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North Korea

Main attractions

Lake Tianchi, China and North Korea
Lake Tianchi from the Chinese side / drnan tu, , CC BY-SA 2.0

It is not that easy to find representative information about the most interesting landmarks and attractions in North Korea.

Devastating wars have not erased fully the unique heritage of Ancient and Medieval Korea, nature in North Korea is gorgeous and Koreans are deservedly proud of their heritage. But major part of country is not open to foreign tourists, not described in tourist booklets or even scientific works. Due to this the list below could miss many outstanding landmarks.

Highlights of North Korea are:

  • Ancient royal mausoleums. Several mausoleums still are adorned with millenia old murals, have interesting architecture and planning. Outstanding landmark is Dangun Mausoleum - a pyramid which could be 5 thousand years old.
  • Ancient fortifications. The giant forts around Pyongyang were surrounded by walls extending for many kilometres - like smaller cousins of the Great Wall of China.

Most tourists bring from North Korea images of macabre structures built to serve as tools of propaganda for current regime. Well... there might be needed a time distance to appreciate this kind of heritage - when this will be a part of rather distant past.

Natural landmarks

Pakyon Falls, North Korea
Pakyon Falls / John Pavelka, , CC BY 2.0

Waterfalls

  • Chonsin Falls - North Pyongan. 86 m tall waterfall, up to 4 m wide.
  • Kuryong Falls - Kangwon. 74 m tall and some 4 m wide waterfall, site of legends.
  • Pakyon Falls (Pagyon Falls) - North Hwanghae. Scenic falls over granite cliffs, approximately 37 m tall.
  • Pibong Falls (Bibong Falls) - Kangwan. 139 m tall, unusual and quite impressive waterfall, falling in numerous cascades over very steep shale.
  • Ryongyon Falls - North Pyongan. 84 m tall waterfall with nice pool below.
  • Sibi Falls - Kangwon. 289 m tall and 4 m wide waterfall with 12 steps - rather sliding down along the steep mountainside. Tallest cascade is 80 m tall.
  • Suyangsan Falls - South Hwanghae. 128 m tall waterfall, sliding down along very steep granite face.
  • Ullim Falls - Kangwon. Large waterfall with two major cascades. 75 m tall.

Other natural landmakrs

  • Cheonji - abode of Lake Tianchi monster - Ryanggang and China, Jilin. According to legends and modern stories in this beautiful crater lake lives a monster.
  • Pae Rock in Tongsok valley - South Hamgyong. Enormous balancing rock with breathtaking background of forested valley and rocky mountains.
  • Ryongmun Cavern - North Pyongan. 7 km long cave system with up to 40 m tall cave rooms.
  • Songam Caves - North Pyongan. 7 km long system of caves with beautiful speleothems, opened for tourists.

Man made landmarks

Archaeological monuments

In North Korea are located thousands of megalithic monuments - but the information about them is very scarce.

  • Gwansanri Goindol Dolmen Site - South Hwanghae. Largest dolmen in North Korea, consists of two upright stones and enormous capstone above them.
  • Hukwuri Cave - South Pyongan. Cave with deposits which contain artefacts left by Early Paleolithic man, approximately 550 - 600 thousand years old. Contains also fossilized animal bones, such as rhinoceros, megaloceros.
Taedongmun gate in Pyongyang, North Korea
Taedongmun gate in Pyongyang / David Stanley, , CC BY 2.0

Fortifications

  • Chongbang Fortress (Jŏngbang) - North Hwanghae. Ruins of enormous mountain fortress, built to protect Pyongyang some millenia ago. Reconstructed in 1632. 12 km long walls, which are 6 - 10 m high. Includes Songbulsa temple.
  • Hwangryong Fortress - South Pyongan. Ruins of impressive fortress, developed in the time period from the early 5th century AD to 1675. Walls are 10 - 11 m high, 6 - 8 m wide and have a circumference of 6.6 km.
  • Namdaemun - North Hwanghae. The only remaining gate of the walled city of Kaesong. Built in 1391 - 1393. Gate contains Yŏnbok Bell - 14 tonnes heavy bell cast in 1346.
  • Pothong Gate - Pyongyang. The west gate of the Pyongyang Walled City. Originally constructed in the middle of the 6th century, current gate built in 1473.
  • Suyangsan Fort - South Hwanghae. Mountain fort with 8 km long walls, built approximately 1000 years ago. Walls are 6 - 7 m tall.
  • Taedongmun - Pyongyang. Preserved eastern gate of Pyongyang castle. Originally built in the 6th century, current gate is built in 1635.
  • Taehungsan Fortress - North Hwanghae. Enormous castle - fortress with some 10 km of stone walls, built several millenia ago. Major part of walls collapsed and in ruins.
Pohyon-sa temple, North Korea
Pohyon-sa temple / John Pavelka, , CC BY 2.0

Buddhist temples

  • Anguksa - South Pyongan. Buddhist temple complex, founded in 503, rebuilt reveral times.
  • Anhwasa - North Hwanghae. The only intact Korean Buddhist temple in Kaesong city. Built in 930, contains many valuables.
  • Jongyang Temple - Kangwon. Buddhist temple in mountains, founded sometimes around 600 AD.
  • Kaesimsa - North Hamgyong. Buddhist temple, founded in 826, a repository of many Buddhist art items. Contains six buildings, built mainly in late medieval times.
  • Kwanumsa - North Hwanghae. Korean Buddhist temple, founded in 970 AD. Temple built in 1393, contains many valuable relics. Includes Kwanum Cave with ancient statues.
  • Pohyon-sa - North Pyongan. Korean Buddhist temple, established in 1024. Pilgrimage site with numerous very ornate buildings. Contains the nine-story Tabo Pagoda which was built in 1044 and 13-story Sokka Pagoda, built in the 14th century.
  • Pyohunsa - Kangwon. The only large Buddhist temple in this part of country, which survived the Korean War. Founded in the 7th century, contains many values of art and architecture.
  • Ryangchon Temple - South Hamgyong. Buddhist temple, founded in 753. Three ornate buildings remain - Taeung Hall, Manse Pavillion and Muryangsu Hall.
  • Ryongtongsa - North Hwanghae. Important Korean Buddhist temple, founded by Chontae Buddhist sect in 1027. Restored in 2005, consists of 26 buildings.
  • Songbulsa temple - North Hwanghae. Korean Buddhist temple, founded in 898 AD, contains some of the oldest wooden buildings in the country, e.g. Ungjin Hall, built in 1327.
  • Sungin Hall - Pyongyang. Large shrine, built in 1325. Fine example of elaborate Korean architeture of these times.
  • Woljong temple - South Hwangsae. Magnificent Buddhist temple, founded in the 9th century, most buildings rebuilt in the 15th century.
Tomb of King Kongmin, North Korea
Tomb of King Kongmin / David Stanley, , CC BY 2.0

Royal burials

  • Anrung - North Hwanghae. Royal burial from the 10th century, well preserved. Contains guardian statues and murals, including a mural on ceiling showing stars.
  • Anak Tomb No.3. (Kogukwon Mausoleum) - South Hwanghae. Mausoleum of Goguryeo from 357 AD, with valuable inscriptions and fine murals.
  • Cherŭng Royal Tomb - North Hwanghae. Mausoleum from the 15th century where is buried wide of the first ruler of Joseon dynasty. Adorned with granite carvings.
  • Dangun Mausoleum (Tangun) - Pyongyang. Purported tomb of Dangun - the founder of the first Korean kingdom. The enormous complex includes the 22 m high and 50 m wide burial pyramid, which might be built at least 5 000 years ago. Complex includes numerous sculptures.
  • Hyonjongrung (Tomb of King Kongmin) - North Hwanghae. Elaborate and well preserved royal mausoleum, built in 1365 - 1372.
  • Hyonrung (Hyollung, Tomb of King Wanggon) - North Hwanghae. Tomb of Emperor Taejo from the 10th century with ornate decorations.
  • Hurŭng Royal Tomb - North Hwanghae. A mausoleum - two separate burial mounds of the second king of Joseon dynasty, built in 1412 - 1419. Adorned with granite carvings, statues of twelve zodiac animals and other statues.
  • Kangso mausoleums - South Pyongan. Three mounds - mausoleums from the 7th century. Contain murals, which show mythical beings.
  • Kija's Tomb - Pyongyang. Medieval burial hill. According to legends here is buried Jizi, the legendary first ruler of ancient Gojoseon and founder of Pyongyang in the 11th century BC. Memorial temple added next to this mound in 1102. Most likely destroyed now.
  • Tokhung-ri Mausoleum - South Pyongan. Royal burial mound, built in 408 AD. Contains decorative paintings showing daily scenes and star cosntellations.
  • Yangrung - North Hwanghae. Royal burial mound from the 13th century. Although it is in a poor condition, valuable murals of stars and 158 dogs have been preserved.

Other medieval landmarks

  • Kyongam Pavilion - North Hwanghae. Old and ornate pavillion in scenic place. Initially built in 1798, moved to present place in 1917, restored in 1955.
  • Pyongyang Bell - Pyongyang. Enormous bell, cast in 1726. The 12.9 tonnes heavy bell is 3.1 m high.
  • Sonjuk Bridge - North Hwanghae. Historical bridge, built in 1290. National monument since 1780, closed to traffic.
  • Songgyungwan Academy - North Hwanghae. Higher education institution, established in 1089. More than 20 buildings, two more than 500 years old ginkgo trees and more than 900 years olf zelkowa tree.
Ryugyong Hotel rising above Pyongyang, North Korea
Ryugyong Hotel rising above Pyongyang / Nicor, , CC BY-SA 3.0

Contemporary landmarks

  • Arch of Reunification - Pyongyang. Unusual monument devoted to Korean unity, built in 2001. Statue represents two women leaning across the highway and holding a map of unified Korea.
  • Juche Tower - Pyongyang. Second tallest monumental column in the world, 170 m tall. Built in 1982 to commemorate the 70-th birthday of Kim-Il-Sung.
  • Rungnado May Day Stadium - Pyongyang. The largest stadium in the world by capacity, with 150,000 seats. Constructed in 1989, used for sport events, politically motivated mass performances and executions.
  • Ryugyong Hotel - Pyongyang. Skyscraper with unusual, pyramidal form. Height - 330 m, 105 floors, constructed in 1987 - 2013.

List of described attractions by provinces and cities

North Korea is divided into 11 provinces, capital city Pyongyang and special city Rason. Here below they are listed in alphabetical order:

Chagang
Kangwon
ArrowKuryong FallsWaterfalls, Sites of legends
North Hamgyong
North Hwanghae
North Pyongan
Pyongyang
Rason
Ryanggang
South Hamgyong
South Hwanghae
South Pyongan

Map of North Korea

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