Believe it or not, I’ve gone through summer in Korea four times! As a follow up to my guide to winter in Korea, I thought I’d write a nice little survival guide for anyone living or traveling through in the next few months. Enjoy!
2020 Update: Well, as you guys know, 2020 has been quite a year for the world, and Korea is no different. If you plan on visiting, as far as I know there’s a mandatory quarantine for 2 weeks. It was 1.3 mil KRW but I heard it’s now 2.1 mil KRW. Basically the capitalist way of saying, “Don’t come.”
Also keep in mind most of the tips below won’t really work as I’m sure most festivals and places with large groups are postponed/cancelled! If you’re living in Korea, I recommend keeping up with the KCDC press releases, wearing a mask, and being safe in general! Korea is one of the countries doing better but it hasn’t eradicated the virus just yet.
You know, the older I get, the more I realize one truth — I am not a summer person. At least not in Korea. If I’m left to my own devices, I will sit under my AC for three months in a big T-shirt, and you won’t see me until the first breezy day in late September.
During my last summer in Korea, I decided to be more active. I made plans for the weekend, and I stocked up on cotton shorts and breezy T-shirts to keep cool. My goal was to not consume two ice creams a day and hibernate in the icy cave of my apartment.
other seasonal guides:
- Autumn in Korea: Forecast, Food, Festivals, + More
- A Guide to Winter in Korea: Survival Tips
- Spring in Korea: Top Things to Do
A Full Guide to Summer 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.
- What’s the Weather Really Like
- What Should I Pack + Wear?
- What to do in Korea during the Summer
- What to Eat to Stay Cool
- Any Extra Korea Summer Travel Tips
What’s the Weather Like in a Korean Summer
In short, the weather is torture. I’ve been to humid places in Southeast Asia before, but nothing quite compares to how brutal Korea is in the middle of July and August. I think it’s a mix of things.
The temperature itself isn’t necessarily the problem. It usually only gets up to around 80F (27C) – 90F(32C).
The real problem is that it’s monsoon season. When it’s not down pouring, it’s humid.
When you read humid, you may think, “Oh, that’s fine! Plenty of places are humid.” No, my friend, no. Korea is the kind of humid where you exit your air-conditioned car for five minutes and come back drenched in sweat. Besides the rain, there is no natural relief.
Korea is also packed in. Because the country is so mountainous, everything is closer together in general. The cities are, of course, the most condensed. I swear, it’s like this set-up traps in the humidity even more, and both of them combined trap in every atom of pollution and pollen imaginable. When I stayed with Elissa in Seoul before our trip to Bali, it felt like I was walking through a sweaty curtain of city scudge.
I’m being dramatic because summer humidity is one of the few things that give me a bit of a princess complex (that and clean bathrooms). I’ve heard Japan, Taiwan, HK, and China are pretty bad in similar ways, so I’m sure it’s not unique to this peninsula.
Also, if this is your first trip, you probably won’t be too bothered. I was in such a honeymoon phase in my first summer, the heat and the monsoons of Seoul didn’t even bother me. I was too high up on cloud nine.
What to Wear in Korea During the Summer
So, as a tourist, you’re pretty much fine to wear what you want. Even if you walked around in a bikini top all day, I’m sure no one would be too fussed in the bigger cities. They’d just look at you and think, “Oh it’s just a foreigner being a foreigner.” There’s no big fashion/modesty faux-paus if you don’t cover certain areas.
However, if you’re hoping to detract from the foreigner stares just a little bit, the big thing I’d recommend is the following two pieces of advice:
- Cover up your shoulders and cleavage. Especially the cleavage. Koreans cover up their top areas in general. You might see a younger person in a muscleman tank or a crop top at a music festival, but overall, you’ll see them in T-shirts or blousy tops. I think there’s even nipple tape that men wear to keep modest, but don’t quote me on that.
- When you go swimming, wear a cover-up or a rash guard. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Korean in Korea wearing a bikini or swim trunks on their own. They always have a rash guard on or a T-shirt on top.
If you want some things to stay extra cool, check out Uniqlo’s Airism collection. I’ve never worn them as I don’t really wear undershirts or tanks in the summer, but I’ve heard they’re lovely. My only other piece of advice is to wear cotton and linen. If you’re on a budget, the H&M cotton dresses are perfect for Korea. Just make sure you check the material because some batches are kind of thin and crappy. I used to have 3 to rotate between. If you’re in the US before you go, I’ve also found Old Navy’s summery dress collections to be nice and breezy as well.
Where to Go During the Summer
If you want to stay relatively cooler, then visit Gangwon-do! It’s still hot, but it’ll be a bit more bearable than all the way down in Jeju where it’ll be almost painfully humid. I haven’t been able to explore Gangwon nearly as much since I lived so far south.
Here are some Gangwon-do tour options:
- Day trip out to Nami Island with Admission Ticket
- Wonju Rail Bike and Mt. Sogeum Suspension Bridge
- Gangneung Beach Day Tour
If you do want to go to Jeju, I’d go more in June and early July as it’s slightly more tolerable than late July and August. I highly recommend renting a car as it’s easy to drive on the island and you’ll just me much more comfortable than trying to catch the buses. I also recommend staying at this Airbnb. Not only is it super close to smaller port for Udo Island, it’s next to this lovely beach that’ll feel like your own private area!
What to Do in Korea During the Summer
Go to a water park.
Nothing beats a fun water park! The two near Seoul are:
Hang out at the beaches.
There are so many beaches in Korea! I mean it is a peninsula. From Gangneung in the north to Hyeopjae in Jeju, you’ll have plenty of options.
Go for a sunrise hike.
It’d be a shame to visit Korea and not do at least one hike. I’m pretty sure you’re asking for a sunstroke if you go in the middle of the day, but another option is to go for the sunrise.
There are plenty throughout the country if you do want to do one. In Seoul, you can hike Maebongsan or Haneul Park, and in Jeju, they call Seongsan Ilchulbong “Sunrise Peak” in English!
Attend a festival!
There are a ton of festivals in Korea throughout the summer. This is by no means going to be a comprehensive list, so I’d just check out what’s happening during the weeks you’re here. Some I know of:
- Pride Festival – This is in mid-July. I went my last summer and it was a ton of fun! You basically walk around the main part of Seoul, and there’s a lot of singing and dancing. Be warned, you’re walking around Seoul in mid-July with a bunch of people, you’re going to be dripping in sweat. We walked over to my now favorite sauna and uber budget place to stay in Seoul, Siloam Sauna!
- Music Festivals – I don’t know all the big festivals, but I do know Ultra Music Festival is in June and Jisan Valley Rock Festival is in July.
- Boryeong Mud Festival – Apparently the mud at Boryeong is good for your skin, so, of course, there’s a giant mud festival in July. It’s exactly what it sounds like too — a giant mud party. Throw mud, swim around in it, and enjoy! Check tour prices + dates here
- Buyeo Sudong Lotus Festival – I don’t know much about this festival, but I saw it mentioned somewhere. It’s basically a lotus festival in late July and the photos from it look quite pretty! Check tour prices + dates here
- Daegu Chimac Festival – As you can guess from the title, this one is all about the iconic combo of chicken and beer! Check prices + dates here
- Water BOMB Festival – This one is in Seoul, and it’s basically a big music festival with water. Check details + prices here
Hang out + go camping in the valleys
The valleys are actually really nice if you want to go camping. I don’t know of too many, but when I visited Ryan and Stephanie in Yeosu, we hung out at Yeongchuisan Valley. It was the perfect way to stay cool after lunch.
My best advice is to ask around depending on which area you’re planning on going camping in or visiting. Considering this country is mostly mountains, there should be plenty of areas to choose from.
Visit a snow-themed indoor park.
Did you know there are entire snow-themed indoor parks in Korea? I had no clue! I guess if you truly want to beat the heat, just pretend it’s winter!
What to Eat + Drink to Stay Cool
Naengmyun is by far one of my favorite dishes for summer! You either love it or hate it though because it has a vinegary taste. It’s basically cold buckwheat noodles in an icy broth. I mean, how many foods can you say have their own catchy theme song?
Bingsu is amazing. The original style is patbingsu, which was basically red bean paste over shaved ice, rice cake, and nut powder. Nowadays you’ll see it with fruit and condensed milk. Personally, I’m not a big fan of red bean, so I just like the different varieties of bingsu. The main franchise is Sulbing, and I like getting the cheesecake or mango bingsu.
GS25 Ice Cream
This sounds silly, but if you ever need to, just pop into a convenience store for their ice cream! There are so many different flavors and treats than what you’d get in your home country! I personally love the chocolate one that looks like poop.
Any Extra Summer Travel Tips
Makeup Tip: Get the powder or anti-sebum primer
The nice thing about it getting so humid in Korea is how many make-up tricks and products there are to help beat that shiny forehead look! I personally love Innisfree’s no sebum blur primer. I just put a bit on my forehead and my nose!
Bring a little Portable Fan with You
I don’t even care how silly I look, but I popped into Artbox and picked up one of those little portable fans! I mean I also have a regular fan to wave back and forth, but I figured I’ll be more likely to walk somewhere if I know I have a bit of a breeze to make it a little better!
Bring an insulated water bottle with you to fill up
There are water coolers in a lot of places in Korea, so you can always fill up with clean, cold water to help you stay cool! My mom sent me a Hydro Flask for Christmas, and it’s been a lifesaver. It keeps my stuff cold (and hot) forever, and it doesn’t get all the condensation a normal cold water bottle gets.
And there you have it! All my best tips to stay cool during the summer in Korea! Good luck, and I hope you stay as sweat-free as possible!