Pyongyang's central square at the heart of North Korea
Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang, North Korea (DPRK)
Kim Il Sung Square (김일성광장 | 金成日廣場) is one of the most famous areas in Pyongyang, and indeed in North Korea. This is one of the areas that makes the most appearances on western media, and therefore one of the most easily recognisable and a must see during a tour to North Korea.
It is a common place for many different gatherings and events. This includes mass dances, military parades, and rallies. For many North Korean national holidays, it is also one of the best spots to witness North Korean fireworks at their best.
During North Korean national holidays such as President Kim Il Sung’s birthday on 15 April, as well as fireworks there may also be North Korean music playing in the square from speakers placed to the right and left. This is also where you can witness the New Year’s Eve fireworks with the local Korean people as you celebrate entering the New Year together.
History and Background
Kim Il Sung Square is named after founding father of North Korea and 'Eternal President' Kim Il Sung. The square was completed in August 1954 as the country began to rebuild itself after being largely devastated during the war.
The square is built with granite pieces and covers an area of 75,000 square meters. It can hold approx. 100,000 people. It is the 37th largest square in the world.
Kim Il Sung Square is the starting point (0 km) for the DPRK's national road system. All roads lead to Pyongyang and Kim Il Sung Square is at the centre of it all.
The square is bisected by Victory Street (승리거리), an upper section at the base of a nearby hill, now obscured by structures, and a lower section by the river.
Kim Il Sung Square Today
Looking west towards the upper section of Kim Il Sung Square, you can see large steps leading up to two large portraits of the leaders on the other side of the road, and a large grand building in the background. This large building is the Grand People’s Study House, which serves as both a national library and a continuing education university.
If you look behind you to the east, you can see the Taedonggang River. This is the river that flows through Pyongyang and separates East Pyongyang from West Pyongyang. Just behind this is the Juche Tower, perfectly in line with the Kim Il Sung Square and Grand People’s Study House. If you pay a visit to the Grand People’s Study House, you can get a great view from the balcony near the top of Kim Il Sung Square, the Juche Tower and the Taedonggang River.
To the left and right sides of the lower half of Kim Il Sung Square there is the Korean National Art Gallery and the Korean Central History Museum.
Korean National Art Gallery (September 1954)
• Total floor space of 11,000 square meters.
• 22 showrooms, exhibition hall, and rooms for preserving artwork.
• Houses collections ranging from murals of mausoleums to prints, sculptures and handicrafts.
Korean Central History Museum (December 1945)
• Total floor space of over 10,000 square meters.
• 19 rooms in which hold collections of more than 100,000 relics and materials from the primitive society to the modern age.
The upper half of the square is flanked by government ministries, one of which also houses Pyongyang's DHL office.
· Look out for the white dots on the floor positioned neatly in rows over the entire space of the square. This is so that the rally participants or the military know where to stand, and can keep in line and move in an orderly fashion.
· At the bottom of the Kim Il Sung Square tucked away, there is the Ryongwang Coffee Shop. This is a unique coffee shop that provides an excellent selection of teas, coffees, and juices to give you a re-charge. This coffee shop is an Austrian joint venture, and there’s certainly Viennese vibes about it.
· Fireworks are set off usually behind the Juche Tower. Strategically placed for perfect symmetry with the Juche Tower in the middle, fireworks usually go off either side, or above the Juche Tower. This means that the best place to see fireworks is from right in the centre of Kim Il Sung Square, or at the riverside to give a different angle.
· There is a market underneath the square. The market is not accessible to foreigners.
· In North Korean publications, the name of the leader is written in bold and larger font. This location should be written as ‘Kim Il Sung Square’ (김일성광장)
· Pyongyang formally had a Mao Zedong Square, located at what is today the Arch of Triumph. Victory Street, which bisects Kim Il Sung Square, was formally known as 'Stalin Street'.
· See below for early footage shot on Kim Il Sung Square during a parade on May Day (1 May) 1957.
Location & Access
Kim Il Sung Square is located in the centre of Pyongyang city on the West side of the Taedonggang river. Since it is in such a central location, there are many things you can visit surrounding Kim Il Sung Square. The Foreign Language Book Store where you can find original DPRK prints in various different languages s just a short walk away, as well as the Grand People’s Study House and the Mansudae Grand Monument Statues of the Great Leaders.
There is no entry fee to go here and you can walk around the square freely and take pictures. Best times to visit are during a clear day, or at night time when the Juche Tower’s lit flame is clearly visible from across the river.
Usually, it is not allowed to go to the upper side of the square for foreigners. Jaywalking is illegal in Pyongyang will result in whistle calls from the city’s iconic traffic police. However, during certain events such as mass dances, it has been known that foreigners could cross to the other side.