Things to do in Pyongyang, North Korea
There’re a lot of bucket list items in Pyongyang including the largest stadium in the world as well as the tallest unfinished building in the world. There is also the largest mausoleum dedicated to a communist leader. Things to do in Pyongyang include;
- Arch of Triumph
- Kumsusan Palace of the Sun
- Kim Il Sung Square
- Ryugyong Hotel
- Yanggakdo Island
- Rungrado May Day Stadium
- Victorious Fatherland Liberation Museum
- USS Pueblo Spy Ship
- Juche Tower
- Pyongyang Metro
- Tram Spotting
- Mosaics of the Eternal Leaders
- People photography
- North Korean Food, Cold Noodles
- North Korean Beer
- Arch of Reunification
- Day Trip to the DMZ
- Day trip to Maesong
I was staying at Hotel Yanggakdo which offered panoramic views over Pyongyang. As a result, I could see many of these points of interest from my hotel window.
Arch of Triumph
The Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang is the second largest in the world. It is in fact taller than the most famous arch in the world in Paris, but shorter than the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City. It was built to commemorate the resistance to Japan from 1925 to 1945. Consequently, these dates are prominently written on the monument. The height is 60 meters and it was built to celebrate the 70th birthday of Kim Il Sung.
Kumsusan Palace of the Sun
Kumsusan Palace of the Sun is the mausoleum of the eternal leaders of North Korea, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Their bodies lie in separate rooms, each in a clear sarcophagus. When you enter you must bow 3 times at the head as well as 3 times at either side of the body. After visiting each body, you’ll pass through trophy rooms. In each trophy room, gifts which the eternal leaders received from other countries are on show. It’s interesting to see which countries gave gifts, my country, the UK had also given gifts which are on display. After passing through the mausoleum areas, you come to the crying room in which my guide shed a tear.
North Korean Leaders Trains
Two more interesting features of the Kumsusan Palace are the former trains of the eternal leaders. They had a luxury train each and you can view their interiors. Additionally, there are 2 large maps which show how far each leader went by train. The leaders have an impressive Only By Land travel resume as they went as far as Western Europe by train!
Kumsusan Palace of the Sun Dress Code
To enter the building you must pass the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun dress code. Formal pants, shirt with collar as well as dress shoes are mandatory. In addition, no brightly colored clothes or brightly dyed hair! If you wish you can wear a tie, remember, afterwards you’ll be taking photos in front of the palace. Furthermore, you cannot take cameras or mobile phones into the building, as a result there are no photos from the interior. To enter you must pass airport like security checks.
Kim Il Sung Square
The main central square of Pyongyang is Kim Il Sung Square. It’s named after the founder of the country and marked the rebuilding of Pyongyang after the Korean War. It’s one of the largest squares in the world and hosts the annual Victory Parade performance. In addition, military parades are also performed here. It also used by performers to rehearse their performances (above). The large building alongside the square is the Grand People’s Study House which is the largest library in North Korea.
At 330 meters tall the Ryugyong Hotel is the tallest building in Pyongyang, North Korea. The exterior has been completed but the interior has not. As a result, it’s the tallest unfinished building in the world as well as the tallest unoccupied building in the world. Once completed it will become one of the tallest hotels in the world. In comparison, the tallest hotel in the world is the Gevora Hotel in Dubai at 357 meters. It’s possible to see the Ryugyong Hotel from all over Pyongyang and it’s lit up with flashing colors at night. When this hotel finally opens, the panoramic city views from the top will be amazing.
Rungrado May Day Stadium
The largest stadium in the world is located in Pyongyang, North Korea. It’s called the Rungrado May Day stadium and holds 114,000 spectators. The biggest event which is held here is the Mass Games. At the Mass Games, huge numbers of gymnasts perform in sync. Additionally, the spectators hold up color coordinated boards to add to the atmosphere. Furthermore, it’s likely that the Supreme Leader of North Korea will be in attendance. The Mass Games is the event which attracts the most tourists to North Korea.
Yanggakdo Island is home to 2 major points of interest. The Yanggakdo International Hotel as well as the Yanggakdo football stadium. From the 47th floor of the hotel are panoramic views over Pyongyang as well as the Taedong River and the bridges crossing it. Most tours stay on Yanggakdo Island so it’s likely you’ll be staying here on your visit.
Victorious Fatherland Liberation Museum
The Victorious Fatherland Liberation Museum explains the events of the Korean war. In fact, it explains the events from a North Korean point of view. When you enter the building there are huge statues of the eternal leaders. Generally speaking, the museum portrays the image that North Korea was attacked by the US and Japan. Additionally, the US used the UN to support them during the war. Any Chinese tourists however will be shown a different part of the museum. They will be shown how the Chinese helped North Korea during the war and pay respect to the fallen soldiers. No photography is allowed inside the building.
USS Pueblo Spy Ship
A North Korean soldier will escort you through the USS Pueblo spy ship which was captured on 23rd January 1968. There is much evidence of spying activities on show in the ship. Today it remains one of few US spy ships to have been captured. North Korea acted alone in capturing USS Pueblo which actually upset their Soviet / Chinese relations. In addition to the USS Pueblo, there are several captured planes as well as helicopters on display. You’re welcome to take as many photos and selfies as you want with these. As they are from the 50’s, they resemble something from an old James Bond movie.
The Juche Tower is a monument to the ideology of North Korea, Juche. The Juche ideology was created by Kim Il Sung and is his version of Marxism / Leninism. The belief is that the North Korean masses act as the masters of revolution and construction. Juche is taught to the North Korean people from a young age. It also explains why events which involve a large number of people are regular here. For example, events such as the Mass Games, Victory Day Parade or even a huge Military Parade.
The metro trains on the Pyongyang Metro are imported from East Germany, in fact, they used to run on the Berlin U-Bahn. For this reason, trainspotters visit Pyongyang, North Korea just to ride the metro. The design of the stations are largely influenced by those of the Moscow Metro.
The World’s Deepest Metro
It’s claimed that the Pyongyang metro is the deepest in the world. Additionally, the stations double as bomb shelters and can quickly be converted. In fact, they are so deep that a ride down on the escalator takes over 3 minutes. Of course, the deepest individual metro station in the world is the Arsenalna Station in Kiev, Ukraine.
As well as trainspotting in the Pyongyang Metro, you can also enjoy a little tramspotting on the surface. The trams of Pyongyang are of Czechoslovakia origin and date back to the 70’s and 80’s. The colorful trams combined with the colorful buildings of Pyongyang result in some very colorful photography.
Mosaics of the Eternal Leaders
As you drive around Pyongyang and North Korea you’ll pass many mosaics of the Eternal Leaders. Some of the mosaics feature the leaders in different areas of North Korea, often quite picturesque. These mosaics are produced at the Pyongyang University of Fine Arts. Imagine a huge mosaic being your final project at university!
As a result of all the mass events, as well as the colorful Korean dress, North Korea has become a people photography hotspot. I recommend you coordinate your Pyongyang, North Korea visit with a major event such as the Mass Games or Victory Day Parade. Even if you don’t you’ll still have lots of people photography options during your stay.
North Korean Food, Cold Noodles
Foodies visiting Pyongyang, North Korea will ask, what is the food of North Korea? The food is in fact, cold noodles. If you wish to try cold noodles I recommend you inform your guide. As all meals come as part of your tour, you may have to pay extra for some cold noodles, I paid 20 Yuan. Of course, there is a cold noodle restaurant in the basement of the Hotel Yanggakdo if you cannot get them as an extra during your tour.
North Korean Beer
Beer in North Korea is in fact cheaper than water! As a result, you’ll be served a few bottles of local beer with every meal. There are 3-4 different North Korean beers which you must sample. In addition to the beer, there are a few North Korean liquors to sample. You may get a sample of the liquor with your meals but if you wish to try more you can buy a bottle from a supermarket.
Arch of Reunification
The Arch of Reunification is located on the Reunification Highway which connects Pyongyang to the DMZ. Will you be able to drive all the way from Pyongyang to South Korea one day? It will be interesting to see what happens.
Day Trip to the DMZ
A popular day trip from Pyongyang is to the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Several tourists make the trip to the southern side from Seoul, South Korea but few can say they’ve visited the North Korean side. It’s on the North Korean side that the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. The building remains the same and you can sit where the senior army officers sat and take a selfie here. The DMZ is also one of the few places in North Korea where you can photograph a North Korean soldier. Read how to do it without offending them on my People Photography post.
Day Trip to Kaesong
Kaesong is a city in southern North Korea, close to the DMZ. For this reason a trip to Kaesong should be combined with a trip to the DMZ. Kaesong is home to UNESCO listed monuments and sites. In fact, Maesong was the capital of the Koryo Dynasty (Korean Peninsula) from the 10th to 14th centuries. For this reason, there is much history to explore here. The Koryo Museum is a good place to learn about the history of this era of Korea.
Enjoy your trip to Pyongyang, North Korea
I recommend downloading a map of Pyongyang on your phone before you go. A lot of the points of interest are close to each other. Your tour may take you one point of interest and there’s another nearby which is not mentioned but you can see. Most importantly, behave yourself and follow your guides instructions at all time! Punishment in this part of the world can be quite severe for the smallest of infractions.
Now you’ve visited Pyongyang, check out how to Gangnam Style in South Korea.