Seoul is a vibrant cultural hub which hosts a plethora of cultural festivals as well as world-class performing arts and creative events throughout the year. However, expats shouldn't restrict themselves to the Korean capital, as South Korea's compact size and excellent public transport network mean that visitors can explore the rest of the country with relative ease.
Other large cities such as Busan and Incheon are only a few hours away by express train, and also host a number of festivals and events throughout the year.
Annual events in Seoul
New Year Festival (January/February)
A three-day festival celebrating the lunar new year, also called Seollal, is hosted by the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul every year. In a bid to give the festival more international appeal, the museum hosts live performances, instrument demonstrations, traditional outfits and food from around the world for visitors to sample.
Cherry Blossom Festivals (April)
Cherry and other fruit trees bloom in March and April. Many towns across the country celebrate the coming of spring by holding flower festivals. The Seokcheon Lake Cherry Blossom Festival, Yeouido Spring Flower Festival and Incheon Baeksa Sansuyu Blossom Festival are all held in mid-April and are within easy reach of Seoul. Together, they attract millions of tourists each year.
Lantern Festival (May)
According to Buddhist beliefs, the lighting of the lotus-shaped lantern symbolises a desire or commitment to doing good deeds. Held every May on the weekend closest to Buddha's birthday, this festival takes place in downtown Seoul and sees many live performances, food stalls, arts and crafts tents, and a parade of thousands of elaborate lanterns – some small, some enormous, some in motion and some even breathing fire.
Seoul NewMedia Festival (July/August)
The Seoul NewMedia Festival (NeMaf) is Korea's leading film festival. Since its inception in 2000, it has continued to celebrate independent and experimental films while pushing the boundaries between film and art.
Seoul Fringe Festival (August)
The biggest independent performing arts festival in Korea, the Seoul Fringe Festival sees two weeks of voluntary performances by participating artists. The aim is to offer an alternative to mainstream popular Korean culture by challenging traditional boundaries and creating a platform for discussion and exploration.
Seoul Street Arts Festival (October)
The Seoul Street Arts Festival is the biggest street festival in the city, attracting around a million visitors every year. The festival is a favourite with locals and tourists alike and sees a variety of live performances, concerts and other activities take place over the course of four to five days.
Seoul International Fireworks Festival (October)
This multimedia fireworks display is held every year in October on the banks of the Han River. Fireworks are set to spectacular displays of music and lasers, with displays orchestrated by Korean fireworks experts and international professionals, all set against the backdrop of the Seoul skyline. Attendance is free and the festivities are within walking distance of the subway.
Seoul Drum Festival (November)
The Seoul Drum Festival features displays of drums, performances, a parade, workshops and markets. The highlight is an international percussion competition, where professionals and amateurs gather to showcase drum skills with a variety of instruments, styles and genres.
Are you an expat living in Seoul?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Seoul. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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