Want to know what the best things to do in Gyeongju are? Gyeongju is a picturesque city known for its historical, architectural sites and rich heritage with four UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 31 National Treasures. Referred to as the “Museum Without Walls”, Gyeongju is not a famous destination like Seoul, Busan or Jeju, but remains a must-see during a trip to South Korea.
In fact, the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty, one of the three dynasties in South Korea, is home to a large number of historical sites and cultural art, including palaces, temples, and fortresses. You will love the city, especially if you enjoy history, natural and picturesque scenery.
- 1 Things to do and see in Gyeongju
- 1.1 Meditate at Bulguksa Temple – (불국사)
- 1.2 Check out Seokguram Grotto (석굴암)
- 1.3 Cheomseongdae Observatory (첨성대)
- 1.4 Take a night walk to Wolji Pond (Anapji Pond – 동궁 과 월지)
- 1.5 Visit Daereungwon Tumuli Park
- 1.6 Shop for souvenirs at Gyeongju Folk Craft Village
- 1.7 Wander the streets of Gyeongju
- 1.8 Eat like a king
- 1.9 Other things to do in Gyeongju
- 2 Practical information
Things to do and see in Gyeongju
Gyeongju is situated in the southeast of South Korea, the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty has over 1,000 year of history. Perfect destination for people who love history or nature, there is something for everyone in Gyeongju. Below is our list of top things to do and see in Gyeongju.
Meditate at Bulguksa Temple – (불국사)
There is no doubt that you will be visiting lots of Buddhist temples during your trip to Korea. It is the main temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Bulguksa Temple should be at the top of things to do and see in Gyeongju. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was initially built in 528 during the Silla Dynasty but was rebuilt again in 751.
The complex considered a masterpiece of Buddhist art has several buildings you can visit including the stone pagodas Dabotap and Seokgatap.
- Location: 385, Bulguk-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju. From the Express Bus Terminal, take buses 10,11 or 700.
- Open: Daily from 7.30am to 5.30pm.
- Admission fee: Adults ₩ 5,000 – Youths ₩ 3,500 – Children ₩ 2,500
Check out Seokguram Grotto (석굴암)
Seokguram Grotto or Cave is part of the Bulguksa Temple complex so it’s not uncommon to see people visiting both sites. You can reach the cave by taking a short bus ride (bus 12) or hiking. While the temple sits at the foot of Mount Toham, Seokguram is located at the top. Don’t miss out this historic site, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What makes this stone temple remarkable is the 3.5 metre statue of a seated Buddha on a lotus stage.
It’s important to note that taking photos inside the cave is prohibited. The above picture is from Visit Korea.
- Location: 873-243, Bulguk-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju. Bus 12 from Bulguksa is every hour and costs 1,700 won.
- Admission fee: ₩ 5,000 ( ₩ 3,500 won for 18–13 years old and ₩ 2,500 won for under 12.)
Cheomseongdae Observatory (첨성대)
Less than 5 minutes from the Tumuli Park is one of Asia’s oldest astronomical observatories: Cheomseongdae Observatory. The 9-metre-high bottle-shaped observatory used to forecast weather dates back to the 7th century. The name means “star-gazing tower” which is very fitting. Its has been built with 362 (like the number of days in a lunar year) granite stones stacked on top of each other.
Cheomseongdae Observatory is a must-see, especially during sunset or at night as the observatory is illuminated.
- Location: 140-25, Cheomseong-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju
- Open: Daily from 9am to 9.30pm
- Admission fee: Free
Take a night walk to Wolji Pond (Anapji Pond – 동궁 과 월지)
As one of the top things to do in Gyeongju, taking a walk to the beautiful palace and its pond is a must. Wolji Pond was once part of the Gyeongju Donggung Palace, a secondary palace to the crown Prince of Silla. The pond was known as Anapji Pond during the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties.
Naturally, the place is charming during the day with the pond surrounded by landscaped gardens but the site is even more beautiful once the sun has set. The illumination shows the pavilion’s true beauty.
Take time to visit the exhibition hall displaying the artefacts found around the pond like pottery, jewellery etc…
- Location: 102, Wonhwa-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju.
- Open: Daily from 9am to 10pm
- Admission fee: ₩ 2,000 ( ₩ 1,200 for 13 to 18 years old and ₩ 600 for under 12s.)
Visit Daereungwon Tumuli Park
While strolling the city, you will see dozens of giant tumuli or burial mounds. These green grass covered tombs are impossible to miss. Dated back to the Kingdom of Silla, they are concentrated at Daereungwon Tumuli Park.
People can wander among the 23 tombs of different sizes, the largest being about 23 meters high. Each has its own story. You can even visit one of them like Cheonmachong and admire replicas of the artefacts found onsite. Entrance fee is ₩2,000.
There are two small parks close to the Daerungwon with lots of burial mounds. Both Noseori and Nodongri are free to enter.
- Location: 102, Wonhwa-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju
- Open: Daily from 8.30am to 9pm
- Admission fee: ₩ 1,500 ( ₩ 1,200 for 13 to 18 years old and ₩ 600 for under 12s.)
Shop for souvenirs at Gyeongju Folk Craft Village
If you like pottery, then the best place to shop for them is the Gyeongju Folk Craft Village. The complex is home to more than 35 artisans in their traditional hanok houses. You can go from one shop to the other and buy souvenirs ranging from jewellery, pottery to hanbok (traditional Korean clothing).
Visitors can also see the craftsmen at work and even participate in some workshops.
Wander the streets of Gyeongju
Beyond the historic sites, Gyeongju is a charming city. it’s nice to wander around and discover its charm. The streets not far from the Express Bus Terminal have lots of nice cafes and restaurants. Take the time too explore, you will come across charming alleys, street art and beautiful hanoks. Chances are that you will likely pass by the Gyeongju National Park . Be sure to stop and admire the beautiful park and flowers (spring/summer). The park is visited by locals and tourists.
Eat like a king
Gyeongju is the city of kings and good Korean cuisine. What better opportunity to enjoy the traditional Korean food than get a taste of . The city’s speciality consists of a spread of dozen of side dishes called banchan, sauces, rice, and meat that you wrap in lettuce or perilla leaves. Do not hesitate to try it in one of the many ssambap restaurants, your taste buds will thank you. You will be guaranteed to experience a royal dinner that will satisfy you for days. Can you imagine that all this is only for two people!
If you still have space for some desserts, try the hwangnam bread made with red bean pates. The sweetbread can be found anywhere in the city centre.
Other things to do in Gyeongju
Gyeongju has more amazing things to do and see, amongst them are:
Gyeongju National Museum:
Best place to learn all about the history of the city. Home to more than 16,00 artefacts, the Gyeongju National Museum showcases a wide range if cultural treasures such as pottery, a golden crown of the Silla Kingdom, Buddhist art or everyday objects.
Woljeonggyo Bridge is located close to the Gyochon Hanok Village. Sadly, like many other historical buildings destroyed during wars the bridge is a reconstruction. Similar to the Wolji Pond, it’s best seen at night thanks to the illumination.
World Culture Expo Park:
Bomunho Resort is the place most tourists will select for their stay. The resort located near the man-made lake Bomun has an amusement park with a Ferris wheel and other rides, a golf course, five-stars hotels, stores to indulge in shopping, walking and cycling trails and even a contemporary museum.
Golgulsa is the only cave temple in South Korea. It is worth visiting if you are in Gyeongju for more than a day. Especially, if you are planning to try a temple stay during your South Korea trip.
How to get to Gyeongju
No matter your initial place of location, getting to Gyeongju is easy.
Gyeongju is located relatively close to cities like Busan, Daegu or Ulsan. From these cities, you can take the express bus which will take you to Gyeongju Express Bus terminal in less than an hour. It’s a simple and hassle-free way of travelling as you don’t need to reserve your ticket in advance. You can even buy your ticket 10 minutes before departure with the ticket machine!
If you are travelling from the northern part of Korea like Seoul, taking the train is the fasted option. From Seoul station, you can take the slower train to Gyeongju station. The journey takes about 5 hours. Alternatively, you can take the KTX from Seoul and get off at Singyeongju station (2 hours) and catch buses 50, 60, 61, 70, 203 and 700 to Express Bus Terminal (Gosok Terminal) which is walking distance to the city’s attractions. Note that Gyeongju station is not in the city centre so you will need to get a cab from there.
- KTX from Seoul Station to Gyeongju Singyeongju (KTX) Station – ₩40,000. Check Korail‘s website for schedules and fares.
- Bus from Singyeongju Station to Gyeongju city centre – ₩ 1,500
- Express Bus from Busan to Gyeongju Intercity – ₩ 5,000
The nearest airports to Gyeongju are Busan Gimhae International and Ulsan. From there, you can take the hour long express bus. The cost Ulsan is ₩4500 whether Busan will cost you ₩9000.
Getting around Gyeongju
The city of Gyeongju isn’t very big so getting around is quite easy.
Walking is always my preferred choice for getting around a city. Although it would be impossible to walk to all the attractions are some are located in opposite directions, it is still possible in the city centre. Make the most of it as it’s the perfect occasion to explore the city. Bikes can be rented for ₩7,000 per day, but you have to return them by 7PM. The rental shop is located by the express bus terminal.
For those who like adding a little bit of exercise, hiring a bike can be a good option. Most of the attractions in the city are located close by therefore cycling can be a good option too.
Buses are the perfect mode of transport in Gyeongju. The city is well connected and buses take you to all the tourist destinations. If you are on a budget, the is ideal. To note: Most buses run every hour so bear in mind when planning. Also, be sure to swipe as you enter and exit the bus as you will be charged the maximum fare otherwise. The cost of a journey is ₩1,500.
Taxis are always a convenient mode of transport, especially when you are time restricted and you have the money of course. Note that most taxi drivers in Korea don’t speak English so be sure to have your destination address written in Hangul.
Gyeongju City Tour
The city of Gyeongju operates a tour bus which offers two courses: World Heritage Course, Shilla History Course, Yangdong Village Course, East Sea Course or Night Tour course. Fare is ₩ 20,000 for adults and ₩ 18,000 for children. Night tout is ₩ 16,00 ( ₩ 14,000 for children) If you are a first-timer in Gyeongju, opt for the Heritage course as it passes via most of the places of interest. Bookings can be done via CM Tour here.
Where to stay in Gyeongju
To visit Gyeongju and its surroundings, 2 days are necessary. Whether you are staying for one, two or three nights, you will be able to find affordable accommodation in Gyeongju. I recommend staying in a hanok. These century-old homes have been renovated while retaining their authenticity. Staying in one is similar to staying in a ryokan.
For the best-priced accommodation in Gyeongju, check out Booking.com.