!

Jeju Island solo

Click here to read more about what to do on Jeju Island in winter, where to stay on Jeju, and how to do a road trip round Jeju Island too.

I’d also recommend you read my guide to travelling Jeju solo, tips and advice for all!

4. Seoul Lantern Festival, Seoul

Seoul Lantern Festival is an annual event held in November and December. The festival is celebrated in and around Gwanghwamun Square, Cheonggyecheon Stream and Seoul Plaza and transforms the areas into a wonderland of colourful lanterns. It’s a mesmerising sight, especially after sunset. 

Seoul Lantern Festival Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

The festival provides excellent opportunities for photography, especially during the nighttime when the lanterns are illuminated. As it only takes place for a few weeks, it’s definitely one of my top suggestions for places to visit in winter in Korea. Also, it’s a free festival which makes it accessible to everyone who wishes to go!

Keep in mind that event details and dates vary slightly from year to year, so I recommend double-checking the most current information about the Seoul Lantern Festival and cross-referencing it with the date you plan to travel there. I wouldn’t want you to miss it!

READ MORE: 14 of the Best Cafes in Seoul, South Korea

4. Nami Island

Nami Island, officially known as Naminara Republic, is a small, beautiful island located in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, South Korea. During the winter months, typically from December to February, it transforms into a winter wonderland. 

Nami Island Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

The island is famous for its tree-lined paths which create a fairy-tale-like atmosphere when covered in snow; and when the lakes which surround the island freeze it becomes even more magical when the ice reflects the landscape.

It gained international fame as the filming location for the popular Korean drama ‘Winter Sonata’, so you may see lots of tourists who are fans of the show visiting the island as it played a large role in promoting South Korea’s cultural influence across Asia.

Stunning walking trails that wind through the wooded areas are aplenty on the island. These trails, decorated with snow-covered branches and paths, make for a beautiful setting in which you’ll want to take lots of photos. Of course, it can make for a very romantic setting as well.

Throughout the island, you’ll find various art installations and sculptures that only add to the natural beauty. These pieces of art, mixed with the winter landscape, create glorious sights which I’m sure you’ll fall in love with, which is why it’s one of the best places to visit in winter in Korea.

Nami Island, winter trip to Korea

Given the cold temperatures, you need to remember to pack lots of warm layers; everything from a winter coat, gloves, and a hat wouldn’t go amiss. Suitable footwear for walking in snow is essential as the island is a must-do but it will be icy.

Nami Island is accessible by a ferry ride from Gapyeong Wharf and the short journey across the river adds another exciting element to the trip!

The reason you have to visit Nami Island is its ability to transport visitors into a magical world of snow-covered landscapes as if from a movie! This means it is definitely one of the top places to visit in winter in Korea

5. Alpensia Ski Resort, Gangwon Province

Alpensia Ski Resort is situated in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province. The resort played a significant role during the 2018 Winter Olympics, hosting various events such as alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, and biathlon.

Alpensia Ski Resort Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

Alpensia Ski Resort is a haven for winter sports fans. The resort offers excellent skiing and snowboarding facilities, catering to all levels of expertise, from beginners to advanced skiers. It also features luxurious places to stay, with many hotels that offer stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and slopes.

Apart from winter sports, visitors can explore the Alpensia Olympic Park, which includes the Olympic Stadium and other facilities used during the Winter Olympics. The Olympic legacy makes it one of the best places to visit in winter in Korea and is undeniably a premier winter sports destination.

6. Jeongseon Rail Bike, Gangwon Province

The Jeongseon Rail Bike is one for the adventurers! Experience riding a rail bike through the snow-covered landscapes of Jeongseon. The route takes you through tunnels and over bridges, making you feel like an action hero! The Jeongseon Rail Bike experience is a one-of-a-kind adventure where visitors ride specially designed bikes along old railroad tracks. The tracks wind through the snow-covered countryside giving you an adventure you wouldn’t want to miss and makes it one of the best places to visit in winter in Korea.

Jeongseon Rail Bike Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

The Jeongseon Rail Bike is suitable for visitors of all ages and fitness levels so everyone can have a go. It’s a great activity for families, groups of friends, and adventurers in general who are seeking an interesting winter excursion.

Both Alpensia Ski Resort and Jeongseon Rail Bike offer incredible experiences in Gangwon Province, catering to those seeking the thrill of winter sports and those looking for a more scenic adventure. Whether you’re a skiing enthusiast or someone wanting to enjoy the winter landscapes in a chilled way (pardon the pun), Gangwon Province has something to offer.

7. Pyeongchang

Another major ski resort in Pyeongchang is Yongpyong Resort, known for its extensive slopes and hosting the slalom and giant slalom events during the Olympics. The resort is a popular destination for both recreational and professional skiers.

Yongpyong Jeongseon Rail Bike Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

Pyeongchang is surrounded by the Taebaek Mountains, creating a stunning backdrop for winter activities which will take your breath away – definitely one to be captured on camera to share with all your nearest and dearest when home.

Beyond the Olympic venues, Pyeongchang offers scenic trails for winter hiking and exploration. The snowy landscapes and scenery make it a gorgeous destination for nature lovers.

Pyeongchang is not only about sports; you can explore traditional markets, temples, and local festivals to get a taste of the region’s traditions.

Whether you’re an avid winter sports enthusiast or someone seeking a scenic escape, Pyeongchang’s combination of world-class facilities and natural beauty makes it one of the top places to visit in winter in Korea.

8. Inje Icefish Festival

The Inje Icefish Festival takes place in the town of Inje, located in Gangwon Province, South Korea. The festival is held during the winter season, when the weather is cold enough to freeze the surface of Soyangho Lake. The exact dates can vary from year to year, so it’s recommended to check the festival schedule in advance.

Inje Icefish Festival Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

The highlight of the festival is the ice fishing! The lake’s frozen surface becomes a temporary fishing ground during the festival. Visitors are provided with the opportunity to experience traditional ice fishing by drilling holes in the ice and trying their luck at catching mountain trout. This is a must-do activity in winter in Korea, how many other opportunities in life will you get to try your hand at something so unique! The mountain trout caught during the festival can often be prepared and cooked on-site, allowing participants to enjoy their catches!

In addition to ice fishing, the festival features a variety of performances and activities that showcase the local traditions and heritage of Inje. Traditional music, dance performances, ice sculptures and art installations by local artists give you insights into the wonderful history of the region and add to the magic of the festival.

Soyangho Lake, surrounded by mountains, makes for an awe-inspiring setting for the festival perfect for many a photo opportunity to capture the moment and make memories for life. It’s surely one of the best places to visit in winter in Korea.

9. Hahoe Folk Village

Hahoe Village stands out as one of Korea’s renowned folk villages, nestled amidst the Nakdonggang River. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this village preserves traditional Korean houses, known as hanok. Walking through the village feels like stepping back in time, and winter adds an extra layer of beauty to the surroundings.

Hahoe Folk Village Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

Its fame grew significantly after notable visits from Queen Elizabeth II  in 1999 and President George H. Bush of the U.S.A. in 2005. Recognized for its cultural richness, the village is a home to so many treasures that it led to its designation as National Folklore Cultural Heritage in 1984. Notably, the village features the Hahoe Masks, acknowledged as a National Treasure.

The village is home to hundreds of traditional Korean houses which are characterised by their wooden structures, tiled roofs, and courtyards called marues. Many of the hanoks have been preserved, offering visitors a glimpse into traditional Korean architecture. Some houses are open to the public, functioning as cultural centres and museums.

10. Mudeungsan National Park

Go winter hiking in Mudeungsan National Park and be rewarded with the panoramic views of Gwangju. It is known for its awesome landscape, including rugged peaks, forests and temples.

Mudeungsan National Park Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

Mudeungsan National Park is a popular destination for hiking enthusiasts throughout the year but the winter adds an extra special dimension. The park’s trails, which are surrounded by lush greenery during other seasons, transform into a winter wonderland when covered in snow. Hikers may come across temples, shrines, and stone pagodas nestled within the park, making for an even more rewarding hike!

The park is characterised by three main peaks: Gwanggyo, Hyangjeokbong, and Deokyusan. Each peak offers different levels of difficulty for hikers, meaning both beginners and experienced trekkers can have a go.

It may be obvious but remember it’s crucial to dress appropriately for winter hiking. Wear insulated layers, a good winter jacket, gloves, and a hat to stay warm. Wear sturdy and waterproof hiking boots to navigate snowy and icy trails more comfortably.

Gwangju, the sixth-largest city in South Korea, serves as a gateway to Mudeungsan National Park. The park is easily accessible from the city, making it a convenient day trip for you on your trip.

As suggestions for places to visit in winter in Korea go, hiking in Mudeungsan National Park offers a special mix of nature, snowy trails, beautiful views, and temples makes it an excellent choice for an outdoor adventure.

11. Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

This festival, held on the frozen Hwacheon Cheon Stream, offers a variety of winter activities, including ice fishing, sledging, and traditional folk games. It’s a lively and festive atmosphere, perfect for experiencing Korean winter traditions.

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea
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Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival embraces Korean winter traditions by featuring a variety of traditional folk games. Visitors can participate in activities like yutnori (a traditional board game), jegichagi (a game using a shuttlecock-like object), and tuho (arrow throwing).

The festival offers sledging activities designed to cater to different age groups and skill levels, making it a family-friendly activity.

Just like the Inje IceFish festival mentioned earlier, one of the main highlights of the festival is ice fishing on the frozen Hwacheon Cheon Stream. You can experience the unique thrill of drilling holes in the ice and attempting to catch sancheoneo, a type of mountain trout native to the region.

Hwacheon is easily accessible by public transportation from Seoul and other major cities and offers a great mix of winter activities, memorable experiences and festive fun.

New Year’s Sunrise Festivals

Welcoming in the New Year in Korea is one of the finest things you can do. There are a large number of ‘Sunrise Festivals’ where people gather to watch the very first sunrise of the New Year. 

1. Seongsan Sunrise Festival

The Seongsan Sunrise Festival takes place at Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone, known as ’Sunrise Peak’. Beyond the beautiful sunrise, the event promises parades, performances, firework displays, bowls full of tteokguk (rice cake soup). Whatever the time of year, it’s one of the best things to see on Jeju Island.

Seongsan Sunrise Festival Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

To ensure safety, only 500 people are allowed up the tuff cone on the early morning of January 1. For those eager to participate, applications will be open on the Seongsan Sunrise Festival website starting from noon (KST) on December 20.

2. Homigot Sunrise Festival

Homigot Sunrise Plaza at Homigot Cape stands out as a very popular spot for witnessing the New Year’s sunrise, thanks to its breathtaking yellow and golden sunrise landscape.

Homigot Sunrise Festival Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

The Homigot Sunrise Festival features captivating performances, a spectacular fireworks display, and a tteokguk event capable of serving up to 10,000 people!

3. Jeongdongjin Sunrise Festival

Featuring a unique prominent sandglass on Jeongdongjin Beach this sunrise festival serves up a local landmark and a magical focal point for the Jeongdongjin Sunrise Festival. It is a spectacle as it takes a full year for the sand in the upper bulb to fall into the lower one.

Jeongdongjin Sunrise Festival Best Places to Visit in Winter in Korea

At the stroke of midnight, a grand ceremony unfolds, featuring the flipping of the sandglass, symbolising the passage into the new year. This momentous occasion is marked with fireworks and performances.

There are other sunrise festivals too but these are some of the most notable. As places to visit in winter in Korea go, these sunrise festivals welcoming in the New Year are a great idea!

Just because it’s chilly in the winter doesn’t mean the fun has to stop. If anything, it opens up a whole new way of experiencing the country and having a holiday unlike any other. Get your snowshoes, skis, scarves and gloves and give yourself the gift of enchanted forest getaways and stunning first sunrises in Korea this winter!

korea in winter

Is it worth visiting Korea in winter?

Absolutely, visiting Korea during winter is a splendid idea. The season transforms the landscape into a picturesque wonderland, especially in the mountainous regions. Winter sports enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities for skiing and snowboarding, particularly in well-known resorts like Pyeongchang. Additionally, it’s a great time to experience Korea’s unique winter cuisine and traditional festivals, which offer a deep dive into the country’s rich culture.

Is it worth going to Seoul in December?

Visiting Seoul in December is highly recommended. The city is adorned with festive lights and decorations, creating a magical atmosphere. It’s an ideal time for shopping, with numerous markets and shopping festivals. Cultural events are in full swing, and you can enjoy traditional Korean performances. The chilly weather is perfect for savouring hot street food and warming traditional drinks, making it a cosy and delightful experience.

What is the winter temperature in Korea?

In winter, temperatures in Korea can vary significantly depending on the region. Generally, the average temperature ranges from -6°C to 3°C. However, it can get colder, especially in the northern parts and in the mountains, where temperatures can drop below -10°C. It’s advisable to prepare warm clothing, including thermal wear, to comfortably enjoy the winter season in Korea.

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