Korea is a beautiful country year-round. Who’s denying that? Having four clear seasons is something that Korea has prided itself on, and has even been used in tourism campaigns for as long as I can remember. Its winters are bright and blisteringly cold, its springs are crisp and full of blossoms, summers are hot and sunny, and autumns calm and breezy. However, both winter and summer in Korea are, as ironic as it sounds to say it, too long. Which means, much to my disappointment, that the remaining two seasons are merely short interim periods.
Autumn is my favourite season here in Korea, and so it’s a crying shame that it’s so short. Nonetheless, there are a million and two ways to enjoy the short season, and I’m going to share some of my recommendations on what to do to make the most out of pumpkin spice time. Let’s go!
See the fall foliage
Without a shadow of a doubt, admiring the fall foliage of South Korea is a must. With its many different types of trees, the most famous in autumn being the bright yellow ginkgo trees (my favourite all year round), the foliage in the autumn is a true sight for sore eyes. Reds, yellows, browns, oranges, and deepening greens blanket the mountainsides, valleys and parks, and line the wide city avenues. Leaves crunch underfoot, and acorns drop on the mountain paths. The autumn foliage of Korea is a sepia-toned dream.
Of course, you can check out the foliage on one of Seoul’s key eight mountains, but one of the best day trips is to the nearby province of Gangwon-do. Whether you drive or transfer between subways and buses, this area is a definite winner for fall foliage hot-spots. The most gorgeous places in mid-October are The Garden Of Morning Calm, Jade Garden, and one if its numerous rail parks. Nami Island is also renowned for its yellow ginko trees, but with its hour-long queues for the ferry and an infinite number of international tourists, we suggest opting for somewhere a bit off the beaten path.
Visit a mountain
Whether you go for a hike, take a stroll in a park, or pay a visit to a temple, fall is the perfect season to go to the mountains. The weather is just right for being outside – the sun is high but the temperatures are not – and it’s the perfect chance to surround yourself with the aforementioned beautiful fall nature.
If you’re up for a challenge, try the back path of Seoul’s Gwanak-san. It takes about one and a half hours from the entrance of Seoul National University, but as most of the hike is actually within the forest, you won’t have a better opportunity to fully immerse yourself than this. Looking for something a little simpler? Head out via subway or rental car to Yongmunsan in Yang-pyeong-gu. Before you hike up the small hill, there are streets full of traditional restaurants and snacks that will help power you up before or after your walk. You can also visit the organic agricultural museum that boasts a wealth of information on local farming practices. When you reach the top, you’ll be greeted by Korea’s oldest ginko tree, which towers above you and the nearby Buddhist temple.
Eat street food
Fall marks the start of the best time of year for street food! Throughout fall and winter, one of the best things to do is fill up on some hot, delicious snacks, and some of the best street food is only on offer during the colder months of the year. Think bungeobbang (red bean fish-shaped pastry), hotteok (rice flour doughnuts filled with brown sugar, nuts and seeds), roasted chesnuts and roasted sweet potatoes. It also has to be said that all the year-round favourites, such as tteokbokki (rice cakes in a spicy sauce) and eomuk (fish cake, often served on a stick), are far better in the fall. There is nothing better than a cold day with a warm stomach!
Go to a festival
Korea is the land of festivals. Every weekend there is a different festival going on. Maybe it’s a rose festival, or a battle anniversary festival. It might even be a small dried fish festival (yes, that’s a real one!). Whatever the occasion or topic, there will be a festival going on. All things considered, maybe this point is a little redundant as a fall-specific point, but the message stands nonetheless. Fall is the best time of year to get outside and enjoy the last of the bearable weather, so why not find a festival at which to spend your time? Thanks to the abundance of festivals happening at any one time, there’s bound to be one to your taste.
One of our favorite festivals is the Baekje Festival held for about one week in late September. Take the KTX train to the southern part of the country in both Gongju and Buyeo, where the festival is held. Here, you can learn more about Korea’s Three Kingdoms period (57BC – 668AD) through traditional (‘ancient’ seems more fitting) dance, song, and food. The biggest sight to see is the ceremony for long-forgotten Baekje kings. Check out a full schedule of all events on their website.
We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what you can do in the autumn season. Stay tuned next week for a list of great cafes in Seoul’s Hapjeong neighborhood, where you can snuggle up with a cup of pumpkin spice or chai latte. Maybe that’s our favorite way to embrace the cold! What’s your favourite way to spend the fall in Korea? Let us know in a comment below!