Written by Robert Koehler
In Seoul, October is a time to celebrate. Throughout the month, the city’s streets, parks, and cultural spaces play host to a wide range of festivals and celebrations. Whether it’s enjoying a street performance during the Hi Seoul Festival, trying new international cuisines at the Itaewon Global Festival, taking in some alternative art at the Seoul Performing Arts Festival, or watching the night sky explode during the Seoul International Fireworks Festival, there’s something for everyone. SEOUL takes a look at some of the fun and pageantry that’s in store.
Hi Seoul Festival (Oct 2–6)
First held in 2003, the Hi Seoul Festival has transformed itself from a largely promotional vehicle into one of the country’s best celebrations of
street art. With artistic director Kim Jong-seok at the helm, the festival will feature 20 invitational performances by Korean groups and 6 invitational performances by overseas groups (including Australia’s Stalker Theatre and Spain’s Atempo Circ), as well as 24 volunteer performances by local groups. Most of the fun will be taking place in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul and Cheonggyecheon Plazas, and downtown Seoul’s connecting roads.
Two things you won’t want to miss are the opening and closing programs. The opening program (Oct 2, 8pm) will light up Seoul Plaza
with a multimedia performance—with fireworks!—that explores the history of the city of Seoul through video, music, and dance. The closing program (Oct 6, 3pm–10pm), meanwhile, will fill Seoul Plaza and Taepyeong-ro with street performances of all kinds—it’s Seoul’s biggest
Venue: Downtown Seoul’s major plazas and connecting streets
Date: Oct 2–6
Seoul Drum Festival (Oct 3–4)
Humankind’s oldest and most basic musical instrument, the drum, was used by the ancients to communicate with the gods. During the Seoul
Drum Festival, however, it becomes an instrument of intercultural communication. Korean and overseas percussion troupes will delight audiences with a wide range of performances ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde. The festival is also an opportunity to explore the
confines of Gyeonghuigung Palace and the Seoul Museum of History, one of the city’s most underrated museums.
If there’s a group to watch, it’s Drum Cat, the all-female Korean drumming troupe that has wowed audiences both here and abroad. Jumping between genres with their unique modern beat, they combine a feminine sophistication with powerful drumming to create performances
you aren’t likely to forget. You’ll also want to check out the debut performance of One World Percussion, bringing together renowned solo artists Jeff Queen, Nebojsa Zivkovic, David Panzl, and Chung Kun-young.
Venue: Gyeonghuigung Palace and Seoul Museum of History
Date: Oct 3–4
Seoul Performing Arts Festival (Oct 2–26)
The highlight of the Daehangno theater district’s calendar, the Seoul Performing Arts Festival (SPAF) is a monthlong exploration of theater
and dance. Under the theme “Surrealism versus Reality,” this year’s festival will go surreal in order to challenge the prevailing discourse of
realism in theater and conceptual dance in the Korean performing arts scene.
With that in mind, the festival has invited some truly intriguing works from overseas, including the surrealist drama Victor ou les enfants au pouvoir from France, American theater troupe The Builders Association’s multimedia performance Sontag: Reborn, and a Korean-Japanese coproduction of King Lear directed by Tadashi Suzuki. On the Korean side of the playbill are an assortment of unique dramatic and dance works, including Ggok Doo Jil, a modern dance interpretation of a Korean pansori epic.
Venue: Daehangno Arts Theater and Arko Arts Theater
Date: Oct 2–26
Admission: Depends on program
GO>Hyehwa Station 혜화역 (Line 4), Exit 2
Seoul International Fireworks Festival (Oct 5)
A favorite of Korean photographers, the Seoul International Fireworks Festival brings thousands to the banks of the Hangang River around and across from Yeouido for an evening of music and fireworks. Professional fireworks—both overseas and local—light up the night sky with dazzling displays of pyrotechnic beauty. Bring a blanket and bottle of wine riverside and enjoy the spectacle, preferably with someone you love. Many spectators head to Yeouido Hangang Park for the show. This is not a bad idea, but the best place to see the fireworks is Ichon Hangang Park, on the other side of the river. If you’ve got a camera and want to photograph the event, a word of advice—get there early! This writer got there several hours early last year and still barely found a place for his
Venue: Hangang River around Yeouido
Date: Oct 5
GO>Yeouinaru Station 여의나루역 (Line 5), Exit 3
Itaewon Global Village Festival (Oct 12–13)
As Korea grows increasingly multicultural, Seoul’s best-known multicultural neighborhood has grown even more diverse. The Itaewon Global Village Festival celebrates this diversity through food, cultural performances, and good, clean fun. The biggest draw is the Global Food Festival, where you can sample a bewildering variety of cuisines from all over the world.
In addition to the festival itself, there’s plenty else to see in the area while you’re here. Stop by the Leeum Museum and take in one of Korea’s best collections of traditional and modern art. If Itaewon’s main drag is too, well, festive, just walk to the increasingly trendy (and just as multicultural) Gyeongnidan district, where you can enjoy good international eats and even better beer in relative peace.
Date: Oct 12–13