You can’t visit South Korea without visiting Gyeongju! Everyone will tell you so! The reason is simple: you’ll feel like you’re traveling back in time, because here, history blends perfectly with natural beauty. So, without further ado, here’s my complete guide to Gyeongju!

This post contains affiliate links. Whenever you buy something through one of these, I get a small commission, without any extra cost to you. Thank you!

Save it for later!

Introduction

Beautiful Gyeongju is a history buff’s paradise, and no matter how many times I’ve visited it, it remains one of my great favorites of my trip to South Korea. It’s true that it’s a touristy place, but you can’t blame anyone for that, as I’m sure it’ll charm you too once you’re there. And although it can be quite busy, it’s easy enough to find peace and quiet (you just have to look for it)!

Former capital of the powerful Silla dynasty, which unified the three kingdoms of Korea, Gyeongju is THE place to visit if you want to see palaces, ancient tombs, archaeological sites and breathtaking nature!

1. Cheonmachong Tomb (Daereungwon Ancient Tomb Complex/대릉원 일원)

Cheonmachong Tomb in Gyeongju

Entrance fee: 3,000 KRW (around $2) for adults and 1,000 KRW for children (70 cents)

Located close to the city center, it is in fact the largest funeral complex with 23 tombs. When you hear the word “tomb”, you might feel uncomfortable and think that the ambience will reflect a dark and gloomy atmosphere, but that’s not the case here. These tombs are in fact a big part of Gyeongju’s charm and history, and I personally found the well-preserved burial mounds to be magnificent.

Gyeongju photo spot
Photo by john ko on Unsplash

There’s a famous photo spot, but you’ll have to be patient as many people want their picture taken. And if you’re traveling solo, like me, don’t worry because the Koreans are always there to help you in this area and they’re great at it!

2. Gyeongju Gyochon Hanok Village (경주 교촌한옥마을)

Hanok Village in Gyeongju

I couldn’t say for sure whether I fell in love with Korea’s architecture, cuisine or people, but I was transported to another era every time I came across a hanok village.

In the photo above, you can see the home of the Choi clan, which has managed to retain its wealth for 300 years. The family used their money for good causes, whether during the war or for the education of future generations. You can enter and visit the park free of charge.

Gyeongju's historic street

In any case, the best way to discover the beauty of the village is to get lost in it and admire its many houses.

3. Cheomseongdae (첨성대)

Cheomseongdae Observatory in Gyeongju

It’s one of Gyeongju’s must-see sites, as many people come to have their photo taken in front of it. Want to know why? It’s an astronomical observatory made up of 365 stones representing, you guessed it, the number of days in the year. It’s one of the symbols that represent Gyeongju, and you’ll see it on many postcards too.

It’s said to be the oldest observatory still standing in Asia, and you can’t miss it as it’s right next to the other historic sites. What’s more, it’s free, so there’s no excuse not to go and see it!

4. Woljeonggyo Bridge (월정교)

Woljeonggyo Bridge in Gyeongju

As I’m a budget traveler, I always try to show you free or cheap things to see and do and it’s very easy in Gyeongju or more generally in South Korea so here’s another free curiosity.

The Woljeonggyo Bridge is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Gyeongju and it’s not hard to see why. The beauty, detail and color of the whole thing seduced me instantly.

Rebuilt after a fire, the wooden bridge is further proof that Koreans have a great tradition of preserving and restoring their history and cultural heritage.

My tip: come here at night, the magical atmosphere will enchant you!

5. Gyeongju National Museum (국립중앙박물관)

Entrance: free
How to get there: around 30mn walking from the historic center or you can take one of the many buses available (11, 600…).

Want to find out more about the Silla period and see some of the objects used in that era? Then this is the museum for you. With its exhibitions and galleries, the museum will enable you to find out more about the history of the country and the way people lived back then.

An interesting place and an ideal activity for young and old alike!

6. Donggung Palace & Wolji Pond (동궁과 월지)

Donggung Palace in Gyeongju
Photo by john ko on Unsplash

Entrance fee: 3,000 KRW (around $2)

Formerly known as Anapji, this artificial pond was the crown prince’s secondary residence. Like the Woljeonggyo Bridge, it’s best visited at night, as the lighting enhances the natural charm of the place. It’s also an ideal spot for a romantic date!

7. Lotus Pond

Lotus Flowers in Gyeongju

While wandering around with no real destination in mind, I came across this pond filled with lotus flowers. The place is totally free and so peaceful that you can spend some time admiring the flowers and enjoying the tranquility.

The best time to see them is mid-July, when the flowers are in full bloom. The pond is just beyond Donggung Palace.

8. Namsan Mountain (경주 남산)

Namsan mountain in Gyeongju

How to get there: from the city center take bus 500, 502, 506 or 507 (the ride takes 20 to 40mn depending on the bus you take) and walk 3mn to the entrance.

After getting lost (which, I have to say, is quite usual for me when hiking in Korea…), I found myself at Namsan Mountain. What makes this mountain famous is the number of temples, pagodas and stone Buddha statues that make it such a sacred place.

With its many trails, it’s the perfect place to get some exercise, enjoy the view and learn about Gyeongju’s history. Try not to get lost!

9. Bulguksa Temple (불국사)

Bulguksa temple in Gyeongju

Entrance fee: free
How to get there: from the city center take bus 10 or 700 as you don’t have to transfer (around 1hr), you’ll then have to walk for 20mn.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, this Buddhist temple is described as one of the oldest in Korea. The architecture and delicate carvings make this complex a real gem outside the city.

Take time to visit the different parts of the temple and contemplate the finesse of the construction. Seldom visited, it’s a must on your Gyeongju itinerary. You can also do a temple stay and learn more about the site and the Silla Dynasty here.

If you still have time, visit Seokguram Grotto, a man-made cave that is part of Bulguksa Temple.

The grotto is famous for its granite Buddha statue sitting facing the East Sea. However, due to the many tourists who come to see this masterpiece, the statue is now behind glass and it’s impossible to take a photo of it. But I don’t need photos when I have my memories, do I?

10. Bomunho Lake (보문호)

Bomunho Lake in Gyeongju

How to get there: take the bus 16 across the observatory for 27mn and walk 10mn.

Man-made lake, it’s an underrated place because it seems everyone would rather go to Gyeongju World than relax here. And I’m not going to complain, because apart from a few cyclists and grandfathers, I’ve had the lake to myself!

There are plenty of parks and facilities nearby, making it the perfect place for a picnic.

And when spring comes, it’s THE place to go to see the cherry trees in full bloom!

11. Street art

Gyeongju street art

Take a stroll through the streets of Gyeongju and discover murals and paintings depicting the city’s history and seasons. Unique and beautiful, I think it’s a great way to promote Korean artists, as many of them actually had Instagram accounts!

So this time, get lost, you have my permission, and find these lovely works of art. Let the game begin!

12. Pink Muhly

Pink Muhly in Gyeongju

I’m not a fan of pink, but I have to admit that Pink Muhly are straight out of a fairy tale. Gyeongju is already a magical place, but the fields have made it even more special, if I do say so myself.

pink muhly in Gyeongju

To see the Pink Muhly fields, you need to go in autumn (September to November). Head to the Cheomseongdae observatory to embrace the feathery, fluffy grass!

Places to Eat

Dosol Maeul (도솔마을)

Dosol maeul restaurant in Gyeongju

Authentic place in a hanok setting where the food is delicious at a more-than-affordable price. Popular with locals, you’ll need to book in advance as it’s a highly regarded restaurant.

Choose the Surisan Hanjeongshik (10,000 KRW) to try the traditional Korean dinner and get more than 10 dishes to share.

Seongdong Market (성동시장)

With its 300 stores, you’re likely to find something to nibble or lunch/dine on. Whether you’re in the mood for gimbap, tteokbokki, sundae or simply fruit, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for. Frequented mainly by locals, breathe in all the flavors and take your pick.

Ppalbong Korean Snack (빨봉분식 경주점)

Tteokbeokki restaurant in Gyeongju

The best tteokbokki cheese I’ve had in South Korea for 7,000 KRW ($5). Small traditional snack restaurant with good food and a huge amount at a cheap price. It’ll fill you up after a full day spent exploring the city and its surroundings.

What’s more, the address is virtually unknown to tourists and the staff were really charming!

Ten Won Bread (경주 십원빵)

Resembling the 10-won coin of Korean currency, this iconic street snack is filled with cheese and costs 3,000 KRW ($2). It’s a must-try snack in Gyeongju, but you’ll have to hurry if you want to eat it, as the Bank of Korea wants the design changed.

Where to Stay

For small budgets:

  • Doobaki Guesthouse: less than 500m from the center, the free breakfast and friendly staff are more than enough for me when I’m looking for a place to stay. The owner is a traveler like us and has excellent recommendations and life stories. There’s also a room downstairs with games, music… so it’s easy to meet people and make friends!
  • Blueboat Hostel: cozy, comfortable room with privacy curtains and free breakfast. The location is ideal (just 500 m from the center) and the staff are very friendly and helpful. You can also leave your luggage at the bakery downstairs!

How to get to Gyeongju

Transport in South Korea is easy, reliable and pretty cheap, but if you want to save money while traveling comfortably, my favorite option would be to take the bus:

From Seoul

Take the bus from Dong Seoul to Gyeongju bus terminal. A one way ticket will cost you 33,400 KRW ($24) for an approximately 4hr trip.

From Busan

Take the bus from Busan Dongbu to Gyeongju bus terminal. A one way ticket will cost you 6,000 KRW ($4) and will take you less than 1hr.

Best time to go

Cheomseongdae flowers in Gyeongju

There isn’t really a “best” season to go to Gyeongju, as all seasons offer something unique. However, I would advise you to avoid summer, as it can be very hot and humid in Korea.

To help you choose, here’s a brief summary:

  • Spring for the cherry blossom season and the pretty and diverse flowers around the Cheomseongdae observatory.
  • Summer for the sea breeze and lotus flowers!
  • Autumn because the fall foliage is incredibly beautiful all over Korea and for the pink muhly fields too.
  • Winter to stay in a traditional hanok and discover the charming city under a blanket of snow.

Tips

To make your trip to Gyeongju and Korea in general as easy as possible, here are a few simple tips:

  • Download Naver Map and/or Kakao Bus, as Google Maps doesn’t really work in Korea. You can select English and even search for restaurants, cafés, parking lots… It’s reliable and gives you real-time bus schedules. parking… It’s reliable and give you bus’ timetables in real time too.
  • Get a T-Money card as soon as you arrive in the country. Believe me, you’ll need it, as buses only accept cash or T-Money cards. To top it up, find the machine in a metro station or go to a convenience store. By the way, you can only top up your travel card with cash!
  • Download Papago.This translator will be a great help, especially if you don’t know any Korean words.
  • Get a SIM card! There are plenty of fairly inexpensive options, whether you’re staying for a short or long time. Even if WiFi is available just about everywhere in Korea, it’s sometimes hard to find, especially in remote areas, so buy one and enjoy a fast, reliable network everywhere!
  • Bring cash! It’s handy because markets generally only accept cash, and you’ll need it to top up your T-Money card.
  • Get a “travel card“! It can be any card you like (Revolut, N26…) but it’s better to have another card because sometimes your usual card doesn’t work. I don’t know why, but this has happened to me several times, so I was glad to have an alternative solution. It’s also important to have cash on you at all times!

Conclusion

Gyeongju's sunset

Gyeongju may be a small town, but its beauty and authenticity will charm you instantly. It’s a magical place where history is around every corner and peaceful, splendid scenery abounds. That’s what makes Gyeongju a must for your Korean adventure!

You might also enjoy:

6 Comments

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *