Gyeongju travel guide hand drawn map of Korea in purple. Gyeongju is marked with a red dot.

Gyeongju Travel Guide, South Korea. Towering grass covered tomb mounds find themselves interspersed with homes and people going about their day. The oldest observatory, Korea’s most famous temple and stone statue grotto, and nighttime palace visits are just a few of the delights Gyeongju has to offer.

Index

Gyeongju is one of the highlights of any Korean trip. Any fans of history, spiritualism, or nature will find themselves at home here. Check out the details to plan your trip in the Gyeongju Travel Guide.

Top 5 Things to Do

1. Daereungwon Tomb Complex (3,000krw)

double humped tomb mound covered in green grass behind a small leafy green tree all reflected into the large pond. The picture is framed on the top by branches and on the bottom by the tips of a brown fence
The tombs in the springtime!

While you can see the tombs just about everywhere in Gyeongju, this park is worth the entry fee. It’s perfectly manicured, with gorgeous trees and pathways. You can even go inside one of the excavated tombs.

2. Gyeongju National Museum (Free!)

a large gold crown and gold belt suspended in front of a black backdrop. The crown has three main stems with flower-petal-like designs in gold. The belt is a red velvet base with a main center dangling piece of diamond gold plates, with dangling chains around the whole thing.
One of the magnificent Shilla Crowns

Normally I don’t advocate for spending too much time in museums when traveling. Museums are great and I love them, but they can take too much time from seeing real life in a city. This one is excellent. Don’t miss the Seokguram Grotto statue replicas at the entrance. They are the best view you’ll get of them and they are impressive. The sheer amount of gold on everything in this museum helps you comprehend the society that was the Silla Kingdom better than anything else. And these crowns are just so….huge!

3. Cheomseongdae Observatory (Free!)

A grey stone rounded structure on a square base with a square opening a the top. There is also a square viewing window. The sky is blue with a few white scattered clouds.
The observatory is interesting but the park was where the real fun was!

This Gyeongju travel guide recommendation isn’t even because of the observatory. It’s nice, but you could see it in about three seconds. No, what’s really worth it is the park nearby. On a good day everyone will be running about with kites. The kites are 5,000 each, and well worth it to feel like a kid again. I was very down and upset when I first went to Gyeongju, and letting loose was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I have such wonderful memories and you can have them too!

4. Gyerim Forest & The Woods Near Donggung Palace (Free!)

A grassy pine-tree wooded view. There is a small dirt path winding through the interspersed trees with many pine needles on the ground.
This is the pine forest, one of the best walks in Gyeongju!

Gyerim Forest is perfectly spiritual and sacred. It just feels old. It’s also a historical site, where the abandoned baby who would grow to be King was found in a golden box hanging from a tree. Pretty cool! The nearby pine woods across from Donggung Palace were also lovely and a great spot for a woodsy picnic.

5. Woljeonggyo Bridge (Free!)

a slightly off kilter image of a Korean bridge reflecting into the river water below. It's a covered bridge with two large two story pavilions on either side as entrances.
Sorry for being slightly off kilter, the bridge is amazing but you can’t stop for too long on the stepping stones to take the picture.

The best photo taking spot in Gyeongju. It’s also just stunningly beautiful. The bridge perfectly spans the river, with a stone path below so you can get the best view. Walking through the covered bridge is also a great way to get a feel for what life might have been for the people who built the bridge. It’s very impressive.

Other Things to See and Do

  1. Bulguksa Temple This is one of the most, if not the most famous temple in Korea, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To be honest, the temple felt very run-down and not at all peaceful/spiritual. Additionally, it’s a pretty high entrance fee (for Korea) at 5,000krw. You can get into an entire palace in Seoul for 3,000. And it’s about an hour outside of Gyeongju by bus. But it does have lovely autumn and spring scenes, and its history dates back to the 500s which is very impressive.
  2. Seokguram Grotto This is another half hour from Bulguksa Temple and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site that probably isn’t worth the visit. It’s a stone temple dating to the 700s with some truly impressive Buddhist statues. However. You can’t really see the statues as the entire grotto is blocked by a glass partition at the entrance. You’d be much better off seeing the replicas in the Gyeongju National Museum. Also, an additional outrageous 5,000krw entrance fee and you can barely see anything, although the location is very pretty.
  3. Guemgwanchong These are just the regular tombs you will absolutely encounter as you wander around Gyeongju. They’re stunning. The only reason I recommend the Daereungwon park specifically in the Top 5 is because of the beautiful pond and the ability to see inside a tomb. If you’re going the ultimate backpacker route, then just stick to these free tombs!
  4. Donggung Palace This palace is shockingly barebones but it still has charm! I recommend heading here after sunset when they turn on all the lights around Wolji Pond. It does look truly spectacular then! But during the day it’s just a nice pond and a couple pavilions.
a small Buddhist temple building up above nestled among fall foliage Gyeongju travel guide.
The walk to the Grotto was beautiful, with gems like this!

Best Daytrips from Gyeongju

  • Busan: Busan is an easy hour or so away from Gyeongju, full of seaside fun. Excellent beaches, alleyways full of books, and cafes with the most amazing views, Busan can’t be missed on a trip to Korea. Check out my Busan Travel Guide.
  • Pohang: Pohang is only a half hour from Gyeongju and is normally used as a base point for heading to Ulleungdo (the Mystery Island). But it has it’s charm as a quiet fishing village. Juwangsan National Park is a stone’s throw away and Bogyeongsa is a peaceful temple near a waterfall.

Gyeongju Basic Costs

a light blue watercolor background with a watery darker border. Sleep is written in black handwriting in the center
  • Hostel: 16,000
  • Guesthouse: 33,000
  • Hotel: 100,000

a red watercolor background with a watery darker border. Food is written in black handwriting in the center
  • Coffee: 6,000
  • Kimbap: 3,000
  • Meal: 6,500+
a green watercolor background with a watery darker border. Transport is written in black handwriting in the center
  • Local Bus: 1,350
  • 10min Taxi: 5,500
  • Busan Bus:
  • Seoul Train: 42,000
a purple watercolor background with a watery darker border. Activities is written in black handwriting in the center
  • Tomb Park: 3,000
  • Temple: 5,000
  • Grotto: 5,000
A view of Wolji pond which almost encircles the large red pavillion decorated in green. Spring flowers peak from leafy trees.
Donggung Palace and the famous Wolji pond!

Budgeting

Estimates are for a weekend trip to Gyeongju, the minimum amount of time this Gyeongju Travel Guide recommends. The Korean exchange rate is currently around 1,150krw to 1usd.

Backpacker (51,000krw)

  • Hostel: 16,000 a night
  • 4 Bus Rides: 6,000
  • Food: 26,000
  • Activities: 3,000

Explorer (88,000)

  • Guesthouse: 37,000 a night
  • 4 Bus Rides: 6,000
  • Food: 32,000
  • Activities: 13,000

Splurger (193,000)

  • Hotel: 100,000 a night
  • 4 Long Taxi Rides: 40,000
  • Food: 40,000
  • Activities: 13,000

Where to Stay

Most Koreans use Booking.com for booking their stays so all of the links are through that site. If you sign up for an account, you can earn Level 2 Genius status after only a few bookings and receive discounts. It’s saved me over $100 so far! The Tiny Tumbleweed Gyeongju Travel Guide recommends a cheap hostel because the sites are what you’ll be there for. Hopefully, you’ll hardly be in your hostel!

Hostel

This is the best hostel in Gyeongju. I’ve been to Gyeongju multiple times and everyone else’s hostel that I’ve been to has never been as good. It costs around 16,000 a night, which is a bit pricey. But it’s worth it for the comfort. It includes breakfast supplies, the owner is lovely, and the rooms are kept well heated in the winter. Every time I go to Gyeongju, it rains. The cozy atmosphere keeps the bad weather at bay!

It’s a little more expensive but it’s location is excellent and it’s great for those good days where it doesn’t rain! It has a little outdoor area, perfect for a peaceful evening or early morning snacking on your included breakfast. The owners are friendly and are happy to provide you maps and other sources to find your way around.

Guesthouse

For the price, Inn Gyeongju is absolutely your best option. The location is good and the bedrooms are cozy. The staff really want to take care of you and help with earlier check-ins, provide a free small breakfast (it’s not listed on Booking), and even do your dishes. Wow!

If you’re looking for a place a little closer to the intercity bus station, and a private room, Good Dream Guesthouse is a good option for you. It’s very quiet and clean. It also includes breakfast supplies. This is where I stayed, however their prices have doubled from what I paid and it’s not as good a deal as Inn Gyeongju now.

Hotel

This is a fun option if you’re willing to spend around 100,000w (High-end in Korea tends to still be pretty reasonable!). Siwoowadang has a good balance of price and nice-ness. Many of the very nice places in Gyeongju are outside the city proper, while this one is within walking distance of all the main things to see. Just book ahead as they are often booked out well in advance.


Where to Eat

No Words

a navy large teacup on a matching saucer filled with white foam. It sits next to a notebook on a wooden counter with a view out green framed windows to the tomb mound park on a rainy day.
Can it get anymore atmospheric?

Open: 12~18:00

Average $: 6,500w

This is one of my favorite cafes in Korea. There’s something about it’s chilled, slightly hipster vibe that’s perfect. The view of the park through the single-pane windows is fabulous. It’s the perfect writing spot for me. The drinks are also delicious. I adore their Earl Grey Milk Tea Latte. They also have freshly baked goods. It’s a little hard to find if you don’t use the Kakao Maps app. It’s not advertised much but it’s on the second floor up a flight of seriously steep stairs.

Nordic (노르딕)

Open: 10~18:00

Average $: 10,000won

There are some really nice brunch options here. It’s expensive, but the portions are pretty large. Most brunch options in Korea are meant more to share, but they have options for solo eaters as well. Be aware that their hours tend to shift a lot. When I went once at 4PM they weren’t open so just know you’ll have to head to one of the other dozen places three feet away.

Kisoya

A large white bowl with a blue stripe around the rim on a black tray. The bowl contains broth, noodles, pork slices, half an egg, and some green onion.
Delcious, delicious ramen from Kisoya

Average $: 6,500+

This Gyeongju Travel Guide knows most people are probably looking for Korean dishes when they visit Korea. But if you’re traveling alone this can be very difficult. There are only a few types of restaurants you can be confident of being served in – kimbap, some soup places, and foreign restaurants. So Kisoya, which is Japanese (with a Korean flair) is the choice for me in Gyeongju. It’s also cheap, ranging from 6,500 and up.


How to Get There

Most people will be coming from Busan or Seoul so I’ll give prices and times for those. RometoRio is a good option for estimating routes and costs, but they are not always accurate so expect a bus ticket to cost a few thousand won more.

By train:

Use the letskorail website to book your tickets up to one month in advance. There are not many options for trains.

  • From Seoul: KTX/Mugunghwa combination with a transfer is your only option. It will take about 3.5 hours and cost around 42,000krw.
  • From Busan: KTx is again your only option, taking about 30 minutes for 11,000krw.

By bus:

Head to your nearest intercity bus station. You can try to check the bus times on the T-Money Bus website but I would generally avoid booking tickets through it. There is literally no point in taking a bus from Seoul, just take the train, it’s so cheap!

  • From Busan: It will take you around 1 hour and cost you around 5,000krw.
  • From Seoul: It will take 4 hours and cost around 30,000krw.

General Korea Tips

Getting Around

There are two main apps for getting around Korea; Naver and Kakao. Google Maps does not work. I recommend Kakao as the romanization spellings are more consistent and the features are generally better in my opinion.

You may need to type in Korean to find some destinations so make sure you download a Korean keyboard.

Kakao app bus schedule. Shows 16 stops, estimated time before the bus comes, and what the estimated arrival time will be.

When you go to catch a bus, it will tell you when the bus is arriving and how many stops you have. If you hit the bell icon in the upper right hand corner it will highlight which bus stop you’re currently at, and it will alert you when you need to get off. It’s amazing.

What to Pack

Depending on the season, Korea is either hot and humid or chilly and humid. In general, just take out the winter clothes for summer and add some leggings and a coat for winter.

  • 2 pair shorts or skirts
  • 1 pair jeans or comfortable trousers
  • 1 pair leggings
  • 4 shirts (crop tops are not a common sight in Korea, I would avoid outside of Seoul)
  • 1 dress or nice shirt for going out
  • 1 swimsuit (bikinis are basically unheard of but foreigners wear them frequently – just accept the stares :P)
  • 6 pair socks (fresh socks are the best)
  • 1 pair sneakers
  • 1 pair flip flops/slides for showers and out and about
  • 5 pair underwear
  • 1 travel towel
  • Toothbrush
  • Deodorant (it can be difficult to find and expensive)
  • Small lock for lockers
  • Universal plug adapter
  • Period products – if you prefer an option besides pads they can be difficult to find
  • Tissue packs – surprisingly difficult to find
  • General pain killers/common over the counter medicines – also can be a little hard to find depending on what you’re looking for. Not all pharmacists speak English and it can be very trying to attempt to communicate about medicine when you’re in pain.

Just about everything else is very easy to find, there is no need to buy shampoo, toothpaste, etc. It’s all right there in a Daiso or supermarket for reasonable prices. Of course, if you have a preference, that’s something you should bring as well.

Safety

Korea is an incredibly safe country. Women often walk alone late at night and theft is almost unheard of. You should always be cautious, but in general Korea is one of the safest countries in the world.

Basic Korean Gyeongju Travel Guide

Hello: an-yawss-ay-yo (안녕하세요)

Where is: awdi-ay _______ (어디에)

Thanks: kam-sam-nida (감사합니다)

Goodbye: an-yeong-i-kay-sayo (안녕히 계세요)

Alphabet

Korean is a very easy language to read. It is almost entirely phonetic so each symbol equals one sound. It’s good to learn because many things are English words just written in Korean. Like 커 is a very easy language to read. It is almost entirely phonetic so each symbol equals one sound. It’s good to learn because many things are English words just written in Korean. Like 커피 “kawpi” is coffee.

Vowels

  • ㅏ “ah” cat
  • ㅓ “aw” sought
  • ㅣ “ee” me
  • ㅡ good
  • ㅗ “oh” boat
  • ㅜ “oo” you
  • ㅔ “ay” May
  • ㅐ “eh” yes

Consonants

  • ㄱ “g” get
  • ㅋ “k” cat
  • ㄴ “n” none
  • ㅅ “s” snake
  • ㅈ “j” juice
  • ㅊ “ch” chase
  • ㅂ “b” bus
  • ㅍ “p” pet
  • ㄷ “d” dog
  • ㅌ “t” test
  • ㅎ “h” hat
  • ㅁ “m” mat
  • ㅇ “ng” or silent*

Double/Y-Sound

  • ㄲ Hard “k”**
  • ㅆ tense “s”
  • ㅉ “tch” tsunami
  • ㅃ tense “b”
  • ㅑ”yah”
  • ㅕ”yaw”
  • ㅛ “yoh”
  • ㅠ “yoo”
  • ㅖ “yay”
  • ㅒ “yeh”

*Korean is written in syllable blocks. When you start a syllable with a vowel, like 안 you put the ㅇ symbol as a silent placeholder.

** Double vowels aren’t really important right now, people will know what you’re trying to say.


Other Korean Cities to Visit

If you enjoyed this Gyeongju Travel Guide, you should check out my other guides to cities in Korea!

Suwon Travel Guide: Best Daytrip From Seoul!

The fortress walls along the right in stone. Below the walls are pink bushes in full bloom. In the back the fortress building is seen as a two story pagoda-style building.
The stunning walls of Suwon!

Tongyeong Travel Guide: Seaside Bliss!

A view of Tongyeong through some winter trees. Bits of pastel buildings and the harbor with mountains in the background.
Tongyeong, a lovely casual sea town!

Boseong Travel Guide: The Little-Known Tea Fields of Korea

Rows of tea bushes with a pine tree forest in the background. A pink flower tree is on the right.
Also they’re some of the most beautiful tea fields ever!

~Gyeongju Travel Guide~

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