Gongju is the former capital of the Baekje Kingdom during Korea's Three Kingdoms period. Whilst the Baekje Dynasty lasted for a total of 678 years from 660 BC to 18 AD, Gongju, referred to at the time as Ungjin, remained the capital for much of that time, with power finally being handed to adjacent Buyeo in 538 AD and staying there until Korea's unification under the southern Silla Dynasty. In the years prior to the Silla invasion many Baekje citizens fled to modern-day Japan.
As such, today, Gongju is a major tourism drawcard of the South Chungcheong area, particularly amongst Japanese tourists of certain ethnic descent, curious about their ancient roots. Or perhaps simply straying from the hot springs resort down the road. Furthermore, it is also one of the many players in the seemingly never-ending struggle to move South Korea's administrative capital out of Seoul, with the greater Gongju are having featured in two of the four top propositions for a new capital.
Maps and brochures as well as English-speaking staff exist at a tourism information booth outside the main west entrance of Gongsan Fortress, as well as a second at the entrance to the Songsan-ri Burial Mounds.
- Gongju Tourist Information Center, ☎ +82 41-856-7700, fax: +82 41-840-2548.
- Tourism and Festival Division, ☎ +82 41-840-2836.
- Historical Sites Management Office, ☎ +82 41-856-0331, fax: +82 41-840-2546.
Gongju city proper is bisected east-west by the Geumgang River, with Gongsan Fortress on its southern bank providing a focal point which the city wraps around.
The greater administrative region of Gongju-si on the other hand extends considerably further south, encompassing the entirety of Gyeryongsan National Park and including a few small towns wedged between the reserve and Daejeon to the southeast.
Intercity buses service Gongju from both Daejeon's Seobu and Dongbu intercity bus terminals every 30 to 50 minutes with all also stopping by the Yuseong intercity terminal en route. Tickets from Yuseong cost ₩2,900 and take about 20 minutes.
At the other end, Gongju's "old" intercity bus terminal is a mere 200 m south of the main entrance to Gongsan Fortress. Note that in open defiance of the label, the "old" bus terminal is still very much in use and far more central than the primary one, which is on the north bank of the Geumgang River, opposite Gongsan Fortress.
The city is 125 km from Seoul and lies on the Cheonan-Nonsan Highway (route #25); switch from the Gyeongbu Highway (route #1) at Cheonan. Gongju is also accessible via route #36 from Cheongju and route #32 from Daejeon.
Gongju has its own inner-city (shin-nae, 시내) bus system.
Gongju has its own public-use inner-city bike system. One set of racks exists outside the Baekje Burial Mounds complex (left of the front gate).
The primary historical attractions including the Songsan-ri Burial Mounds, Gongju National Museum and Gongsan Fortress can all be easily be covered on foot, and are no more than a 10 minute walk from one another. The first and third of these are some of the Baekje Historic Areas on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- Gongsan Fortress (Gongsanseong, 공산성). A 1500 year old mountain-top fortress looming over the Geumgang River. You might need a decent amount of imagination to get the most out of this place, as much of the fortress is a series fenced off grassy rectangles marking the estimated site of the ancient Baekje Royal Palace and associated structures. A decent amount of information is provided around the various sites in both Korean and English. Perhaps the most architecturally unusual part of the fortress is the Lotus Pond (Yeonji, 연지) Also contains Yeongeunsa Temple and Baekje Folk Village Land the latter of which is, much of the year, little more than a humongous carpark but hosts an annual festival (see Do). If you visit outside of the festival, it doesn't mean you can't join the locals in merrily tossing stones at the archery targets around the perimeter. Adults ₩1200.
- Changing of the Guards, South gate of Gongsan Fortress. 11AM-4PM. A show held every Saturday and Sunday in April, May, June, September and October each year.
- Songsan-ri Burial Mounds (Songsanri gobungun, 송산리고분군), Beonji 120, Gyo-dong (Bus routes #1 and #25. On foot, its about a 10 minutes walk from Gongsan Fortress; follow the major road east through the humongous arch outside the main gate.), ☎ +82 41-840-2836, fax: +82 41-840-2848. 9AM-6PM, 9AM-5PM in winter.. A series of 7 tombs, 6 of which were discovered and suibsequently looted during the 1910-1945 Japanese occupation and as such their owners remain unknown. The 7th however, the Tomb of King Muryeong (Muryeong wangreung, 무령왕릉), was accidentally discovered by a Korean historian in 1971 and as such both the relics within, and the identity of the tombs owner were recovered and thus making it the star attraction of the city. Well, at least it would be if it weren't locked up tight behind an opaque door along with the rest of the tombs. You are however free to poke around a scale reproduction of Muryeong's tomb as well as tombs #5 and #6 in the adjacent grassy knoll. Extensive information in Korean, English and Japanese. Adults ₩1500.
- Gongju National Museum (Gukrib gongju bakmulgwan, 국립공주박물관), Jeongjisa-gil 30, Ungjin-dong 360 (Bus route #8. On foot, follow the road around the hill north of the Songsan-ri Burial Mounds, or walk the signposted trail direct from behind tomb #1.), ☎ +82 41-850-6300. 9AM-6PM weekdays, 9AM-7PM weekends and holidays with some extended Saturday hours during vacation periods. Museum housing many of the actual artefacts recovered from King Muryeong's tomb. The treasures are unusual in that they are primarily metalcrafts, including pottery, swords, jewelry crafted from gold, silver and burnt-wood and some excruciatingly uncomfortable looking pairs of bronze shoes. Upstairs a second exhibit focuses on the ancient culture of South Chungcheong Province. Admission requires a ticket, but tickets are free.
- Jeongjisan Relic Site (Jeongjisan yujeok, 정지산 유적), San No.1 Gumseong-dong, Gongju (Follow the well-signposted but unsealed path from the back part of the burial mound complex, or alternately, climb the sealed road beside the highway bridge over the Geumgang River.). The only relics you'll find here are the traces of local residents having foraged for medicinal plants to sell at the markets, as the hill itself, deemed the likely site of Binjeon Hall — a hall where the body of King Muryeong and his queen had been placed for 27 months prior to the funeral — actually stands empty and bare. Regardless, the hill provides quite possibly the best view of both the Geumgang River and Gongsan Fortress in the entire town. Free.
- Hannok Village. A new estate has been built between the Songsan-ri Burial Mounds and the Gongju National Museum in the traditional wooden hannok style, a true rarity in modern-day Korea. Makes for an interesting and convenient detour.
- Magoksa Temple (마곡사). A head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.
- Baekje Cultural Festival, Baekje Folk Village Land in Gongsan Fortress. Advertised as one of Korea's three national festivals (the other two representing the Silla and Goguryeo Dynasties), this is held in both Gongju city and adjacent Buyeo annually from mid-September to mid-October. The Gomanaru National Drama Contest is held at a similar time.
- Archery. There's an archery range between the Hannok village and Gongju National Museum.
- Gyeryongsan National Park. This park takes up the far south-eastern portion of Gongju-si. Access to the extensive hiking trails is most convenient via Kap-sa Temple or Shinwon-sa Hermitage. Donghak-sa Temple on the east side of the range also provides access but requires a commute around the entire national park unless coming from Daejeon.
In Singwan many foreigners frequent Iyagi Kage (referred to by foreigners as Art Bar.) It is located above pasta buono on the third floor, across the street from CNA.
Gongju provided accommodation to adjacent Daejeon during the Taejon Expo '93, with many of the motels clustered around the (Old) Intercity Bus Terminal.
- Daejeon - the nearest major metropolitan city, located on the other side of Gyeryongsan National Park and roughly 20 minutes away by intercity bus.
- Buyeo - southwest of Gongju and the final capital of the Kingdom of Baekje, and with its own national museum.
- Cheonan/Asan - on the KTX line just to the north, and home of the Independence Hall, South Korea's largest museum.
- Nonsan - south of Gongju and on the KTX.