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North Korea travel guide

About North Korea

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.

Key facts

Area:

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

Population:

25,281,327 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

207.3 per sq km.

Capital:

Pyongyang.

Government:

Communist Republic.

Head of state:

First Chairman Kim Jong-un since 2011.

Head of government:

Prime minister Kim Tok Hun since 2020.

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