One of the largest stadiums in the world and home to North Korea's Mass Games.
The Rungrado 1st of May Stadium: The Largest Stadium in the World
With a seat capacity of approximately 150,000 (other sources state 114,000), it is the largest stadium in the world for seat capacity. The stadium site occupies an area of 20.7 hectares (51 acres).
It’s pretty impressive.
The May Day Stadium was opened on 1 May 1989. Situated on Rungrado island on the Taedonggang River, this is how the May Day Stadium gets its ‘Rungrado 1st of May Stadium’ name. The 1st of May is significant for being the date that International Workers’ Day is celebrated annually.
The May Day Stadium held the Arirang Mass Games from 2002-5 and 2007-13, when the stadium was closed for a two-year renovation project. The stadium reopened in 2015 with improvements to hold international sports matches.
May Day Stadium Design
The iconic design of the May Day Stadium which resembles a flower or parachute is made up of 16 arches arranged in a ring. The peak of the roof reaches more than 60 m (197 ft) from the ground.
It is made up of eight levels in total, and has a total floor space of over 207,000 m² (2.2 million ft²) across all levels. The structure is said to include over 1300 rooms, including locker rooms, training facilities, offices, storage, etc.
The stadium has approximately 80 entrances and it is possible fo 150,000 people to fill the stadium in 15 minutes. At least one entrance is used specifically for high-level dignitaries, including North Korea's highest leaders.
May Day Stadium Events
Over the years, the May Day Stadium has hosted a number of high-profile events.
The first major event held in the May Day Stadium was the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in 1989.
Over two days, 28-29 April, North Korea hosted the largest professional wrestling pay-per-view event in the May Day Stadium. This was co-produced with World Championship Wrestling and New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
Whilst nearby Kim Il Sung Stadium was undergoing renovations, the May Day Stadium was chosen to host the Pyongyang Marathon, the largest annual international sports even in North Korea.
In July 2017, the May Day Stadium hosted six group stage matches as part of the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship qualification.
In September 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the Mass Games performance in the May Day Stadium. He made a historic speech with Marshall Kim Jong Un to 150,000 Korean spectators. In his speech, he mentioned themes such as peace, cooperation, and unification.
Today, is it used for sports events such as football matches and athletics events. However, its main use remains to be the Arirang festival, or Mass Games of North Korea. These mass games are impressive performances celebrating and showcasing North Korean history and achievements.
Arirang Mass Games
The Arirang Mass Games was a mass artistic performance and festival. The Arirang Mass Games were held in the May Day Stadium from August until October in 2002–2005, and then again from 2007–2013.
This extraordinary spectacle of gymnastics, acrobatics, and dance featured some 100,000 participants, and drew spectators from all over the world, for what was the biggest and most elaborate human performance on Planet Earth. It is famous also for the large moving picture in the background made up of hundreds of participants holding up colours cards and changing them in unison. The Mass Games performances also made the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest performance.
Since 2013, the Mass Games performances ceased. However, in the summer of 2018 they returned under the new title of ‘The Glorious Country’ or '‘ Fatherland’.
• If you are lucky enough to pay a visit to the May Day Stadium during big events, be aware that there will be thousands of other people also attending. There are only two roads that lead to the May Day Stadium, so roads can become crowded. The May Day Stadium area will be full of people all rushing to get a ticket and a seat. It’s important that you stay close to your group so as to not get caught up in the crowds, and be patient when waiting in queues.
• The May Day Stadium is commonly confused with the Kim Il Sung Stadium. This is the smaller counterpart that is situated close by the to May Day Stadium. The Kim Il Sung Stadium is home to the Pyongyang Marathon, as well as football matches. It is right next to the Arch of Triumph monument. The Kim Il Sung Stadium is significantly smaller in size with a capacity of 50,000. Which is still an impressive size.
• In 1995, the May Day Stadium set the world attendance record for wrestling at 190,000 spectators.
Location and Access
The May Day Stadium is located on Rungra Island in the centre of Pyongyang on the Taedonggang River. It is accessible by car and bus.
Whilst it’s not clear if the Mass Games will be returning to the May Day Stadium in 2019 or further years, you may visit the May Day Stadium on a private tour, or get a great view of the May Day Stadium as you tour Pyongyang.