Ask any Korean to name a city with the greatest historical value and the answer will likely be Gyeongju, the capital city of the Silla Dynasty (57 BC – AD 935). The city is alive with vibrant culture and art which flourished during its prosperity of the past that lasted for almost 1,000 years. As a result, Gyeongju 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
As a prior research on your destination’s history can make a big difference in understanding the culture as well as appreciating the city’s value, we first recommend to start the tour by spending an hour or so at the Gyeongju National Museum
The museum consists of Silla History Gallery, Silla Art Gallery, Wolji Gallery, and the outdoor exhibition, serving as as the perfect place to learn about the Silla Dynasty and Gyeongju’s history all in one location. The Silla History Gallery displays artifacts of the Silla Dynasty in chronicle order. The highlight of this gallery is the second exhibition hall where it displays gold accessories such as crowns and belts, which were excavated from Cheonmachong Tomb.
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. As for the Wolji Hall, the gallery 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.
To facilitate understanding of the exhibitions for foreign tourists, an audio guide is available for rent at just 2,000 won. The guide device can be rented at the shop within the museum, with information in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese.
Entering Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village is like stepping foot into the past with the old and new hanok buildings creating a wonderful harmony. You can also find workshops for pottery and glass, as well as a nubi (traditional quilting) experience center. You can watch master artisans at work, or pay a small fee to try making something with your own hands. 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).
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.
If you followed our tour course this far, you might find yourself feeling a bit tired. The areas you have explored are all included in the UNESCO-designated Gyeongju Historic Areas. Let’s find a café to take a break while still gazing upon the amazing history and culture! 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 day 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, if your travel dates just don’t line up, there’s no need to be disappointed as permanent stalls and shops are set up for visitors year-round even when it’s not a market day. 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 to all with no admission fee until late at night, attracting both locals and tourists alike.
A detached palace of the Silla Kingdom where the prince lived, Donggung Palace was used as a banquet venue to celebrate of country’s joyous occasions or entertain important guests. The palace and the surrounding Wolji 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 the Wolji Gallery 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, an attraction every Korean should visit at least once. The temple is renowned for showing both values and principles of Buddhism through architecture. With this in mind, Bulguksa Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage 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. However, the different styles of these two large pagodas provide a sense of harmony.
After touring all Bulguksa Temple has to offer, our tour takes us to Seokguram Grotto, a place showcasing the essence of Buddhist artistry from the Silla Dynasty. However, before heading off, we recommend grabbing a bite to eat for lunch around the temple as there will be no restaurants around our next stop.
Seokguram Grotto is Korea’s representative cave temple that is built on Tohamsan Mountain outside Gyeongju. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage 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 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, a theme park, a water park, and a multitude of 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.
One of the largest buildings in the area of Bomun Tourist Complex is located at Gyeongju World Culture Expo Park. This unique building, the park’s landmark Gyeongju Tower, is built 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.
The park annually hosts World Culture Expo to develop a new 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. In 2017, “Ho Chi Minh City – Gyeongju World Culture Expo” was held with the theme of promoting prosperity of Asia through cultural exchange.
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.