If you’re interested in exploring the dynamic and long reaching history of Korea, there’s no better place to start than the coastal region of Gyeongju, also one of Korea’s ancient capital cities. It’s known as “the museum without walls” because it’s one of the most culturally rich sites in the entire country, a historical hotspot packed with ancient tombs, temples, pagodas and palaces.
Around the time of Jesus, this city became the heart of the Shilla dynasty, which reigned here for 1,000 years as a cultural center of the Far East. The Cheomseongdae Observatory is the oldest existing observatory in the region, built by Queen Seonduk in 634, and the National Museum of Gyeongju is the best place to see artifacts recovered from myriad sites around the city, including the golden crown of Geumgwanchong and King Michu's golden sword. And as you explore Gyeongju, you may notice grassy hills, which are ancient burial mounds, such as that of King Wonseong, whose tomb is surrounded by carved stone artifacts.
Gyeongju sits in the southeast corner of the Korean Peninsula, about 170 miles from Seoul. The best way to get here from the capital is by train, which takes about two hours. Once in Gyeongju, rent a bicycle to leisurely explore the vast collection of historical sites.