South Koreans largely have a positive view of Americans and Canadians and a love for North American culture. You can see this reflected in how you say Merry Christmas in Korean–”Meri keurismaseu!” (메리 크리스마스). The phrase is an example of Konglish, a Korean pronunciation of an English loanword. Korean is full of such phrases due to the impact of the Western world on the country and Christmas in Korea.
That’s why if you’re abroad for the holiday season or looking for a foreign country to relocate to from the U.S. or Canada temporarily or permanently, South Korea is the perfect destination. Christmas occurs on December 25th just as it does in North America, but South Korean Christmas traditions differ greatly.
Ben Kim, a resident of South Korea, states, “Christmas isn’t actually super popular amongst all Koreans. It is more celebrated for sales and marketing. [The] majority of those who celebrate Christmas are couples and friends (similar to Valentine’s Day), although it is recognized as a national holiday. Christmas in Korea became popular due to Christianity. [The] majority of Korean Christmas festivities mimic those of the western culture.”
Since Christmas is largely secular and non-religious in this country, there are truly unique activities and traditions to try out while you’re in the country during the holiday. Discover some of the best things to do to celebrate, especially if you’re in a romantic relationship.
9 romantic holiday adventures to do in South Korea
We’ve questioned the locals and found 9 unique and romantic Christmas activities to do in South Korea during Christmas.
1. Watch a romantic Christmas movie
You don’t have to leave your home or hotel to get into the spirit of the season. Order some Korean comfort food like kimchi-jiggae (a pork or seafood stew) or haejang-gu (a hardy beef broth-based soup). Ben Kim mentioned that “some of the traditional foods we eat for the holidays are Korean BBQ, pajeon (Korean pancakes), dduk (rice cake), jap chae (stir fried glass noodles), and tang (soup) to name a few.”
Then turn on a romantic Korean movie like Snow Is on the Sea or binge a K-drama like Will It Snow for Christmas? The Wind Blows, Winter Sonata, or That Winter.
After your watch party, cuddle up beneath a blanket and listen to some romantic K-pop songs. Some great selections for your playlist include:
- “Goodbye Christmas” by Lay
- “Lonely Christmas” by Monsta X
- “White” by Fin.K.L
- “Merry & Happy” by Twice
- “Dear Santa” by Girls’ Generation
- “Miracles in December” by EXO
- “Snow Kiss” by Teen Top
- “Last Christmas” by BTS
- “This Christmas” by Taeyeon
- “Coming Home” by NCT U
- “White” by The Boyz
- “Love You on Christmas” by Yerin Baek
- “Winter Breath” by Sooyoung
- “Winter Poem” by Kang Hyewon
- “Just Another Winter Song” by I’ll
Not only will your night-in give you a chance to spend some relaxing quality time together, but it will also give you a taste of Korean television and music, which are a huge part of the culture.
2. Stroll around a Christmas market in Korea
Although they originated in Europe, Christmas markets have become popular all over the world. South Korea is home to a number of these open-air fairs that feature handmade decorations and gifts as well as small decorated trees.
Here are three of the best ones to check out in Seoul:
- Namdaemun Market: Located in Jung-gu, the historic center of the city, this market draws crowds year-round with vendors who sell fresh produce, seafood, and other items. During December, the area transforms into a pop-up Christmas market with many stands open 24 hours per day. The adjacent indoor Daedo General Shopping Center also features a variety of Christmas-themed shops during the season.
- Dongdaemun Market: Throughout the year, Dongdaemun Market is a shopper’s paradise. The area is home to 26 malls with more than 30,000 specialty shops. With a mix of temporary Christmas vendors and stores selling popular brands, you can easily complete all of your holiday shopping here. When you get hungry, head to Mukja Golmok to sample delicious Korean street food.
- Goto Mall: Located in the Gangnam Express Bus Terminal, this indoor shopping mall features more than 600 stores, selling everything from live succulents to trendy apparel. You’ll also find vendors selling Christmas decor throughout the month of December.
3. Visit a festival of lights
The colorful glow of a festival of lights will get you in the spirit of the season, set the mood for a romantic date, and give you plenty of opportunities for snapping cute selfies. There are dozens of festivals and light displays held throughout South Korea during the winter months that you can visit.
Here are three of the best options for your romantic Christmas in Korea outing:
- Garden of the Morning Calm: This botanical garden opened in 1996 and has become one of the most popular attractions in Gapyeong County. Every winter, the picturesque garden is transformed with colorful lights. Their annual Lighting Festival usually runs from the first week of December through March.
- Busan Christmas Tree Cultural Festival: Each December, the city of Busan turns the Gwangbok-ro district into a festive fair with towering LED Christmas trees, glowing reindeer, twinkling snowflakes, and other decorations. Concerts take place almost every night, adding to the cheerful mood.
- E-World Starlight Festival: The E-World amusement park in Daegu gets a festive makeover every year. There, you can pose for photos beneath a lighted tree that is 15 meters tall and stroll along the 250-meter illuminated lover’s lane. Visit the garden and steal a kiss among 100,000 roses made of LEDs. The event usually begins in late November and lasts through February.
4. Visit Namsan Tower
Namsan Seoul Tower is one of the most romantic spots in South Korea’s capital. The tower provides 360-degree views of Seoul and is especially beautiful during the holiday season when so much of the city is lit up.
During the weeks leading up to Christmas, the tower is decorated with trees. After you take in the view and check out the decorations, treat yourself to a meal at one of the restaurants in the tower.
- n.GRILL, fine French cuisine
- HanCook, a modern upscale Korean grill
- The Place, a bistro serving Western fare
- N Burger, a retro diner
- Cheiljiemyunso, a noodle bar
Reservations are recommended at many restaurants, so be sure to make arrangements in advance. On Christmas in Korea, the tower is open from 11:00–22:30. Restaurant hours vary.
5. Go sledding at Seoul Land
What could be more romantic than a day of rushing down the hillside on a sled built for two? Seoul Land is the ideal place for this traditional winter activity and has a whole lot more to offer too.
The amusement park is also home to the Luna Park Light Festival, a year-round event that includes a laser light show performed alongside South Korea’s largest mirror ball and the Romantic Garden filled with LED roses and sculptures. For a memorable souvenir of the night, head to the Moon Photo Zone for a photo shoot.
6. Watch the sunrise on Jeju Island
Jeju Island is South Korea’s largest island, and its beautiful landscapes make it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. During the days between Christmas and the New Year, the island is home to the Seongsan Sunrise Festival. The event takes place at Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, which is a UNESCO World Nature Heritage Site.
Each day, you can wake up together and watch the breathtaking sunrise over the mountain. Then, head to Spa Ara at the Haevichi Resort and enjoy a traditional Korean couples’ massage. Stroll along the beach and wait until nightfall when you can watch a dazzling fireworks display hand-in-hand.
7. Go ice skating in Seoul
Seoul offers two great places to lace up your skates. During the winter months, the outdoor pool at the Grand Hyatt becomes a 910 sq meter ice skating rink with gorgeous lighting, mood-setting music, and picturesque views of the Han River.
Olympic Park, the former site of the Seoul Olympics, is another option. Its distance from the city center makes it a more intimate spot, but it’s still accessible by subway to Jamsil Station and then bus 30-5. Whether the two of you are skilled enough to try some couples skating moves or just need to hold onto each other to stay standing, an afternoon or evening at either skating rink is sure to make romantic memories.
8. Marvel at fantastic ice sculptures
For the artsy couple, the Chilgapsan Ice Fountain Festival is a great place to spend a day. The festival usually starts on New Year’s Day and lasts through mid-February at the Alps Village, a farm community in Chungcheongnam-do that is open to the public.
Each year, the main daytime attraction is the ice sculpture garden, featuring remarkable hand-carved works of art. You can also cuddle up in the back of a bobsleigh and tour the area. Enjoy roasted chestnuts and sweet potato for dinner and then explore the light displays at night. The glowing wish tunnel and the firefly tree are two of the most romantic spots.
9. Tour a historic cathedral
If you want to incorporate some elements of a traditional Western Christmas into your day, plan to visit Myeongdong Cathedral. Each year on Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and the day after Christmas, the historic cathedral hosts a small Christmas market and nativity display. Free mulled wine and snacks are usually provided by the parish priests.
The two of you can stroll the illuminated grounds of the Gothic-style church, which became the first brick-built place of worship in South Korea when it was completed in 1898. Masses are held at 21:00 and midnight and are open to the public if you wish to attend.
Before you leave, make a small donation to the cathedral’s charity programs for the needy and you’ll receive slips of paper. Then, you can write down your wishes for the New Year ahead and add them to the beautiful outdoor Wish Tree.