Chuseok, also known as Korean Thanksgiving, is one of South Korea’s most cherished and significant holidays. If you’re planning a visit to Seoul during Chuseok, quite some places will be closed as Koreans visit their families – similar to our Christmas holidays.. But don’t worry – in this blog post, I’ll not only explain the significance and meaning of Chuseok, its dates for the next years and the weather in Korea during this time but also provide you with 10 exciting things to do in Seoul during Chuseok.
What is Chuseok?
Chuseok is with Seollal (Korean New Year) one of South Korea’s most important and celebrated holidays. It is a traditional harvest festival that has deep cultural and historical significance in Korea, and it is a time for families to come together, express gratitude for the year’s harvest, and pay respects to their ancestors.
When is Chuseok?
Chuseok is a holiday that follows the lunar calendar, so its date varies from year to year in the Gregorian calendar. It falls on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar, which usually corresponds to late September to early October. For your reference, here are the dates for Chuseok in the upcoming years:
- 2023: September 28 – 30
- 2024: September 16 – 18
- 2025: October 5 – 7
- 2026: September 24 – 26
Chuseok is a significant holiday in South Korea, and its duration typically spans three days, making it one of the country’s major holiday seasons. While Chuseok itself is a three-day holiday, the entire Chuseok season can extend to cover several days and many Koreans take some days off to travel around to visit their families or using the time off to go on vacation. Therefore traffic jams, sold out train and bus tickets and higher hotel and flight prices are normal during that time.
How’s the weather during Chuseok?
The weather during Chuseok in South Korea varies from year to year due to the holiday’s reliance on the lunar calendar. However, Chuseok typically falls in late September to early October, which basically is the early autumn season in Korea. Sometimes you can even witness the first leaves turning various shades of red, orange, and yellow.
During this time temperatures range from 20°C to 25°C (68°F to 77°F) and Rainfall is generally minimal during this time, making it a comfortable time to explore the country. While daytime temperatures are mild, evenings and nights can be cooler, with temperatures dropping to around 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F). So it’s a good idea to bring a light jacket or sweater when you’re out in the evening.
What are Chuseok Traditions?
The Chuseok holiday is characterized by the spirit of gratitude, family togetherness, and a celebration of Korean culture and traditions. Many Koreans take advantage of this time to visit family members, reconnect with their roots, and enjoy the autumn harvest season with some ceremonies or traditional games:
Chuseok is a time for families to come together, even if they live far apart. Many people travel long distances to visit their hometowns and spend time with relatives. It’s a time of bonding, catching up, and strengthening family ties.
One of the central customs of Chuseok is the performance of ancestral rites, known as Charye (차례). Families visit their ancestral hometowns and pay homage to their ancestors at family gravesites. They offer food and perform rituals to honor their forebears, seeking blessings and guidance for the future. Main Part of the Charye is preparing and decorating lots of food and typical harvest goods like seen on the picture.
Chuseok is synonymous with delicious traditional Korean foods. Families prepare and share special dishes like rice cakes – Songpyeon (송편), stir-fried glass noodles – Japchae (잡채), marinated grilled beef – Bulgogi (불고기), and a variety of Korean pancakes – Jeon (전). These foods are often made using freshly harvested ingredients.
During Chuseok, some Koreans still wear hanbok – traditional Korean clothing – as a way of connecting with their cultural heritage. Unfortunately this tradition is slowly getting less common in modern families, but still you will see news anchors and officials wear Hanbok those days.
Besides traditional performances and activities like archery and wrestling (씨름) you can see on TV or at festivals around the country, many families play traditional games at home or parks like:
- Juldarigi (줄다리기) – Tug-of-War
- DakSaUm (닭싸움) – ‘Chicken fight’ Game
- Tuho (투호) – Throw arrows into a canister
- Yutnori (윷놀이) – Throwing sticks
- Jegichagi (제기차기) – Joggle a footbag
- Ddakji (딱지) – Folded Paper Tiles
Chuseok gifts are customary during South Korea’s Chuseok holiday. These gifts often include premium food like high quality meat or fruits, health products, or gift cards, gifted with a focus on thoughtful presentation. You’ll also often see SPAM gift packages 😀
What to do in Seoul during Chuseok?
During Chuseok in Seoul, there are plenty of activities and experiences to enjoy. While quite a lot of businesses may be closed or have reduced hours on the actual Chuseok Day (in 2023 it’s September 29th), many attractions and events cater to tourists and locals during this holiday season. Here are some things you can do in and around Seoul during Chuseok.
Enjoy Cultural Activities
Enjoy the above mentioned games and other fun activities in Seoul’s parks organized by the city of Seoul – open and free for everyone. Unfortunately this information is only available in Korean so far, but I tried to translate and put it together for you in the following table:
Visit Historical Sites
During the Chuseok Holidays the Palaces in Seoul will be open and even better: the admission fee will be free for everyone! Don’t miss the Guard Changing Ceremony at Gwanghwamun Gate in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace daily at 10 AM and 2 PM (Tuesdays the palace is closed).
Alternatively the beautiful Namsangol Hanok Village also offers some traditional Korean games, cultural performances and craft activities before and during Chuseok. Find more information about this >here.
This Hanok Village is also perfect for a nice walk to the Namsan Cable Car to go up the mountain to have a view of the city from above.
See the city from above
Perched atop Namsan Mountain in the heart of the city you can find the N Seoul Tower – often simply called Namsan Tower. Not only does it provide breathtaking panoramic views of Seoul’s sprawling cityscape, but it also offers cultural performances every day at 3 PM and has some great photospots like the lock filled walls of the viewing platform. You can buy tickets for the N Seoul tower’s observatory >here.
Another great place for awesome city views is the Lotte Tower’s Seoul Sky Observatory, located in the Jamsil district. Visitors can explore interactive exhibits before ascending to the rooftop observatory or even book the Sky Bridge Tour to have a walk outside on 555m height. Tickets for the Observatory can be booked in advance >here.
The “Nanta Cooking Show” and “Painter’s Show” are two captivating performances in Seoul. “Nanta” is a comedy combining cooking and drumming, while “Painters Show” blends live painting, multimedia art, and humor. Both shows offer unique, interactive experiences combined with some Korean cultural insights that entertain audiences of all ages and backgrounds, making them must-see attractions in Seoul.
Have a Picnic & Yacht Tour
A perfect day in Seoul not related or bothered by the holidays might involve packing a picnic basket and heading to one of the picturesque Han River Parks – like Yeouido or Banpo. There, you can enjoy a leisurely bike ride along the scenic riverside paths, taking in the serene beauty of the surroundings. As the sun sets, make your way to Banpo Bridge, where the Rainbow Fountain comes to life in a dazzling display of colors and water choreography. To cap off your memorable day, hop aboard a yacht for a tranquil evening tour, drifting along the river and basking in the mesmerizing views of the illuminated Rainbow Fountain, a truly enchanting experience in the heart of Seoul.
Visit an Amusement Park
As families gather to celebrate, the amusement parks in and around Seoul come alive with vibrant decorations and special Chuseok-themed events and discounts. Whether it’s strolling through Everland’s beautifully adorned gardens, enjoying Lotte World‘s festive parades, or experiencing the captivating performances at Seoul Land, Chuseok at these parks offers a unique blend of Korean modern life and excitement. Amidst the rides and attractions, visitors can also savor traditional Chuseok delicacies like songpyeon (rice cakes) and experience the warm hospitality of Korean culture, making it a memorable holiday adventure for all ages.
Have a Selfcare-Day
Combine relaxation and cultural immersion by visiting a Jjimjilbang (찜질방) – a traditional Korean bathhouse. Upon entering, you’re enveloped in a world of soothing saunas, hot baths, and special treatments. The gentle heat of the Korean saunas, ranging from intense to mild, helps release tension and detoxify the body. After a leisurely soak in therapeutic mineral baths, you can indulge in a Korean body scrub that leaves your skin feeling soft and revitalized. Alternatively you can get a massage or one of Korea’s famous skin treatments in one of the great facilities below. This self-care day in Korea allows you to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and immerse yourself in a wellness oasis steeped in Korean tradition.
Go on a Daytrip
Embarking on a day trip from Seoul during Chuseok is a fantastic way to explore South Korea’s diverse landscapes and historical sites. A visit to the Korean Folk Village and Suwon, just an hour away from Seoul, allows you to experience the Chuseok Festival at the Korean Folk Village and stroll along the UNESCO-listed Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon.
If you’re looking for a coastal escape, Gangneung, located about three hours from Seoul, offers pristine beaches and the chance to savor fresh seafood delicacies. Incheon is a great alternative too and the west coast actually offers great Islands too.
For a more solemn experience, consider a visit to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), which takes approximately two hours to reach. Finally, consider a day trip to the beautiful Nami Island, known for its picturesque landscapes and serene ambiance, which is about an hour and a half from Seoul.
While the travel times may vary due to traffic (especially during the holidays), these destinations promise a unique and enriching Chuseok day trip, showcasing the cultural, natural, and historical diversity of South Korea.
Take a cooking class
Korean cooking classes provide a hands-on experience in preparing traditional Chuseok dishes like colorful rice cakes, Korea’s National dish Kimchi, or a whole set of meals like Bulgogi (marinated grilled meat) or Korean stews. Guided by expert instructors, participants not only learn the secrets of these time-honored recipes but also gain insight into the significance of each dish in Korean Cuisine. It’s a delightful opportunity to connect with the essence of Korean traditions and share in the joy of creating and savoring these delectable treats with loved ones.
Go for a Hike
Seoul is surrounded by numerous picturesque hiking trails, and they are suitable for hikers of all levels. Five easy hikes to consider during Chuseok include the tranquil Bukhansan National Park, where you can explore lush forests and ancient temples; the scenic Achasan Mountain, offering panoramic views of the city; Inwangsan, known for its historical significance and stunning vistas; Namsan Mountain, right in the heart of Seoul and perfect for a leisurely walk; and the peaceful trails of Ansan, where you can relish the serenity of nature just outside the bustling city. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner looking for a refreshing outdoor adventure, these hikes promise a wonderful way to connect with nature and enjoy the beauty of Korean Nature during early fall.
Chuseok in Seoul offers a unique blend of tradition, culture, and modernity. With this guide, you’ll have a memorable and fulfilling experience exploring the vibrant city and understanding the essence of Chuseok, a holiday deeply rooted in Korean heritage. Enjoy your Chuseok adventure in Seoul!