Tomb of King Tongmyong, Pyongyang, North Korea
Pin This
Open Media Gallery

Tomb of King Tongmyong, Pyongyang, North Korea

© Creative Commons / yeowatzup

North Korea Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

120,538 sq km (45,540 sq miles).

Population

24.7 million (2013).

Population density

205.1 per sq km.

Capital

Pyongyang.

Government

Communist Republic.

Head of state

First Chairman Kim Jong-un since 2011.

Head of government

Premier Pak Pong-ju since 2013.

Electricity

240 volts AC, 60Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are commonly used.

Perhaps the world's most insular, provocative and challenging country, North Korea is hardly the archetype of an alluring holiday destination. Yet more and more foreigners are signing up for tours of the socialist state. The reason? There's simply nowhere else on Earth quite like it.

North Korea – or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) – is a totalitarian socialist state with an elaborate cult of personality built around the Kim dynasty.

Its isolation and ideology means that independent travel is impossible. Instead, there are a number foreign agencies that offer tours of the country with government-approved guides, regaling sightseers with propaganda-skewed tales of local history, while steering them clear of interaction with the general public.

All approved tours begin and end in the country's capital, Pyongyang. A city of more than 2.5 million inhabitants, the long working hours and strict curfew can often make it appear empty – yet there's an abundance of socialist sites for the foreign visitor to enjoy.

Highlights include the flame-topped Juche Tower (a monument to the state's socialist ideology), the Mansudae Grand Monument (bronze statues of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il) and USS Pueblo (an American ship captured in 1968 and now on permanent display).

Beyond the capital most excursions include visits to Myohyang-san (a mountain with a palace carved into it), Panmunjom (the tense military border between North and South Korea) and Mangyongdae (a North Korean village said to be the birthplace of Kim Il-sung).

And then there’s the food. Sharing a culinary heritage with South Korea, the North boasts a similar smorgasbord of delicacies, offering visitors an authentic taste of this most inauthentic of countries.

North Korea might not be the most easygoing destination, but if you can accept its tyrannical leadership and take everything you are told with a pinch of salt, there are plenty of incredible experiences to be had in the world's most mysterious country.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 19 December 2014

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

In response to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced on 25 October 2014 that no tourists would be allowed to enter the DPRK until further notice.

On 30 October 2014, the DPRK announced that foreigners intending to enter the country would be subject to 21 days in quarantine, regardless of which country they have travelled from. Under these new measures:

  • travellers to North Korea from regions and countries the DPRK considers may have been affected by the Ebola virus, including Africa, will be put into quarantine for a period of 21 days in a government appointed hotel under medical supervision
  • people coming to entering North Korea from any other country will be quarantined in hotels appointed by their DPRK host organisation
  • diplomats and members of international organisations resident in DPRK will be quarantined in their respective missions

If you’re planning to travel to North Korea, you should contact your sponsor or tour company for further advice. There have been no reported cases of Ebola in DPRK.

In recent months, the political situation in North Korea has been relatively calm, although the situation could change quickly. On 10 October 2014, activists in South Korea released balloons near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) border containing anti-DPRK leaflets. The DPRK responded by firing at the balloons, prompting an exchange of fire between South Korean and DPRK military. This has not been occurring in areas open to tourists in North Korea.

British nationals resident in or travelling to the DPRK who are not with tour groups should inform the British Embassy in Pyongyang about their travel plans prior to, or on arrival.

You can’t enter or leave North Korea through the border with South Korea without special permission.

The British Embassy Pyongyang can provide only limited consular assistance to those visiting parts of the DPRK outside the capital Pyongyang due to restricted access.

Flooding is common in the rainy season (July to August).

There is a low threat from terrorism.

Very few British nationals visit North Korea and those that do are usually part of an organised tour. Most visits are trouble-free. However, the North Korean authorities have arrested other legal visitors, including 3 US citizens during recent years.

Newsletter