My Private Tour of the National Museum of Korea

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.)




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