Are you ready for an adventure that takes you through centuries of history and culture? Look no further than Gyeongju! With temples, tombs, and artifacts dating back to the ancient Silla Dynasty, Gyeongju is a treasure trove of fascinating sights and sounds.
But Gyeongju isn’t just about the past – it’s a thriving modern city that offers a plethora of fun activities for travelers of all ages. Take a stroll through the vibrant Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond, which was once the site of ancient royal banquets and now offers picturesque scenery for picnics and photos.
And if you’re looking for a thrilling adventure, head to the Gyeongju World theme park! This popular attraction features heart-stopping roller coasters, water rides, and other attractions that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
Whether you’re a history buff or an adventure seeker, Gyeongju has something for everyone. So pack your bags and get ready to discover the best things to do in this amazing city. From exploring ancient temples to screaming your heart out on a roller coaster, Gyeongju promises to be an unforgettable journey through time and space!
Is Gyeongju worth visiting?
Historically, Gyeongju is one of the most important places in the Korean Peninsula. It served as the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Silla, which lasted from 57 BC to 935 AD. Because of its role as the metropolitan capital, there was even a time when Gyeongju was among the four largest cities in the world!
Today, many of the historical and cultural sites left from the Silla Kingdom still remain. Royal tombs, lavish museums, and solemn grottos are just some of the UNESCO-recognized “world heritage sites” in Gyeongju. For its cultural importance, the city has even been dubbed “the museum without walls.”
But Gyeongju is not only rich in history. It’s also a wonderful place to witness how the old fits in with the new! Don’t worry if you’re not much of a history buff–Gyeongju has a lot of more “modern” attractions as well.
For all those reasons and more, we can confidently say that Gyeongju is definitely worth the visit. To give you an idea of the must-see sites and activities in Gyeongju, we’ve compiled just 20 of the most unique features of this wonderful city!
The 20 best things to do in Gyeongju
1. Explore the Royal Tombs at Tumuli Gongwon
We’re starting things off with one of the most revered structures in the world! The Tumuli Gongwon, also known as the Daereungwon Tomb Park, is a beautiful landscape composed of over 20 grassy hills. The hills are so lush and charming that it’s hard to realize they were once used as burials!
You read that right: much like the pyramids of Egypt, the Tumuli Gongwon served as the cemetery for the Silla Dynasty royals. This royal family ruled over much of the Korean Peninsula for nearly 1,000 years. It’s no wonder they chose such a surreal landscape as their final resting place.
Setting foot at the Tumuli Gongwon would immediately fill you with a sense of solemnity. It’s a unique multisensorial experience: from feeling the drop in temperature to seeing the royals interred with their servants–as well as their extravagant burial goods.
This magnificent experience is surely something only Gyeongju can provide. While exploring the royal tombs, we must remind you to always remain respectful. After all, you’re in the company of kings and queens!
2. Honor the 1000-year-old Buddha of Seokguram Grotto
Whether you’re a believer or not, we guarantee that walking into the Seokguram Grotto will give you a spiritual experience. Nestled inside the larger Bulguk-sa Temple Complex, you can see one of the world’s most amazing Buddha sculptures. Sitting in a lotus position with a solemn expression on his face, this granite Buddha sculpture is almost 10 feet (~3 meters) in height!
The craftsmanship is truly extraordinary. The Buddha doesn’t sit alone; he is accompanied by several Buddhist figures all depicted in rings surrounding him. From gods to Bodhisattvas and disciples, the Seokguram Grotto seeks to portray the Enlightenment of the Buddha.
The fact that the grotto is still standing today when it was built all the way back in the 8th Century is nothing short of amazing. Recognized even by UNESCO, the detailed architecture and cultural significance make the Seokguram Grotto a place you won’t want to miss.
After visiting the grotto, why don’t you explore the rest of the Bulguk-sa Temple Complex? It’s been said that the Bulguk-sa Temple represents the “Buddhist utopia taking its form in the terrestrial world.”
The spectacular traditional Korean architecture looks great all year round, but we especially recommend visiting at the height of autumn. The cool air and bright orange foliage perfectly complement the sacred vibes of the area!
3. Discover the Lost Treasures of Namsan Mountain
Want a unique experience? Then you’ll love this hiking trail up Namsan Mountain. It’s not just an ordinary mountain hike–it’s actually something more like a treasure hunt!
Namsan Mountain is home to over 100 temples, 80 Buddha statues, and 60 pagodas. The catch? Most of them are in pieces and scattered throughout the 40 valleys of the mountain!
Various weather and economic conditions led to much of the Silla sites becoming destroyed over time. Some temples don’t have walls anymore, some have become unrecognizable, and still some have been ruined by natural causes.
But despite this, many temples have managed to survive–along with stone Buddhas, beautiful pagodas, and even royal tombs! The entire mountain is brimming with statues and artifacts that you can spot along your hike.
Hiking this path will bring you closer than ever to Ancient Korea. Here, you can walk amongst holy ground and actually touch the important relics with your own hands. Some of the highlights include the Chilbulam Hermitage, which depicts seven images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas carved beautifully onto graphite.
There’s also the Maitreya Buddha Triad, a trio of lovely stone statues depicting the future Buddha who will set foot on Earth, along with two Bodhisattvas by his side. This Maitreya Buddha is recognized all around the world as the oldest statue depicting Buddha seated on a chair, all the way from the 7th-8th Century.
We’ll leave the rest of the treasure-hunting to you! Ideally, you’d want to spend an entire day here at Namsan Mountain so you can really take in all of the historical artifacts. But don’t worry if you’re pressed for time–even a short walk in the area is enough for you to encounter a bunch of sites and treasures.
4. Witness the Magic of Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
The Donggung Palace is surely one of the most picturesque places in Gyeongju. Its extravagant architecture makes it clear that this was once a place for royals. It’s said that the former crown prince of the Silla Kingdom resided here.
But what’s even more amazing is how Donggung Palace looks against the natural backdrop. Located in the middle of Wolji Pond (also known as Anapji Pond), the clear waters create a perfect reflection of the palace! This optical illusion is something that has caught the eyes of many tourists and locals alike.
While the view is lovely during the day, at night it becomes even more alluring. Bright lights at the base of the palace illuminate the structure as well as the surrounding dark waters, creating a truly mesmerizing picture.
We advise getting to the area a little earlier since it becomes packed with tourists once nighttime falls. You can also opt to book tickets in advance to secure your spot.
5. Wander Through Yangdong Folk Village
Even if you’re familiar with hanok villages in Korea, you’ll know that Yangdong Folk Village is special. Why? Because some of the houses are still occupied by people! Most hanok villages across Korea have become commercialized, but Yangdong Folk Village still provides homes for many families.
Built over 500 years ago, Yangdong Folk Village is among one of the most beautiful traditional villages in the country. The traditional architecture is made even lovelier by the lush greenery surrounding the place. The hanoks (traditional houses) are perched above green fields tilled by past occupants themselves.
Explore the village’s Confucian academies, study halls, and residential houses reserved for clan members. It’s no wonder 17th and 18th Century writers were so inspired by such a place–so much so that they wrote poems upon poems about the lovely landscape!
To really feel like you’ve travelled back in time, we especially recommend eating at a traditional restaurant like Uhyang Daok.
Read More: The 9 Most Beautiful Hanok Villages in Korea
6. Stargaze at the Cheomseongdae Observatory
Are you a fan of astronomy? Ever spend your nights just gazing up at the moon and the star-filled sky? Then the Cheomseongdae Observatory is definitely a must-visit.
It’s considered the oldest surviving observatory in Asia–and possibly even the entire world! Dating from the 7th Century, “Cheomsongdae” literally means “star-gazing tower” and was built during the reign of Queen Seondeok.
If you look closely, you can see that the tower was built with 365 stones–all to signify each day of the year! Meanwhile, the window in the center separates the structure into 2 parts with 12 layers each. This was done to represent 12 months and 24 solar terms.
Known as one of the country’s national treasures, the Cheomseongdae Observatory is one of the representative icons of Gyeongju. It’s a popular spot for the whole family. Parents often bring their kids to fly kites while couples usually stroll along the site, especially during summer.
7. Immerse in Culture at the Gyeongju National Museum
Just a short walk from the Cheomsongdae Observatory is the Gyeongju National Museum. Built back in 1945, it has since become one of the country’s most important museums as it houses some of the most exquisite artifacts from Ancient Korea.
Here, you can learn all about the rise of civilization in Southeast Korea. Several artifacts excavated from the nearby Wolji Pond and Hwangnyongsa Temple are displayed here. There are also several Silla crowns from past royals, as well as the magnificent Emille Bell.
Known as the largest surviving bell in Korea, the Emille Bell is made of bronze and carved with elegant text and beautiful designs. The hook of the bell is even carved in a cool dragon’s head shape!
But aside from its majesty, the Emille Bell is also the site of an eery local legend. According to the story, the bell that was first cast made no sound when it was hit. The king ordered the bell to be recast many times, but still it made no sound.
Finally, a monk had a dream that the bell would only make a sound if a child was cast into the bell! So, the monk took a child from the village and had her cast into the metal. This time, when the bell was struck, it made the most beautiful sound imaginable. The name “Emille Bell” comes from an ancient Silla term that means “mommy.”
Find out about this spine-tingling story and more when you visit the Gyeongju National Museum. The museum is divided into four halls: the Archaeology Hall, Art Hall, Wolji Hall, and Children’s Museum. So there’s definitely something exciting for everyone!
Visit the Gyeongju National Museum and learn why the Silla Dynasty was considered the richest dynasty during its time. The museum is open from 10 AM to 6 PM every day and closes one hour later on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
8. Learn History with a Twist at the Teddy Bear Museum
Tired of the usual museums? Are you craving for something a little more fun? Then Gyeongju’s Teddy Bear Museum is right up your alley!
The museum has all the usual displays and dioramas depicting prehistory. The catch is? Instead of using realistic human sculptures, the museum has hundreds of teddy bears instead!
Walk through the museum and marvel at teddy bears standing in for humans during the Silla Dynasty. The cute and cuddly teddy bears dressed in traditional Korean garments will definitely make your museum experience more fun. The exhibits even go as far back as the Age of Dinosaurs!
Aside from the exhibits, the museum also features a 3D Movie Theater, Art Gallery, Underwater World Exhibit, and of course a souvenir shop.
The museum is open from 10 AM to 7 PM. Entrance fee ranges from 8,000-10,000 Won (~$6-$7.60) for adults and 4,000-6,000 Won (~$3-$6) for kids.
9. Snap a Photo on the Woljeonggyo Bridge
After all the amazing sights we’ve talked about, what makes a bridge so special? But one look at the Woljeonggyo Bridge and you’ll realize why it’s one of the highlights of visiting Gyeongju.
It’s one of the most photogenic places not just in Gyeongju, but in the whole country as well! Woljeonggyo Bridge is the largest wooden bridge in Korea. The architecture and design is straight out of the Silla Kingdom.
And the best part? It’s absolutely free! Visitors and locals are free to cross through the amazing structure.
The night view is especially spectacular. Silla-era structures all look even more amazing at night. When illuminated, Woljeonggyo Bridge transforms into an ornate wooden palace with its own image reflected in the dark waters below it.
Make sure to get there plenty of time before the bridge closes by 10 PM. As it’s quite a popular spot, we also advise you to go a little earlier and have dinner in the nearby areas.
10. Discover the Lost Hwangnyongsa Temple
No, you don’t need to get your eyes checked. There’s really nothing left in the Hwangnyongsa Temple Site! Except for these huge foundation stones, there is almost nothing left of Hwangnyongsa Temple.
At the time, Hwangnyongsa was considered one of the most important religious centers in the Silla Dynasty. “Hwangnyongsa” even means “Temple of the Golden Dragon,” and it was known as the largest temple at the time.
Unfortunately, this important religious site was not spared during the Mongol Invasion in 1238. Even though the structures themselves have been destroyed, archaeologists have managed to excavate several important relics from the site.
Those relics, as well as a replica of Hwangnyongsa Temple, are displayed in the nearby Hwangnyongsa Temple History and Culture Center.
11. Have a Gyeongju World Amusement Park Adventure
Gyeongju is not just rich in historical spots. In this city you can also find the largest theme park in the southern region of the country!
Gyeongju World boasts many different rides that the whole family will enjoy. Daredevils will enjoy Draken, a huge rollercoaster with a 90-degree drop. There’s also the Mega Drop, a 230-feet (70m) tall tower that will slowly lift you up before sending you crashing down!
But if you’re one of the faint of heart, don’t worry. Gyeongju has many milder attractions for you to enjoy, like the water-themed Submarine Splash and of course the Ferris Wheel that will show you the most amazing views.
For the kids (and the young-at-heart!), there are also plenty of attractions including the Carousel, the Disney-themed Dancing Cup, and children’s villages.
During winter, Gyeongju World transforms into a snowy winter wonderland! In addition to the rides, you can also do fun activities like skiing and sledding.
Admission costs 27,000 Won (~$20) for adults and 17,000 Won (~$13) for kids, but if you really want the total experience, we recommend getting a ride pass instead. Ride passes include admission, and allow you to ride many of the park’s attractions! They cost 48,000 Won (~$36) for adults and 36,000 Won (~$27) for kids.
12. Giggle and Blush at the Love Castle
If you’re looking for out-of-this-world places, then Gyeongju’s Love Castle definitely takes the cake.
We’ve already talked about museums in Gyeongju, but the Love Castle is a museum unlike any other. It’s a little different from all the places we’ve talked about so far. Why? Rather than being about history, Love Castle is a museum that’s 100% dedicated to sex!
This adults-only museum has everything related to sex that you can think of. From posters depicting different lovemaking positions to sexual sculptures, Love Castle will definitely give you a unique experience.
One of the oddest and most intriguing parts of the museum is an outdoor garden that has many speakers set along the grassy pathways. Each speaker plays sounds made by couples from different cultures doing the deed!
Love Castle celebrates sex in all its forms. Aside from being a fun and unique experience, it’s also somewhat of an educational one *wink wink*! You can learn all about how different cultures throughout time have experienced sex. After all, it’s one of the things all of humankind shares!
13. Bottoms Up at an Ancient Royal Drinking Game
There’s nothing better than a cold drink after a long day of working–and apparently, even the Silla-era royals agree!
The Poseokjong Pavilion is said to be one of the most beautiful royal palaces of its time. Unfortunately, all that remains of it now is a granite water feature that was once used for drinking games.
Nobles used to sit around this hand-carved watercourse and float their cups towards the other side, challenging their peers to drink when the cup stopped in front of them. Of course, you can’t drink without entertainment! The royals’ drinking games were always accompanied with poetry recitals.
In another game, one noble would recite a line of poetry, and the next person would have to continue by fitting a second line in the verse before the floating cup could reach them. Because of the odd shape of the watercourse, the speed of the cups varied greatly depending on their size and contents.
With all the grand structures and amazing relics you can see in Gyeongju, Poseokjong Pavilion is probably the one that will make you feel closest to those ancient royals. This site reminds us that though they lived thousands of years ago in a completely different place, they were still just humans like us.
The Poseokjong Pavilion is easily accessible via bus from the Gyeongju train station.
You May Also Like: Most Popular Korean Drinking Games
14. Have a Shopping Spree at Hwangridan-gil
If you think Gyeongju is just a place stuck in the ancient past, then you’re mistaken. Actually, Gyeongju has many cool and hip places as well! Hwangridan-gil, also known as Poseok-ro, is especially popular among young people for the cool and quirky stores all around it.
There are curated bookstores like Eoseo Eoseo and even eccentric gift shops like Samdeok Market where you can buy retro Korean toys and unique souvenirs! The best part? In Hwangridan-gil, you can shop ’til you drop without breaking the bank! The vintage shops have amazing selections but without the big-city price tag.
There are also several delicious restaurants with cool interiors that will catch your eye. From traditional Korean cuisine, to Japanese fusion dishes, and even Western favorites, Hwangridan-gil is the place to satisfy your cravings.
You can easily spot where the good restaurants are by looking at which ones have many locals eagerly waiting to have a seat.
15. Eat Your Way Through Gyeongju
When it comes to Gyeongju, we can’t miss talking about the cuisine! Gyeongju is especially known for its high-quality and tender beef. We recommend trying it as bulgogi, which is marinated in delicious pear juice and barbecued right at your table.
The local restaurants in Gyeongju are known to have big servings for a relatively cheaper price. Hongsi Hanjungsik is one of the best places to get a taste of traditional Korean food and local specialties! It’s also known for its traditional herbal teas that will rejuvenate and detoxify you all at once.
Meanwhile, Yosokkoong is the place to go if you want to experience a real royal feast. This 300-year-old restaurant is one of the best in the city. From tender abalone and mouth-watering pork belly and ribs, to vegetarian options like fried marinated mushrooms and delicious soft tofu stew, Yosokkoong is the place to go if you’re looking to splurge a bit for some delicious food.
16. Munch on Sweet Gyeongju Bread
Gyeongju has an almost century-long tradition of baking sweet and tasty pastries. Hwangnam-ppang, also known as Gyeongju Bread, is a local specialty that’s the perfect little treat to munch on as you explore.
Made from eggs and wheat flour, this soft and dense pastry is filled with sugary red bean filling. It’s then stamped with a signature chrysanthemum image on top. Hwangnam-ppang looks similar to Chinese mooncakes, but of course with a distinctly Korean twist. The Korean government has even dubbed Hwangnam-ppang as an “outstanding regional specialty.”
Hwangnam Bread is one of the most popular bakeries for traditional bread in Gyeongju. They even sell the pastries in decorative packages–making them perfect for gifts! On the other hand, we also recommend Choeyeonghwa Bread for a more modern twist on the classic favorite.
Anyone visiting Gyeongju has to give these delicious delicacies a try. Be careful, though–the small size and sweet creamy taste can become all too addictive!
17. Drink Traditional Gyeongju Rice Wine
After all that sightseeing, what better way to unwind than with a cool drink of wine? Gyeongju’s specialty is the gyodong beopju, a clear rice wine that tastes sweet, slightly sour, and very refreshing. Gyodong beopju was a favorite drink among Silla kings, and its history traces all the way back to 1124!
The whole liquor-making process takes about 100 days, all to ensure the best taste of the alcohol. As it’s a special liquor, make sure to follow the right steps in storing it if you want to take some home with you. Gyodong beopju has to be stored at just the right temperature to maintain its unique taste.
You can sample this drink at many of the local restaurants in Gyeongju, but to get the most authentic experience, you must come to Gyodong Beopju Brewery. The descendants of the traditional brewers still live and make their livelihood here with the family recipe that’s been passed down for centuries.
18. Stroll Through the Pink Muhly Fields
Autumn is one of the best times to visit Gyeongju, all because this is the season you can see the most beautiful and vibrant pink muhly fields! The soft pink shade of the grass will make you feel like you’re walking on cotton candy.
The color pink is known to help stabilize emotions and bring you a feeling of warmth. Pair that with the beautiful surrounding landscape, and you’ve got one of the most picturesque spots in Gyeongju! Strolling through pink muhly fields will make you feel like you’ve been transported into a dreamy fairytale.
Surrounding the Cheomseongdae Observatory, Gyeongju’s pink muhly fields are a must-visit. Make sure to come during September to November to catch the grasses at their most vibrant rosy hue!
19. Admire the Pretty Cherry Blossoms
Nope, you’re not looking at a photo of Japan! Gyeongju has its own gorgeous cherry blossom trees. Every spring, a Cherry Blossom Festival is held. The whole city transforms as pink and white flowers fill up every corner. When the petals fall, it looks exactly like confetti!
During the Cherry Blossom Festival, you can buy goodies from the many different stalls while admiring the view. There are also traditional music performances and various activities for you to enjoy. For a romantic option, you can also opt for a DIY picnic in the middle of the cherry trees.
The Cherry Blossom Festival starts in late March and ends in early April. The best cherry blossoms spots in Gyeongju are Bulguksa temple, Cheomseongdae Observatory and Bomun Lake.
20. Unwind at Lake Bomun
Our last spot takes us full circle. The Bomun Tourist Complex is near the Bulguk-sa Temple, and it’s one of the most popular spots for both tourists and locals. The serene blue lake is surrounded by beautiful nature and traditional-era architecture. It’s the perfect last spot to cap off a journey filled with amazing sites.
Aside from the lake, the Bomun Tourist Complex also has a lot of different activities. Scenic golf courses, pleasant walking pathways, and a variety of different plazas can be found here.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, Bomun Tourist Complex also has many internationally renowned hotels as well as budget-friendly condos. Lake Bomun is simply one of the best places to unwind and get some fresh air!
Where to stay in Gyeongju?
Guest House: Blueboat Hostel Gyeongju
If you don’t want to splurge too much on accommodation, then guest houses are the perfect pick. Blueboat Hostel in Gyeongju can give you a comfortable stay without breaking the bank. It has all the facilities you may need: free WiFi, a kitchen, and even a shared lounge.
Staying in guest houses is also a great way to make friends during your trip! Meeting people from all walks of life who have come to Gyeongju will make your trip more memorable.
Another great thing about Blueboat Hostel is it’s quite near to many of the attractions we’ve talked about, like Cheomseongdae Observatory, Gyeongju National Museum, and the Wolji Pond.
Book it now: Blueboat Hostel Gyeongju
Hanok: Dorandoran Guesthouse
On the other hand, traditional houses (hanok) are also great places to stay in! Dorandoran Guesthouse in Gyeongju is a beautiful hanok stay that will make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.
The gorgeous traditional architecture and vibrant gardens will help make you feel well-rested and rejuvenated after a long day of sightseeing.
And don’t worry–just because it’s a traditional house doesn’t mean it doesn’t have modern facilities! Dorandoran Guesthouse has everything–from free WiFi, air conditioning, to a TV set in each room.
Book it now: Dorandoran Guesthouse
For more options, feel free to read our article about the best hanok stays in Gyeonju.
Hotel: Gyeongju Bongwhang Mansion
If you want to treat yourself, why not book a stay at one of the most comfortable hotels in Gyeongju? Gyeongju Bongwhang Mansion is right in the middle of the city–making it super accessible to any of the wonderful spots we just mentioned.
With a sleek and modern exterior, Bongwhang Mansion features free WiFi, a 24-hour front desk, and even plenty of luggage storage for all desks. The rooms are also well-designed to give you comfort as much as possible, with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, and a private bathroom.
The shared kitchen and dining area also offers a full American breakfast as well as other options.
Book it now: Gyeongju Bongwhang Mansion
How to get to Gyeongju?
Because Busan and Gyeongju are just near each other, it’s actually quite convenient to travel to Gyeongju from Busan.
You have two options. The first one is to ride the local train from Bujeon Station in Busan. This will take you directly to Gyeongju Train Station. The trip lasts about 2 hours, with the ticket costing around 6,600 Won (~$5).
If you’re not pressed for time, we really recommend riding the local train as you will get to enjoy the beautiful landscapes between Busan and Gyeongju!
Another option would be to ride the KTX train from Busan Station to Singyeongju Station. This option is a lot faster, taking only about half an hour! On the other hand, it’s a little pricier, with tickets costing around 11,000 Won (~$8.5) for economy class.
After arriving at Singyeongju Station, you would have to take a bus (50, 60, 61, 70, 203, or 700) from Singyeongju to Gyeongju. The trip only takes about 15 minutes.
To same some money on your transportation in Korea, you can consider getting a Korea Rail Pass.
If you prefer to visit Gyeongju via a day-trip from Busan, we recommend you to book this tour.
If you’re coming from Seoul, the quickest way to get to Gyeongju is by riding the KTX to Singyeongju. The trip lasts about 2 hours and costs around 49,000 Won (~$37) for economy class tickets.
Once you’ve arrived at Singyeongju, you’ll have to take the bus to Gyeongju. You can ride either the 50, 60, 61, 70, 203, or the 700 bus.
We hope you enjoyed our article about the best things to do in Gyeongju! Which part of the city are you most excited to explore? Tell us in the comment section below!