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Gyeongju, South Korea, is a major city in world history, yet comparatively few people know its rich background. During the time of the Silla Dynasty, which lasted from 57 BC – 935 AD – a remarkable length of time, Gyeongju served as its capital. Around the year 750, Gyeongju was the 4th largest city in the world, with around 1 million residents. Today, it is much smaller, but it still draws tourists from all over the world, as it’s the home of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While Gyeongju is worthy of a much more extended stay, the day trip from Busan to Gyeongju is a must-do if you can spare a free day on your itinerary.

How to get from Busan to Gyeongju

Getting from Busan to Gyeongju is pretty easy. Take the metro out to Nopo station, which is where the Busan Central Bus Terminal is located. This name can only be interpreted as being sarcastic, as it’s nowhere near central Busan. At least the metro system makes the trip easy. From there, direct buses from Busan to Gyeongju depart roughly every 15 minutes. The ticket was 4800 won each way and could easily be purchased in English from the ticket machine. I watched a few minutes of a Mets/Giants MLB playoff game while I waited for the next bus.

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The bus ride from Busan to Gyeongju takes less than an hour, thanks to it being an express route. It does seem much longer; however, if there is a screaming child making noises you’ve never heard a human make. If there is a bus every 15 minutes, and they aren’t crowded, please consider waiting for the next one if your child is having a meltdown.

If you don’t feel like figuring out the details of taking a day trip to Gyeongju from Busan or Seoul, there are also day tours available.


Getting around Gyeongju

From Gyeongju bus station, I set off towards my two main destinations for the day: Seokguram Grotto & Bulguksa Temple, one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Gyeongju. To get to these other areas, cross the main road by the bus station. You will find bus stops for local buses here. There are a few possible options for buses, the 10 & the 11. The 11 was arriving next, so I took that. The cost was 1300 yen. When I tried to pay, I had something occur that happened several times while I was in South Korea. I was trying to get the correct change, but instead, I was just waved away from paying. Either the bus drivers don’t want to deal with change, or nobody in South Korea cares about collecting bus fares.

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Things to see & do in Gyeongju

The bus ride to Bulguksa Temple takes about an hour, but it winds its way through several areas of interest so you can scope them out for your return trip. The other UNESCO World Heritage site in Gyeongju includes several sites within the city itself, so you will see them on your way to Seokguram Grotto & Bulguksa Temple. This site is officially called the Gyeongju Historic Areas. Highlights include several temples, fortresses, and royal tombs. Sacred Mt. Namsan is to the south. For an overview, you can stop at the Gyeongju National Museum.

Bulguksa Temple

It’s about a 5-minute walk from the bus stop to the entrance of Bulguksa Temple. Entry was a very reasonable 5000 won considering how spacious the grounds are. Despite Gyeongju being a fairly popular tourist destination, Bulguksa was not crowded on a weekday. I didn’t see any large groups, which made the visit all the more enjoyable.

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Bulguksa Temple is one of the finest temples I have ever visited. If you’re tempted to skip it, thinking you’ve seen a lot of temples, don’t. It’s truly special.

The grounds are covered with lush green gardens. The leaves were beginning to change on some of the trees when I visited in early October. I imagine the views were spectacular a couple of weeks later when the leaves turned even more.

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At first I thought it wasn’t possible to go inside the temple complex itself since the main gate was shut. However, if you walk up the hill to the right, you’ll find yourself inside.

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Bulguksa Temple is comprised of many small buildings that terrace the hillside. On a day when it’s not crowded, it’s easy to lose yourself in the tranquility.

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Everywhere I walked, I saw different buildings with different architectural details.

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Since this is sacred ground, many buildings had signs saying not to take photos inside of them. You can still do so from afar and remain respectful. It would be impossible to show pictures of every wonderful part of Bulguksa Temple, but here are some of my favorites.

The detail of these doors was incredible.

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As was this door, set against the rainbow of the decorated ceiling.

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I also liked this stacked stone garden.

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There was also this dragonfly.

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I spent over an hour and a half at Bulguksa Temple, but I could have easily spent more. I don’t consider myself particularly spiritual, but I am moved by nature and nice architecture. Bulguksa Temple is lovely for both.

Hiking from Bulguksa Temple to Seokguram Grotto

My next destination was Seokguram Grotto. Seokguram Grotto is located 4 kilometers to the east of Bulguksa Temple, but at 750 meters above sea level, it’s at a much higher elevation. You can either hike to it or take Bus #12 to the parking lot. I opted for the hike since it was a nice day, and I wanted to work a bit for the experience. The path is right near the entrance as you exit Bulguksa Temple.

The beginning of the hike to Seokguram Grotto is along a nice stone path with a fairly strenuous constant incline. A drainage channel was babbling with lots of water from the typhoon that had hit a couple of days before.

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Some trees had fallen, including one that had destroyed a bench.

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After the first kilometer, the trail flattens out somewhat, passing some waterfalls. There’s plenty of shade and a brief view of the valley below.

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The trail then passes some restrooms & a mineral water spring before becoming steep again and then actually turning into stairs. Hiking to Seokguram Grotto is not a casual hike. The whole thing took about 50 minutes, but it felt much longer. It’s great exercise, of course, but if you’re short on time, you’re not missing a ton. For much of this last portion, you are on a steep, grueling climb without many views. The best views of the valley are, in fact, from the same parking lot you could take a bus to.

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Seokguram Grotto

Entrance to Seokguram Grotto costs 5000 won. The walk to it from the parking lot is perhaps 1 kilometer or so, but it’s a pleasantly flat walk. Should you be interested in more hiking, there are further trails up into the hills. From the main path, there are still views of the green valleys to the east. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the sea.

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Seokguram Grotto was built into the hill with stones, with the centerpiece being a giant stone Buddha. The grotto was completed in the year 774. The building in front is a more recent construction.

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Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to take photos of the stone Buddha. This is understandable. However, it is also behind glass, so it’s challenging to get much of a connection with this important historical artifact, as it feels like you are in an aquarium. The glass protects the sculpture from visitors and the elements, but the divider blocks much more than that.

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There are a couple of other buildings on the site as well.

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After seeing Seokguram Grotto, I headed back to the parking lot, planning on taking Bus number 12 back down the hill. Unfortunately, I had neglected to check the schedule and had just missed the previous bus by a couple of minutes. The following bus wouldn’t be for almost another hour. Rather than waiting, I decided to walk down the road myself after taking a few more photos from the overlook.

I underestimated just how long this walk would take. Figuring it couldn’t be much longer than my hike up, I thought it would be a similar amount of time as waiting until the next bus. Instead, it took me an hour and a half to make it back down the hill. Since it was along a road, I had to watch out for the light traffic. The views were beautiful, though, and I accepted this as my punishment for missing the bus. I passed several farms along the way.

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Back at Bulguksa Temple, I then took the bus back to Gyeongju. The route does take a different path from the way there, but at the end, it loops to the same parts of the Gyeongju Historic Areas, so you can get off as you wish. Plenty of signs are around so you can navigate to the different sights. Unfortunately, I’d spent too much time hiking and walking along roads, so I ended up heading back to Busan.

There are so many historic places in Gyeongju that you could easily spend several days getting to them all. In addition to all of its history, Gyeongju has several beautiful lakes & resorts. Had I had more time for my trip, it would have been a lovely place to relax for a few days rather than just taking a day trip from Busan to Gyeongju. At the very least, even if you can’t stay overnight, make sure that you give yourself as full of a day as possible. Between its historic sites & pleasant landscape, Gyeongju is one of the nicest places in South Korea to visit. Click here to book your Busan to Gyeongju day trip.

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  1. This is very informative. I was planning of doing a day trip from Busan to Gyeongju-si as well. Still looking for accommodation preferably around Busan Station for easy access to any other destination. I believed you mention about taking a metro to Nopo Station which i believe runs from Busan station as well.

    What bus number did you take from Busan Nopo Station to Gyeongju-si?
    What bus number did you also take from Gyeongju-si back to Busan?


  2. We followed your steps except the hiking to the grotto (they closed the path for some unknown reason). Price’s went slightly up for buses and tickets. Your post was really useful. A big thanks. Cheers!

  3. Hi, enjoyed reading your blog. I’m planning to travel to Gyeongju from Busan with my senior mum to catch cherry blossoms in the old town. Is taking the bus from Busan Central Terminal the most direct route? KTX is faster, but I don’t think it will take us directly to the old town?

  4. I believe that’s the case, though it’s been a while since I did the Gyeongju trip (and of course a lot has potentially changed since then). Enjoy your trip! It will be amazing to see the cherry blossoms there