January is the coldest month of the year in South Korea, with countrywide frosty temperatures. In Seoul, bundle up on even the warmest days for an average high temperature of 34°F (1°C), where temperatures dip further in the evenings, reaching an average low of 16°F (-8°C). January provides a rare opportunity to see the capital city under a light dusting of snow; Seoul typically receives just over an inch before the end of the month. Travelers willing to brave the cold weather and harsh winter winds will be rewarded with ample sunshine, averaging 5.5 hours per day.
Outside of the capital, temperatures vary slightly but remain consistently frigid. The northern ski resorts of Pyeongchang become a winter wonderland with landscapes blanketed in the white stuff and an average high temperature of 29°F (-1°C). Even on the beaches of the country's southern islands, including the popular tourist destination Jeju Island, expect temperatures in the mid-to-low 40s (Fahrenheit).
Crowds & Costs
January sees the fewest inbound visitors to South Korea. The peak holiday season is over, and many tourists opt to wait for the warmer temperatures and blooming flowers of spring. Take advantage of the low crowds at major tourist spots to skip the line for South Korea's top sights. January visitors can also benefit from low-season prices on airfare, hotels, and attractions.
The most significant crowds can be found at the country's ski resorts, where winter sports fans gather during prime ski and snowboarding season. The resorts closest to Seoul attract the most visitors, particularly on the weekends and throughout the month when many South Korean students are out of school on winter break. Skiers planning to stay overnight should book accommodation early to ensure the best prices and availability.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Where to Go
Most travelers to South Korea will choose to begin their trip in Seoul. The capital combines a rich 2,000-year history with a bustling modern cityscape and offers something for every traveler. Fans of art and culture will enjoy Seoul's museums, including the National Folk Museum, while history buffs can learn about Korean military history at the War Memorial. For a unique experience beyond the museum, join a guided tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the heavily-guarded "no man's land" between the two Koreas. No visit to Seoul is complete without stopping by one of its famous cafés, known for specialty coffees and kitschy designs.
This month is an ideal time to explore other major cities while crowds are at their smallest. From Seoul, head west to Incheon, approximately 30 minutes away by car or one hour by train. Incheon offers a variety of activities for all ages and interests. Families with children will love exploring the Songwol-dong Fairy Tale Village, while foodies can learn about a culinary specialty at the Jjajangmyeon Museum, dedicated to the jjajangmyeon noodle dish. Then, travel south to Daegu, where you can take the cable car to Palgong Mountain (or Palgongsan) and see the biggest ice hill in South Korea at Biseul Mountain Recreational Forest.
Winter sports enthusiasts flock to the district of Pyeongchang in South Korea's northwest, known for its snow-capped mountains and ski resorts. Fans of the Olympics will particularly enjoy hitting the slopes at Yongpyong Resort, the largest ski resort in the country and the site of alpine skiing events during the 2018 Winter Olympics. For a break from the slopes, travel to the nearby Odaesan National Park, the perfect day trip for hiking and scenic winter views. Alternatively, travelers based out of Seoul can choose a ski resort closer to the city, such as Konjiam Resort, located less than an hour's drive from the capital.
What to Do
Experience the capital city of Seoul without its trademark crowds. January is the perfect time to visit top attractions such as the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the YTN Seoul Tower without waiting in long entrance lines—just be sure to dress for the weather in a winter coat, hat, and gloves. The traditional homes of Bukchon Hanok Village are especially charming in the wintertime with their snow-topped roofs. Warm up indoors by exploring the vast collections of the National Museum of Korea. After hitting a few tourist destinations, head over to one of Seoul's popular outdoor ice skating rinks.
Adventure travelers will want to take advantage of the peak winter sports season. Hit the slopes at one of South Korea's ski resorts, with options for skiers and snowboarders across a wide range of skill levels and lessons available for first-timers. Trek across glittering white landscapes on a winter hiking or snowshoeing excursion through a park, like Bukhansan National Park, right outside Seoul. Be sure to come prepared with the proper gear for outdoor nature activities. Hiking boots with microspikes are highly recommended for most hikes in January.
For a unique cultural experience, embrace the wintry weather with one of South Korea's popular seasonal festivals. Kick off the new year with an adrenaline-pumping dip in the freezing waters of Jeju Island at the Seogwipo Penguin Festival. Later in the month, admire giant ice statues at the Mountain Snow Festival in Taebaek or fish for trout along the frozen Hwacheoncheon Stream at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival.
Events in January
Seogwipo Penguin Festival, Jeju Island. Start the new year with an icy plunge in the waters of Jeju Island during this unique festival hosted on the first day of January.
Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, Hwacheon. Try ice fishing along the frozen Hwacheoncheon Stream during this ice-themed event, including bobsledding, ice skating, and ice go-carting.
Taebaeksan Mountain Snow Festival, Taebaek. Held at the end of January or the beginning of February, the Snow Festival features hundreds of ice statues carved by sculptors from around the world.
Seollal (Korean New Year), nationwide. Most Koreans travel home for this national holiday, which takes place in late January or early February and celebrates the first day of the Lunar New Year.