What is the weather like in Korea?

When you travel, the weather is very important! So in this article, I’ll tell you what the weather is like in Korea and when is the best time to travel to Korea.

I talk about the weather in Seoul, where I lived.

Which country in Europe is on the same latitude as Korea?

Italy! Soon you will know how the weather differs between Italy and Korea.

Korea is in the middle latitude like Italy, so Korea basically has temperate climate. For this reason, Korea has four seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter.
During the change of season there are big temperature differences from morning to evening.

Korea is a peninsula, so it is influenced by the continental climate in the north and the oceanic climate in the south. It is affected by cold winds from Siberia in winter and hot winds from the Pacific in summer.

In the summer it’s hot and it rains a lot, so it’s very humid. Daegu is the hottest city in Korea because Daegu is located in a geographical basin.

In winter it is cold and dry. It’s snowing too!
It’s warmer in the south, so you’re unlikely to see snow in the second largest city, Busan, in winter. In the mountainous east, however, it is colder and snowier.

1. spring (봄)

Spring is usually from March to May. The average temperature is about 10-13 degrees in the spring, but there are large temperature differences between morning and evening. In March the weather is still cold, but from May the weather becomes warmer. It also rains sometimes, but not too much.

1) Spring semester begins

The spring semester of schools and universities in Korea begins on the second of March because the first of March is a holiday.

Read this article if you want to know what holiday is the first of March.

2) Yellow sandstorm (황사) & fine dust (미세먼지).

In spring, there is the sandstorm Hwangsa (황사 黃砂). Hwangsa literally means yellow sand.
The yellow sandstorm comes from Inner Mongolia or the Gobi Desert and crosses China and the sea on its way to Korea. When the sandstorm arrives, the sky turns yellow.

In the past it wasn’t that bad, just for a few days. But as global warming steadily erodes China’s deserts, things are getting worse. Because China is rapidly industrializing, the chemicals and particulate matter are also coming to Korea with the yellow sandstorm.

In the meantime, however, even without a sandstorm, the particulate matter is coming from China.

Before the coronavirus existed, Koreans often wore masks to combat particulate matter. And that habit has worked well in the Corona crisis.

In China, factories were closed because of the curfew against coronavirus. So no fine dust came into Korea during the quarantine.

One of Korea’s national dishes is grilled pork belly meat (삼겹살).
Koreans think this belly meat is good for yellow sand. That’s why we eat a lot of it in the spring.

In the 1960s and 70s, many Koreans came to West Germany to work as miners. It was said that miners ate a lot of belly meat after work to alleviate the particulate pollution on the body. Besides, pork was cheaper than other meat and it reminded them of home.

3) Kkotssaemchuui (꽃샘추위).

When the flowers bloom after spring, it sometimes suddenly gets cold like in Central Europe during the Ice Saints.
It was named Kkotssaemchuui (꽃샘추위). The name is very adorable. Kkot (꽃) is flowers, Saem (샘) is jealous, and Chuui (추위) is cold. Kkotssaemchuui (꽃샘추위) means the cold is jealous of the flowers. Because of this jealousy, it gets cold again as soon as the flowers start to bloom.

4) Hair dryer (높새바람)

There is also the hair dryer in Korea. Warm fall wind. In Korea, the wind blows from the Taebaek Mountains in the east. It also causes drought in the western plains in the spring. Because of the foehn, the risk of forest fires is increasing, but you can’t feel it in Seoul.

2. summer (여름)

Summer in Korea is from June to August. The average temperature is 23-25 degrees in summer, but in August it gets over 30 degrees. It’s also very humid, so it feels even hotter.

1) Air conditioning (에어컨) & Naengbangbyoeng (냉방병).

Not only do you feel hotter, but you feel worse because of the humidity. That’s why there are air conditioners everywhere. Not only in the department store or office, but also at home, on the bus and in the subway.

My sister has two air conditioners at home. One large one is in the living room for the whole family and one small one is in the bedroom. When it’s too hot and humid in the summer, my niece and nephew sleep in the living room because of the air conditioning.

When I worked in Korea, I often caught a cold in the summer.

It’s hot outside, but it’s cold in the office, at home, and everywhere because of air conditioning. You catch a cold because of the temperature difference.
We call it Naengbangbyoeng (냉방병). Naengbang (냉방) is cooling and Byeong (병) is sickness. Because of the air conditioning, you catch a cold in the summer, but naengbangbyoeng is not an official medical term.

People who are too poor to buy air conditioning sometimes go to the bank.
There are many benches in the bank and it is cool, if not cold. You can also take a short rest in the bank if you are too hot in summer. 🙂

2) Boknal (복날) & Samgyetang (삼계탕)

Boknal are the hottest days of the year. It is also called Three Bok, Sambok (삼복) because there are three hot days: Chobok (초복), Jungbok (중복) and Malbok (말복). Sambok is between mid-July and mid-August.

Koreans eat boknal samgyetang (삼계탕) on the hottest days. Samgyetang is a soup made from chicken and ginseng.

Click on this link to see Samgyetang.

Why do Koreans eat hot samgyetang on the hottest days?

There is a saying Iyeolchiyeol (이열치열 以熱治熱) in Korea. It’s called “fighting fire with fire.
When the weather is hot, you have to eat hot food, not cold food, then you will be healthy.
Due to the heat waves, you sweat a lot in the summer and have no appetite. Therefore, one should eat nutrient-rich food like samgyetang. At the Boknal the Samgyetang restaurants are overcrowded.

3) Rainy season (장마)

Usually the rainy season is from the end of June to the end of July for a few days or a week. It accounts for about one-third of Korea’s annual rainfall.

When the rainy season comes, the humidity rises and the temperature does not drop, so there are many mosquitoes. Mold can grow in the building or home and food can easily spoil. So it is not very good for hygiene and health. Of course, food poisoning is also common.

When the rainy season ends, the heat becomes hotter than before the rainy season.

4) Heavy rain (집중호우) & typhoon (태풍).

It rains most in the summer. There are also thunderstorm, storm, heavy rain and typhoon.

Heavy rain can cause flooding. Because of the typhoon, there are also many cases of damage. There is not much typhoon damage in Seoul, but already a lot of damage in the seaside towns. Typhoons usually come in the summer or early fall. The frequency of typhoons is highest in August, followed by September and July.

3. autumn (가을)

Autumn is from September to November. The average temperature is 13-16 degrees, but in September it is still hot. The maximum temperature rises to about 27 degrees in September.

But as I said, typhoons could still come in September.

1) Fall semester starts & Thanksgiving Chuseok (추석)

At the end of August or beginning of September the second, the autumn semester begins.

The autumn sky is blue and clear. We say the sky is high and the horses are getting fat. (천고마비 天高馬肥), so there’s Chuseok, the biggest Korean harvest festival. If you want to know more about Chuseok, read this article.

2) Danpung (단풍) & Eunhaeng (은행)

Danpung (단풍 丹楓) is the phenomenon of tree leaves turning red or yellowish due to temperature changes.

Danpung comes first from the north, and the higher up the mountain the more the leaves change color. Usually around October is the peak of danpung.

The alpine danpung is of course beautiful, but the colors of the danpung in South Korea are brighter because there are many conifers in the Alps, but in South Korea there are many broad-leaved trees such as the maple tree.

Click on this linkk to see Danpung.

In Korea there is also the tree Eunhaeng (은행), which does not exist in Europe. Eunhaeng are often used as street trees and in autumn the leaves turn yellow.

Click on this link to see the tree Eunhaeng.

After the tree has grown for 30 years, it gets seeds, but they stink a lot. It really smells like feces.

When you peel the stinky part off the outside, a hard shell comes out. And when you peel these off, seeds come out.

The seeds are soft and have their own taste. They need to be cooked. Therefore, they are usually grilled with a skewer or cooked together with rice. Also, they are very healthy, so it has long been considered medicine.

Seeds fall on city streets a lot in the fall, but you can’t take them because the city owns the street trees. Still, some people take them because they are healthy and expensive.

3) Hiking (등산)

63% of the country of South Korea is mountains, so Koreans love to go hiking.

Before the Corona crisis, Korean groups traveled extensively in Europe. At that time, middle-aged Koreans walked well and quickly. I have heard this from Salzburg tour guides and I also agree. That’s because we go hiking a lot.

Especially in autumn, more people hike to see the Danpung.
If you hike from north to south, you can see Danpung for a month from late September to late October. It’s really gorgeous!

4. winter (겨울) in Korea

Winter is from November to February. The average temperature is about -1 to 1 degree. January is the coldest month of the year, so Seoul has a minimum temperature of -6 degrees and a maximum temperature of 1 degree in January.
If you go east, where there are many mountains, the minimum temperature drops to -10 degrees.
It’s cold and dry, so it’s easy to get chilled.

It used to be repetitive to get three days cold and four days warmer in the winter, but now this phenomenon is rare due to global warming. (삼한사온 三寒四溫)

1) Snow (눈)

It snows, of course, but I often get questions from Europeans about whether it snows in South Korea. Can you remember that the 2018 Winter Olympics were held in Pyeongchang, Korea. We also like to go skiing or snowboarding.

The volcanic island of Jeju, which is the largest island in Korea, where the highest mountain is Halla, also has a lot of snow in winter.

2) Floor heating Ondol (온돌)

Ondol is Korea’s own floor heating system. Ondol was already found in the ruins of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. It is a heating system that warms the entire room by conducting heat through the floor.
When the floor is warm, the warm air rises and the cold air sinks, therefore the air always circulates in the room.
It was declared a national intangible cultural heritage of Korea in 2018.
Through Ondol, the culture of sitting developed. That’s why Koreans did everything in one room. Eat, sleep, study and work.

There is a good video about Ondol in English! Click it!

However, nowadays we use beds and tables like in the West.
Interestingly, in Korea there is the special bed of stone or earth.
It is made by combining western beds and Korean ondol. When you turn on a switch, the bottom of the bed gets warm (돌침대).

My sister bought this bed, but when she moved, the bed was too heavy and it would have cost a lot to take it with her.

Click on the link to see the stone bed.

The fireplace for the Ondol is outside or in the kitchen. When it’s in the kitchen, you don’t need extra fire for cooking. In Korea, there was only the fireplace and no stove, so soups or stews were developed.

Click on the link to see Ondol.

You can keep your feet warm and your head cold. My feet always get cold quickly. They weren’t cold in Korea because of the Ondol, but they’re always cold in Europe.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t wear socks at home in Korea in the winter. I think most Koreans don’t wear socks at home because the floor is always warm.

Now I wear thick socks and also warm slippers at home in Salzburg.

When you travel in Korea, do you want to sleep on the Ondol?

When is the best time to travel to Korea?

In the winter, many South Asians travel to Korea to see snow, but unless you’re coming to Korea for the snow or skiing, April through October is usually the best time to visit.

However, the yellow sandstorm comes in the spring and it is too humid and hot in the summer.

Therefore, I recommend the fall, so in September or in October! The weather is not so hot and not so cold. The semester starts in September, so it’s also off-season for travel!

However, if the harvest festival Chuseok is in September or October, be careful!

How about danpung in the fall in Korea?

Important phrases and vocabulary:

날씨 Weather
사계절 Four Seasons
봄 Spring
여름 Summer
가을 Autumn
겨울 Winter
황사 yellow sandstorm
미세먼지 Fine dust
꽃샘추위 Weather phenomenon such as Ice Saints.
푄, 높새바람 hairdryer
에어컨 Air conditioner
냉방병 cold because of the air conditioner in summer
복날 the hottest days of the year
삼계탕 Chicken stew
이열치열 a proverb, “Fight fire with fire”.
비 Rain
오다 come
비가 오다 it’s raining
장마 Rainy season
집중호우 Heavy rainfall
태풍 Typhoon
추석 Thanksgiving Day
단풍 the phenomenon that the leaves change color.
은행 나무 Eunhaeng Tree
등산하다 hiking
눈 Snow
눈이 오다 it’s snowing
온돌 Korean floor heating or floor heating system
침대 Bed
돌 Stone
돌침대 Stone bed