You will not have a lot of choice what you see in North Korea (officially called the DPRK – The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) since all tours only visit the usual authorised places. If you take an independent tour, you will have more flexibility, but it doesn’t open too many other options. If you do wish to undertake an independent tour that does not follow the usual sites of a group tour, book early, as getting such itineraries approved can take time.
Many people believe that it is difficult to obtain a visa for North Korea, but unless you are travelling on either a US or South Korean passport or a journalist from anywhere this is not the case. However, one must use an authorised tour agent in order to visit the country. There are less than 20 of these around the world, and I paid extra for a private tour with Young Pioneer Tours. They are cheaper than most options and come with my strong recommendation.
Within Pyongyang, the highlights were a visit to Victorious Fatherland Revolutionary Museum provides a great insight into the country’s interpretation of the Korean War. Mangyongdae Children’s Palace is an incredible place of learning and the concert afterwards is stunning. The Kumsusan Memorial Palace is the resting places of both the Great and Dear Leaders. This is one of the great pilgrimages in the world, but ensure you bring suitable clothes for the visit otherwise you will be denied entry.
The spectacular and graceful Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance occurs around August-September, however it is not held every year (there were no performances in 2014). With 100,000 people (90% of them amateurs) practicing many months for the 90 minute show, this is rightfully considered a highlight of any visit to North Korea. I purchased 3rd class tickets and they were more than adequate.
Down at the border with South Korea you will visit the Panmunjom Demarcation Zone, where you can enter the DMZ. For those who have visited from the south, you will be surprised to learn that regulations on visiting from the North are far more relaxed. Restrictions imposed on visitors to the south – including no pointing, no bags, no touching or sitting on the chairs at the negotiating table that straddles the border – are all non-existent when visiting from the North. It was the only place in the country where one is allowed to photograph anything related to the military.
Elsewhere in the country, other impressive sights include the Pohyon Temple and International Friendship Exhibition (filled with thousands of gifts to the Great and Dear Leaders from around the world) at Mount Myohyang. The Tomb of Kongmin near Kaesong is located atop a beautiful valley, and was a peaceful place. The Koryo Museum in Kaesong was also worthy of some time and it contained one of the best souvenir shops in the country.
My blogs about North Korea:
Taking the Night Train to Pyongyang DRPK 1
Bowing Before the Feet of the Heavenly Leader DRPK 2
Eternal Vigilance Against Imperialist Aggressors DRPK 3
The Art of Isolation DRPK 4
Anxious Times at the Border DRPK 5