See also: Where to Stay in Busan
Abounding in mountains, beaches, and temples, Busan is a beautiful metropolitan city that has it all. The first international port in ancient Korea is now South Korea’s largest port city. Previously known as Pusan, Busan is also the second largest and the second most populous city in South Korea. Located in the South-eastern coast of South Korea, Busan had also been ruled by many dynasties. Historical remains show that Busan emerged as a trading hub of the East during the Iron Age. Due to its trading history, Busan still remains an important administrative region and industrial centre of South Korea. But its significance as a popular tourist destination lies in the fact that while its sky touching mountains and serene beaches make it seem like a charming seaside town, its skyscrapers, bustling markets, busy streets, huge departmental stores, brightly lit parks and museums and multi-cultural tourists provide it its cosmopolitan glamour.
Get a perfect tan at Haeundae Beach
This 1.5 km long arc shaped beach is South Korea’s longest beach. Having a wide coastline and shallow bay, this beach is ideal for swimming, sunbathing and sailing. If you want to get a tan, spend a day on the beach, watching the rolling waves of the shining blue sea. Just lounge in a deckchair under the shade of an umbrella and don’t worry if it gets too hot as the gentle sea breeze will come to your rescue. In the evening attend a live concert on the beach, explore the Haeundae food market and Sea Life Busan Aquarium or eat at a streetside café. Visited by more than 120,000 beachgoers, Haeundae Beach is also famous for hosting musical concerts, firework displays and water carnivals throughout the year and a sand sculpture festival in June, the city-wide Busan Sea Festival in August. The boardwalk lined with some of the city’s best bars and restaurants, luxury resorts and skyscrapers runs parallel to the coastline. All these together make the beach and its surrounding look like Miami.
Derive spiritual bliss at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
Built in 1376 during the reign of Goryeo Dynasty, this seaside Buddhist temple standing above granite rocks and facing the East Sea on one side and high mountains on the other, have intricately designed sculptures, images and statues. Situated in the North-eastern side of Busan, Headong Yonggunsa Temple is decorated with paper lanterns on the occasion of Buddha's Birthday and during Lunar New Year. The temple has two most famous images of Buddha namely Hakeupbul and Deuknambul and within the temple complex are some monuments like the Gulbeop Buddhist Sanctum, the Main Hall or the magical Daeungjeon, the 108 steps, Haesu Gwaneum Daebul statue and a pagoda of three storeys with four lions. A visit to this marvellous temple promises a jaw-dropping view of the sea and a sublime sunrise experience.
Look at a sea of colours in Gamcheon Culture Village
Standing as a sharp contrast to the monotonously similar skyscrapers of Busan lining its broad streets, the array of finely structured houses painted with a variety of vibrant colours and a labyrinth of steep alleys and stairways decorated by paintings, artworks and graffiti in the Gamcheon Culture Village presents a completely different look to the coastal city. Occupied by the refugees during the Korean War, this village remained largely underdeveloped even in the first few years of the 21st century until it was revitalised in 2009. As it is located along the slopes of a seaside mountain, its beautiful natural setting further adds to the charm of this village. Things being so, it is also known as the ‘Machu Picchu of Busan’. You’re surely going to have a great time snapping around the bright wall murals, art galleries, small craft stores and cafes while observing this beautiful townscape.
Gain a unique marketing experience at Jagalchi Market
Jalgachi Fish market is the most famous fish market not only in Busan but in South Korea. Occupying an entire ship-sized building of seven storeys and having an incredible collection of octopus, king crab, lobster, sashimi, shrimp, eel, squid, scallops, snails, seaweeds and other edible sea creatures, this market mainly specialises in selling and storing rare fish species. It’s better to go here early as the market closes by 5 p.m. Loiter around the trading floor or buy something that you can eat it raw or cooked at one of the many restaurants on the second floor. Go to the sky park on the top of the building to witness some mind-blowing harbour views. If you want to stay here longer, participate in the Jagalchi Market cooking class or roam outside the market and you’ll find women selling mackerel, ascidians and whale meat on wooden boxes beside the road or the shore. This place will leave you surprised by a huge range of unidentifiable marine creatures you didn’t know existed.
Get a feel for Jongye Buddhism at Beomeosa Temple
Both its history and location make Beomeosa Temple one of the most significant attractions of Busan. Built in 678 A.D. during the reign of the Silla King Munmu and located on the eastern slopes of the 800-metre long mountain Geumjeongsan, this is a head temple of the Korean Buddhism’s Jongye Order. Along with 11 hermitages located around the same mountain, this is also the largest temple in Busan. The Daeungjeon or the main temple hall representing Joseon Dynasty architecture is the main appeal of the temple. The temple consists of a highly ornate three-storey stone pagoda, the magnificent one-pillar gate called Iljumun, a historic stone lamp, a flagpole holder and many other Korean National Treasures. And to your surprise it also offers a temple stay programme.
Be amazed by the gorgeous Gwangan Bridge
Standing over the ocean, this 7.42 km long two-storey bridge linking Centum City to the central Suyeong-gu is the second longest bridge in South Korea. One way traffic runs in opposite directions on each storey of the bridge. The views of the bridge illuminated with bright LED lights of different colours from sunset to midnight and sunrise are worth observing. If you happen to cross the bridge, just stop once in the midway to look around and let the moment seize you.
Appreciate the uniqueness of Busan Tower at Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park, situated on the Yongdusan Mountain, is a beautiful nature park at the top of which stands the famous 120-metre Busan Tower. The tower is facilitated with an elevator that will take you up. Nowhere in the entire city will you get such an amazing 360 degree view of the entire city as from this tower which seems higher than the mountain itself. In fact, if the sky is clear you may even spot Japan’s Tsushima Island in the Korea Strait. At the base of the tower are a science exhibition hall, an aquarium and souvenir shops. Apart from this, there is a 12-metre high statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, because of whom Korea gained victory during Japanese invasions, a flower clock, an octagonal pavilion and the citizens’ bell pavilion. The peak of the mountain is named Yongdu because its shape looks like a dragon’s head.
Shoot fireworks at Gwangalli Beach
On the basis of popularity, Gwangalli Beach gives a tough competition to Haeundae Beach. If you didn’t get the opportunity to cross the Gwangan Bridge, this is the perfect place for you to see the bridge’s LED light show. This curve shaped beach stretching for 1.4 km hosts one of the largest firework events in Asia, the International Fireworks Festival, held in October. However people flock here throughout the year to shoot fireworks. The street running parallel to the beach is flooded with restaurants, cafes and sushi bars.
Fancy hiking in and around Taejongdae Resort Park
Taejongdae, one of the most popular coastal walkways of Busan is worth exploring for its stellar views. Taejongdae Resort Park on Yeongdo Island is all about exploring dense evergreen woodland and rocky coasts with cliffs and caves. The associating forest area is rare to find in a city like Busan. While walking through the loop, you’ll spot a temple with a Buddhist statue, Yeongdo Lighthouse and observation deck overlooking Busan’s port and the pristine blue Pacific Ocean respectively and the Taejongdae Temple. If you are a foodie, just rush down to Taejongdae Clam Tents where tents sell mouth-watering raw seafood dishes consisting of clams, oysters, and mussels and other slim sea creatures.
Catch a show at BIFF Square
Named after the Busan International Film Festival which screens numerous international films and welcomes eminent international film personalities, this is the main entertainment hub of the city. Replete with movie theatres that existed even during the end of Japanese colonial rule in Korea and streets decorated with plaques of celebrity handprints, it is rightly said to be the modern movie district of Busan. Not only this, it is also a budding centre of Korean street food and branded stops.
Go on a shopping spree to Shinsegae Centum City
Closely linked to Busan metro, Shinsegae Centum City owns the reputation of being the largest departmental store in the world. It has ten floors with stores selling everything under the sun from brand stores selling cosmetics, accessories and groceries, gaming section, huge food courts, multiplex cinema halls and ice rink. Surrounding it is an urban regeneration project, Centum City, having shopping facilities and exhibition halls. It’s also famous because of Spa Land which is the hot spring spa in the world.
Experience a crazy ride via Songdo Beach’s Cable Car
Busan’s beach experience isn’t complete without visiting Songdo beach via Songdo Cable Car. It was the first cable car in Korea. Carrying passengers across the sea from Songdo beach to Amnam Park on the other side, this cable car ride provides an unforgettable experience of watching endless stretches of blue when one looks down and above. Also, to get some amazing background for photos, go to the walkways attached with this beach.
Take the pulse of the crowd at Gukje Market
If Jalgacchi is the largest fish market in South Korea, Gukje is the largest traditional market in South Korea which always remains very crowded. Also known as Nampodong International Market, Gukje market is divided into separate sections selling consumer goods like clothes, household goods, and electronic appliances and so on. Observe the crowd and get to know more about Busan’s local life.
Relish eomuks at Samjin Eomuk Main Store & Museum
This is a special eatery to visit. It looks pretty much like a bakery. This classic shop at Busan station sells classic Eomuk and other traditional delicacies of Busan which first came into being during Japanese occupation. The company which runs this main store has also set up other branches around the city. It also has a museum at Yeongdo where workshops are held for showing how fish paste is processed to make eomuks.
Fly to Geumgang Park via ropeway
The 801.5 metre long Geumjeongsan Mountain is the tallest mountain in Busan. A five minute ropeway ride will take you up to the park where you can just hike around to see the Geumjeong Fortress which is the largest city fortress in South Korea and Seokbulsa Temple. To the west of Geumgang Park lies this secluded temple. The rocks behind the temple are designed by carvings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and muscular guardians and this is why the temple has been named Seokbulsa which literally means ‘Rock Buddha Temple’. The best way to come here is by the park’s cable car while cherishing picturesque views of the downtown. The main hall embellishes with Seokgamoni-bul; The Historical Buddha, and many other smaller Buddha statues. Birojana-bul; The Buddha of Cosmic Energy, Moonsu-bosal; The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Bohyun-bosal; The Bodhisattva of Power are also marvellous portrayals of this temple.
Observe a moment of silence at United Nations Memorial Cemetery
Having more than 2300 graves, this is the only burial ground that is dedicated entirely to the United Nations soldiers who had sacrificed their lives during the Korean War. The memorial also comprises some monuments like British Commonwealth monument, Turkish, Greek and Australian monuments.
Enhance your knowledge of Korean history at Busan Museum
Exhibiting Busan’s relics from prehistoric era, artefacts and statues depicting scenes from Busan’s trading realms, Japanese colonial rule, Korean War, Post World War II to present time as well as replica of Korean heroes, Busan museum presents the Korean history and culture in a unique way. Moreover, it gives its visitors the opportunity to take part in traditional tea making ceremonies and wear traditional costumes.
Pay a visit to National Maritime Museum
Though this is not a very popular attraction of Busan, it has in its store some rare treasures. Located in Yeongdo at the entrance of the Busan Port, the building has an indoor exhibition, an outdoor exhibition featuring a real submarine and a 4D theatre. Being the third largest museum in South Korea, this museum displays about 12,000 maritime relics. It also exhibits a replica of Joseon Missional Ship which is half the size of the actual ship. It is the largest replica in South Korea.
Go Shopping in Seomyeon
Seomyeon, the commercial hub of Busan, is one of the best places in the city for shopping. The most uncommon thing about Seomyeon is that it has a chain of underground shopping streets. You’ll never go hungry as there are street food stalls beside every street. The Lotte Departmental store is a one-stop destination for all shopaholics.
Try signature cuisines of Korea
Since there is an abundance of restaurants, cafes, bar and street food stalls in every part of the city you won’t need to search for the best places to taste authentic Korean dishes. Just go to those eateries which attracts you the most and try some Korean dishes like dwaeji gukbap; pork soup, milmyeon; cold wheat noodles, cold sashimi, ungeo-ppang; a waffle made up of sweet bean, rice cakes and chimaek. Don’t forget to try frozen beer and orange gelatin balls or Korean pancakes filled with seed and sugar. Also snack on mandu; pan-fried dumplings and dakgangjeong; fried chicken.
Get a romantic feel at Dongbaekseom Island
To see one of those dreamy locations that you see in movies, you must visit Dongbaekseom Island during cherry blossom season that is from late March to early April. This island has roads lined by cherry blossom trees, cafes with outstanding views of sea, flower-laden roads and series of pine trees. You can also spot Gwangan Bridge from here. Everything about this place has a romantic charm.
Chillax at Heosimcheong Spa
At the foot of Mt. Geumjeong there is a first-class hot spring spa which has a colossal domed main hall consisting of scented pools, steam rooms, bath tubs and massage tubs. Get a full-on body spa or sit and soak your feet in hot spring water at Dongnae Outdoor Footbath which is Heosimcheong Spa’s outer section.
To see more of Busan wander around its streets such as Gwangbokdong Food Street, Choryang Ibagu-gil & Sanbok Road and Gwangbokdong Cultural and Fashion Street. If possible also see the famous Lantern Festival at Samgwangsa.