The National Museum of Korea is the largest museum in South Korea housing over 10,000 artifacts, 5 national treasures, and 9 regional treasures. Get an overview of Korean history, Korean arts and crafts through the ages, and various special exhibits. There’s also an educational center and tours!
Why Should You Visit?
Get an overview of the long history of the Korean peninsula on the main floor. Calligraphy, painting, porcelain, and crafts are on the top 2 levels. National Treasures #2 and 3 are located here, too!
I loved walking through history and seeing how the people advanced over time. The paintings were beautiful, and the architecture of the building and grounds were lovely.
Price: free entry and tours; special exhibits require a paid ticket
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10:00-18:00
Wednesday and Saturday 10:00-21:00
Sundays and holidays 10:00-19:00
Monday-Friday 10:00, 11:00, 13:00, 14:00
Saturday and Sunday 11:00, 14:00
These one-hour tours leave from the information desk at the front entrance (before security)
There are also free one-hour tours of each exhibit but I believe they’re only in Korean. You can reserve a private tour in advance in English, which can be done by calling 02-2077-9683.
How to Get to the National Museum of Korea
Train: Line 4 Ichon station Exit 2, then follow the underpass (lots of signs and it’s beautiful!)
Bus: Blue #502, Blue #400
Refer to my other post on how to get around Seoul (TBA) to learn how to get around easily! (for now, download KakaoMaps~)
A friend and I decided to go to the national museum to get an overview of the history of Korea. I was pretty excited since the War History Museum was really well put-together (in general). This time I was adamant about doing a tour in the museum to get the most out of the services and get better information that just reading each plaque, which I regret missing in the War History Museum!
We were able to do ¼ of the first floor in 45 minutes (crazy!) before having to go back to the info desk to meet up for the tour (see below for details!) After the tour, we decided to do the rest of the first floor chronologically, half of the second floor, and as much of the third floor as possible.
First Floor: an overview of the history of Korea
The first floor took us through the history of the Korean peninsula from the Neolithic Period to the Korean Empire, taking you through the many kingdoms, periods, and dynasties. Personally, however, I felt like the War History Museum did a better job of giving an overview of the history of the Korean peninsula as its history is war after war, whether between smaller factions or larger empires. But I loved the summaries at the start of each room – that was a great way to introduce each period of time to those who know little to nothing of Korean history.
At this point we were in the museum for 3 hours and we needed food, so we stopped by the cafeteria for a late lunch. The food was surprisingly tasty and wasn’t overpriced – just 6000 won for jajjangmyeon (black bean noodles)! Getting back into the museum, we passed through security for the third time (xD).
Second Floor: arts and various galleries
The second floor had both donated private collections on one side and calligraphy, painting, and crafts on the other side. We did the latter due to our time restraint and only a few items stood out enough to me to warrant taking photos. What I enjoy most, in any section of a museum (or just in general), is seeing the progression of craftsmanship over time and the processes to make the items. One exhibit showed how they made portraits, taking 8 steps! Don’t get me wrong, so much was beautiful, I just noticed what I like~
Third Floor: arts and the rest of Asia
Sculptures and pottery on one side and various relics from the rest of Asia on the other, the third floor was filled with many detailed items. In the pottery section, you could see how they went from plain, single coloured jars with little to no decoration to ones with inlaid mother-of-pearl of multivariant hues. The items from the rest of Asia seemed a bit out of place in a Korean museum, but I enjoyed the variation and seeing the differences and similarities between the regions’ art. There was a multimedia room with 4 panels of a classic painting lit up that changed according to seasons, which I thought was so brilliant and beautiful…and a good place to rest our tired jelly legs. We were running out of time quickly and breezed through the Asia rooms to at least get a glimpse of the exhibits.
We were recommended by the tour guide to stop by outside for a walk around the grounds, which has National Treasure #2, the Bosingak Bell, a pagoda garden, and a “mirror” pond. Unfortunately, the bell had hardly any description, so we took a photo and walked around to see the lovely pond and pagodas. By that time we were exhausted and finally went back to our guesthouse, proud to get most of the museum done.
Review of the National Museum of Korea English tour
We attended the 1 pm tour with one of the museum’s curators and learned that the tours at 10 am and 1 pm are led by curators while the 11 am and 14 pm tours are led by volunteers. The tours are similar but not the exact same. Each guide chooses specific artifacts throughout the whole 3-floor museum to show us in an hour!
Our guide was nice, though the tour felt rushed and her pronunciation was sometimes unclear. She chose some amazing pieces to show us and detailed history on each of them. One stone tablet, discovered on top of a hill, had markings from 3 points in time spanning over 600 years! Something I appreciated was an interesting point on the back – bullet holes – which I would have never seen if she didn’t point it out to us. I’d never really concerned myself with looking at the back of an artifact unless it was in the middle of the room, but this definitely gave me a new perspective on visiting museums!
- I would highly recommend taking a tour and, if you can, pick an exhibit and reserve a private tour in advance.
- If you’re short on time, I’d stick to the main floor to walk through history quickly. But don’t forget to read the summaries at the start of each room! Those give you a great foundation to understand and appreciate each section you visit.
- Make sure to download the app! It has all the descriptions both in text and in audio form.
Summary of my visit to the National Museum of Korea
I enjoyed my time at this museum and spent about 5 hours here, but it wasn’t my absolute favourite. Definitely a recommended spot if you want an overview of Korean history and see its relics, as well if you appreciate Korean arts. My favourite section was the first one, the Prehistoric and Ancient History, but enjoyed the museum in general. My highlights were the tour, with details not included from the plaques, the multimedia room, and seeing and learning about the processes and changes over time of Korean arts.
- Download the “National Museum of Korea” app on the Google Play store or the Apple App Store. It will connect by bluetooth to the room you’re in to give you information on each item on display. You can also review the items before and after your visit. It also includes the National Museums in other cities around Korea, so one app covers you! (now if only there was just one app for *all* the museums…)
- If you like history, block out a whole day for this gigantic museum. We had to skip an exhibit and speed through the last one since we didn’t have enough time (started at noon instead of opening time).
- Wear comfortable shoes for all that walking you’ll need to do
- Bring a lunch or buy from the cafeteria on site. Prices start at 6000 won and the food is pretty good!
- Bring water and a fully charged camera/phone
- There’s security screening when you enter, so leave your nail clippers at home!
- There’s a tearoom on the 3rd floor called SAYU where you can get Korean teas and treats on a break from all that absorbing of history. (Though it’s a bit pricey)
Let me know if you found some of this helpful! Hopefully my writing will improve as time goes on~
Related Posts: War History Museum, National Treasure #1 (Sungnyemun gate), how to get around Seoul, Art in Seoul, What to Bring for a Trip to the Museum, History of Korea