2012 Korean Fall Festival Guide

  • Photo by Photo by Meagan Mastriani

    The autumn foliage at Mount Seoraksan are considered one of the most beautiful in Korea. Photo by Meagan Mastriani

  • Photo by Photo by Dianna Kreigh

    The annual Jeongeup Bullfighting Contest takes place in Naejangsan National Park. Photo by Dianna Kreigh

  • Photo by Photo by Jenna Gibson

    A tunnel of lanterns adorn walkways at the Jinju Lantern Festival. Photo by Jenna Gibson

Fall is the perfect time to get out of Seoul and explore more of the peninsula – not just because of the great weather, but also because of the fun and unique festivals that crop up throughout October. These fall festivals can be the perfect excuse to see a new place, learn more about Korean culture or just get out leave the city behind for a day or two. (Although, we warn that leaving behind the city doesn’t necessarily mean leaving behind the crowds during this peak excursion season!)

Cheonan World Dance Festival
Tuesday, October 2 – Sunday, October 7
Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do

Photo by Jenna Gibson
Photo by Jenna Gibson

Where else can you see Irish jigs, fan dances and ajummas killing salsa routines all on the same stage? The Cheonan World Dance Festival brings dance teams from all over the world to one place for competitions and performances throughout the week. Most of the events take place at Cheonan Samgeori Park (천안삼거리고원), a nice green space on the edge of the city. At the park, a huge stage showcases round-the-clock performances. Surrounding the stage are booths selling local and international crafts and street food—don’t leave without having some of Cheonan’s famous walnut cookies! Hodu-gwaja (호두과자) shops are abundant around the city, particularly around Cheonan Station. Halmeoni Hodu-gwaja (할머니호두과자) claim to hold the original recipe – you can spot these stores with their giant portraits of the smiling grandmother who inspired the chain. On your way out of town, you can grab a piping hot bag of cookies to enjoy on the train.   

Highlight: The street parade is a must-see. Dance groups from around the world take over downtown Cheonan, performing short routines all along the parade route. Catch it on Friday from 2–5:30 p.m. or on Saturday from 7–10:30 p.m. We recommend watching from the city’s bus terminal—if you get there right when the parade starts, you can snag seats on portable bleachers that they bring in for the event.

Getting there: Cheonan is easy to access from Seoul —take the KTX (35–40 minutes; 12,800 won) to Cheonan-Asan Station or a Saemaeul or Mugunghwa train (slower, but half the price) from Seoul Station, Yongsan or Yeongdeungpo to Cheonan Station. If you have time (or want to save a few thousand won), you could also take Seoul Subway Line 1 south and get off at Cheonan Station. This route takes a few hours and is under 3,000 won.

The festival probably only requires one day to enjoy, but consider staying the night—not just because Cheonan is a fun city with great nightlife, but also so that you can enjoy the festival’s fantastic nighttime parade.

Andong Mask Dance Festival
Friday, September 28 – Sunday, October 7
Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do

Many visitors profess the widely-known Andong Mask Dance Festival to be one of the best festivals they’ve seen in Korea. With multiple stages and theatres, there’s always something to watch, be it a traditional Korean dance, a mask dance from another country, or a folk story performance. Beyond spectatorship, one of the big reasons so many people love this festival is that it’s incredibly hands-on. Between performances, visitors can take advantage of mask dance lessons and workshops for creating traditional masks to bring home.

Highlight: Visitors to this festival always come back with boxes of delicious mask-shaped cookies to pass around to friends and family, which could serve as good belated Chuseok gifts if you happen to have forgotten someone.

Getting there: Andong is inconvenient to access by train, but buses leave every 10–15 minutes from East Seoul (동서울) Terminal. The trip takes just under three hours and costs 15,700 won. You can check the number of seats available on each bus here (Korean).

If traveling by car, consider taking the Youngdong Expressway so you can make a quick stop at Daegwallyeong Sheep Ranch along the way.

The festival’s activities are in two locations: downtown Andong and Hahoe Folk Village. It takes about 40 minutes by bus to travel between the two, so plan accordingly.


Busan International Film Festival
Thursday, October 4 – Saturday, October 13

Photo by Yaeri Song
Photo by Yaeri Song

If Busan’s beaches and delicious seafood aren’t enough to make you take a trip down to Korea’s second largest city, maybe the chance to watch dozens of movies from around the world will convince you. Venues scattered across the city will be showing movies more or less non-stop throughout the festival. Ticket sales started on September 26, and most screenings were sold out immediately. However, a fifth of the seats are reserved for day-of purchases, so you still have a chance even if your dream movie is already full. Get to the ticketing building early in the morning if you still want to try for tickets. General screenings are 6,000 won, with higher prices for 3D movies and special screenings. Insider’s tip: Select films ahead of time, sticking to venues that are close to each other (or risk spending more time traveling around Busan than actually watching films). Also, be sure to check the language options—some films are shown with English subtitles and some are not.

Highlight: The movies! Of course Busan has a lot to offer, but the big draw for this festival is the chance to view both big and small productions from across the globe, most of which are probably not coming to your local CGV any time soon.

Getting there: Busan is far, but it’s convenient to access, with a number of options to suit your schedule and budget. Trains run from Seoul Station constantly, as do buses from the Intercity Bus Terminal in Gangnam. At 54,000 won each way, the KTX is a bit pricey, but it’s probably the best option. It will get you down to the festival in about two and a half hours.

To really enjoy this festival, you’ll have to stay for at least one night if not two. Getting a hotel near the movie venues will be expensive, but will put you near Busan’s famous Haeundae Beach. Another option is staying near Gwangalli Beach with its famous bridge. There, seafood, alcohol and the ocean make for a great place to spend an evening. If you walk a few blocks off the beach, motels will start to get a bit cheaper, especially if you stay with a group and split a room.


Jinju Lantern Festival
Monday, October 1 – Sunday, October 14

Photo by Jenna Gibson
Photo by Jenna Gibson

The city of Jinju is relatively small, and so is its festival—but don’t be discouraged, it’s definitely worth the long trip. Set up along the Namgang River, the festival’s main draw is its extensive displays of giant lanterns. The lanterns seem omnipresent: freckling the waterfront, hiding behind the walls of Jinju Fortress and even floating in the middle of the river.

It’s best to arrive in the afternoon and take time for a leisurely stroll among the lanterns. The real magic, though, happens after the sun goes down, when all of the structures scattered around the city begin to glow. Spend the night enjoying the dream-like scenery and snacking on street food along the river. For the best views, pass through the neon orange lantern tunnel, or get a close-up look at the water-bound lanterns by walking across one of two floating bridges.

Highlight: Besides the lanterns themselves, the festival also includes two fireworks shows, which will light up the sky on October 1 and 8, starting at 8 p.m. Visitors can also make wish lanterns and set them afloat on the river. Find a booth on the bank, operating from 6–11 p.m. nightly, to participate.

Getting there: Trains to Jinju are infrequent and expensive—the bus is a better option. Buses leave Gangnam’s Express Bus Terminal every half hour throughout the day. Each way costs 20,000 won and takes about four hours. Note: Jinju has two terminals—the more centrally-located Intercity Bus Terminal and the slightly more distant Express Bus Terminal. For detailed maps of Jinju and local bus routes, click here.


Jeongeup Bullfighting Contest
Thursday, October 25 – Sunday, October 28
Jeongeup, Jeollabuk-do

Photo by Dianna Kreigh
Photo by Dianna Kreigh

There will be no matadors or red capes here; Jeongeup’s brand of bullfighting pits two of the giant animals against each other in the ring. It can take a while for the bulls to get riled up enough to fight, but fans say the excitement is worth the wait—as is the trip down to the tiny town of Jeongeup for this unique event. Bonus: the contest takes place in Naejangsan National Park, considered one of the best places in the country to view vibrant autumn leaves. In between bull fights and the “cow tasting party” (Jeongeup is famous for its beef), take some time to hike the mountain’s many trails and enjoy the fiery maple leaves that line the paths.

Highlight: For those unenthused by animal violence, the best part of this trip would be the chance for some danpung-nori (단풍놀이), the annual tradition of appreciating (literally “playing” in) Korea’s fall foliage.

Getting there: Jeongeup is a straight shot south by train or bus via the Honam line. Trains depart from Yongsan Station to Jeongeup a few times an hour—choose KTX (two hours; 32,100 won) or Saemaeul or Mugunghwa (three to four hours; from 15,700 won). Buses from Express Bus Terminal depart about every 40 minutes and take almost three hours.

Once in Jeongeup, you’ll have to take bus 171 or a taxi to the National Park.


Soyosan Maple Leaf Festival
Saturday, October 27 – Sunday, October 28
Soyosan, Gyeonggi-do

There’s not much information about this event, beyond that there will be a small festival at the base of Soyosan over the last weekend in October. But if you’re willing to venture out there, the festival is a worthy excuse to take advantage of great hiking and awesome views of the autumn leaves without having to venture beyond nearby Gyeonggi province. The maple leaves should be a brilliant red by this time, and this might be one of the last weekends to enjoy the outdoors before the weather turns nasty.

Highlights: The red leaves and the (hopefully) great fall weather. Legend says a prominent 7th-Century Buddhist monk reached nirvana at Soyosan, so why not take a stab at some meditation?

Getting there: Soyosan Station is the northernmost stop on Seoul Subway Line 1. It takes about 90 minutes to travel there from Seoul Station.

All festival details are subject to change. We recommend that you call or e-mail in advance to confirm information before attending, especially for smaller festivals.


Jenna Gibson

About Jenna Gibson

Originally from Minnesota, Jenna moved to Korea to teach English at a middle school in Cheonan upon graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She loves traveling around the peninsula, especially via train. Check out stories and pictures from her trips at her blog.

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