Lonely Planet review
The grand, marble-lined, modernist building cleverly channels plenty of natural light to show off Korea’s ancient treasures. The gardens on the right of the reflecting pond, with ancient stone pagodas, the original Bosingak bell and Dragon Falls – perhaps the most picturesque spot in Seoul – are worth a visit.
Pick up a ticket from the office in the left-side section, which also houses the Yong Theatre, special exhibitions and the children’s section. Enter the huge atrium foyer and work your way down the right-hand side, passing through the various ruling dynasties, from simple comb-design pots and dolmens to the skilful and imaginative Baekje-era incense holder and the intricate gold work of the Silla dynasty crowns and necklaces. Based in Gyeongju, the Silla dynasty was a Korean renaissance, when artisans decorated just about everything. Cross over to the other side for the straight-laced Joseon era with its stodgy government bureaucracy of reports, official portraits, royal rituals, ID tags, scholarly aristocrats, slaves and peddlers.
If your time and stamina is limited, skip the 2nd floor (donations and paintings) and head to the wonderful ancient ceramics that Korea is famous for (3rd floor). Don’t miss the outstanding 6th-century statue of the Pensive Bodhisattva and the large Buddhas, also on the 3rd floor.
Restaurants, cafés and a teashop provide places to revive and relax. The museum is a 15-minute walk from the subway station. Follow the signs to Exit 2 before exiting through a ticket banner.