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7 ways to love winter in Korea
Ice fishing, seasonal street food, snowy spas: Miss out on these and you miss out for a year
As anyone who has wintered in Seoul will tell you, Korean weather can be brutal.
Cold, windy and dry, winter is a nightmare for skin care.
January in Seoul can make you wonder if humans were meant to hibernate after all.
But fight the cold-induced lethargy, put on a coat and go outside. Not only do you save on heating and cable bills, but more importantly, these exclusively winter activities will make it worth it.
1. Eat winter street food
Street food may be available all year, but there are some snacks that emerge only during the colder months.
Case in point: sweet potatoes and chestnuts.
Winter in Seoul would not be the same without the scent of roasting sweet potatoes dominating street corners and subway exits, or the glow of nugget-shaped chestnuts baking on beds of coal.
These sweet and nutty snacks are not only inexpensive, they're incredibly healthy, lacking the added salt, sugar, and oil of other street foods, such as hotteok and tteokbokki.
You can usually find street food sellers all around subway stops in Seoul, but for these rarer treats try some of Seoul's older districts -- Jongno, Jonggak and Insadong.
More on CNNGo: 40 Korean foods we can't live without
2. Sledding at Everland
Popular amusement park Everland stays seasonally relevant with its winter offerings, namely its huge sledding hill, the Snow Buster.
Everland provides the slope, the snow and the sleds.
There are additional conveniences for lazy Seoulites, such as heated lounges selling refreshments and the “tube lift,” which minimizes trudge time.
“Before the lift, people had to walk back up the slope with their sleds," says Esther Park, a customer service center representative. "Now they can place the sleds on the lift and ride up while on the sled. You can think of it like a type of conveyor built."
Other than the Everland admission fee, there's no additional charge for sledding.
The tentative opening date for sledding season at Everland is December 16, subject to change depending on weather conditions.
Admission is ₩31,000 for adults and ₩23,000 for children. After 5 p.m. there's a discounted price of ₩25,000 for adults and ₩21,000 for children.
View hours and ticket package deals on Everland website.
310 Jeondae-ri, Pogok-eup, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 용인시 처인구 포곡읍 전대리 310); +82 31 320 5000; www.everland.com/MultiLanguage/english
More on CNNGo: Seoul: 24 hours, 24 adventures
3. Ski, ski, ski
For a county that's 70 percent mountain, skiing is a way to take advantage of the landscape when the weather seems to want to destroy our will to live.
The biggest ski name near Seoul is the venerable Bearstown Resort, a ski resort in Gyeonggi-do, a 50-minute-drive from Seoul.
"We have eleven slopes, and can confidently say that in terms of surface area, we are also the biggest ski resort in the Seoul area," says public relations chief Lee Jeong-hoon.
The slopes are available in specific time segments, and are open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Ski rentals start at ₩8,000 and lessons start at ₩30,000 -- but expect to spend more on necessary extras like ski-pants rentals and lift tickets.
295 Sohak-ri, Naechon-myeon, Pocheon-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 포천시 내촌면 소학리 295번지); +82 31 540 5000; www.bearstown.com
4. Ice fishing festivals
Even if you dislike fishing, ice fishing can be fun.
While the thought of prancing about on a subsection of river with only a few layers of ice between yourself and the freezing water below might be slightly off-putting, there is minimal real risk, as long as you take proper precautions.
Pyeongchang, Gangwon-do will be hosting the 6th Pyeongchang Cherry Salmon Festival at the Odae River (오대천) by Mount Odae (오대산) from December 22 to February 5.
The location alone should put your irrational fears to rest -- a city that was selected for the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics should know a thing or two about ice.
"The ice is tested for safety," says festival director Park Yong-man. "It's more than 40 centimeters thick, so there is no danger of it melting or cracking."
The real issue for novices is whether they'll be able to catch any fish at all.
"Cherry salmon tend to travel in droves," says Park. "So there is a possibility that you might not catch anything."
Ice fishing itself isn't hard, not with instructional videos playing at ticket booths and festival workers willing to lend a hand.
If you're lucky enough to catch a fish, you can bring it to nearby restaurants. For ₩3,000 they will either salt it and cook it, or prepare it raw.
A regular fishing ticket will set you back ₩13,000. For ₩20,000 you get a tent to keep the wind off your face.
You might also join fishermen, fisherwomen and fisherchildren at one of several ice fishing festivals that dot the Korean winter calendar.
100 Hajinbu-ri, Jinbu-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do (강원도 평창군 진부면 하진부리 100번지); +82 33 336 4000; www.festival700.or.kr
More on CNNGo: Travel advent calendar: 24 Christmas travel ideas
5. Outdoor ice skating
Ice skating is not necessarily a winter sport. But outdoor ice skating is.
And that makes all the difference: an unscratched but sterile indoor rink for athletes versus a picturesque winter tableau with fairy lights for first dates.
Blades down, we vote for magical winter tableau.
Here are Seoul’s best (and only) outdoor ice skate rinks:
Seoul Plaza Ice Skate Rink (서울 광장 스케이트장)
“We’re big, we’re in the heart of the city, and we’re inexpensive,” says Han Mun-hee of the Seoul City Hall Sports Promotion Department when describing Seoul Plaza.
Opening date: December 16
Admission: Starts at ₩1,000 an hour, with or without rentals.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
63 Euljiro 1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 중구 을지로1가 63); +82 2 3210 1267; www.seoulskate.or.kr
Grand Hyatt Seoul Ice Rink
The opening dates of most outdoor ice rinks are subject to change, but the Grand Hyatt is armed with a cooler, making reliability its trump card.
Admission: Monday-Friday, ₩21,000, Saturday-Sunday, ₩25,000; rentals start at ₩17,000
Hours: Monday-Thursday noon-9 p.m., Friday-Sunday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
747-7 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 용산구 한남동 747-7); +82 2 799 8113; www.seoul.grand.hyatt.com
World Cup Park Ice Skating Rink
Opening date: December 9
Admission: Starts at ₩1,000 an hour, with or without rentals.
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
531 Seongsan-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 마포구 성산동 531); +82 2 308 7442; www.wordcuprink.com
Sheraton Walker Hill
"The rentals are technically for two hours, but it's not as though we really keep track of the time," says Sheraton Walker Hill manager Lee Seong-jun. "So you don't really need to worry about that."
Opening date: December 22
Admission: Weekdays ₩20,000, weekends ₩30,000; rentals start at ₩12,000
Hours: Monday-Thursday: noon-9 p.m., Friday-Sunday: noon-10 p.m.
21 San, Gwangjang-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 광진구 광장동 산 21); +82 2 455 5000; www.sheratonwalkerhill.co.kr
More on CNNGo: Interview: Kim Yuna on what it takes to win
6. Christmas concerts
In Korea, Christmas is all about couples, not families.
In recent years, concerts have turned into a must for couples on dates on Christmas Eve and Christmas.
"We see a lot of couples coming to Christmas concerts," says Ha Hyoung-ju, drummer for K-Pop singers such as Rain, Lee Hyori, 2AM and Dynamic Duo.
"The Christmas theme is also very fun for musicians to use in concerts. I usually get so busy around this time of the year that I wish I could be in three places at once."
Yuhki Kuramoto and Friends
December 25, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Seoul Arts Center (예술의 전당)
Tickets start at ₩30,000 and can be purchased here.
700 Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 서초구 서초동 700번지); +82 580 1300; www.sac.or.kr
2AM Christmas Concert (크리스마스를 부탁해)
December 24-December 25, aSeoul Student Gymnasium (서울특별시 학생체육관)
Tickets start at ₩55,000 and can be purchased here.
10-3 Jamsil 1-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 송파구 잠실1동 10-3); +82 2 423 9181; www.ssg.go.kr
Lena Park and Sung Sikyung - Love Concerto (그해 겨울)
December 29 at 8 p.m., December 30 at 8 p.m., and December 31 at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., Jamsil Stadium (잠실 실내체육관)
Tickets start at ₩88,000 and can be purchased here.
10 Jamsil-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 송파구 잠실동 10); +82 2 2240 8809
More on CNNGO: Yuhki Kuramoto and Friends at Seoul Arts Center
7. Heat up at snowy spas
There's nothing quite like stripping down to your bikini or swim trunks like it's midsummer and soaking in a heated pool in the dead of winter.
Spavis, a waterpark in Asan, combines the invigorating, mineral-rich water of a natural hot spring with novelty pools, water slides and saunas.
Skip the peak season, when kids on winter break crowd the slides.
288-6 Sinsu-ri, Eumbong-myeon, Asan-si, Chungcheongnam-do (충청남도 아산시 음봉면 신수리 288-6); +82 41 539 2000; Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday-Sunday: 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; www.spavis.co.kr