Korean City Guides: Gyeongju Short Stay
Gyeongju: A short trip to Korea's cultural capital 경주
Gyeongju is the opposite of Seoul in some ways. In a small country that has little diversity when it comes to its cities, Gyeongju stands out - not just for its history, tradition and culture but also for the atmosphere. It is different. There are few high-rise apartments, just lots of temples, mountains, open green spaces, lakes and fields. Rent a bicycle and explore.
Gyeongju is the best place in South Korea to feel the history of the country. Koreans call it a 'Museum without walls'.
Gyeongju is the old capital of the Silla Kingdom and battled with Baekje in the west and Goguryeo in the north for ascendancy. It came in 668 and lasted until 918. During that time, it ruled an area that went as far north as Pyongyang and it was a time when people first started talk of a united Korea.
These geographic entities can still be felt today, up to a point. Silla is seen in the south as the original South Korea, while North Koreans now say something similar about Goguryeo (which stretched into Manchuria).
From Seoul, it used to be a real five-hour trek by train or bus down to the city. The KTX has changed all that.
You can get to Gyeongju from Seoul in two hours by the high-speed rail. It currently costs about 40,000 won one way and can be caught from Seoul Station and goes all the way down to Busan. The journey by KTX from Busan is a little over 30 minutes.
Be warned though, the new station ShinGyeongju (opened in 2010) is big and shiny but in the middle of nowhere. ShinGyeongju is perhaps 20 minutes away from downtown (around 20,000 won by taxi) and 30-40 minutes from Bomun Lake (up to 30,000). There are buses running from the station to the city. Most go to the bus terminal downtown, Use buses 50, 60, 61, 70, 203 and 700. For Bomun you can take 700.
As well as the KTX there are slower trains that can take up to five hours and the bus, which runs from Express Bus Terminal and Dong Seoul, and takes something similar.
The best way is to cycle. There are lots of places to rent a bicycle for the day which costs between 6,000-8,000 won. With the city relatively laid-back and spread out, cycling is a much more pleasant and safe activity in Gyeongju than cities such as Seoul or Busan.
Taxis are not expensive. From downtown to Bulguksa Temple, expect to pay around 20,000. It is around 10,000 from Bomun Lake.
Public transport consists of buses though it can be a little intimidating if you don't speak or read Korean.
There are two general options. There are motels around the bus terminal in the old downtown. These don't need to/can't be reserved but decent rooms are available for around 40,000 won a night. Ask at the tourist information booth just outside the terminal.
Alternatively, stay at one of the hotels around Bomun Lake, a little out of town, on the way to Bulguksa Temple. There are a number of decent three-star hotels that are reasonable in value such as the Commodore Chosun Hotel and Concordia Hotel. There are also the likes of the Gyeongju Hilton and The Suites.
Anapji Pond, illuminated at night
It is a tricky question.
Gyeongju is located in the south-east area of the country and is hot and humid in the summer months. The best time to go weather-wise is spring or autumn, seasons that are becoming increasingly short in the country.
April and May usually offer nice weather though the first two weeks or so of April are very busy as people flock to see the cherry blossoms in all their glory. Hotel prices will be higher at this time and the attractions very busy. September and October are also pleasant.
Keep in mind that many sights especially Bulguksa, fall prey on occasion to legions of schoolchildren. Every school child in Korea visits Gyeongju with their school at least once. This can spoil the ambience somewhat with thousands of kids running around and teachers with loudspeakers trying to control them.
The best time to avoid these are during the holidays in January and February - when it can be very cold - and July and August.
Visiting in the winter or wet weather will ensure the quietest experience at Bulguksa and elsewhere. If not, perhaps late afternoon is the best bet of not feeling like you are back at the concourse of Seoul Station.
Bored of Temples?
Bomun Lake Resort
Around the lake and behind hotels Commodore and Concordia is a resort built back in the seventies. Along the walk down to the lake, there is an open-air theatre, some traditional Korean restaurants and as you get closer to the lake, there are bars, coffee shops and restaurants on either side. At the lake itself you can hire a boat or pedalo or have a beer in the beer terrace.
Shilla Millenium Park
A fascinating step back in time that doesn't get much attention especially from international visitors. This reproduction of a village from the Shilla period offers all kinds of educational opportunities for kids and grown-ups alike.
Battles are re-enacted and visitors are can take part in all kinds of activities from making crafts to traditional rice wine. It's all set in a massive park that is a pleasant walk in itself.
Gyeongju World Amusement Park
As well as the temples and tombs, there are other things to do in Gyeongju. Just as you pass all the hotels around Bomun Lake on your way to Bulguksa, you can't miss the theme park. There are 26 rides including the usual roller coasts and log flumes - a great break from all the sightseeing.
If you are short of time or just like to be shown around, you can take an official city tour.
Travel phone: +82-54-1330 (English, Japanese, Chinese)
Course 1 Departs at 8.40am and returns at 4.30pm
Gyeongju Bus Terminal - Bomun Complex (drive-by point of interest) - Bulguksa Temple - Folk Craft Village (Silla Arts and Science Museum) - Bunhwangsa Temple - Tomb of General Kim Yusin - Daereungwon (Cheonmachong) - Gyeongju National Museum - Cheomseongdae - Gyeongju Bus Terminal
Course 2 Departs at 10am and returns at 4.40pm
Gyeongju Bus Terminal - Bomun Complex (drive-by point of interest) - Gwaereung - Seokguram Grotto - Tomb of King Munmu the Great - Gameunsaji Temple Site - Golgulsa Temple - Bomun Complex (drive-by point of interest) - Gyeongju Station - Gyeongju Bus Terminal
Course 3 Departs at 10am and returns at 6pm
Bulguksa Visitor Center - Bomun complex (drive-by point of interest) - Gyeongju Station (10:50) - Gyeongju Bus Terminal (11:00) - Poseokjeong - Daereungwon (Cheonmachong) - Cheomseongdae - Seokguram Grotto - Bulguksa Temple - Bomun complex (pass) - Gyeongju Station - Gyeongju Bus Terminal
Related Gyeongju Resources