Without a doubt, Gyeongju is one of the best places to visit in Korea. It has an amazing assortment of history, an emerging trendy area, an impressive resort area, and it is a vibrant city as well. I am lucky enough to live quite close to this amazing city and I will help you find the best locations to shoot.
The Most Popular Spots
Gyeongju is often called the “open-air museum” or something to that effect. The reason being is that there are so many historic sites in one area. It is actually quite impressive when you think about it. You can walk to many of the areas as well. Here are a few of my favourite places to photograph.
Probably one of the most well known spots in Gyeongju, this temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and holds many nationational treasures including the Dabotap Pagoda with is featured on the 10 won coin. For photography, keep the popularity in mind as it does get super busy on the weekends.
This temple is amazing pretty much all year and is particularly beautiful in the spring when the cherry blossoms are out. Fall is also an amazing time to photography the temple too.
Tips: The entire front grounds of Bulguksa blooms during the spring cherry blossom season. Even if the temple is closed, you can still walk around the fron of the temple. Also another great time to visit is during Buddha’s Birthday. They hold a celebration there each year and it is an treasure trove of great shots.
Daereungwon Tomb Complex
This is one of my favourite spots if I am completely honest. I find myself heading here year after year. It is also growing in popularity thanks to a simple but popular shot on instagram. Now, people line up for the shot year round and lines get crazy in the spring.
However, there is more to this park than just that one shot. Fact is, that partucular shot is rather boring compared to what you can find around the park. There are a number of wonderful tombs around the park, a beautiful pond, as well as a small forest. This park has a lot of potential for some great shots.
Tips: The area gets super busy thanks to the popular of “the shot” and if you are seriously wanting to get that shot, get there early and line up. However, the light is actually better later in the day as the shadows and warm light of the golden hour make for some interesting compositions. If you are driving, there is free parking behind the shops next to the park. Take the first right before the park parking lot and then turn right at the small road by the bike rental shop.
Cheomseongdae and the Pink Muhly Grass
This area has grown in popularity thanks to the grass. It was always busy thanks to its uniqueness but since they put in the pink grass, it has gotten insanely popular. The tower is the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia. It is also very accessible for visitors. Which means that you may struggle with finding a shot without crowds of tourists in it.
The pink muhly grass grows just outside the tower boundary and is arguably more popular these days. Blooming in the fall, this is a haven for instagrammers and local photographers. So much so that they now have staff making sure people keep off the grass when trying to get that perfect shot for instagram.
Tips: Cheomseongdae is illuminated at night, so if you are trying to get something a little more interesting, you may want to stick around until dark. Be patient with the grass and get there as early as you can. On the morning that I went, even at 7 am there were still too many people to get clean shots.
Gyochon Traditional Village and Weoljeong Bridge
If you are looking for easy access to traditional homes to photograph and a very unique bridge, then this is your spot. The traditional village can be a hit or a miss depending on what you are looking for. It also gets overrun with tourists on the weekends. However, if you go in the early morning or late evening, the crowds clear out.
Now that the bridge is finally completed, you can get some pretty nice shots either inside or outside. Thanks to the lights, you can stick around the village and photograph the bridge well into blue hour. The only downside is that many of the shops will close up early. So if you want to grab a coffee after, you will have a 10 minute walk back to the main area.
I have found that usually the best time to go is around fall as the cold temperatures can add a bit of fog and this adds to the atmosphere to the area. Also the rising sun backlights the bridge which is nice.
Tips: The main time to photograph the bridge is around blue hour and is usually shot from the stone path/bridge across the water. If you want to get a shot without blocking the tourists walking across said path, you can photographer from the embankment behind the path.
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
If there is one place that is close to my heart it is Wolji Pond (formerly Anapji Pond). This was the where I took the shot that ened up getting a two-page spread in a National Geographic book. It is also one of the most popular places in the area, especially at night.
Arguably, the main draw of this spot is the blue hour reflections. It gets insanely busy on the weekend summer nights. However, there are a number of spots to check out. It is a small place but there some unique angles to find while you are there.
Tips: There is a train that passes just behind the pond on a regular basis. If you head there while the blossoms are out, you can catch a shot of the train passing by the cherry blossoms. Also try not to head out of bounds. If you step over the rope, the guard will come and they won’t be pleased.
Tong-Iljeon and Seolchulji Pond
A little off the main tourist path for most people, these two spots can offer some great shots, if you get there at the right time of the year. Tong-Iljeon is best visited during the fall when the leaves are turning gold and yellow. There are a number of ginkgo trees on the property that really make this place special in the fall.
Seolchulji is probably best visited in the spring and summer when the flowers surrounding the pavillion are in bloom. Now that they have installed lights around the pond, you can get some great shots without the huge crowds like you would see at Wolji Pond.
Tips: If you are heading to the area in the fall, be sure to check out the main road heading to Tong-Iljeong. That road is lined with beautiful trees that turn a briliant shade of gold. Also, Seolchulji can be a hit or a miss depending on how much attention has been pain to the upkeep of the pond. In recent years, the vegetation has somewhat overtaken the pond making it almost impossible to get a refelction off the water.
If you want to battle local photographers then this is your spot. It is one of the most popular places for spring blossoms and arguably the smallest. However, it does not stop photographers heading there every year and the traffic jams that follow.
However, a walk around Bomun lake should cool down and hot tempers and there are a number of places to shoot from around the lake. It is a popular tourist spot given the location is zoned for all things tousty. From resorts to a major theme park the Bomun area of Gyeongju will be teaming with tourists come the spring and well into the summer.
Tips: Getting here early is the key. There is a parking lot in front of the K-Pop Museum that is empty at dawn. Park there and the pond is right behind the restaurant.
Outside of Gyeongju
There are a few locations that are worth your time that are a short drive away from Gyeongju but technically still a part of the city or at least the National Park. Many of these are coastal areas that off a nice contrast to the shots that most people get in the city itself.
Gyeongju Wind Farm
If you head up the small road past Bulguksa and Seokgoram, you will come across a windfarm that offers great views of the valley surrounding Gyeongju. It may not be the best location listed here but if you are looking for a nice sunrise shot, then this is a nice spot to check out and is fairly quiet too.
Tips: For this location you will needs some form of transportation. Be careful on this smaller roads and drive with caution. Be careful if you are flying a drone around the propellors as they are larger than you think.
Gameunsaji Temple Site
These are located a fair distance from Gyeongju but they are also one of my favourite areas. It is really rural and out there, you get a true feeling of peace. Especially, if you are out in the morning.
These two pagodas sit on the ruins of temple that was built by King Munmu in the late 7th century. His remains were buried in the rock formation called Daewangahm located nearby. This is a great area to photograph that is off the beaten path.
Tips: There is not really much here but it is a good spot to stop after a sunrise shoot along the sea nearby. The area is constantly under improvement and there maybe an addition lily placed in from of the pagodas soon.
Jusangjoli Volcanic Rock Formations
This last entry is also one of my favourite places to go. Again, it is a challenge to get to if you don’t have a car. There are at some buses that head out there. The 150 bus from Gyeongju should get you in the vacinity but check before leaving.
These rocks are great for sunrise photos and the surrounding area is interesting too. There is a swinging bridge and some interesting “tourist trap” type stuff along the path to the rocks. If you are not sure where to find the rocks, just look for observatory that looks like a large alien mothership landing on the coast.
Tips: The whole coastline is filled with similar rock formations. If you are careful and walk along the coastline in the area, you could find some new areas to shoot that are away from the crowds. There are also a few coffee shops in the area too.
The bottom line here is that Gyeongju is an amazing place to photograph. There are way more interesting sites that I have mentioned here. If you are wanting to head out and need a hand, drop me a line and I can do my best to sort you out.