Best Time to Visit Korea (Seasons, holidays, and festivals)
South Korea is a fascinating country filled with a rich culture, beautiful landscapes, and delicious cuisine. Whether you are interested in exploring the bustling cities or the serene countryside, there are plenty of things to see and do in this amazing country. However, one question that many people ask when planning a trip to Korea is when is the best time to visit? In this blog post, we will explore the different seasons in Korea and give you insights on when is the optimal time to plan your visit.
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When is the best time of year to visit South Korea?
The best time to visit South Korea depends largely on your personal preferences and interests. However, the general consensus is that spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) are the most favorable seasons. During these periods, the weather is mild and enjoyable, and the country is adorned with beautiful cherry blossoms in spring and vibrant fall colors in autumn. These seasons also coincide with several cultural festivals, offering a rich glimpse into Korean traditions and way of life.
Information about each season in Korea
In Korea, each season brings its unique charm and host of activities, making it a year-round destination. However, the "best" time to visit depends largely on what you want to see, do, and experience. From spring's cherry blossoms to winter's snow festivals, let's delve into what each season in Korea has to offer to help you determine the ideal time for your visit.
Spring is a magical time in Korea as the entire country comes to life with blooming cherry blossoms. This is the best time to visit if you want to witness the breathtaking scenery of cherry blossoms in full bloom. The weather is mild, with temperatures ranging from 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Many areas also have various festivals celebrating the arrival of spring, such as Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival.
Summer (June to August)
Summer in Korea is hot and humid, with temperatures averaging around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. While the weather can be uncomfortable for some, there are still plenty of reasons to visit during this time. From enjoying the refreshing beaches in Busan to cool mountaintops in Seoraksan National Park, there are numerous outdoor activities to enjoy. Additionally, summer is the time for exciting events, such as Boryeong Mud Festival and the Ultra Music Festival in Seoul.
Keep in mind that summer in Korea will mean lots of fellow international tourists so we'd recommend reserving accommodations, flights, and securing tickets for any tours or activities you're sure we'd like to experience as far in advance as possible.
Fall is another great time to visit Korea, with warm temperatures and beautiful foliage. The leaves change into vibrant colors of orange, red, and yellow, creating a stunning landscape. This is an excellent time to explore the countryside and witness traditional Korean festivals, such as the Andong Mask Dance Festival or the Jeju Fire Festival. However, be prepared for crowds, as fall is the second-busiest season next to spring.
We visited Korea for the entire month of October and had so much fun! We were fortunate that we had almost entirely moderate, sunny weather the entire time we were there. I think we had only one day of rain! Packing layers and a variety of clothing options is key for staying comfortable when traveling in the shoulder season.
Winter in Korea can be harsh, with temperatures often dropping below freezing and crazy cold and strong winds coming down from Russia's Siberia. Nonetheless, winter in Korea is truly magical with snow-covered landscapes, ice skating, and delicious warm street foods. If you are a ski enthusiast, Korea has excellent skiing resorts like Yongpyong Ski Resort and Alpensia Ski Resort. Winter is also an ideal time to visit if you want to witness the Seoul Lantern Festival, where hundreds of colorful lanterns light up the city.
List of festivals in South Korea
Now that we've explored the seasonal highlights of a Korean visit, let's delve deeper into the vibrant cultural tapestry of Korea, via its myriad festivals. From colorful parades and performances to hands-on experiences, each Korean festival offers a unique window to understand and appreciate the local traditions and lifestyle. In the next section, we will list some of the most celebrated festivals in Korea that you might want to consider when planning your trip.
The Seoul Lantern Festival is a truly spectacular sight to behold, turning the city into a dazzling display of light and creativity. Spanning two weeks in November, this annual event features thousands of lanterns along the Cheonggyecheon Stream, each telling a story through its intricate design and bright colors. From depictions of traditional Korean folklore to modern themes, the festival is a vibrant celebration that illuminates the heart of Seoul. It's a must-experience event when visiting Korea in November.
The Boryeong Mud Festival is a unique and exciting event that attracts millions of visitors from around the world each year. Held in the coastal town of Boryeong, the festival is all about fun, mud and entertainment. The mud, considered rich in minerals, is used in a variety of activities such as mud wrestling, mud sliding and even a mud prison. It's a great way to cool off in the summer heat and make some unforgettable memories.
The Jeju Fire Festival, held every March, is an unforgettable spectacle. It is a traditional event that marks the beginning of spring, when farmers would burn their fields to prepare for the new planting season. The festival includes a variety of activities, such as horse riding, traditional folk games, and the highlight - a giant torch parade followed by the burning of an old volcanic cone covered in dry grass. The blazing fire against the night sky is an awe-inspiring sight, symbolizing new beginnings and good luck for the coming year. It's an event that encapsulates the spirit and culture of Jeju Island, making it a must-see for those visiting Korea in March.
The Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival is one of the most anticipated events in Korea, held in early April. The city of Jinhae transforms into a wonderland of pink blossoms, drawing visitors from around the globe. The highlight of this festival is walking under a canopy of cherry blossoms at Yeojwacheon Stream and Gyeonghwa Station. This is truly a sight to behold and an experience you don't want to miss if you're visiting Korea in spring.
The Gwangju Kimchi Festival, held in October, is a culinary celebration of Korea's most famous dish - Kimchi. This festival allows you to immerse yourself in the tradition of Kimchi making, offering hands-on experiences such as Kimchi making and tasting sessions. In addition, there are various Kimchi-themed activities and exhibitions that provide a deeper understanding of its cultural significance in Korea. This festival is a must-visit for food enthusiasts planning a trip to Korea in the fall.
The Busan International Fireworks Festival is a breathtaking event held every October in Busan, home to Korea's most famous beach. The event features enormous fireworks displays launched from barges anchored off Gwangalli Beach, filling the night sky with beautiful colors. In addition to the stunning fireworks, the festival includes music concerts, a parade, and traditional Korean art performance. This festival is the epitome of a perfect autumn night in Korea and a must-see for anyone visiting during this period.
The Yeon Deung Hoe or the Lotus Lantern Festival takes place in May, making it a highlight for those visiting Korea in late spring. The celebration commemorates Buddha's birthday and lights up the entire city with brilliant lantern displays. The festival features a vibrant lantern parade and a variety of traditional cultural performances, all culminating in the hoisting of a massive lantern offering a spectacle of colors and lights. This festival not only allows visitors to appreciate Korea's deep-rooted Buddhist culture but is also an enchanting feast for the eyes.
The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival takes place in January and is a must-visit for winter travelers. This unique festival held in Hwacheon is a vibrant celebration of winter, where visitors can experience ice fishing, ice sculptures, and a variety of winter-themed activities. From carving your own ice lantern to grilling and eating the fish you just caught, the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival provides a fun and immersive way to enjoy the Korean winter.
The Andong Mask Dance Festival is an iconic event held every year from September to October, in the city of Andong, known as the cradle of Korean spiritual culture. This event showcases a variety of traditional Korean mask dances, each narrating unique folklore and offering deep insights into the country's rich heritage. Alongside the performances, visitors can also participate in mask painting and traditional Korean games. This festival offers an immersive journey through the heart of Korea's cultural identity, making it an ideal time to visit.
Holidays in Korea tourists should be aware of
When considering the best time of year to visit Korea, visitors should take into consideration national holidays that will affect the openings and closures of popular tourist activities, restaurants, and more. Do as we say and not as we do and always check the calendar of a country before you book! When we visited Korea we were there for not one but two holidays which resulted in the city shutting down almost entirely.
*This is a list of holidays I was able to put together but considering I'm not Korean, I would highly recommend double checking for holidays for yourself before you book a ticket!
List of major holidays in Korea
New Year's Day (January 1): New Year's Day, known as 'Seollal', is one of the most celebrated national holidays in Korea. It is a time for family gatherings, ancestral rites, and paying respect to elders. It is also customary to play traditional games and eat traditional foods like Tteokguk, a soup with sliced rice cakes.
Lunar New Year (Late January - Early February): The Lunar New Year, also called 'Seollal', is one of the most important traditional holidays in Korea. Celebrations last for three days: the day before Korean New Year, Korean New Year itself, and the day after Korean New Year. During this time, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns, pay respects to their ancestors, and enjoy time with family.
Independence Movement Day (March 1): This day commemorates the March 1st Movement of 1919, a significant milestone in Korea's path to independence from Japanese colonial rule. On this day, Koreans reflect on their national identity and history. Flags are flown, and memorial services are held nationwide.
Children's Day (May 5): Children's Day is a public holiday in South Korea. It's a day dedicated to children, where parents often take their kids out for fun activities. Children also receive gifts on this day.
Buddha's Birthday (April 8 in lunar calendar, usually in May): This is a religious holiday where lantern parades and temple festivals take place. Temples are adorned with lanterns, and the streets are filled with parades and traditional music.
Memorial Day (June 6): South Korea observes a Memorial Day to honor the soldiers and civilians who sacrificed their lives for their country during the Korean War. The largest ceremony is held at the National Cemetery in Seoul.
Liberation Day (August 15): This national holiday commemorates Korea’s liberation from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule in 1945. Special commemorative events are held throughout the country.
Chuseok (Mid September to early October): Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving Day, is one of the most significant holidays in Korea. Families gather to share food and stories, pay respect to their ancestors, and visit their ancestral hometowns.
National Foundation Day (October 3): Known as 'Gaecheonjeol', this holiday celebrates the legendary formation of the first Korean state, Gojoseon, in 2333 BC. It’s a day of patriotic celebration and historical reflection.
Hangeul (Hangul) Day(October 9): This day celebrates the Korean alphabet, Hangul, which was created in 1446 by King Sejong. It is a national holiday in South Korea and is celebrated through various cultural events.
Christmas Day (December 25): Christmas is recognized as a public holiday in South Korea. Churches hold services and many people exchange gifts. Seoul, in particular, is known for its spectacular Christmas lights.
How to beat the crowds and save money when visiting Korea
Planning your trip to Korea doesn't have to mean breaking the bank or battling throngs of tourists. In the following section, we're going to share some tried-and-true tips and insights on how you can experience the best of Korea, while avoiding the crowds and saving money at the same time. From off-peak travel times to budget-friendly accommodations, let's dive into how you can make your Korean adventure both remarkable and affordable.
Travel in the shoulder season
The shoulder season, which typically falls between the peak and off-peak seasons, is a fantastic time to visit Korea. During this period, the weather is still pleasant, and most attractions are less crowded. You'll have the opportunity to explore at your own pace without the hustle and bustle of peak tourist season. Moreover, airfare and accommodation rates tend to be lower, allowing you to save on your travel expenses. This balance of comfort, cost-effectiveness, and relatively quiet tourist sites makes the shoulder season an ideal time to experience the beauty and culture of Korea. Traveling in the shoulder season is one of our favorite travel hacks! It can be riskier in places where you intend to spend a majority of your time outside (say, for example, a beach in Thailand or hiking in a national park) since the weather can vary significantly. However, since many of Korea's activities are inside, dealing with a few rainy days might be worth the risk!
Visit Korea as a stopover on the way to another Asian destination
If you're planning a trip to another Asian destination, consider making a stopover in Korea. This approach not only breaks up long-haul flights but also allows you to experience the rich culture, vibrant festivals, and exquisite cuisine of Korea without any extra travel cost. It's like getting two experiences for the price of one! Airlines often offer free or low-cost stopovers, so be sure to check this option when booking your flights.
Korea is an incredible destination that can be visited all year round, but each season brings with it unique experiences. Whether you want to witness the blooming cherry blossoms in spring or enjoy skiing in the winter, there is something for everyone. We hope this guide has helped you choose the best time to visit Korea based on your interests and preferences. So go ahead and start planning your trip to Korea – an unforgettable experience awaits!
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We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!