The National Museum of Korea in Yongsan offers plenty of guided tours, but I partly kid when I say my tour was “private.” The only reason I ended up getting a private, one-on-one tour of this grand museum is because no one else showed up for the 10:30am English tour! It was just me and my guide, a nice Korean man who spent several years living in San Francisco, so his English was pretty good.
According to my tour book, the National Museum of Korea is the largest museum in Asia. According to the Korea tourism website, it’s the largest museum in Korea. Either way, it’s massive. While the museum has a collection of more than 150,000 pieces, it actually only displays roughly 15,000 of these at any given time.
Admission is free for the permanent exhibition, but varies for their special exhibitions (more on these later). The permanent exhibition is spread across three floors and is divided into the following sections: Prehistory & Ancient History, Medieval & Early Modern History, Calligraphy & Painting, Donated Works, Sculpture & Crafts, and Asian Art. I had no idea — until my guide pointed it out, of course — that the museum contains numerous Korean national treasures. These include including the Pensive Bodhisattva, Goryeo Celadon Openwork Burner, Ten-Story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Site, and Gold Crown from Silla.
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m no history buff or expert by any means. But personally, I was very impressed. I walked around with my guide for 1.5 hours, then on my own for several more hours, and I got to see beautiful (and giant) Buddhist statues, scrolls and bells, decadent Celadon pottery, amazing ancient gold jewels, and so much more, not to mention everything I learned from my guide about ancient Korean symbolism, myths and traditions.
It doesn’t hurt that the building itself is architecturally pleasing, open and spacious, new-feeling, and conveniently offers a food court and gift shop (so I was able to eat lunch at the food court and then continue touring the museum). They also have several gardens, ponds and other facilities outside.
I didn’t get to visit the special exhibition that I was interested in, “Pompei: Culture of the ancient Roman City,” so I’m saving that for another trip. (Check here for a list of their current special exhibitions.)
Enjoy the photos below. They don’t do these artifacts and artwork justice! (Sorry there are SO many….I like to take photos.)
Walking up to the National Museum of Korea – it’s a large complex.
National Museum of Korea.
School groups and tour groups gathering at the entrance. Seoul Tower in the distance.
Beautiful building. This is the main lobby.
Main hall of the building housing the permanent exhibitions.
Bronze “implement” with farming scenes depicted.
Giant jar coffins – common during the Three Kingdoms period, 4th to 5th centuries.
Gold crown and girdle from the Silla Kingdom.
Gold jewelry – hasn’t changed much, huh?
Another gold crown.
Ten-story Stone Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Temple Site – from Goryeo Dynasty (1348)
Room full of giant Buddhas.
Stone Maitreya Bodhisattva (left) and Stone Amitabha Buddha (right) from Gamsansa Temple Site – 719
Large seated Buddha.
Another view of the ten-story pagoda.
Here’s the view of this massive scroll from the third floor (it stretches from floors 2-3).
Buddhist Hanging Scroll for Outdoor Rituals – Joseon Dynasty – it takes up two stories of wall space.
Pensive Bodhisattva – early 7th century
Large Buddhist Bell from Cheonheungsa Temple – gilt bronze – Goryeo Dynasty (1010)
Duck-shaped pottery from the Silla Kingdom, I believe. They used to put these in people’s tombs to help transport their soul to the afterlife.
Ancient boat. Literally a tree trunk carved out, it looks like.
Celadon Incense Burner with Openwork Seven Auspicious Design – Goryeo Dynasty (12th century)
Another celadon item… a pitcher I think.
Bronze Kundika with Silver Inlaid Landscape Design – Goryeo Dynasty (12th century)
Intricately designed celadon.
Sorry, I forget what these were.
Stele for Master Wollang at Wolgwangsa Temple Site, Jecheon – Unified Silla Period (890)
Baekje Gilt Bronze Incense Burner – 6th century
Horse Rider-Shaped Vessel (Master) – Silla Kingdom (6th century)
No idea. It just looked awesome.
Another thing that just looked cool.
I really liked this painting – the colors, the tiger.
Beautiful colors on each panel.
Another painting I liked. The details are just incredible.
From India & Southeast Asia exhibit.
Another ancient crown.
A bronze helmet from 6th century Greece gifted to Sohn Kee-chung, a Korean athlete and Olympic gold medalist.
I found this intriguing.
If I remember correctly, this was a wash basin for babies. A baby tub.
Figurine of Horned Horse.
I forget what country these were from.
I forget what country these were from, too.
Sinan Shipwreck discovery – from 1976 to 1984 thousands of pieces of Chinese ceramics were excavated.
Unbelievable to see how well they preserved.
Pieces from a board game found in the sunken ship.
More beautiful ceramics found.
Swords are cool.
This photo doesn’t even begin to capture how realistic this looked in-person. Carved from wood.
They had a whole White Porcelain exhibit.
White Porcelain Jar with Cloud and Dragon Design in Underglaze Cobalt Blue – Joseon Dynasty (18th-Late 19th century)
White Porcelain Jar with Phoenix Design in Underglaze Cobalt Blue – Joseon Dynasty
Another beautiful jar.
There’s even a traditional tea house in the museum.
Large hallway with Museum Shop, Book Store, Food Court and more.
Across the way is the entrance to the special exhibitions.
Outdoor signs directing you to the pagoda garden and more.
In the pagoda garden – Seven-story Pagoda from Namgyewon Monastery Site – Goryeo Dynasty (11th century)
Out in front of the museum, a relaxing pond.
There’s this convenient underground path linking Ichon Station directly to the museum. Just head toward exit 2, but instead of going up the escalator walk straight through the glass doors.