The Korea Herald


[Weekender] Holiday sparkles

From Seoul’s Cheonggye Stream to Busan’s beaches, South Korea is decked out for Christmas

By Lee Sun-young

Published : Dec. 20, 2019 - 09:25

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South Korea is not particularly well known as a Christmas holiday destination for travelers, but it has some aspirations. 

Amusement park Everland in Yonggin, Gyeonggi Province, is illuminated in gold lights for its ongoing Christmas Fantasy Festival.(Yonhap) Amusement park Everland in Yonggin, Gyeonggi Province, is illuminated in gold lights for its ongoing Christmas Fantasy Festival.(Yonhap)

Taking a cue from famous Christmas markets and light festivals around the world, Seoul has decked out its Cheonggye Stream in a splendid display of colorful lights. And this weekend the “spaceship” Dongdaemun Design Plaza will turn into a magical, sparkling place when it holds its inaugural light festival.

Down in the portside city of Busan, the sandy beach of Haeundae is dazzling at night with its holiday lights, while cities like Damyang also have Christmas festivals going on.

Below is a roundup of places where readers can enjoy the Christmas ambiance in Seoul and elsewhere in the country. 

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (Seoul Design Foundation) Dongdaemun Design Plaza (Seoul Design Foundation)

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Dongdaemun Design Plaza inspires awe with its futuristic, curvy silver exterior and gigantic size. This season, it has added another wow factor: the light festival.

For the DDP Light festival, which kicks off today, the entire outer wall of the building, designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, will turn into a canvas of media art, light and music.

“The show’s overwhelming scale and unstoppable dynamism will undoubtedly change the night view of Dongdaemun completely,” the DDP says on its website.

The theme for the inaugural edition is “Seoul Haemong,” which means dream reading in Korean. More than just a jaw-dropping sight, the displays are intended to give visitors something to think about, presenting the past, present and future of Seoul and Dongdaemun.

World-renowned media designer Refik Anadol from Turkey is the mastermind behind the light display, while Min Se-hee from Korea took the lead on the artificial intelligence-powered media facade as executive director.

The main event is a 16-minute light show to be held four times a day, starting at 7 p.m., 8 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Special programs will be added on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, including a countdown to amp up the festive mood.

There will be food trucks, handcraft markets, live music and entertainment for visitors to enjoy. DDP is near the Dongdaemun fashion shopping district, a tourist magnet.

DDP is within walking distance of Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station on subway line Nos. 2, 4 and 5. For more information, visit 

Cheonggye Stream (Yonhap) Cheonggye Stream (Yonhap)

Cheonggye Stream

The Seoul Christmas Festival is back for a fifth year, lighting up Cheonggye Stream at the heart of Seoul.

The first 1.2-kilometer stretch of the stream is beautifully lit up on both sides with trees, stars and baubles, starting from the 16-meter Christmas tree at Cheonggye Plaza and continuing all the way to the Jongtong Bridge near Jonggak Station.

The decorations are not all the same but are split into five themes, such as the Nativity and Santa Village.

The festival also holds various events for visitors to enjoy, including live music performances on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the chance to float lanterns bearing wishes for the New Year.

The lights stay on Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. till 10 p.m., and until 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and 11 p.m. on weekends. The festival continues through Jan. 1.

Cheonggye Plaza is within walking distance of the Gwanghwamun and City Hall subway stations. For more information, visit 

“Hug Bear,” designed by pop artist Im Ji-bin, in front of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul (Seoul Metropolitan Government) “Hug Bear,” designed by pop artist Im Ji-bin, in front of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

Deoksugung, Seoul Botanic Garden

The quaint stonewall walkway surrounding the palace Deoksugung is best known for its beautiful fall foliage, but this December go there after sunset. A public art project has lit up the section stretching from the palace entrance to the Seoul Museum of Art, with hanging lanterns giving the already picturesque place a magical ambiance.

The lanterns, created by over 5,000 citizen participants, are environment-friendly with solar cells. It continues until Dec. 26.

Cactuses wear cute Santa hats inside the city’s largest greenhouse at the Seoul Botanic Garden, as part of its year-end festival. The winter garden festival, which continues until Jan. 19, focuses on indoor decorations such as miniature Santa villages in between plants. There is also a small but interesting Christmas market that opened Thursday and runs through Sunday. 

Haeundae Light Festival (Yonhap) Haeundae Light Festival (Yonhap)

Busan and other cities

The southern port city of Busan is already full of the Christmas spirit, having played host to a major summit between Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in mid-November.

Major landmarks and streets were decked out in festive lights earlier than usual to welcome the region’s leaders.

Busan’s best Christmas displays can be found on the main street of Gwangbok-ro in the Jung district, where an 18-meter tree stands, as well as the Haeundae Beach areas where the annual light festival is currently underway. The Jung district’s Christmas Tree Festival continues until Jan. 5 and the Haeundae Light Festival until Jan. 27.

In Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province, the private Garden of Morning Calm covers its 330,000-square-meter garden with over 30,000 lights, art installations and festive decorations. It continues through March 22 and admission is 9,500 won for adults, 7,000 won for middle and high school students and 6,000 won for children over 3. In South Jeolla Province, Damyang is holding a Santa festival and Boseong has decked out its famous green tea fields with festive lights.

By Lee Sun-young (