Korea’s rich history and diverse landscape make it the perfect habitat for fascinating sights and natural wonders. It’s no surprise that Korea is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here’s a quick round-up of some of the most stunning and culturally significant sites!
The Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty
Declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009
You may know the Joseon Dynasty by a different name: The Korean Empire. There are 40 tombs dedicated to the Joseon Dynasty, scattered across 18 different locations in Korea. Travelers often visit Yeongneung, the first royal tomb and final resting place of King Sejong the Great. There’s also Donggureung, the largest burial site with 9 mausoleums housing 17 kings and queens.
Because of the dynasty’s Confucian legacy, the tomb locations were decided through feng shui and places considered to be divine and isolated.
Jongmyo Shrine is considered to be Korea’s oldest Confucian shrine. Former kings would visit to perform ancestral rites for the safety and prosperity of the country. Many rituals are still practiced until today, such as the Jongmyo Jerye—a performance rite that pays homage to the late kings and queens. The rite is accompanied by court music (Jerye-ak) and dance (Ilmu). UNESCO also declared the Jongmyo Jerye and Jeryeak as the first of South Korea’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Changdeok Palace was built in the early 15th century, and was the the favorite palace of many Joseon era kings and princes. The atmosphere is grand and spectacular, yet peaceful; the Palace is unimposing and fits seamlessly with the natural environment. Be sure to visit the Palace’s ‘Secret Garden,’ filled with magnificent flowers and centuries-old trees.
Gochang, Hwasun, & Ganghwa Dolmen Sites
A dolmen is a massive funerary monument made from two large stones supporting a capstone on top. Korea has more dolmens than any other country, with Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa having the most in a given location. It’s unclear why most dolmens are created, but they provide valuable archeological insight into an ancient community’s rituals, beliefs, and burial rites.
Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon was constructed from 1794 to 1796, it was built by King Jeongjo to house the remains of his father, Crown Prince Jangheon, who was executed by his own father, King Yeongjo.
When King Jeongjo ascended the throne, he established Suwon as the home of the court but ultimately failed in his attempt to turn Suwon into the capital of Korea. Hwaseong Fortress is an undoubted success however, it includes Haenggung (the palace), and the fortress walls that originally encircled and protected the entire city. Suwon’s main stream, the Suwoncheon, also flows through the center of the fortress.
Hahoe & Yangdong Folk Villages
Hahoe Folk Village in Andong and Yangdong Folk Village in Gyeongju, are traditional clan villages dating back to the Joseon Dynasty. The villages are very valuable to Korean history and culture as they provide a glimpse into the Joseon period architecture and folk traditions. The villages are both in beautiful scenic surroundings and will put on performances, shows and offer local delicacies during the year in tribute to their heritage.
Hahoe Folk Village:40, Jongga-gil, Pungcheon-myeon, Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Yangdong Folk Village: 134 Yangdongmaeul-gil, Gangdong-myeon, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Seokguram Grotto & Bulguksa Temple
Going further back in time, before the Joseon Dynasty, and all the way back to the 8th century when Korea was in the Three Kingdoms Period, one of the dynasties, the Silla Dynasty, established the remarkable Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple on the slopes of Toham Mountain.
The Grotto contains a statue of Buddha looking out to sea, surrounded by portrayals of gods, Bodhisattvas and disciples. The temple consists of a series of wooden buildings on raised stone terraces and split into three halls, bridges and two pagodas. The whole site is a testament to the fine masonry and artwork of the Silla over 1000 years ago.
Seokguram Grotto: 873-243 Bulguk-ro, Jinhyeon-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Bulguksa Temple: 15-1 Jinhyeon-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Gyeongju Historic Areas
Another site dedicated to remembering the culture of the Silla Dynasty is the Gyeongju Historic Areas on the southeast coast of South Korea, Gyeongju served as the capital for the Silla. The historical site is considered to be one of the largest open air museums in the world and contains numerous Buddhist sculptures, pagodas and remains of temples and palaces mainly built between the 7th and 10th century.
Address: Taejong-ro 711beon-gil, Noseo-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
The earliest remains of Namhansanseong, in Gyeonggi-do, are from the 7th century, it was rebuilt many times however, and in the early 17th century the mountain fortress was built up and designed as an emergency capital for Joseon royalty to escape to, and defend attacks, notably from the Qing Dynasty. There is evidence of a number of different kinds of military, civil and religious buildings inside the walls of the 12 km long fortress.
Address: 731, Namhansanseong-ro, Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do
Haeinsa Temple & Janggyeong Panjeon
The Temple of Haeinsa, on Mount Gaya, is home to the Janggyeong Panjeon. The four buildings making up the Janggyeon Panjeon are set up in a rectangle around a courtyard and serve as depositories for a huge collection of Buddhist texts, the Tripitaka Koreana, delicately engraved on 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248. The Haeinsa Temple is a popular pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from all over the world.
Address: 10 Chiin-ri, Gaya-myeon, Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do
Baekje Historic Areas
The latest Korean addition to the UNESCO list also contains some of the oldest points of interest. The Baekje Historic Areas are a group of historical monuments spread out over three cities (Gongju, Buyeo and Iksan) dating back to the Baekje Kingdom. The Baekje were another influential part of the Three Kingdom Period of Korea and when they were forced away from their home (modern day Seoul), they moved south for the final 200 years of their existence the sites they left behind in these southern cities are roughly 1500 years old and include palaces, temples, fortresses and tombs.
Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes
The beautiful island of Jeju, Korea’s largest island and most popular holiday destination, is also home to some astonishing natural phenomena. Much of the island’s characteristics come from the imposing, dormant volcano, Hallasan dominating the landscape.
Hallasan, also the tallest mountain in Korea, can be credited with creating the magnificent lava tube system running under the island and Seongsan Ilchulbong, an almost perfectly round crater created from eruptions in shallow waters. These sites and a number of fascinating waterfalls and rock formations make Jeju an unmissable spot for anyone interested in the wonders of nature.
Make the most of your time in Jeju with a Full-Day Guided Bus Tour in Southern Jeju