Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla (57 BC – 935 AD) which ruled about two-thirds of the Korean Peninsula between the 7th and 9th centuries. There are many archaeological sites and cultural properties from this period that remain in the city and because of that, Gyeongju is a city that is often called a city of museum without walls.
Gyeongju is near Busan and Ulsan and although it’s far, you can go there for a day trip if you arrange your time well.
Getting to Gyeongju
There are 2 main ways to go to Gyeongju by public transportation: Train or Express Bus. Oh and may be by plane too!
There are several train types in Korea (read more about the different train types in Korea in this post) but to get to Gyeongju in the shortest time, I would recommend taking the KTX. Taking the KTX is also the most expensive option compared to other train types and also compared to taking the bus. However, there are 2 types of passes for foreigners that you can make use of to save some money.
If you are a foreigner just visiting Korea for less than 6 months, you can use the Korail Pass. A One Day Korail Pass costs only 64,000 KRW for youths between age 13 to 25 and 81,000 KRW for adults above 25 years old. The normal price for a one way trip to Gyeongju from Seoul is 49,300 KRW so getting the pass will at least save you 17600 KRW if you are older than 25. There are longer duration Korail passes too if you are interested to go to other places by KTX (Perhaps Ulsan, Busan or Daegu) for more than a single day trip.
I actually stayed in Gyeongju for 2 days and since there is no Korail pass that is for 2 days use, I used the Happy Rail Pass instead. The happy rail pass is the only pass that you can buy if you are residing in Korea for more than 6 months. The cost of a 2-day Happy Rail Pass is 76,600 KRW for youths and 95,700 KRW for adults. It is not really worth it for adults compared to the Korail 1-day Pass but if you have no choice, plan for a longer trip and it may be more worth it. I will be writing a separate post on how to redeem your passes soon.
If you want to save money, take the express bus from Seoul Express Bus Terminal. A one way tickets costs 20,400 KRW. However, the journey will take 3 hours 45 minutes without factoring traffic. A KTX ride to Gyeongju only takes 2 hours. Hence if you are taking the bus, you will need to stay in Gyeongju for more than 1 day.
Honestly, if I had to do the trip again, I would not stay longer than a day. I only stayed there for an additional day because I wanted to catch the Silla show (I had free tickets) and there was no way I could get to the train station in time for the last train to Seoul after the show. This is why I am recommending to go to Gyeongju for a day trip instead!
Gyeongju City Tour
The city tour is the main reason why I say you can visit Gyeongju and finish everything in one day. The tour provider has 5 different tour routes that you can take depending on which route interests you the most. I went on the World Heritage Tour because the pick up time at the Singyeongju Station (the KTX Station name of Gyeongju) is the latest, 11.20AM. You can check the pick up time at Singyeongju station of each course at the “Boarding Info” tab of the tour description.
When you reach Singyeongju station, exit through exit 1 and walk straight ahead to the City Tour Bus stop and you will see the bus there.
The first two stops of the tour were tombs of several important people in the Silla dynasty. Along the way to these tombs, you will also see many other tombs – hence my conclusion that Gyeongju is a city of tombs.
I wasn’t really interested in the tombs and thankfully we went to a non-tomb place in Gyeongju on our third destination: Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond (경주 동궁과 월지, 안압지)
This place is beautiful in the day but I heard it is more beautiful at night although I did not actually get to see it at night. Gyeongju Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond were the secondary palace site in the Silla Dynasty which was used for the palace of the Crown Prince. It also was the banquet room for important national event and important visitors.
After strolling in the park, it’s finally lunch time! We had 쌈밥, Korean rice wrap. Prepare 10,000 KRW for the lunch because everyone needs to pay lunch separately (They accepted card payment too). The lunch was really good and I was glad I made some friends over lunch since I went for the tour alone.
We then headed up to the mountains to see Seokguram Grotto (석굴암), a UNESCO World Heritage. The highlight of this place was the huge Buddha located behind a glass wall inside a cave which we are not allowed to take photos of. The view from the place was also really nice since it’s located high up in the mountains.
Our last stop for the tour was Bulguksa Temple (불국사), another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gyeongju. The temple site was really beautiful and was built in the Silla dynasty.
We were given 2 hours, the longest stop in the tour, in the temple but it was just the right amount of time to see everything and enjoy the beauty of the temple. Even if you are not going to take this tour, Bulguksa temple is definitely a must-see in Gyeongju 🙂
The tour ended after we left Bulguksa and we had the option of being dropped off at any hotel at the Bomun complex (the area near Gyeongju World), the Bus terminal or the KTX Station.
The whole tour was actually pretty expensive. I initially only made a 20,000 KRW payment for the reservation and apparently this only covers the transportation fee. They asked us to pay another 15,000 KRW in cash when I boarded the bus for entrance fees to the places we went to. Not to forget the additional 10000 KRW for lunch. Total damage: 45,000 KRW 😮
I got a free ticket to watch this show that is held in Gyeongju World Culture Expo Hall in the Bomun complex so I dropped off in the Bomun complex after the tour, had dinner and headed off to the expo hall. I was surprised to see that only a few people were there even when it’s a Friday night and I was initially quite sceptical about the quality of the show.
Thankfully, I was proven wrong and the show was amazing. I was so amazed by almost every aspect of the show: the lighting effects, costume, sound, choreography, vocals.. you get the point right. Sadly I could only take one (sneak) photo of the stage and performers because photography was not allowed.
Shows are held every Monday to Saturday at 4PM and 8PM and tickets are sold at 50,000 KRW, 30,000 KRW and 20,000 KRW. I would really recommend watching this show if you are in Gyeongju for more than a day or if you are in Gyeongju but not taking the tour, catch the 4pm show and you should be able to get back to Singyeongju station for the last train.
Other places to see in Gyeongju
On my second day, I went around Bomunho Lake (보문호) area in Gyeongju. This could possibly be another place you can check out there if you have more than a day too. If not, it’s not a must-see place or anything so you can probably skip it.
It’s a huge lake and it will probably take a few hours to walk the whole lake. There are several attractions around the lake area like the Teddy Bear Museum, which I did not go to due to the lack of time.
Another place that you can visit in Gyeongju is Gyeongju World (no photos since I did not actually go there). Gyeongju World is Gyeongju’s amusement park and it is located right next to Bomun lake. I heard it is quite good! Of course you would probably need a whole day if you want to go there.