Ask any Korean to name the city with the greatest historical value in Korea and the answer will likely be Gyeongju, the capital city of the Silla Dynasty (57 BC – AD 935). The city is dotted with UNESCO World Cultural Heritages Sites, including Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, Yangdong Village, and the Gyeongju Historic Area. Explore the advanced architecture of the Silla period and experience the splendid culture of Buddhism in a short but full two-day tour of Gyeongju.
110:00 AMGyeongju National Museum
212:00 PMGyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village
32:00 PMDaereungwon Tomb Complex
44:00 PMNodong-dong Café Street
55:00 PMGyeongju Jungang Market
66:00 PMCheomseongdae Observatory
77:00 PMGyeongju Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
The best way to start off a tour of Gyeongju is by learning a bit about the city’s cultural value at the Gyeongju National Museum. The museum consists of the Silla History Gallery, Silla Art Gallery, Wolji Gallery, and an outdoor exhibition. The Silla History Gallery displays artifacts of the Silla dynasty in chronological order. The highlight of this gallery is the second exhibition hall where gold accessories such as crowns and belts excavated from Cheonmachong Tomb are on display.
The Silla Art Gallery houses approximately 700 works of art. As Silla was a nation founded on the ideologies of Buddhism, many of the artworks show traces of Buddhism and its principles. Wolji Hall is filled with relics that were discovered around Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond. The outdoor exhibition consists of many important historical items that are too big to be placed inside, such as The Divine Bell of King Seongdeok.
Visitors who would like to know more about the exhibitions while touring can use the National Museum of Korea app. Created by the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, the app provides audio guide services in English, Japanese, and Chinese to all of the National Museums in the country.
Entering Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village is like stepping foot into the past with the old and new hanok buildings creating a wonderful harmony. The village is also home to workshops for pottery and glass, as well as a nubi (traditional quilting) experience center. Visitors can watch master artisans at work, or pay a small fee to try making something themselves. For fun, just follow the sound of laughter to the village playground. Here, all visitors can play traditional games, such as neolttwigi (seesaw jumping), gulleongsoe (hoop rolling), and tuhonori (arrow throwing game). The playground is open to all visitors, allowing tourists to easily join in on the fun. While the village is open all day, most experience programs are limited to 09:00-17:00.
If you need some energy to keep you going, sit down for the village’s famous Gyori Gimbap! The gimbap is so popular there is often a line of people waiting to get their hands on a roll. Gyori Gimbap has an abundance of egg, providing a delicious and savory flavor not found in other gimbap. After enjoying the village scenery while eating gimbap, stop by a traditional café for a cup of tea.
One of the most unique scenes in Gyeongju is the sight of 23 almost uniformly sized “hills” found at Daereungwon Tomb Complex. The hills are actually the tombs of kings, queens and other nobility of the Silla dynasty. While most tomb sites are located in remote areas, the tombs of Silla are located in downtown Gyeongju, providing easy access to tourists and serving as a relaxing attraction for citizens as well.
Of all the tombs at Daereungwon Tomb Complex, Cheonmacheong Tomb is by far the most famous. The interior has been excavated and the tomb now serves as an exhibition hall. Replicas of the artifacts that were discovered are on display, while the real artifacts are preserved at Gyeongju National Museum.
At this point in the course, you might find yourself feeling a bit tired. The areas visited so far are all included in the UNESCO-designated Gyeongju Historic Areas. Take a well-deserved break from history by stopping in at a café. The Nodong-dong area located across the street from Daereungwon Tomb Complex is lined with many cafés offering an amazing view. This café street is not very long but is perfect for resting with a cup of fragrant coffee.
Also called Araet Market, Gyeongju Jungang Market is a traditional 5-day market, operating on the 2, 7, 12, 17, 22 and 27 of every month. There is much to see and eat on market day, when the vendors gather to sell their products. Be sure to stop by the market if your travel dates overlap with a market day. However, even if your travel dates don’t line up, there are still permanent stalls and shops that are set up for visitors to enjoy year-round. Most people enjoy walking through the food zone, where they can buy various foods, from tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake) to eomuk (fish cake), hoe (sliced raw fish) and jeon (pancake). Market day or not, it’s a guarantee you won’t go hungry here!
Cheomseongdae Observatory was built in the sixteenth year of Silla Queen Seondeok’s reign (AD 647), making it the oldest astronomical structure in Asia. The structure reaches 9 meters in height and retains its near-perfect condition to this day. Designated and protected as a cultural heritage site, Cheomseongdae Observatory demonstrates ancient Korea’s knowledge in astronomy and science as well as their excellence in craftsmanship and architecture. The observatory is open for free until late at night, attracting both locals and tourists alike.
Donggung Palace was a detached palace of the Silla kingdom where the prince lived, and was often used as a banquet venue to celebrate the country’s joyous occasions or entertain important guests. The palace and the surrounding lotus pond are popular as a relaxing place to take a walk for their harmonious beauty and cultural value.
Over 30,000 historical artifacts were discovered here, with most being general household items, providing a wonderful opportunity to study the culture and society of the Silla Dynasty. The items excavated from the site are on display in Wolji Hall at Gyeongju National Museum.
109:00 AMBulguksa Temple
212:00 PMSeokguram Grotto
302:00 PMBomun Tourist Complex
45:00 PMGyeongju World Culture Expo Park
Bulguksa Temple is Korea’s most famous temple and cultural heritage site. The temple is renowned for showing the values and principles of Buddhism through architecture. With this in mind, Bulguksa Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
All eyes are drawn to Seokgatap and Dabotap Pagodas upon entering the temple. The two pagodas can be seen as opposites, with Seokgatap Pagoda showing the beauty of simplicity and Dabotap Pagoda being quite extravagant. Despite their different styles, these two large pagodas provide a sense of harmony.
After touring all Bulguksa Temple has to offer, we recommend grabbing a bite to eat for lunch around the temple as there are no restaurants around the next stop.
Seokguram Grotto is Korea’s representative cave temple, built in the outskirts of Gyeongju on Tohamsan Mountain. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Bulguksa Temple, the grotto shows the deep faith and advanced architectural skills of people from the Silla period. The greatest draw of the grotto is none other than the grand statue of Buddha sitting at the center. Encircling this benevolent yet strict Buddha are bodhisattvas and various disciples carved in relief. The workmanship is outstanding, easily evoking admiration from all who visit.
Bomun Tourist Complex is centered around Bomunho Lake, approximately 10 kilometers east of downtown Gyeongju. The nation’s largest tourist resort complex open all year round, Bomun is home to luxury hotels, condominiums, a golf course, theme park, water park, and many walking trails connecting the various attractions. The entire city of Gyeongju is beautiful with cherry blossoms in spring, but no place can compare with Bomun Tourist Complex. Every spring, tourists both local and international flock to the Bomun Lake area to take in the pink and white blossoms.
Gyeongju Tower, one of the largest buildings in the area of Bomun Tourist Complex is located at Gyeongju World Culture Expo Park. This unique building was designed with a motif cut-out of the large Nine-story Wooden Pagoda of Hwangryongsa Temple of the Silla dynasty. The tower houses a variety of relics and materials found around Gyeongju from the Silla period, providing another chance to delve deep into the history of the area. If you aren’t afraid of heights, be sure to take in the view from the top floor. From here, you can see all of Bomun Tourist Complex spread out below in a beautiful vista. Visitors should be aware that the interior of the tower will be closed for reorganization from January 1 to March 3, 2020.
The park annually hosts World Culture Expo to develop a new global culture through worldwide cultural exchange and to encourage as well as improve the culture of humanity. The event began in 1998 and has operated under a new theme each year. While the theme changes, every year the expo offers exciting performances and fun hands-on experiences to all visitors, along with exhibitions of artworks and films.
Must-eats of Gyeongju!
Of all the foods you can try in Gyeongju, the one that comes to mind first is Hwangnamppang (Hwangnam bread), which got its name from the area it was first sold, Hwangnam-dong. This simple yet tasty bread is made from flour dough filled with red bean paste shaped in a ball. The bread is then stamped on top with a comb pattern and baked. While the bread bakes, the delicious aroma of the red bean paste wafts out. The bread is ready to eat when the dough becomes golden brown.
Another popular bread associated with Gyeongju is chalborippang, or barley bread. This round, flat bread is made from barley flour, with two pieces of bun stuck together with red bean paste. The shape of the bread is similar to pancakes but is much smaller in size, and has a soft, spongy texture.