Map from Google - South_Korea
The climate of the Republic of Korea is cold but sunny in winter, while it’s hot and sultry with abundant rainfall in summer. Spring and autumn are quite short but pleasant. The latitude of the country is not high: the border with North Korea is located on the 38th parallel, but the winter is cold because of the prevailing winds from Siberia.
South Korea is affected by the Asian monsoon
regime, so that in winter, cold air masses from the Asian continent prevail, while in summer, warm and moist air masses from South-Eastern Asia stagnate over the country. In the second part of summer and in early autumn, South Korea can be affected by typhoons.
pattern is the opposite to that of the Mediterranean climate: the driest season is winter, while the rainiest is summer.
Here is the average precipitation in Seoul.
Average precipitation - Seoul
Total annual precipitation is significant, spanning generally from 1,200 to 1,500 millimetres (47 to 60 inches), with the exception of the southern coast, in which it can reach 1,700 mm (67 in), as well as the northernmost inland regions, in which it can go down to 1,000 mm (40 in), and also of some particularly sheltered valleys like that of Daegu
(or Taegu), in which it does not exceed 1,000 mm (40 in) per year.
, from late November to mid-March, is cold, especially in the north and in the interior, where the average temperatures are below freezing (0 °C or 32 °F), while it’s milder, but still with night frosts, along the southern coast. The sun often shines, and sometimes snow can fall, but it’s relatively rare and not abundant. A cold and dry wind often blows from the continent, sometimes full of dust. Thanks to the greater exposure to cold winds of Siberian origin, at a given latitude the winter is colder on the west coast than on the east coast. The average January temperature exceeds 0 degrees Celsius (32 °F) only on the southern coast, while on the east coast it's around freezing even in the north. The interior is obviously colder than the coastal areas, in fact in the north-central inland area the average temperature in January is around -4 °C (25 °F), as we can see from the temperatures of Chuncheon.
Average temperatures - Chuncheon
The capital Seoul
is located near the coast, but in the north-west, which as we said is the region most exposed to cold winds, and its average temperature in January is -2.5 °C (27.5 °F).
Average temperatures - Seoul
Near Seoul, the Yellow Sea is very cold in winter, but warms up a lot in summer, reaching 24 °C (75 °F) in August, as we can see from the sea temperatures at Incheon
Sea temperature - Incheon
In the southernmost cities like Mogpo and Busan
(or Pusan), the climate is much milder, and the average temperature in January goes up to around 3 °C (37.5 °F).
Average temperatures - Busan
At Busan, and along the southern coast, the sea is much less cold in winter, while in summer it gets a bit warmer than in Seoul, reaching 26 °C (79 °F) in August.
Sea temperature - Busan
The southern island of Jeju
(or Cheju) is even milder: here the average temperature in January is about 5/6 °C (41/43 °F).
Average temperatures - Jeju City
During cold spells
, the temperature can drop to -20 °C (-4 °F) in Seoul and in northern inland areas, and around -10 °C (14 °F) in the south, while it only drops to a few degrees below freezing in Jeju-do.
The north-east is mountainous, and in addition to being freezing cold, it is also quite snowy
. This is the region (called Gangwon-do
) where there are more ski lifts, and given the temperature, they are also found at quite low altitudes, below 1,000 metres (3,300 feet). The highest mountain in the area is Seorak, 1,708 metres (5,604 feet) high, protected in a national park.
Even the northeast coast, though milder, is a little wetter in winter: in this season the average monthly precipitation along the north-east coast is about 45/60 mm (1.8/2.4 in), while in Seoul and in southern cities like Sokcho and Gangeung (or Kangung) it is about 20/25 mm (0.8/1 in). Even the southwest coast, where Mogpo (or Mokp'o) is located, and Jeju Island, are a bit more rainy and less sunny.
The least snowy area is the south-east coast, due to the higher temperature, and also to the fact that in periods of bad weather the wind blows from the south. There are on average 25 days with snow (maybe light) per year in Seoul (located in the northwest), 22 days in Incheon (near Seoul but on the coast), 27 in Mokpo (on the south-west coast), 12 in Daegu (in the south-eastern inland areas), and only 5 in Busan, on the southeast coast.
, from March to May, is initially cool, and gradually becomes milder, but even the rains become more frequent, due to the formation of low pressure systems.
In winter and especially in spring (March to May, which is called yellow dust season
), South Korea (but especially the Seoul area) can be reached by the yellow dust
in Korean), coming from the desert of Mongolia and from China, which forms a characteristic haze and causes breathing problems and eye irritation.
is hot, humid and rainy. The high humidity makes the weather sweltering, especially in July and August. Rainfall can be heavy especially in July and August. Two thirds of the annual rainfall occur in summer. However, between periods of bad weather, there can also be sunny days, which may be hot.
Especially between late June and early August, an almost stationary front (called Changma
) moves over Korea, which can cause heavy rainfall (sometimes associated with floods), but also fog, low clouds and drizzle. In the second part of summer, it goes a bit better and the sunshine amount increases, although typhoons can add more rain.
In fact, from August to early October (more rarely in July), South Korea can be hit by typhoons
. Typhoon is the name given to tropical cyclones in East Asia. Typhoons are accompanied with large amounts of rainfall and strong winds, and usually produce the greatest damage on the south coast.
in South Korea is pleasant, especially in the month of October, in which the maximum temperatures are around 20/22 °C (68/72 °F). In addition, in autumn it usually rains less than in spring.
When to go
Considering both the cold winter and the hot and rainy summer, the best times to visit South Korea are spring and autumn
, especially the months of May and October, with a preference for October, because it rains less (and it's outside the so-called yellow dust season
). Moreover, in autumn you can admire the fall foliage in national parks.
As we have seen, the sea is warm enough for swimming from July to September, especially in the center-south.
What to pack
In winter: for Seoul and the center-north, warm clothes, down jacket, gloves, scarf, hat. For the south, Mogpo and Busan, warm clothes, sweater, jacket; scarf, gloves and hat for the evening, possibly a raincoat or umbrella.
In summer: light clothes, of natural fibres, light raincoat or umbrella, scarf for the wind, light sweatshirt for air-conditioned places.
It is customary to remove shoes before entering homes and temples: it can be useful to bring shoes without laces, or at least easy to take off.