With a temperate continental climate, Seoul is known for its biting winters and blistering summers.
In between are the long-awaited but all-too-fleeting pockets of perfectly enjoyable weather, perhaps the best moments to visit. Even so, every season in South Korea’s capital offers something worth traveling for – with excitement in the calendar all year long – which might make for a difficult decision when it comes to planning your trip.
Customarily, summer brings the most international visitors to Seoul, further congesting an already packed city. Yet in recent years, spring and fall – with fetching foliage and ideal weather – have caught on as in-demand times to visit, too.
As you make your own plans, here’s our guide to the best times to visit Seoul.
March to May and September to November are the best times for outdoor attractions
Unquestionably the most agreeable seasons in Seoul, spring and fall are also the best times to soak up the city’s great outdoors, from the natural wonders of its national and city parks to the back-alley treasures of its traditional villages, temples, markets and street-food stalls. A prized spot, the Han River is where visitors can paddle around on swan boats or have a chimaek picnic of fried chicken and beer (chimaek is a slang portmanteau that combines “chicken” with the Korean word for beer, maekju).
Every March, the Seoul Marathon welcomes some 35,000 runners, from expert to amateur. Unlike some other races, anyone who signs up ahead of time is qualified to participate. April arguably presents Seoul’s loveliest face, when spring bursts forth in a palette of pinks and whites and the cherry blossom trees bloom in cotton-candy swirls. Two favorite viewing spots are Yeouido Park and Namsan Park, where spectators stroll down petal-lined paths and picnic beneath flowering canopies.
Fall heralds the arrival of favorite annual traditions. South Korea’s fall harvest holiday, Chuseok, generally takes place in September: get into the harvest spirit by observing the ceremonial ritual of Sajik Daeje, a 50-minute procession that winds its way through the city near Gyeongbokgung station, paying homage to the ancient gods of earth and grain.
The crisp, dry weather continues through November and the temperature drops considerably, making this month a less expensive time to visit than September and October. The most notable happening this month might be the Seoul Lantern Festival, which sets Cheong-gye-cheon ablaze with paper lanterns and LED sculptures.
June to August are best for indoor activities
While June can be pleasant, July and August bring unbearable heat and humidity, along with heavy rains that can last all day. Luckily, Seoul has plenty of things to do for keeping dry and cool inside. Go museum or gallery hopping, experience South Korea’s quirky cafe culture or get lost in Asia’s largest underground shopping mall, COEX, where after you’re through browsing you can enjoy an aquarium, library, movie theater and casino.
Save money and avoid the crowds from December to February
Despite its cold climate, with dry winds that wreak havoc on the skin and throat, Seoul is wondrous in the winter. The diminished crowds make the city feel smaller and more intimate, drawing into stark relief the sights, sounds and scents of everyday life. Think snow-dusted palaces, shopkeepers sweeping the flakes from their front stoops and roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes perfuming the air. You can also stretch your budget further, as the cold winter months are the most affordable time to visit.
If you enjoy winter sports, venture out for a day of skiing, snowboarding or ice fishing. Seollal, the Korean New Year based on the lunar calendar, typically falls between late January and mid-February. In the lead-up to the holiday, be on the lookout for special celebrations and traditional performances at folk villages and palaces.