In ancient times, Korea was split into three distinct kingdoms, one of which was Silla. For over 1,000 years, Gyeongju was the capital of Silla. And here the history lesson should end, except that the past remains very relevant to Silla’s present, as its 250,000 residents are very proud of their town’s historical role.
The Royal Tombs are a stirring example of the respect the residents of Gyeongju have for their ancestors. Another must-see is the Cheomseongdae Observatory, which is the oldest observatory in Asia and, remarkably, remains in near-working order. Outside of town, Gyeongju National Park is a perfect country escape if you’ve had enough of the crowds.
Retaining its small town feel even as it grows, Gyeongju is perfect for budding Indiana Joneses, with new archaeological sites being uncovered regularly. For a glimpse into ancient traditions and an intriguing culture, Gyeongju is well worth a look.
Gyeongju’s Top 10
10.Bunhwangsa Temple Deemed a national treasure, this decaying temple is a favourite of locals, but is not the most impressive in the region.
5. Daerungwon Large tombs of ancient kings and noblemen. May smell a bit like death, but is interesting nonetheless.
9. Bomun Resort A resort complex built upon the ruins of an ancient castle. Aimed primarily at domestic tourists, it provides an interesting peek into the modern South Korean psyche.
4. Anapji Pond Designed and built over 1,500 years ago, the Anapji Pond is within castle grounds and is most beautiful when lit up at night.
8. Cheonmachong Tomb An exceptionally well-preserved burial chamber of an unknown king, with accompanying flourishes of gold and polished wood.
3. Yangdong Folk Village Situated in a dense forest, there are over 160 thatched-roofed houses. The village takes you back to medieval Korea.
7. Submerged Tomb of King Munmu Myth has it that this rocky islet is the tomb of a king who united three kingdoms into something resembling modern Korea.
2. Seokguram This temple is situated in an underground cave. Be enlightened by the extraordinary Buddha statues.
6. Silla Millennium Park An amusement park that teaches history sounds dull, but this actually works surprisingly well.
1. Bulguksa Temple This World Heritage site is a complex of ancient stone pagodas and shrines.
- Namsan Mountain Fortress - Built in 591 CE, this ancient fortress is part of the Mount Namsan Belt and has many Buddhist carvings.
- Poseokjeong Pavilion - The abalone-shaped watercourse is the main attraction of this ancient pavilion in Gyeongju.
- Buddha Rock - This relief was made during the Unified Silla period and is a must-see for those interested in ancient art.
- Half Moon Palace - This palace is known as the 30th national treasure of Korea; the ruins of the pagoda are the main attraction.
- Imhaejeon Palace - The ruins of this ancient palace show the progression of Silla architecture.
Gyeongju Art & Culture
- Heavenly Horse Tomb - This ancient royal tomb contains a mural painting of a winged horse drawn on a birch bark saddle.
- Hwangnyongsa - According to carvings found at the excavation, this is the largest temple ever constructed in Korea.
- Cheomseongdae Observatory - This 7th-century observatory is known as the oldest in East Asia and one of the oldest on Earth.
- Gyeongju National Museum - This large museum houses works of art from both ancient and modern times.
- Artsonje Museum - This museum is famous for its large displays of international art, as well as local works.
- Hi Mart - Those looking to buy all types of electronics should start at this Gyeongju store.
- Joong Ang Market - This outdoor market is a great place to buy souvenirs and snack on tasty local treats.
- Bonghwang-ro Cultural Street - This famous shopping street features an array of antique, clothing and pottery shops along with traditional teahouses.
- Yangbuk-myun - This store is known for selling the famous Dusan silk found in the area.
- Cheonmachong Parking Lot - This area features a wide selection of upscale antique shops selling furniture and paintings.
Gay & Lesbian Gyeongju
- Gyeonegju Guesthouse - This gay-friendly guesthouse caters to a young crowd so it can be fairly noisy on weekends.
- Ban - This gay bar features lovely snacks and also has karaoke most nights of the week.
- Dive - This small gay club is known for its friendly staff and wide variety of smart cocktails.
- Rookie - This hard-to-find gay bar is very clean and offers a quiet place to meet new people or have a private conversation.
- Tombo - This is a Western-style gay bar not far from Gyeongju, which has a clean and friendly environment.
- Anapji Pond - This ancient artificial pond is a great place to take a walk while enjoying the sights of the area.
- Seokguram - This 8th-century cave temple features an impressive painting of Buddha and is a great place to hike near the sea.
- Silla Millennium Park - This outdoor theme park uses rides and displays to tell the history of the Gyeongju area.
- Daerungwon - The ancient ruins found here are a favourite spot for locals to take a stroll or enjoy a picnic.
- Yangdong Folk Village - This historic village features an array of outdoor markets and attractions that make for a great afternoon outside.
- Catch a football match at Gyeongju Civic Stadium.
- Play gukgong at Horimjang Field.
- Watch a field hockey game at Angang Field Hockey Stadium.
- Watch the runners of the Gyeongju International Marathon in October.
- Play a game of football or try archery at Hwangseong Park.
March’s Korean Traditional Liquor and Cake Festival includes traditional music and dance extravaganzas, and is a really good excuse to pig out on local wine and sweets.
Just as the beautiful cherry blossoms begin to bloom, the notoriously difficult Cherry Blossom Marathon runs participants ragged in April.
Praising kids and their happiness, Children’s Day in May seems like a sneaky ploy by those miniature people to score more presents.
Chuseok is a mid-autumn festival celebrating ancestors. Koreans visit their hometowns to aid in receiving blessings for a good harvest.
When To Go
June to September is the wettest time of year, with typhoons an issue in coastal regions.
Autumn sees clear skies and enough residual summer warmth to make sightseeing a pleasure.
Summer can be almost unbearable due to the heat and humidity.
Gyeongju is quite compact, so walking is a good option.
The city’s bus system is very good, with regular services to the bigger ruins and temples.
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