North Korea with its nickname of “Hermit Kingdom” is an East Asian nation that is largely shrouded in mystery and intrigue. This country is best known for its enigmatic leader, Kim Jong-un, and its strict isolationist policies that have led to minimal interactions with the world at large.
Yet, North Korea for all it looks to stand apart continues to intrigue people around the world. The following is a look at 25 interesting facts that we hope will shed some light on this coastal country.
25 Fun Facts About North Korea
North Korea is a land of many surprises and distinctive features that bold travelers willing to pierce through the country’s veil of isolation will love and enjoy.
Here is a country with a rich history, unique culture, and awe-inspiring landscapes that combine to create an exceptional (albeit scary) travel experience. And these facts sum up what it’s all about.
1. Second Tallest Monumental Column in the World
In Pyongyang, there stands a massive stone monumental column that stretches to a height of 170 feet. This structure is formally called the Tower of the Junche Idea but is often referred to more simply as the Junche Tower, and commemorates the Junche ideology.
It was uniquely inspired by premodern Korean stone pagodas, nicely blending the historic with the modern.
2. Massive Gymnastic and Artistic Festival That Made the Guinness Book of Records
Every year, in August or September, North Korea holds what it calls the Grand Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance Arirang, or more simply the Arirang Mass Games.
This is an incredible gymnastics and artistic extravaganza that tells the story of the country and held the Guinness World Record for the largest of such gymnastic performances until 2007.
3. Few Traffic Lights and Unique Alternatives
While you will find some horizontal traffic lights in larger North Korean cities like the capital city of Pyongyang, they are not all that popular.
Instead, these locations and others throughout North Korea have opted to incorporate roundabouts at larger intersections and employ traffic police officers to direct traffic at busier intersections.
4. Home to an Active Volcano
The tallest mountain of North Korea is Paektu Mountain which is also an active volcano. Paektu Mountain is a popular tourist destination for both North Koreans and Chinese thanks to its myriad of outdoor activities that include natural springs and waterfalls.
This volcano is estimated to erupt every one hundred years and, with the last eruption being in 1903, much of the region is in anticipation for the next.
5. Big on Solar Panels
Many North Korean homes and businesses have incorporated solar panels as a sustainable energy solution. Thanks to the country’s own production as well as affordable Chinese options, these solar panels can be purchased for as low as $15 USD, making them a smart solution all around.
6. Largest stadium in the World
Located in Pyongyang, the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium first opened on May 1, 1989 to big acclaim. From that date to the present, it has held the record for being the largest stadium in the world according to overall seating capacity.
That’s because this massive scalloped-roof stadium can seat an incredible 150,000 spectators!
7. One of the Highest Volcanic Lakes
Heaven Lake is a gorgeous volcanic crater lake that boasts a surface elevation of 2,189 meters above sea level. This lake was formed following the 946 AD eruption of Paektu Mountain, one of the largest and most powerful eruptions in all of recorded history.
Also called the Millennium Eruption, it was so powerful as to fully collapse part of the mountain into what we now know as Heaven Lake.
8. Big on Military Parades
North Korean military parades are a massive thing with their showcasing the full of the Korean People’s Army. Political leader Kim Jong Un will also come out to greet the city and give updates on the country’s political situations.
These military parades occur on the fifth anniversary of each of the country’s major holidays and frequently attract tourists and dignitaries from around the world.
9. Deepest (and Cheapest) Metro System in the World
The Pyongyang Metro is a bustling transportation system for the capital and its surrounding neighborhoods, seeing as many as 600,000 passengers a day.
This metro has two significant claims to fame: At the equivalent of just 1 US cent for a ticket to any destination on the hub, this is the cheapest subway system in the world; and at an incredible 100 meters below the surface, it is also the deepest.
10. Technically Still at War
The Korean War never actually ended as there has been no formalized peace treaty, rather the two countries reached an armistice agreement which established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and ended hostilities.
The countries are continuing to work at a more official agreement to end the war.
11. Home to the Rare Hucho Ishikawae
There are five species of Asian salmon, taimen, that are known as the largest species of salmon on the planet. One of those species, the Hucho Ishikawae, can only be found in a single river system on the remote North Korea-China border area.
These fish can grow to massive sizes and are often locally referred to as “river monsters”.
12. Minimal Commercial Advertising
North Korea really limits the amount of commercial advertising one gets exposed to in public spaces. This means that the aforementioned metro system is clear of poster advertisements, and you’ll see few billboards even in the capital city of Pyongyang.
This offers a refreshing urban landscape that really focuses on architectural beauty.
13. Multifaceted Spa Resort Near the Country’s Heart
The Yangdok Hot Spring Resort opened to large acclaim in 2020. Located in a mountain valley near the heart of the country, this is a true luxury mountain spa resort that was designed around the unique thermal springs located here.
The resort consists of indoor and outdoor pools to soak in as well as offering a myriad of other activities like skiing and horseback riding.
14. Critical Location on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway
North Korea serves as a critical migratory route for the over 50 million migratory waterbirds that traverse the East Asian-Australasian Flyway every year.
This country’s many wetlands, estuaries, and tidal flats play a critical role in giving these birds rest and refuel before continuing on with their migration.
15. Continued Use of Traditional Terraced Rice Fields
North Korea mostly has a very mountainous terrain that limits its availability for flat agricultural development. Therefore, they continue to utilize a traditional and very intricate system of terraced rice fields.
These steeped fields maximize land use, conserve soil, and effectively cultivate rice, a staple crop for the region.
16. Caves With Primitive Remains
In the 20th Century, North Korean archeologists completed archeological digs in a series of caves within the Sangwon County area of North Korea. The relics they found here are known as the Komun Moru ruins, and it is believed those ruins date between 600,000 to 1,000,000 years ago.
17. Tallest Unoccupied Building (But Not for Long)
The Ryugyong Hotel is a massive 330-meter tall skyscraper that resembles a pyramid. The building’s construction began in 1987, but was unfortunately halted for a number of reasons throughout the years.
Work is believed to be back and running with new LEDs installed along the tower’s faces.
18. Massive Bronze Statutes at the Heart of the Mansu Hill Grand Monument
The Mansu Hill Grand Monument was erected in 1972 as a memorial to the revolutionary struggle of the Korean people. The central display for this monument is a pair of massive bronze statues representative of North Korea’s founding leader Kim II-Sung and his successor Kim Jong-il.
19. Kimchi is a Staple
Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish that’s made of salted and fermented vegetables. Most North Korean meals will include a small dish of kimchi on the side along with rice.
If you travel to South Korea as well, you’ll notice that the kimchi in North Korea has a distinct flavor difference that is a bit sweeter and less spicy. We recommend foodies try both when they travel the Korean Peninsula to see which flavors best suit their taste palette.
20. From Peace Tourism to Ecotourism: A Unique Basin
The Cheorwon Basin lies along and just south of the Demilitarized Zone that separates North Korea from South Korea. Shortly after the war, this basin was a place of peace tourism, where people went to promote the de-escalation of violence.
While it’s still celebrated for that, the Cheorwon Basin’s unique environment makes it home to seven special species of cranes. People now come from around the world to see these special birds and to likewise enjoy a place of peace.
21. North Korea’s Ginseng is Legendary
Ginseng production is a big part of North Korea’s agriculture and they hold the root in great esteem. In fact, North Korea recently produced a massively popular drama about how the Koreans protected the roots from invading the Japanese.
22. Big on Bamboo
Bamboo holds a significant place in North Korean daily life as its resilience and flexibility make it a versatile resource that North Koreans use in many ways.
You’ll find bamboo used for furniture, construction, crafts, and even cuisine as bamboo shoots are a desired ingredient in traditional dishes. You’ll even sometimes see pickled bamboo shoots added to popular local kimchi recipes.
23. Informal Markets Serve as Important Hubs of Goods and Information
During the 1994-1999 famine, the North Korean government was unable to properly distribute needed goods and an informal system of markets based on private farms sprung up to fill in the gaps.
These markets became known as the Jangmadang Markets and today, you’ll find them all across North Korea in big cities as well as small country towns. The Jangadang Markets sell a broad number of goods and serve as important social hubs of information.
24. Museum Dedicated to Gifts
Located with the gorgeous Mount Myohyang, also known as the Mysterious Fragrant Mountain, is a unique museum known as the International Friendship Exhibition.
This museum features a large pagoda structure and includes underground rooms that have been built into the mountain. There are over 150 rooms in total, all of which display gifts that have been presented to the country and its former leaders.
25. Home to the Prestigious Songgyungwan
Songgyungwan was known as one of the most prestigious educational institutions in this part of the world during the medieval era. This institution served as both a Confucian academy and a Buddhist temple, attracting students from around the region.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is North Korea safe for tourists?
Tourist areas in North Korea are generally considered safe, but it is important to know that the government does not look kindly on those breaking their laws.
As such, the best (and currently only) way to travel is through an authorized tour operator who can best showcase the country’s unique culture, heritage, and landscapes while ensuring all respect local regulations and guidelines.
What is life like for ordinary North Koreans?
Life in North Korea is marked by a strong sense of community and resilience. Citizens here enjoy access to education, healthcare, and communal activities National pride and self-sufficiency are held in high regard.
What is the relationship between North and South Korea?
North and South Korea have a complex relationship as they hold a shared history but have different ideas on how to structure government and society. Diplomatic efforts for peace continue in the hope that both nations can come together for a more unified Korean Peninsula.
Can you visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)?
Yes, the DMZ, the heavily fortified border zone that separates the two Korean countries, is open for tourism and has several interesting places to visit.
Does North Korea have some remarkable natural landscapes?
Yes! North Korea truly has some stunning sights like the aforementioned Mount Paektu and the Kumgang Mountains which feature its own special waterfalls and serene mountain valleys. Plus, there are the millions of birds that migrate through every year.
As such, North Korea certainly boasts plenty of sightseeing opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Over to You — Will You Visit This Secretive Country?
Is North Korea safe to visit? Absolutely not. And we highly suggest avoiding a trip there. But, for the more adventurous traveler, keep these interesting facts in mind on your trip there. Happy travels!