What To Do If You’re Staying In Seoul For Seollal 2019
This year the Lunar New Year, or Seollal (설날), falls on February 5th.
The holiday is from Monday, February 4th to Wednesday February 6th. Yes, that means with the weekend before it, we’ve got a five day holiday period coming up.
The holiday can be a period that is hit or miss for where to go and what to see if you’re not prepared. While many mom and pop shops will be closed, there are still plenty of spots that WILL be open hosting various holiday events. Read below so you know where to go, what to see, and what to do this holiday if you’re sticking around or coming to Seoul, Korea.
Traditionally, Koreans would head back to their family homes in the villages or towns that they came from, dress in traditional Hanboks and wake very early to hold an ancestral rite to pay respects to the ancestors that came before them. An altar table is set with all kinds of food including meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, the candles are lit and then the bowing begins. My Korean family partakes in this very tradition and we wake very early in the morning to do it after we’ve bathed and dressed in our beautifully colorful Hanboks. To learn more about these traditions, check out my post on the steps that are included in the traditional Jesa ceremony which takes place after we very carefully set the table just so.
After the ceremony, families sit together to feast on a hearty rice cake soup, or tteokguk, which signifies the addition of one more year to their age and luck for the new year to come. In Korea, the Lunar New Year is the date on whicheveryone’s age increases by one year... traditionally, though more and more people are now saying the age increases on the January 1st these days instead of on the Lunar New Year. Times are a changing. Anyway… even if you’re not celebrating traditionally with a Korean family, it’s likely that you will encounter various traditional events around the city. Feel free to watch and partake.
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These days, more and more families are forgoing the traditional ceremonies and the work that goes into them and they’re heading out to the ski resorts (<–CHECK OUT that post if you want all the info on ski resorts in and around Seoul!) all around Korea or the spas and resorts to relax with their holiday time. Whatever they do, one thing that happens every holiday is Seoul becomes a much quieter city and streets that usually have crowds of people can be seen almost devoid of people. Restaurants that are usually open 24 hours a day may not be open at all and markets have been going back and forth in recent years trying to decide if they should stay open or not SO, stock up if you need to and be prepared if you want to eat in. That said, there are places that WILL be open and things to get into. AND some places will even be giving discounts if you were born in the Year Of The Pig which includes: 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, and 2007. Before you head out and about, be sure to send off your “Happy Lunar New Year” cards in email form! Paperless Post is an awesome online service to make some decorative mailers.
With that, here are some great options for getting out and about and getting involved over the holiday weekend here in Seoul.
1. Attend a Performance
There will be both traditional and nontraditional performances around the city, head to one for a beautiful treat for the eyes and fun for everyone.
- The National Gugak Center: Visit the National Gugak Center, a music house that preserves and promotes traditional Korean music and performance styles. Over the holiday weekend the center will welcome visitors for a special performance celebrating the new year.
- Show Time: February 5th & 6th, 2019; 3:00pm ~ 4:20pm
- Admission: W10,000 (*If you where a Hanbok or were born in the year of the Pig, you can get in for just W1,000.)
- For More Information
- The National Theater of Korea: This year the special holiday series will showcase various traditional dances done by women and men in traditional Hanboks. It’s sure to be a gorgeous performance not to be missed.
- Show Time: February 5th &6th, 2019; 3:00pm ~ 4:30pm
- Admission: W30,000
- For More Information
- Myeongdong Nanta Theatre: Nanta is a wildly popular performance that is fun for everyone and the Myeongong Theatre will continue to hold performances throughout the holiday season even adding a special showing time for even more people to take part.
- Show Time: Throughout the holiday period; 2:00pm,5:00pm, and 8:00pm
- Admission: W26,000 ~ W42,000
- For discounted tickets, buy them on Klook.
2. Visit a Traditional Hanok or Folk Village
Heading to one of the traditional villages around Seoul is a great way to learn more about Korean culture and see what it’s like to celebrate Seollal in traditional fashion. Be prepared to jump into traditional games… literally some require you to jump, or try your hand at hammering ddeok, or rice cake.
- The Namsangol Hanok Village (남산골한옥마을)
- The Namsangol Hanok Village is once again opening its doors on Seollal to provide a great place to take part in some traditional Korean activities and fun. The Namsangol Hanok Village that sits at the foot of Namsan Mountain is easy to get to for many as its centrally located. Visitors can take part in activities including making kites, spinning tops, masks and eat up a helping of rice cake. There will be traditional performances and the traditional ancestral rites are demonstrated as well. Activities and performances will run from 11:00am to 4:00pm on February 16th and 17th.
- Hours: 11:00AM – 4:00PM
- Admission: Free
- The Korean Folk Village (한국민속촌)
- A special event called “Fortune Party Celebrating Seol” for the Lunar New Year will be held at the Korean Folk Village from February 10th to the 11th and from the 15th to the 18th. 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.
- Hours: 10:00AM – 5:30PM
- Admission: W18,000 (Get Tickets Online For a Discount Here)
3. Have Fun at a Nearby Amusement Park
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.
4. Take a Cruise
One way to see the city of Seoul in a very different way is straight from the water that runs through the Han River. While most people have seen the city from the towers all around, the banks of the Han for a picnic, not everyone thinks to take a ferry. Eland Ferry Cruises will be in operation throughout the holiday. Get your tickets online via Klook to make booking super easy and then have some fun out on the water. You can choose from buffet cruises and cruises with performances too.
5. Treat Yourself To A Staycation
Tried to book a trip out of the city but couldn’t? Treat yourself to a stay away in Seoul. There are some beautiful and fun places to stay around the city and maybe it’ll give you more time to get to know another bit of the city. This city is massive, so why not stay on the OTHER side? Here are a few places I’d recommend looking into that still have rooms available over the holiday period.
(Central Seoul) GLAD Hotel (Yeouido): One of only two Design Hotels in Korea, GLAD is located on Yeouido Island in the middle of town. Chic, urban and modern with all of the amenities and cool vibes. Stay here and you really won’t want to leave your room. Also, be sure to visit some hidden spots to get sky high views around here.
(Eastern Seoul) Lotte Hotel World: This spot is solo, couple and family friendly and near so many cool things to check out like the Seoul Sky Observatory with its gorgeous views of the city from high high up . Stay here and get out and about to check out what the east side of Seoul is up to.
(Western Seoul) Shilla Stay Mapo: The Gongdeok, Mapo area has some hidden gems if you’re on the hunt for something a bit more rustic and real. The hotel is comfortable and beautiful. After a nice rest, head out to enjoy some Pyeongyang style noodles at Eulmildae or go over to Gongdeok Jeon Town to get your fill of all things fried. You won’t be sorry.
6. Take A Class
- The Sool Company will be offering a special extended makgeolli brewing class, complete with filtering and a tasting experience during the holiday. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about this delicious Korean brew, do check out this company. (Get a $10.00 DISCOUNT with the code PIG2019. Sign Up Here
- Join a Korean Oriental Painting Class. Oriental painting techniques are famous for thickly painted, roughly stroked, and heavily textured canvases. Join the class to learn more about this exquisite art.
- Make your own custom ring at a shop in Hongdae. Their are currently classes listed as available over the holidays, Sign up while you can!
- Gold leafing is a traditional art in Korea. Join a class in a traditional Hanok in Bukchon and try your hand at this delicate artistry with an expert artisan.
- Make your own one of a kind Hanji, or Korean traditional paper craft. Choose from an elegant cubic lamp, flower lamp, or other product that you’ve no doubt seen in Insadong on sale. Do it yourself for an extra special memory.
- Join a traditional calligraphy class. Only available on February 6th during the holiday period, this is a unique lesson to learn how to write traditional Korean calligraphy.
7. Visit a Museum
- Lotte World Folk Museum (롯데월드 민속박물관): The Lotte World Folk Museum is a bit different from other historic and traditional museums in that is showcases history through innovative media technology. The Performance Hall and Market place are free for visitors while the History Exhibition Hall and Miniature Village require an admission fee. If you don’t want to brave the weather and stay outside of the Hanok Villages, but you want to partake in a cultural activity, this is a great option to check out.
- Hours: 9:30am ~ 9:00pm
- Admission: W5,000
- The National Folk Museum of Korea (국립민속박물관): The museum which sits on the grounds of Gyeongbukgung Palace is holding an exhibit centered on the Year of the Pig appropriately. The museum hosts events and fun in the grounds out front every year and is a gorgeous place to learn about history and culture. After finishing up there, head across the street to the Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art.
- Hours: 9:00AM – 5:00PM; events outside start from 11:00AM and run until 4:00PM
- Admission: Free; some events cost a small fee to partake
- The War Memorial of Korea (전쟁기념관): This huge museum is a must see if you are living in Korea or visiting and want to learn more about the wars that have plagued Korea. There are more than 33,000 artifacts and some really informative displays and dioramas. Bonus: It’s all FREE!
- Hours: 9:30am ~ 6:00pm
- Seodamun Prison History Museum (서대문형무소역사관): While not open on February 5th, it will be open the rest of the holiday period. This park and prison were infamous for housing Korean independence fighters during the Japanese occupation. A must see at some point so why not while you’re off work?
- Admission: W3,000
8. Historic and Must See That Will Be Open
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. If there are any on your list to see still, then this is a great time to head out and enjoy them.
- Gyeongbukgung Palace:
- Hours: 9:00AM – 5:00PM
- Admission: W3,000
- Changdeokgung Palace:
- Hours: 9:00AM – 5:00PM
- Admission: W3,000
- N Seoul Tower (Get Tickets Online For a Discount Here)
- Korea House: Programs here may include a traditional performance and a meal. Definitely worth checking out.
9. Live Music & Mayhem
Spots all around Hongdae will surely have their doors wide open… well probably shut tightly so there’s no draft inside, but you catch my drift. Music will be playing and there will be bands to see so if you are looking at this holiday weekend as an opportunity to stay out late and see some live music, then be sure to head over to DoIndie to stay on top of what is going on around town musically. Shutter yourself inside if you really want to, but if I were you, I’d find a live pub and dance and jive because isn’t that really the best way to spend a holiday?
The Lunar New Year, or 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.