Forget Christmas and Thanksgiving – in Korea, the two big holidays are Chuseok and Seollal.
Occurring in late January/early February and late September/early October, these two events last three days each and are the only time when Korean cities become quiet – other than Sunday mornings.
As a foreigner, Korea can feel quite lonely during these holidays. It is traditional for Korean families to get together and celebrate the events, and due to this many stores and attractions will close for the duration of the holidays.
If you find yourself wondering what to do during Chuseok and Seollal, this list is for you! These are the activities that you can do during Korea’s two biggest holidays.
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When is Chuseok?
2020 – 30th September to the 2nd of October
2021 – 20th September to the 22nd of September
2022 – 9 September to the 11 of September
The main Chuseok date is on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Chuseok often coincides with a weekend, making for a 5 day holiday.
The actual date of Chuseok is the middle of the three day holiday. However, both the day before and after Chuseok are also public holidays, making for a three day holiday.
When is Seollal?
2020 – 24th January to the 26th of January
2021 – 12th February to the 14th of February
2022 – 31st January to the 2nd of February
Seollal represents the beginning of the Korean (lunar) calendar.
Similar to Chuseok, the holiday takes place over three days and often coincides with a weekend making for a 5 day holiday. Also similar to Chuseok, the actual new years day is the middle day of the three day holiday. However, new years eve and the day after are also holidays.
What is Open During Chuseok & Seollal?
This is one of the questions that I get asked the most. Especially when the holidays are coming up!
It’s quite common to think that nearly everything closes. That’s what I was told when I first came to Korea! However, there are actually quite a few places that will remain open.
It also means that chain stores and malls will stay open. Department stores, chain coffee stores, and chain restaurants will usually remain open.
The middle day of Chuseok and Seollal is the only day that most chain stores and department stores will close.
On top of this, many more places will remain open. However, these are the stores and attractions that you can rely on to be open.
On the flip side, you can expect many smaller restaurants and cafes to close. Most family-run businesses, as well as local coffee shops, will be closed for the duration of the holidays.
For more information on what will remain open, refer to this article by VisitKorea.
Public Transport & Facilities
Korean Public transport is world-class and these holidays are no exception. Public transport will remain the same during both Chuseok and Seollal. In 2019, and quite likely again in 2020, Chuseok public transport hours and frequency were even increased.
Taxis will also operate during the holidays. Although not to the same frequency as normal, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a taxi – especially as they won’t be as heavily used as normal.
Not all hospitals and pharmacies will remain open, but there is a large amount that will. If you are in need of medical attention or medicine, then you have no need to worry. A large number of clinics and other medical centres will remain open. For more information, please refer to this page by the Seoul government.
In short, although Chuseok is a big holiday and the cities will be very quiet, all of the essentials will remain open. Public transport will run close to normal hours and you don’t need to worry about health issues – many hospitals and clinics will be open.
What NOT to Do
If at all possible, AVOID travelling on the first and last day of the holidays. Not only are transport tickets very expensive during these holidays, but the traffic is also crazy.
If you do need to travel, spend the extra money to take the KTX (train) or plane. Travelling at peak times during Chuseok and Seollal can result in trips that take twice as long as they would during normal traffic. A bus ride that normally takes 5 hours? Expect a minimum of 8 hours – and more likely, 10 hours.
Flights from Seoul to Busan or Seoul to Jeju can be found quite cheap and I would highly recommend checking them out rather than risking the traffic.
I would also avoid theme parks if possible. They will be very busy and can often have queues that require over two hours of waiting. If you do want to visit a theme park, try to aim for the actual date of Chuseok/Seollal (rather than the observed dates).
What to do During Chuseok and Seollal?
During these two events, you will find the cities of Korea to be very empty. If you don’t realise that it’s Chuseok, Seoul often feels like a ghost city!
This means that it is a great time to do activities that are normally crowded. Nearly everything will be less busy and it is a great time to do some activities that you might otherwise enjoy less due to crowds.
However, there is one major exception to this rule. The theme parks (Everland, Lotte World, Seoul Land) are generally VERY crowded during Chuseok and Seollal. If you can visit on the middle day, though, they are often less crowded than the rest of the holiday.
The same goes for Gyeongbokgung and the other palaces. Since they are one of the main attractions open during the holidays, they can be quite busy. During Chuseok and on the day of Seollal, entry into the palaces is also free! Unfortunately, this can add to the crowds.
If you are still at a loss for how to spend your Chuseok or Seollal, then here are a few ideas for how to spend your long weekend!
Take a Day Trip
These holidays are the ideal time to get out of the city and enjoy the countryside. Just remember not to travel on the first or last days of the holidays as they will be very busy.
However, if you only take one tour, I would recommend the day trip to Seoraksan and Naksansa. Seoraksan is a mountain located about an hour and a half from Seoul, and Naksansa is a Buddhist temple located on the east coast.
The mountain is stunning, and especially so in fall. It will still be beautiful during Seollal though, so make sure to visit if you can!
Naksansa is a Buddhist temple which is located atop some cliffs on the coast. The temple is one of the most beautiful in Korea and it is also a great cultural experience. Even if you aren’t interested in Korean history, I recommend visiting. The views alone are worth it.
If you are looking for other day trips during Chuseok, check out some of the fall foliage. Korea isn’t a country that is known for its nature, but it really should be!
Experience Korean Culture
Experiencing the culture is one of the must-dos in Korea. It doesn’t have to be boring, there is a lot to do, and surely something for everyone!
Many cultural areas have discounts and events during Chuseok and Seollal. Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung (as well as the other palaces of Seoul) have free entry. On top of this, many cultural areas such as Bukchon Hanok Village have special events.
If you are looking for the ultimate cultural experience then you can also rent a hanbok and explore the area around Gyeongbokgung and Bukchon. This will also give you free entry to the palaces if you happen to visit on a day without free entry.
Looking for the best Korean cultural experience? Dress up in hanbok and visit a Korean tea ceremony!
Another experience that I recommend is visiting a traditional Korean tea ceremony. Watching the intricacy of the ceremony is a wonderful experience and you don’t need to go out of your way to find a teahouse.
All of Seoul’s outdoor attractions will be open during Chuseok and Seollal and this makes them an ideal way to spend the holidays!
If you don’t already know, Seoul has some amazing parks. From the more famous parks such as Olympic Park and World Cup Stadium to the lesser-known parks such as Naksan and Jamwon Hangang park.
All of these parks are a fantastic way to spend some of your holidays. Why not go for a picnic? Or if you would prefer to do something active, hire a bike and explore the parks!
If you would prefer to hike, then Seoul also has a lot to do. Bukhansan is a fantastic hike and it has a variety of paths that differ in difficulty and length.
For something a bit easier, you could also consider checking out some of the smaller mountains in Seoul. Naksan, Eungbongsan, and Inwangsan are three options which take less than 30 minutes to climb. Each has stunning views though!
Another option is to enjoy the Han River. If the weather permits, why not have a picnic on the banks of one of Seoul’s most iconic landmarks?
Take a Cruise
The banks of the Han River are fantastic, but there are also times when you just want to take a cruise down the river. Thankfully, you can do so! It’s even quite cheap.
The Eland Han River Cruise is a cruise boat which regularly cruises down the river. Not only is it a fantastic place to go on a date, but it is also a great way to see the sights of Seoul from a different viewpoint.
The cruise operates throughout Chuseok and Seollal and can be enjoyed throughout the holidays. It should even be less busy than normal!
Want the ultimate Han River Experience? Book the Eland Han River Cruise with Fireworks over the Seollal and Chuseok holidays!
Explore the Cafes of Seoul
If you don’t already know, Korea has a very interesting and unique coffee culture. From raccoon cafes to board game cafes, there is something for everyone.
During Chuseok and Seollal some of these cafes will be closed. However, very few cafes will be closed for the whole holiday – usually, they will only close for the days of Chuseok and Seollal. There will also be many cafes that remain open for the whole holiday, especially those that are popular with tourists.
But keep this in mind. If you have a particular cafe that you want to visit, make sure to check their schedule before visiting. The good news is that a lot of cafes will be open and even if one is closed, there is always another just around the corner.
Museums & Art Galleries
Museums are another activity that will remain open during Seollal and Chuseok. The most famous museums in Korea will even often have celebrations and discounts during the period.
Although there are numerous art galleries and museums in Seoul alone, I can’t list them all here. Wikipedia has a list of over 100 museums in Seoul that is worth looking at if you don’t know what you want to visit yet!
If you haven’t yet had the chance to visit, I would recommend checking out the War Memorial & Museum in Samgakji. The museum has free entry and has a lot of interesting displays for children and adults alike.
If you want to spend a day exploring the museums of Korea, the Gwangwhamun area (around Gyeongbokgung) is fantastic. There, you can find the National Folk Museum of Korea, the National Museum of Contemporary History, National Palace Museum of Korea, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
There are a lot of other museums also. To name but a few, SeMA (Seoul Museum of Art), Seoul Education Museum and the Seoul Museum of History. These museums are world-class and are a great way to spend quiet holidays.
Since the cities are going to be quiet anyway, why not make the most of the quiet and have a getaway? Whether you choose to leave the city or not, there are a lot of places that you can enjoy.
With Seoul being such a large city, it’s hard to explore all of it. We often live in a suburb and rarely actually leave it. Despite living in Seoul for one year, or two, or five, you probably only know a very small part of the city.
If this sounds like you, why not stay a few nights in another part of the city and explore it? Despite technically being in the same city, it’s so diverse and large that it really doesn’t feel like the same city at times.
If you would prefer to leave the city, though, there are a lot of other fantastic weekend getaways. Why not visit Hajodae (Hajo Beach) to the east? Or Muchangpo Beach to the south? Or, you could go in a different direction altogether and spend the weekend in the country!
If you do decide to go somewhere for the weekend, just remember not to travel during peak hours. Alternatively, take the KTX or fly if you are travelling a longer distance.
Have a Night Out with Friends
If you are a foreigner in Korea, Chuseok and Seollal can feel quite lonely at times. To avoid this feeling, it’s quite common for gatherings to be held.
Many bars that are aimed at an international audience will remain open during Chuseok and have parties for both foreigners and Koreans who don’t go home to stay with their families.
If you are in an international area such as Itaewon it will still be very lively and busy. However, many bars will be open even in less popular areas.
Noraebangs (Korean Karaoke) will also usually remain open, meaning that you can still have a great night out with friends during these holidays.
If you would prefer to not spend the night out, why not just hang out with some friends at home? It’s a nice time to plan get-togethers as most people will be free.
Take in the Sights
One of my personal favourite activities to do in Seoul, and in Korea as a whole, is to take in the sights. With some of the biggest and most advanced cities in the world, as well as some stunning nature, there are a lot of fantastic views to take in!
If you are in Seoul, consider checking out the three towers. Namsan Tower, Lotte Tower, and 63 Tower. Each of them offers unique and stunning views, and they are all worth visiting.
63 Tower is less popular than Namsan and Lotte Tower but has stunning city views.
While Namsan Tower and Lotte Tower are quite commonly visited, 63 tower tends to be a bit less popular as it is less known. However, being located on the banks of the Han River gives it some unique sights compared to the other towers.
You can find tickets for under $5 if you purchase from an online site such as Klook.
Alternatively, if you would prefer to save money (or just prefer the outdoors!) you can climb some of the mountains in Seoul. Inwangsan, Eungbonsan, Naksan and Namsan (the mountain, not the tower) all have amazing views.
What Will You do for the Holiday?
Despite what you may have heard, there are a lot of activities that are open during the Chuseok and Seollal holiday seasons. The only day when many places will be closed are the actual days of the events (rather than the observed days). However, even on these days, many places will stay open.
The only time when you might seriously want to reconsider your travel plans is if you have planned to take a bus out of the city during the holiday. Traffic can be terrible and you can easily spend 4+ extra hours stuck on the roads.
But, other than travelling on the road, you can generally keep your travel plans the same. While the holidays are very big and a big part of Korean culture, they won’t ruin your trip or weekend!
With that being said, what do you like to do during Chuseok and Seollal? Personally, I prefer to just stay home and hang out with friends.
If there is something that you would add to this list I would love to hear! I am always looking to update this list and to grow it more in the future!
When Is Chuseok?
2020 – 30th September to the 2nd of October.
2021 – 20th September to the 22nd of September.
2022 – 9 September to the 11 of September.
When Is Seollal?
2020 – 24th January to the 26th of January
2021 – 12th February to the 14th of February
2022 – 31st January to the 2nd of February
Will Public Transport Operate During Chuseok & Seollal?
Yes! Public transport will operate throughout both of these holidays. However, if you plan on doing inter-city travel, make sure to book early as trains and buses will be very busy and often full. Public transportation in Korea is amazing and never really stops.
What Will be Open During Chuseok and Seollal?
Really, most things will be open. Nearly all attractions will remain open, as will nearly all chain stores and big brands. However, smaller stores such as family run restaurants will close.