Get out of Seoul and visit one of Korea’s other fun cities! Gyeongju was the capital of Korea’s Shilla Dynasty (57 BC – 935 AD) and is often considered to be a ‘museum without walls’. That’s because of the hundreds of historic sites, artifacts, and attractions all over the city. If you are looking for a fun city to explore while in Korea or on a weekend away from Seoul, Gyeongju will not disappoint!
Here’s my perfect Gyeongju Itinerary
Bulguksa Temple 불국사
The temple was built in 528 during the Shilla Kingdom, between the years 514 and 540. In 1955, Bulguksa Temple was designated as a World Cultural Asset by UNESCO due to its beauty and ancient stone relics. The temple complex spans a huge area located in a beautiful park with many temple halls and sites. Should you want to experience life as a Korean Buddhist monk, sign up for Bulguksa’s exciting temple stay program. If you can’t spend the night, the temple also offers daily programs that feature temple etiquette, the 108 prostrations, lotus lantern making, meditating and visiting Seokguram Grotto.
385, Bulguk-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
Seokguram Grotto 석굴암
The Seokguram Grotto is a hermitage and part of the Bulguksa temple complex. There is a 3.5-meter-tall Buddha statue located inside the grotto that is a highly regarded piece of Buddhist art. The grotto and Buddha statue date back to the Shilla Dynasty in 742.
873-243 Bulguk-ro, Jinhyeon-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
This ancient astronomical observatory tower is Gyeongju’s landmark. Its name literally translates to star-gazing tower and it is the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia, and possibly the world. The tower was constructed in the Shilla Dynasty in the 7th century and was the model for similar astronomical observatories in Japan and China. The area around the tower is a beautiful park where people go to have a stroll or fly a kite.
169-5 Cheomseong-ro, Wolseong-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
Royal Tombs 천마총
Because Gyeongju was the capital of Korea’s Shilla Dynasty, there are countless tombs around the city; 23 have been discovered to date. Some of them are still unidentified. There are some tombs right next to the Cheomseongdae observation tower and look like small hills and are covered in grass. (Fun fact: in Asian countries, it is a no-go to stick your chopsticks into your bowl of rice because they resemble traditional tombs.) You can enter a royal tomb featuring over 10,000 remains and royal crowns giving insight into the lavish lifestyle of the king. The only discovered painting from the Silla era is also located in one of the tombs.
9, Gyerim-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
Ah Sa Ga Teahouse 아사가찻집
If you love tea or simply want to fully immerse in Korean culture, visit Ah Sa Ga Teahouse in Gyeongju. The traditional Korean place does not only offer many varieties of tea but also sells tea sets and displays various calligraphy artworks and hand-made crafts. Besides the flavorful tea, the owners also make traditional Korean snacks, such as rice cakes that you can have as a side dish.
9-2 Jungbu-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
Formerly called Anapji Pond, this palace complex was constructed in 674 CE in the Shilla Dynasty. The pond is especially popular to see in the evening as the lights give it a spectacular ambiance. Archaeologists dredged the pond in 1974 revealing almost 33,0000 relics including roof tiles, pottery, bronze figures, jewelry, accessories and other daily life items and giving insight into daily life in the Shilla Dynasty. Today, you can have a look at some of the items in the pond’s exhibition hall.
102 Wonhwa-ro, Wolseong-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
Bonus: Yangdong Folk Village
A little outside of Gyeongju lies Korea’s largest traditional village, Yangdong Village. Locals still live in these traditional Joseon houses, which is part of the reason why UNESCO declared the village World Heritage Site in 2010. The village is a wonderful place to take photos and purchase local goods. What’s unique about Yangdong Village is that there are houses from people of different social ranks. This means you can see lower-class as well as upper-class style houses from the Joseon Dynasty.
134 Yangdongmaeul-gil, Gangdong-myeon, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
Where to Stay: Hotel Hyundai Gyeongju
During my trip to Gyeongju, I stayed at Hotel Hyundai at Bomun Lake. The hotel is a luxurious 5-star establishment and only a 10-minute drive from Gyeongju’s main attractions. Rooms facing west have stunning views of the lake. To round up your Korean experience, you can stay at one of their traditional ondol rooms with floor heating.
Check out my in-depth review of Hotel Hyundai in Gyeongju.
477-2 Sinpyeong-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
Your Gyeongju Itinerary on the Map
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