From the first time I set foot in South Korea I noticed that there were neon lights everywhere: on billboards, restaurants, shops, and even church crosses. The streets are filled with flashing signs, the buildings covered in colorful lights. There are lights everywhere, in every size and shape, and for every occasion or no occasion at all. It seems that Koreans will use any excuse to have a light festival, including, hey, look, lights! This is the perfect country to celebrate the upcoming winter Olympics. This post will showcase some of the major light-centered festivals I’ve experienced since moving here four short months ago. As an added bonus, all of the events and displays highlighted below, except the Olympics, are free for the public!
Seoul International Fireworks Festival
The first major event emphasizing Korea’s love of lights was the Seoul International Fireworks Festival, held annually at the end of September. Seoul has been hosting the festival since the year 2000. Every year major fireworks companies from around the world gather in Seoul to put on this spectacular display. The event is an all day affair, with booths and activities set up, and lots of food vendors. The fireworks display itself is an impressive performance, lasting nearly an hour.
Songdo Urban Night Garden
The next opportunity to view a light display came in the middle of October. For seemingly no reason at all, except to allow visitors to view lovely lights in the crisp autumn air, Songdo created an Urban Night Garden in Central Park. The light festival featured rows of LEDs lining the bridges over the river in the park, beautiful LED trees and designs, and dozens of character lanterns. A nighttime stroll through the park is a lovely way to spend a fall evening. As with many things in recent months, many of the displays had an Olympics theme.
Seoul Lantern Festival
Every year in November Seoul creates an amazing lantern festival along the Cheonggyecheon Stream. Seoul has been hosting the event since 2009, and every year it draws over three million visitors. This year, with the winter Olympics only a few months away, many of the displays were Olympics-inspired. Joining the crowds of people along this serene stream in the middle of the city to bask in the glow of the lanterns is truly a wonderful experience.
Olympic Torch Relay
On November 1, 2017, the Olympic torch began the first leg of the relay around South Korea in our city: Songdo! We ran alongside the torch through the city to the final destination in the Moonlight Festival Park, where speakers welcomed the torch and championed the upcoming Olympic games, and famous Korean singer Taeyang debuted his new Olympic-themed song, “Louder,” incorporating the Olympic slogan “Let Everyone Shine.” With less than a month until the games begin, the excitement is building here in South Korea.
In a few short weeks we will be heading to the Olympics, and I expect to see many more amazing lights and events there. The Olympics will run from February 9 to February 25, 2018, in South Korea’s eastern mountain region. With the new high-speed KTX train line, the games will be accessible from Seoul in just two hours. We plan to catch a few different sports while there, including snowboarding, figure skating, and ice hockey (of course)! I expect the opening and closing ceremonies to provide several more amazing light displays in honor of the games. Stay tuned for updates!