Things To Do In Pyongyang
Each visit to North Korea centers on the city of Pyongyang – this is after all a Communist country where all the farms, factories, and even the cars are owned by the government. The farms are collectives, which means that work and profits are shared. Until the 1950’s, most North Koreans worked as farmers, but today more than half of the country’s workers have jobs in factories. Most of them cycle to work, leaving their babies in state-run nurseries. Pyongyang city is one of the few spots where you can have an opportunity to get to know more about North Korea -- its unique culture, its sights, and its people.
When To Go:
The best time to plan a holiday in Pyongyang is during the Arirang Mass Games (August to October) or when there is a national occasion. Special celebrations that have been recurring for a considerable length of time might be incorporated in the agenda. During these periods, train and plane tickets are harder to acquire, so be careful to plan well ahead of time. All in all, the most ideal months for a visit are April- June, and September - October.
July and August are actually moist and cloudy. Holiday tours are not typically offered in winter; tour companies are actually closed in November then begin operations again in March. February is the Great Leader's birthday month and travelers are especially unwelcome at this time of the year.
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Enjoy all of these top things to do and attractions to explore when in the city of Pyongyang, North Korea...
Arirang Mass Games
Arirang is an astonishing and grandiose artistic/gymnastics spectacle involving about 100,000 extras, and 18,000 youth holding signs at the bottom to change the figures. The price is worth paying to see the tourist attraction that occurs in August - September. The staging is very good. The artists and their synchronization are all manual. There are lots of fireworks, music, military marches, and grand parades. The downside is the price but if you plan to visit North Korea, it is essential to see the performances of Arirang which usually occur in the summer season at the huge stadium called Rungrado.
Every night, about a hundred thousand people -- including dancers, acrobats, musicians and children pose with colored plates that make up the mosaics presenting and glorifying the country and its political leadership.
It is one of the highlights of an amazing trip to Pyongyang City. The production and entertainment value of this event is prepared many months ahead in order to come up with a perfect presentation. The lighting and effects are completely synched with the dancers and the groups of performers who trained and practiced well for this annual event. Besides being visually stunning, the event is a fascinating window to understand the political mindset and the current situation in North Korea.
Tower of the Juche Idea
The Tower of the Juche Idea is overlooking the city of Pyongyang and can be an interesting show. However, tourists also have other occasions to admire the great view (for example, many normally stay on the top floors of the hotel Yangakkdo) to avoid paying the heavy cost for the elevator ride. The cost to climb to the top is $6. The 558-foot tower is probably the most remarkable landmark of Pyongyang, besides carrying a derivative meaning of the word "Juche Idea" which is a well-known Communist term (something like "self-sufficiency" - the official ideology of North Korean Communism). The top observation deck offers great views of the Kim Il Sung Square, the Taedong River, the giant pyramidal Hotel Ryugyeong and various residential and industrial neighborhoods.
In addition, there are at the foot of the tower, a mosaic donated by the Kim Il Sung Socialist parties and movements around the, plaques, and a huge statue inspired by the famous "peasant and worker" Vera Mukhina that was once exposed in Moscow. Even if you have little time or little patience with Pyongyang Communist monuments, the Juche Tower is highly recommended. It is a historic place filled with many tributes coming from different countries from all continents, and is truly worth seeing in the city of Pyongyang.
Kim Il-sung Square
At the Kim Il-sung Square, it is unusual to see such a large area without much advertising and fanfare. The architectural composition is very well built and crosses the River Taedong’s wide strip, which is also surrounded by the nearby Central Palace and the Tower of the Juche Idea. Like many other places in Pyongyang, it is great but it is always empty. But this is an important place like no other and it's centrally located in the heart of the city. The grand military parades are held every year at this location.
The square of Kim Il Sung is also monumental and impressive like the many other structures that you can see in Pyongyang -- including the Memorial Mansudae, the Arc de Triomphe or the Arch of Reunification, and the cemetery of the Martyrs. On the pavement there are visible signs that the spacious grounds are used to coordinate the soldier’s formation when they have the parades.
Geumsusan Memorial Palace
The Geumsusan Memorial Palace is a very important place in North Korea, where the bodies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il rest. It also houses the huge collection of vehicles received by them: trains, boats, and cars. The building highlights these dimensions and there is a long path to get there. The park in front of the building is also very pretty and this is the only place where it is allowed to take pictures.
This is one of the places of the North Korean nation devoted to its two leaders. Their remains have been preserved and their memory maintained in different ways (photos, medals and diplomas, personal cars, etc.). The Korean nation has access to the memory of the two leaders who made the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea what is it today. This place is conducive to meditation. It is reached by a long conveyor belt, after which one passes through several rooms and corridors before entering the room where the body of the leader is exposed. Upstairs, there is a separate room dedicated to Kim Il Sung only. Then the rooms that follow are devoted to tributes and honors that have been addressed by other world leaders to the late rulers of DPRK.
Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum
The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum looks great already from the entrance alley with its edged blocks of complex sculptures depicting soldiers in action. Upon entrance through the large door, you will be welcomed by an enormous polychrome marble spiral staircase that leads to the large statue of Kim Il Song. It was fully renovated and expanded in July 2013 to commemorate 60 years after the Korean War (or "War of Liberation of the Fatherland", in the local nomenclature). This museum tells in great detail the main facts of the conflict. Expect to see many dioramas, military relics, models, uniforms, posters and other historical materials.
The museum traces in detail the epic war of resistance against the United States of America from 1950-1953. It has reconstructed the trenches and underground tunnels where the North Korean fighters survived the incessant bombings of the USA (the capital was completely razed to the ground by a number of bombs equal to the number of inhabitants). On the top floor, they recreated a day of war: a gigantic vaulted dome that revolves around the spectator who is in the middle of the scenes of bombing, destruction and military clashes, played with real lights and sounds and instruments of war. It creates the impression that you as a spectator are witnessing how it was during the war -- and wondering how anyone can endure so much human suffering.
Grand People's Study House
The Grand People’s Study House is undoubtedly one of the most interesting points of a visit to Pyongyang because you can have contact (although limited) with North Koreans who have the opportunity to visit this center for studies. The purpose of this study house is to invite anyone to attend one of the several lectures that are open for those who are interested to learn subjects like foreign languages, accessing the North Korean intranet, and other subjects beyond the basic library services.
You will be accompanied by the director of the Study House in person who has an impeccable command of the English language. Come to North Korea and be filled with one of the most enriching and educational visits to the DPRK.
Monument to the Korean Workers Party
The Monument to the Korean Workers Party was articulately done and is really nice to see. There is of course the main sculpture with three hands, but there are also great murals that you can find on the inside. A guide will explain everything there is to know about the monument and its significance; afterwards you can buy from him a pine carving. It is advisable to buy one because it's how he makes a living and if you wear it in, your guide and others will appreciate.
This monument was constructed and dedicated for the 50th anniversary of the WPK (Worker’s Party of Korea). It is the famous landmark of the area that is solidly made and monumental. Two buildings of red stand in the background - like flags inscribed in the ensemble. There are decent souvenir shops (with interesting souvenirs and affordable prices). It is a large concrete structure with three hands that represent the intelligentsia (holding a brush), the peasantry (holding a sickle) and the working class (holding a hammer). There are many statues of heroic Communist workers all over North Korea. Since the country became Communist in 1948, it has become heavily industrialized.
Arch of Reunification
The Arch of Reunification is a historic arch under which it is inevitable to pass if you want to get in or out of Pyongyang. The arch is formed by the arms of two women who are touching fingertips -- while their bodies, wrapped in long, loose skirts, go sideways toward the earth. Situated at the entrance of Pyongyang City, this monument presents harmony between two twin sisters almost as a metaphor for the goal of reunification of the Korean peninsula.
Note that the sisters are not identical; one (the North) has at its base a high-relief with men and women in patriotic and proud poses, while the other (the South) stands on a pedestal formed by desperate refugees. It is truly dedicated to the north-south desire for complete reunification. The visit can be done in a few minutes and be sure to take a few photographs before heading to the next interesting attractions in Pyongyang.
The Triumphal Arch is huge and provides an opportunity to learn some of the history of this country. It is slightly larger than the French version. It is also not easy to miss because it is situated next to the metro. However, climbing all the way to the top is not advisable and the arch can only be used as a backdrop for a good photograph.
This monumental arch is located right across from the stadium where the annual Arirang event is celebrated. It is best to visit the adjacent amusement park in the evening because it is more lively and stunning when illuminated.
Pyongyang Ethnographic Park
The Pyongyang Ethnographic Park presents the reconstruction of the History of Korea in miniature format. The new park, which is also an open-air museum, illustrates in graphic form the development of Korea from ancient times to the present day. Installed within the museum are small copies of the DPRK's main attractions -- from the Tower of Juche to the Diamond Mountains, ship Geobukseon, and the famous quarters of the Middle Ages.
The Koguryo Tombs are historically interesting because they are among the few things left standing after the 1953 Korean War. Koguryo departs from the usual aesthetic of Communist monuments of Pyongyang. There are 30 tombs in the complex, including the grave of the late King Tongmyong, the founder of Koguryo.
The tombs can be visited with the designated tour guides. The place also serves as one of the important gates of the capital Pyongyang city. It's nice to learn that there are people who undertake in North Korea the very great effort to obtain and preserve such cultural sites of history and posterity. The Complex of Koguryo became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in North Korea in 2004.
The Chollima Statue itself does not draw much attention, but there is an interesting story behind it. The traditional Korean legend Chollima, the winged horse that moves with unmatched speed, was reused by Kim Il Sung and became one of the symbols of North Korea, including its football team -- one that eliminated Italy in the 1966 World Cup and gave a lot of work to Brazil in 2010. In addition, the Chollima movement is a campaign to encourage industrial productivity in the country.
The Chollima is a statue of a great Korean horse that rides something like a thousand miles a day and symbolizes the breakthrough of North Korean Science and technological industry that was carried out under the guidance of the Great Leader and Steel Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung.
Former Residence of Mangyongdae
The former Residence of Mangyongdae is the actual native house of Kim Il Sung, in which he was born and spent his childhood. This home is a sacred place for the citizens of North Korea because of their relationship to the leader. On the way to the attraction, there is the opportunity to look at the sleeping areas of Pyongyang.
The water coming out of the well here tastes wonderful. You can try it and quench your thirst. The travel guides and museum staff tell all sorts of stories and answer every question about the former leader and his childhood. The presented items show how simple Korean life was a century ago. You can go around freely and if it’s a clear sky you can spend a very beautiful summer day listening to the singing of numerous cicadas that are very common in this area. The guide is lovely and it's nice to see Koreans visiting this major place of their nation in Pyongyang City.
Rungrado May Day Stadium
The Rungrado May Day Stadium is one of the largest sports arenas in the world. The Stadium Dome received a lot of prizes at various international festivals and in architectural competitions. Of course, the Stadium of May 1 is a bit outdated, not as shiny as its younger colleagues all over the world, but its scale and the aerodynamic-influenced ideas in the design and construction are still fascinating. It hosts the show "Arirang Mass Games” yearly on its spacious grounds.
The Samantabhadra Temple is North Korea's most famous sanctuary. On a visit you can see that the temple complex retains many of its old Korean-style buildings, most of which are said to have been repaired several times. Today, the entire temple is like a big park, because more tourists come inside to see several shops and have a first taste of North Korea's ice cream.
There are also nearby restaurants here where they serve very good Korean dishes like Chap Chae, Bibimbap, and their staple food called Kimchi. Try them all because it is a must to experience Korean food when in the city of Pyongyang.