Korea

Gyeongju- The Museum without Walls

At the beginning of February it was Lunar New Year (Seollal) here in Korea so we were treated to a lovely 5 day long holiday! These long weekends are the perfect time to go overseas or explore the country. I’m currently in major save mode, so it was the latter for me. We decided to head to Gyeongju, the ancient capital of Korea! Gyeongju has been on my Korea bucketlist for so long, I can’t believe it has taken me until now to actually go. Especially considering it’s just 2 hours away from my city.

Since Gyeongju is an ancient city, planning permission isn’t given for high rise apartment buildings- a welcome change from the usual identical looking, crammed cities. The whole city is extremely beautiful and peaceful with nice wide roads which are perfect for cycling.

Things to Do

They don’t call Gyeongju a museum without walls for no reason! The area is bursting with things to see from temples to tombs, pagodas, parks, forests and ponds. It’s a great place to get a feel for what Korea was like before K Pop, smartphones and PC rooms took over! There is honestly something to see round every corner, just take a look at a tourist map and you’ll feel overwhelmed by the amount of historically important sites. I’m going to concentrate on some of the main attractions around the city.

Cheonmachong Tomb

Entry: 2000 won

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You can see tombs all over Gyeongju, but this is one of the only ones that is actually open for the public to go inside. The tombs are said to date back to the 5th or 6th century but it is unknown who the tomb belongs to since the documents were burned during the Japanese occupation. My favourite thing about the tombs wasn’t the tombs themselves, but the park around them which was so nice for taking a stroll around. I can imagine this would be beautiful in Spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Dongung Palace and Wolji Pond

Entry: 2000 won

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This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in Korea. The palace is floating above the lake and at night is illuminated with golden coloured lights. Honestly, it’s so amazing but sadly none of my pictures can do it justice so you just need to go see it yourself!

Cheomsongdae Observatory

Entry: Free

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Cheomsongdae, meaning star-gazing in Korean, is one of the oldest astronomical observatories in Asia. This is one of the most famous attractions in Gyeongju, and you should definitely come to see this iconic building. Much like Cheonmachong Tombs, my favourite part was the surrounding park where you’ll see lots of children flying kites. Something I’ve never seen in Korea. I just loved the amount of open space here- it was the perfect place to watch the sunset. Also, don’t miss Gyerim Forrest which is right next to the observatory. Since I went in Winter, the trees were looking pretty bare, but was still pretty fun for biking around the dirt tracks! I imagine it would be beautiful in summer when the trees are really lush.

Bulguksa Temple

Entry: 5000 won

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I almost dismissed this as another Korean temple, but I’m glad I went! This is one of the largest temples in Korea and there is a lot to see here. I loved peeking into all the different rooms and seeing all the huge colourful Buddha statues! Bulguksa is a bit of a trek from the main city. By public bus, it should take about 30 minutes. We decided to go by bike and it took 1.5 hours. Although we were riding along the side of the highway, there were still bike lanes. I love Gyeongju’s friendly attitude to cyclists!

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Mount Namsan

Entry: Free

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If you only have time to do one thing in Gyeongju, make it Mt Namsan. This is an amazing hike and totally unique from other hikes in Korea due to all the temples, carvings and artifacts you’ll encounter on the way up. We went over Lunar New Year and were invited into the temple to have a traditional Buddhist lunch of bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables) with the monks, one of which was a Czech girl who had become a Korean Buddhist nun! It was so interesting to speak to her about her experience and the staff at the temple were so kind and lovely. The temple was so peaceful and much more understated than other temples I’ve been to in Korea. My favourite thing about it was the beautiful view on the edge of the mountain. After lunch we continued up the mountain, accidentally took a bit of a wrong turn, and ended up at the wrong peak, and missed a lot of the good stuff to see! Oh well, there’s always next time, and I doubt it will be our last visit to Gyeongju. The hike is just 400m, it isn’t too strenuous, so you can really enjoy it and take your time to enjoy the scenery (if you take the right path…….)

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Where to Stay

We stayed at Homo Nomad Hostel and would definitely recommend it to other travellers. It’s in a really convenient locations, just a 5 minute walk from Cheonsongmae Observatory, 10 minutes from the bus terminal and 10 minutes from the city centre. Kao, the owner, is so friendly and made us feel so welcome. She is more than happy to give you tips and advice about what to see in the area. The hostel itself is really warm, cosy and most importantly, good value for money.

What to Eat

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Since Gyeongju is the ancient capital, it would be a shame to come and not sample some traditional food. We decided to go for Ssam Bbap- a Korean dish, like barbeque, in which you case some meat in some lettuce wraps. The best part about traditional ssam bap restaurants is the amount of banchan (side dishes) you are given. We chose duck bulgoggi as our main dish and tried out jeonpu, the traditional liquoir of Gyeongju. I would definitely be keen to try Jeonpu again- it had a light flavour that really reminded me of sake, which I love!

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Another food that you should probably try is Gyeongju bread. If youre a fan of red bean, you’ll love this. For me, I’ve eaten too many red bean breads out of politeness so I wasn’t too enamoured with it There is honestly a shop on every street, so no shortages of places to try it!

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This is NOT Gyeongju bread! It is bungeobbang (붕어빵) and it’s much more appetising!

 

I can honestly say that Gyeongju is now my favourite city in Korea! Wow, I didn’t think I’d ever hear myself saying that, especially given my usual dismissive relationship with anything slightly historical or quiet! Ha, maybe I’m getting mature in my old age… But seriously, even if you don’t really care about historical things, Gyeongju has an amazing atmosphere that really sucks you in, and so many open spaces which I’ve really come to appreciate since living in Korea.  I think a cherry blossom visit is definitely in order!

Now on pinterest 🙂 hover over the pic to pin!

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What’s your favourite city in Korea? Let me know in the comments box 🙂

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    April
    26th February 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Great information and excellent photos. You mention that the cherry blossoms bloom in this area. Do you have plans to head back there in the spring?

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th April 2016 at 10:02 am

      I would love to go back in Spring, there are so many places I didn’t manage to see 🙂

  • Reply
    Inma
    26th February 2016 at 10:38 pm

    Never been to Korea so far but would love to make it there in 2016
    Thanks for this, will keep it in mind if I finally go visit the country this year!

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th April 2016 at 10:02 am

      Great, I hope you get the chance to visit! To hesitate to get in touch if you need some tips 🙂

  • Reply
    Castaway with Crystal
    28th February 2016 at 10:19 am

    Looks like a fun getaway. I love the idea of a museum with no walls! Will definitely keep in mind for when I head that way! Thank you 🙂
    Castaway with Crystal recently posted…WATCH: Journey of a PostcardMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th April 2016 at 10:03 am

      Aw amazing, I hope you love Korea as much as I do 🙂

  • Reply
    Nic
    29th February 2016 at 2:15 am

    What a beautiful city…how have I never heard of it! Pinning this straight to my bucket list! I love how much character it has retained. I do love the craziness of some of the modern Asian cities but really this is what I love to visit, so much history.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th April 2016 at 10:04 am

      Great, I hope you get the chance to visit. I also love the fast paced Asian cities- they are so mental and different to what I’m used to, but Gyeongju was definitely a nice change 🙂

  • Reply
    Alice Teacake
    29th February 2016 at 1:33 pm

    I love Korea so much and Gyeongju is so much fun! Sorry you missed the right turning whilst hiking but that’s how adventures happen right >< Sooooooo jealous of all those side dishes by the way. Damn I miss Korean food!
    Alice Teacake recently posted…Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Food MarathonMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th April 2016 at 10:05 am

      Haha indeed! The Korean food was amazing, I’m gonna miss it so much when I leave!

  • Reply
    Dave (Silverbackpacker)
    29th February 2016 at 5:13 pm

    When you think about it, the whole world is a museum without walls. We just need to be aware of our surroundings and take all the information in.
    Its good you stayed locally for your vacation and explored Korea. Immersion is part of travel.
    Dave (Silverbackpacker) recently posted…The ABC of Backpacking – KLMMy Profile

  • Reply
    Dhie Rey (Islandgirltraveller)
    29th February 2016 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks for highlighting this place. I like to learn of new places to see and will add to my list for when i visit Korea in the near future. Looks an amzing place
    Dhie Rey (Islandgirltraveller) recently posted…The ABC of Backpacking – KLMMy Profile

  • Reply
    Dhie Rey (Islandgirltraveller)
    29th February 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Thanks for highlighting this place. I like to learn of new places to see and will add to my list for when i visit Korea in the near future. Looks an amzing place with lots to see and learn.

  • Reply
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    Rachel
    9th May 2016 at 3:43 am

    hey im travelling to korea for the first time in july! other than seoul, would you recommend a stayover or visit to jeonju hanok village, busan, gyeongju or Seoraksan National Park? I know there is bukchon hanok village in seoul..so probably jeonju hanok village could be skipped, but i heard its quite a nice experience to try a night at in a hanok?

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      9th May 2016 at 9:32 am

      Hey, that’s amazing that you’re coming to Korea! I have never been to Jeonju, but it’s on my bucketlist. The hanok village in Seoul is nice, but I think that the one in Jeonju is more authentic and, like Gyeongju, the whole city is really historical so it would be a nice contrast to busy city life in Seoul. Jeonju is also famous for it’s amazing food so I would visit for that reason alone 🙂 Busan is a great beachy city, and there is a lot to do and see there. Seoraksan is amazing for hiking and nature BUT in July it’s gonna be really hot and humid… I would go for one of the historical cities if you are interested in learning more about Korean culture. Jeonju and Gyeongju would both be amazing 🙂

  • Reply
    Hernita
    13th July 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Hi, I’m planning to visit Gyeongju this autumn and would loveee to get around the city by bike. What a fateful encounter with your blog here hahahaa.
    The thing is, I don’t speak Korean at all. Would it be difficult to get around when you don’t speak Korean? Also, is there any bike route map available at the tourist center?

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