Dr. David Thiessen spent many weekends traveling to all points on the Korean map.
In its roughly 5,000-year history, Korea has amassed a lot of history. They have also built a lot of museums and monuments commemorating that historical heritage. These three stand out from the rest.
3 Must-See Sites in Korea
In all the years that I lived in Korea, I spent my weekends exploring the country and its many museums, historical sites, and monuments. There are a lot of them. Yet only three stood out as the most important sites to see if one wants to learn the history of Korea, understand its culture, and get a better view of the Korean people.
- The National Museum
- The War Memorial Museum
- Independence Hall
I do expect that some people will disagree with my choices, as the various royal palaces located in Seoul do offer some insight to the Korean culture. However, in my opinion, they just do not go far enough in demonstrating to the world who the Korean people are and where they came from.
Read on to find out more about these fascinating places and why they're worth putting at the top of the list of what to see when in Korea.
1. The National Museum
Located just outside of the heart of downtown Seoul, not far from the Han River, the National Museum holds many of the treasures of Korea’s past. Its two floors are divided up into different historical periods.
The artifacts are displayed in a manner that tells a continuing story of Korean history. The above photo is the royal throne taken from Gyeongbukgung, the main royal palace located near the President’s Blue House.
As you can see, the National Museum displays it in all its royal splendor. The officials of the museum do the same for all their exhibits. After one takes a few hours to wander through the museum halls, they begin to see how Korea developed into the modern nation it has become.
2. The War Memorial Museum
This museum does not glorify war but keeps the memories of those brave Koreans who died fighting for their homeland alive. On the first floor, the history goes back millennia. The exhibits show the different key battles that took place early in Korean history.
The different weapons and a model of one fortress are part of the display, but this is just the tip of the exhibit iceberg. The other floors show Korea’s participation in different conflicts, including the Vietnam War.
Individual soldiers are honored, as are the many Korean and American soldiers who fell during the Korean War in the 1950s. Outside on the museum grounds are the different weapons, planes, ships and other armor used in the more modern conflicts.
Located only a mile away from the National Museum, it takes several hours before one can fully view all the exhibits properly. There is a lot for a visitor to take in and think about.
3. Independence Hall
This is the only must-see historical site that is located outside of Seoul, residing in Cheonan-Si. Once you arrive on the grounds, you can see that it is different from other museums. There is a long walk from the parking lot to the great hall where the above statue is located.
But as you walk, you can see a variety of exhibits, including the many tortures the Japanese rulers inflicted on the Korean people. You can rent bikes or ride in a shuttle if you are not up for the walk.
Behind the statue and the great hall lie seven buildings. Each one has its own theme. The first building deals with early Korean history, while many of the remaining six focus on Korea’s struggle for independence from 20th-century Japanese rule.
One cannot be unaffected as they walk through the Korean history and see the pain the Korean people endured as they struggled to become free once again. I used to visit this museum often, as the visits helped me keep a proper perspective of the Korean people.
Honorable Mention: The Labor Building
No visit to Korea would be complete without taking in the history of this building. Once sitting in North Korean territory, the people taken into this building were said to be different when they came out.
The bullet-hole-ridden walls are silent now, but they witnessed horrendous acts committed by North Korean communist members. What remains now is a mere shell, but its history is preserved so everyone will know the true nature of communism.
Some Final Words
Over the years, I have felt that being a tourist does not do justice to one’s visit to a new country. A person flies in, looks around for a few days, then flies home thinking they have gotten to know the people, the culture and experienced something wonderful.
In a very superficial way, they have accomplished those objectives, but in reality, they have barely scratched the surface. To get to the heart of the people and what made them what they are today takes some serious time.
I know that tourists cannot commit to that time frame, which is why these must-see locations are so important. They help tourists get a real glimpse of the heart of the Korean people and experience something they might not see in other more popular countries: They get to see the Korean people.
© 2018 David Thiessen
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on December 11, 2018:
I haven't visited Korea yet but I sure love the food. These sites look interesting; I always think it's important to visit museums when you visit anywhere so you can appreciate local history and what was done in the past to get the place to where it is now.
David Thiessen (author) from Philippines on December 11, 2018:
Liz Westwood from UK on December 11, 2018:
This gives me a well-illustrated insight into what I should visit in Korea.