How to Survive Sticky Summer in Seoul
Summer in Seoul means one thing: it’s hot, and it’s humid. But don’t worry. We’ve faced some intensely sticky summers and lived to tell the tale, thanks to our trusted summer hacks compiled here. Whether you follow the wisdom of our ancestors and beat the heat through lunch, or sunbathe by the river like more modern Seoulites, make sure to get out there and take full advantage of the season.
How to Survive Sticky Summer in Seoul
Rather than just sitting inside all day under the AC, Korea has an age-old alternative for dealing with the humidity and heat waves: samgyetang, or ginseng chicken soup. Known as Korea’s go-to ‘health’ food, samgyetang is a piping-hot chicken broth, complete with a whole chicken inside stuffed with ginseng, glutinous rice, chestnuts and other nutritious tidbits.
Sweating over soup in summer seem slightly counterintuitive to you? There’s method behind this apparent madness. Korea has long-held that during the boknal days (the hottest days in the middle of the Lunar year) it’s best to ‘fight fire with fire’ and warm up your body internally. The result? More obvious options like icy-cold naengmyeon (cold noodles) are often passed over for bubbling bowls of chicken soup.
Even today samgyetang is still revered as the ultimate energizer against the heat. When the summer descends, endless queues of dedicated Koreans wait outside top samgyetang restaurants to grab a bowl and rejuvenate. Go join the crowds and overcome the heat this summer the traditional way! The centuries-old logic is foolproof – a bowl of chicken soup is always the pick-me-up you need, rain or shine.
The Hangang River
The Hangang River is the very heart of Seoul. One of Seoul’s most iconic landmarks, the Hangang flows through the entire city and is pretty much an open playground for everybody. Thanks to its size and central location, no matter where you venture in Seoul you’ll probably stumble across the river and one of its eleven parks. When the weather gets warmer, the parks are usually taken over by families and friends sprawled out on picnic mats – but picnics aren’t the only way to get the best out of the Hangang River. Name a summertime activity; we betcha the Hangang’s got it. Looking for a killer workout, or just a breezy stroll? Head to the Hangang! The endless riverside tracks are a favorite with runners, walkers, and cyclists. Craving a trip to the beach? The Hangang’s got you covered! All kinds of water activities can be enjoyed on the river (think water skiing and kayaking at sunset). Hankering to kick back and relax by the pool? Just cool down by one of the seven outside pools, open in summer and located in the parks.
But in our opinion, the best time to experience the Hangang is after dark. It’s a whole new side of riverside life. Locals usually drop by after twilight, when it’s less hot and events like the Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market and film festivals are in full swing. Even if you’re too lethargic to traipse about, there’s still no reason to hide away in a cafe. Just grab a beer and some snacks from one of the many convenience stores lining the river, and head down to watch the bridges light up after sundown instead. Striking views of the river, the evening breeze, and a can of cheap cold beer – what could be better?
In Korea, nothing says summer like bingsu. Made from shaved ice, red bean (you read that right: Koreans use this stuff like the West uses ice-cream), fruit, rice cake, milk and other sweet toppings, this frozen treat is South Korea’s national dessert. Traditional bingsu (known as patbingsu) stems backs generations and still has a strong fanbase today. Patbingsu is all about the red bean. Don’t let the dark color and thick consistency put you off! The beans are usually cooked together with sugar, giving it a one-of-a-kind savory-sweetness. Any bingsu pro can determine the best of the best by inspecting the quality of the cook, and the level of sweetness of the red bean itself. The other essential ingredient in any bingsu is the melt-in-your-mouth, snow-like shaved ice below. When perfected and paired together, these two ingredients create a sugary yet healthy sweet treat.
Still not convinced by the idea of red bean in your dessert? Don’t worry – the summer-long bingsu wars mean that the high street now offers up countless alternatives. Mango, green tea and coconut are just some of the new offbeat flavors available. Ice up your summer and shiver in delight over a bowl of bingsu!
The only thing better than a cool drink on a hot day is a cocktail in the sun with stunning views of the city. Admittedly Seoul’s relentless scorching heat might make you reluctant to leave the cool indoors during the day. Still, there’s no excuse for not checking out the rooftop bars now popping up around Seoul in the evenings, when there’s a bit more of a breeze and the heat is less in-your-face. Fancy a drink in the clouds at a swanky hotel rooftop, with breathtaking night views of Namsan Seoul Tower? Or maybe a beer at a smaller hip neighborhood turf in Itaewon or Gyeongnidan-gil, looking out across charmingly cluttered skylines? Either way, Seoul’s rooftop bars will definitely spice up your summer nights. Here’s a look at the best rooftop bars in town. Just make sure to get there before 8:00pm to drink in Seoul’s most impressive sunsets. If you’re headed to a bar near Namsan Seoul Tower, you’ve got until midnight. The lights on the tower turn off at 12:00AM. Several rooftop bars are now also open during the day, for those seeking to indulge in some daytime drinking in the sun.
Naengmyeon is one of the few reasons to look forward to sticky summer in Seoul. If you’re suffocating in the sweltering heat, slurping up icy-cold yuksu (meat broth) with noodles is the perfect way to mellow out and breathe easy again! This beloved summertime staple is also enjoyed all year round, particularly as a palate cleanser after BBQ. Surprisingly though, naengmyeon only became mainstream in the southern parts following the Korean War. Before then, it was loved primarily by citizens of the northern provinces. Demand in the South came about as displaced North Koreans moved southwards, and subsequently, naengmyeon restaurants were set up for and by these communities.
Nowadays, it’s not only older Koreans seeking to get their hands-on top notch naengmyeon. The delicate flavors of authentic naengmyeon are sought-after by younger crowds too, with mul or water-style naengmyeon most in demand during summer. Bibim naengmyeon- cold noodles substituting a healthy dollop of gochujang (red pepper sauce) for broth- is also popular. There’s a number of attested naengmyeon spots about Seoul, the best of which we’ve assembled for your convenience. No matter which version you end up going for, naengmyeon is ideal for getting your strength (and spirits) up again in the blazing summer heat.