Gyeongju is located 2.5 hours southeast from Seoul via the KTX (express train). It’s the city that use to be the capital of the Silla Kingdom in 57 BC – 935 AD. Today, Gyeongju is a small town that attracts both local and international visitors. The city doesn’t have the skyscrapers or tall apartment complexes of Seoul so it has a very small town and authentic feel to it. The city’s cultural buildings, tombs and surrounding mountains offers a nice place to spend a handful of days. Whilst having a car would mean more ease at seeing sights out of the town, it is still do-able relying on public transport.
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
Arguably one of the places to visit when you’re here is the Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond. It costs about $3 to enter but you can stay as long as you want. The grounds are not very big but it’s a impressive palace once used for banquets by King Munmu and the pond makes it a very picturesque place. I would recommend to go around sunset when the lights come on. There will be many people but there are walking paths and different points to stop at and take pictures. People generally move on after taking their pictures. There is a bathroom and a small gift store inside too.
As you walk around town, you will come across a few hills. These are actually royal tombs. One tomb has been excavated and is open to the public- the Daereungwon Tomb Complex. It’s not very big and easy to spend about 1 hr within the grounds. There are benches to sit and take in the beautiful and different scenery. At the time I went, persimmon trees were in full bloom and I think quince trees too.
My favourite tombs are the ones across the road from the Daereungwon Tomb Complex- Bonghwangdae. Nature has taken over here and there are trees growing out from the tops of the hill.
At night, the tombs in the Gyerim Forest are lit up which was an interesting nightscape to see. While you are here, be sure to also see the Cheomseongdae. It is an observatory built in the 7th century during the Silla Kingdom and is the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia. There were many people walking in the Forest which also seemed to be a popular spot for kids.
Hwangidan-gil is a popular street which is a newly built modern hanok village with cafes, restaurants and small stores. This is THE area it seems to find a place to rest and eat. During my trip, I did not eat here at all as many places were completely filled and also had lines waiting outside. It’s a lively area however to wonder in and get lost in the winding streets. A popular street stall on this street is the 10-won bread which is more of a waffle with cheese inside. You won’t miss it, just look for the line and follow your nose! There are a few of these won bread stores around town so you’ll surely come across it.
Traditional Korean Lunch
A friend joined me for lunch and the rest of the day. This was my first time having a traditional Korean lunch. It is definitely a must do in Korea! Make sure you are go on a very empty stomach because the amount of food served despite some dishes being quite small, is very filling! To my dismay, we were first served entree which consisted of some side dishes and porridge. Then the mains came out (the above picture). There was a mix of cold seafood salads, raw crab, siberian spring onion, honey covered walnuts, mackerel, sweet potato mash, bulgogi and seaweed soup. My favourite of the day was actually dotori-muk- acorn jelly! For dessert, we were served half a cold persimmon and a health tea.
The main reason why I wanted to visit Gyeongju was because of the Bulguksa Temple. It is a UNESCO heritage listed site and is located out of town in the Gyeongju National Park. The original temple built on this sight was in 528 but has since been rebuilt and reconstructed due to all the wars and a fire. When I came, there was a concert and a scaffold stage across the main building so I didn’t take any pictures. I was actually surprised how small the front of the main building looked- it looks so much bigger in all the pictures that I had seen.
The temple area is not that big and I had seen everything within 1 hour. On this particular trip, I also wanted to visit Seokguram Grotto which is a Buddhist sculpture located inside a cave but it is located about 4 kilometres from the Bulguksa Temple and I was not sure I would reach it and finish at the site before it closed for the day. Sadly, I didn’t get to visit it.
The last place I wanted to see was the Woljeonggyo Bridge. I had seen pictures of it and thought that it looked beautiful especially at night. The pictures did not do it justice. The view from the bridge was equally as beautiful of the mountains. It’s funny, the more time I spend amongst mountains here, the more I love them. They look like I’m staring at a painting. The beauty of nature cannot be beaten.
The bridge can be crossed on the inside and plenty of seats if you would prefer to sit inside. Further town the lake, there are concrete slabs that you can cross which is a popular activity and one that I very much enjoyed.
Nearby is the Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village, which is quite small with some cafes and a handful of restaurants. There isn’t much here but nice to pass by if you’re in the area.
With that, it concluded my long weekend here. I loved being surrounded by the mountains, space and quieter city. It’s a beautiful town for a nature getaway and also a city of great cultural importance. I hope it makes it onto your list.
How to get there: Take a KTX to Singgyeongju Station. Take a local bus into town (~30 minutes).