North and South Korea are separated by the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The division began after World War II, but the zone was established following the Korean War. North Korea is a Stalinist dictatorship and its culture is heavily controlled by the government. North Korea travel is restricted to guided tour groups and certain times of year. Americans are typically allowed to enter during the Arirang Mass Games, a two-month-long festival featuring more than 100,000 gymnasts and dancers.

Visitors can’t travel independently or outside designated tour areas without their Korean escorts. Therefore, most travelers go to South Korea. Only 1,500 Westerners visit North Korea annually. Bordered to the north by China and Russia and to the west by the Yellow Sea, North Korea is accessible via flights into Seoul. Book your trip in spring or autumn; July and August are hot and wet and December and January are cold and severe.

The capital and largest city, Pyongyang, was completely rebuilt after the Korean War. Examples of Korean Communist architecture are the Palace of Culture, Grand Theater, Juche Tower and Ongrui Restaurant. Major sites in Pyongyang include the impressive city gates and Triumphal Arch, Kumsusan Mausoleum, the final resting place of Kim Il Sung, Kim Il-sung Square, site of rallies and military parades, Tower of Juche Idea and Pyongyang Children’s Palace.

Outside the capital is the Koguryo Tombs UNESCO site. It has 30 graves with wall paintings from the Koguryo Kingdom, dating from between the 3rd century B.C. to 7th century AD. Also open to tourists is scenic Mount Kumgangsan close to the South Korea border with ponds, waterfalls and temples.