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by Kathryn Foley
If you’re planning a visit to South Korea, of course you can't miss visiting its capital. But with four unique seasons, when is the best time to visit Seoul? A modern city surrounded by a beautiful, mountainous environment, checking the weather forecast and temperature before you visit might mean the difference between being able to make the most of Seoul’s city vibes as well as its national parks and surrounding landscapes. Summer and winter can be extreme, and with climate change on the rise summers are becoming even hotter!
June through to August is known as monsoon season, and generally best avoided - the summers here are hot, humid and accommodation prices sky-rocket. Winter on the other hand sees temperatures plummeting below freezing and the city sees its fair share of snow. So the best times to visit Seoul are spring (from March to May) and Autumn (between September to November) when the weather is pretty mild, there’s not extreme temperatures and prices for hotels and travelling are not too high. But to help you out, here’s a break down of each season in Seoul so you can decide when the right time of year to visit is for you!
Temperatures are moderate and there’s not too much rain; spring in Seoul is mild. April brings with it an explosion of pastel pink - cherry blossom season. The city’s parks, historic castles and sacred temples are transformed by the arrival of these beautiful trees blossoming. On the flip side of this good news, April is also when the infamous yellow dust, or hwangsa descends upon the city. This phenomenon is caused by dust from storms in the Gobi Desert and leaves a wake of haze and pollution behind it - not the best time of year to be in Korea if you suffer from allergies or asthma.
March is when the city starts to waken from its winter hibernation and you can really start making the most of the spectacular hiking trails which wind their way through Seoul’s mountains. In the heart of the city is the Namsam Mountain, but Seoul is surrounded by a 157km long route which is broken up into 8 unique courses of varying difficulties, so bring your hiking boots and get outdoors! If you’re lucky, you may also be around for the Yeongdeungpo Yeouido Spring Flower Festival although the dates vary each year depending on when the 1700 Korean Cherry Trees are expected to blossom.
If you do want to visit Seoul during the summer, June is the best month to do so. Temperatures are warm (an average of around 21 degrees Celsius) but the evenings can still get cool, and the torrential summer rains haven’t yet arrived. This all changes in July, when monsoon season begins. Downpours can seem never ending, and with such hight oppressive heat and high humidity storms can be a daily occurrence. The monsoons continue into August, and this is usually the month when Seoul will experience a typhoon. As well as soaring temperatures, expect accommodation prices to shoot up too.
With extreme humidity and the weather being muggy every day, you’ll want to spend a lot of time in the city’s air-conditioned malls and museums. Although there are plenty of festivals over summer like the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival and the Sinchon Water Gun Festival, you’ll probably spend a lot of your time queuing to get into museums and visit historic attractions like the rest of Seoul. August is holiday time so everyone from school kids to businessmen are on vacation, so unless you want to spend your time fighting your way through crowds and staying indoors as much as possible, summer is best avoided!
With an unpredictable start to the season (September days can either feel like summer is never going to end, or autumn has arrived too soon with temperatures fluctuating), autumn comes into its own by October and is undoubtedly one of the best times of the year to visit. Temperatures get much cooler (an average of 13 degrees Celsius by October) and the monsoon season is well and truly over. Expect little rain, a mild climate and best of all, the explosion of fall colours. Everywhere from the granite mountains which encircle the city to the parks and gardens of the city itself are swathed in stunning red, gold and orange as the leaves take on their autumn hues. The country's biggest festival, Chuseok, also takes place in September or October so except huge crowds, long queues and domestic travel to be almost impossible if your trip falls at the same time.
Like in spring, the climate at this time of year makes hiking the city’s mountain trails a dream, and even better you’ll be surrounded by blazing fall colours which make the city seem just so much more beautiful. Autumn is one of the driest times of the year, so you’re unlikely to get caught in a downpour in the middle of your hike too! Added to this, there’s plenty of festivals taking place so you’re spoiled for choice if you’re looking for exciting things to do. From the Seoul Lantern Festival, to the Kimchi Festival to the Hanseong Baekje Cultural Festival, every month has more than its fair share to choose from. One of Korea’s biggest annual festivals also takes place either in September or October; Chuseok is the traditional harvest festival and sees families returning to their home towns to celebrate with feasts of seasonal food and paying respects to their ancestors.
With its seasons of extremes, winter sees temperatures plummeting below freezing and thick snowfall blanketing the city in white, particularly in January. The cold temperatures also keep the crowds away, meaning you can find great deals on accommodation and flights, and you won’t be stuck in queues to see the main attractions. The Lunar New Year takes place in either late January or early February, and the city explodes into a riot of celebrating with traditional foods, wearing traditional dress and playing folk games.
See another side of Seoul and experience its traditional hanok villages and ancient palaces as they’re enveloped in a magical layer of snow. Make the most of the snow and hit one of the nearby ski resorts if fresh powder is your thing, or relax in a jjimjilbangs, a traditional Korean spa, to keep warm! Christmas festivities are also a great excuse to visit Seoul in December, and there are plenty of opportunities to get merry, Seoul style!
Ultimately, it depends on whether you’re visiting with a specific festival or activity in mind. Unless you really do want to experience the intoxicating, dizzying, unique atmosphere of the major festivals like Chuseok and the Lunar New Year, it’s best to avoid these times completely. The best tip? August is also best avoided at costs; if the heat and humidity aren't enough to keep you away, the crowds might be. If you want to experience the best of what Seoul has to offer, April or October are the best bets. Both have mild temperatures and little rainfall, and are the months where Seoul is at its most beautiful. April sees the city explode in the pastel pinks of the cherry blossoms whilst in October the parks and surrounding mountains are carpeted in red and gold as the leaves start to change colour.
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