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 were) from where I lived in Jeolla, but I do know enough to give you some tips on surviving the weather and where to go.

Quick Korea Guide

  • Getting in: Chances are you’re flying into Incheon International Airport. Don’t spend a ton of money on getting a taxi into Seoul. Just use the subway which is super nice and easy to use. They even have arrows on the ground! If you do need a private transfer, just book ahead.
  • Stay in Touch: Korea has the best thing ever – eSIMs! No need to worry about losing your physical SIM card anymore. Just buy here and you’ll be emailed a QR code which will set you up!
  • Where to Book Activities: I always like checking Klook or Trazy for the best deals on anything related to tours and experiences in Korea.
  • Getting Around: In Seoul and Busan, you’ll always be able to use the subway, walk, and/or grab a taxi. Uber/Lyft/etc don’t work in Korea; download Kakao T instead. Even the Korean countryside has some sort of bus or taxi system AND for nearly all ski resorts, etc have shuttles and different transportation options.

Check my South Korea travel tips post for more

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.:

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, where I lived and which is about 4 hours by car.

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

So, TL;DR it gets pretty damn cold! If you’re familiar with the U.S. Northeast, I’d say the weather is fairly similar. It’s that kind of damp cold that can seep into your bones if you don’t have the right outerwear.

girl in winter coat with snowy back ground -what to wear in korea in the winter

What to Pack and Wear

I walked or took public transportation almost every day in Korea, so I was 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:

  • Tops: A Heattech tank or long sleeve top, a light T-shirt, a sweater, and a winter jacket with 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. If you’re in Korea, I got one similar to this style from the Men’s section of UNIQLO but if you’re traveling from abroad, you can easily buy a cuter style before coming. The key is to find something built against the damp cold. I’ve since gotten a long wool coat from Nordstrom and a Patagonia jacket. I do still have the UNIQLO coat, and it’s been a few years, so know the quality holds up!
  • Bottoms: Leggings or Heattech leggings – some people I know will wear two!
  • Socks: Warm socks depending on the day. Get merino wool socks if you can. UNIQLO also has Heattech socks but I haven’t tried them myself.
  • Shoes: So, this really depends on where you go and how much you plan on being in the snow. If it’s a lot, invest in some solid, waterproof snowshoes. I personally have Merell winter boots that have yet to let me down but I bought them after living in Korea. Otherwise, you don’t need such heavy duty boots (I had Sorel boots that I wore exactly twice and gave away before moving). I frequently wore shoes you could slip in and out of for school, so I had the classic Uggs (well, ugg-like boots), slip-on moccasin type shoes, and regular black sneakers. Roads and sidewalks were always pretty clear where I lived, so I didn’t worry about slippery paths or walking through snow too much.
  • Extra: Some sort of knit scarf. I had a slew of them but by far my favorite is my alpaca knit scarf bought somewhere in the Atacama Desert! Wool, cashmere, and alpaca are by far the best and coziest materials.
  • NOTE: I hardly ever wore gloves or hats mostly because I lost them too often, but if you get cold then I’d get ear warmers as well.

** If you’re wondering why there’s so much UNIQLO in here, it’s because it’s the one place I could reliably go to for decent quality clothing that fit me! It usually goes up to XL and is a solid XL (unlike H&M which varied greatly). If you’re plus size coming to Korea, you absolutely want to get what you need beforehand because it’s a wasteland for any over a size S or M. **

Skiing in Korea

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, Busanand Gyeongsangnam-do where it’s cold but not quite so 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
  • Onemount Snow Park
winter at jogyesan

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 one year, and I still would like to go back to Daedunsan to see the bridges in the snow.

Koreans do love hiking and don’t let a little thing like freezing weather stop them. In fact, it’s a big thing to go hiking for sunrise on January 1st.

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 even 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 tickets 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. If you want, you can book tickets here for the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival.

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, wander around the Garden of the Morning Calm, and check out the very cool Cheongyang ice fountain.

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

Like I said above, 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.

Enjoy the Winter Holidays in Korea

Besides, the regular New Year, there are two other big holidays that happen in the winter: Christmas and Lunar New Year!

Christmas

Christmas is quite a bit different in Korea than what you might be used to. It’s actually quite the couples’ holiday! That doesn’t mean Korea doesn’t get into the festive spirit. You’ll definitely see plenty of holiday decor, especially in the cafes, and even Seoul has its own Christmas markets through the month of December. My friend Hallie, has a good Christmas in Seoul guide if you’re looking to get in the spirit!

Seollal (설날)

Just like Chuseok around September or October, Seollal is one of the two most important holidays in Korean culture. You might also know it as the Chinese or Lunar New Year. It usually falls sometime in January or February, and funnily enough, I was always in another country for it since I could stack my winter vacation time with the days we got off for Seollal! This year the main day is on January 25th.

If you’re in town, though, just be prepared that many places may be closed on the actual day. On the flip side, though, the palaces are open and free, and you’ll probably see Seoul at its emptiest since most Koreans go home and winter isn’t really high season for travel!

If you really want to get in the Seollal spirit, look into eating some tteokguk and playing some yutnori! I love tteokguk; am not so great at playing yutnori haha.

High1 Resort, Skiing in Korea

Skiing in Korea: Where to Go

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.

The nice thing is that Korean ski slopes seem to be quite safe compared to some of the stories I’ve heard about the more advanced slopes in Europe or Japan.

You can also easily rent your gear at the resort for pretty cheap, and they’ll most likely have your size! I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to fit at a US Size 14-16, but the guy handed me the right pair just looking at me.

Here are a few I found near Seoul in either Gyeonggi-do or Gangwon-do.

Alpensia Ski Resort (알펜시아리조트 스키장)

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

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 was 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 High1 was second best. Around 3-4 hours from Seoul in Hoenggyeit 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.

For more Korean travel, read these posts next:

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3 Comments

  1. Man Jang
    December 14, 2020 / 2:12 am

    1. 보일러 (On house)
    2.창문 단열용 뽁뽁이(On Window)
    3. 내복 (underwear)
    4.털모자 (On your head)
    5.귀덥개( On your ear)
    6. 롱패딩 (outerwear)
    7.뜨거운 생강차(hot tea)

    If you prepare all seven, you can spend winter in Korea without worry.

  2. Sid
    December 22, 2019 / 1:10 pm

    OMG, you have quite a blog here on Korea!!! :) Got a lot of good information, Thank you for all the hints. I am still exploring your blog, trying to find if there are any tips for a visit during Feb-March. Thank you!

    • Samantha
      Author
      December 22, 2019 / 8:44 pm

      Aw thank you! This’ll be your best post for Feb to March. It’s still quite cold! If you’re in March maybe the end of the first week and the second week, you’ll get to start seeing the early spring flowers like the sansuyu and plum blossoms though!

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