Pyongyang, capital city of North Korea

Pyongyang, North Korea

Thanks to the persistent efforts of the Korean Workers' Party, Pyongyang is one of the world's strangest capitals. A thick mist often covers the city, giving it an eerie appearance that is only reinforced by its unchanging cityscape. For decades, Pyongyang has been visually defined by endless white and grey blocks of Soviet-style housing, wide, empty streets and vast monuments that tower in dedication to the party. What started as a blank slate for the Kim dictatorship has been transformed into a city built to impress. Only approved and privileged citizens can occupy the capital, and guides are happy to show visitors a few awe-inspiring sights. The guides generally prefer to drive through Pyongyang, but if you walk instead, you will catch glimpses of locals playing music, enjoying picnics and relaxing in the afternoon sun at Moran Hill. These sights are even more important than the monuments and murals because they remind visitors that there is still some semblance of normalcy in the city, no matter how hard the Korean Workers' Party tries to squelch it.

Mansudae Grand Monument Kim Il Sung statue

Guides begin every tour of the city at the Mansudae Grand Monument, a larger-than-life statue of Kim Il Sung unveiled on his 60th birthday in 1972. The bronze effigy is the epicenter of the Great Leader's cult, and visitors quickly learn the seriousness with which locals consider it. Every individual and tour group must lay flowers at the statue's feet and bow after they have been laid. This is the only time visitors are obligated to formally recognize the Great Leader, but the guides will continue to offer effusive praise throughout the entire tour.

Kim Il Sung square

In most great cities, central plazas are hubs of local culture and activity, but Pyongyang's central Kim Il Sung Square is an exception. Often strangely empty, the square is surrounded by striking buildings, including the Grand People's Study House. The socialist-style building is melded with touches of traditional Korean architecture, and the 30 million books are controlled by conveyer belts and strict librarians. Foreign publications require special permission to read, and you won't find any North Korean books over 15 years old. They have been banned by the party in favor of historical rewrites.

Reunification monument, Pyongyang

Like most of the rest of the city, the Pyongyang Film Studios are often hauntingly empty. The huge complex is a propaganda factory that churns out about 20 anti-American and anti-Japanese films each year. Drive uphill to stroll through the large sets, where generic ancient Korean towns are recreated next to Chinese streets from the 1930s and Japanese villages. The South Korean set is filled with signs of “moral laxity,” and the European collection includes a bizarre range of structures that make you wonder if the designers have ever stepped foot on the continent. If you are especially lucky, you may see a film being made while at the studios.

Arc d'triumphe, Pyongyang

Worker's-party statue

Worker's-party statue, Pyongyang

Standard tours of the city also often include stops at the Pyongyang Zoo, the Tower of Juche Idea, the Three Revolutions Exhibition, the Chollima Statue, the Triumphal Arch, the historic Pyongyang district and the Mangyongdae Children's Palace, where incredibly talented children beam as they perform gymnastics, martial arts and music for visitors. Guides are also fond of taking visitors to Moran Hill, the most relaxed recreation ground in the city, the Party Founding Museum, the Korean Revolution Museum and the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. There, dioramas vividly depict the Korean War's key battles.

View of downtown Pyongyang from TV tower

Pyongyang Geographical Location

Pyongyang is located on the Taedong River in west central North Korea. It is North Korea’s largest city and has a population of approximately 2,355,400.

Pyongyang Language

Korean is the official language of North Korea.

Pyongyang Predominant Religion

  • 99% Atheist
  • 1% Other

There are believed to be a very small population of Protestants, Buddhists, and Catholics but North Korea is officially an atheist state. Religion is viewed as a potential threat to the government.

Pyongyang Currency

The Won is the official currency of North Korea.

Pyongyang Climate

Pyongyang experiences very cold winters with temperatures below freezing. Summers are hot but experience the most amount of rainfall and are generally humid.

Pyongyang Main Attractions

  • Koguryo Tombs
  • Arch of Reunification
  • Tower of the Juche Idea

Other Attraction in Pyongyang

  • Kim II Sung Stadium
  • Triumphal Arch
  • Former Residence of Mangyongdae