The city was split from the South P'yŏngan province in 1946. It is administered as a Directly Governed City (Chikhalsi), on the same level as provincial governments, not a Special City (Teukbyeolsi) as Seoul is in South Korea. Some sources, mostly older and South Korean, refer to P'yŏngyang as a Special City, but it has been reported that even the South Korean government adopted the Directly Governed City terminology in 1994.
In 108 BC Han Dynasty China conquered Gojoseon and the capital of the Lelang Commandery was put near Pyongyang. Lelang remained an important commercial and cultural outpost until it was destroyed by the expanding Goguryeo in 313.
Goguryeo moved its capital here in 427. Tang Dynasty China and Silla allied and defeated Goguryeo in 668. In 676, it was taken by Silla but left in the border between Silla and Balhae until the Goryeo dynasty, when the city was revived as Sŏgyŏng (서경; 西京; "Western Capital") although never actually a capital of Goryeo. It was the provincial capital of the P'yŏngan Province during the Joseon dynasty, becoming provincial capital of South P'yŏngan Province from 1896 and through the period of Japanese rule.
In 1945, Japanese rule ended and it was occupied by Soviet forces, and became the temporary capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea at its establishment in 1948 while it aimed to recapture its official capital at that time of Seoul. It was severely damaged in the Korean War, during which it was briefly occupied by South Korean forces. After the war, the city was quickly rebuilt with Soviet help, with many buildings built in Socialist Classicism.
Some notable landmarks in the city include the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, the Arch of Triumph (heavily inspired by Paris's Arc de Triomphe but of a larger size), the reputed birthplace of Kim Il-sung at Mangyongdae Hill, Juche Tower, and two of the world's largest stadiums (Kim Il Sung Stadium and Rungnado May Day Stadium). Pyongyang TV Tower is a minor landmark. Other visitor attractions include the Korea Central Zoo and the large golden statues of North Korea's two leaders. The Arch of Reunification has a map of a united Korea supported by two concrete Korean women dressed in traditional dress straddling the multi-laned Reunification Highway that stretches from Pyongyang to the DMZ.
Pyŏngyang has a two-line underground metro system which has a length of . The Hyoksin line serves Kwangbok, Konguk, Hwanggumbol, Konsol, Hyoksin, Jonu, Jonsung, Samhung and Rakwon station. The Chollima line serves Puhung, Yonggwang, Ponghwa, Sungni, Tongil, Kaeson, Jonu and Pulgunbyol station. There is also a long tram and trolleybus service, but tourists have heard that few locals use them due to the high and frequent hazard of electrocution. There are not as many private automobiles as in Western cities, although the state government operates a sizeable fleet of Mercedes-Benz limousines for Party bureaucrats. Unlike in China, where residents cycle, the vast majority or residents appear to walk and bicycles are notable by their absence. The trolley bus-stops are fairly full. The incidence of use of the underground is difficult to gauge as tourists are only permitted to travel between two designated stops with a guide. It has been thought that on these pre-arranged occasions, the fellow passengers are selected to be there at the same time. The underground map is extensive but, again, just how many of the stations are operational at any one time is a matter of guesswork.
State-owned Air Koryo has scheduled flights from Sunan Capital International Airport to Beijing (PEK), Shenyang (SHE), Vladivostok (VVO), Macau (MFM), Bangkok (BKK),(KHV) and Shenzhen (SZX). There are occasional chartered flights to Incheon (ICN), Yangyang County (YNY) and several Japanese cities. Air Koryo also claims scheduled service on a few domestic routes, although the accuracy of this is not known. The only domestic routes are Hamhung, Wonsan, Chongjin, Hyesan and Samjiyon. Intermittent service to Pyongyang is also provided by a few foreign carriers, most notably Chinese. In April 2008, Air China launched regular, 3-days-per-week, service between Beijing and Pyongyang.