This city is truly an open air museum. It was the capital of the Silla dynasty for a thousand years and is home to numerous artefacts and significant archaeological remains. For example, Bulguska temple is one of the oldest Buddhist temples (it dates from 751). It was entirely burnt down by the Japanese in 1593, when it was used as a military base, and only the stonework survived. It wasn't until the 1970's that the government decided to conduct the necessary research and restore the building. A little further up the hill, after a 15 minute walk through the forest, you arrive at Seokguram cave, where a 3m tall statue of Buddha sits facing the Sea of Japan. On the other side of the city, the observatory of Cheomseongdae and Tumuli Park are also sites of historical interest. However, the city centre isn't particularly attractive. You'd be better off spending the night in one of the hotels around Bomun Lake, which is the local resort town.
If you want to avoid the resort area of Bomun Lake, spend the night in one of the Buddhist temples. Around Gyeongju, you can choose between Golgulsa and Girimsa. You'll be woken up at 3:30am for a meditation session, followed by a 6:00am breakfast, tea and a meditation walk at 8:00am, lunch at 11:30am, a quick nap at 3:00pm, followed by an afternoon of meditation, and finally bed at 9:00pm (the Templestay programme).
You really must visit Gyeondju National Museum and the surprising Tumuli Park, made up of small mounds that are in fact royal burial sites. The one of Cheonmachong is open so that visitors can see what it looks like inside. The city has approximately 200 of these royal tombs. Visit Asia's first astronomical observatory, Cheomseongdae, which was built on the request of Queen Seondeok.
Another Buddhist temple, Tongdo-sa, is found on the road from Gyeongju to Busan. It's an important site for Buddhists because it holds one of Buddha's bones, which was brought back from China. It's definitely worth a visit.
Avoid taking out your camera when visiting a Buddhist temple; the monks do not like to be photographed and even less so by surprise. Photos, even without a flash, are prohibited in the Seokguram Grotto and the Cheonmachong Royal Tomb.
The Silla Millennium Cuisine school is not far from the lakeside hotels. It's a private school with its own restaurant, the Lasonjae. This culinary experience is out of this world and you'll discover another side to Korean cuisine. The menu includes 5 highly refined and healthy dishes.
Proof of your stay in a Buddhist temple!
The Commodore Hotel is housed in a large building on the shores ...