Gyeongju City Guide: Things to Do, See and Eat traveling in Gyeongju, South Korea

While Korea isn’t a heavily touristed place by Western standards, most people who have at least a passing interest in this East Asian country have at least heard of the worldly city of Seoul, and its southern cousin Busan.  Unless you’ve truly dedicated yourself to learning about South Korea, the name Gyeongju will almost certainly register a “huh?” from most foreigners, even among those who have signed up for a year of teaching ESL in this fascinating country.

In spite of this lack of knowledge, Gyeongju is one of South Korea’s most historically significant cities, possessing a large amount of relics from the distant past, dating back to the days of the Shilla Kingdom that began more than a millennia ago.  As such, this city became South Korea’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it boasts many temples, ruins, and museums relating to the ancient days of civilization on the Korean peninsula.

So when you have a few extra days to take off your teaching schedule, or if you are wondering if you should make the journey to this place you haven’t heard about until today, go ahead and jump on the KTX (this city now has bullet train access) and spend a little time here.  For those seeking a taste of traditional Korea in the sea of modernity that sweeps this nation today, you’ll be glad you did!

Gyeongju Travel Guide: Things to do in Gyeongju, South Korea including visiting traditional heritage sites

Gyeongju City Guide: A Brief History Of Gyeongju, South Korea

Gyeongju, also known as the “Museum Without Walls,” is a city located in the southeastern part of the Korean peninsula. It was the capital of the Silla Kingdom for almost 1,000 years, from 57 BC to 935 AD.

During the Silla Dynasty, Gyeongju was known as Seorabeol and was one of the most prosperous and advanced cities in Asia. The city was home to many palaces, temples, and other significant structures that were built during this time. These structures were designed with a unique Silla architectural style, which is characterized by the use of bricks and stones, curved roof tiles, and intricate carvings.

One of the most notable landmarks in Gyeongju is the Cheomseongdae Observatory. It was built during the reign of Queen Seondeok (632-647) and is the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia. The observatory was used to observe the stars and make predictions about the future, which was important to the Silla rulers who believed in the power of astrology.

Another significant landmark in Gyeongju is the Bulguksa Temple. It was built during the reign of King Gyeongdeok (742-765) and is considered one of the finest examples of Buddhist art and architecture in Korea. The temple complex includes many buildings, statues, and artworks that were designed to represent the Buddhist universe.

In addition to these landmarks, Gyeongju is also known for its burial mounds or tumuli. These are large artificial hills that were built to serve as tombs for the Silla royal family and nobles. There are over 150 burial mounds in Gyeongju, including the Cheonmachong Tomb, which is the most famous and most visited.

Today, Gyeongju is a popular tourist destination in South Korea, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to learn about its rich history and experience its unique cultural heritage. The city has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its numerous historical landmarks and artifacts have been preserved and protected for future generations to enjoy.

Gyeongju Top Attractions and Best Places to Visit in Korea

Of all the culturally significant locations you could explore in Gyeongju, Bulguksa Temple ranks among the top attractions to explore, as its commonly regarded as one of the most visually stunning temples in whole country.  Make your way through ornately built structure with care, as its actively used by monks and worshippers today, on your way to see two pagodas that are considered national treasures, Dabotap and Seokgatap.  Smoothly carved by Shilla stone masons, their simple beauty inspires all who come into sight of them, making them worth the trip out here by bus to see them.

The fleet of foot can make a hike out the journey to the next attraction (those who would prefer a ride can take a bus that runs passengers to the next site), the Seokguram Grotto. Situated in a cave at the top of a moderately high hill, the Seokguram Grotto features a stone-carved statue of the Buddha in an inner sanctum of the cave, lit by sunlight via a hole in the ceiling above the statue.  Visitors are advised that photography is not permitted inside of the grotto, but it can and should be used outside, where stunning views of the valley below will make for some excellent pictures, especially in the Autumn.

Next on your tour of Shilla period artifacts and archeological sites should be the Royal Tombs, where mounds in the earth contains the final resting places of the monarchs that reigned back in the kingdom’s heyday.  Some sites charge a small admission fee, but for the experience of going inside the mausoleums of royalty, and strolling through intricately maintained gardens (again, come by in the Fall for some truly amazing colours, or in the Spring for cherry blossoms to add to the atmosphere), it is won well spent indeed.

Other Cultural Attractions: Trip to Gyeongju, South Korea

If your schedule permits and you would like to indulge in the traditional food and drink of the Koreans, then try to take in the Korean Traditional Liquor and Cake Festival, held sometime between March and April.  Be prepared to consume copious amounts of tea, rice cakes, and rice wine, while taking in dance and musical performances of yesteryear, in a celebration of the traditional Korean arts.

Those who were barely fazed by climbing the hill to the Seokguram Grotto should take on an additional challenge on their Gyeongju adventure by hiking up Namsan Mountain, the largest mountain in the region.  Topping out at 466 metres high, and with the way up the mountain being peppered by various types of Buddhist stone tablets, you will be inspired both by the history and geology of this area, while burning off the bulgogi and soju that you consumed the previous evening!

Lastly, South Korean summers can stretch on forever, and being accompanied by smothering humidity, you will be begging for relief from the oppressive heat at some point if you decide to come here during the summer months.  Fortunately, a state of the art waterpark by the name of California Beach is ready to serve both your need to cool off, and for an adrenaline rush, all in one shot.  While prices can be a bit steep in peak season, you can get discount fares for an afternoon visit at these times, allowing enough time to wash away the sweatiness and crankiness that comes with temple tramping in South Korea in the middle of July.

source: cari cakes on YouTube

Top 10 Things To Do in Gyeongju, South Korea For Visitors

If you are planning a trip to Gyeongju, here are ten things you should consider doing:

  1. Visit the Bulguksa Temple: This temple is one of the most iconic and well-known landmarks in Gyeongju, and a must-see for anyone visiting the city. The temple was built during the Silla Dynasty, and is considered one of the finest examples of Buddhist art and architecture in Korea. The temple complex includes many buildings, statues, and artworks that were designed to represent the Buddhist universe.
  2. Explore the Seokguram Grotto: This UNESCO World Heritage Site features a stunning statue of Buddha carved into the rock. It is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Buddhist art in the world, and is a testament to the artistic and architectural achievements of the Silla Dynasty.
  3. Visit the Gyeongju National Museum: This museum has a vast collection of artifacts and exhibits related to the history and culture of Gyeongju. It includes a wide range of historical relics, including pottery, metalwork, and lacquerware.
  4. Walk around the Tumuli Park: This park has over 20 tombs from the Silla Dynasty, and is a fascinating glimpse into ancient Korean burial practices. The tombs are large artificial hills that were built to serve as tombs for the Silla royal family and nobles, and are an impressive sight to behold.
  5. Take a stroll along the Anapji Pond: This picturesque pond is surrounded by lush gardens and was once a part of the Silla Palace complex. It is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, and is particularly beautiful at night when it is illuminated.
  6. Visit the Cheomseongdae Observatory: This ancient observatory is one of the oldest of its kind in the world, and was used by the Silla Dynasty to study the stars. It is a fascinating example of ancient astronomical technology, and is a must-visit for anyone interested in the history of science.
  7. Explore the Yangdong Folk Village: This traditional village features over 160 houses from the Joseon Dynasty, offering visitors a glimpse into traditional Korean life. The houses are beautifully preserved, and many have been converted into museums and galleries showcasing traditional Korean arts and crafts.
  8. Hike up Namsan Mountain: This scenic mountain offers panoramic views of Gyeongju, and is a popular hiking spot among locals and tourists alike. The mountain is also home to several ancient Buddhist temples and shrines, including the famous Seokguram Grotto.
  9. Visit the Cheonmachong Tomb: This tomb is one of the largest and most well-preserved burial mounds in Gyeongju, and is open to the public for viewing. It is an incredible example of ancient Korean architecture and engineering, and is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of the Silla Dynasty.
  10. Try the local cuisine: Gyeongju is known for its delicious traditional Korean dishes, including Ssambap (lettuce-wrapped rice), Gyeongju bread, and Hwangnam-ppang (sweet red bean-filled bread). There are many local restaurants and street vendors selling these and other traditional dishes, and they are a great way to experience the local culture and cuisine.

What To Eat and Drink at Restaurants in Gyeongju, Korea

Here are some of the top dishes and drinks to try when visiting Gyeongju:

  1. Ssambap (Lettuce-wrapped Rice): Ssambap is a popular dish in Gyeongju and consists of rice wrapped in lettuce leaves, with various toppings such as grilled meat, vegetables, and chili paste. It is a healthy and tasty dish that is perfect for lunch or dinner.
  2. Gyeongju Bread: Gyeongju bread is a sweet, fluffy pastry filled with red bean paste. It is a local specialty and can be found at bakeries and street vendors throughout the city.
  3. Hwangnam-ppang (Sweet Red Bean-filled Bread): Similar to Gyeongju bread, Hwangnam-ppang is a sweet bread filled with red bean paste. It is a popular snack in Gyeongju and can be found at local bakeries and street vendors.
  4. Gyeongju Sikhye (Sweet Rice Punch): This traditional Korean drink is made from malted barley, rice, and water. It is sweet and refreshing, and can be found at many restaurants and street vendors throughout the city.
  5. Makkoli (Korean Rice Wine): Makkoli is a traditional Korean rice wine that is slightly sweet and tangy. It is made from rice, water, and nuruk (a type of fermentation starter), and is a popular drink in Gyeongju.
  6. Andong Soju: Andong Soju is a type of Korean liquor that is popular throughout the country. It is made from rice, barley, and wheat, and has a slightly sweet and bitter taste. It is often served as an accompaniment to traditional Korean meals.
  7. Gyeongju Jukkumi (Spicy Baby Octopus): Jukkumi is a spicy dish made from baby octopus, vegetables, and chili paste. It is a popular dish in Gyeongju and can be found at many local restaurants.
  8. Haejang-guk (Hangover Soup): Haejang-guk is a spicy soup made with beef broth, vegetables, and rice noodles. It is a popular dish in Korea, and is often eaten as a hangover cure after a night of drinking.

Gyeongju offers a wide range of delicious traditional Korean dishes and drinks that are sure to satisfy any foodie’s palate. From sweet breads to spicy octopus, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this historic and vibrant city.

Tours For Visitors To Gyeongju, South Korea

If you’re planning a trip to Gyeongju and want to make the most of your time there, here are some tours you might consider:

  1. Gyeongju Cultural Walking Tour: This tour is perfect for history buffs and those who want to learn more about the city’s rich cultural heritage. The tour includes visits to some of the most famous historical sites such as Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, and Cheomseongdae Observatory.
  2. Gyeongju Bike Tour: If you prefer to explore the city on two wheels, the Gyeongju Bike Tour is a great option. The tour takes you on a scenic route through the city and includes stops at historical sites such as Tumuli Park, Anapji Pond, and the Gyeongju National Museum.
  3. Gyeongju Food Tour: For foodies, the Gyeongju Food Tour is a must-do. The tour takes you to some of the city’s best restaurants and street food stalls, where you can sample traditional Korean dishes such as bibimbap, bulgogi, and chueotang (spicy fish soup).
  4. Gyeongju Night Tour: If you want to experience the city’s nightlife, the Gyeongju Night Tour is a great way to do so. The tour includes visits to popular bars and restaurants as well as historical sites such as the Gyeongju Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond.
  5. Gyeongju Private Tour: If you prefer a more personalized experience, a private tour is a great option. You can customize the tour to your interests and preferences and have a knowledgeable guide to show you around the city.
  6. Gyeongju UNESCO Heritage Tour: As Gyeongju is home to many UNESCO World Heritage sites, this tour is perfect for those who want to learn more about these sites and their significance. The tour includes visits to sites such as Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto.

In summary, there are many tours available for visitors to Gyeongju, whether you’re interested in history, food, or nightlife. Whichever tour you choose, you’re sure to have a memorable experience in this fascinating and historic city.

Gyeongju Accommodations Guide: Hotels, Guesthouses and Hostels

There are many accommodation options available to suit different budgets and preferences.

For those looking for a luxury experience, there are several high-end hotels in Gyeongju, such as the Hilton Gyeongju and the Commodore Hotel Gyeongju. These hotels offer luxurious amenities such as spas, fitness centers, and restaurants serving gourmet cuisine.

For budget-conscious travelers, there are many affordable guesthouses and hostels available. One popular option is Guesthouse Santa, which offers cozy and comfortable rooms at an affordable price. Another budget-friendly option is the Gyeongju Guesthouse, which has a convenient location and a friendly staff.

For those who prefer a more traditional experience, there are several hanok guesthouses in Gyeongju. These guesthouses are housed in traditional Korean buildings and offer a unique and authentic experience. One popular option is the Yangdong Traditional Guesthouse, which is located in a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers traditional Korean meals.

For those who prefer a more unique accommodation experience, there are several glamping options available in Gyeongju. One popular option is the Gyeongju Ice Flower Village, which offers heated igloos for a cozy and unforgettable winter experience.

In summary, Gyeongju has a variety of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. Whether you’re looking for a luxury hotel or a budget-friendly guesthouse, there’s something for everyone in this historic and beautiful city.

Day Trips From Gyeongju, South Korea

There are also many day trips that can be taken from Gyeongju to explore the surrounding areas.

One popular day trip destination from Gyeongju is the nearby city of Busan. Busan is known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant markets, and delicious seafood. It’s a great place to spend the day relaxing on the beach, browsing the markets, and trying some of the local cuisine.

Another popular day trip destination from Gyeongju is Andong, a city known for its traditional culture and architecture. Andong is home to several historic sites, including the Andong Hahoe Folk Village and the Dosan Seowon Confucian Academy, both of which offer a glimpse into Korea’s rich cultural heritage.

For nature lovers, a day trip to the Seoraksan National Park is a must. Located a few hours from Gyeongju, the park is home to stunning mountain scenery, hiking trails, and beautiful waterfalls. It’s a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy some fresh air and beautiful scenery.

Finally, another popular day trip destination from Gyeongju is the historic city of Daegu. Daegu is known for its traditional markets, museums, and historic sites, such as the Daegu Yangnyeongsi Museum of Oriental Medicine and the Donghwasa Temple.

Gyeongju is a great base for exploring the surrounding areas, with plenty of day trip options available to suit different interests and preferences. Whether you’re looking for cultural experiences, natural beauty, or city life, there’s something for everyone within easy reach of Gyeongju.

Gyeongju Transportation Guide

Getting around the city is relatively easy, with several transportation options available.

One of the most convenient ways to get around Gyeongju is by bus. The city has a well-developed bus system, with several routes that connect all the major tourist attractions. The buses are clean, comfortable, and affordable, making them a great option for budget-conscious travelers.

Another popular transportation option in Gyeongju is taxis. Taxis are readily available throughout the city and are a great option for those who prefer a more private and comfortable mode of transportation. However, taxis can be more expensive than buses, so it’s important to negotiate the fare before getting in the car.

For those who prefer to explore the city at their own pace, renting a car or scooter is a great option. There are several rental agencies in Gyeongju that offer affordable rates, and having your own vehicle gives you the freedom to explore the city on your own schedule.

Finally, for those who prefer to get around on foot or by bicycle, Gyeongju is a very pedestrian and bike-friendly city. Many of the major tourist attractions are within walking distance of each other, and there are several bike rental shops available throughout the city.

Gyeongju has several transportation options available to suit different preferences and budgets. Whether you prefer to travel by bus, taxi, car, scooter, or on foot, there’s a transportation option for everyone in this historic and beautiful city.

Where To Visit After Your Trip To Gyeongju?

After your trip to Gyeongju, there are several nearby destinations that offer unique experiences and attractions that are worth exploring. These destinations offer a mix of culture, history, nature, and city life, providing a diverse range of options to suit different interests and preferences.

First on the list is Busan, a coastal city that’s just a couple of hours away from Gyeongju. Busan is a popular destination for both locals and tourists, and it’s easy to see why. The city boasts stunning beaches, bustling markets, and delicious seafood that are sure to tantalize your senses. You can take a leisurely stroll along the Haeundae Beach, visit the colorful Gamcheon Culture Village, or sample fresh seafood at the Jagalchi Market. Busan is also home to several historic and cultural attractions, including the Beomeosa Temple and the UN Memorial Cemetery.

Another must-visit destination after your trip to Gyeongju is Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. Seoul is a vibrant and bustling metropolis that’s home to countless cultural attractions, shopping districts, and restaurants. From the historic Gyeongbokgung Palace to the trendy Gangnam district, there’s something for everyone in this exciting city. You can take a walk along the Cheonggyecheon Stream, visit the bustling Myeong-dong shopping district, or explore the traditional Bukchon Hanok Village. Seoul is also known for its vibrant nightlife, with countless bars and nightclubs to choose from.

If you’re looking for a more laid-back destination after your trip to Gyeongju, Jeju Island is a great choice. Jeju Island is a popular tourist destination that’s known for its natural beauty, including stunning beaches, waterfalls, and hiking trails. You can relax on the white sandy beaches, visit the majestic Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, or take a stroll through the picturesque Jeju Folk Village. Jeju Island is also home to several unique attractions, such as the Jeju Love Land theme park and the Teddy Bear Museum.

Andong is another nearby destination that’s worth exploring after your trip to Gyeongju. Andong is a traditional Korean city located a few hours from Gyeongju, and it’s known for its historic sites, including the Andong Hahoe Folk Village and the Dosan Seowon Confucian Academy. You can experience traditional Korean culture by attending a mask dance performance or making your own traditional paper lantern. Andong is also home to several unique culinary specialties, such as Andong jjimdak (braised chicken) and heotjesabap (hot stone pot rice).

Finally, Daegu is a historic Korean city that’s located within easy reach of Gyeongju. Daegu is known for its traditional markets, museums, and historic sites, such as the Daegu Yangnyeongsi Museum of Oriental Medicine and the Donghwasa Temple. You can explore the bustling Seomun Market, visit the historic Gyesan Catholic Church, or take a walk through the scenic Apsan Park.

There are several nearby destinations that offer unique experiences and attractions that are worth exploring after your trip to Gyeongju. Whether you’re interested in culture, history, nature, or city life, these destinations have something for everyone. From the stunning beaches of Busan to the traditional villages of Andong, there’s no shortage of exciting places to visit.

Gyeongju Travel Guide: Final Thoughts

Gyeongju, with its rich history, culture, and natural beauty, is a destination that offers something for every traveler. From ancient tombs and temples to scenic hiking trails and delicious cuisine, Gyeongju is a place that truly captivates the senses.

One of the highlights of Gyeongju is its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its many historic sites that provide a glimpse into the Silla Dynasty, one of Korea’s ancient kingdoms. The city is also surrounded by natural beauty, with national parks and mountains offering breathtaking views and outdoor adventures.

To truly experience Gyeongju, visitors should take the time to explore its many treasures, such as the Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, and the Royal Tomb Complex, to name just a few. Foodies will delight in the city’s local cuisine, including its famous Gyeongju bread, made with sweet red bean paste, and its delicious street food offerings.

For those seeking to experience the local culture, Gyeongju offers a variety of traditional performances and festivals throughout the year, including the Gyeongju Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring and the Gyeongju World Culture Expo in the fall.

Overall, Gyeongju is a must-visit destination in South Korea that should be on every traveler’s itinerary. Its combination of history, culture, and natural beauty make it a truly unique and unforgettable experience.

In Gyeongju, land of Silla’s past, Ancient wonders and beauty last, Temples and tombs, history to share, A treasure trove beyond compare.

Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple, Artistic wonders, so simple, The Royal Tomb Complex, awe-inspiring, Intricate designs, never tiring.

Nature’s beauty, mountains high, Hiking trails, with views to spy, Cherry blossoms, a sight to see, A perfect setting for a selfie.

Gyeongju bread, a local treat, Street food that’s hard to beat, Culture and traditions, alive and strong, A place where memories last long.

Gyeongju, a land of wonder, Where the past and present merge, and thunder, A place to explore, to learn and see, A treasure trove, waiting for thee.

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