During a visit to South Korea, the city of Gyeongju in the southeast of the country should not be missed. From the 1st to the 10th century AD this was the capital of the kingdom of Silla. And still there are many places in and around the city that remind you of that. Since 2000 many historical sights are on the Unesco World Heritage List. A good time to take a closer look at this historic city in this mini travel guide of Gyeongju…
What would you like to know about Gyeongju in South Korea?
History Gyeongju- A journey into the past
Gyeongju is closely connected with the kingdom of Silla. Kings liked to be buried in this city and that can be clearly seen by the many tombs. A short historical overview of that special kingdom you will find below…
The kingdom of Silla existed for about 1000 years and Gyeongju was its capital. In the beginning this kingdom was called Saro, but around 500 AD it was renamed Silla.
In 528 Buddhism became the official religion of the empire.
From three kingdoms to one
Together with Koguryo and Paekche, Silla belongs to the three kingdoms that dominated the Korean peninsula between the 1st and 7th centuries. But halfway through the 7th century this changed. Paekche joins Silla and together they conquer parts of Koguryo in the north. Under the name United Silla, the forerunner of present-day North and South Korea together, the kingdom continues.
The Bulguksa temple and the nearby Seokguram cave are being built. For more information see sights.
The highlight of the empire…
Gyeongju at its best. More than 1 million inhabitants live there in and around the city. Something that has now been reduced to about 300,000 inhabitants.
Fall of the Empire
The power of the empire is decaying more and more. Local rulers in the area and the local peasant population rebel against the king, which led to the fall of the kingdom of Silla in 918.
Because of the historical character of the city, large parts of Gyeongju are placed on the Unesco World Heritage List.
Sightseeing – 8 attractions in Gyeongju
Gyeongju has a number of interesting sights on the Unesco World Heritage List. In the south of the city there are a number of interesting attractions, but do not forget some important sites east of Gyeongju. A short overview of the most important sights can be found below…
1. Visit the Bulguksa Temple
The Bulguksa temple is located about 15 kilometers southeast of Gyeongju. It is perhaps one of the most important temples of South Korea. For example, in 1966 a wooden block with a sutra (a Buddhist rhyme verse) from the 8th century was found. The present building dates from the 19th century and just after the Korean War it was thoroughly renovated. This eventually led to the discovery of that special wooden sutra. Access to the complex costs 5,000 won. To get here take bus 10 or 11 from Gyeongju Station.
In South Korea it is possible to walk and stay overnight at several temples. For more information take a look at the website of the Temple Stay.
2. Discover the Seokguram cave
And as long as you are at the Bulguksa Temple you might as well visit the Seokguram Cave. This cave was carved in the 8th century in Mount Toham and is relatively close to the Bulguksa Temple. Go visit the mysterious Buddha, because that is the cultural highlight of the Seokguram Cave. To get there take bus 12 from the temple. Entrance to the cave costs 5,000 won.
3. Tomb of King Naemul
King Naemul (356-402) was the 17th ruler of the kingdom of Silla. His tomb is seen from the outside in the shape of a hill. Little else is known about this ruler. It was probably in this period that the Korean writing originated from Chinese influences. His tomb can be visited free of charge.
4. Cheomseongdae Observatory
Cheomseongdae Observatory is the oldest observatory in East Asia. It was built between 632 and 646 A.D. and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It can be visited free of charge and is located nearby where many tombs can also be found.
5. Tumuli-gongwon and the tomb of Cheonmachong
This park, Tumuli Park, has 23 tombs of which the tomb of Cheonmachong is the most famous. This is the only tomb open to visitors. It is 13 meters high and has a diameter of 47 meters. Some more attributes, such as a crown and pots have been found here and are on display for visitors. Access to this park costs 3,000 won.
6. Gyeongju National Museum
Slightly southeast of the center is the Gyeongju National Museum. For more information about the Silla Kingdom you can visit here. Many old statues from this historical period from the Korean past can be found here. Entrance to the museum is free of charge.
7. Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
This part of Gyeongju was officially the site of the former palace of the kingdom. It is now also called Anapji Pond and is a beautiful park with a number of ruins, with beautiful gardens and renovated buildings. Entrance to the park costs 3,000 won.
8. Climb Mount Namsan
If you still have time left and would like to take a walk through the mountains, Mount Namsan is the ideal place to visit. This mountain is located south of the city and a walk will take you past a lot of historical temples and shrines. Pull out for a while, but it’s worth it. At the train station bus 500 will take you to the foot of the mountain.
Accommodation – Where to stay in Gyeongju?
The best place to stay in Gyeongju is west of the train station. Most places of interest are located in the south of the city, which is within walking distance of the train station. For a good exploration of the surroundings you can’t avoid using the bus or a bicycle/mountain bike. A full day in Gyeongju is okay, but if you want to explore the area then the advice is two full days!
Tip: For the more exclusive hotels such as the Hilton are located 6 kilometers east of the city near Lake Bomun.
Transportation – How to get to Gyeongju?
By plane: Gyeongju itself has no airport. But in both Daegu (west), Pohang (north) and Ulsan (south) there are many daily rural flights to destinations like Seoul and Jeju Island. Probably the best option is Busan Gimhae International Airport for the best fares and for a continuation of your trip to other Asian countries.
Train: The main station of the city is Gyeongju Station. From here many trains depart daily to Busan in the south or to Andong in the north. There is also a high-speed line, the KTC. This departs from Singyeongju Station, in the northwest of the city about 3 kilometers from the center. On the website of Korail you can find a lot of information about departure times to other places in South Korea.
Bus: The Intercity Bus Station is located in the west of the city, about 2 kilometers from the train station. From here many buses go daily to many places in South Korea. For example, every 45 minutes buses go to Seoul (20 dollars, 4 hours) or to Busan (1 hour).
Website for long-distance buses!
For more information about Intercity buses, take a look at the website of Kobus. It is actually in English and it would be possible to buy tickets online. However, experience shows that there is always a place in the bus.
And what is your opinion about Gyeongju, South Korea? If you have any more tips and ideas, feel free to leave a message below…