But fight the cold-induced lethargy, put on a coat and go outside. Not only do you save on heating and cable bills, but more importantly, these exclusively winter activities will make it worth it.
1. Eat winter street food
The delicious winter taste of chestnuts.
Street food may be available all year, but there are some snacks that emerge only during the colder months.
Case in point: sweet potatoes and chestnuts.
Winter in Seoul would not be the same without the scent of roasting sweet potatoes dominating street corners and subway exits, or the glow of nugget-shaped chestnuts baking on beds of coal.
These sweet and nutty snacks are not only inexpensive, they’re incredibly healthy, lacking the added salt, sugar, and oil of other street foods, such as hotteok (pancakes) and tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes).
You can usually find street food sellers all around subway stops in Seoul, but for these rarer treats try some of Seoul’s older districts — Jongno, Jonggak and Insadong.
2. Sledding at Everland
Everland is so bracing.
Some are lone riders. Others are saddled with children. But all are Snow Busters.
Popular amusement park Everland stays seasonally relevant with its winter offerings, namely its huge sledding hill, the Snow Buster. Everland provides the slope, the snow and the sleds.
There are additional conveniences for lazy Seoulites, such as heated lounges selling refreshments and the “tube lift,” which minimizes trudge time.
“Before the lift, people had to walk back up the slope with their sleds,” says Esther Park, a customer service center representative. “Now they can place the sleds on the lift and ride up while on the sled. You can think of it like a type of conveyor built.”
Other than the Everland admission fee, there’s no additional charge for sledding.
The tentative opening date for sledding season at Everland is December 16, subject to change depending on weather conditions.
Admission is $46 (₩52,000) for adults and $36 (₩41,000) for children. After 4 p.m. there’s a discounted price of $38 (₩43,000) for adults and $30 (₩34,000) for children.
3. Ski, ski, ski
In Korea, you can ski until you drop.
In a county that’s 70% mountain, skiing is a way to take advantage of the landscape when the weather seems to want to destroy our will to live.
The biggest ski name near Seoul is the venerable Bearstown Resort, a ski resort in Gyeonggi-do, a 50-minute-drive from the capital.
“We have eleven slopes, and can confidently say that in terms of surface area, we are also the biggest ski resort in the Seoul area,” says public relations chief Lee Jeong-hoon.
The slopes are available in specific time segments, and are open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Ski rentals start at $7 (₩8,000) and lessons start at $26.50 (₩30,000) — but expect to spend more on necessary extras like ski-pants rentals and lift tickets.
4. Ice fishing festivals
“You gotta be patient, boy. And when the moment is right, you strike.”
chung sung jun/getty images
Even if you dislike fishing, ice fishing can be fun.
While the thought of prancing about on a subsection of river with only a few layers of ice between you and the freezing water below might be slightly off-putting, there is minimal real risk, as long as you take proper precautions.
Pyeongchang, Gangwon-do will host the 7th Pyeongchang Cherry Salmon Festival at the Odae River (오대천) by Mount Odae (오대산) from around Dec 23 this year.
The location alone should put your irrational fears to rest — a city that was selected as the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics should know a thing or two about ice.
“The ice is tested for safety,” says festival director Park Yong-man. “It’s more than 40 centimeters thick, so there is no danger of it melting or cracking.”
The real issue for novices is whether they’ll be able to catch any fish at all.
“Cherry salmon tend to travel in droves,” says Park. “So there is a possibility that you might not catch anything.”
Ice fishing itself isn’t hard, not with instructional videos playing at ticket booths and festival workers willing to lend a hand.
If you’re lucky enough to catch a fish, you can bring it to nearby restaurants. For $6 (₩3,000) they will either salt it and cook it, or prepare it raw.
A regular fishing ticket will set you back $11.50 (₩13,000). For $22 (₩25,000) you get a tent to keep the wind off your face.
You might also join fishermen, fisherwomen and fisherchildren at one of several ice fishing festivals that dot the Korean winter calendar.
5. Outdoor ice skating
Do your best Kim Yuna impression on this public ice rink.
republic of korea/flickr/cnn
Ice skating is not necessarily a winter sport. But outdoor ice skating is. And that makes all the difference: an unscratched but sterile indoor rink for athletes versus a picturesque winter tableau with fairy lights for first dates.
Blades down, we vote for the magical winter tableau. Here are Seoul’s best (and only) outdoor ice skate rinks:
Seoul Plaza Ice Skate Rink (서울 광장 스케이트장)
“We’re big, we’re in the heart of the city, and we’re inexpensive,” says Han Mun-hee of the Seoul City Hall Sports Promotion Department when describing Seoul Plaza.
Opening date: December 16
Admission: Starts at around 80 cents (₩1,000) an hour, with or without rentals.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
Grand Hyatt Seoul Ice Rink
The opening dates of most outdoor ice rinks are subject to change, but the Grand Hyatt is armed with a cooler, making reliability its trump card.
Admission: Monday-Friday, $23 (₩26,000), Saturday-Sunday, $28 (₩32,000); rentals start at $17.50 (₩20,000)
Hours: Monday-Thursday noon-9 p.m., Friday-Sunday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sheraton Walker Hill
“The rentals are technically for two hours, but it’s not as though we really keep track of the time,” says Sheraton Walker Hill manager Lee Seong-jun. “So you don’t really need to worry about that.”
Opening date: December 22
Admission: Weekdays $17.50 (₩20,000), weekends $26.50 (₩30,000); rentals start at $10.50 (₩12,000)
Hours: Monday-Thursday: noon-9 p.m., Friday-Sunday: noon-10 p.m.
6. Christmas concerts
All you want for Christmas is some K-Pop? You got it.
In South Korea, Christmas is all about couples, not families.
In recent years, concerts have turned into a must for couples on dates on Christmas Eve and Christmas.
“We see a lot of couples coming to Christmas concerts,” says Ha Hyoung-ju, drummer for K-Pop singers such as Rain, Lee Hyori, 2AM and Dynamic Duo.
“The Christmas theme is also very fun for musicians to use in concerts. I usually get so busy around this time of the year that I wish I could be in three places at once.”
7. Ice diving or heated spa?
Ice diving. Not for the faint of heart.
chung sung jun/getty images/cnn
Koreans are a hardy lot and ice diving is just one way they have of making the most of a frozen river.
For those with slightly less than an iron constitution, there’s nothing quite like stripping down to your bikini or swim trunks like it’s midsummer and soaking in a heated pool in the dead of winter.
Spavis, a waterpark in Asan, combines the invigorating, mineral-rich water of a natural hot spring with novelty pools, water slides and saunas.
Skip the peak season, when kids on winter break crowd the slides.
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2011. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.