“Here is a sunrise; ain’t that enough?” – Teenage Fanclub.
With the DPRK having it’s annual day on the 9th September (thats 9.9), 99 seems to be the most appropriate number so here I present 99 things to do in Pyongyang, North Korea.
While backpacking in Pyongyang, I was just in awe of the sheer quantity of things to do and places to go hence I thought I’d whittle it down to a top 99. You don’t get a moment’s rest when you travel in North Korea – be ready for an intensive week of endless activities. For a start get your tour booked with Young Pioneer Tours, quoting Don’t Stop Living to get a cool 5% off your trip, not only do they provide the cheapest tours to North Korea, but they have the coolest staff – the best bunch of people. Here’s the hit list of 99, in no particular order…you’ll do well to tick 75 of these off, as I did.
1. Kim Il Sung Square
The main square in the city is not to be missed. Kim Il Song Square. Good views and typical communist buildings. When parades are on this is “where it’s at”. The rest of the time, it’s one of the least busy or commercial squares in a capital city in the whole world.
2. Watch the Sunset
Pyongyang isn’t quite the land of the rising or sinking sun, but sunsets here are still immense. Down by the river is the best spot. Sip a cold beer – nobody bats an eyelid.
3. Drink in “The Brewery” Bar
While this is an easy one to tick off (it’s on the second floor near the reception of the Yanggakdo Hotel), they brew their own beer so you can authentically say you had a pint of the local stuff in “The Yang”. Reasonable price too at 22 RMB a pint. I included the Brewery Bar in my best bars of Pyongyang post.
4. Talk to the local kids
Even on a guided tour, you’ll still get the chance to chat to the locals. I found the best spots for this were in the Kaeson Park and in the shops and bars.
5. Watch the Mass Games
I covered it fully on my Mass Games in Pyongyang National Day review but don’t miss it! This is quite simply the second biggest show on earth (after the World Cup Final).
6. Arc de Triumph
Whether this is a gimmick or a mimmick of the French or Laos one, I’m not sure, but it’s worth getting off the bus to check out. Pyongy’s AdT also has its own underground station.
7. Pyongyang Metro System
I loved it. We did the Revival to Glory route and my full report on riding the Pyongyang metro is worth checking out.
8. Get Your Own National Flag Out
Not on everyone’s agenda but I’m a travel blogging Northern Irishman with a flag, so I proudly flew it in North Korea’s capital. Hope Kim Il Song is a Northern Ireland fan. We are both northern at least!
9. Eat Cold Noodles
The saying goes that if you get close to a girl in North Korea some will ask you “have they had your cold noodles yet?”. Must be some kind of euphemism in these parts…saucy indeed but the noodles themselves are average when you finally try them. In fact, I won;t eat them again – wasn’t a fan.
10. Sing Karaoke
Koreans love their karaoke and whether it’s North or South that doesn’t matter. Sing and drink your heart away at night in one of the many karaoke bars.
11. Visit Pyongyang International Airport
For citizens of the USA this is a given as there is no land border open for you guys. We flew into Pyongyang and left by train. This was because I wanted to experience the actual airport in Pyongyang as well as the excellent North Korea to China border train.
12. Get the Train from North Korea to China
The train out had to be done. Great views, relaxing travel and a few beers to say farewell to a great time in North Korea. The first city in China you see is Dandong, a bridge separates it from Sinuiju. We turned it into a party train.
13. Visit a Bookstore
There’s a decent one in downtown Pyongyang not far from Kim Il Song Square. Worth checking out for propaganda posters, postcards and all sorts of books. Especially the English translations of the DPRK history. Most of these books aren’t available outside the country.
14. Visit a Department Store
Ragwon Department Store in Pyongyang is worth a look. It features food and household goods downstairs. The upstairs is more bizarre as you can buy Arsenal football shirts, washing machines and top of the range TVs.
15. Talk to an Army Dude
They’re humans don’t forget and talking to an army dude may well be your highlight. It’s unlikely they’ll speak much English, so if you’re good at Korean, give it a go.
16. Get on a Local Bus
You have to get on a local bus and experience daily life with the locals at rush hour. Most of the time however you will be on a tour bus, but you can request a private tour to include this.
17. Buy Some Souvenirs
You’ll get a few opportunities to buy some souvenirs on your travels in North Korea, including postcards, ornaments, stamps etc. I admit that the stamp shop in Kaesong is better than Pyongyang, but you’ll still pick up some cool souvenirs here.
18. Head to the top of Juche Tower
For views of the river and beyond pay 5 Euros and head up the Juche Tower.
19. Relax by the Taedong River
My girlfriend and I found time to chill out by the river. Locals were intrigued and came over to chat while we watched some badminton.
Try your luck on the fruities or pokies. Lots of machines about! They’re’s not really a scene for them here – play it in the hotel!
21. Wave to the locals
You’ve got to embrace the locals. The younger generation take more kindly to waves than the older. Give them a wave and you’ll get a few back.
22. Drink Guinness (an Irishman’s given)
I brought some of the Irish Stout with me just to say I’d had a Guinness in Pyongyang. Devoured it and gave some to my tour guides. One day I’ll return and open their first Irish Pub. As well as a tin in my hotel room in Pyongyang, I also necked a Guinness with Robert at the DMZ.
23. Ride a Rollercoaster
Take Ronan Keating’s advice and get on a rollercoaster. The big “superman rollercoaster” in Kaeson Fun Fair costs 3 Euros and is worth it.
24. Visit Kaeson Fun Fair/Theme Park
The theme park which includes the “superman rollercoaster” demands a visit at night. Buy candy floss, meet the locals and get on the rides! It’s one of my top 10 night time activities in Pyongy.
25. Dance with the locals
You might embarrass yourself, as we did, but it’s worth it. Koreans love to dance. Join them!
26. Eye Up the Pyongyang Traffic Ladies
While it’s an idea to eye up the very pretty Pyongyang Traffic Ladies, please remember not to be a total pervert. Check them out, take your photo and on you go…they don’t want to add you on Facebook, nor do they want tagged in your holiday pics. This isn’t a beach holiday for one night stands, let me remind you. Lads – don’t get your “yang” out here – or you’ll get “pyong-ed”.
Guys will drool over these sexy traffic ladies but be careful – these girls are hard as nails, they control the traffic system for their capital city!
27. Eat in a Revolving Restaurant
Head to the revolving restaurant on the top floor of the Yanggakdo for a splendid view of a city without adverts.
28. Get told off
It’s supposed to be a “strict country” so get a warning. Make it mild or you’ll get banned. My solitary warning on the entire trip was for spilling some suncream at Kim Il Sung’s House. A genuine mistake. Oops…
29. Stay in a 5 Star Hotel
Pyongyang is so cool that it doesn’t do hostels, couchsurfing or even speed dating for that matter. You won’t be finding any Pyongyang hostels on Agoda, Hostelbookers or Hostelworld. Just flashpack it instead and stay in a 5 Star Hotel! Even I did!
30. Pyongyang Casino
There are a few casinos in Pyongyang. Photos were banned inside but I got one of the front of Pyongyang Casino.
31. Go Ten Pin Bowling
Pyongyang has a load of ten pin bowling alleys – it’s a pretty hectic busy life when you’re backpacking in North Korea so just get down to the alley in your hotel and play away.
32. Kumsusan Palace of the Sun
The Kumsusan Palace of the Sun is a must. It’s the Mausoleum that houses the bodies of Kim Il Song and Kim Jong Il. No cameras are allowed inside and the entire visit can take up to 4 hours. Be ready for lots of queuing and paying respect to these two leaders.
33. Stick Your Head Out the Bus Window
You’re here as a tourist so act like one. Stick your head out of the side of the bus window as you drive through the streets.
34. Eat Barbecued Duck
Duck is famous in all of Korea, not just the north, but the barbecued duck restaurants are excellent.
35. Drink from an Ancient Well
The well at Kim Il Sung’s childhood home is perfectly clean to drink from. The water is pure enough. We tried it.
36. Moran Hill
At the top of Moran Hill you’ll get another great view of the city of Pyongyang and can chill out with locals in the park.
37. Moranbong Theatre
Those with an interest in the theatre may want to ask about shows that are on (they will all be in Korean of course). We passed by the theatre only.
38. Play Pool
I played pool down the Diplomatic Club with the foreigners and a few locals. A top spot on a Saturday night, same the world over really, though I did win at pool 😉
39. Play Hula Hoops in a Car Park
This might be unique to our trip only as we were joined by hula hoop expert Marawa!! She taught us all how to play with hoops in the park!
40. Go Clubbing
Get your dance shoes on and head to the nightclub district for a mega night out. OK, so we only made it to the Diplomatic Club and boogied to Abba for half an hour, but still. No bouncers on the door, no happy hour but a good vibe!
41. The Chollima Statue
There are a load of statues to see in Pyongyang and as a tourist it does get confusing as to which one is which. This one is high and has a horse on it.
42. Mansudae Art Theatre
This Art Theatre is one of about 4 or 5 elaborate buildings in a park off Mansudae Street.
43. Visit the Famous Ryugyong Hotel
This is often known as a “white elephant” – the hotel that looks amazing from the outside but is apparently lacking in actual decoration inside. At night, it’s rarely lit up, but it’s a stylish building so make sure you at least view its exterior. It’s the defining building of Pyongy’s impressive skyline.
44. Victorious Fatherland Monument
This monument is at the Victorious Fatherland Museum which commemorates and celebrates the Korean War.
45. Check out the American Air Force Captured Planes from the Korean War
There’s a display of planes and weapons that were captured from the US during the Korean War. Worth checking out for historians and plane fanatics.
46. Go Backpacking
You’re not here to get stressed or to be a posh flashpacker. Get your backpack on and get out to see the city first hand! It’s really not as strict as what the “western media” has taught you.
47. Kim Il Sung’s House
This is the place where it all began for the Great Leader Kim Il Sung. Check out his house which is now in an area of vast trees and a few murals, on the edge of the city.
48. Look for Google
I went surfing on the internet checking for the likes of Google, Yahoo and the Northern Ireland Football website.
49. Read a Book in the Grand People’s Study House
The most elaborate library complex you might ever see, the Grand People’s Study House is fantastic. Rumour has it that the people in there are not really studying. Not sure I “buy all this crap” but certainly when we pumped an old 12 inch vinyl of Don McClean’s “American Pie” on, things became a bit weird!
50. Update Your Facebook Status
People will never admit it but they get jealous of these things on Facebook and they refuse to “like” it or comment on it. In fact, one of my Facebook updates from North Korea got zero likes. Revel in it, my friends!! This is better than your “Amazing. I’m in Ibiza with $3 cocktails” (who cares). “Just having a beer walking round Pyongyang”.
51. Post a Postcard
I send my kid brother a postcard from everywhere I go and yes the North Korean one made it back safely! You can post them from the hotel reception, you can also buy stamps from some of the shops.
52. Drink Soju
Oh come on – having a shot or two of Soju is a must in Korea, North or South! Personally I hate the stuff, but out of good manners I always take the free shot.
53. Explore Yanggak Islet
We stayed on an island called Yanggak Islet and you can wander around and explore it. Admittedly it’s just a mini island, but remember you are in one of the safest countries in the world for backpacking in.
54. National Football Stadium
North Korea beat Italy 1-0 in the 1966 World Cup, and they also led Portugal 3-0 in the Quarter Final before losing 5-3. In 2010 they also made the World Cup but conceded over 10 goals, and scored just 1. Still worth a look!
55. Taedongmun Cinema
Check out the cinema in Pyongyang, but don’t expect James Bond to come on. It’s all in Korean as well. Of course.
56. Mansudae Fountain Park
A very quiet park near the People’s Grand Study House and Theatre. Decent for a stroll but not busy and not really much to do there.
57. Dine in a Floating Restaurant
Down by the river there are a few floating restaurants where you can dine out.
58. Fire a round at Pyongyang Golf Course
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy might not be sauntering in to play in the Pyongyang open, but who cares. Get your clubs out and fire a round. Par is important in this country.
59. Korean Revolution Museum
More museums than you’d imagine in Pyongyang and I didn’t do them all. The Korean Revolution Museum is very anti Japanese.
60. Korean Central History Museum
This museum was another one that we didn’t go into. Things get left off your itinerary and I didn’t really miss it to be honest. Even the Lonely Planet Korea (Travel Guide) doesn’t rate this museum.
61. Pyongyang Art Gallery
North Koreans are VERY talented artists. The main art gallery has a load of top notch paintings. You can also buy the originals to take away with you. Not on my backpacker budget, but the option is there.
62. Spyship USS Pueblo
This Spyship the USS Pueblo was captured by the North Koreans and is now based on a river beside the Victorious Fatherland Museum. You can get a guided tour.
63. Taedong Gate
Ancient history and architecture hasn’t been destroyed in the modern day North Korea. Taedong Gate is proof of this – and it’s also one of North Korea’s monuments that is known around the world. I even saw a miniature of it at Shenzhen’s Window of the World.
64. Victorious Fatherland Museum
This museum doesn’t allow photos inside. I’m not sure why as it’s a very insightful and detailed look at the Korean War. It is very anti American – but then of course it should be – it wasn’t the Koreans who invaded the USA was it?! I actually enjoyed the way the North Koreans look down on the Americans and how their role saved the “Korean nation” – it’s just sad that the South has been so influenced by the USA.
This is a really insightful museum about the Korean war, the defeat of the USA and a whole load of conspiracy theories are thrown in. You hear every thing from the North Korean perspective so get ready for some strong opinions.
65. Watch the locals play football down the park
We got a unique chance to watch some local North Koreans playing football. This was less than a year after I watched North Korea retain the Unofficial Football World Championship by beating Hong Kong 4-0 away.
66. Drink North Korean Blueberry Wine
If you read my previous Thirsty Thursdays on North Korean Blueberry Wine, you’ll know I loved the stuff. Completely the best alcohol you will try in the DPRK!!
67. Fly the North Korean Flag
It has to be done – I bought one for the trip and flew it often.
68. Tower of Immortality
This tower is so obvious in the city of Pyongyang. Distinctive and looks quite original. You can’t miss it and you will see it a load of times.
69. Eat food from your Own Country!
What? You went all the way to the DPRK only to eat your own food?? Yes, I munched a packet of the Northern Irish snack Tayto Cheese and Onion crisps while touring central Pyongyang. Wouldn’t it be nice if Tayto gave me some free crisps or advertising the amount of publicity I do for them!
70. Visit a Market
The trend of markets in Asia has made its way to Pyongyang, but on a much less obvious scale. You’ll do well to find a market, we found a mini market with some stalls late afternoon one day and went for a walk.
71. Go Backpacking at Night
Pyongyang houses over 2 million people yet is dead at night! This is really crazy. After dark there is literally nobody about. It’s all a bit strange!
72. Party Founding Museum
For those really really into politics and the history of the DPRK this is the museum for you.
73. Ancient Tombs
Not strictly in central Pyongyang, but the tomb of Tang’ Un is worth a jaunt out too in the countryside. That said, we didn’t go there on our trip as we had already seen the King Kong Min Tombs near Kaesong. But at least we got to see some ancient tombs. Korean ancient history is fascinating.
74. Eat Dog’s Willy (Dangogo Gukjib)
Dogs may have small dicks but the North Koreans find meat on them, cook them and eat them. After my first experience trying dog in South Korea, I actually declined to put the dog’s dick in my mouth.
75. Watch a Rock Gig!
OK so it’s not going to be Bon Jovi, R.E.M. or the Smashing Pumpkins. But you can get some live local music in. We headed to the Lamb Restaurant one night and they had live music on for us. I asked one of our guides if he had ever heard of the Beatles. I don’t if he was lying or not, but he claimed no. He also hadn’t heard of John Lennon. I was slightly baffled.
76. Shooting Range (Chongchun Street)
Get some guns out and go shooting in North Korea? Great idea! Many tours organise this and ours didn’t. I’ve done some shooting before on my travels, and indeed in my home town years ago with the Boys Brigade. But this would be something else. Photo Credit: American in North Korea.
77. Barbecue Your Own Lamb
We enjoyed the experience of the barbecued lamb restaurant in Pyongyang. The food was really good! Friday’s Featured Food: Barbecued Lamb in Pyongyang, North Korea
78. Read the local newspaper
You can pick up a copy on the flight, you can ask the guides for one, or you can simply read it in the metro stations. They have English versions of some newspapers and magazines.
79. Sauna/Jimjilbang Visit (get naked)
I remember back to my time in the “Jimjilbang” in Seoul, South Korea. You just walk around naked. But men and women are separate. It’s quite an odd experience to be in a sauna in Korea. Pyongyang would be even crazier, I’d say – how often have the North Koreans seen a foreigner naked? This wasn’t included on our tour – slightly higher budget needed…here’s a photo of the one south of the border instead I did…
80. Get Change in North Korean Won
You have got to get some local currency as a souvenir!! Foreigners are only really meant to use Euros, RMB or US Dollars. We stuck to Chinese RMB as we didn’t spend much there and always in small quantities. It was nice to be able to get some local won to take home though!
81. Party Founding Memorial Tower
Yet another monument and another tower in Pyongyang! We actually did some dancing in front of it!
82. Three Charters Reunification Monument
This monument represents the three charters that North and South Korea agreed on in the year 2000. These are:
1. Independently Achieved Reunification
2. Peaceful Reunification
3. Promotion of the Reunification
83. Italian Pyongyang Pizza Restaurant
Just because you’re in the DPRK doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a bit of bread with cheese and tomato. OK, so there’s only one Italian Pizza Place at the moment, but it’s a start. You can get a Guinness with it too!! (BUT you have to bring it in yourself like I did)
84. Watch a Military Parade
We had the opportunity to watch the fantastic National Day Parade. A proud nation with a massive army. The parade seemed to last forever!
85. Find Coca Cola
Rumours that North Korea doesn’t have Coca Cola will be destroyed on your first lunch. They have all this. They have Hennessey, they have Johnnie Walker, they have Nescafe. Don’t believe the media bulldog you hear. But yeah, there ain’t no McDonalds or Starbucks…
86. Mansudae Monument
You have to visit the Mansudae Monument. It’s a given, it’s mandatory and an essential part of every tourist trip to North Korea. It’s imprinted into the itinerary. SO get ready to walk up some steps and salute to the heroic leaders of North Korea – Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
87. Learn Korean
I suck at languages. I tried studying Spanish in Uruguay, I picked up a bit of Cantonese, I checked out the language hacking guide and yet all I could remember was:
“Gamsa Hamnida” (Thank you).
Take the hint and learn the language. The locals will love you more.
88. Make a Phone Call
You will be allowed to take your mobile phones into the country but they probably won’t work. If you really want to make a phone call, head to the reception in your hotel and ask.
89. Film Studio, Tongdaewon
While North Korea might be “propaganda central” there is a film scene on the go and some tours can be incorporated into including a visit to the film studio at Tongdaewon. Same location as the Cinema.
90. Pyongyang Main Train Station
If you choose to get the train in or out, you will get to visit the main train station in Pyongyang. It’s actually a lot nicer than some stations in China. This was the place we said goodbye to our North Korean tour guides before heading north to the border and back into China.
91. Ryugong Health Complex
This health complex is state of the art – featuring all the usual stuff – gyms, weights, saunas, swimming pools and an ice rink. You’ll need to pay a bit more to get this one in on your tour.
92. Pyongyang Maternity Hospital
People get born here too. Of course. Somehow Pyongyang Maternity Hospital has made it onto some of the scheduled tours. Baffling but one of the 99 all the same.
93. Eat Kimchi
Got to be on the list – you’re in Korea!! Kimchi, thankfully comes with most meals in the country. Love the stuff!
94. Watch the Football on the Telly
I admit that on the Saturday night and the Tuesday night that we were in North Korea, I didn’t catch the football results as easily as normal. It’s a bit harder to do that in North Korea than in South Korea or China. But I did check all the channels on our TV in the hotel room just in case. Low and behold BBC world news had the results on! Amazing.
95. Martyrs Cemetery
A glorious and elaborate martryrs memorial on the edge of the city. As well as paying homage and sparing a thought to these martryrs, check out the views of the city.
96. Look for the lights at night
Pyongyang isn’t quite like New York – this city does sleep. Even the lamposts turn off at night in some of the neighbourhoods. Have a wander round and soak in a city that doesn’t do things by the book. Maybe they’ve got it right. We should all be asleep at night, right? Count the streetlights – they’re good at saving unneeded energy here for sure.
97. Toiletry Shopping
The toiletry aisles were completely dead – like no customers! I didn’t buy anything but worth a browse. Either these places are only open to show tourists they know the meaning of a “shop” or the posh locals really buy their toiletries here. One thing I noted – North Koreans are squeaky clean and proud of their appearance.
98. Take a taxi
Pyongyang taxis are on a meter and easy to spot. Hail one down and tell him where you’re heading. Yes, you’ll need to be with your guide to do this.
99. Eat a 99!
Ice cream stalls lurk in Kaeson Park, and also down the street from the Arc De Triomph. Have a 99 as one of your 99!
Right so that should keep you all occupied when you decide to go backpacking in Pyongyang – one of the world’s coolest cities but also quite an odd place if truth be told. I loved it though and recommend a trip. You can take advantage of my travel blog and get 5% off any tour to North Korea with YPT just by saying you follow my blog.
Book a tour to North Korea with Young Pioneer Tours:
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