The best things to do in Gyeongju are primarily historical and archeological sites that shed light on the city’s rich heritage. Known as the ‘Museum without Walls’, this Korean city was the former capital of the Silla Kingdom, which ruled Korea from the 7th to the 9th centuries. Remnants of that period attract those with an interest in history. Gyeongju is also the right place to visit if you’re fond of natural scenery.

    Make sure you plan your vacation in advance and take note of all the spots you want to visit in Gyeongju – there are many options, and you may not be able to cover all the historic sites if you’re on a short trip. In order to make things easier, we’ve compiled a list of places Gyeongju is most famous for.

    What are the best things to do in Gyeongju?

    1

    Bulguksa Temple

    • History

    Bulguksa Temple is located on the slopes of Mount Toham, about 15 km southeast of Gyeongju. Also known as the ‘Temple of the Buddha Land’, the UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to 528 during the Silla Kingdom. 

    The historic pagodas and foundations are the only original structures in Bulguksa Temple, while the rest of the temple are reconstructions. Among the many historical sites you can visit include Seokguram Grotto, the Golden Seated Vairocana Buddhist Figure, and Dabotap Pagoda.

    Location: 385, Bulguk-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju, South Korea

    Open: February: daily from 7.30 am to 5.30 pm. March–September: daily from 7 am to 6 pm. October: daily from 7 am to 5.30 pm. November: daily from 7 am to 5 pm. December–January: daily from 7.30 am to 5 pm

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    2

    Donggung Palace

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    Donggung Palace is a popular spot for night-time views of Gyeongju. As a detached palace for Shilla-era royals, Donggung was used as a residence for princes and was where banquets were held for special occasions or guests. You can also visit Wolji Pond, also known as Anapji. The name means 'a pond where the moonlight shines.' It's calm and beautiful during the day, but night-time viewing is absolutely fantastic. 

    In summer, the lotus flowers in the nearby Lotus Park are a must-see. A night city tour that travels to a few select spots such as Donggung, Wolji, Cheomseongdae and Wolseong Bridge is available, so be sure to check it out.

    Location: 102 Wonhwa-ro, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 10 pm

    3

    Wolji Pond

    • History

    Wolji Pond is part of Donggung Palace, a Silla-era complex built during King Munmu’s reign in 674 CE. The artificial pond is surrounded by landscaped gardens and reconstructed pavilions that were used for banquets and royal events. 

    Visit the exhibition hall to see around 700 artifacts excavated from areas surrounding Wolji Pond – notable relics range from pottery and bronze figures of Buddha, to jewelry and accessories dating back to the Silla period. Tickets to Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond cost around 2,000 won for adults, 1,200 won for teens (18–13 years old), and 600 won for children (7–12 years old).

    Location: 102, Wonhwa-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju, South Korea

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 10 pm

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    4

    Gyeongju National Park

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    Gyeongju National Park has a number of cultural preserves that date back to the Silla Dynasty. Located near Gyeongju city, it’s known as Korea’s only historical national park. 

    The park covers a total area of 137 sq km, and houses important historical sites from the Silla period. There are hiking trails leading to Mount Namsan – depending on the trail, you might pass by Mangwolsa Temple and Samneung Royal Tomb before reaching the summit.  

    Location: Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju, South Korea

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    5

    Cheomseongdae Observatory

    • History

    Cheomseongdae Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical observatories in Asia. It dates back to 7th century, during the reign of Queen Seon-deok. The 9.17-meter-high observatory was mainly used to forecast weather.  Its square-shaped stylobate consists of 362 stones stacked on top of each other – the stones represent 362 days in a lunar year. 

    For those interested in astronomy, Cheomseongdae Observatory is a must-see. Visit at night to see the observatory beautifully illuminated with artificial lights.

    Location: 140-25, Cheomseong-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju, South Korea

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 9.30 pm

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    6

    Gyeongju Historic Area

    • History

    The Gyeongju Historic Area represents the culture and history of the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom. This UNESCO World Heritage has 5 sections, where you can explore palace ruins, pavilions, and fortresses among lush hills. 

    Namsan has over 40 Buddhist relics and pagodas, while Wolseong is where you can visit the crescent-shaped Banwolseong Fortress, Wolji Pond and Donggung Palace. Hwangnyongsa is the former site of Hwangnyongsa Temple and Bunhwangsa Stone Pagoda. 

    Location: 757, Taejong-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju, South Korea

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    7

    Poseokjeongji Pavilion

    • History

    Poseokjeongji Pavilion, located on a rock next to a stream in Gyeongsanbuk-do, was the royal villa of the Silla dynasty. While the royal villa does not exist anymore, a stone waterway in the shape of a shell still remains. 

    The pavilion is believed to have been built with 63 different kinds of rocks. This is the place where Silla kings would come with their nobles and officials for recreation. Admission to Poseokjeongji Pavilion costs around 1,000 won for adults, 600 won for teens (18–13 years old), and 400 won for children (7–12 years old).

    Location: 816, Namsansunhwan-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju, South Korea

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

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    photo by Steve46814 (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    8

    Seokguram Grotto

    • History

    Seokguram Grotto is a stone temple on Mount Toham. The UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to 751, under the reign of King Gyeong-Deok. The round-shaped hall houses a 3.5-meter-tall Bonjon statue, which represents a smiling Buddha seated on a lotus-engraved stage.

    Seokguram Grotto was built together with the Bulguska Temple, which is located on the slopes of the mountain. The spot where the temple is situated offers a beautiful sunrise view that is quite unique and breathtaking. Admission to Seokguram Grotto costs around 5,000 won for adults, 3,500 won for teens (18–13 years old), and 2,500 won for children (7–12 years old).

    Location: 873-243, Bulguk-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju, South Korea

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    9

    Bomun Lake Resort

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    Bomun Lake Resort (also called Bomun Tourist Complex) lets you experience the rich Korean culture and enjoy a number of events. Located about 10km east of downtown Gyeongju, the complex has a golf resort, shopping mall, art gallery, and a folk village, all of which are built in traditional Korean architecture.

    The outdoor theatre overlooks Lake Bomunho, and hosts plays, traditional dance and music concerts year-round. From April to January, you can enjoy free gugak (traditional Korean music) performances at Bomun Lake Resort's theatre.

    Location: Sinpyeong-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju, South Korea

    Phone: +82-54-745-7601

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    photo by myllissa (CC BY 2.0) modified

    10

    Experience temple life

    • History

    Experiencing the temple life is a must-do if you're the type who likes to understand different cultures and traditions. You can choose a number of temple stay programs that are suitable for foreign visitors. Morning rituals, meditation sessions, community tasks, tea etiquette, and training in martial arts are a part of most temple stay programs in Gyeongju. 

    Golgulsa Temple is where members of the royal guard, Hwarang, would gather to train during the Shilla period. The cave temple is also the center of Seonmudo, an early Buddhist training method that uses meditation to attain self-realization. 

    Location: 101-5, Girim-ro, Yangbuk-myeon, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju, South Korea

    Phone: +82-54-744-1689

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    photo by Jirka Matousek (CC BY 2.0) modified

    11

    Daereungwon Tomb Complex

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    Daereungwon Tomb Complex is a cluster of royal tombs from the Shilla period. It's home to 23 tombs of kings, queens and nobles. The mystical appearance of Shilla-era tombs and green grass on softly curved hills will have you captivated. The Great Tomb of Hwangnam, Royal Tomb of King Michu and Cheonmachong, where the interior can be seen, are worth the trip. Excavated artifacts are also on display at Cheonmachong, so it should be a great place to visit with children. Plus, there are lots of many wonderful photo spots throughout Daereungwon. You can take a leisurely stroll through the complex and capture the beauty of Gyeongju.

    Location: 31-1 Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 10 pm

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    photo by J. Patrick Fischer (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    12

    Tomb of Munmu of Shilla

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    Tomb of Munmu of Shilla is an underwater tomb for King Munmu, the 30th king of Shilla, located off the coast of Bonggil-ri, Yangbuk-myeon. It's also known as Daewangam, or the Tomb of the Great King. It is said that King Munmu, who unified the Three Kingdoms of Korea, became a dragon in the East Sea to protect the country. A large rock formation in the sea about 200 meters from the coast is believed to be the tomb. Bonggil Beach, where the tomb is located, is a famous spot for sunrise viewing, and annual sunrise festivals are held there. In the nearby area are Gameunsa Temple and Igyeondae, where the legend of King Munmu lives on.

    photo by vatar (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    13

    Yangdong Folk Village

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    Located in Gangdong-myeon, Gyeongju, Yangdong Folk Village is a noble Joseon era village, and has one of the largest scales and longest known histories in all of Korea. Prince Charles of Wales visited in 1992, and in 2010, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The village is home to noble houses with 100-year-old tiled roofs, as well as small thatched-roof houses and a beautiful village road. Deciding on a specific course in advance is recommended because the village is large with several course options available. There are also places in the village where you can experience a rich Korean tradition or purchase specialty goods.

    Location: 134 Yangdongmaeul-gil, Gangdong-myeon, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

    Open: Summer (April–September): Daily from 9 am to 7 pm. Winter (October–March): Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

    14

    Gyeongju National Museum

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    If you're traveling in Gyeongju with kids, be sure to visit the Gyeongju National Museum. It's full of numerous relics from the Shilla era seen in Korean textbooks. The museum consists of the Hall of Shilla History, Hall of Shilla Art, Wolji Hall and an outdoor exhibition hall, displaying numerous national treasures such as golden crowns, Buddha statues, the Bell of King Seongdeok and the three-story stone pagoda of Goseonsa. A variety of educational and experiential programs are available for both children and adults, so be sure to take some time to participate.

    Location: 186 Iljeong-ro, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm, closed on New Year's Day, Lunar New Year's Day and Chuseok

    15

    Hwangnidan Street

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    Hwangnidan Street is the hottest place in Gyeongju full of "newtro" (new retro) vibes. A portmanteau of Hwangnam-dong and Gyeongnidan-gil, Hwangnidan Street is a road that runs from Naenam Intersection, near the rear gate of Daereungwon Tomb Complex, to Hwangnam Elementary School Intersection. There are cafes operated out of renovated traditional Korean homes (Hanok), gorgeous restaurants, craft beer pubs, quaint shops, photo studios and guest houses. Don't miss the narrow alleys hidden along the street. You just may run into some hidden gems you would have otherwise missed. Hwangnidan Street is full of personality, where you can take a stroll leisurely, take pictures and enjoy a spot of tea at a cafe.

    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveler

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