Through my lens: Gyeongju – the museum without walls

Last year was hard and exhausting for everyone. That’s why when I was able to visit South Korea in December, I didn’t want to stress myself with too much planning.

I knew which cities I wanted to visit but I didn’t plan how long I’d be staying or even where I’d stay.

It was one of the very few spontaneous trips I’ve ever been on.

Originally, I planned to head up north again after my time in Jeju and Busan. However an increase in Covid cases, meant more restrictions in Seoul. As a result, I was looking into an alternative destination.

Few travel blogs mentioned Gyeongju, the old capital of the Silla kingdom. Silla along with Baekje and Goguryeo, formed the Three Kingdoms of Korea.  
I have to confess I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to Korean history but I’m curious. A UNESCO World Heritage site like Gyeongju seemed perfect to complement the hikes, food markets and walks I’ve experienced in South Korea.

I chose to stay in the south of the city centre where most of the historical sites are. It is slightly detached from the centre and looks very different. I felt like travelling back in time. The area was a hanok village in a way. It was quiet and serene, a real glimpse into ancient art and history.

I don’t think I have the words to express how I felt in Gyeongju. Instead, I’m sharing with you what to do and what to see via my lens, the lens of my phone to be more accurate.


Unlike most Korean cities, Gyeongju is not famous for a specific dish. I arrived at lunch time and was starving. The hanok owners where I was staying recommended a restaurant that serves traditional dishes.
I wasn’t too keen on trying cold noodles in Korean mainly because of the Winter season, until I accidentally tried them in Gyeongju. the dish was surprisingly good.
What was really surprising is the large number of restaurants offering western food especially pizza. I had a pizza for dinner one evening and it was absolutely delicious.

Historical sites

The sites in Gyeongju belong to the Silla period, they go all the way back to the 7th century. A lot of them are fields now which a sign explaining what they used to be. I had to admit I was a little frustrated when I found this one. I was following the map on the phone and it took me forever to find the site (field) but from the other side of the sign (left up corner of the picture). I was just confused and just when I gave up and made my way back to the hanok, I spotted the sign. Oh well!
Unfortunately, this is the closest I got to the National Museum of Gyeongju . Actually not true, I went all the way to the door to discover the museum was not open to visitors due to the pandemic.
Woljeong Bridge (월정교) is a wooden bridge that was built in the 19th year of King Gyeongdeok during the Silla Period. This is not the original bridge though, rather a restoration based on findings during excavations and on other existing similar bridges from the Silla Period.
I’ve never been to Kyoto before. In fact, I’ve not been to Japan yet. But apparently Gyeongju and specifically Woljeong bridge are often compared to Kyoto.
Gyochon village is a hanok village in Gyeongju centred around the Choi Clan. It showcases Korean traditions and buildings.
Daereungwon Tomb Complex is probably the most famous site in Gyeongju along the Bulguksa temple. The tombs look like hills, they are small hills. After seeing few, I was done. But the cool thing about the park, other than its historical value obviously, is the one tomb open to visitors.
The tomb was impressive. It was massive. It has the gold accessories buried with the ruler.

Bulguksa Temple

Bulkugsa Temple is an hour away on the bus from the centre. Like most temples, it is nested in the mountains.
Just like almost everyone around the globe, Koreans were not leaving the country, instead they were travelling locally. A lot of them were visiting the temple some as curious tourists, some others for religious reasons.
Bulguksa temple is part of the templestay program. The templestay is a cultural experience program for a better understanding of Korean traditional culture and Korean Buddhism. This short templestay including chanting, meditation, conversation over tea, Buddhist meals will give you a new perspective on your life. Unfortunately, my templestay up in the North of South Korea was cancelled due to the pandemic.
I developed a weird habit of capturing natural disaster warning signs!
Not too far from Bulguksa temple, There is the Seokguram grotto. The grotto is a hermitage and part of the Bulguksa temple complex. It is classified as national treasure.
From Bulguksa temple, people can drive, take a bus or alternatively there’s a hiking path to the grotto. It was about an hour hike, mostly easy but it kept getting steeper as I got closer to the mountain top.
The view from the grotto.

Hanok stay

The beautiful hanok where I stayed.
My hosts were a sweet old couple. When I arrived, their daughter who speaks perfect English was there. She helped me settling in in my room and recommended what to do and where to eat.
Despite the lack of common spoken language, the hanok owners and I managed to exchange few conversations and a lot of smiles. They even gifted me a set of Gyeongju postcards before I leave.
These traditional containers are still very much used for fermentation especially for Kimchi.

Beautiful walks

The historical sites of Gyeongju are within a walkable distance.
The river was partly frozen, it turned into an ice rink. Some kids, even adults, were stepping and playing on it.
The Gyerim forest is a small woodland near Gyeongju landmarks. It has some beautiful trails.
From Woljeong bridge, I went through the Gyerim forest towards the national museum. From there, I followed the main road back to the hanok village.

Take it slow & soak up the vibes of Gyeongju

This is probably the highlight of my visit to Gyeongju, partly because I didn’t expect this part of the city to be boosting with cafes, restaurants and so much life.

My day would start by checking out some of the landmarks then I’d walk aimlessly just to admire the buildings, street art and to watch young couples queuing for food or tarot readings as you do.

This town got me at cake and coffee. I didn’t expect this small historical part of Gyeongju to be full of cafes. When I stumbled upon Hwang Nam cafe after lunch looking for a magic potion of caffeine, I thought that would the only cafe in the area. Litte did I know.
Beautiful cafe overlooking the tombs
Definitely not the average Starbucks. I love the building, still hate Starbucks.
Too many beautiful buildings
I love little beautiful details like this.
Baseball is very popular in South Korea.
The first time I saw the tarot machines, I didn’t know what they were. They are all over the city mostly for young couples.
I did get my reading (is that even the right expression?) but in a different city.
Ice-cream in a cold December?
I was on a mission to try every single cafe.
Good things happen to those who are curious. That purple potato latte was delicious.
Coffee, cake, book and a stunning view.
Street art.
Yet another beautiful guesthouse.
This street art sums up Gyeongju very well.
Did I mention I love coffee? :p
More coffee!!
The city was very busy because of Christmas. Or maybe it just felt busy. A year of lockdowns made me get very excited at the sight of other humans (wearing masks & 2 meters away from me) in South Korea.
More Grafitti!
This wasn’t the first time I had 2 cakes at once in South Korea. What can I say? They make good cakes.
Christmas vibes.
I love of the elegance and simplicity of design of this cafe’s logo.
I have no idea what’s the dog laughing at!
Art with a message. Water for Our Future.

If you’ve scrolled so far, thank you. I hope you enjoyed this photo essay. A lot of us can only virtually travel at the moment by looking at travel videos, photos and blogs. I hope these photos would cheer you up.

It is not surprise that Gyeongju is called the museum without walls. Just like a museum, there’s so much to learn in this city. It is like taking a trip back in time to relive in the Silla period. And just like a museum, you need to slow down, take your time and pay attention to the details.

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