The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) runs along the complete 248-km land border between North Korea and South Korea and is 4 km wide. This article will cover visiting only from South Korea for practical purposes. Visiting the peace village of Panmunjeom covers tours from North Korea and South Korea for that part of the DMZ.
The DMZ is highly militarized on both sides, and very little civilian or military activity occurs within the DMZ region. It has become a wildlife haven for animals and migratory birds, and there are calls to preserve it as a national park and sanctuary for wildlife in the event of reunification of the Korean peninsula.
The DMZ was created in 1953 at the end of the Korean War as a result of the armistice agreement between the United Nations, North Korea, China and the Soviet Union. It was agreed to create a buffer zone 4-km wide, with only a minimal military presence and patrols occurring within the DMZ. This has resulted in a zone with minimal development and thereby allowing nature to take over.
Flora and fauna
- The Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) weighing up to about 200 kg is endangered and can be found roaming the DMZ. Moose, leopard, Eurasian lynx, and Goral sheep are other mammals found in the zone. It has been often rumored that the Siberian Tiger lives here as well, although this seems unlikely considering the creature had disappeared from the Korean peninsula long before World War II.
- The DMZ is a perfect spot for migratory birds to rest during winter before returning to Siberia in the summer. Black-faced spoonbills, red-crowned cranes and white-naped cranes can be seen.
The DMZ is very long, spanning two provinces in South Korea from coast to coast, and the climate will vary along it. The eastern part is especially mountainous and cold in winter.
For general climate indications, please see the climate section for Seoul.
- The most popular tour for western tourists is to Panmunjeom. That article has more details on tours specific to that destination.
- There is a dedicated DMZ Train that leaves from Seoul station and stops at Neunggok, Munsan, Uncheon, Imjingang and Dorasan. Dorasan is 2 km from the border and it is not really possible to leave the station (although the station itself is worth visiting). The train line is supposed to extend all the way to Pyongyang, although this option won't be available for the foreseeable future.
Fees and permits
There are strong nationality restrictions for entering the DMZ area. Tours to Panmunjeom have the strongest restrictions.
PanmunjeomThe location of unresolved peace talks. See the Panmunjeom article for details.
Dorasan Korail StationJust outside of the DMZ near Paju is a fully operational rail station connected to the South Korean and North Korean rail network. No train to North Korea has run since 2008: it is completely symbolic with just a handful of tourist trains from Seoul; however, it is intended to be a connection between the capital cities of Seoul and Pyongyang. You can buy a ticket to walk around the station, and get your passport stamped with a symbolic 'visa'. Visiting Dorasan is part of many DMZ tour itineraries.
Imjingakaddress: Paju-si, Gyeonggi-doA four-storey museum and observatory 7 km south of the DMZ, with views across the Imjin River towards the DMZ and North Korea. The train line to Pyongyang passes nearby. This is the closest you can get to the DMZ without security clearance.
Third Infiltration TunnelA tunnel that was secretly dug by the North Koreans into South Korean territory; there are suspicions that there are others. The tunnels are an interesting visit but if you are tall, they will be extremely uncomfortable to walk along the full distance allowed.
Odusan Unification Observatoryaddress: 659, Seongdong-ri, Tanhyeon-myeon, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do, 경기도 파주시 탄현면 필승로 367The Odusan Unification Observatory near Paju gives visitors a clear of North Korea. Products from North Korea are also sold here. The observatory is closed for the months of December and January but is opened the rest of the year.
address: 6-1, Cheolsan-ri, Yangsa-myeon, Ganghwa-gun, Incheon-si, 인천 강화군 양사면 전망대로 797A view station inside the DMZ.
Goseokjeong PavilionThis two-story tower was established under King Jinpyeong of the Silla Kingdom. Goseokjeong Pavilion was built above a valley, surrounded by cliffs and clear, blue waters. The battlefield conservation office here is the starting point for DMZ tours.
Woljeong-ri Station and Cheorui Samgakji observatoryThis was a through-station before the division of the two Koreas, but now is the northernmost terminal station near the southern boundary of the DMZ. A large sign says: "The train wants to run", symbolizing the tragedy of national division. The observatory next to it has the capacity for 300 people at once. Through eight sets of high-quality binoculars visitors can view the DMZ, the Pyeonggang highlands and propaganda village (a village built only to brag that North Korea is enjoying high living standards), Kim Il Sung's home, and "Bloody Ridge" in North Korea.
The Second Infiltration TunnelDiscovered in 1975, the Second Underground Tunnel is wide enough to allow 30,000 soldiers an hour to pass and even large armored vehicles. The tunnel has been developed into a tourist site so that visitors can tour the tunnel
Labor Party BuildingBuilt in 1946 under fund-raising and labor forced by the North Korean government, the shelled-out carcass of a building is in Soviet-type architecture with concrete building. For security reasons, only devoted communist partisans were allowed to work within the building.
Seungilgyo BridgeA bridge that North and South Korea built together - the North completed the basic construction and two piers while the remaining parts were completely by the South. The name of the bridge is Seungilgyo after 'Seung' of the first South Korean President Syngman Rhee and 'Il' of the first North Korean President Kim Il Sung so as to commemorate the construction process.
Punch Bowladdress: Haean-myon, Yanggu-gun, Gangwon-doA valley in 400-500 m highlands near the coast of Yanggu-gun. American reporters dubbed this basin the punch bowl. From Dolsanryeong (between the east side and coasts in Yanggu-gun), visitors can view the beautiful panorama of the sea of fog that often hangs around the punch bowl.
The Fourth Infiltration TunnelThis is the only tunnel dug by North Korea to be discovered with motorized vehicles inside. The water flowing out from the tunnel has filtered through mountain rock, and is considered healthy enough to drink.
address: Hyeon2-ri, Haean-myeon, Yanggu-gun, Gangwon-do, 강원 양구군 해안면 땅꿀로1,049 m above sea level, it is one of the most bitter battlegrounds of the Korean War. From the tower, visitors can see the checkpoint and farms in North Korea and four peaks including Birobong, the highest in the Geumgangsan Diamond Mountains.
Goseong Unification Observatoryaddress: 457, Tongiljeonmangdae-ro, Hyeonnae-myeon, Goseong-gun, Gangwon-do 강원도 고성군 현내면 통일전망대로 457As the observatory closest to North Korea and the northernmost point of South Korea, more than one million people visit this area on an annual basis. Visitors can see the Geumgangsan (Diamond Mountains) and the Haegeumgang in North Korea, with the naked eye, and unlike many other observatories, photographs are allowed everywhere. In the observatory North Korean food products are for sale, and the North Korean beer is actually quite good. Several clunky North Korean-made Viewmasters give three-dimensional slide shows of idyllic scenes from North Korea, with commentary in Korean, for a ₩500 coin. The windy road to the observatory brings forth a sense of tension due to the barbed-wire entanglements along the coast and soldiers stationed on alert at a checkpoint along the approach. Tickets and passage papers have to be obtained 4 km before the first checkpoint or you will be made to turn around. The building to obtain these papers is not hard to find, it is on the left as you drive north just after the "World Mineral Museum," but the sign 100 m before it is only in Korean.
Maritime MuseumAt the entrance of Hwajinpo Beach, the Maritime Museum exhibits 40,000 articles of 1,500 types of shellfish, corals and fossils, some of which are very rare.
Jejin Railway StationA railway station in the South that could one day be connected back to the North.
Summerhouse of Kim Il SungThe house is embedded in a cliff where you can have a bird's eye view of the beautiful Hwajinpo beach. There is an exhibition of Kim Il Sung's personal belongings including furniture. On the stairs up to the summerhouse, photos are displayed of Kim Jeong-il during his early days.
Places of interest in the SouthThe following locations are not near the DMZ, however they may be of interest to DMZ visitors.
address: 29 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 용산구 이태원로 29 (용산동1가)The original headquarters of the South Korean infantry, this is now a large museum dedicated to the Korean War over 8 exhibits.
United Nations Memorial Cemeteryaddress: 93, UNpyeonghwa-ro, Nam-gu, Busan 부산광역시 남구 유엔평화로 93The only official United Nations cemetery in the world, it serves to honor the memory of soldiers from 16 nations who fought and died for the freedom of South Korea. This location is very far away from the DMZ on the south coast of the nation.
The easiest way to experience the DMZ is to take a tour that will organize all the permit issues for you:
- The Panmunjeom DMZ tour is the most popular, with visitors able to visit the iconic 'peace village', and it is the closest to Seoul.
- Gangwon Province DMZ tour in Cheorwon
- Gangwon Province DMZ tour in Yanggu
- Gangwon Province DMZ tour on the east coast at Goseong, about 50 km north of Sokcho.
- The gift shop at the American Camp Bonifas near Panmunjeom has some exclusive souvenirs (such as T-shirts, and mugs) to remind you of having gotten close to North Korea.
- DMZ chocolate
Generally speaking, there are almost no accommodation options in the DMZ and surrounding control areas.
LodgingThere are towns along the DMZ and outside of the control areas that would have hotel options. Seoul is close enough for a day trip. The eastern parts of the DMZ are more remote, and it is more challenging to find hotels.
Camp BonifasUnited States Military personnel (including veterans) may apply to stay at Camp Bonifas, close to the village of Panmunjeom.
Camp GreavesFormer United States Military Camp. Close to Panmunjeom.
CampingThere are no camping facilities in the DMZ, and it would anyway be unlikely for you to get permission from the United Nations command to do so.
Visiting the DMZ is actually very safe as long as you follow all the rules. DMZ is an active war zone. All soldiers along the DMZ carry 5.56 mm NATO ammo and rifles. Do not try to cross the DMZ, under any circumstances. Don't take photos past the Photo Line. Your camera or smartphone will be confiscated if you do.
Non-human threats include a great number of landmines along the border.
Assuming you are on the South Korean side, you will have all the usual possibilities in South Korea:
- Seoul - Capital of South Korea near the DMZ