The Top-21 Buddhist Temples of South Korea
These are the twenty-one Buddhist monasteries of the Republic of Korea I have judged to be the
largest and most important in the entire nation.  Criteria used include contemporary size, long
history of importance within the religion, national reputation, and architectural and cultural
treasures -- the final judgment based on my two decades of visiting them.   21 might seem like a
strange odd number, but that's how the list came out -- to list only the top 10 would leave out
some very important temples, and to make it 30 would include some that really don't rank in the
same category as these 20, deficient in one or more of the criteria.  The "Gu-san" or "Nine Holy
Mountans" is a common concept in Korea, and so perhaps 21 is appropriate, as 19 from the
dominant Jogye Order (70+% of Korean Buddhism) and one each from the two next-largest
orders, the Taego and Cheontae.

These 21 temples include 13 from eastern side of the peninsula (east or north of the
daegan Mountain Range) and eight from the western side.   9 of them are located on mountains
that are part of the Baekdu-daegan mainline, and the others are on Jeongmaek branches.

These monasteries are all among the top-50-or-so most interesting places to visit and most
popular pilgrimage-destinations in contemporary South Korea.  Most of them have many
hermitages on the slopes above them, after all together serve the practices of hundreds of
monks.  They all contain many profound religious-cultural treasures on their grounds and in their
shrines or museums.  They are listed here North-to-South, not any order of relative importance;
and they are named by the mountain that hosts them, in the traditional style.  It is equally true
that "such a great temple was established and maintained for so long at that mountain because
the mountain is so holy" and that "the presence of such a great temple increases the reputation
for sacredness of the mountain that hosts it".   Click on the name to see my photos of and
commentary on that temple, its host mountain and its San-shin shrines.
Seorak-san  Shinheung-sa      설악산 신흥사

Odae-san  Woljeong-sa           오대산 월정사

Samgak-san  Doseon-sa         삼각산 도선사

An-san  Bongwon-sa                안산 봉원사

Deoksung-san  Sudeok-sa      덕숭산  수덕사
(part of the Naepo Gaya-san complex)

Sobaek-san  Guin-sa           소백산 구인사

Taebaek-san  Buseok-sa           태백산 부석사
(or Seondal-san, Bonghwang-san or Sobaek-san)

Sogni-san  Beobju-sa              속리산 법주사

Gyeryong-san  Gap-sa            계룡산  갑사

Hwangak-san  Jikji-sa              황악산 직지사

Palgong-san  Donghwa-sa       팔공산 동화사

Palgong-san  Eunhae-sa          팔공산 은해사

Gaya-san  Haein-sa                  가야산 해인사

Toham-san  Bulguk-sa              토함산 불국사

Moak-san  Geumsan-sa            모악산 금산사

Chuiseo-san  Tongdo-sa           취서산 통도사

Jiri-san  Shilsang-sa                  지리산 실상사

Jiri-san  Hwaeom-sa                 지리산 화엄사

Jiri-san  Ssanggye-sa               지리산 쌍계사

Geumjeong-san Beomeo-sa     금정산 범어사

Jogye-san Songgwang-sa        조계산 송광사