During my solo backpacking adventures in South Korea I arrived to the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla (57 BC – 935 AD), which ruled about two-thirds of the Korean Peninsula at its height between the 7th and 9th centuries, for close to one thousand years. Little did I know of the things to do in Gyeongju before I arrived!
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Called the museum without walls, pretty much the entire city of Gyeongju is Unesco protected as a World Heritage Site and just strolling a bit around town is enough to start finding lots of archaeological sites.
I spent just two days and one night in Gyeongju and really liked it.
How to get there
I arrived by train from Danyang which took just 3 hours, and I left by bus to Busan which is only one hour away so if you’re really short of time you could make this a day trip from Busan.
Things to do in Gyeongju
There were quite a few Unesco sites that I couldn’t visit, but these were all my favourite places that can be reached walking from anywhere in the town centre:
Discover Tumulis from the Ancient Silla Kingdom
Gyeongju is an archaeological wonderland and it’s home to some of the most magnificent tombs (Tumuli) in Korea.
The most famous ones (Cheonmachong and Hwangnam Daechong) can be found inside Tumuli Park but there are also many more spread around town.
The entrance fee for the Tumuli Park is KRW 1500.
These burial mounds of the ancient Silla rulers rise like funny little mountains creating a rather bizarre and otherworldly landscape.
Little is known about the occupants of these tombs and only one has been excavated.
Visit the oldest observatory in East Asia!
Cheomseongdae observatory tower is located near the Tumuli Park.
This is the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia.
It has been standing for over 1300 years and it’s surrounded by large archaelogical excavations. The park is free to visit.
Walk to the middle of the river and contemplate Woljeonggyo Bridge
This bridge is actually a reconstruction from an ancient one dating to around 760 AD but it’s still a really pretty sight on a beautiful location.
It’s also within walking distance of the Cheomseongdae observatory tower.
There’s a pedestrian “stone-bridge” that you can walk on and enjoy the view from the middle of the river.
Go late in the day to Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
This site was part of the palace complex of ancient Silla. After the fall of the kingdom, the pond fell into disrepair for many centuries and has now been partially restored.
I left this site for the end of the day as I saw the photos of the pond illuminated at night and didn’t want to miss that sight!
While there was still daylight I wandered around the complex which also features a small exhibition with relics excavated on this very same place.
The entrance fee to the Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond is KRW 2000
Find a section of the 1000 year old walled town
I found this one by accident on my way to the local food market as I didn’t even know it existed.
The Gyeongju Eupseong (Walled Town) was first created in 1012 AD. It was first constructed with dirt and then re-built with stones in 1378.
Now it’s pretty small as only a 90 meter-long section has been restored, but according to the records, the walled town used to hold royal and government buildings and 80 different ponds within a perimeter of 1200m approximately.
Visit a 1500 years old* Buddhist Pagoda
The Stone Pagoda of Bunhwangsa was built in 634 AD.
This Unesco World Heritage Site was originally a seven or nine story pagoda when the number of stones were inspected.
*It was repaired by the Japanese in 1915 and although it can be a bit underwhelming at first, there are many details to observe and the site has a very serene atmosphere.
The entrance fee to this Korean National Treasure is KRW 1300
Eat, eat, eat!
I always say that one of the best things of travelling the world is to discover places through food.
Korean food has been one of the best I had in all of Asia and in Gyeongju there are plenty of small local restaurants.
The local market is always a good place to grab a bite and with all their vendors you’ll surely find something you like.
The bibimbap set meal was really tasty and the owner of the restaurant introduced each of the side dishes explaining what they were and where they sourced them (pretty much everything was super local).
At KRW 11000 this was money deliciously well spent!
If you’re backpacking in South Korea you should aim to put Gyeongju on your list of places to go! there are actually many more places to visit but I couldn’t squeeze more in just a day and a half that I was there.
Feel free to ask me any questions if you’re planning to go over there!