North Korea’s 14 Best Sights
North Korea is one of the most closed states in the world, so local attractions are shrouded in a halo of mystery. But there’s plenty to see here.
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Things to do in North Korea
Architecture is imbued with Juche ideology. Its vivid embodiment is the giant Ryugyong Hotel. Its unusual exterior resembling a rocket at the start will be appreciated by lovers of futuristic forms.
Those who want to add a little surrealism to their trip should include a visit to the mausoleum where the bodies of the deceased Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are displayed for all to see.
To lighten the mood, you can visit the history museum. There are interesting artifacts dating back to the Stone Age. The oldest artifact is one million years old.
The most important and highest mountain in North Korea is Baektusan. This is an extinct volcano in the mouth of which the “Heavenly Lake” was formed – a stunningly beautiful body of water. Lovers of nature and unusual landscapes will love it here.
Construction of the tallest skyscraper in North Korea began in 1987, the ceremonial delivery of the object was to be two years later – to the World Festival of Youth and Students. Due to lack of funding, the hotel was completed only in 2016, but it is still not working.
The height of the building in the form of a rocket – 330 m (105 floors). On them are placed 3,000 rooms, 7 restaurants, several nightclubs and a casino. The total area of the internal premises exceeds 360 thousand square meters.
Ryugyong translates as “Willow Capital” – this is the old name of Pyongyang, the capital of the state.
Kim Il Sung Mausoleum
The tomb where two former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il are buried is a true place of worship for locals. The majestic building was once the residence of Kim Il Sung, where he worked and received visitors.
After the state leader’s death, his son ordered the palace to be converted into a mausoleum. Seventeen years later, Kim Jong-il was buried in the same mausoleum. The bodies of both leaders are embalmed and rest in glass coffins in separate halls.
Tourists are allowed into the mausoleum twice a week, only in organized groups. Require adherence to a dress code. Opposite the gray building is a cemetery of revolutionaries, a spacious square and a park.
Juche Ideas Monument
An obelisk of gray granite was erected for the 70th anniversary of Kim Il Sung. The majestic construction topped with a torch is 170 meters high. It is the second tallest structure in Pyongyang. There is an observation deck at the top where tourists are taken by a high-speed elevator.
At the foot of the monument is a 30-meter sculptural group: the Worker, the Collective Farm Girl and the Intellectual. Next to it there is a public garden, which apart from flowerbeds and trees is decorated with 6 statues depicting representatives of different professions.
Arc de Triomphe
This massive construction with columns and a three-tiered roof was inaugurated in 1982. It symbolizes the courage and steadfastness of the North Korean people who fought the Japanese invaders from 1925 to 1945.
The snow-white arch is made of 25,500 granite blocks. This number corresponds to the number of days Kim Il Sung lived. You can see the landmark on the way to Mount Moranbong.
The structure, built in 2001, is also known as the Arch of the Three Charters, based on the number of declarations signed by North and South Korea in 1972. The documents contain a number of conditions that make the coexistence of these states possible.
The structure depicts two girls in national dress, rushing towards each other. In their hands they hold a single map of the North and the South. Under the arch is a four-lane highway connecting Pyongyang and the demilitarized zone.
Places of interest
Kim Il Sung Square
The largest square (75,000 square meters) in Pyongyang was opened in 1954. It is located opposite the monument of Juche ideas that stands on the opposite bank of the Tedongan River. The vast area is paved with granite.
Military parades and cultural events are held here. Up to 100,000 people can be on the square at a time. Kim Il Sung Square is one of the top 30 largest squares in the world.
The former capital of the Korean state is about 125 km from Pyongyang. Cultural, political and economic life was in full swing here in the 10th and 14th centuries. The city survived three wars and many of the buildings were destroyed but even in this form they are worth a closer look.
Among them are the Goryeo Dynasty Palace (981), Seongjuk Bridge (XIII century), and the ruins of temples. King Gongmin’s tomb and the history museum are definitely worth a visit.
In the suburbs of Kaesong, ginseng is grown on an industrial scale. So you can combine your trip with a visit to a pharmacy or store where they sell medicinal remedies based on this root.
Kim Il Sung was born and spent his childhood in a village about 12 kilometers from the capital. Therefore, Mangyeongdae is a place of pilgrimage that every Korean has visited at least once in his or her life. The leader’s house has been turned into a museum. The exposition is not rich: an inkwell and a desk, at which the future leader worked and studied.
At the highest point of the village is equipped with an observation deck, where you can admire the neighborhood and the majestic panorama of Pyongyang. There is a public garden nearby and the Revolutionary School a little farther away.
The Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is the border between the two Koreas at the 38th parallel. The demarcation line is 4 kilometers wide and 241 kilometers long. The most visited and strictly protected landmark in North Korea can only be visited as part of a tour group.
The program includes a tour of the monument representing four family members (from the North and South) trying to connect the globe split in half, and a visit to the Imjingak Pavilion. The latter consists of four levels. On the first level is a thematic museum with exhibits on the history and achievements of the North Korean people.
Military equipment is on display in the courtyard, and a park has been laid out around the pavilion. But the most exciting part of the trip is the hike through the underground tunnel #3. According to propaganda, the passage was dug by South Korean soldiers who were planning a treacherous attack on a neighbor, but their treacherous plan was foiled.
Museum of the Korean Revolution
The state museum opened in 1948. It later moved to a new building on Mansudae Hill. The structure is adorned with a large granite panel (70 X 12.85 meters) depicting Mt. Two huge sculptures of deceased leaders stand in the background.
There are numerous red granite sculptural groups on the sides of the museum. One consists of 119 figures, the other of – 109 images in stone. The first is dedicated to the struggle against the Japanese, the second extols the values of socialism.
Photographs, personal belongings, documents and other artifacts related to North Korea’s revolutionary struggle for independence are on display.
Central Museum of History
The museum was founded in 1945. It consists of 19 halls with exhibits ranging from the Stone Age to the present. Of particular interest are the exhibitions that tell the story of the ancient states that existed on the Korean peninsula.
The archaeological hall where findings from the Komunmoru Monument are preserved is a must-see. Some of them are over 1 million years old. Other interesting exhibits include an armored turtle ship, a bone flute, a water clock, and frescoes from a tomb in Tokheung. Separately, there are models of major historical monuments from all over the state.
The highest point of the mountain range in the southeastern part of the country is Geumgangsan Peak that rises almost 1,640 meters into the sky. It is famous for its scenic views of emerald forests, mirror-like lakes, murmuring waterfalls, and peculiar rocks.
Summers here are short, and winters are notable for the abundance of snow. In this area is a large concentration of Buddhist shrines. All necessary infrastructure is concentrated in the town of Taebaek.
The highest mountain on the peninsula (2,744 m) is located on the border between North Korea and China. The two powers have worked together to create a nature reserve on the slopes of the peak. It is home to bears, leopards, tigers, deer, and other animals.
Pektusan translates as “White Head Mountain.” It received this nickname because of the snow caps on the tops and the pumice covering the steep slopes. The main attraction is Lake Cheongji, or Heavenly Lake. Baektusan is an extinct volcano long ago, and the beautiful blue-green water body is located in one of its craters. The shore is flanked by sharp rocks.
Cheongji is the deepest volcanic lake in the world (its depth varies from 200 to 370 meters), and it is located at an altitude of 2189 meters.
Pyongyang Central Zoo
This is a nature park with an area of about 100 hectares set at the foot of Mount Taesongsan. The vast area is home to tigers, lions, elephants, hippos, deer, wild boars, and other animals.
Among the variegated fauna from all over the world, over 90 dogs of 30 breeds are kept in separate cages. Almost all of the specimens were presented as a gift to the leader of North Korea. There is also an aquarium where freshwater and saltwater fish swim.
All about vacationing in North Korea
Soon will begin vacation season. Therefore, you can safely puzzle over the choice of the country to visit. If you are tired of the usual tourist destinations, and you are wondering where to spend your vacation money, you want to relax in comfort and in maximum safety, but at the same time to see something completely new, then North Korea is for you. Want to go on vacation in North Korea – should you go in 2022, what you need to know about the peculiarities of vacationing in this country – read about everything in this article.
General information about North Korea
A brief historical background
The history of the DPRK as a state began fairly recently, in the middle of the last century. At that time Korea was dependent on Japan, but as a result of World War II and the Cold War, it was literally divided into two parts. And, while the Republic of Korea followed the “Western” path of development, North Korea began to maintain ties with the Soviet Union.
But now the Soviet Union has collapsed, and North Korea continues to be a closed place, completely unlike other countries. Here the economy is almost completely regulated by the authorities, there is a national ideology – juche, militarism and totalitarianism prevail.
Though at the beginning of the new millennium there are some attempts to weaken this regime, but for the most part they are nominal. Therefore, people from other countries of the world hardly understand how the local population actually lives in this country and what is going on there. However, some tourists still come to this country – just for the exotic.
Geographical information and climate
DPRK is located in East Asia, shares the Korean Peninsula with the Republic of Korea (South Korea). It is washed by the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. Those who manage to get there as tourists will discover the natural beauty: mountain ranges, the country also has nature reserves and national parks.
The climate of the country is a moderate monsoon. As a rule, the weather is sunny. In winter, the average temperature is about 7 degrees of frost on the territory of the country, excluding the mountains. In summer, on the contrary, it is hot – around 25 degrees. It is worth noting that from July to September, the country can be attacked by typhoons.
North Korea on the map
Features of holidays in North Korea
Travelling to North Korea: individually or in a group?
The DPRK is probably one of the strange holiday destinations. Not only is it a fairly expensive destination, but it is also practically closed. Get a visa there for an individual traveler is not so easy. Very few tourists come from Western countries, the easiest way to get to the country is for Chinese citizens. However, Russians can get into this country if they try very hard. Last year DPRK authorities reduced the time for consideration of documents for tourist visa. The package of documents itself is quite small, however, individual travelers are often rejected.
It is best to go to North Korea as a group. North Korea tours are offered by a sufficient number of travel agencies, which are accredited by the authorities of the country. However, it is going to cost a pretty penny for such a trip. So, to go to an exotic country as part of an excursion tour for 5 days, you can for about 600 euros, pay extra for airfare. Group tours include the obligatory accompaniment of guides, speaking in Russian. It is possible to issue and individual tour, so it will be easier to get into the country, but will not be around other tourists.
Most profitable trip to North Korea comes out for the residents of the Far East.
However, no matter if you came to North Korea alone or in a group, you will be assigned one, and often two, guides. And they will accompany you everywhere and everywhere. You have to admit that the guides behave properly and interfere only in extreme cases when you clearly violate the local laws. Most likely their main function is to make sure that tourists don’t poke their noses where they shouldn’t, don’t interact with locals, don’t make any propaganda, and don’t deviate from the tourist itinerary.
Transportation and Hotels in North Korea
How do you move around the country? On your own it is simply impossible. Transport will be organized as well as the tours themselves, the areas where the tourist can get are completely clear, so, this question will simply be removed. And to get to the country itself is possible only on certain flights, by train
Where to stay in this country? There will be no special choice. The country has a clear list of hotels that can accept foreigners. Unfortunately, we can not say that the vacation in the DPRK will be fully comfortable: despite the high cost of the tours, the hotel establishment will usually have to live in a double room with another tourist from the group, if the hotel is not the capital, can even cut off the electricity. However, good travel agencies try to monitor the comfort of their clients as much as possible in such a difficult country.
What to take with you in North Korea
In the country you must have photocopies of documents, as well as cash: euros, dollars, Chinese yuan. You are not allowed to exchange money for the local currency.
As the level of service in hotels in North Korea is not always comparable with Europe, you should take basic personal care products. You can also make a small first-aid kit, but be sure to familiarize yourself with what you can bring into the country of medicines.
Not everything is sweet in North Korea. Despite the fact that in 2013 the authorities of the country finally allowed tourists to use cell phones, you will have to buy a tourist SIM card. This is the only way you can call freely around the world. In expensive hotels in the lobby are and special landline phones, some even allow you to send a message by e-mail.
As for taking pictures, which is so important for tourists on vacation, you can take a camera in North Korea. However, not all objects can be photographed. It is categorically forbidden to take pictures of military installations, without permission to take pictures of local residents and “non-tourist” places, the guides attached to the tourist will be watching for this.
Clothing is best to take strict, simple, appropriate to the weather conditions. Moreover, in some places associated with the memory of past rulers of the country or its ideology, the tourist may be told to dress “according to the rules.
Rules of Conduct in the DPRK
When organizing a tour – individual or group – the traveler will definitely be warned about what you can and can not do in this country. Brief safety rules boil down to several recommendations:
- under no circumstances should you bring printed materials into the DPRK;
- Only bottled water should be consumed;
- During excursions, especially those related to the history, politics, and ideology of North Korea, you should behave modestly and not disrespect the country’s authorities or anything else;
- do not talk about politics and in general ask about life in the country, but it is quite possible to take souvenirs allowed to import for the guides and attendants.
It should be noted that vacationing in this country is expensive also because the communist ideology gets along wonderfully with the market economy for foreigners.
Almost from the first step and throughout the tourist route you will be haunted by souvenir shops, where a polite salesman kindly offers to buy a souvenir for 5 euros. What you can bring back from the country:
- Landscape embroidery;
- Wooden and porcelain products;
- printed publications that tell about the history and ideology of the country;
- ginseng root, herbal infusions;
- Commemorative coins with a carved profile of one of the rulers of the country.
Sightseeing and Entertainment in the DPRK
As for Pyongyang, the capital of the country, the tourist itinerary here is usually the same for everyone.
The first thing you will be taken to the sculpture on Mansudae Hill. There are huge monuments to the founder of the Korean state, Kim Il Sung, and former Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il. Be sure to buy bouquets, here in the souvenir shop, and lay them at the feet of the leaders. Next is the Friendship Museum, where you will be able to see various gifts that North Korea received from other countries. The Geumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun (the local Mausoleum) will be the next item on the tour. After that, you will be shown the National Library of the DPRK and the Pyongyang subway. You may be taken to the Mansude Art Studio, where you can view and buy souvenirs of folk crafts.
In addition, some guides may give a tour in some model orphanage or home of a collective farmer. At times, tours are offered that include a visit to the DPRK on holidays. For example, you can go to the local festival of Ariran, which organizes an amazing in its mass performances of musicians and athletes. Getting to the festival of flowers in Pyongyang, you can admire a large number of local people, as well as flower varieties and compositions.
Interestingly, the culinary traditions of the DPRK are much like those of the Republic of Korea. After all, the separation of states did not happen long ago, and traditions have been around for centuries. In North Korea, they mainly eat rice in a variety of variations. Popular dishes include kimchi cabbage, a variety of mushrooms, and spicy soups. You should try the dishes with caution, since some of them contain a lot of spices, which may be unaccustomed to “European” stomachs.
The natural beauty and ancient sights in North Korea
You can diversify your holiday in North Korea by going on a tour that includes a tour of the natural beauty and ancient history of the country, which is not subject to any ideology.
Thus, there are tours on the coast of the Sea of Japan. One of the resorts open to foreigners is the resort of Mazon, which is quite comfortable. In high season you can swim in the sea, the beaches around it are sandy, and surrounded by pine forests and exotic flowers. During such a trip, as a rule, a certain number of days is given to a quiet beach vacation, but you can also visit the sights: for example, there is a residence of ancient King Lee, which was built in the 17th century, you can look at the memorial complex of King Tongmun, which includes Buddhist buildings.
You can visit Lake Sijung. There are health centers on it where people can improve their health with the help of medicinal mud. In North Korea there are even ski resorts: you can visit the region of Geumgansan, which is located in the picturesque mountains, enjoy the lakes and waterfalls. The area is also home to the remains of ancient temples. Last year saw the opening of the Masikren Resort: it has just begun to develop, but some foreign tourists have already visited it.
Some tours involve a visit to Kaesong City. It is famous for its museum dedicated to an ancient Korean dynasty and the burial complex built in honor of King Conmin.
It must be said that, although we know so little about the DPRK, it has natural beauties, a great coastline, and sights. The number of tourists who visit this country is quite small, but if you can spend money on a well-organized tour, you can get to a corner of the globe where there are no tourist crowds and at the same time you can see a completely different life. A trip to the DPRK is not the usual entertainment of the Western world, nor is it a Southern exotic. It is a completely unique experience that may be worth having for the seasoned traveler.