Gyeongju is the ancient cultural capital of Korea, and it is one of the most beautiful place in the entire country. It is filled with culture, nature, and delicious food. There are so many things to do in Gyeongju, but these are the top things to do in Gyeongju.
Gyeongju has a unique vibe and culture to it that I haven’t seen anywhere else in South Korea.
The city is laid back and feels more rooted in the traditional aspects of Korean life.
Probably because the entire city is one outdoor museum, and you stumble across ancient tombs and structures wherever you’re walking.
Gyeongju may be more traditional than big Korean cities like Seoul and Busan, but it is still a fairly modern city.
It is full of technology and innovation. The city just doesn’t have the skyscrapers you normally associate with a modern city.
And that adds to the charm of it!
A lot of people visit Gyeongju as a day trip from Busan, but there are so many things to do in Gyeongju that you should spend at least two days in the city. Three is better!
Check out my 72-hours in Gyeongju itinerary if you’re trying to figure out the best way to see everything Gyeongju has to offer in a short period of time!
And be sure to read my how to travel from Seoul to Gyeonju article if you’re planning to visit Gyeongju after Seoul!
But enough with the fluff!
You’re here to learn about all the amazing things to do in Gyeongju, so we’re going to jump into that right now!
PS- Don’t forget to check out my wifi in Korea article.
The wifi situation was nothing like I imagined it to be, and I don’t want to you make the same mistakes I did the first time I visited!
1. Bulguska Temple
Bulguska Temple is one of my favourite things to do in Gyeongju, and I make sure I visit it every time I’m in Gyeongju.
The temple was built in 528 BC and is one of the largest and most beautiful relics from the Silla dynasty.
The temple was built by King Beop-heung as a wish to his people for peace and prosperity.
Unfortunately, Bulguska Temple caught fire during the Imjin War from 1592-1598 and become a popular target for theft and vandalism.
Reconstruction began on the temple in 1920, and it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
Bulguska Temple and Seokoguram (coming up next on this list!) were two of the first three Korean sites ever designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
That makes visiting Bulguska Temple even more special and incredible.
Bulguska Temple is not just one temple but a series of temples that you can visit. The ground are quite large, so you can easily spend half a day at this one attraction.
There are seven Korean national treasures located in the Bulguska Temple complex, so you know you’re seeing some incredible history when you walk through the ground.
The entrance fee is 6,000 won for adults (about $5USD), and there are small discounts for children and groups.
The temple is open to guests every day, but the opening hours vary depending on the season.
From March to September, it is open from 9am to 5pm, and the rest of the year it opens at 7:30am and closes between 5pm and 5:30pm.
I recommend you get to Bulguska Temple as early as possible.
It is one of the most popular things to do in Gyeongju, and it gets quite busy during peak hours. I normally arrive right when it opens, and it is starting to get quite busy when I leave 3 or 4 hours later.
2. Seokguram Grotto
Seokguram Grotto is located walking distance from Bulguska Temple. It is the perfect afternoon adventure after spending the morning at the temple.
Of all the things to do in Gyeongju, Seokguram Grotto was the one that surprised me the most.
I wasn’t expecting much from this attraction, but it blew me away.
Seokguram Grotto is a temple built during the Silla dynasty from 751 BCE to 774 BCE.
It is home to the second most beautiful Buddha statue I’ve ever seen (second only to Fo Guang Shan’s Big Buddha).
Seokguram Grotto’s Buddha statue is built in a chamber underneath a stone dome that was carved to hold the statue. It is a sitting Buddha statue and is over 3.45 meters tall.
The Buddha statue is surrounded by 41 figure sculptures that are arguably the most beautiful in all of Korea.
There is some controversy surrounding Seokguram Grotto though!
The sight was reconstructed by the Japanese during the 20th Century (when Japan occupied Korea), but many Korean scholars say that the Grotto was not reconstructed to reflect the original temple’s design.
Even worse, since the reconstruction, Seokguram Grotto has suffered from humidity problems, and the sculptures are being damaged from that.
There have been protections put in place to limit the damage being done to the carvings.
There is a glass wall separating guests from the Buddha statue and carvings and only a certain number of people are allowed into the enclosed space at one time.
You also aren’t allowed to take pictures of the inside of Seokguram Grotto.
The entrance fee to view Seokguram Grotto is 5,000 won (approximately $4USD), and there are discounts for young people and children.
I can honestly say that this was the best 5,000 won I spent in Gyeongju.
Seokguram Grotto is absolutely incredible, and no trip to Gyeongju is complete without visiting it!
In all the things to do in Gyeongju, this is without a doubt my favourite and the one thing I would recommend everybody do no matter how long they’re in the city for!
3. Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond is one of the most beautiful places in Gyeongju.
Especially when it is lit up at night!
It was used as a secondary palace by the crown prince of the Silla dynasty, and banquets were frequently held there.
Interestingly, the sight used to be called Anapji. The name changed when excavators found a piece of pottery with the work “wolji” carved into it. Wolji means “a pond that reflects the moon”, which is exactly what the pond at the palace does.
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond is absolutely gorgeous!
The palace itself isn’t anything spectacular, but the nature surrounding it is. The greenery and pond are breathtaking. It is especially gorgeous at night when the palace lights reflect on the pond.
By the way, did you know that the pond is man made?!
The entrance fee is 3,000 won (approximately $2.50USD) for adults. There are small discounts for teenagers and children. Groups also receive a small discount.
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond is open year round! It opens at 9am and closes at 10pm with last admission 30 minutes before closing.
This is the most popular thing to do in Gyeongju at night. It gets very busy, so you’ll want to arrive early in the evening to avoid the huge crowds.
It is well worth fighting those crowds though! This is for sure the most Instagramable place in Gyeongju!
4. Mount Namsan
It is well known that South Korea is home to a lot of gorgeous nature and hiking trails. There are hikes near pretty much every city, and Gyeongju is no exception!
Mount Namsan is inside Gyeongju National Park and is the perfect thing to do in Gyeongju if you’re looking to get away from the city and explore some nature.
Gyeongju National Park is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to seven different mountains, but Mount Namsan is the most famous and most popular one.
Mount Namsan is not your ordinary hike.
It is home to over 100 temples, 80 Buddha statues, and 60 stone pagodas. The mountain was an important part of the Silla dynasty, and you can see relics from this period nearly everywhere you look.
It truly is an open-air museum!
The most popular thing to see on Mount Namsan is the Seven Buddha Hermitage.
It is located at the top of Bonghwa Valley. This hiking route takes you past a number of stone Buddha carvings and ends at a very small temple.
The monk who runs the temple is very friendly, and he often invites hikers to enjoy a cup of tea with him before they continue on their way. His English isn’t the best, but you don’t need to be able to speak to feel his warmth and kindness.
The hiking paths on Mount Namsan are well marked and well maintained.
They are easy to navigate and safe- even if you’re a solo traveller.
Mount Namsan is one of the few free things to do in Gyeongju, which adds to its appeal.
You may be asked to provide your name and phone number before you start hiking as a safety precaution in case of wild fires and other potential unforeseeable events.
It is so nice to get out of the city and take in the fresh mountain air. Mount Namsan is the perfect combination of nature, history, and culture all packed into one amazing day!
5. Tumuli Park
Tumuli Park is one of the most fun things to do in Gyeongju. You can’t miss it!
Tumuli are small hills that are deceiving because they aren’t actually hills.
They are graves.
And not just any graves. They are the graves of the most prestigious men and women from the Silla Dynasty.
If you didn’t know the mounds were graves, you would just think Gyeongju has some weird hills. And a lot of them.
You can find graves all around Gyeongju, but Tumuli Park is the only place you can go inside a tomb!
Cheonmachong tomb is one of the most famous tombs from the Silla Dynasty, and it is open to the public to enter.
What you encounter inside the tomb is seriously surprising!
I certainly didn’t expect it to be as large as it was or as intricate.
I’m not going to spoil anything, but going inside this tomb is an essential activity when you’re in Gyeongju!
There are tons of other things to see in Tumuli Park outside of Cheongmachong tomb.
There are gorgeous walking paths through the park, a few praying areas, and some lovely flowers and green spaces. You can easily spend two or more hours wandering through the park and experiencing all it has to offer!
Please be respectful of the rules when you’re visiting Tumuli Park.
You’re not allowed to walk on the graves, and it is best to stay on the marked path. This goes for anywhere in Gyeongju you see a grave.
There is a small entrance fee of 1,500 won (approximately $1.30USD).
It is a small price to pay to go inside an ancient tomb.
Tumuli Park and Cheongmachong tomb are two of the most unique things to do in Gyeongju!
6. Indulge in the Local Food and Drink
South Korea is known for its incredible food, and Gyeongju is no different.
In fact, Gyeongju takes the delicious tastes one step further because it has its own regional bread.
It it absolutely delicious and not to be missed when in Gyeongju.
The bread is commonly referred to as “Gyeongju bread”, and you can find it pretty much anywhere in the city.
This yummy treat is more of a small pastry than it is bread, but no matter what you call it, it is the perfect afternoon snack.
Outside of the famous Gyeongju bread, there is tons of delicious food to be had.
There are traditional Korean restaurants, pizza and tacos restaurants, over-the-top cafes, and a couple of vegan restaurants.
Korea has an amazing coffee shop culture, so you need to stop by (at least) one cafe for quick break from exploring all the things to do in Gyeongju.
I’m personally obsessed with matcha lattes and find myself in a cafe people watching pretty much everyday when I’m in Korea.
No matter what your food and beverage preferences, I guarantee you’ll find something delicious you fall in love with!
7. Gyeongju National Museum
I’m a sucker for museums and tend to visit nearly every one I encounter on my travels (especially when entrance is fee!).
I’ve been to hundreds of museums around the world, and the Gyeongju National Museum is one of the ones that surprised me the most!
It is incredibly well curated and super interesting. You learn so much without getting that bored museum you can get after reading one too many dry descriptions written in tiny font.
(Even this museum lover feels that way fairly often.)
The Gyeongju National Museum walks you through ancient Korean history with a heavy focus on the Silla Dynasty. Makes sense since Gyeongju is the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty!
The museum also discusses the excavation process and touches on more modern Korean history.
There is also an outdoor display where you can view relics from the Silla Dynasty that are too large to be held inside!
The best part of the museum is that it is free to enter!
A lot of the things to do in Gyeongju come with a (small) entrance fee, so it is nice to be able to visit the Gyeongju National Museum without having to pay.
It is is the perfect activity for people on a tight budget or on days when the weather is less desirable.
8. Woljeonggyo Bridge
Wolijeongggyo Bridge is one of less than a thousand covered bridges remaining in the world. It is truly an incredible sight to see and not something you’ll commonly come across in your travels.
The bridge is located right next to Gyonchon Traditional Village, which was a contender to make this list but just missed the cut.
You should stop by the village when you visit Woljeonggyo Bridge! It is a traditional village where you can see how Koreans lived in the past. It is really cool but not as elaborate as the traditional villages in Seoul and Busan.
The bridge was originally constructed in the 19th Century, but it, unfortunately, didn’t survive. It was rebuilt quite a few years later based on extensive research to ensure the reconstructed bridge is as true to the original bridge as possible.
The best part of Woljeonggyo Bridge is that you can climb up the four towers that anchor it to the ground.
There is a staircase in each of the four towers, and you get a great view of Gyeongju and Gyonchon Traditional Village.
The bridge is lit up at night, so that is the best time to go if you’re looking for the perfect Instagram photo. There is a stone pathway in the water under the bridge where you can get the best photos.
Just be sure you don’t fall in the water when walking between the stones!
There is no entrance fee to visit the bridge, and it is open daily from 9am to 6pm if you want to climb the towers.
Gyeongju is full of unique things to do, and visiting a covered bridge of this size (it is massive) is definitely on that list!
9. Vist an Excavation Site
Gyeongju is known as an open-air museum. Everywhere you turn you stumble on something historical you didn’t expect.
There are so many ongoing excavation sites in the city that you’re bound to stumble on one or two when you’re walking around the city centre.
Most excavation sites have viewing areas where you can walk up some stairs they set up, so you can see over the barrier around the excavation. A number of the most important excavation sites have information on a sign where you can read and learn about what they are unearthing!
You literally get to watch history being uncovered in Gyeongju!
You never know what you’ll see when you’re walking around Gyeongju. The last time I was there they were working on uncovering an ancient king’s small palace.
There are even tombs being excavated where they set up a dome around it, and you can view the tomb from above.
It is an incredible experience!
When you’re wandering around Gyeongju and come across something that looks interesting, take the time to stop and learn about what it is.
You never know what you’ll come across, and it may be one of the best parts of your trip!
10. Cheomseongdae Observatory
Cheomseaongdae means stargazing in Korea, and the observatory in Gyeongju is the oldest exciting astronomical tower in Asia! It may even be the oldest existing astronomical tower in the world, but that hasn’t been confirmed 100% yet.
And it is just sitting in the middle of a park filled with tumuli graves.
You could easily walk past Cheonmseongdae Observatory and not realize and appreciate its historical importance. It is truly a no-fuss tourist attraction!
The observatory was constructed during Queen Seon-deok’s reign from 632BCE to 647BCE. The exact dates aren’t widely known, but we do know that it is hella old and incredibly important historically.
Cheomseongdae Observatory stand just over 9 meters tall and is 30cm in diameter. It isn’t huge, but it is an important sight to visit in Gyeongju nonetheless.
The observatory has 27 levels inside, but the first 12 are filled with soil.
You can’t go inside the observatory (for obvious reasons), but you’re able to walk around the exterior and take photos of it.
You’re bound to naturally stumble on the observatory when you’re visiting all the other things to do in Gyeongju, and when you do, be sure you take the time to marvel at it!
A Quick Note on Internet Safety
No matter where you are in the world, when you connect to a public wifi network, you’re opening yourself to having your data stolen.
And nobody wants to deal with the consequences of having their online data stolen and sold.
It could be as harmless as getting targeted ads that make you feel spied on, but you could also have your banking information stolen.
That happened to a friend on mine when she was travelling, and it is no fun trying to cancel all your bank cards when you’re outside your home country (or city).
The easiest way to prevent having your data stolen is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
A VPN puts up an invisible forcefield around your data, so you’re the only one who can see what you’re doing online.
It is the only way to keep your data 100% private when you’re using public wifi.
That includes hotel wifi that is password protected too!
I personally use NordVPN and have been using them for years now. They are the only VPN that doesn’t slow down your device to a crawl while keeping your data secure and private.
NordVPN often (basically all the time!) has huge sales, and you can get your VPN for up to 70% off.
With the inexpensive prices that NordVPN offers, there is no excuse to not have a VPN protecting you and your online data wherever you are in the world!
Don’t forget to check out my wifi in Korea post to learn everything you need to know about using wifi in Korea as a tourist.
It may surprise you!
As you can see, there are a lot of cultural things to do in Gyeongju. I would argue that Gyeongju is the place to visit in Korea if you’re looking to learn about the country’s ancient history and get a better understanding of how Korea became the nation it is now.
There are many other things to do in Gyeongju, but I think the items on this list are the most important things to do if you want to appreciate the city’s history and culture.
I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with Gyeongju, but I did.
It is now one of the cities I recommend everybody visit in Korea. You leave Gyeongju with a deeper appreciate of all of Korea, and it is unlike anywhere else in the country.