Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival 2024: Korean Ice Fishing Fun

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For three frigid weeks every January, the frozen river of the mountain town Hwacheon in Korea’s Gangwon Province transforms into a glittering ice playground for the magical Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival. At this festival, tourists and locals alike join together to catch the rare mountain trout (sancheoneo) found only in the clean waters of the river by traditional ice fishing.

The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is worth visiting because you get to experience a traditional Korean winter festival on a day trip from Seoul. There are also lots of other interesting ice-based games, cultural activities, and opportunities for sightseeing around this fish-focused town. This winter festival creates such a lively atmosphere it’s no wonder that it attracts over one million visitors every year.

In this article you can find out what there is to see and do at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, including the various ice-based activities and attractions, how to get there by tour or public transport, and information about other ice fishing festivals in Korea. If you’re thinking of visiting this fun winter festival, and want to know why it’s one of CNN’s “7 Wonders of Winter”, then keep on reading.

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Why I Love The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

Eating trout at Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival
Eating trout at Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

This festival was the first winter festival that I visited when I moved to Korea and it’s one I’ve gone back to and will go back to again in the future as it’s pretty, fun, and has plenty to do. I bought a souvenir wooden fish from Hwacheon on my first visit and it still sits proudly on the top of my bookcase as a reminder of this festival. The fish I caught for lunch that day, however, has long since gone!

If I know people are coming to visit Korea in January and want to experience a unique winter festival that offers a fun day out from Seoul, the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is always the first I recommend to them. This festival provides a mixture of culture, sports, entertainment, involvement, and surprising sights that makes it so memorable. This is a great festival to visit as a group or family.

The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival runs from January 6th until January 23rd, 2024, right during the coldest part of winter in Korea when the river freezes over and there is ice over 40cm thick. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe to walk on, or even slide and sled on, even with all those holes drilled in it for you to catch fish through.

What To Do At The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival provides a whole day of fun for people of all ages with lots of activities available for everyone. The main draw is the ice fishing, which is one of the first things you see, but as you eyes stretch out over the icy river, you’ll notice a whole town alive with things to explore.

Here are some of the best things you can see and do at this festival:

1: Ice Fishing & Cooking

Ice fishing is the main attraction at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival and one that people typically start with when they arrive. All along the long stretch of frozen river running through the town are temporary ice fishing spots right above where the fish are swimming in the cold waters below.

You will be given a small fishing rod and bag to store your catch in and then shown to your own little hole in the ice. Now it’s your chance to prove your fishing skills by trying to hook the fish out from the frigid waters below. Once you’ve caught a few (limit of 3 per person), you can go to the kitchens and grill the fish or have it prepared as sashimi (raw fish). Both go well with a Korean beer.

Ice fishing on the river is probably not something most people have done and it’s fun to try at least once. There are lots of fun photo opportunities and the fact that you can cook your fish afterwards is a tasty bonus. Slipping along on the ice is also fun, as is watching others fail at walking on it so well.

Ice fishing gear at winter festival in Korea
Fishing rod and bag at the festival.
Ice fishing in Hwacheon
Catching trout through the ice.

2: Bare Hand Ice Fishing Competition

For those who want to test themselves in the frosty waters, there’s the chance to join in the bare hand ice fishing competition that’s held on the shore of the river. This is exactly what it sounds like – catching trout with your bare hands in a giant pool of ice cold water. It’s also a great spectator sport.

The contestants jump in the pool dressed in shorts and an overly large t-shirt (provided) and stuff trout down their tops until the 5 minute time limit is up. There’s a special prize for anyone who finds a trout with a golden ring attached, but otherwise you get to keep 3 of the fish you caught. You can eat your catch in the same way as the ice fishing and there’s also a hot foot bath provided to warm you up after.

The competition starts every hour (10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00) with up to 40 people jumping in the pool together – both locals and brave foreigners who have joined in. A friend of mine tried it one time and he really enjoyed it, but was happy to be out of the cold water by the end. I think he managed to catch 2 fish, which is pretty good. Definitely don’t miss watching this.

Fishing rod and bag at the festival.
Bare hand fish catching at Korean festival
People trying to keep their trout safe.

3: Ice Sledding And Snow Sports

There are all kinds of icy winter sports and activities to try at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival that don’t involve fish. You can try your hand at ice sledding in the traditional Korean way – on a small wooden box with two poles to push yourself along. Grab a box and give it a go.

Alternatively, you can jump in a giant inflatable ring and zoom down the snowy slopes, ending on the frozen river below. I spent quite a while doing this as it’s lots of fun. Fans of the Winter Olympics can try out curling, bobsleigh, and ice skating. If you want something more extreme, there’s also a zip line over the ice and ice suit walking (ice zorbing).

People waiting to slide on a rubber ring
Waiting to slide on a rubber ring
People using traditional Korean sleds
People using traditional Korean sleds

4: Ice Displays And Illuminations

The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is home to ‘the world’s largest indoor ice sculpture plaza‘, according to the sign outside the entrance to one of the top attractions at this Korean festival. Inside this large building you’ll find a frosty wonderland of frozen ice sculptures of all different shapes and sizes.

One of the most impressive ice sculptures in this display is the large Korean-style traditional building, which resembles a small palace that you’d find in Seoul. There’s also ice slides, frozen fish sculptures, romantic photo zones, and lots of other interesting icy sights that no doubt change every year.

When the sun starts to set, which happens before 6pm in January, you’ll be dazzled by the beautiful winter illuminations and lanterns strung up throughout the town of Hwacheon. These cover the central street and also spread out across other key areas in the town. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the lanterns are shaped like fish to represent the famous sancheoneo mountain trout the town is famous for.

Ice sculpture in Hwacheon
Ice sculpture in Hwacheon
Fish shaped illuminations
Fish shaped illuminations

5: Winter Culture Village And Sights

Between the ice sports, fishing, illuminations, and strange people jumping into pools of freezing cold water are cultural activities to check out, including traditional Korean games like the ones seen on Squid Game, at the Winter Culture Village. Koreans are keen to introduce foreigners to their traditional culture and this ice fishing festival is an opportunity for you to learn more about Korean culture.

Some of the activities you can try at the Winter Culture Village include archery, slingshot shooting, fire fighting, and games like yut nori. You can eat Korean traditional foods, such as fried rice cakes and nurungji (scorched rice). There’s also performances with traditional instruments on the weekend.

Hwacheon is a town that’s crazy about fish and to show their love for their slippery friends, they’ve painted lots of colourful murals on buildings throughout the town. These make for interesting photo spots and holiday snaps. There’s also a giant rotating fish statue looking over the river that rotates from atop a tall tower. There are many unique sights like this to check out in Hwacheon.

Korean seesaw at the Winter Culture Village
Korean seesaw at the Winter Culture Village
Fish catching mural in Hwacheon
Catching trout through the ice.

Ticket Prices And Tour Options For This Festival

The fee for the main activities at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival (ice fishing and bare hand ice fishing) is normally ₩15,000 per activity for anyone 11+. However, to encourage foreign visitors to join in this winter festival, there is a discount for all non-Koreans. Foreign visitors to the festival only pay ₩10,000 (~$9 USD) per activity and children under 6 year enter free.

CategoryPriceWho Is Included
Regular Admission₩15,000 – People aged 11 and above
Discounted Admission₩10,000 – Foreigners (with passport)
– Children under 11
– Adults over 65
Free AdmissionsFree Entry – Children under 6
Fees for ice fishing and bare hand ice fishing

What is included in the entry price? The entry fee for this festival allows you to enter the frozen river and try ice fishing with the provided fishing equipment. You get to eat the fish after you’ve caught it, prepared on a grill or as sashimi (raw fish) for an additional fee of ₩3,000 per fish. There’s a limit of 3 fish per person and you can take them home with you if you like.

Walking around the town and joining in cultural activities is free, as are some of the activities such as curling and badminton. Other activities at the ice fishing festival, such as sledding, bobsleigh, rubber tube slides, zip line etc., come with additional charges as follows:

Bobsleigh₩5,000 (3 rides)
Zip Line₩12,000 (over 11), ₩8,000 (under 11)
Snow Sledding (rubber tube)₩5,000 (3 rides)
Ice Sleddingfrom ₩5,000 per person
Ice Skating₩5,000 per person (for 60 minutes)
Ice Bubble Suit (Zorbing)Free with registration
CurlingFree with registration
Sitting BadmintonFree with registration
Activity fees at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

Tours To The 2024 Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

There are a number of tours available to the Hwacheon Sancehoneo Ice Festival that depart from Seoul and are open only to foreign tourists. These tours include transportation to Seoul and back, a tour guide who speaks English, and entry fees to various activities, which means you can see the best of the festival for one price and without the hassle of organising your own transport.

Here are two tours that I recommend for the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival:

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival Day Tour from Seoul: This 11 hour round-trip tour from Myeongdong and Hongdae will show you the best ice fishing festival in Korea with a professional English-speaking driver and guide. The tour fee includes ice fishing with grilled fish, 5 rides on the ice sled, the Ice Sculpture Square, and a complimentary ₩10,000 coupon to spend on other activities.

Price: ₩53,000 (about $43 USD)

Hwacheon Ice Fishing and Garden Of Morning Calm Lighting Festival: This combined tour from Seoul will take you to two of the hottest winter festivals in Korea – the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival and the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival. The tour includes entry fee for the ice fishing activity with all equipment, an English-speaking guide, and entry to the Garden of Morning calm.

Price: ₩73,000 (about $55 USD)

Garden of Morning Calm Illuminations
Garden of Morning Calm Winter Illuminations

I always recommend booking tours in advance when visiting Korea for these reasons:

  • Guarantee your booking and avoid disappointment.
  • Almost always cheaper than buying on the day.
  • You can read reviews and see if the tour is right for you.
  • You can pay with your home credit card.

Learn more: Paying in your home currency is usually easier and cheaper than converting money into Korean won. Booking ahead is one of the tips included in my guide to paying in Korea, which covers ways to save on travel money in Korea and alternatives to relying on exchanging cash to travel.

How To Get To The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

Hwacheon is a town located in Gangwon Province halfway between Seoul and the east coast. It’s about 2.5 hours away from Seoul by car and can be reached by car, shuttle bus, or guided tour. Here’s some details about how to get to the ice fishing festival by each of those means. There are instructions in Korean on the festival website, too.

From Seoul To Hwacheon By Car: If you plan to rent a car in Korea, or you live in Korea and have your own car, then you can drive to the festival in a couple of hours from Seoul. The main festival location is “화천산천어축제”, but you will probably need to visit a temporary car park to park your car. The address of the festival is shown below. Use Naver Map or Kakao Map for directions.

Address in Korean: 강원 화천군 화천읍 중리 187-15

From Seoul To Hwacheon By Shuttle Bus: There is a special shuttle bus that operates for this festival exclusively for foreign tourists. This shuttle bus only runs once per day at 8:30am from Hongdae / 9:00am from Myeongdong and doesn’t include entry fees to any of the activities. The price for this shuttle bus is ₩20,000 per person.

From Seoul To Hwacheon By Tour: There are various tours to the Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival from Seoul, as detailed in the previous section. Taking a tour is a convenient way to see the festival and to save time vs. organising your own way there on public transportation.

Please note: You can get to Hwacheon by bus and train from Seoul but this might be more expensive than taking the shuttle bus and definitely takes longer. I would recommend either using the shuttle bus or one of the tour options rather than trying to get there by public transport. If you do want to try, there are directions (in Korean) on the festival website.

Are Korean Ice Fishing Festivals Worth Visiting?

Bare hand ice fishing in Korea
Happy guy with a trout in his t-shirt.

Should you visit an ice fishing festival in Korea this winter? In my opinion, you absolutely should. These winter festivals are a great opportunity to see snowy and icy landscapes, try a range of fun activities, eat delicious Korean festival foods, and create lasting memories from your time in Korea.

Just look at the guy in the picture. He’s standing in ice-cold water with a slippery trout in his hand and he’s got a big smile on his face. Whether you’re taking part or observing from the sidelines, there are so many entertaining sights and activities to enjoy at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival.

The festival does involve a long trip from Seoul to attend, about 2.5 hours each way, but you get a full day of activities and unique photo opportunities. If you add a side trip to the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival at the same time, you get your money’s worth in terms of travel time.

The only downside of this festival is its popularity. It can get busy on weekends, which might put some people off. As a tourist, you have the luxury to travel during the week and I would definitely recommend visiting on a weekday to avoid the crowds and get more time and space at the festival.

Other Ice Fishing Festivals In Korea

I would say that the Hwacheon Ice Festival is my favourite fishing festival in Korea, but it’s not the only ice fishing festival that’s on during winter. There are few other big ice fishing festivals that run at the same time of year and offer the chance enjoy more ice and snow-based activities in Korea.

Pyeongchang Trout Ice Fishing Festival 2024: Pyeongchang, home to the 2018 Winter Olympics, hosts a trout ice fishing festival each year with many people attending to try their luck with a rod. There are other events to enjoy, including bare hand fish catching, sledding, snow rafting, and a sleigh train. For extreme sports lovers, you can rent an ATV and zoom through the frozen landscape.

You can join this festival with a tour from Klook.

Festival Dates:
Dec 22 2023 – Jan 28 2024

Pyeongchang Trout Festival Location:
강원 평창군 진부면 하진부리 1289-80

Inje Ice Fishing Festival 2024: Running for more than 20 years, this large ice fishing festival in Inje is a family-friendly winter festival that not only includes ice fishing, but a range of other activities, too. There’s the Ice Playground, Snow Playground, and Mountain Village, where you can build a snowman, learn to sled and ski, slide down slippery slides, see ice sculptures, and see cultural exhibitions.

Festival Dates:
Jan 20 – Jan 29 2024 (TBC)

Inje Ice Fishing Festival Location:
강원 인제군 남면 부평리 555-2

Yangpyeong Ice Fish Festival 2024: Held in the Soomy Village resort, this winter ice fishing festival runs from December to February and hosts a range of activities for families and other visitors to enjoy. Besides ice fishing, you can experience kite-flying, top spinning, sledding, and making traditional Korean snacks (jin-bang).

Festival Dates:
Dec 9 – Feb 26 2024

Yangpyeong Ice Fish Festival Location:
경기도 양평군 단월면 곱다니길 55-2

2024 Winter Festivals In Korea To See Snowy Sights

Winter illuminations in Seoul
Winter illuminations in Seoul

Besides ice fishing festivals, there are many other winter festivals in Korea that you should check out for exciting activities, incredible views, and cultural immersion. Here are some of the other major winter festivals you can see in Korea:

Garden of Morning Calm Winter Illuminations: Exploring sculpted gardens and electric forests when the sun has set is like entering into a magical world, a true winter fantasia with lots of photo opportunities. Every year the garden has a range of themed areas that focus on animals, plants, and even love for the sweethearts.

Seoul Lantern Festival: This dazzling festival is held in Gwanghwamun Square outside Gyeongbokgung Palace, which gives over it’s large pedestrianised areas to massive themed lantern installations. These installations feature different concepts each year like aquarium scenes, starry nights, nature landscapes, and Korean folktales.

Chilgapsan Ice Fountain Festival: The Chilgapsan Ice Fountain Festival is a lesser-known gem among Korea’s winter festivals, but is fast becoming a must-see destination as a day trip from Seoul due to the unique ice fountains. There’s also a lot of delicious Korean winter foods to try, such as roasted chestnuts that you can cook yourself.

Learn more: Discover all the best festivals to visit in Korea this winter with this guide to Korea’s winter festivals, which includes ice fishing festivals, illumination festivals, New Year festivals, and lots more.

Planning to visit Korea? These travel essentials will help you plan your trip, get the best deals, and save you time and money before and during your Korean adventure.

Visas & K-ETA: Some travellers to Korea need a Tourist Visa, but most can travel with a Korean Electronic Travel Authorisation (K-ETA). Currently 22 Countries don’t need either one.

How To Stay Connected: Pre-order a Korean Sim Card or a WiFi Router to collect on-arrival at Incheon Airport (desks open 24-hours). Alternatively, download a Korean eSIM for you travels.

Where To Stay: For Seoul, I recommend Myeongdong (convenient), Hongdae (cool culture) or Gangnam (shopping). For Busan, Haeundae (Beach) or Seomyeon (Downtown).

Incheon Airport To Seoul: Take the Airport Express (AREX) to Seoul Station or a Limo Bus across Seoul. Book an Incheon Airport Private Transfer and relax to or from the airport.

Korean Tour Operators: Tour companies that have a big presence in Korea include Klook, Trazy, Viator, and Get Your Guide. These sites offer discounted entry tickets for top attractions

Seoul City Passes: Visit Seoul’s top attractions for free with a Discover Seoul Pass or Go City Seoul Pass. These passes are great for families and couples visiting Seoul – you can save lots.

How To Get Around: For public transport, grab a T-Money Card. Save money on Korea’s high speed trains with a Korea Rail Pass. To see more of Korea, there are many Rental Car Options.

Travel Money: Use money exchanges near Myeongdong and Hongdae subway stations for the best exchange rates. Order a Wise Card or WOWPASS to pay by card across Korea.

Flights To Korea: I use flight comparison sites such as Expedia and Skyscanner to find the best flights to Korea from any country. Air Asia is a good option for budget flights from Asia.

How To Learn Korean: The language course from 90 Day Korean or Korean Class 101 both have well-structured lessons and lots of useful resources to help you learn Korean.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival. These answers are based on my own experience and from research conducted to write this article.

When is the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival?

The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival runs from January 6th to January 28th, 2024. The festival runs in January each year as this is when the weather is coldest and the river freezes.

Is there much to do at an ice fishing festival?

There are many activities to try at Korea’s ice fishing festivals. Besides ice fishing, where you catch fish through holes in a frozen river, there are usually ice and snow based activities, including sledding, skating, rubber tube sliding, ATV riding, zip lines over the river, and curling. Other sights and activities include ice sculptures, illuminations, and traditional Korean cultural experiences and foods.

What is the biggest ice fishing festival in Korea?

The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is the biggest ice fishing festival in Korea and has won praise for its range of activities and attractions, being named as one of the 7 Wonder of Winter by CNN. Around 1 million people attend the ice fishing festival in Hwacheon each year.

How far is Hwacheon from Seoul?

The town of Hwacheon, home of the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, is about 2 and a half hours by car from central Seoul. From eastern Seoul, you can arrive in around 2 hours by taking the highway.

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About the author

Hi! My name is Joel, I'm the author of In My Korea and writer of this article. I've lived, worked and travelled in Korea since 2015 and want to share my insights, stories and tips to help you have the best experience during your trip to Korea.

I love learning more about Korean culture, hiking the many mountains, and visiting all the coolest places in Korea, both modern and traditional. If you want to know more about my story, check out the 'about me' section to learn why I love living in Korea.

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