Eco-friendly travel guide to North Korea advises how to be a responsible tourist. Learn how to travel in a sustainable way and how to respect the local people and culture. Make your trip green by supporting locally owned hotels, organic restaurants and other businesses. Read more on how to protect the environment by making conscientious choices and how to travel green in North Korea, Asia.
- Air quality: 3 / 5
- Bus connections: 2 / 5
- Train connections: 3 / 5
- Hitchhiking: 2 / 5
- National parks: 2 / 5
- Outdoor activities: 2 / 5
- Locals' English level: 3 / 5
- Safety: 3 / 5
- Accommodation: US$10- $50
- Budget per day: US$40 - $90
- 1 Responsible Travel
- 2 Air Quality and Pollution
- 3 Respect the Culture
- 4 Top 10 Places to Visit
- 5 Explore
- 6 Eat
- 7 Drink
- 8 Activities
- 9 Accommodation
- 10 Regions
- 11 Cities
- 12 Getting There and Moving Around
- 13 Sustainable Shopping
- 14 Recycling
- 15 Work and Study Abroad
- 16 See Also
North Korea is 120,540 km2 with an estimated population of 25549604, creating a density of 212 people per Km2. The currency which is accepted here is Korean People’s won. North Korea has a well-known history. The first kingdom of North Korea was established in the 7th century BC. The three kingdoms are Goguryeo, Baekje, and Sila, which remained from 57 BC till 668 AD. The capital of this country is Pyongyang. This country's official language is Korean, widely spoken in each of the parts of this country.
Air Quality and Pollution
The air of North Korea is very much polluted. The main reason behind the increase in air pollution is because North Korea does not have good vegetation and forests. Trees and plants act as natural cleaners and play a vital role in controlling pollution by cleaning the air. The other major problem is that there is a lot of traffic in North Korea, due to which there is a lot of smoke that comes out from these vehicles. This smoke creates a lot of pollution. Breathing polluted air can cause many respiratory problems such as asthma, choking, difficulty breathing, and many more. Other pollution such as noise pollution, water pollution, and many other pollutions are from a scale of moderate to high.
Respect the Culture
Korean culture has its own identity, which makes it different from others. When Japan ruled Korea from 1910 to 1945, the Koreans were forced to adopt Japan's culture and could not write or read Korean neither in public places nor in business organizations. Koreans were forced to learn and speak Japanese. Koreans were exempted from following their religion and were forced to follow the Shinto religion. When the whole of Korea was divided into two parts during 1945, there was a slight influence of foreign cultures in North Korea's culture due to foreign countries' invasion.
Top 10 Places to Visit
- Kim Il Sung Square (Pyongyang, North Korea'): The largest area (75 thousand square meters) in Pyongyang was opened in 1954. It sits opposite the Juche Ideas Monument, which rises on the opposite bank of the Taedongan River. The vast territory is paved with granite. Military parades and cultural events are held here. Up to 100 thousand people can be in the square at the same time. Kim Il Sung Square is one of the TOP 30 largest yards in the world.
- Reunification Arc (Pyongyang, North Korea'): The structure, built-in 2001, is also known as the Arch of the Three Charters, based on the number of North and South Korea declarations signed in 1972. The documents contain several conditions that make the coexistence of these states possible. The construction represents two girls in national dresses, rushing towards each other. They hold in their hands a single map of the North and South. Under the arch is a 4-lane highway connecting Pyongyang and the demilitarized zone.
- Juche Ideas Monument(Pyongyang, North Korea'): The grey granite obelisk was erected for the 70th anniversary of Kim Il Sung. The height of the majestic structure, crowned with a torch, is 170 m. It is the second tallest structure in Pyongyang. Upstairs there is an observation deck, where tourists are taken by a high-speed elevator. At the foot of the monument, there is a 30-meter sculptural group: Worker, Kolkhoz Woman, and Intellectual. Nearby there is a park, which, in addition to flower beds and trees, is decorated with six statues depicting different professions' representatives.
- Ryugyong Hotel (Pyongyang, North Korea'): The construction of the tallest skyscraper in North Korea began in 1987. The object's ceremonial delivery was supposed to be two years later - for the World Festival of Youth and Students. Due to a lack of funding, the hotel was completed only in 2016, but it still does not work. The height of the rocket-shaped building is 330 m. They house 3,000 rooms, seven restaurants, and a casino. Ryugyong translates as "Willow Capital" - Pyongyang's ancient name, the state's capital.
- Kaesong(center of Korea): The former capital of the Korean state is located about 125 km from Pyongyang. In the X-XIV centuries, cultural, political, and economic life was in full swing here. The city survived three wars, many buildings were destroyed, but even in this form, they deserve the closest attention. Among them are the ruling Goryeo dynasty's palace (981), the Songjuk Bridge (XIII century), and the temples' ruins. You should see the tomb of King Kongming and visit the historical museum. In the suburbs of Kaesong, ginseng is grown commercially. So you can combine your trip with a visit to a pharmacy or a shop that sells healing drugs based on this root.
- Mangyongdae(Mangyongdae, Pyongyang, North Korea): In a village about 12 km from the capital, Kim Il Sung was born and spent his childhood. Therefore, Mangyongdae is a pilgrimage place, where every Korean has visited at least once in his life. The chief's house was turned into a museum. The exposition is not rich: an inkwell and a desk, at which the future leader worked and studied. At the highest point of the village, there is an observation deck, from where you can admire the surroundings and the panorama of the majestic Pyongyang. A park is laid out nearby, and a little further is the Revolutionary School.
- The demilitarized zone(between North and South Korea): The Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is the 38th parallel border between the two Koreas. The demarcation line is 4 km wide and 241 km long. The most visited and strictly guarded attraction in North Korea can only be visited as part of an excursion group. The program includes a tour of the monument representing four family members (from the North and South), trying to connect the split in half the globe, and visiting the Imjingaka pavilion. The latter consists of 4 levels. The first is a thematic museum, which tells about the North Korean people's history and achievements. Military equipment is displayed in the courtyard, and a park is laid out around the pavilion. But the most exciting part of the trip is the trek through the underground tunnel. According to propaganda, the passage was dug by South Korean soldiers planning a treacherous attack on a neighbor, but their plan was prevented.
- Kurgan massif(southeastern part of North Korea): The highest point of the mountain range in the southeastern part of the country is the Kumgangsan peak, which rushes into the sky at almost 1640 m. It is famous for its picturesque views: emerald forests, mirror lakes, murmuring waterfalls, and bizarre rocks. Summers are short here; winters are notable for an abundance of snow. A large number of Buddhist shrines are concentrated in this area. And all the necessary infrastructure is focused on the town of Taebaek.
- Mount Paektusan(Ryanggang ,North Korea): The highest mountain on the peninsula (2744 m) is located in North Korea and China. Both powers jointly created a nature reserve on the slopes of the peak. It is home to bears, leopards, tigers, deer, and other animals. Paektusan translates as "White-headed Mountain." She received such a nickname because of the snow caps on the peaks and the pumice stone covering the steep slopes. The main point of attraction is Cheongji Lake or Heavenly Lake. Paektusan is a long-extinct volcano, and a beautiful blue-green reservoir is located in one of its craters. Sharp rocks border the coast. Chongjin is the deepest volcanic lake globally (its depth ranges from 200 to 370 m), and it is located at an altitude of 2,189 m.
- Pyongyang Central Zoo(Pyongyang, North Korea'): A natural park of about 100 hectares, laid out at the foot of Daesongsan Mountain. The vast territory is home to tigers, lions, elephants, hippos, deer, wild boars, and other animals. Among the motley fauna from all over the world, more than 90 dogs of 30 breeds are kept in separate enclosures. Almost all specimens were presented as a gift to the leader of North Korea. There is also an aquarium where freshwater and marine fish swim.
There are a lot of places where you can explore in this country. There are the majority of museums and landmarks in this country which can be visited. However, North Korea is known for the strict rules and laws, so while exploring, there are some restricted areas where you should not see. Moreover, exploring can be a good exercise if done through walking and cycling, which will benefit health. Many people do not know English; therefore, you will need a translator tool that can help you to talk with North Koreans. However, there are city parks, amusement parks, and water parks present in this country. City parks can be used to have a morning walk in the country. Amusement can be visited to enjoy various rides and swings. Water parks can be visited to enjoy in water which also includes multiple water slides.
City parks are parks which are very famous among the locals of that city. There are different city parks in each of the cities and especially in Pyongyang. More to this, there are many benefits to visiting city parks as you can visit for a morning or an evening walk. There are city parks that can be seen for cycling, as some of them have cycling tracks. While cycling, you must have full control of your cycle because there are children, teens, adults, and old-aged people, so be careful. There are second-hand stores, and you can purchase second-hand bicycles.
- Mansudae Fountain Park (Pyongyang)
- Kaeson Youth Park (Pyongyang)
- Mansudae Fountain Park (Pyongyang)
National parks include those park which has various trees and animals. These parks can be visited to get detailed and visual knowledge of different species of plants and animals. There are guided tours, and the guide can be hired from the national park. These guides can help you get detailed knowledge and help you visit every corner of the national park. More this, national parks are surrounded by trees to provide immense freshness and fill your body with a lot of positive energy.
- Mt. Kumgang National Park (Kumgang)
Beaches are an excellent place to relax, especially when you are having an exhausting day. The relaxing sound of the waves and fresh and cool winds coming from the sea can help your body by getting relaxed. There are not many beaches in this country, and the ones present have a beach resort nearby. Beaches can be visiting to enjoy the saltwater. Walking on the beaches is way better than walking on a concrete track because while walking on beaches, you have to move your legs through the sand.
- Wonsan Beach (Wonsan)
Landmarks are those places that are popular in that particular area and can be used as a substitute to get to that place. Landmarks can be a historical monument, memorial location, other monuments, squares, religious sites, etc. Landmarks are responsible for earning the maximum tourist visiting in that particular place. There are monuments and memorial palaces built to respect various military groups, historical leaders, political leaders, and other people who have achieved a high standard in their field. More to this, other landmarks are also present, which can help you to learn different things.
- Tower of the Juche Idea (Juche Tower Street)
- Mansudae Grand Monument (Pyongyang)
- Kim II Sung Square (Central District of Pyongyang)
- Rungrado May Day Stadium (Pyongyang)
- Pohyonsa Temple (Hyangsan)
Museums are places where a lot of artifacts related to that medium are placed for the exhibition. Korea had a good history related to wars and invasions, and the pieces of evidence of those wars and attacks are exhibited in different museums. More to this, museums are suitable for enjoying while learning various things. There are different types of museums other than histories, such as museums on zoology and nature. There are art gallery museums that are also present to pay tribute to various artists. If you love to study art and learn about different artists and their works in their respective fields, you can visit these art galleries. They also have famous paintings, literal works of poets, novelists, and other artists present for an exhibition.
- International Friendship Exhibition (Hyangsan)
- Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia Exhibition Hall (Pyongyang)
- Korea Stamp Museum (Central District of Pyongyang)
- Mansudae Art Studio (Pyeongcheon)
- Korean Central History Museum (Pyongyang)
Korean cuisine is originated from the ancient nomadic and agricultural traditions in southern Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula; hence, it has gone through a complex interaction of the natural environment and various cultural trends. Many people say that North Korean food tends to be fresher and more "real." The two countries, North and South Korea, are united by the country's cuisine as it shares a culinary heritage where main dishes include warm rice, vegetables, and meat, though it's the side dishes that make the meal a perfect one. Some shortlisted places where you can eat here are:
- The Revolving Restaurant
- The Diplomatic Club
- Turtle Ship Restaurant
- Kuksu House
- The Tv Tower Restaurant
Here are some most famous North Korean dishes you must try:
- Naengmyeon (Pyongyang in Cold Noodles)
- Clam BBQ in Nampo
- Korean BBQ
- Pansangi in Kaeson
- Bibimbap (Mixed rice)
- Air Koryo Burger
You will be surprised to know that North Korea has major breweries and microbreweries, making it the largest in the country as it supplies a wide range of beer products. Many restaurants and hotels adopt microbreweries to minimize distribution and maintain their microbreweries. The country's famous liquor is 'soju' – clear, low-alcohol made from a blend of rice and grains. South Koreans primarily consume it. They drink an average of 13.7 shots of liquor per week, more than anywhere else worldwide. Although people in North Korea are also crazy about this traditional drink of the country, it has also been the best-selling liquor globally, according to CNN. The drinks you'll find here in large quantities are:
- Craft beer
- Taedonggang beer
Like most developing countries, North Korea has deplorable mainstream water sanitation, because of which the authorities do not recommend you to drink tap water. They suffer a great deal due to a lack of clean water and proper sanitation and hygiene. However, it is safe to drink the bottled water you can purchase in North Korean tourist shops or local restaurants and hotels. You can bring your water bottles to store water after boiling it to keep yourself hydrated throughout your day for more safety. Only 91,891 North Koreans have access to detoxified water, leaving 265,000 people without clean water and sanitation – leading to the deaths of around 697 North Koreans. It is advisable to purchase water bottles from good and hygienic shops, or otherwise, you can filter the tap water at your place where you're staying for your holiday.
There are numerous activities you can do to explore North Korea. The country is one of the most visited in East Asia by both locals and international tourists and travelers. North Korean people also help you to shortlist and travel to many places in a short period. They guide you with dos and don'ts that allow a lot of travelers to schedule their travel time. Apart from this, the locals also have different interests and ideologies that help you experience the country's beauty. Some of the most popular activities you can do here are Arch of triumph, Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, Mansuade Art Studio, Kim IL Sung Square, and many more discussed in the above headings. You can visit various museum complexes or have dined in popular hotels or visit exhibition halls and whatnot. You will have plenty of options to deal with and explore, so plan your holiday accordingly.
North Korea has a few first-class accommodations, whether hotels or guest houses where foreign visitors stay. Visitors should remain in designated tourist hotels. Some tourists and travelers from various parts of the world have this urging desire to remain among locals and explore the people's sanity and beauty. It helps them stay among local people, making them feel at home like; if you're opting for Couchsurfing or hostels, you might end up being a roommate or a companion or stay alone to have your privacy. You can get accommodations at reasonable and standard prices and are graded as deluxe, first, second, and third-class accommodations.
Although North Korea is still developing, people in business know-how to attract tourists based on their needs and preferences. Eco-friendly hotels are in demand from most outsiders. Therefore, you will find plenty of accommodations in green hotels in this country. Most hotels are for a business-friendly environment featuring grand rooms, even karaoke, along with complimentary breakfast. 24/7 room services are available, and the staff in hotels are also very supportive and enthusiastic. You might get an excellent city view with an attached indoor pool and kids activity area in some locations. Some places of your interest are:
- Yanggakdo Hotel
- Koryo Hotel
- Hyangsan Hotel
- Susan Hotel
- Pothonggang Hotel
- Songdowon Tourist Hotel
Hostels and Guest Houses
Another easiest and affordable option you will get when it concerns North Korea's accommodation is to stay in a hostel or a guest house. There are more accommodations in guest houses than in hostels. People say that staying in guest houses while in a new place feels like staying with family as it gives room for interaction with other people. Although you will find smaller rooms in some guest houses, the hosts provide every necessary facility to make you stay comfortable. The country offers comfortable and affordable accommodations for a perfect stay. You will find cheap accommodations in the places listed below:
- Taedong Guest House
- Kobasang Guest House
- Cocoa Guest House
- Backpacker’s Home
- Motif NO.1 Guest House
- SLOW CITI Hostel
Another option for staying is getting an apartment for rent. Renting an apartment may cost you a lot amount of money, so you must not consider accommodating if your budget is low. However, some people who prefer to have their privacy do not mind the pricing as there are many amenities to enjoy. In general, the cost of apartments might cost you not less than $300 in North Korea. The rates may fluctuate according to the season. The hosts of these apartments focus mainly on foreigners as their target audience, and they always ensure that it is in a clean and safe state. The main benefit of staying in apartments is the unmatched amount of happiness you will get here, and most of the facilities are of high-quality.
Another available option for accommodation in North Korea is Couchsurfing, as it is gaining popularity day by day in the country. It allows tourists or travelers to save money since they do not have to pay. The purpose of this idea is that the locals open their residents for outsiders or tourists to stay among them for as long as they want. In return, they have to help the resident people in their household chores or participate in any other activities. Couchsurfing is a good thing done by the local people as they play as a host to a foreigner, due to which they build a strong connection or friendship that could last a lifetime. It is a most straightforward option for tourists as they stay in an accessible place, interacting and learning more about the country's customs and traditions. You must consider this option if you are traveling alone or with one or two friends as it is always a win-win situation for both parties, so you can view this option when you are traveling to this part of the country.
Pitching tents around beaches or on any open area is what camping means. Many tourists love to stay in wild or free areas to experience raw nature. It is one kind of accommodation you prefer when traveling. Before setting camps, you must take the rules and regulations of that particular country into consideration, along with camping camps. In North Korea, there are few places you can set camps after taking permission from the respective authorities. It would be best if you also researched well before taking any final decision. You can opt to stay at an official campground, or you can pitch your tent. Camping in North Korea very well means that there is no luxury of staying at camps as none of its cities has such establishments. The camping location is dependent on you as there are specific rules and regulations regarding camping in rural and urban areas. Many people think that it is out of place for foreigners to pitch tents around. Therefore you must wisely choose your location where you won't be disturbed by any legal person and make sure you don't break any rules; otherwise, you have to pay high fines.
|Donghae Coast (North Hamgyong, South Hamgyong, Kangwon, Kŭmgang-san)|
|Baekdu Mountains (Ryanggang, Chagang)|
|Pyongan (North P'yongan, South P'yongan, Pyonyang, Shinuiju)|
|Hwanghae (North Hwanghae, South Hwanghae, Kaesong)|
- Pyongyang — the capital city and the former capital of Goguryeo during the Three Kingdoms period
- Chongjin — Industrial city in the North East, very rarely visited by tourists
- Kaesong — former capital during the Goryeo dynasty
- Wonsan — East coast port city slowly opening to tourists
- Nampho — industrial centre and port city on the western coast
Getting There and Moving Around
You can use several modes of transport to travel to North Korea, with the most convenient time dictated by where you are coming from, whether you are a local or from an international area. People from surrounding cities usually travel to the country by trains or busses or through transportation. You will be amazed to know that the North Korean government tightly controls tourism in North Korea, and all tourism access is via tourism bureaus by several states in the country. Moving around in North Korea is a challenge for outsiders as you might be under strict supervision or boundaries. Therefore, you should be very careful about traveling around the country and following every rule adhered to them. Also, you must have contacts with to travel agency, as they are the ones who are responsible for your trip to North Korea.
There are around 78 usable airfields in North Korea, although the state's secrecy makes it difficult to ascertain their condition and the number of passengers they allow. The main airport where most of the international flights land in Pyongyang Sunan International Airport. As you know, in the secrecy and privacy of this country, any person is allowed to travel to North Korea; only South Koreans and journalists do not have access to the country.
- Most people travel to North Korea via China as chances are good while taking the convenient route through China
- Another airline that flies in and out of North Korea is MIAT Mongolian Airlines
- North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo, can also take you to Pyongyang
Most airlines do not fly over North Korea because of the threat of unannounced missile tests since 2016; therefore, the FAA has banned American carriers in the area.
As transportation is constrained in North Korea by economic problems and government restrictions, most public transport systems are predominated and electrified. You can see a mix of locally built and imported trolleybuses and trams in the major urban cities of North Korea. Regularly scheduled motorcoach service in North Korea connects major cities and nearby towns to one another, which their destination signs can identify. Some bus lines in the country supplement electric transportation in Pyongyang. Due to the scarcity of oil in the country, most of the public transport systems in North Korea are electric. Therefore you will see many trolleybuses and trams that run on electricity.
You will find only one rail operator in North Korea – the Korean State Railway, which has a network of over 6,000 kilometers of standard gauge in which the narrowest one runs in the Haeju Peninsula. There is a lack of maintenance on the rail infrastructure and vehicles because rail travel time is increasing. However, North Korea has an extremely well-connected train network with eleven lines that link the country's whole together. The trains run here are of different types – diesel, electric, and even old-school steam locomotives roam the DPRK's rails, making your journey genuinely classic. The borders of North Korea connect to three countries: China, Russia, and South Korea. It has around 808 operating train stations, wherein most of the train stations in North Korea foreigners are not allowed.
Due to strict rules and regulations to roam in the country, travels or tourism in North Korea will only be approved if someone from the government shows you around and guides you. You cannot travel freely in North Korea, and most of the time, you will see empty roads; also, the government punishes local people if a foreigner talks to them openly in the country. Therefore, hitchhiking is not at all the safest option to travel to or around the country. So, you must avoid hitchhiking to enjoy your tour in North Korea. For better convenience and fewer troubles, do not roam on highway roads freely as you could get into things you wouldn't want to while traveling.
Other transportation to enter the country is via ferry services, through water transportation, or your vehicles. Must remember that entering the country requires strict follow-up. So, make sure to have papers on your tourism access in the country. If you are renting bicycles or motorbikes to travel around the city, you must follow every rule adhered to by the government to make your journey undisturbed.
Some people in North Korea work with various organizations, programs, and festivals to help people see and understand the ease of shopping zero-waste. The people in North Korea are not as advanced as other countries. In recent years, some Europeans came to live in the country and guided the local Koreans to understand the zero-waste concept better. Not much, but you will find some shops in the country selling eco-friendly products. There are a few shops in North Korea where you can get sustainable clothing, products, antiques, and many more. Since it's a developing country, you will not find many North Korean options and might get disappointed while looking for sustainable shopping.
Recycling is not a good practice in North Korea as it does not have that luxury. However, the country lives on the edge of sustainability, and the Korean government imposes fines on people who disobey mandatory recycling laws. They also reward those citizens who report non-recyclers; therefore, waste is not an option for North Korea. North Korea's people recycle everything; even those things that you wouldn't know can be recycled. According to the North Korean government's rule, the items that must recycle are plastic, glass, cardboard/paper, aluminum, and Styrofoam. As a respected tourist, you must not litter anywhere in the public areas; otherwise, you might end up paying huge fines to the local authority.
You will find the correct bins just outside the local residencies. In apartments, you will find that they have their containers for each recycling category. However, in North Korea, many of the products consumed are stuff out of the ground and brought to the market whose waste items can easily recycle items. The packaging done in most things is either wrapped in newspapers or given in cloth bags that can quickly burn later. North Koreans usually have less garbage, and in case of heavy ones, they take the leftovers home and burn it. The North Korean government has invested in several waste management programs, including sewage investments and many others.
Work and Study Abroad
Yes, it is possible to study in North Korea, although very few are granted entry. Since it is a divisive nation, North Korea has limited the people who can move into and from the country. In general, Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang has only 90 international students at a time – that is too from China only. The students in North Korea are allowed to study abroad as the nation has encouraged young students to research and learn advanced cultures to maintain and develop the communist regime. By doing so, the government has been able to train talented individuals, leading to a higher possibility of having a successful career, leading a decent life, and joining the power elite.
Life in universities in North Korea is unique and different. The students here are closely monitored, especially concerning their relationships. The facilities provided are not advanced here. Therefore you might find difficulty adjusting to the environment. For an exchanged student, it might cost you an average of $4,350 per semester for public universities, $5,800 – private ones, and $6,500 for Seoul's top universities. The cost of living and tuition fees is somewhat similar for domestic students, which is an unusually fair arrangement designed to attract international students. Specifically, while international students in North Korea are limited to Korean language studies, they can choose various courses, including law, history, and economics.
Finding jobs in North Korea is not difficult. You can get a job at caregiving, nanny work, or even babysitting jobs in the country. Since the people here are under strict boundaries of rules and regulations, the residents or hosts who want to hire for their needs have to go through many paperwork and background checks of the ones they are interviewing or hiring. You could get paid around $100-$300 a month in Au Pairing. To work as an au pair in North Korea, you can enter the criteria using either a D7 or D8 visa. If you're applying for au pair, you must know how to speak Korean a little bit to interact with the family members. You can also apply for a 'Working Holiday Visa' if you want a North Korean job.
Since the people here follow a strict regulation of interacting with the general public, you can encounter difficulties contacting people to volunteer in various programs. However, if you have good relations with the residents, you will help them in their programs. There are many volunteering programs, and you only need to ask and inquire about the needs and preferences of the necessities. Tourism in North Korea is limited, but it has somewhat grown in recent times. Therefore various programs have the interest of foreigners who wants to volunteer and experience more in the country. You can also participate in Teaching North Korean Refugees, a non-profit organization that focuses on empowering them to find their voice and path through education, support, and advocacy.