Golden City Gyeongju, "The Museum without walls"
Historically known as Seorabeol, Gyeongju is a coastal city in the far southeastern corner of North Gyeongsang Province in South Korea. Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla from 57BC till 935 AD. Gyeongju is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Before arriving, of course, we did some research on the internet. We didn't know what to expect. But on arrival we are really overwhelmed by this enormously beautiful town. We now fully understand why it is called "the museum without walls".
Gyeongju is actually a huge archaeological city. But everything is also in excellent condition. The parks are beautiful, with flower gardens such as the Lotus Garden in between. There are speakers scattered throughout the city that play relaxing music for a fairytale atmosphere. And also the archaeological sites are in perfect condition. All in all, a place where everyone will want to grow old. There are a lot of beautiful places to admire, our highlights are listed below:
Gyeongju National Museum:
This Museum is one of Korea's leading institutions specializing in the cultural heritage of Silla. It was launched as a national Museum of Korea in 1945 and moved to its current location in 1975. Situated within the historic part of Gyeongju listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the Gyeongju National Museum lies close to some of Korea's major historical attraction.
Personally, we think it pays to visit this museum first when visiting Gyeongju. There are many archaeological excavations visible throughout the city, but if you have observed which artifacts have been excavated here, a city tour gets much more meaning. Opening hours, daily from 10am till 9pm. Weekends, Holidays and the last Wednesday of the month have extended opening hours. Entrance is free.
Another location that in our view you should visit soon after arrival is Geumgwanchong Tomb (also known as the Gold Crown Tomb). This tomb is located in Noseori Tumulus park. This is a recently restored archaeological site. It is very impressive to see what the great tombs looked like from the inside. As a result, the large grassy hills (tombs) throughout the city suddenly take on a lot of significance.
the opening of this new archaeological site was last week, in August 2022. So this is one of the new highlights of the city to visit. It was extra interesting for us that we got a tour from the architect that designed the new building around the archaeological excavation. His enthusiasm was infectious. Very interesting were also the films which portrayed the reconstruction of the tomb very well. This gives you a good idea of what takes place inside the tombs. The diameter of the tomb is 45 meter and the height is 12 meter. Entrance was free.
Bulguksa Temple has been listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site and is the essence of Korean Buddhist culture in the 8th century. This Temple holds seven national treasures including the famous Seokgatap and Dabotap pagodas and Cheongungyo and Baegungyo bridges. Bulguksa displays the power of the Silla kingdom and culture.
There are many beautiful temples in South Korea, but for us this one definitely stood out. Mainly because these are not only beautiful buildings, but everything flows beautifully into the surrounding nature. Beautiful green trees, and extensive use of huge stones in the architecture ensure cohesion between the Buddhist culture and nature. It is also a huge complex with several buildings, Budha statues, flowers and a lot of atmosphere.
Bulguksa temple is easy accessible by bus no.10 or 11 from Gyeongju, travel time is around 30minutes. Entrance fee is 6000 Won for an Adult, 4000 Won for Youth, and 3000 Won for a Child. Opening hours are from 8AM till 6PM.
Hwangnyongsa Temple History and Culture Center:
Hwangnyongsa Temple means “Temple of the Yellow Dragon”. The construction of the massive temple started in 553 AD. Tragically, the pagoda was destroyed by fire during the Mongolian invasion in 1238. However, this is the original place where the archaeological excavations of the remains of this Temple have been done.
Recently the Hwangyongsa Temple History and Culture Center was opened. Housed inside it is a one-tenth scale model of the wooden pagoda that once stood at this site. Upon entering, a 3D movie of the Silla era is played. This way you get a good impression of what life was like during this time. Also, there are replicas of key artifacts that were found on the temple site. There are also models and pictures of what the golden triad must have looked like, as well as a deck that looks out and over the temple site. If you have the time, I recommend a look inside the culture center to gain a greater appreciation of the Hwangyongsa Temple Site.
Opening hours: Tuesday—Sunday 9AM till 6PM, Entrance fee: 3000 Won per person.
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond:
Gyeongju Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond was a secondary palace used by the crown prince of the Silla Kingdom. It also served as a banquet site for important national events and important visitors. The pond was created in 674, during the reign of King Munmu. The pond features three small islands, and a landscape of 12 small hills to the northeast. This site is a famous nighttime attraction because the palace is beautifully lit up at night.
Operating Hours are Daily from 9am till 10pm. Entrance fee is 3,000 won for adults, 2,000 won for teenagers, and 1,000 won for children. We recently visited this location in August 2022. It is important to know that the main building is currently being restored. Very unfortunate, but because of this the entrance is temporarily free. The garden and other buildings are still beautiful.
Daereungwon Tomb Complex:
Large ancient Tombs of Kings and nobles of the Silla Kingdom can be seen around Gyeongju at the Daereungwon Tomb Complex. There are twenty-three large tombs located here, 13 have been excavated but only 1 (Cheonmachong, tomb of King Michu) is open to the public. Cheonmachong Tomb was excavated in 1973. Cheonmachong Tomb consists of a wooden coffin placed inside an underground chamber mounded with boulders and earth, characterized as a typical upper class tomb of the Silla period.
This walled complex is a wonderful place to see the many huge tombs. Again everything is in beautiful condition, and the garden is also beautifully landscaped. Entrance fee for the Daereungwon Tomb Complex is 3,000 won for adults, 2,000 won for teenagers, and 1,000 won for children. Opening hours daily from 9am till 10pm.
Cheomseongdae is the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia, and possibly even the world. It was constructed in the 7th century in the kingdom of Silla. Cheomseongdae stands 9.17 meters high, midway up the body stands a square window and entrance to the inside of the structure. Cheomseongdae was meant to share the knowledge of astronomy with everyone. This location is once again in great condition and surrounded by a very nice garden with nice vegetation. Entrance is free.
Opened in 1983 as an official market, Gyeongju Jungang Market is the main marketplace for Gyeongju locals. A lot of stores selling clothing, oils, rice cakes, vegetables, general goods, and meat. The market is open nearly every day from 5am till 10.30pm. In the evening there is a food market, which offers an excellent place for the local and traditional delicacy. The choice is huge, and everything was very tasty. In the weekend there is even life entertainment.
About 7 km from the city there is Bomundo Lake, this lake is accessible by bus no. 10 or 11 from Gyeongju. This man-made lake is a wonderful place for a nice walk or bike ride. There is a beautiful walking path around the lake and again it is beautifully maintained. This lake really gives a holiday feeling. Expensive hotels, amusement parks and countless museums provide a lot of entertainment. It also offers a lot for just a relaxing walk. Beautiful paths, blossom trees, and lots of art such as bronze statues give this lake a lot of charm. In short, a real holiday paradise with the following highlights:
Bomunho lake golf and country club.
Gyeongju World theme park & California beach waterpark.
Blue One Water Park.
Hwangnyongwon training institute (A replica of Hwangnyongsa Temple).
Gyeongju HICO, International Convention Center.
Gyeongju Tower and Expo Grand Park.
Gyeongju East Palace Garden.
Gyeongju World Automobile Museum.
Bike, buggy, scooter and carver rental.
Bunny Bear Museum.
This has turned out to be a great city. A location that should not be skipped during a visit to South Korea.