The Rocky History
of the Ryugyong
Hotel, 1987 - 2019

The story behind the tallest unoccupied building in the world — The Ryugyong Hotel.

Updated: May 2019

A Ryugyong Hotel history: History of the world's tallest abandoned building, how it began and the latest in Ryugyong Hotel construction news.

Construction for the Ryugyong Hotel began in 1987. During this time, funding for the hotel was backed by the Soviet Union and the planned date of completion was the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in June 1989.

Had it been completed as planned, it would have gained the impressive status as the world's tallest hotel.

It would be hard to beat Dubai and various cities in China at this point, but it remains the world's tallest unoccupied building. But, for how long..?

Let's take a look at the history of the Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea.

Ryugyong Hotel - 1987: Construction Begins

The construction of the monolithic Ryugyong Hotel started in 1987 and was intended to be completed in time for the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in June 1989.

Lifts were originally planned to run up on the edges of the building.

Construction of the foundations circa 1987. The tall building in the background is an apartment building of the same era.
Construction of the Ryugyong Hotel begins in 1987

Ryugyong Hotel - 1987 - 1992: Construction continues

For 5 years, construction on the Ryugyong Hotel went as planned, and it looked as if it was on course for the planned completion date.
The Ryugyong Hotel started to stand tall on Pyongyang's skyline as the pyramid shape started to take form, topped off with the 'pyramid top' which is slightly distanced from the rest of the building, housing a revolving restaurant and various other bars and entertainment facilities.

Ryugyong Hotel 1987 - 1992 gains its concrete body and starts to take its impressive unique pyramid shape

Ryugyong Hotel - 1992: Construction Ceases

Construction ceased in 1992 and it remained an unclad concrete structure. The building would remain desolate for more than 10 years with no more work being done on this giant structure in the middle of Pyongyang city, a city famous for its various famous structures such as the Juche Tower and Mansudae Grand Monument statues.

The Daily Mail
called the building ‘The Hotel of Doom’ whereas we saw it as a more impressive building than The Shard in London!

• Ryugyong Hotel - 2008: Construction restarts

After over 10 years, construction on the once-abandoned Ryugyong Hotel begins again - as if it had never ceased. With the help of the Egyptian company Orascom (always good with pyramids) the construction for the outer cladding of the hotel began.

The new opening date for the Ryugyong Hotel of 2012 was announced and then halted back to 2013.

• Ryugyong Hotel - 2011: Construction ceases a second time

- The outer exterior of the Ryugyong Hotel is completed, clearly showing the pyramid structure with the top of the pyramid also complete and planned to hold bars and restaurants that revolve, showing a 360-degree view of Pyongyang city.

- Construction for the Ryugyong Hotel is ceased for a second time in 2011, with no further word of when it would start back up or any news on an opening date.

Ryugyong Hotel - exterior complete

• Ryugyong Hotel - Early 2018:

- The entrance driveway was completed in 2018.

After this completion, it was uncertain what was next for the Ryugyong Hotel. Until one evening...

- The 'pyramid top' of the Ryugyong Hotel suddenly lit up to represent a moving image of the North Korean flag.
This appeared, disappeared, and reappeared over a short time, until it became a permanent feature of an evening, visible from the other side of Pyongyang.

- To add to the excitement was another addition a couple of months later... Little did we know, that the exterior of the hotel that was completed not long ago was made up of panels of LED lights, and the entire front surface of the Ryugyong Hotel began to turn into a light show!

Ryugyong Hotel exterior 2018
The Ryugyong Hotel displays various footage

• Ryugyong Hotel - Late 2018:

Originally, this phenomenal display of lights was just on a weekend and for a limited time in the evening. It also started out as just a picture, but later on moving videos were added.

It then started to get more regular, with different features and displays appearing frequently.

Late in 2018 the Ryugyong Hotel started lighting up every evening between 7pm-10pm, and they frequently update the display on the front of the hotel to keep things fresh!

• Ryugyong Hotel - 2019:

Is the Ryugyong Hotel still empty? In short; Yes.

The Ryugyong Hotel now awaits interior fitting. Originally it was intended to have five revolving restaurants, but now there are now only two planned.

Korea Tours' Simon Cockerell and Hannah Barraclough were allowed to the top of the tower in 2012 and still remain the only foreigners have reached the dizzying heights.

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Although it is not allowed to enter the construction site of the Ryugyong Hotel (probably against health and safety too!), you can get a great view from the Ryugyong Hotel in various locations in Pyongyang. I mean, it is pretty big...

Tip: For a great shot of the Ryugyong Hotel during the day-time, you can head to the Liberation War Museum which is situated right next door to the Ryugyong Hotel.
For the perfect view of the Ryugyong at night, you can ask your driver to take a quick stop so you can admire the impressive light show and get those perfect night-shots of the Ryugyong Hotel making all of your friends jealous!

If you want to get your own picture of the Ryugyong Hotel, join us on any of our group tours. If you're a photographer and want the VIP photography experience, check out our exclusive Leica Photography North Korea Tour, or even book on a private tour. You can spend the whole afternoon taking pictures of the Ryugyong Hotel that way if you really want...

Main image credit: Carl de Keyzer.

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