Seollal, or the Lunar New Year, is one of the most important holidays in Korea. This year, Seollal falls on January 31st and as such everyone will be able to celebrate a long weekend away from Thursday to Sunday. Most Koreans head back to their hometown to see family and if they celebrate in the traditional fashion will wake very early in the morning and hold a ceremony to pay respect to their ancestors in which they will dress in traditional Korean clothing, or Hanbok, and bow to an altar table set with all kinds of food including meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. After the ceremony, families will sit down to enjoy a hearty rice cake soup, or tteokguk, which signifies the addition of one more year to their age. In Korea, Lunar New Year is the date on which everyone’s age increases by one year.
As most people head out of Seoul for the holiday, either to see their families, to go skiing or to soak at a spa resort, the city that is usually all hustle and bustle becomes more peaceful and quiet.
The streets aren’t as busy and restaurants that are open from day through night may not open at all. With that in mind, if you’re sticking around the city for the holiday, here are a few things you can head out to do, if curling up in bed watching the television or reading a good book all weekend isn’t up your alley. Of note, many of these places will be offering discounts to those with a birthday in a Year of the Horse. Those years would include: 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002.
1. National Gugak Center:
The National Gugak Center preserves and promotes traditional Korean music and performance. Over the holiday weekend, visitors are welcomed to celebrate the Year of the Horse with special performances on January 31, 2014 and February 1, 2014 from 4PM to 5:30PM. From 2 o’clock both days before the performance starts there will be traditional games played on the grounds of the center as well so, grab some friends and enjoy the afternoon with some games and a concert.
Directions: Nambu Bus Terminal Subway Station, exit 5 and take bus 4429 and get off at the center; Bangbae Subway Station, exit 1 and take local bus 07, 15 or 17 and get off at the center; OR Naebang Subway Station, exit 3 and take local bus 07 or 15 and get off at the center.
Show Time: January 31, 2014 & February 1, 2014, 4:00PM – 5:30PM
*50% off for people born in a year of the horse, wearing a Hanbok, under 24, OR if you come with your grandparents
2. Namsangol Hanok Village:
A good place to take part in some traditional Korean activities on this traditional holiday is the Namsangol Hanok Village that sits at the foot of Namsan Mountain. Visitors can take part in activities including making kites, spinning tops, masks and rice cake. There will be traditional performances and the traditional ancestral rites are demonstrated as well. Activities and programs will run the entire weekend.
Directions: Chungmuro Subway Station, exit 3 or 4
Hours: 11:00AM – 5:00PM
3. Korean Folk Village
A special event for the lunar new year will be held at the Korean Folk Village until February 2. Visitors can take part in face painting, horse petting, kite flying, rice cake pounding and fortune telling among other things. There will also be traditional performances, dancing, acrobats on tightropes, and horse shows at different times throughout the daily schedule.
Directions: Outside of Gangnam Subway Station, exit 10 catch bus 5001-1 to the Korea Folk Village. Outside Yeouido Subway Station, exit 6 catch bus 7007-1 to the Korean Folk Village. Outside Suwon Subway Station, exit 4 catch bus 10-5 or 37 to the Korean Folk Village.
Hours: 9:30AM – 5:30PM
*Those in a Hanbok or those born in the year of a horse will be just W12,000
4. The Palaces:
If any of the palaces are still on your list of places to see, this would be a good weekend for one. All of the palaces will be open and they will also be showcasing different programs for guests. Visitors that come dolled up in their Hanboks will also get free entry. Programs will include traditional rituals, games and performances all with a Korean palace as a beautiful backdrop.
Directions: Gyeongbukgung Subway Station, exit 5 or Gwanghwamun Subway Station, exit 2.
Hours: 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Directions: Anguk Subway Station, exit 3 or Jongno 3-ga Subway Station, exit 7
Hours: 9:00AM – 5:00PM
*Other palaces and directions to them can be found here on the Visit Korea website.
5. The National Folk Museum of Korea:
The museum which sits on the grounds of Gyeongbukgung Palace, which will also be open, is holding an exhibit centered on the Year of the Horse appropriately. Artwork and relics will look at the role of the horse in Korean culture in an exhibit titled “Horse, A Vigorous Gallop”. If you can’t get out over the weekend, this exhibit will run until February 17.
Directions: Anguk Subway Station, exit 1, Gyeongbukgung Subway Station, exit 5, OR Gwanghwamun Subway Station, exit 2. The museum sits on the northeast corner of the Gyeongbukgung grounds.
Hours: 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Amenities: Strollers and wheelchairs are available free of charge, audio guides available for W1,000
6. Other Attractions:
Many attractions around the city will be closed over the holiday weekend, but not all of them. Here are some more places that will be open: National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, 63 Building, N Seoul Tower, COEX Aquarium, Seoul Museum of History, The National Museum of Korea. They may not be suited up for a special Lunar New Year event, but if you haven’t been yet, they’ll be open and ready to have you.
7. Amusement Parks
For something not so traditional but fun fun fun, head to any of the amusement parks in Seoul over the weekend. The parks will not only have their year round rides open, but they’ll also be offering up some winter themed events including sledding and other fun that you can have in the white powder that we love winter for bringing to us.
Directions: Check out their website for directions from your area.
Hours: 10:00AM – 9:00PM
Admission: One Day Ticket: W44,000*, After 3:00: W36,000, After 5:00: W20,000
*On their site there is a printable coupon giving foreigners a discount. Ticket ends up W35,000
Directions: Check out their website for directions to your area.
Hours: 9:30AM – 11:00PM
Admission: Full Day: W28,000, After 4:00: W24,000, After 7:00: W16,000
Directions: Seoul Grand Park Subway Station, exit 2
Hours: 9:30AM – 7:00PM
Admission: Full Day: W20,000, After 5:00: W18,000
Seollal in Seoul, as quiet as it may be, can be a cultural treat with so many places to enjoy re-enactments, traditional dancing and hands on activities. Take advantage of these opportunities or stay home in your pjs over the long weekend, either way I hope everyone has a great Lunar New Year in Korea!
*Some photos in this article provided by the websites linked above.