After having a ball in Seoul, we wanted to explore the rest of South Korea a bit. Our plane to Osaka was to leave from Daegu to the southeast of the peninsula, so it was obvious where we had to go. I’m a big fan of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list. Thus, we went to Gyeongju, just an hour away from Daegu Airport. The place offers three World Heritage Sites within a radius of just 40km2. These are the Gyeongju Historic Areas, the Bulguksa Temple & Seokguram Grotto, and the Yangdong Folk Village. On top of that, there’s a lake in the area, and the beach is nearby. Our Gyeongju 3 day itinerary takes you to all the main sites.
How to Get to Gyeongju
- 1 How to Get to Gyeongju
- 2 Where to Stay in Gyeongju
- 3 Gyeongju 3 Day Itinerary
- 4 Day 1
- 5 Day 2
- 6 Day 3
- 7 Gyeongju, the Real Korea
South Korea’s transport network is quite developed, and traveling is an adventure in itself. It’s kind of futuristic! You travel through a never-ending urban sprawl, with buildings all around. That said, the further you get from Seoul, the less populated the country is. You go through lush green mountains, fields, and next to the sea. However, the best thing is how polite and helpful people are. If you can’t find your way, just ask a local. A lot of people speak English, and the ones that don’t will still find a way to help you. Another thing that impressed us is how clean and orderly trains and buses are.
Seoul to Gyeongju
The most convenient and fastest way to get from Seoul to Gyeongju is on a train. The super-fast KTX train covers the distance in about 2 hours. It arrives at the new train station out of the city (Singyeongju). From there, take a bus to the center. It takes some 15 minutes through the green mountains to get to Gyeongju. There’s another way how to get from Seoul to Gyeongju. Slow trains connect the two cities, but the journey takes about 5 hours. On the positive side, slow trains arrive at the Gyeongju city center station. Please bear in mind that you cannot buy tickets online.
Daegu to Gyeongju
From Daegu to Gyeongju you can travel by train or bus. The fast SRT train covers the route in only 17 minutes and drops you at the new train station out of the city (Singyeongju). Once again, it’s a 15-minute ride on a local bus to downtown Gyeongju. We opted for a direct bus since it arrives at the Gyeongju bus terminal in the city center. Buses leave from Daegu Bus station, in front of the Daegu Main train station. It’s the massive terminal where SRT trains arrive. Buses are frequent, and the journey takes around 50 minutes.
Busan to Gyeongju
From Busan to Gyeongju you can also travel by train or bus. SRT fast trains leave from central Busan and arrive at the Singyeongju Station in 34 minutes. Buses leave from Busan Central Bus Terminal next to the last stop on metro line 1 (Nopo) and take some 50 minutes. Thus, the whole trip from central Busan to Gyeongju takes just over an hour. There are also direct buses from Busan Airport to Gyeongju.
If you are short on time you can take this small group tour to Gyeongju from Busan.
Where to Stay in Gyeongju
Gyeongju City Hotels
Gyeongju doesn’t have many hotels in the city center. Nevertheless, staying in the center is a good idea, since you can walk to several interesting sites. The only nice hotel downtown is the Gyeongju GG Tourist Hotel. Conveniently located between the heritage site area and the bus station, it offers extra-large rooms and a gym. If you prefer staying in a Hanok house, there are several good options south of the city center. Both the Hanok Sodamjeong and the Gyeongju Happy Village Syeobul are great traditional Korean houses to soak up the atmosphere.
Bomun Lake Hotels
Most visitors to Gyeongju choose to stay around Bomun Lake for its variety of nice hotels. We stayed south of the Bomun Lake, at the charming Bomun World Pension. It provided all the peace and tranquility we needed to chill. They also have bikes, so we hopped on two and explored the area happily on our own. We would wake up in the morning and walk to the fancy cafés next doors, to do what we like doing the most: having coffee and cake while admiring the views. If you rather stay in a large resort next to the lake, we suggest the Hilton Gyeongju. This luxury hotel offers an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, extra-large rooms, and probably the best views in the area.
Gyeongju 3 Day Itinerary
As mentioned above, our Gyeongju 3 day itinerary covers the most important attractions. In addition, you will visit them using public transport, a bike, and on foot. There’s no need to rush! That said, if you are lucky and have more time, you won’t get bored. Within Gyeongju National Park you will find several attractions you can hike too. On the contrary, if you only have one day to explore Gyeongju, we suggest focusing on the city and its Unesco sites (Day 1 of our itinerary). If you have two days, include Bomun Lake and Bulguksa Temple.
Gyeongju City is different from other megacities in South Korea. The beautiful Gyeongju National Park surrounds this mid-size city of some 250000 people. The city center doesn’t have much of a soul, with only one interesting street: semi-pedestrian Bonghwang-ro. There is also a nice covered market close to the train station, Seongdong Market. The area south of Taeojon-ro Street and west of the Gyeongju Historic Area is another story. Its narrow streets and cute houses resemble a traditional Korean village. Nice restaurants and cafés dot the area.
Gyeongju Historic Areas
The Gyeongju Historic Areas are open fields with historic buildings. The Royal Tombs are the closest to the center and the visually most impressive ones. These structures look like hills and date back to the Silla Dynasty. Most of them are inside the so-called Tumuli Park Gyeongju. Southwest from there, you’ll stumble upon awkward Cheomsongdae, the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia. You will find the remains of the old royal palace in the Anapji Pond, to the east of the observatory. Finally, don’t forget to visit the Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Hanok Village and the monumental Woljeonggyo Bridge. If you have time, go visit the nearby Gyeongju National Museum. Since most people come from Seoul during the weekend, we biked around the area mostly by ourselves. What a privilege!
Bomun Lake Resort
The Bomun Lake Resort is a large tourist complex 8 kilometers east of Gyeongju opened in 1979. Though originally intended for foreign tourists, it became highly popular among Koreans. Indeed, while we met many foreigners in the city, there were only a few near the lake. Large hotels and shopping centers pack the northern side of the lake, while rice fields and small houses surround the southern side. The most prominent structures near the lake include the lovely Bomun Pavilion, the Gyeongju World Water Park, and the high tech Gyeongju Tower.
Yangdong Folk Village
If you are into vernacular architecture, you’ll love Yangdong Folk Village, 20km north of Gyeongju. It offers an insight into traditional Korean life. This aristocratic village from the Joseon Dynasty (15th Century) and the Hahoe Folk Village are the only Korean settlements included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Apart from the architecture, it preserves local folk customs and displays old social hierarchies. While wealthier homes covered with tiles are on the higher ground, lower-class homes with thatched roofs are on the lower ground. The gorgeous natural setting completes the feast.
Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto
Another good thing about visiting Gyeongju is that it’s close to the magnificent Bulguksa Temple. The main temple of the Jogye Order homes seven national treasures and is one of Korea’s most important temples. While you are here don’t forget to visit the nearby Seokguram Grotto, which houses some of the most impressive Buddhist sculptures in the world. To us, it was kind of disappointing, as you can only see them from afar through a thick glass wall (that supposedly protects it). Nevertheless, the path through the forest is absolutely amazing and you get to see many squirrels.
If you are into completely off the beaten track destinations, Gyeongju is your place. We wanted to see what a real Korean beach looks like. Thus, we went to Bonggil Daewangam Beach. Our expectations weren’t high, but it turned out to be a perfect day. The beach is pretty nice, with locals selling fish and cooking it just in front of you. The Gyeongju National Park surrounds the beach. The underwater tomb of Korean King Munmu of Silla is right in front of the beach. Locals don’t speak English, but lucky for us a Korean-American helped us choose the right food. Delicious!
Gyeongju, the Real Korea
Without a doubt, Gyeongju is one of the nicest places in South Korea. We will never forget the warmth of its people, landscape, coffee, and delicious cakes. Special thanks go to our host at the pension for driving us to the nearest bus stop! If South Korea is on your list, be sure to visit its countryside. Though Seoul is nice, in Gyeongju you get to experience easy-going Korea. Insider’s tip: getting around the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other interesting places can be tricky. Therefore, I prepared the map below. I hope it comes handy. You can also visit the tourist info at the train station. Their maps are cool!