12 Best Museums in South Korea

National Museum of Korea
National Museum of Korea | © Jinho Jung / Flickr
Mimsie Ladner

From ancient folk traditions and royal artefacts to contemporary history and futuristic technologies, South Korea has a museum for just about every area of interest. Here are our favorites.

1. The National Museum of Korea (국립중앙박물관)


In Blue and White : Porcelains of the Joseon Dynasty
© KoreaNet /Flickr
Housing more than 220,000 cultural artifacts on six floors, spanning from ancient and medieval history, to early modern history, The National Museum of Korea in Seoul is perhaps one of South Korea’s most expansive and impressive museums. With exhibitions centered on areas such as calligraphy, painting, sculpture and crafts, the cultural complex beautifully illustrates the country’s advancement in the arts, religion, and culture. Don’t miss the lesser-visited outdoor exhibition area, which features a pagoda-dotted path that directs visitors toward a tranquil resting area of streams and waterfalls.

2. National Palace Museum of Korea (국립고궁박물관)


National Palace Museum of Korea
© KoreaNet /Flickr
The famous Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, the longest ruling Confucian dynasty spanning five centuries from 1392 to 1897 are located around 40 kilometeres from Seoul. Much of the history of the dynasty can be explored at The National Palace Museum of Korea, where one can view artifacts in an extensive collection consisting of more than 40,000 items. The permanent collection covers all aspects of the Joseon lifestyle, including the art, science and music of the period. The museum also hosts special temporary exhibitions and education programs for English speakers.

3. Seodaemun Prison History Museum (서대문형무소역사관)


Seodaemun Prison History Hall
© dom brassey draws comics / Flickr
Previously a jailhouse for Korean independence activists during Japanese colonial rule, the Seodaemun Prison History Hall is today both a history museum and a monument that commemorates Korea’s fight for independence. The complex’s red brick buildings once held a number of prison cells, which have been converted into expansive educational exhibits that display pictures of the torture methods used by the Japanese against the Korean freedom fighters. The museum is entirely depressing, but also enlightening in that it provides a unique glimpse into the troubles and triumphs the nation endured for their chance at independence.

4. Daegu National Museum (국립대구박물관)


With numerous displays that range from armor and jewelry to Buddhist relics and Confucian manuscripts, visitors can take a walk through the city’s history at Daegu National Museum. One of the most visited exhibits is the Traditional Folk Life Gallery, where the Seonbi culture and the beliefs and rituals of the Yeongnam area are beautifully presented. A number of cultural programs like traditional dyeing provide a more hands-on experience for visitors of all ages.

5. National Folk Museum of Korea (국립민속박물관)


Children play a traditional game at the National Folk Museum of Korea
© KoreaNet / Flickr
Opened in 1945, the National Folk Museum of Korea is dedicated to sharing the traditional ways of life of the Korean people with the world. The museum is especially known for hosting special exhibitions such as the Korean Annual Traditional Handicraft Art Exhibition and the Artisans of Korean Traditional Skills Exhibition. The open-air exhibition in the museum’s gardens features diverse relics of Korean folk life, including the Jangseung spirit posts, which villagers prayed to in an attempt to bring a successful harvest.

6. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art (리움 삼성미술관)

Museum, Building

Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
© Sali Sasaki / Flickr
Run by the Samsung Foundation of Culture, The Leeum Samsung Museum of Art houses an extensive collection of traditional and contemporary art, by both national and international artists. The name Leeum is the family name of its founder, Hoam Lee Byung-chul, who was also the founder of Samsung and is a keen art collector. The buildings of the museum were designed by the internationally renowned architects Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas, their designs combining the past, present and future of art and culture.

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