North Korea Travel Guide
Discover the enigmatic North Korea, a country veiled in mystery and rich with unique history and culture. Despite its secluded nature, North Korea offers intrepid travelers an unparalleled experience, bringing together stunning landscapes, monumental architecture, and the chance to witness a society like no other on earth.
Here, you’ll find a blend of reverence for tradition, an indomitable spirit of resilience, and a series of natural and man-made wonders that tell the story of this unique nation. Embark on a journey of discovery, where every moment is an invitation to dive deeper into North Korea’s culture and nature.
Capital city: Pyongyang
Currency: North Korean Won – 1 USD = 900 KPW.
Electricity: Power voltage is 220 Volts. Power sockets type A, C, and F.
Languages: The official and widely spoken language is Korean.
10 Handpicked Highlights of North Korea
Renowned as the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, Mount Paektu is a sacred volcano steeped in mythical stories and extraordinary beauty. Travelers can embark on a trek to explore its crater lake, Heaven Lake, which is surrounded by rugged landscapes and pristine wilderness. The mountain holds great significance in Korean culture, and visiting it offers not just a breathtaking natural spectacle, but also an insight into the country’s spiritual roots.
Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea, is a testament to the country’s history and ideological journey. Visitors can explore grand monuments like the towering Juche Tower, the captivating Mansudae Grand Monument, and the awe-inspiring Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, the largest stadium in the world. Pyongyang serves as a living museum, showcasing North Korea’s distinctive architectural style, revolutionary history, and the profound devotion of its people to their leaders.
DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)
The DMZ is one of the most intense places on earth, serving as the buffer zone between North and South Korea. Here, visitors can witness the tangible tension that exists between the two nations, while also gaining insight into the complexities of Korean division. Tours to the DMZ often include stops at significant sites such as the Joint Security Area (JSA), offering a rare and intriguing glimpse into one of the world’s most fortified borders.
Kumsusan Palace of the Sun
This mausoleum is the final resting place of North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung, and his son, Kim Jong-il. The Kumsusan Palace of the Sun is an essential visit for those looking to understand the profound reverence North Koreans have for their leaders. The palace, with its grandiose architecture and meticulously preserved memorials, offers a unique insight into the country’s politics and culture.
Arch of Triumph
Standing tall in the heart of Pyongyang, the Arch of Triumph is a magnificent structure commemorating Korea’s resistance against Japanese rule. Inspired by Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, but notably larger, it is an impressive sight and a proud symbol of Korean resilience. Visitors can marvel at the intricate carvings and inscriptions that adorn the arch, each telling a story of struggle and triumph.
Kaesong, once the ancient capital of Koryo Dynasty, is a city steeped in history and tradition. Here, visitors can explore well-preserved historical sites, including the Kaesong Namdaemun, the old city gate, and the Kaesong Koryo Museum, housed in a former Confucian academy. The city’s old quarters offer a glimpse into Korea’s medieval past, making it a fascinating destination for history enthusiasts.
The Secret Camp
Located in the heart of Mount Paektu, the Secret Camp is said to be the birthplace of Kim Jong-il, although this is widely disputed. Regardless of its historical accuracy, the site is revered in North Korea and has been transformed into a place of pilgrimage. Visitors can explore the preserved cabins and learn about the revolutionary activities that are said to have taken place here.
Masikryong Ski Resort
Showcasing a different side of North Korea, the Masikryong Ski Resort is a testament to the country’s efforts to boost tourism and present a more leisurely image to the world. With well-groomed slopes and modern facilities, the resort offers an unexpected yet delightful experience for winter sports enthusiasts.
Myohyangsan, or the Mysterious Fragrant Mountain, is a scenic area renowned for its natural beauty and cultural significance. Home to the International Friendship Exhibition, a vast collection of gifts presented to North Korean leaders, the mountain offers a blend of stunning landscapes and intriguing history. Hiking trails lead visitors through lush forests and past waterfalls, providing a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum
This museum in Pyongyang provides a comprehensive and, albeit biased, view of the Korean War from the North Korean perspective. Housing an extensive collection of artifacts, dioramas, and military equipment, the museum aims to educate and instill a sense of national pride. Whether or not you agree with the presented narrative, the museum offers a fascinating insight into North Korea’s portrayal of its history.
North Korea's Geography & Landscapes
North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), unveils a terrain as complex and varied as its history. Spanning approximately 120,540 square kilometers, the country is predominantly mountainous, with the rugged ranges giving way to narrow valleys and plains.
The Northern Highlands: Dominated by the Hamgyong Range and the Rangrim Mountains, this region is home to the country’s highest peak, Paektu Mountain. The landscape is harsh and jagged, with volcanic activity evident in the form of craters and hot springs. The highlands are a stark reminder of North Korea’s wild and untamed beauty.
The Western Lowlands: Here, the land smooths out to accommodate the extensive plains and valleys. The West Sea Barrage, a significant feat of engineering, has transformed the Taedong River, providing irrigation for this agriculturally rich region.
The Eastern Seaboard: Defined by the steep and rugged terrain of the Hamgyong and Kangnam ranges, this area plunges dramatically into the Sea of Japan. The coastline is dotted with numerous ports, and the mountains provide a stunning backdrop to the tranquil beaches.
The Southern Uplands: Encompassing the Nangnim Mountains, this region is marked by undulating hills and a more gentle landscape. The area is known for its scenic beauty and is home to several significant cultural and historical sites.
The Central Basin: At the heart of the country lies a lowland area, cradling the capital city, Pyongyang. This region is the political and administrative center of North Korea, as well as being an important agricultural zone.
Best Time To Go To North Korea
North Korea experiences a continental climate, with four distinct seasons that each bring their own unique characteristics.
Spring (April to June): This is arguably the best time to visit North Korea. The weather is mild, and the country is awash with the vibrant colors of cherry blossoms and other spring flowers. Tourist sites are less crowded, and the clear skies provide excellent conditions for photography.
Summer (July to August): Summer brings hot and humid conditions, with temperatures often exceeding 30°C (86°F). This is also the monsoon season, resulting in heavy rainfall, particularly in July. While the countryside is lush and green, travel can be more challenging due to the weather.
Autumn (September to November): Like spring, autumn is a popular time to visit. The temperatures are comfortable, and the countryside is adorned with the rich colors of fall foliage. It’s a great time to explore the outdoors and enjoy the natural beauty of North Korea.
Winter (December to March): Winters are harsh, with temperatures frequently dropping below freezing and snow covering much of the country. While the snow-capped landscapes can be stunning, travel is more difficult, and many tourist sites are closed.
The best time to visit North Korea depends on your preferences. For pleasant weather and the chance to see the country’s natural beauty in full bloom, spring and autumn are ideal.
However, if you’re interested in winter sports or want to experience the stark beauty of a North Korean winter, a visit during the colder months could be a unique adventure.
Traveling in North Korea
Safety in North Korea is a complex issue due to the country’s strict laws and the government’s control over tourists. However, with proper preparation and adherence to rules, visitors can have a safe trip. Here are some tips to help ensure a safe journey:
- Follow the Rules: North Korea has strict laws and regulations. Ensure you are aware of them and follow them meticulously to avoid any legal trouble.
- Stay with Your Tour Group: Independent travel is not allowed; you must be part of a guided tour. Ensure you stay with your group and guide at all times.
- Respect Local Customs and Traditions: Showing respect to the country’s leaders and its political system is crucial. Avoid discussing sensitive political topics.
- Do Not Take Unauthorized Photos: There are strict rules about what you can and cannot photograph. Always ask your guide before taking pictures.
- Avoid Straying off the Beaten Path: Stick to the areas that are open to tourists. Venturing into restricted areas can lead to severe penalties.
- Keep Your Belongings Secure: While petty crime is not a major issue, it’s always best to keep your belongings secure.
- Be Careful with Your Words: Be mindful of your conversations and avoid criticizing the government or its leaders.
- Follow Health Guidelines: Ensure you are up to date with vaccinations and follow health guidelines to prevent illness.
- Check Travel Advisories: Before travelling, check your government’s travel advisories for North Korea and follow any recommendations.
- Be Prepared for a Different Experience: Traveling in North Korea is unlike any other destination. Keep an open mind but be prepared for the restrictions.
Getting to & Around North Korea
Getting to North Korea:
- The majority of tourists enter North Korea via China. Air Koryo and Air China operate flights from Beijing to Pyongyang.
- There are also train services from Beijing and Dandong in China to Pyongyang.
Getting Around North Korea:
- Bus: Most tours use buses for group transportation.
- Train: There are some train tours available, providing a unique way to see the countryside.
- Car: Private cars can be arranged for tours, but self-driving is not allowed.
- Metro: Pyongyang has a metro system, and visits to certain stations are included in some tours.
Travel within North Korea is tightly controlled, and you will not be allowed to travel around the country without your guide.
Accommodations in North Korea vary, but most are of a reasonable standard. Hotels in Pyongyang are generally of a higher quality, offering more amenities and services, though they may still seem outdated compared to what you might find in other countries. Outside of the capital, accommodations can be more basic.
The prices for hotels are usually included in the tour package, and options for budget or luxury accommodations are limited. It’s worth noting that some hotels may have restricted areas, and it’s important to respect these rules to ensure a trouble-free stay.