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.
The National Museum of Korea (국립중앙박물관)
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.
137, Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82-2-2077-9000
The War Memorial of Korea (전쟁기념관)
Established to honor the noble sacrifice of South Korea’s patriotic martyrs, the War Memorial of Korea serves as a national moral educational venue with its some 33,000 war-related artifacts. Visitors should set aside a few hours to explore the museum’s six separate indoor halls and the outdoor exhibition hall of jumbo-sized weapons. Of particular interest is the War History Room, an exhibit that showcases Korean weaponry and battle uniforms from as early as the prehistoric age up to the late 1800s. The Wartime Life Room, meanwhile, allows visitors to wander through replicas of post-Korean War villages to get a better idea of what a nearly annihilated Seoul was like for the decade following the war.
29, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82-2-709-3139
National Maritime Museum (국립해양박물관)
It’s no surprise that the sea is so important to the citizens of Busan, South Korea’s largest port city and the world’s fifth busiest seaport by cargo tonnage. The exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum demonstrate this importance by focusing on all aspects of marine and ocean life, from the creatures of the sea to the history of the city’s maritime industry. The museum also houses a library, aquarium, performance stage, and a 4D theatre, offering something for all ages.
Dongsam 1(il)-dong, Busan, South Korea, +82-51-309-1900
Gyeongju National Museum (국립경주박물관)
As the capital city of the Silla Kingdom (57 BC – AD 935), the city of Gyeongju is steeped in history and tradition. Perhaps nowhere is this more obvious than at the Gyeongju National Museum. Here, artifacts are beautifully curated in a variety of exhibitions areas including the Main Hall, which features earthenware, artworks and craftworks; the Gukeun Memorial Hall which houses over 600 artifacts from the personal collection of Dr. Lee Yang-Seon; and the Gobun Gallery in Annex I, a collection of artifacts from the city’s great tombs.
For a look into everyday life of the royal court, stop by Annex 2, where household goods and artifacts excavated from the Wolji Pond are on display. Visitors can get an up-close look at glistening crowns, sparkling ornaments and stunning jewelry, all of which showcase the superb artistry of the Silla era.
186, Iljeong-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea, +82-54-740-7538
Daegu Yangnyeongsi Museum of Oriental Medicine (대구약령시 한의약박물관)
Get a look into the history of oriental medicine through this interactive museum, which is part exhibition, part experience center. The exhibition demonstrates the origin of oriental medicine in Yangnyeongsi, while the experience center invites visitors to learn about concepts such as eumyang-ohaeng (the five natural elements of positive and negative energy) and sasangchejil (four body types) through activities. Take a walk along the museum’s acupuncture trail or soothe your feet in a footbath of medicinal herbs. On days ending with one or six (except the 31st), a wholesale market takes place downstairs.
49, Dalgubeol-daero 415-gil, Jung-gu, Daegu, South Korea, +82-53-253-4729
National Palace Museum of Korea (국립고궁박물관)
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.
12, Hyoja-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82-2-1330
Samsung D’light (삼성전자 홍보관(딜라이트))
Unlike most museums, which generally paint a picture of the past, Samsung d’light enables visitors to better imagine the role technology might play in our world in the next decade or so.
Instead of simply featuring how its products convey its vision, Samsung Electronics demonstrates how its devices and solutions are molding the future through a series of immersive activities. The “Sense” area, for example, lets them utilize gestures to interact with cutting-edge mirror displays, while the “Home of the Future” exhibition uses augmented reality to show how the “Internet of Things” will make everyday life more convenient and connected.
11, Seocho-daero 74-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82-2-2255-2277
Seodaemun Prison History Museum (서대문형무소역사관)
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.
251, Tongil-ro, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82-2-360-8586
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.
321, Cheongho-ro, Suseong-gu, Daegu, South Korea, +82-53-768-6051~2
National Folk Museum of Korea (국립민속박물관)
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.
37, Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82-2-3704-3114
Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art (리움 삼성미술관)
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.
60-16, Itaewon-ro 55-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82-2-2014-6901
DTC Textile Museum (DTC섬유박물관)
As the hub of South Korea’s textile industries, it’s no surprise that Daegu has its own museum dedicated to textiles and the past, present, and future of textile industries. At the DTC Textile Museum, visitors can get a close up look at how clothing and accessories, as well as the machines used to make them, have evolved over the years. Some parts of the museum feel more like an art gallery, as many of the works on display were actually crafted by fashion designers, such as the artwork entitled “Dancing Energy.” Created using small dots of fabric carefully pieced together, the work represents the feminine fantasy of beauty.
227, Palgong-ro, Dong-gu, Daegu, South Korea, +82-53-980-1004