I’ve been dreading winter since I arrived in Korea ten months ago. The thought of cold winds coming in from Siberia, and temperatures that regularly drop below freezing point absolutely terrified me. However, now that winter is finally upon us, I’ve discovered that it is not so bad after all. Since Korea was announced the official host for the 2018 winter olympics last year, the country has started stepping up its game as far as winter activities are concerned, and I have discovered that there is still plenty of fun to be had here during the cold months. So here are some ideas for things to do here if you do end up coming to Korea in the winter:
While you might be hard pressed to find log cabins complete with warm fires burning away in the fireplace, what Korea does offer is something of a contemporary skiing experience. The slopes are generally surrounded by high-rise condos, ranging from budget to extremely luxurious, all of which are of course heated with ondol (Korea’s under-the-floor-heating system.) Most skii resorts also feature live k-pop concerts to keep you entertained whilst on the slopes (see the k-pop girls photographed with me in the picture above.)
Prices are extremely cheap, ranging from around $100-$200 for a weekend, including all rental gear. And during the winter months, slopes open up all over the country, so they are very easy to reach from where ever you might be.
Outdoor ice skating in Seoul
If you think you can manage the cold, outdoor ice skating at Seoul plaza is great fun, and super cheap at just $1 for the ice skate rental. If you’re not up for actually ice skating, its equally interesting to just sit and watch all the Kim Yuna wannabes practicing their tricks on the ice.
Visit a jimjilbang
Jimjilbangs are Korean public bath houses, which are great all year round, but offer some well-needed warmth in the winter months. Koreans come to jilbangs to bathe, use the steam/sauna rooms, and even just relax in ondol-heated communal areas. If you’re really getting sick of the cold, jimjilbangs are a fantastic refuge, and you can even sleep overnight in them if you can’t tear yourself away from all that wonderful heat! Most jimjilbangs cost less than $10 per day. My personal favourite is the ultra-luxurious and foreigner friendly Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan. Walk in feeling like a snowman and walk out feeling like Cleopatra!
Take in the stunning scenery at Korea’s best national parks
Korea’s heavy snowfall makes for picture-perfect snow-capped mountains. To experience the beauty of this wonderful winter scenery, head for some of Korea’s best national parks such as Soreoksan in Gangwon-do province, or Hallasan in Jeju island, where you might well feel like you’ve just stepped into Narnia.
Try your hand at ice fishing
The tour group Adventure Korea offers a trip to the ice fishing festival in Hwacheon city, Gangwon-do province for $98, which inlcudes meals, transport, and accommodation for one night. Here you can dig yourself a little hole in the ice and dangle a fishing rod into it in hope to catch some fish, or if you really feel confident, you can even try bare-handed fishing! The fish that you catch can either be eaten raw straight away, or cooked up BBQ-style later. There are lots of other winter activities on offer at the festival too, such as sledding, snowmobiling, sleigh making, curling, ice football and skating.
Make the most of Korea’s seasonal soups
Korea’s spicy steaming broths and stews are perfect winter warmers, and there are lots of varieties on offer to keep you satisfied. My personal favourite is Hajangguk (featured above). It’s a spicy soup made from beef bones with a dash of ox blood in it which gives it a hearty unique taste, and it comes with giant chunks of soft on-the-bone beef in it. If you’ve had enough of robust Korean flavours, kongnamulguk (beansprout soup) is a more subtle option. It’s extremely mild, with only the smallest hint of spice, and it tastes both refreshing and warm at the same time.
Knit yourself some winter woolens!
Knitting is very popular in Korea during the winter, and so are woolen accessories. My students are always knitting themselves scarfs at their desks in school. Knitting needles and wool can be found very easily in Korea, but for the biggest collection of wools, head to the market at Dongdaemun, where you can choose from a wide variety of colours and threads to knit yourself something truly awesome. If you are not sure how to knit and would like some help, or even if you just fancy some company as you knit, there is a foreigners knitting group in Seoul called ‘stitch and bitch’ who are always welcoming new members.