South Korea is a country defined by its rich and storied history. As a result, the country is home to several unique and intriguing UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of my favorites can be found in the ancient city of Gyeongju which is located in the far southeastern corner of North Gyeongsang Province, just a four hour train ride from Seoul.
Gyeongju is a beautiful coastal city surrounded by low mountains and various historical treasures. It is often referred to as “a museum without walls” because most of the city is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The city was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla which ruled the peninsula from the 7th to the 9th century.
A vast number of archaeological and cultural sites from this period can still be found in the city today. Among these sites are Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, and the Gyeongju Historic Areas which are all designated as World Heritage Sites. It is easy to see all the sights in one day, but I highly recommend staying overnight to fully experience the area.
I began my day at Bulguksa Temple which is only a short bus ride from the center of the city. Bulguksa Temple is considered to be one of Korea’s most famous temples. Built between 751 and 774, it is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the golden age of Buddhist art in the Silla kingdom. It is easily one of my favorite temples in Korea. Located on the outskirts of town and on the slopes of Mount Toham, the views from the temple are quite impressive.
The structures at Bulguksa are grand and intricate. The temple itself seems to blend naturally with surrounding landscape. The grounds and gardens in and around the temple are well maintained, lush, and peaceful, making it the perfect setting for such a spiritual place.
After some time at Bulguksa Temple, I traveled 20 minutes by bus to the Seokguram Grotto. The bus takes you higher up the mountain and drops you off near the summit (close to the Grotto). From here, you can explore the grotto and surrounding area.
The sculpture hidden within the Seokguram Grotto is often considered to be one of the highest quality Buddha sculptures in the world. Construction of statue began in 742 and was completed in 774. The stonework and detail is highly prized and intricate. Pictures are not allowed inside, but there are plenty of beautiful shots that can be taken around the Grotto. I really enjoyed wandering under the colorful lanterns and taking in the views of the surrounding landscapes.
After exploring the Seokguram Grotto, I hopped back on a bus and made my way back to the city center. From here, many more historical treasures can be found, all of which are within an easy walking distance from one another. This area is home to numerous temple and palace ruins, outdoor pagodas, statuary, and other cultural artifacts. This is a beautiful area to explore during any season.
From here, the Daereungwon Tomb Complex can be explored. This complex is home to a vast arrangement of towering green hills that house the royal tombs of the Silla Dynasty. Dating back some 1500 years, these hills are a unique sight to behold.
After exploring the center of the city, I made my way to Anapji Pond. I highly recommend visiting this area during sunset. It’s a perfect picturesque setting to wind down after a whole day of touring. As the sun begins to set the former meeting halls light up casting a luminescent glow upon the pond.
I really enjoyed Gyeongju; it’s an amazing city with lots of history and greenery. I highly recommend adding this Ancient city to your travel itinerary. It’s one of my favorite Korean destinations and the perfect place to learn more about the rich history of the country.