When is the Best Time to Travel to Korea?
South Korea has very distinctive four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn (Fall) and Winter. Duh…? Ok, well, the key word here is “distinctive.” Allow me to explain as this might be an important factor for you to decide when to visit Korea.
Spring in Korea: March through May
I love spring in Korea. I just can’t resist the desire to skip everything and walk outside when the universe is so beautiful. As the weather starts to warm up, it’s pleasant to explore the city and hike in the mountains.
Flowers bloom everywhere. Many international travelers tend to think Japan as the only destination for cherry blossoms. But Korea also has many cherry blossom festivals in Seoul, Jinhae and other places. If you are interested in chasing cherry blossoms, your best bet is from late March to early April. I went to a cherry blossom festival in Yeouido, Seoul, and it was breathtakingly beautiful! I would believe it if many couples have their first kisses here because…who wouldn’t fall in love when cherry blossoms rain all over you?
Check out other spring festivals here.
Wheather: Although March officially marks spring, it still can get chilly even during the day. When I visited Korea this past May, I needed a cardigan at night.
Air pollutions: If you have asthma or allergies, be aware of occasional dusty air. Yellow dust storm (황사) blows from China and Mongolia, typically in April.
If you are a beach bum, the best time to visit Korea is in summer.
Summer in Korea: June through August
Korea is not necessarily known for its emerald beaches and white sands. But if you once visit beaches in Jeju, you might be surprised why not many international travelers know about this island.
For fruit lovers like me, summer also is a great time to enjoy sweet juicy summer fruits like watermelon, peach, strawberry, Korean melon and grapes. I think Korean fruits are really juicy and have a perfect balance of sweet and sour profiles. In the U.S., these fruits are available all year round; however, I find them either too sweet or too sour. Unless you taste seasonally produced fruits in Korea, you will never know what I mean. I also highly recommend trying Korean melon; it is hard to find them outside of Korea.
Monsoon: Whenever I visit Korea, I try to avoid June. Mid-June through early July is a monsoon season with a high chance of daily rain. When it rains, it really pours.
Weather: Summer in Korea is hot and humid (but rather short). You won't be sweating indoors as commercial buildings, hotels and subway stations all run A/C. But do not expect cold air to blast like in the U.S. as energy saving is highly encouraged by the government.
Busy season: August also is Korea’s vacation season. This means you will need to plan ahead and book your accommodations accordingly.
Autumn in Korea: September through November
Autumn is my favorite time of the year to visit Korea. The entire country turns to a colorful canvas with yellow, red, gold and green. It is quite a scene! When I recently visited Korea, I just couldn’t stop taking photos. Every corner I turned to and every angle I tried were Instagram-worthy moments.
The weather is so pleasant - not quite hot, yet not quite cold. Oh, that feeling of breeze caressing my hair!
It’s only natural that many locals enjoy outdoor activities in autumn. Even in the subway, you will see many in a hiking gear. It’s a good time to join walking tours. I personally haven’t been, but many of local friends recommended going to the Seoul International Fireworks Festival in September.
Weather: This is the time the weather can be a bit tricky. For those who are familiar, think of the fickle Bay Area weather. Don’t be fooled by midday’s warmth, you will definitely need a jacket in the morning and night. Be prepared, and you will be just fine, though.
Notable Local Holiday: Chuseok is one of two most important holidays in Korea, which is similar to Thanksgiving in the U.S. Per lunar calendar, dates annually change, which typically falls in September or October. In 2019, dates are Sept. 12-14.
Winter in Korea can be brutally cold. Be prepared with appropriate clothes and other cold-weather gears.| Image Source: Seowoo Hur
Winter in Korea: December through February
Korea’s winter is no joke. It is cold and dry. My Vietnamese friends told me they would love to visit Korea during winter because they have never seen snow in their lives. It never occurred to me, but I guess that could be a good reason to make a trip to Korea in winter.
If you are expecting a winter wonderland, let me clarify. The first snowfall of the year might happen in late November or early December, and it carries some significance among lovers. Snowfall happens only once in a while and less frequently sticks to make a gorgeous scene. However, the weather has become more and more unpredictable these days. Who can be so certain?
On the bright side, this is the time my favorite winter street foods are available everywhere: baked sweet potato, hotteok (pancake-like dessert filled with the sweet sugar syrup and bits of nuts), Odeng (skewered fish cake in hot broth) and bungeoppang (fish-shaped pastry filled with red bean pastes) to name a few.
Weather: For those who have not experienced extreme cold, Korea’s winter might be cruel. It’s a chill-to-the-bone kind of cold. I have been out of Korea for so long, sometimes I need to remind myself how cold it can be. One time I was waiting for a bus, I had an excruciating pain in my ears as if they would fall off. I’d highly recommend being prepared for winter/snow gears when traveling Korea in winter.
Notable Local Holiday: Unless you have family members to visit, I recommend avoiding traveling during Seollal (Lunar New Year). This is the most important holiday of the year in Korea. During the three-day holiday, Seoul becomes a ghost town, and many of attractions and stores will be closed. Traveling to other cities would also be a huge challenge as you will have to fight your way through with millions of locals traveling to and from their hometowns. Like Chuseok, the dates change per lunar calendar but typically falls in January or February. In 2019, Seollal is on February 5 with the holiday observed February 4 through 6.
The best season to travel can be a subjective matter, and really has to do with personal preference. But I truly believe that each of Korea’s distinctive seasons provides a unique experience for all travelers.
Which season makes you most excited about Korea? If you’ve already been, what was your experience like?