Immerse yourself in a treasure trove of history, culture, and natural beauty in Gyeongju City, often called the "Museum Without Walls."
As the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom, which ruled much of the Korean Peninsula for nearly a thousand years, Gyeongju is a destination where history comes alive.
One of the city's crown jewels is the Bulguksa Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for its architectural beauty and as a relic of the Silla Kingdom's Buddhist culture. Nearby, the Seokguram Grotto houses a monumental Buddha statue, surrounded by intricate carvings depicting religious figures.
In addition to its historic temples, Gyeongju boasts the royal burial grounds known as Tumuli Park. The grassy mounds of the ancient tombs dot the landscape, and within, visitors can view golden crowns, ornaments, and weapons excavated from the tombs.
The picturesque Anapji Pond, a part of the ancient palace complex, is a beautiful sight to behold, especially during sunset when the reflections of the surrounding buildings shimmer on the water.
But Gyeongju is not just about history. The city also offers a range of outdoor activities. The lush landscapes surrounding the city, such as Namsan Mountain, are perfect for hiking and picnicking.
For the culturally inclined, Gyeongju offers traditional tea houses, local markets, and delightful culinary experiences featuring regional specialties.
Gyeongju City is where the past resonates harmoniously with the present. Its rich history, stunning architecture, and natural beauty make it a must-visit destination for any traveler seeking a deep and enriching experience in South Korea.
Getting to Gyeongju City from Seoul is quite easy if you take public transports. Gyeongju is one of the most popular cities for travelers, tourists, and even locals. Gyeongju is a must-see-place in South Korea if you want to explore and learn more about Korea's past.
I can compare Seoul, Busan, and Gyeongju as top travel areas in South Korea. Seoul is great for quick tours and shopping. Busan is famous for its beaches. And, Gyeongju is known for its ancient cultural relics left behind by the Three Kingdoms period.
Traveling to Gyeongju from Seoul in incredibly easy! You can take either the train or express bus to get there non-stop (except for the 15-min. motorway stop).
You can even take an airplane or a taxi to get there much faster! But, I will only describe three transport options in this article--bus, train, plane. I hope this will help you decide which option you want to take.
These are the contents...
Bus from Seoul Express Bus Terminal
I think that taking a bus from Seoul to Gyeongju is a hassle-free. You can go to the Seoul Express Bus Terminal or Dong Seoul Terminal anytime and choose your preferred schedule.
The bus leaves every 30 minutes. It means that you don't have to catch up on a schedule as you can purchase your ticket as you arrive at the terminal.
Of course, you can purchase your ticket online and be there at least 10 minutes before departure. You can download and register at Express Bus T-money (고소버스티머니 app) to purchase your ticket in advance, which I usually do.
You can even purchase in advance-the day or a few days before your departure. The advantage of purchasing online in advance is that you can get your preferred single seat.
Take your bus from Dong Seoul Bus or Seoul Express Bus terminals. It takes around 3 hours and 40 minutes to Gyeongju. But it could be a little longer when there's road traffic.
Buses, especially express one, in Korea, are very efficient. They are very clean, air-conditioned, have window shades to block the sunlight, and you can lean back and stretch your legs a bit.
Don't worry if you run out of battery because you can recharge inside the bus. There is an overhead compartment for your small backpack. But you need to load your huge luggage into the 'belly compartment' of the bus right before you embark.
It costs around 20,400 Won (about 20USD) from Dong Seoul Terminal and almost similar from Seoul Express Bus Terminal to Gyeongju Bus Terminal.
You'll arrive at Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal, which is located right in the City. Located in the City makes it its greatest advantage. Also, you are very close to the hotels where you can just walk to the famous royal tombs and parks in Gyeongju City.
Therefore, I suggest that you book your accommodation (hotel, hostel, etc.) in Gyeongju City near the bus terminals (express and intercity buses) to take advantage of the proximity to Gyeongju's tourist attractions.
Most hotels by booking.com and agoda.com are located around the bus terminal.
Except for the time travel, the above are the advantages. You are more comfortable and carefree. I slept on the way!
By the way, the bus from Incheon Airport to Dong Seoul Bus Terminal takes around 1 hour for 5USD fare. It leaves the airport every 30-minute interval.
Bus from Incheon International Airport
If your first destination is Gyeongju City, then that's a great idea. You can take a bus directly to Gyeongju from Incheon Airport (terminal 1). From the airport, you can take a Limousine Bus to Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal.
The Limousine Bus is available just after midnight until 9:30 PM, so you have plenty of chances to catch your direct bus if you don't plan to go to Seoul first.
The fare is 39,000 KRW (or $33USD), and the trip usually takes 5 hours with a 15-minute stop at a motorway halfway so that passengers can stretch out, visit a washroom or grab some snacks.
You will arrive at Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal, which is located at the center of Gyeongju City, where hotels and walk-able attractions, such as the royal tombs, Cheomseongdae, and other parks, are located.
Also, you can take an express bus from Incheon City Terminal Complex (where I usually catch a bus ride to most places in South Korea).
You can choose from an express bus or intercity bus, depending on your destination and preference.
Compared to train (KTX speed train), taking a bus is about 1 hour longer in travel time. You think that an hour is a big difference, right? However, it is more practical and energy conserving.
For example, you can take a subway from Incheon Airport to Seoul to take a KTX, which takes more than 2 hours only to Gyeongju Station (but you need to take a bus to the City). More on this below.
Bus via Dongdaegu to Gyeongju Bus Terminal
You can take a bus from Incheon Airport (hourly wait, around $20USD fare) then transfer at Dongdaegu Terminal (every 30 mins, $5USD) to Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal.
Total travel time is 4 hours and 45 minutes, including the 15-minute transfer, if you purchase the ticket in advance.
Trains going to Gyeongju are two kinds: Saemaeul Train (slower) and KTX (speed train). Of course, the fares are also different, which you might have already guessed!
Both the Saemaeul and KTX stop in Gyeongju but at different stations. KTX train stops at Singyeongju Train Station-around 3 kilometers from Gyeongju City Center, which means that you either take a bus or taxi to the City (15 mins.).
The advantage with KTX. It is the quickest way to get to Gyeongju as you don't need any transfer and takes only 2 hours to Singyeongju Train Station from Seoul. This trip costs $34USD and can be purchase online through the Korean Railway website.
That site is practical and easy to use. You can use the English version is necessary. I recommend you book in advance to ensure your trip happens.
You can also purchase the KTX ticket at Seoul Station through the Vending Machine or a staffed ticketing counter. Don't worry because the machine has foreign languages, including English.
Also, the staffed counter/window can understand some English (just say your destination and seat preference).
Two kinds of tickets: first class and economy tickets. You can buy the first class if you want to take a nap for two hours or wish to be much more comfortable. But you can choose an economy ticket, which is also nice and comfortable enough for a 2-hour trip.
Note: make sure that you printed your ticket you bought online as they need to check it when boarding the train. A mobile ticket is not available yet.
From Singyeongju to Gyeongju City
As mentioned above, the KTX Station is 3 kilometers away from the City. You can take a bus from there, which takes around 15 minutes only.
You can use your transportation card (like the T-money card) to any local buses anywhere in the country (I use my credit card with transportation payment function).
From the bus stop, you can take any of the following numbers...
50, 60, 61, 70, 203, 700.
The fare is 1,300 KRW ($1.1USD) and gets a 50 KRW discount with your transportation card.
If you are not on roaming, you can use the bus (station) WiFi to navigate your direction or hotel in Gyeongju City. Ask the driver to drop you off at Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal (Gosok Terminal), where Intercity Bus Terminal and hotels are also located.
If you have many or huge luggage, you can hire a taxi from Singyeongju Station to your hotel. It is inexpensive in South Korea to take one compared to other taxis in other countries, such as Japan or the US.
Saemaeul Train Stop
On the other hand, Saemaeul train stops at Gyeongju Train Station located at the heart of the City. It means that you don't need to take a bus or taxi to your hotel or final destination.
Unless you need to go outside the City, then you have to find buses or quickly take a taxi to your destination.
Arrival at Gyeongju Station on a Saemaeul Train
Gyeongju Train Station is at the heart of the city center but on the opposite side as the Express Bus Station. From here, you can easily find your hotel on foot. I was delighted that my hotel was on the side of Express Bus Station!
So, based on my experiences, I would instead book my hotel closer to the bus or train station. Fortunately, this has been happening more often in my case. Therefore, I also suggest that you book your hotel closer where you get off if possible.
The ancient royal tombs in Gyeongju City is much closer to the Express Bus Terminal (and Intercity Bus Terminal) and other attractions in Gyeongju.
When I went out for an evening walk right after my arrival, I was somehow amazed to discover that the royals' mounds (tombs) area is just about 50 meters from the hotel I was staying. Wowww!
Luggage storage at Gyeongju Station is available if you need to store your luggage for around $1USD. It is safe to store things at any place in Korea!
Getting to Gyeongju City via Combination of Bus, KTX, Saemaeul, Airplane
There are about four kinds of combinations using the following transports...
Take a Subway to Incheon--Fly to Daegu--Train to Dongdaegu--Bus to Gyeongju
Briefly, take the subway to Incheon Airport (ICN) then fly to Daegu (TAE) (1 hour, 5 mins, 75-300USD). From Daegu Airport, take a taxi for Dongdaegu Station (3 km, 6USD) then transfer to a train for Singyeongju Station (18 mins, 5-8USD). Finally, from Singyeongju Station, take a bus or taxi to the City (15 mins, 2-3USD).
Your total time travel will be around 4 hours and 30 minutes.
From Gimpo Airport--Fly to Ulsan--Take a Bus to Ulsan Station--Take a Train to Singyeongju Station--Bus to Gyeongju City (Cheongmachong)
From Gimpo Airport, take a plane (1 hr, 45-95USD) to Ulsan (USN). From the airport, take a bus (46 mins, 3-4USD) to Ulsan Train Station to take a train for Singyeongju Station (13 mins, 3-6USD). From Singyeongju Train Station, take a bus for Gyeongju City or Cheonmacheong (15 mins, 2 USD).
Total time travel would be 5 hours and 15 minutes.
A plane from Gimpo to Gimhae--Subway--Bus
Take a flight from Gimpo Airport (GMP) to Gimhae (PUS) (29-150USD, 55 mins). From Gimhae Airport, take a subway (1USD, 7 mins) to Sasang Station then go to Busan Sasang Bus Terminal (5 mins on foot). The bus from Sasang Terminal to Gyeongju only takes 1 hour for 8USD.
A plane from Incheon to Gimhae--Bus
Take a flight from Incheon International Airport T1 (1 hr, 65-430USD) to Gimhae, then take a subway to Busan Sasang Bus Terminal. From Sasang Bus Terminal to Gyeongju Bus Terminal is an hour trip (8USD).
Now, with all those choices, it could be confusing. So, I think your question(s) would be the following...
What's the quickest option to get there from Incheon Airport?
I already answered this one earlier. Take the fast KTX from Seoul Station to Singyeongju Station that takes 2 hours. Then take a bus or taxi to the City for 10 to 15 minutes.
Advantage: shortest travel time.
Disadvantage: transfer from Incheon airport to Seoul takes time, and you need to transfer from Singyeongju Station to Gyeongju City; fare is almost double than an express bus or Saemaeul.
Is Saemaeul Train better than Express Bus?
Saemaeul Train is less hassle-free as it stops at the heart of Gyeongju City, where you can walk to your hotel and tourist attractions. It is inexpensive compared to the KTX.
Disadvantage: It takes around 4 hours from Seoul Station to Gyeongju City and has no designated space for bigger luggage.
Regarding the express bus, you can take it from Dong Bus Seoul Terminal, Seoul Express Bus Terminal, Incheon Bus Terminal Complex, and Incheon Int'nal T1 directly to Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal at the heart of Gyeongju City.
Advantage: From Incheon Airport, you don't need to transfer, or from any bus terminals, you will depart.
Disadvantage: takes longer hours (around 4 hrs) compared to the KTX.
What Do I Recommend?
It all depends on you. If you think you have some extra budget (or more than enough), you can take the KTX and arrive there quickly.
However, if you are on a (tight) budget, you would rather take the Saemaeul Train as it is comparably inexpensive and arrives straight to Gyeongju City without any transfer hassles.
An express bus is also inexpensive and arrives at Express Bus Terminal in Gyeongju City. Thus, there's no need for transfer. Hmm, I prefer this one because the terminal is closer to my house.
In my experience and knowledge, most express bus and intercity bus terminals are located in the central part of the City. On the other hand, the newly-built fast train stations are located mostly outside the City.
The reason is that the train stations usually need more vast space, and the new fast trains are part of new expansion plans outside the cluttered cities.
I find the seat of the express bus more comfortable and spacious. I usually book the one seat on the right side row, as opposed to the left side row, which has two seats side-by-side.
Taking a bus is a carefree decision because you can go to the terminal and book your ticket, except when it is peak season or weekend.
Would I recommend the Combinations?
Although I get very excited about going to unknown places, I would get nervous when I have to transfer from one transport to more transports. I think that's almost the same as you.
Some disadvantages of a combination of transports are that you could get lost, find it difficult to get to the next transport, or even miss your ride.
Besides, it would incur more expenses and could take a longer time journey. So, my answer is NO to the combination. But, of course, for those who are not in an advantageous location, you can plan as you see fit.
Would I Recommend Flying to Gyeongju?
No, definitely not. Aside from being expensive, you would be spending time waiting for your flight.
Also, there is no airport in Gyeongju but in Busan, where Gimhae International Airport is located. From the airport, you can take a bus or taxi for Gyeongju City.
Instead of taking a plane, you would rather take the fast KTX from Seoul, which is a lot cheaper and maybe shorter time travel.
Where To Stay in Gyeongju City
Gyeongju City is famous due to its natural and historical attractions (such as royal tombs, old temple areas, stone-carved Buddhas in the mountains, etc.).
That's why Gyeongju established various accommodation facilities, including hotels, pensions, hostels, and locals also accommodate visitors to their homes.
I recommend booking online through international companies for quicker and safer services. For example, booking.com and agoda.com, among many, provides services to international travelers.
Such companies require their hotels to follow their standards or international standards before they get approval. As a traveler myself, so far, I am satisfied with the hotel services I received as they follow the standards of such international companies.
I stayed in inexpensive hotels and surprised that I usually got what I paid for. In my experience (with Agoda hotels), they are clean, tidy, and above all, located at the heart of the cities, near the attractions, and walking distance from bus or train stations.
Why would you travel to Gyeongju City?
Gyeongju seems to me like a different place if compared to many places in South Korea.
Obviously, it is not so crowded, and there are no towering structures. It means that you can still see the beautiful and spiky ridges of the mountains in the area.
Gyeongju was the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom and the Unified Silla Kingdoms. Being the capital, you will learn that it is where the cultural advancements occur, including agriculture, arts, sculpture, literature, religious practices, warfare, and international trade, among others.
Although most of those things are gone, you can still see some remnants and relics carved, lying around, and others still standing.
In this travel guide website and blog, you can find many articles on Gyeongju's temples, Buddha carvings, tourist sites, among other places I have visited. Some of them are...
Cheonmacheong Tomb (Heavenly Horse Tomb)
Seokguram Grotto (Buddha Statue)
Thanks for reading this. If you have questions or comments, please let me know.