Gyeongju, often referred to as “the museum without walls”, is the second largest city by area in the North Gyeongsang Province, after Andong. Gyeongju was the capital of Shilla, the ancient kingdom from 58 BC – 935 AD, and as such a big number of archaeological sites as well as ancient artifacts still remain in the city. The reason Gyeongju still remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Korea is the fact that many historical treasures and UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Bulguksa temple, Seokguram grotto, Gyeongju Historic Areas as well as the Yangdong Folk Village can be found in Gyeongju, and are relatively well preserved. Gyeongju can be easily reached by rail from Seoul in under 3 hours. Nearby major cities include Busan and Daegu.
Here we recommend some of the must-see places in Gyeongju.
1. Bulguksa Temple
Designated as a World Cultural Asset by UNESCO in 1995, Bulguksa Temple is the first thing that comes to mind when people talk about Gyeongju. Bulguksa Temple was built in the year 528. The temple underwent numerous renovation works, in part due to the new dynasties that took control from the Shilla Kingdom, as well as the Japanese invasions from 1592 to 1598. Today, it is one of the main reasons travellers from all over Korea visit Gyeongju.
To get to Bulguksa Temple, hop on bus 11 from the bus stop across the road from Bulguksa Station. There are a total of 6 stops which should take you no more than 20 minutes.
2. Cheomseongdae Observatory
Cheomseongdae, an astronomical observatory is the oldest existing observatory in Asia. It was used to observe the stars during the reign of Queen Seon-deok during year 632 – 647. It was designated as the National Treasure No. 31 on December 20 1962. Cheomseongdae was built with stones 30cm in diameter. The Vernal Equinox, Autumnal Equinox, Winter Solstice, Summer Solstice and 24 solar terms were determined by the observation of the stars.
To get to Cheomseongdae from Bulguksa Station, take bus 40 from the same bus stop across the train station. There are a total of 14 bus stops which should take you no more than 40 minutes.
To get to Cheomseongdae from Bulguksa Temple, hop on bus 10 from the entrance of Bulguksa Temple. There are a total of 21 stops which will take you no more than 55 minutes.
3. Anapji Pond
Wolji Pond was built during the 14th year of the Shilla Kingdom. Together with the Donggung Palace, the Wolji Pond has been designated a historical site no. 18 on January 21 1963. The entry to the Anapji Pond costs 2,000 KRW per adult, 1,200 KRW for teenagers aged 13 – 18 and 600 KRW for children aged 7 – 12.
To get to Anapji Pond from Cheongseomdae Observatory, most people would actually walk or cycle as it is located relatively nearby. You can also take bus 11 or 600 from the entrance of Cheongseomdae towards Anapji Pond. There is a total of 1 stop which will take you less than 10 minutes.
So that’s it, our 3 must-see places in Gyeongju. Gyeongju is an exciting city that is going to be very different from what you are used to seeing in Seoul or Busan. There are not a lot of tall skyscrapers in the city, the roads are not as crowded and you definitely would not find as many shopping malls or pubs on the streets of Gyeongju. What you can expect though, is plenty of historical sites and artifacts that have been designated as national historical sites, as well as world cultural assets such as the aforementioned Bulguksa Temple and Cheomseongdae Observatory, among many others. You would not find as many of such important historical artifacts located in one city other than in Gyeongju!