My Gyeongju Itinerary!
Gyeongju is simply a magical place. Within a few hours of being there I realized that it was definitely my favorite place I had been in Korea, and I think that even includes Seoul. There’s just something so bizarre and wonderful about walking among large hill tombs in the evening while still feeling like you are in a city. So, let me give you a look at my Gyeongju itinerary!
A quick note, however, while this is a two day itinerary to see all the same sites I did, I actually wouldn’t recommend any of the activities I did on the second day, I would instead spread out the first day or see some different options.
Day 1: The Mounds > The Park > Observatory > Forest > Bridge > Gyeongju National Museum
As you can see, this day is pretty packed and takes you to just about every site that’s currently open in a single path. The palace was unfortunately closed at the time I visited for restoration, but it would also be on this route.
The Mounds and Daereungwon Tumuli Park
There are many mounds that are free to see and you’ll see a lot on this pathway. For some reason they mounds don’t ever feel out of place. They’re just magically there, fitting into the scenery. As you walk towards the Daereungwon Tumuli Park you will get to see several. If it’s a good day, I’d recommend a picnic pretty much anywhere nearby. There are so many that you can find nice secluded spots if you don’t want company or want to bath in the history by yourself. On my next trip that is surely what I will be doing with my second day.
The Daereungwon Tumuli Park is the only paid activity I would recommend in Gyeongju. It’s only 3,000 won and you get a lot of information on the history and you can go inside one of the mounds. It’s also just a really nice park, particularly in the fall. I don’t mind paying a little money for green spaces. One of my most enjoyable moments in Bath, England, was in a park that I paid around $2 to get into. However, if you don’t want to pay you can absolutely skip it as you’ll get much more information and history at the Museum for free.
The Observatory and the Forest
As you continue through you will make it to the Observatory. This is a really short stop and also the one that seemingly has the most tourists. It’s nice, but even though I have boundless appreciation for space and learning exploits, even I couldn’t spend more than 3-4 minutes here. There is, however, a wide lawn where they often sell kites. Be a kid and spend 5,000 won on a kite and run around for 20 minutes!
The Gyerim Forest doesn’t get a lot of chatter on the web from tourists. However, it was one of my favorite places in Gyeongju. If the weather had not been so terrible on the second day, I would have just sat on a bench there for an hour. It’s peaceful, with only a handful of tourists, and the history behind it is interesting. Apparently a legend goes that a founder of a royal bloodline was born in the forest and discovered by King Talhae hanging in a golden basket from a tree. Pretty cool! Also, this is comfortably on your way to the next stop.
The Bridge and the Museum
Yes! There’s more! The Woljeong Gyo Bridge is absolutely picturesque, both from the inside and the outside. It’s also much larger than I first expected. It has stairs to an upper level that possess a few artifacts and the views from the bridge of the river are pretty lovely. There are also convenient stepping stones across the river so you can get fantastic shots of the bridge itself without obstruction. People in Korea are generally very accommodating when it comes to stopping progress for taking the perfect shot, so go for it!
It’s kind of amazing that each of these things is in a line, but by the time you get to the museum your feet will likely be very tired! The Gyeongju National Museum is pretty cool and comprehensive. It also includes many English explanations of the history of the artifacts as well as the Shilla dynasty. They have some other exhibits on non-Shilla subjects but to be honest, if you like museums, you’ll probably know more than the quick exhibit on prehistoric human evolution from cave people to agriculturists. But the Shilla information was super cool, as were the six golden crowns and the sheer amount of gold they seemingly covered everything with!
If you want to skip something or add on, I would suggest the Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond, which seem to be back open now judging by some lovely photos I’m seeing around the blogsphere. It also appears that there is a traditional village, Gyochon, near the downtown area. I did not make it here either but it looks interesting if you have more time!
Day 2: Bulguksa and Seokguram Grotto
These two places are fairly close to each other but are an hour outside of Gyeongju proper (as most Korean Bhuddist related things are). As I’ve already alluded to…unless you’re going during the week and when there’s fewer tourists, I’d skip these two altogether. It’s really…not that great. Bulguksa, while swamped with tourists and touting a frankly outrageous 5,000won entrance fee, was perhaps the most run-down looking temple I’ve seen in Korea. Most of the paint was faded or gone altogether. Things just generally appeared shabby. What with all the tourists and inflated entrance fee (getting into a freaking palace in Seoul is 3,000 won) you’d think they’d be able to fix things up a little. At the very least there was a little path with some stunning fall tree scenes.
Seokguram Grotto is one of the most famous Bhuddist things in Korea. It’s seemingly at the top of everyone’s list of what to do in Gyeongju. And I? I really didn’t get it. The tourist information websites seemed to make it out of be far larger than it is (basically a small dip in the mountain) and you can’t even go inside anymore. There was a glass partition fairly far back, so you couldn’t go inside at all. The Japanese replicas in the National Museum had more impact because you could actually, you know, see them. Additionally it was another 5,000 won to get in here too. At least the walk from the bus stop was very nice, but wow did I feel scammed.
Where to Stay
I recommend staying in the main town area. There are many restaurants, cafes, and hostels in this area. I stayed at an absolutely wonderful hostel called Yeo Hang Gil Guesthouse. It’s probably one of the best hostels I’ve ever been to. It seems very local, I was one of three foreigners staying there, with probably 20-25 Koreans. It wasn’t that bad a price (I believe 18,000 won or around $14) which made it more worthwhile than the jimjilbang down the road (Spalux) although that it also a very nice spot, but around 16,000won for a night.
Where to Eat/Snack
Because Korea is perhaps the most solo-traveler-unfriendly country in the world, eating was as difficult as ever (although not as bad as my recent trip to Suncheon). I wound up eating some Gimbap at a restaurant at the Bulguksa bus stop that was pretty good. You should try the local traditional dessert, Hwangnam Bread, although this was not my favorite. I actually like redbean well enough but wow that was a lot of redbean…The No Name Cafe was really, really nice. I don’t like coffee but I got one anyways and it was actually one of the best I’ve ever had. Its also in a great setting and has excellent views.
This got quite long what with my waxing poetic but clearly you can see there’s a lot to do! I would have loved to take everything a lot easier and spent several days there!
I hope this has been a helpful Gyeongju itinerary!
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