The Story of the Ryugyong Hotel

“The Hotel of Doom”, “The Phantom Hotel” “The tallest unoccupied hotel in the world”. The Ryugyong hotel has heard it all over the course of it’s 30+ year history. For good reason.

Construction on the hotel began in 1987 with the aim of being competed in time for the 80th birthday of President Kim Il Sung in 1992. Work was halted the same year following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the onslaught of the North Korean famine in the mid 1990s.

So what has happened to the Ryugyong hotel in the following years? Let’s take a closer look at North Korea’s tallest building. 

Ryugyong hotel at dusk, North Korea

The Early Years

The hotel began as an attempt by North Korea to construct the world’s tallest hotel. It was a classic Cold War response to a South Korean company’s construction of the Westin Stamford Hotel in Singapore. The DPRK government were hoping to attract hundreds of millions of USD of foreign investment in the project. This didn’t quite pan out.

Following the halt on construction in 1992, the building lay dormant for the next 16 years. It was nothing more than a concrete shell, it had reached it’s full height of 330 meters but without any fittings or windows. A rusting construction crane lay atop the structure abandoned throughout the time and the general consensus was that the building was irreparable & the elevator shafts crooked. Throughout this time the hotel was rarely acknowledged by the North Korean government and would be frequently airbrushed out of photographs.

Ryugyong Hotel at dusk in Pyongyang.

Hope On The Horizon

In 2008 the North Korean government signed a deal with Egyptian company Orascom to complete construction of the hotel. In return Orascom signed a $400 million exclusive deal to build a 3G network in North Korea. Korean officials publicly announced that the hotel would be completed in time for the massive 100th birthday celebrations of President Kim Il Sung.

Exterior work with glass paneling was completed in July 2011 but few fixtures and fittings were added.

In late 2012 hotelier group Kempinski announced they had signed a memorandum of understanding to run the new hotel once it opened in 2013. No formal agreement and the hotel has remained unopened to this day.

Recent Work

In 2018 LED lights were added to one side of the hotel. They beam various Korean imagery and animations. A 360 degree image of the North Korean flag rounds the top of the building. A surrounding wall was also removed and the logo of the hotel was added over the entrance.

Can I go Inside?

Unfortunately it’s still not possible to go inside the hotel, not there’s not much to see anyway. As it dominates the skyline it’s always possible to photograph it from multiple angles. Our favorite spot to photograph the Ryugyong hotel is just across the Potong bridge which leads right up to the hotel entrance. It’s the most unobstructed view in town – photo directly below!

Ryugyong hotel in Pyongyang lit up at night
Pyongyang north korea seen at dusk.
Local North Korean guide

It’s hard to miss the Ryugyong Hotel on any of our North Korea Tours. If you want to learn more about it then sign up for an Independent tour and visit the Paektusan Institute of Architecture where it was designed! 

Rocky road travel founder Shane Horan at the DMZ


When Shane is not endlessly writing award winning content for Rocky Road, he’s usually kayaking to and from work along Berlin’s River Spree.