Gyeongju is Korea’s ancient capital. It was the capital of Korea during the Silla Kingdom, which lasted over 1,000 years. Since it is the ancient capital, it is filled with historical sights that can’t be found anywhere else.
Often people visit Gyeongju on a day trip from Seoul. I, however, believe it deserves to be explored for multiple days. There are so many historical sights to see that it would be a shame to rush your time in the city and feel as if you missed out.
This 3 day Gyeongju itinerary allows you to see the best the city has to offer while not feeling too rushed. You also get to visit some of the lesser known places in Gyeongju!
Getting to Gyeongju
Getting to Gyeongju from Seoul is very simple. You will take a train from Seoul station to Dongdaegu. At Dongdaegu you will transfer to another train that will take you all the way to Gyeongju.
The entire trip (including the transfer) takes approximately 3 hours. Tickets can be booked online here. You need a physical copy of your ticket, so you will need to print your ticket rather than saving a copy of it to your phone.
Trains in Korea are simple to use, and they run on time. Be sure to arrive at the train station at least 30 minutes before you depart. This will allow you enough time to find your gate and go to your platform before the train arrives.
It is important to note that there are two train stations near Gyeongju. Do not get off at Singyeongju Station. This station is 2km from the heart of Gyeongju and will require you taking a bus into the city. The next stop will be at Gyeongju station. Get off there, and you will be able to walk to wherever you are staying.
For a more in-depth explanation of how to get from Seoul to Gyeongju, check out this article. It covers all the different ways you get travel between the cities and the pros and cons of each method.
Travelling from Busan is even easier than from Seoul. There is frequent bus service between Busan and Gyeongju. The trip takes anywhere between 40 and 60 minutes. The buses run very frequently, so you can show up at the bus depot at anytime during the day without having to wait too long before the next bus leaves.
You will either be dropped off at the train station or the bus depot depending on what bus you take. They are both centrally-located, so you can walk to your hotel no matter which bus stop you are dropped off at.
Where to Stay
Gyeongju has lots of unique hotel options, and there is something for everybody.
- Budget Travel: G House Mini Hotel & Guesthouse
- Traditional Guesthouse: Siwoowadang
- Hanok Stay: Cheonggong
- Moderately Priced: GG Tourist Hotel
- Luxury: Hilton Gyeongju
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
To start off this Gyeongju itinerary, you’ll visit Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond. Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond were the prince’s palace during the Silla Kingdom. The palace was forgotten after the Silla Kingdom came to an end. In 1974 the palace was excavated, and it eventually was opened to the public.
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond are located just outside the heart of the city. You can take buses 12 or 603 to reach the palace, or you can walk (it is less than 2km from the city centre).
The entrance fee is less than $2USD at the time of writing. This makes it an incredible value because the palace and pond are stunning. Be sure to take your time and walk all the way around the pond. The trees and flowers surrounding the pond add to the beauty.
Your visit will last anywhere between 45 and 120 minutes depending on how much of the information you read and how quickly you walk around the pond.
Gyeongju National Museum
The Gyeongju National Museum is where you can learn about the Silla Kingdom and Korean history. It is also free to visit. It features both indoor and outdoor exhibits that include history and artwork from the region.
The museum is best known for showcasing the Divine Bell of King Seongdeok, which is a national treasure. You could easily spend upwards of 4 hours at the museum if you take the time to explore every exhibit in depth.
I feel like the museum is missed by a lot of tourists who visit Gyeongju. I think it deserves a lot more love than it gets, and that is why I’ve included it on my Gyeongju itinerary!
Eat Traditional Food
Gyeongju has delicious food. No matter what neighbourhood you are in, you will be able to find somewhere to sample traditional Korean food. There is a mixture of street food vendors, food markets, restaurants, and pubs for you to check out.
Gyeongju is known for their bread. Gyeongju bread is the most famous type of bread, but it really more like a bite-sized pastry. You can find it at any bakery, some street food vendors, and often at restaurants as well. So be sure not to miss this speciality treat when in Gyeongju.
Bulguksa Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple that was built during the Silla Kingdom. It and Seokguram Grotto were the first two Korean sights given UNESCO World Heritage Sight status in 1995. Thus is an important part of Korean history.
You can take buses 10, 11, or 700 to reach the temple. Keep in mind that it takes approximately 45-60 minutes on the bus to reach the temple from the city centre, so plan accordingly. The temple is always busy, so it is best to try to get there shortly after it opens.
The entrance fee is approximately $5USD at the time of writing. This makes it one of the most expensive sights in Gyeongju, but it is worth the price.
The temple is located in the mountains and consists of multiple pavilions. Pick up a guide map as you enter the temple because there isn’t much English information in the temple.
It will take you a minimum of two hours to explore the temple, but I recommend you budget three or four hours for exploring.
This is by far the most popular destination in Gyeongju and is on every Gyeongju itinerary you’ll come across, so you’ll want to make sure you get there early to beat the crowds!
And don’t forget to bring your camera! Bulguksa Temple is one of the most Instagrammable places in Korea!
After you’re done exploring Bulguksa Temple, head to Seokguram Grotto. It is home to a 1,000 year old stone Buddha that was not rediscovered until 1909! This is a must-do when you’re in Gyeongju.
To get to Seokguram Grotto from Bulguska Temple you can either walk or take bus number 12. If you are walking, be sure to exit from the main gate as that is where the walking path is located.
The walk is approximately 2.5km through the forest, but it is mostly uphill. Do not walk if you are in poor physical health as it can be a bit strenuous at times. The walk is scenic though.
The entrance fee is approximately $5USD at the time of writing. Once you enter the sight, you will walk through some of the forest then up some stairs to the building the buddha is located. Pictures are not allowed.
Visiting Seokguram Grotto does not take very long because the sight consists of only the one building. However, visiting Seokguram Grotto could take 2-3 hours if you choose to walk up and down the mountain.
Getting Back to Gyeongju
How you get back to Gyeonju will depend if you walk back down to Bulguska Temple after your visit, or if you take the bus. The walk down is relatively easy, so even if you took the bus to Seokguram Grotto, you may want to consider walking back to the temple.
If you don’t want to walk down, take bus 12 and get off at the stop for Bulguska Temple. Once you’re back at Bulguska Temple (whether you walked or took the bus), take bus 10, 11, or 700 back to Gyeongju city centre. It is important that you get on the bus on the same side of the street as you got off the bus. If you get on the bus on the wrong side of the street, you will be going in the wrong direction. The bus ride will take approximately 45-60 minutes to reach the centre of Gyeongju.
Gyeongju is home to tombs from the Silla Kingdom. Somebody that isn’t aware of the tombs would think that Gyeongju is unnaturally hilly, but the “hills” are in fact burial tombs of the Silla elite and wealthy.
Tumuli Park contains the largest number of tombs. The entrance fee is approximately $2USD at the time of writing.
The park is home to the most famous Silla tomb in Korea called Cheonmachong. Cheonmachong means sky horse. The tomb got its name because there was a beautiful painting of a horse inside the tomb.
As part of your admission fee, you are able to go inside Cheonmachong to see what the inside of tomb looks like. Tumuli park has a circular pathway for visitors to walk along, and Cheonmachong is located near the main entrance on a side path, so be sure you don’t miss it!
The entire complex is incredibly interesting. There aren’t many English signs, so you will have to do you own research to learn more about the tombs. It is worth the effort though.
There is a double hill in the park. This is actually two tombs as one. A man and wife were both buried there, and their mounds have created one large hill with a dip in the middle.
I spent three hours in the park looking at the tombs. It is incredibly peaceful and makes for a great place to relax while still taking in the sights.
You must respect the rules while you are in the park (and in Gyeongju as a whole). This means that you do not walk on or climb the tombs. It is extremely disrespectful, and if you are caught, a large fine.
Explore the Rest of Central Gyeongju
Central Gyeongju has a number of other sights worth visiting. You will stumble upon one sight after the next when you’re walking around the central part of the city after visiting the tombs.
Some sights you should be on the lookout for are:
- Cheomseongdae Observatory: This is a star gazing tower that was built in the 7th Century. It is thought to be the oldest star gazing tower in East Asia. You can’t go inside the tower, so you will only be able to look at it while walking by and read the information provided.
- Gyochon Traditional Village: Here you are able to see what traditional Korean buildings look like. This neighbourhood is filled with traditional buildings that have been converted into stores and cafes. It gives you a good sense of what Korea looked like years ago. It does close early, so you may want to stop there early in the afternoon.
- Wolijeonggyo Bridge: This is one of my personal favourite sights in Gyeongju. It is a bridge that was built in the 8th Century during the unified Silla period. You are able to see the bridge from Gyochon. On both sides of the bridge you can climb to the top section and get a magnificent view of the city.
Gyeongju is full of sights. You need more than a day trip if you want to experience all the city has to offer.
For anybody interested in Korean history or traditional architecture, Gyeongju is the place for you. Most of the sights are well-curated and allow you to understand the history behind the places you visit.
Korea is a modern country, but it is important to take the time to learn about its history, so you can appreciate how it developed into the country it is today. Gyeongju is the complete opposite of Seoul. It is filled with short buildings, open park spaces, and it has a relaxed pace and atmosphere.
Make sure you put Gyeongju on your itinerary on your next trip to Korea. It is an amazing city.