Scandinavians have hygge, an endearing term used to describe coziness, particularly during winter. South Koreans might not have such a word, but they love the cold weather just as much. When the snow settles in the capital, Seoul, it’s time to put on snow boots and explore the surrounding redwood forests or enjoy the view of frosted-over parks from atop the city’s numerous rooftop decks.
Here are 11 things to see and do in Seoul in winter.
Hit the Slopes at Bears Town
An hour’s drive north of Seoul, the alpine mountains of Bears Town Ski Resort offer less-packed slopes than popular options in the country’s northeast. Set against the picturesque backdrop of pine forests, the 11 slopes are suitable for beginner and intermediate skiers. Besides ski slopes, Bears Town has a 400-meter sledding hill for children (though adults can sled, too!).
Gallery Hop in Bukchon
Situated in the middle of two 15th-century palaces, Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, Bukchon is known for its hanok villages (traditional houses made of wood and stone) and its modern art galleries.
Arumjigi Culture Keepers brings together traditional crafts with contemporary installations in a refurbished hanok with a snow-covered rooftop deck. Gallery Factory displays avant-garde art, while Daelim Museum runs the gamut from fashion to photography.
Watch the Garden of the Morning Calm Illuminate
Located near Nami Island, the Garden of the Morning Calm is perfect for an evening stroll after daytime zip lining. The various themed gardens — which are home to about 5,000 plant and flower species — light up in colorful lights each winter during the annual Lighting Festival.
The lights, along with the settling snow, give the garden a fairytale quality during winter. Warm up with a cup of tea in the teahouse and shop for herbs at the herb shop.
Do a Figure 8 at Seoul Plaza Ice Skating Rink
No winter is complete without putting on ice skates and doing figure eights. One of the more accessible outdoor rinks, Seoul Plaza Ice Skating Rink outside City Hall fills up quickly, so arrive early in the morning, though the crowds make for great people-watching and add to the festive mood.
Savor a Hot Brew at Tea Collective
Coffee might be king in Seoul, but it’s all about tea at Tea Collective. The newly opened flagship store is one of the few teahouses in Cheongdam, an area in Gangnam filled with multistory coffee chains.
Have a cup of green tea harvested from the farms of rural Hadong County. Wooden sculptures and ceramicware create a town-and-country atmosphere, while trendy measuring cups add an edgy touch.
Catch (and Eat) Trout from a Frozen Lake in Hwacheon
A two-hour drive from Seoul, Hwacheon’s frozen lakes (and freshwater trout) beckon. The annual Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, which generally runs until late January, offers bobsledding, sledding and ice fishing.
For those who wish to brave the cold, there is a bare-handed fishing station where participants wear knee-high boots and reach into the lake with their bare hands for trout. As a reward people can fry their catch at a cooking station.
Shop and Sip at Queenmama Market
This four-story concept shop straddles Apgujeong and Cheongdam, two upmarket areas in Gangnam, yet the vibe is understated.
With each floor selling different items, from potted cacti and watering cans to architecture magazines, Queenmama Market is the result of the slow-living movement sweeping Seoul. Grab a hot latte from the rooftop deck and admire the sweeping views of wintry Dosan Park.
Eat Roasted Chestnuts at Modern Korean Restaurant, Dosa
Savor roasted chestnuts and squid-ink bread in Dosa‘s simple, marble-walled basement setting. The one–Michelin Star restaurant is Colorado-bred chef Akira Back’s first venture into Korean cuisine.
While Korean food is normally thought of as quick and fried, Dosa elevates it with innovative seasonal dishes that walk the line between food and art. Diners can see chefs Jason Oh and Seok-Hwan Park hard at work behind the glass-windowed kitchen.
Zip Line to Nami Island
Zipline across the Han River (or ride the ferry) to Nami Island, a tiny island converted into an ecopark in Chuncheon. Visitors to Nami Island, or the magical republic of “Naminara” as it is also known, receive a “passport” upon entry.
The story is that Naminara broke free from Korea and has its own flag, language and currency. Walk through thickets of giant redwoods and chestnut trees, marvel at ice sculptures and eat pan-fried rice cakes.
Be Chef for a Day at GBB Kitchen
One of the best things about winter is cooking a hearty meal at home with loved ones. GBB Kitchen, which stands for “good, better, best,” recreates that experience in its sixth-floor cooking school — though GBB’s sky-blue and copper furnishings and long wooden tables decked with Heath Ceramics are fancier than the average home kitchen.
Sign up for a cooking class with founders Kyung-jin Lee and Jane Hur Lee and learn to make salmon stew. Not a budding chef? Reserve a seat at their American-style Saturday brunch.
Enter Le Chamber and Warm Up with a Moscow Mule
There’s nothing like a hint of mystery to make a winter night more intriguing. At Le Chamber, a plush, mahogany-furnished Gangnam speakeasy, that vibe unfolds as guests seek the right book from the Victorian library entrance. Once inside, Le Chamber serves classic tipples such as a barrel-aged Moscow Mule. Bartenders also use fire and ice to make inventive seasonal cocktails.