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About the landmarks in North Korea
Pyongyang is the capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea. The city is home to 3 million people which makes it a rather small capital city by world standards. The Taedong River runs through the centre, and there are many famous North Korea landmarks throughout the capital.
The city was largely flattened during the Korean War and rebuilt in the utilitarian Stalinist style of the Soviet Union. To me the city resembles Tirana in Albania a lot more than say Moscow, however. Due to the aerial bombardment nothing remains of the old city. If you want to witness more traditional Korean architecture then you should head to Kaesung near the demilitarized zone.
So, without further ado, here are 10 landmarks in North Korea that every visitor to the DPRK should see!
Top 10 North Korea Landmarks
Kim Il Sung Square
One of the most famous North Korea landmarks is Kim Il Sung Square. You will likely recognize the square from news reports showing marching North Korean soldiers and displays of weaponry. It’s also where people gather on special occasions like New Years for large parties with a stage for live music (this was being set up ready for the New Year celebrations while I was there).
There is an English language bookshop not far from the square where you can buy books about North Korea. There is also an assortment of usual tourist tat (which naturally I availed myself of) including postcards, posters, pins, mugs and newspapers.
Mansudae Grand Monument
The Mansudae Grand Monument is home to the two large bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the grandfather and father of current leader Kim Jong Un. Flanking the statues are monuments to soldiers who fought during the Korean War and are very similar to those you can find in any ex-soviet city. If you look to the east with your back to the statues you can see the hammer, sickle and calligraphy brush of the Monument to the Party Foundation in the distance.
Mansudae is a very important place for North Koreans and you will find wedding parties and others coming to lay wreaths (5 Euros/optional) and taking a bow (compulsory).
It is imperative to behave with respect while at the statues. Pay attention to your guides and do as they ask. When taking photos have your hands by your side and do not make any gestures. Ensure that no parts of the statues are cropped in the picture. No running, joking, mimicking or any other behavior that would be deemed disrespectful. Cover up any logos you might have on t-shirts and no ripped jeans.
Another of the North Korea landmarks is the 170 metre (560ft) Juche Tower. The tower sits on the east side of the Teadong River and dominates the skyline of Pyongyang. The tower is usually shrouded in a thin layer of mist. The Juche Tower is included in our list of 27 incredible Asia Landmarks!
Completed in 1982, it was constructed to commemorate Kim Il Sung’s 70th birthday. You can take a somewhat rickety and old elevator up to the top for magnificent views of the city (5 Euros). If you are not good with heights or enclosed spaces, give it a miss, although I clenched my teeth and went up and was glad I did for the views and photo opportunities.
The capital has two metro lines and 17 stations that only cover the west side of the Taedong River. We were told the river was too deep to tunnel under, and an accident while trying to build this section cost up to 100 lives.
It is the deepest metro system in the world at 110 metres (360ft) deep. The stations are grand affairs similar to the Moscow Metro and each station has its own theme. We rode a total of seven stops and got off to see three of the stations.
The network carries between 300,00 and 700,00 people each day and is used by North Koreans getting to work and school. A trip on the metro provides a nice insight into daily life in Pyongyang.
Arch of Triumph
Built to honour resistance to the Japanese, another of North Korea’s landmarks is modeled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. However, it is ten metres (33ft) taller than it’s Parisian namesake, making it the second largest triumphal arch in the world after the Monumento a la Revolucion in Mexico.
Grand People’s Study House
The Grand People’s Study house is a library and centre of learning open to all Pyongyang residents at university age and above. It is situated overlooking Kim Il Sung Square and features traditional Korean design. The views from the rooftop are some of the best in the city (no photos directly south as there are sensitive government buildings nearby).
USS Pueblo & Military Museum
Another of North Korea’s landmarks is the USS Pueblo. The Pueblo was an American spy ship caught in North Korean waters on 23rd January 1968. The vessel disguised itself as an environmental research ship, but was actually part of the US Navy Intelligence.
One American was killed during the capture and the other 83 servicemen aboard were captured and taken prisoner. The 83 prisoners were released after 11 months of negotiations, but endured torture and mock executions during their time in captivity. The Pueblo is the only US Naval ship that is still being held captive and is now a tourist attraction.
If the propaganda on the streets is not enough, then a visit to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum will surely overload you. The museum was updated in 2014 and now resembles a grand hotel with ornate staircases and crystal chandeliers. There are some interesting exhibits including a 360 degree diorama of the battle of Taejon. The exhibit includes a revolving floor and illuminations of gunfire, smoke and bombs.
One of the highlights of this tour is being led by a North Korean army Captain (the only soldier I’ve ever seen wearing high heels). It might be possible to ask for a photo (one of the only times photography of army personnel is not strictly prohibited).
Monument to the Party Foundation
One of the defining symbols of North Korea and the Juche ideology is the combined hammer, sickle and calligraphy brush. This North Korea landmark represent the workers, farmers and intellectuals.
You will see the yellow symbol on a red background on posters along the streets and atop buildings. This concrete manifestation dominates central Pyongyang and can be seen from many places in the city. The monument is 50 metres (164ft) tall. This represents the 50 years from the foundation of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Arch of Reunification
The Monument to the Three Point Charter to Reunification is a 55 metre high sculpture spanning the reunification Highway. The road leads south from Pyongyang down to Kaesung and the border with South Korea.
The vast triangular Ryugyong Hotel is another of the North Korea landmarks that dominates the Pyongyang skyline. At 105 stories (330 metres) tall it is an impressive spectacle, but scratch the neon surface and you will find a hotel that has been under construction since 1987 and likely will never see a single guest.
The DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is the strip of land separating North and South Korea. Sometimes known as the “38th Parallel”, this heavily fortified area is famous for the blue truce huts at Panmunjom where talks between the north and the south take place.
It is possible to visit the DMZ from both North and South Korea.
How to Visit North Korea
The only way to visit North Korea, unless you are a diplomat or visiting student, is to take a pre-arranged tour. I went with Young Pioneer Tours who are specialists in North Korean travel and have been taking groups to the DPRK for many years.
Your tour operator will arrange a VISA for you (50 Euros with YPT) and this can be done easily by just sending a scan of your passport. The North Korean VISA is one of the easiest to obtain as the North Koreans are very keen for tourists to visit. At this point in time American and South Korean citizens are unable to visit the DPRK.
How to see the North Korea Landmarks
There are two ways to reach the capital; train from Dandong in China or a flight from Beijing with Air Koryo. I would thoroughly recommend the train as you will get a chance to see a lot of North Korean countryside. You will also witness people going about their daily life in the fields and small villages the train passes by.
To book a tour to North Korea, contact Young Pioneer Tours who have a vast range of tours to the DPRK. Quote Code: TRIPYPT20 to get a FREE North Korea t-shirt from YPT!
About the author: Steve Rohan, originally from England, has lived in China for over six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, the ancient capital of Luoyang and now resides in the tropical paradise of Sanya on Hainan Island.
He has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.
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