Do you dream of starring in your own K-drama winter holiday fantasy? Or envision yourself belting out “All I Want for Christmas is You” as you walk the streets of Seoul? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Here is an overview of where to find some seasonal magic in Korea, and some ways to ring in this holiday with good tidings and cheer.
What is Christmas like in Korea?
If you are celebrating Christmas for the first time in Korea, you might be surprised by some of the cultural differences. While Christmas Day (12/25) is an observed national holiday in South Korea, there is less of a focus on Christian faith and Western traditions like Santa Claus, large family gatherings, grand meals, and gift exchanges.
You can still see decorations, lights, and maybe a few Christmas events or two, but it is still quite rare to see a real Christmas tree, traditional Christmas food, and decked-out winter wonderlands in Korean homes, at least in the Dickensonian way that’s become the standard in the West.
Christian churches in Korea will still hold special holiday services, but Christmas in South Korea mostly stands as a commercial and romantic holiday often celebrated and marketed to young couples. (You can think of it more like how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the US)
Setting cultural differences aside, you can still find ways to make the most of your Christmas experience in Korea. Here’s how to create your own winter wonderland this holiday season.
1. Revel in the Dazzling Christmas Lights and Decorations
All around Korea, you can find amazing seasonal lights and decorations, but the majority of festive holiday lights can be found in big cities like Seoul, Busan and Daegu. Many of these places also feature insta-friendly “photozones,” designed specifically for your next social media post.
Seoul Lantern Festival
Since 2009, the Seoul Lantern Festival has been one of the most popular places to visit at Christmas time. While originally located along Cheong-gyecheon stream, most of the lanterns this year have been moved to Gwanghwamun Square to better celebrate the completion of the newly built pedestrian areas within the park.
What makes this event truly special is the blend of traditional Korean-style lanterns and more modern-themed lantern sculptures. Throughout December, and especially on Christmas Day, you should expect a lot of crowds. However, the beauty and the experience is well worth the potential inconvenience if you’re visiting Seoul.
This event is free and open to the public. It’s open from around mid-December and runs until the end of this year. You can find more information on the Seoul Lantern Festival website or this news story.
Address: Seoul, Jongro-gu, Sejeong-ro 1-68 | 서울빛초롱축제 | 광화문광장 | 서울 종로구 세종로 1-68
Myeongdong Walking Street
Myeongdong is a popular shopping and business district in Seoul. For Christmas, the whole area is decorated with holiday decor and sparkling lights. Stroll down the popular walking street, and this year, if you’re lucky, you might even find a Santa (or two). In our opinion, Myeongdong Walking Street is best viewed at night. That’s when the lights sparkle even brighter and delicious food vendors start selling some of the best street food you’ll find in Seoul. What better way to get some shopping done in time for Christmas?
How to Get There: Take the Subway Line 4 to Myeongdong Station (명동역). You can exit out of Exit 6 by stairs or Exit 7 via the escalator. Once you exit you will be immediately in the shopping area.
Close to the buzz and beauty of the Myeongdong Walking Street is another feast for the eyes. At Christmas, the exterior of Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul transforms into a hillside of dazzling lights and a beautiful display of a large nativity scene. The exterior of the church is open to all, and a very popular “wishing tree” is set for people to write their wishes and dreams for the new year.
If you are religious, Christmas masses are also held at Myeongdong Cathedral. The times can be found on their website.
Address: Seoul, Jung-gu, Myeongdong-gil 74 | 서울 명동성당 | 서울특별시 중구 명동길 74
Seoul Light DDP
Set to epic proportions, this light show can be found on Seoul’s iconic Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Since its inception in 2019, this annual event has attracted over one million visitors. In addition to this spectacular light show, various other programs are happening at the same time, so make sure to check out the Christmas Market and art exhibits while you are here.
Running from December 21-31, these light shows are free and usually run every 30 minutes between 18:00-22:00. If you’re around on New Year’s Eve, come back for a huge NYE countdown and celebration. It’s one you don’t want to miss!
Address: Seoul, Jung-gu, Eulji-ro 281 | 서울라이트 | 서울특별시 중구 을지로 281
Lighting Festival at The Garden of Morning Calm
If you’re traveling near Seoul, we highly recommend making a day trip to the Garden of the Morning Calm. It is a must-do for Christmas in Korea. During this time of year, the botanical garden near the northeast of Seoul turns into a wonderland of lights and color. While it’s a popular visit all year long, the holiday season makes the illuminated showcase of plants and the fields truly magical.
Address: Gyeonggi-do, Gapyeong-gun, Sangmyeon, Sumogwon-ro 432 | 아침고요수목원 오색별빛정원전 | 경기도 가평군 상면 수목원로 432
Santa’s Village at Herb Island
North of Seoul in Pocheon you will find Santa’s Village tucked into a pine forest on Herb Island. While a little far out of the way, it’s a great destination to check off many of your Christmas activity wish lists this winter.
The village takes its name and inspiration from a village in Finland. Around Christmas, you can visit a holiday market, count over 300 Santa sculptures, and walk through a 300-meter-long light tunnel. Delightful and extravagant, it’s a great experience for friends, family, and couples alike.
Address: Gyeonggi-do, Pocheon-si, Cheongsin-ro 947beon-gil 35 | 허브아일랜드 불빛동화축제 | 경기도 포천시 신북면 청신로947번길 35
Busan Christmas Tree and Haeundae Light Festival
With a tradition ten years in the making, the Busan Christmas Tree and Haeundae Light Festival is one of the best places for you to indulge in holiday cheer. From the street to the beach, you’ll find a path of beautiful lights, making it the perfect date spot or family stroll.
Once you arrive at the beach, a splash of spectacular lights and photozones are set up and ready for your selfies and instaworthy shots. In addition to this dazzling array of lights, the annual Christmas Tree and Light Festival features daily street performances and concerts, family-friendly activities, and popular carol singing contests. It’s one of the most popular and biggest Christmas festivals in Korea.
Address: Busan Gwangyeok-si, Haeundae-gu Udong | 부산광역시 해운대구 우동
2. Visit the Beautifully Decorated Department Stores and Malls
If you’re in the mood to get some Christmas shopping done, you can also kill two birds with one stone. Many department stores offer their own Christmas light shows and winter wonderland experiences. All major department stores throughout Korea use the same theme for their annual holiday decorations. However, many of the most grand experiences are in major cities like Seoul, Busan, and Daegu.
La Boutique D’Harry at The Hyundai Seoul
The Hyundai in Yeouido is Seoul’s largest mall. Every Christmas, they build a 3,300 square meter European-themed Christmas village, “La Boutique D’Harry”, that boasts a 11-meter tall Christmas tree, market alleyways, and thousands of lights.
While the entrance is free, you’ll need to make a reservation on the Korean site Naver. You can still get walk-up tickets, just know they are hard to get. It’s best to book any entry-fee tickets way in advance if you hope to see it!
If you aren’t able to get tickets, you can still walk around and see the experience from different levels in the mall. There are also restaurants and cafes next to the Christmas village where you can grab something warm and sweet.
Address: Seoul, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Yeoui-daero 108, Parc 1 | 더현대서울 | 서울시 영등포구 여의대로 108, Parc 1
The Hyundai Department Store Trade Centre Gangnam
Can’t get tickets? You can still see a smaller-scale version at The Hyundai Department Store in Gangnam. The best part of this experience is the Instagramable toy workshop full of cute teddy bears doing various Christmas activities like decorating trees and sleeping among presents. While there is no pre-book ticket required, keep in mind the lines might still be long, so plan accordingly. The walk-through experience closes around 8PM, however, you’ll be able to snap shots of the lights outside well into the evening.
Address: Seoul, Gangnam-gu Teheran-ro 517 | 서울특별시 강남구 테헤란로 517
Shinsegae Magical Winter Fantasy
While you walk around Myeongdong, the Shinsegae Department Store will be hard to miss. Outside the building’s exterior is a gigantic and stunning light display that celebrates this year’s theme “Magical Winter Fantasy.” Make sure to come in the evening to get the most out of the light show.
Walking around here will get crowded, but sections of the sidewalk are set up for you to view the display, making the sidewalk congestion a little more manageable. The show runs on a rotating loop from 5:30-10PM. Once you’re finished, you can walk down the street to the next department store on our list. A great place to start or end your Myeongdong Christmas light evening stroll. Just make sure to bundle up!
Address: Shinsegae Department Store Main Branch, Seoul, Jung-gu, Sogong-ro 63 | 신세계백화점 본점 | 서울 중구 소공로 63 신세계백화점본점
My Dearest Wish at the Lotte Department Store
At Lotte Department Store’s main branch in Myeongdong, get into the festive spirit in front of a 15-meter tall gorgeously decorated Christmas Tree. Outside the department store, you will also find beautifully themed Christmas windows that match the brilliance and character of those in other cities like New York.
Each year, the Lotte Department Store crafts its own Christmas story. Before heading inside for shopping, you can find this story on display on a large media facade. All of the decorations you will find this year match this year’s story. We don’t want to spoil any surprises, but you can watch the trailer here.
If you have time to step inside for some shopping, you will also find an old-fashioned post office to match the theme of this year’s Christmas story. Here you can take selfies in front of the post office facade, as well as write and send letters to loved ones using beautiful Christmas cards and stationery you can purchase.
Address: Seoul, Jung-gu, Namdaemun-ro 81 | 롯데백화점 | 서울특별시 중구 남대문로 81
Coex Mall Starfield Library
Each year, the Coex Mall has a giant Christmas tree with a different theme. This year’s theme is gold, gold, and more gold. You will find it in the center of Coex’s iconic Starfield Library. Projected along the bookshelves is a light show that is sure to dazzle! It’s a great place to take your holiday and Instagram photos.
Address: Seoul, Gangnam, Yeongdong-daero 513 | 코엑스 별마당도서관 | 서울특별시 강남구 영동대로 513
3. Spend a Day at an Amusement Park
During Christmas time, you find the largest and most well-known amusement parks decorated in Christmas attire. In addition to fun rides, there are Christmas decorations, lights, and daily shows that you won’t want to miss. Lines will be long, especially during the holidays, but with a little patience and holiday cheer, you will feel fully immersed in your own winter wonderland.
Lotte World Miracle Winter
If you’re looking to escape the cold this winter, Lotte World in Seoul decks out its whole amusement park in a holiday-themed winter wonderland. This year’s theme is Miracle Winter, and it comes fully packed with various performances and shows that will run throughout December.
If you’re looking for Christmas decorations and lights, you won’t be disappointed by the holiday displays inside and outside the park. Inside you can make wishes at the Miracle Tree, go ice skating, and visit Santa at home in his grotto. Outside, the park comes to life with incredible displays, the highlight being the beautiful and magical Snow Castle.
If you plan on visiting Busan, you can also visit Lotte World Adventure Busan where the Christmas celebrations continue.
Address: Seoul, Songpa-gu Olympic-ro 240 | 롯데월드 | 서울특별시 송파구 올림픽로 240
Everland Winter Wishes
Throughout the year, Everland is known for its thrilling and fun amusement park rides. However, at Christmas time, the experience is elevated to a whole new level of holiday magic and cheer. In addition to the amazing rides, you will find Santa’s Village, Christmas parades, food markets, Snowman Post Office, and a lot more. One of the best parts of visiting Everland during December and Christmas is the Snow Buster, a place full of snow where you can go sledding to your heart’s content.
Address: Gyeonggi-do, Yongin-si, Cheoin-gu, Everland-ro 199 | 에버랜드 | 경기도 용인시 처인구 포곡읍 에버랜드로 199
Luna Park at Seoul Land
Visit this amusement park at night when Seoul Land transforms into Luna Park, a nighttime winter theme park. Here you will find the Luna Laser Winter Fantasy light shows, the Luna Winter Magic Concert, amazing hills to sled down, and a whole lot more. In addition to all the winter-themed activities and performances, you can also ride all the rides – a beautiful blend of winter flurry and fun.
Address: Gyeonggi-do, Gwacheon-si, Gwangmyeong-ro 181 | 경기도 과천시 광명로 181
4. Holiday Markets
Holiday markets are a great place to socialize, shop, and spot some great holiday decor. While there are many pop-up markets and annual market events throughout December, they are often only up for a few days. If you want a sure chance to do some shopping during Christmas, here are a few spots that make our list:
Dongdaemun Design Plaza Christmas Market
As part of the DDP Winter Festival, Dongdaemun Design Plaza comes alive this time of year with Christmas cheer. In addition to the fantastic light shows and art exhibits, you can also get some last minute Christmas shopping done. Browse the cute stalls for Christmas-themed gifts, as well as other last minute gifts and stocking stuffers.
Address: Seoul, Jung-gu, Eulji-ro 281 | 서울특별시 중구 을지로 281
Jaturi Christmas Market at Insadong Anyoung Shopping Centre
Located on the ground level of the shopping center, this market is tiny and quaint. However, you will still have many stalls full of handmade and artisan gifts to browse. When you first enter this space, you will be greeted by a large beautifully decorated Christmas tree. After you finish shopping at the Christmas market, pop into the surrounding stores and restaurants to get warm and continue your shopping experience.
Address: Seoul, Jongro, Insadong-gil 49 | 안녕인사동 | 서울 종로구 인사동길 49
Ssamziegil Shopping Complex in Insadong
The Insadong area is well known for its artsy vibe. Here you will find lots of art galleries, art classes, and shopping. As you’re walking through this area, the Ssamziegil Shopping Complex is a must-see. While not a traditional Christmas market with stalls and stands, you can get in the holiday spirit with all the lights and decorations they put up every year.
The makers and sellers in this space are top-notch. With every visit, you will be in awe of the craftsmanship and creativity. You can also sign up for workshops and learn how to make your own handmade gifts. It’s definitely a place to check off a few holiday wish lists, and maybe grab a few things or two for yourself, as well.
Address: Seoul, Jongro, Insadong-gil 44, Ssamziegil | 쌈지길 | 서울 종로구 인사동길 44 쌈지길
5. Snow Parks
What’s Christmas without some sledding and other snow-fun-filled activities? While it doesn’t snow all over Korea, you can count on snow closer to Seoul and in Gangwon Province. However, if you are looking in other regions for some winter fun, we recommend checking out snow parks and ski resorts as your best bet for some guaranteed ice and snow.
Alps Village “Frozen” Paradise
Prepare to be in awe! Come when it’s freezing cold because you’ll soon forget the temperature amidst the excitement and joy from all the stunning ice sculptures. Great for families, this place is full of outdoor winter activities like skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating, and ice fishing. When you’re ready to warm up from the cold, grab some classic winter Korean street food like roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes.
Address: Cheongnam, Cheongyang-gun, Jeongsan-myeon, Cheonjangho-gil 223-35 | 충남 청양군 정산면 천장호길 223-35
Onemount Snow Park
Onemount Snow Park is full of everything you could possibly want in a winter wonderland experience. You can ice skate, go sledding or snow tubing, go hiking, watch winter ice shows, and even go on a dog sled ride. When you want a reprieve from the cold, step into Santa’s village and watch elves prep all the toys for Christmas. If you’re lucky, you might even see Santa himself! You can buy discounted tickets to Onemount Snow Park here.
Address: Gyeonggi-do, Goyang-si, Ilsanseo-gu , Hallyu world-ro 300 | 경기도 고양시 일산서구 한류월드로 300
6. Watch a Korean Version of The Nutcracker (호두까기인형)
What better way to celebrate this holiday than to watch a beloved Christmas classic. There are a few places to watch it in Seoul, so make sure you get tickets ahead of time to watch this story grace the stage of Seoul’s theaters.
The Universal Ballet
When: December 21-31, 2023
Address: Sejong Centre Grand Theatre, Seoul, Jongno-gu, Sejong-daero 175 | | 서울특별시 종로구 세종대로 175
For more information visit The Universal Ballet website.
The Korean National Ballet
When: December 9-25, 2023
Address: Seoul Arts Centre, Seoul, Seocho-gu, Nambusunhwan-ro 2406 | 서울특별시 서초구 남부순환로 2406
For more information visit The Korean National Ballet website.
7. Take a Korean Bojagi Gift Wrapping Class
Koreans take the art of gift wrapping seriously. Acquire a skill that you will enjoy for the rest of your life by learning the art of bojagi, traditional Korean gift wrapping with fabric. Learn all the wonderful techniques, how and why they are used, and what items are best to wrap in certain styles. There are many places to find and book a Korean Gift Wrapping Class, but one of the best places to start is Airbnb Experiences. What a great way to make your presents a little extra special and meaningful this year!
Here’s one course on Airbnb that we found and recommend. This experience is an hour long and located in Seoul. It’s hosted in Korean and English.
8. Visit a Hot Spring
In addition to visiting a Korean sauna, which you can learn about from our article “10 Winter Activities in Korea,” we highly recommend visiting a natural hot spring to defrost from the cold. Here are a few famous spas around Korea to destress and relax with family, friends, and loved ones.
- Bugok Hot Springs: Gyeongsangnam-do, Changnyeong-gun, Oncheonjungang-ro 77 | 경상남도 창녕군 부곡면 온천중앙로 77
- Hurshimchung Grand Spa: Busan, Dongnae-gu, Oncheonjang-ro 107 beon-gil 32 Heosim-cheong | 부산 동래구 온천장로107번길 32 허심청
- Paradise Spa DOGO: Chungcheongnam-do, Asan-si, Doggo-myeon, Dogo-euncheon-ro 176-1 | 충남 아산시 도고면 도고온천로 176-1
9. Go Christmas Bar Hopping at the Loveliest Hotels in Seoul
What better way to celebrate Christmas than to be a little merry and bright? While many restaurants in Seoul offer special Christmas dinners, we recommend starting or finishing your meal with a classy bar crawl around some of Seoul’s loveliest hotels. A few high on our list include:
- Josun Palace: Seoul, Gangnam-gu, Teheran-ro, 231 Center Field Tower, West-dong | 서울 강남구 테헤란로 231 센터필드타워 웨스트동
- Four Seasons Hotel Seoul: Seoul, Jongno-gu, Saemunan-ro 97 | 서울 종로구 새문안로 97
- Mondrian Seoul Itaweon: Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Jangmun-ro 23 | 서울 용산구 장문로 23
- Lotte Hotel Seoul: Seoul Jong-gu, Eulljiro 30 | 서울 중구 을지로 30
- Park Hyatt Seoul: Seoul, Gangnam-gu, Teheran-ro 606 | 서울 강남구 테헤란로 606
- The Shilla Seoul: Seoul, Jung-gu, Dongho-ro 249 | 서울 중구 동호로 249
10. Capture the Memories of your Korean Christmas at a Photobooth
A popular year-round trend and activity in Korea nowadays is to go to take photos at photo booths. For Christmas, many of the popular photo booth company chains decorate for the holidays and put out Christmas accessories and props you can wear. At the end of your photo session, you can also print out your photos with various themes and designs. It’s one of my favorite activities to do with friends to commemorate a fun night out or special trip together.
Final Travel Tips and Reminders
Book Tickets and Make Reservations
If you’re going to celebrate Christmas in South Korea this winter, you should make sure to book any tickets, as well as restaurant reservations, way in advance. While waiting in some long lines might be inevitable, we recommend using apps like Naver, Catch Table, Mango Plate, Go City Seoul Pass, and Discover Seoul Pass to help you lessen the crush of crowds and hassle.
Be Mindful of Transportation
Major cities in Korea like Seoul, Busan, or Daegu will be relatively easy to get around in, thanks to public transportation. However, for some places, you might need to look into renting a car or booking a taxi through apps like KakaoT. Buses and trains might also be your best, so look into tickets on Korean apps like TmoneyGo (bus), KTX (train), and SRT (train).
Bundle Up, Stay Warm
While not everywhere in Korea will snow in December, Christmas time can also be quite cold, especially if you plan on celebrating closer to Seoul. Remember to bundle up and try some cute Korean hand warmers (that you can purchase at convenience stores).
While Christmas in Korea might be different than you imagined, you can still make your Korean Christmas one for the books! We hope you have a safe, warm, and happy holiday season!
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