Chuseok is one of the most important holidays celebrated in South Korea. Often explained as a “Korean Thanksgiving,” Chuseok is a time for families to gather, share a meal, and show gratitude towards their ancestors and the upcoming harvest. During this time, the usually bustling streets of Seoul become deserted as everyone packs up shop and heads out of town for the weekend. As exchange students, my friends and I were warned many times that no stores were going to be open. “Stock up on food now or you’ll be going to Starbucks,” they said. Nevertheless, I was determined to make the most of the holiday and wondered what I could do despite stores closing the lack of family to celebrate with.
So… What can you do in Seoul during Chuseok?
First, my friends and I rented out Hanbok. Hanbok is a traditional Korean dress characterized for its vivid colors and flowing shape, often worn by both Korean men and women during special occasions like Chuseok. There are many Hanbok rental shops within Seoul, providing an easy and fun way for foreigners and Koreans alike to partake in the cultural festivities!
After getting dressed, my friends and I headed over to Gyeongbokgung Palace, one of the five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty and a main tourist hub for foreigners everywhere. It’s common for people wearing Hanbok to book photo shoots at the palace, which is exactly what we did!
Usually, if you wear Hanbok to the palace you get in for free, but during Chuseok weekend it was free admission for everyone! We spent a few hours in the Palace taking photos and enjoying the scenery.
The palace architecture is beautiful and vibrate with the flowers, trees, and distant mountains all offering a surreal experience. It’s easy to forget you’re still in modern Seoul!
My friends and I waiting to take photos!
(Above photos credited to Jason Noh; @j_ace_son)
Afterwards, my friends and I ate a typical Korean meal: (clockwise starting from bottom right) kimchi pancake, knife-cut noodles, dumpling soup, and bibimbap (mixed rice and vegetables) along with a variety of bachan, or side dishes.
Next, I went to the Namsangol Hanok Village and met up with my ISA group. The village is an open park and neighborhood recognized for its hanok (traditional) style buildings. Many families like to take their kids to the Hanok Village to play traditional Korean games like yutnori (shown below) and kite flying.
The Hanok Village really captures a sense of peace and serenity. Flowers bustle in the wind and the sounds of running streams and happy children giggling fill the air.
After walking around in the village for a couple hours we all took a bus to Namsan Tower. Upon arrival you can snap a picture with South Korea’s mascot, Haechi!
The base of the tower is also home to the famous, “love locks.” Couples, friends, and family alike will buy locks and write cute messages to each other before hanging them up on the walls surrounding the tower.
Up the tower we went! From the top of Namsan tower the view of Seoul is amazing!
Finally, to close out the day I went to the Han River and watched a water light show!
In conclusion, I had a wonderful Chuseok! I learned that it’s best to stick to more foreign-heavy areas and tourist spots. Palaces, museums, and national landmarks are always good options; not only will these areas be open, but they will likely offer discounts during the holiday! Sometimes it is a little difficult to plan for the weekend, so remember to just go with the flow. At some point, you might just have to eat in a Starbucks, and that’s okay. So with that in mind, have a happy Chuseok!