Our Weekend in Gyeongju, Korea | March 2018
Whenever there is a long weekend here in Korea, I try to explore a new city. On one three-day weekend in March, though, my boyfriend and I decided to spend time in a city I had already been to, albeit 5 years ago. Gyeongju was actually the first city I ever visited outside of Seoul back when I was studying abroad here. I was just following my friend's lead since they could speak Korean much better than I could, but this time I was excited to plan my own trip!
Surprisingly, my boyfriend had never visited before and let me take the reigns on the travel plans. I knew he'd like this city as a history buff, because it really respects its fascinating past. Actually, it's forced to. The entire city of Gyeongju is a UNESCO World Heritage site which means it has to follow strict rules set to maintain its culture. That means buildings can't be higher than about 6 stories and huge areas of land are left untouched to preserve the burial mounds Gyeongju is famous for.
We took the KTX to Gyeongju Station which is actually quite a bit outside the city (due to train noise and construction rules!) so we took a quick taxi ride into town and hit the ground running. First up, lunch!
We went to a Ssambap restaurant which served pork (for my boyfriend) and a ton of vegetarian side dishes (for me). Once we were way too full, we headed into the snaking alleyways of Hwangridangil to find coffee. This part of town is ridiculously hip. The cafes and shops stay true to the traditional Korean architecture or older buildings, but are clearly up on the trends. We chose Roastery Donggeong. This cafe is in a little hanok off the main road and is named after one of the older names for Gyeongju. If you can read Chinese characters, you might notice that its written the same was as Tokyo and that's because, like Tokyo, Donggyeong means 'Eastern Captial" whcih was what Gyeongju was. It was actually the original capital of Korea during the Shilla Dynasty!
After dropping our bags at our AirBnb and a quick nap, we walked just across the street to Daereungwon, one of the largest areas to see the royal burial mounds. Because it was a holiday, the park was free to walk around, but beware of couples armed with tripods taking photos at every turn! This is the hot Instagram spot for 2018 apparently :)
We were visiting in March so the mounds were a golden color, but during Spring and Summer you'll find them to be bright green! There isn't much written information in English, but if you read up a bit before, the history is really interesting! A member of the royal family or the upper class of this Shilla Dynasty is housed in each of these massive tombs.
After exploring the park, we headed back to Hwangridangil (this is all within a 10 minute walk) in search of some dinner. We settled on an adorable place called Ramen Dimibang. It was all counter seating and only had about 3 choices on the menu. My boyfriend got ramen which he enjoyed, and I got the shrimp bowl which was delicious! We sat there enjoying the atmosphere for a while, then grabbed dessert at Bimil Place.
This little cafe was too gorgeous for words, and their fresh strawberry tea was the perfect way to end a long day. We did go back out to get a drink later that evening just so we didn't go to bed at 8pm (which I was totally happy to do, but my boyfriend fears we're turning into 'old people' too quickly haha!) at Daehwa Maekju and then finally went to bed.
We started off our morning with this delicious breakfast thanks to our guesthouse. If you're going to Gyeongju, I highly recommend this spot! It's in a modernized hanok, so you will be sleeping on the floor, but you'll also wake up to a view of the tombs peaking over the old stone wall across the street, and the sound of the guesthouse owner shuffling into the kitchen to cut up fresh fruit for you. Remember to use my code on your first trip to save $35 on AirBnb!
After breakfast we hoped in a taxi and headed to the western corner of the city, to the Gyeongju Bird Park. I'm honestly terrified of birds, but the indoor park was huge and the birds had enough room to fly around and not feel threatened, so I felt pretty calm. I also got to watch a few babies hatch which was so cool!
Then we walked to the other part of the park which is the Royal Green House. It's actually two huge green houses connected by a small walkway and it was absolute heaven inside!
We wandered around this area a bit more, even climbing the hill to check out the huge lake with lots of walking paths. I had stayed near this lake when I first visited Gyeongju and didn't realize how far out of the way it actually was. While the view of the fog hovering over the water when we woke up is a sight I'll never forget, I do suggest staying closer to where my current AirBnb was if you're visiting Gyeongju!
We took another taxi back to the downtown area and visited the popular bookstore EoseoEoseo. I was taking pictures with my film camera and the owner immediately came up to talk to me about it. He even asked if I'd take his photo!
While I didn't buy anything I have to mention that if you do, they wrap your books in what looks like an old paper bag from a pharmacy, and it says "reading medicine" which I love!
We decided to take a rather long stroll over to Cheonmachong, a huge park with more burial mounds and the oldest observatory in Asia!(my astronomy-obsessed dad would be geeking out over this!)
It seemed like my boyfriend and I were the only people in the park without a kite! There were vendors selling them on each corner and I was definitely jealous of all the kids flying them. We were planning on taking the shuttle that takes you on a loop through the huge park, but we missed the last one by a few minutes! Instead we strolled around ourselves and took it all in during golden hour.
We grabbed a dinner of some seriously delicious curry and took a quick rest at the guesthouse. When night fell we took another long walk (have you noticed we like walking haha) past Cheonmachong and on to Anapji Pond. This pond is the reason why I would love to be royal (I mean, there are more reasons but this is high on the list) The pond is surrounded by a massive garden with structures for lounging all over the place! It was magnificent at night and if you can visit after dark I highly suggest it.
We had a train home in the afternoon the next day so we woke up, checked out of the guesthouse, and made one last stop at the Gyochon Hanok Village. the village was filled with traditional shops, cafes, and the house of an influential family. We grabbed some famous kimbap from Gyori Kimbap (its stuffed with egg!) and then headed to the train station.
Gyeongju is a city filled with history, without being quite as touristy as Jeonju, so if you're choosing between the two, I'd highly suggest visiting the ancient capital!