A Guide to Winter in Korea: Survival Tips

I occasionally get questions about winter in Korea, so I thought I’d publish this guide in full! Here are some tips on staying warm and places to visit if you plan on visiting during the colder months.

I should warn you, I’m not a very wintry person. If I was allowed to, I’d eat my weight in food in November and then sleep like a bear from December – March. I haven’t been super far north of Seoul because it’s a mission and a half to get most places in Gangwon-do (where the Olympics are) from Jeollanam-do, but I do know enough to give you some tips on surviving the weather and where to go.

Other Seasonal Guides:

Tips for Winter in Korea

The sections are broken up into the following, so if you want to skip to one, you can just click on the links. I should also note there are some affiliate links, so I’ve put a * at the end so you know which ones they are!

What’s the Weather Really Like

The winter season lasts through late November – early March. The regions vary in how cold they can get. Closer to the northern border can be miserably freezing and down south in Jeju can be a lot milder. Seoul is almost always around 10F colder compared to Suncheon, which is about 4 hours by car (though as I write this Suncheon is actually slightly colder today).

Gangwondo, where the Pyeongchang Olympics were held, is the most northern province, so it’s also the coldest. Temperatures this year (2017-18) have dipped as low as 0F (-18C).

So, TL;DR it gets pretty damn cold! If you’re familiar with the US Northeast, I’d say the weather is fairly similar. I’ve personally never thought Korea was exceptionally cold in the winter (unlike, say, northern Canada or Russia).

What to Pack and Wear

I walk or take public transportation almost every day in Korea, so I’m outside for at least 30 minutes at a time. I run really hot, but I’m also an absolute wuss when it comes to being cold, so this is what I wear or layer on:

  • A Heattech tank*, a light T-shirt, a sweater, and a winter jacket with down insulation. The jacket in these pics was from E-mart, but the zipper fell apart after the winter was over, so I gave it away. The one I got last winter is this one* from the Men’s section of UNIQLO.
  • Leggings or Heattech leggings* (Some people double up)
  • Warm socks depending on the day. I have regular black socks and some wool ones.
  • Ugg-like boots or sneakers that slip on and off (though if you have waterproof boots, you’d be much better off than me. I had these Sorrell ones and wore them exactly once)
  • Some sort of knit scarf

I don’t wear gloves or hats mostly because I lose them too often, but if you get cold then I’d get ear warmers as well.

My best recommendation is to stop by Uniqlo* or shop their winter collections online. Their Heattech products* have been my lifesaver this year.

Places to Visit in Korea During the Winter

If you’re looking to get your snowy fix, then there are plenty of places to visit in Korea in winter.

I’d plan my itinerary around Seoul, Gyeonggi-do, and Gangwon-do for your best chances of snow, though I will say I’ve seen some beautiful snowfalls in Jeollabuk-do as well.

If you’re hoping to avoid freezing temperatures, then I’d head to Jeju, Jeollanam-do, Busan, and Gyeongsangnam-do where it’s cold but not terrible.

Things to Do in Korea in Winter

If you plan on what you want to do during the winter, it’ll help you decide on which specific cities or towns you’ll want to stay in. Here are some of the different activities:

Go ice skating

Of course ice skating! There are plenty of places to go in Seoul and some of the bigger cities in Korea. I imagine the rinks can get pretty crowded at peak times, so just be aware when you’re planning to. Some popular places in Seoul are:

  • Lotte World (which is indoors)
  • Seoul Plaza

Go hiking

Hiking is popular in all seasons (though maybe not in the dead of summer), and it’s pretty popular in the winter as well! I hiked Jogyesan over Christmas weekend this last year and I still would like to go back to Daedunsan to see the bridges in the snow.

winter at jogyesan

Spend the day at a jjimjilbang (찜질방).

One way to warm up from a chilly day (and find somewhere cheap to sleep that night) is at a jjimjilbang! Basically, they’re public baths separated by gender, and they’re amazing. There are jjimjilbangs almost everywhere and at least one in the smallest of towns.

Just make sure you shower before you hop into one of the baths!

If you’re staying in Seoul, I loved Siloam Sauna near Seoul Station. The beds are even sectioned off, so you get your own private space! I’ve also heard good things about Dragon Hill Spa, and you can get a slightly discounted ticket here*.

Go ice fishing.

I have never in my life felt any inkling to go ice fishing anywhere, but it’s an option if that’s your thing. The popular areas for it are up in Gangwon-do, near Hwacheon and Sokcho.

Visit Chuncheon + Other Fairytale Inspired Places

Chuncheon is right outside of Seoul and often a great day or weekend getaway for anyone living in the city. You can explore Nami Island, go to Petite France, and wander around the Garden of the Morning Calm. All three areas are even more charming with a light dusting of snow.

Other fairytale-inspired places include Meta Provence down in Damyang, Edelweiss Swiss, Namhae’s German Village, and another Provence village in Paju.

Visit the various temples and palaces

I’ve visited Korean temples in all sorts of weather at this point, and they’re by far the most beautiful in the snow. The fall foliage and the cherry blossoms are a close second, but there’s something about how white snow contrasts with the temple colors that make them stand out.

As a bonus, since it’s so cold out when it snows, you might wind up with the whole place to yourself!

Go to the different winter festivals

Korea loves its festivals. Think of anything and there’s probably a festival for it! Below are a few of the popular winter ones:

Watch the sunrise

If you happen to travel to Korea on New Years, a big thing to do is to hike or visit one of the coasts to catch the sunrise. There are different places to do this everywhere, so it just depends on where you’re at.

If you’re not much of a sunrise person, then the sunsets are just as beautiful! One year when I went with Elissa and her sister to Busan and we ended our day trip watching the sunset from Haeundae.

Skiing in Korea: The Resorts

The #1 thing to do in Korea, of course, is go skiing! As I always tell people, this country is mostly mountainous, which means there are a lot of incredible ski resorts around the country. Here are a few I found near Seoul in either Gyeonggi-do or Gangwon-do.

Alpensia Ski Resort (알펜시아리조트 스키장)

Alpensia is one of the main locations for the Pyeongchang Olympics in Taebaeksan (Mt. Taebaek). Its name is a mix of Alpen (German for “the Alps”) and Asia, and there are 6 different slopes to choose from.

My friends actually made a video when they visited Alpensia last year for New Years. They’ve also made ones for Yongpyong and High1 if you want to check them out too:

Bears Town Ski Resort (베어스타운리조트 스키장)

Bears Town is less than an hour away from Seoul in Pocheon. It has 11 slopes from beginner to advanced.

Elysian Ganchon Resort (엘리시안 강촌 스키장)

Elysian is about 90 minutes from Seoul and has 10 slopes, 8 of which are for beginners and intermediate skiers.

High 1 Ski Resort (하이원리조트 스키장)

High1 is the only ski resort I’ve been to, and a friend said she thought it was the second best ski resort in the country. It’s a little around 2-3 hours from Seoul in Jeongsan and has 20 slopes spread over 3 peaks. I also do know foreigners here get a 40% discount and a free helmet with ski rentals! There’s also a Quiznos in the main cafeteria at the bottom.

Jisan Forest Ski Resort (지산 포레스트 리조트 스키장)

Jisan is about 2 hours away from Seoul in Icheon and has 7 main slopes for beginner and intermediate skiers.

Oak Valley Ski Resort (오크밸리 스키장)

Oak Valley is around 2 hours from Seoul in Wonju and has 9 slopes.

Vivaldi Ski World (비발디 파크 스키월드)

Vivaldi is only an hour away from Seoul in Hongcheon with 12 slopes. Some tours I’ve seen also combine skiing here with trips to Nami Island.

Yongpyong Resort (용평리조트 스키장)

Not only is Yongpyong another one of the locations for the Pyeongchang Olympics, it’s the first and largest ski resort in Korea. It’s also the best, according to the same friend who said High 1 was second best. Around 3-4 hours from Seoul in Hoenggye, it has 28 slopes.

What to Eat to Stay Warm

One of the best parts of winter in Korea is eating all the warm stews and soups. While you’re out, look for jjigae (찌개), – tang (탕), or -guk (국) in the name.

Main Dishes

  • Bbyeodagwitang (뼈다귀탕) – This is my absolute favorite stew, but I don’t really see it in many places. If you visit Namwon, there’s a whole street of Bbyeodagwitang restaurants, but the best is 25시.
  • Kalbitang (갈비탕) – Kalbitang is a classic soup, and it’s perfect if you don’t like spicy food.
  • Kimchijiggae (김치찌개) – Kimchi-jiggae is another classic, though it can be a bit spicy if you’re not prepared.
  • Dubujiggae (두부찌개) – If you’re vegetarian, look for “Dubu” products in general. I will say most restaurants probably won’t be 100% vegetarian, but you can always find out which ones are on Happy Cow.
  • Pajeon (파전) – Pajeon is delicious no matter what time of year it is, but it’s a warm dish, so I thought I’d add it here too just because it’s so good.

Street Food

  • Ddeokbbeokki (떡뻑기) – Again, ddeokbbeokki is delicious no matter what time of year, but it is a spicy dish, so you may appreciate it more in December than in the middle of July.
  • Egg Bread (계란빵) – I don’t see too many food stalls with egg bread, but it has to be one of my favorite street foods in the winter! It’s pretty much just an egg cracked open and cooked in a slightly sweet bread.
  • Hotteok (호떡) – Hotteok is a sweet pancake type thing that I only really see come out in the colder months. There’s a really delicious version in Gamcheon Village in Busan that puts different seeds like sunflower seeds in theirs.
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes (고구마)– Korean sweet potatoes are definitely my favorite type of potato. You don’t need anything on them, and they’re delicious.
  • Fish bread (붕어빵) – Fish bread. It’s not my favorite because I don’t like red bean. However, I recently discovered many food stalls in Suncheon that use cream (슈크림), and holy cow, is it addicting. There’s also a place near the Jeonju Hanok Village that makes them with speculoos.

Any Extra Korea Winter Travel Tips

Hot packs are lifesavers.

They’re in every convenience store and usually last 12 hours or more. I’ve gotten smaller ones that only last 6 hours, but they still get the job done. You basically shake them and they heat up. I stuff them in my coat pockets for my hands or, sometimes, in my bra when I’m sitting down.

A note on ondol heating

Ondol heating means floor heating. Most apartments have it, and if you go to traditional restaurants with floor seating, you’ll probably experience it there as well. Just something to be aware of in case you get to your hotel and don’t find a regular heater there!

And there you have it! If you’re coming here during the winter months, I hope these tips help you stay warm and enjoy your trip! Let me know if I’ve forgotten anything.