Often called ‘the summer capital of South Korea,’ the port city of Busan is just a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from Seoul. The country's two largest cities, however, are remarkably different places.
Bursting with mountains and beaches, hot springs and seafood, South Korea’s second-largest city is a rollicking port town with tones to offer. From casual tent bars and chic designer cafes to fish markets teeming with every species imaginable, Busan has something for all tastes. Rugged mountain ranges criss-crossing the city define the urban landscape, while events such as the Busan International Film Festival underscore the city’s desire to be a global meeting place.
This historically rich, mountainside slum became a famous tourist destination after getting an arty makeover in 2009 when students decided to brighten up the neighborhood with clever touches up the stairs, down the lanes and around the corners. Today it is a colorful, quirky community of Lego-shaped homes, cafes and galleries, ideal for an hour or two of strolling and selfies.
Hard to find, difficult to reach and a wonder to behold, this hermitage has Buddhist images meticulously etched into stone. Visually powerful in scale and impact, it is the kind of work that moves visitors to exclaim ‘wow’ as they step back and arch their necks to get the full picture. The quickest route here begins with a cable car ride up top.
This magnificent temple is Busan’s best sight. Despite its city location, Beomeo-sa is a world away from the urban jungle, with beautiful architecture set against an extraordinary mountain backdrop. Beomeo-sa can be a busy place on weekends and holidays, as the path leading to the temple is the northern starting point for trails across Geumjeong-san.
Among the city's seven beaches, Gwangan is the best option for access and quality. Although the ugly wall of commercial development behind the beach diminishes the daytime experience, Gwangan shines at night. The multicolored light show illuminating the Diamond Bridge is impressive.
If the trails of Geumjeong fortress seem more like work than pleasure, there are opportunities to explore Busan’s natural beauty at a more leisurely pace. Igidae is a nature park that is ideal for a two-hour stroll. Most visitors take the coastal route for the sweeping views of Haeundae across the bay. From the metro station, walk to the first major intersection and turn left. The park is a 20-minute walk down the road.
Taejongdae Resort Park
This natural part has magnificent cliffs facing the open sea on the southernmost tip of island of Yeongdo-gu. The park was named after the 29th king of Silla Dynasty BC57-AD 935), King TaeJong Mu-Yeol (604-661). King TaeJong had traveled to many places but this was the place he enjoyed shooting arrows.
The Busan Aquarium located at the entrance to Haeundae Beach, is an ultra high-tech submarine theme aquarium, contains over 35,000 species of fish, algae, reptiles, and amphibians. It offers visitors chances to experience everything about the underwater ecosystem.
Jagalchi Fish Market
Anyone with a love of seafood and a tolerance for powerful odours could easily spend an hour exploring the country’s largest fish market. Narrow lanes outside the main building teem with decades-old stalls and rickety food carts run by grannies who sell an incredible variety of seafood, including red snapper, flounder and creepy-crawly creatures with undulating tentacles. Inside the main building, dozens of 1st-floor vendors sell just about every edible sea animal, including crabs and eels, two Busan favorites.
Hur Shim Chung Spa
One of the oldest spas in Korea. The waters contain abundant magnesium, and temperature is around 55â„ƒ. This massive hot spring complex claims to be the largest in Asia with hot, tepid, cold and strawberry milk-filled baths, saunas, pools, and an outdoor section.On the 3rd floor is a large jjimjilbang resting area, containing a restaurant, a beauty salon, an oxygen room, and three ‘igloos’ heated to 81°C, 51°C and 0°C.
Busan was once a center of military affairs in the southern region of the peninsula and therefore was an important site for diplomatic relationships with Japan; high-ranking officers and officials from the court frequently visited the city for whom special dishes such as Dongnaepajeon, a variant of pajeon (Korean savory pancakes), made with whole scallions, sliced chili peppers, and various kinds of seafood in a thick batter of wheat flour, glutinous rice flour, eggs, salt and water was prepared.
Busan International Fireworks Festival
Held annually in Gwangalli Beach, Busan International Fireworks Festival is one of the most significant fireworks festivals in Asia. Tens of thousands of fireworks and state-of-the-art lasers light up the sky in harmony with the theme song of the festival against a backdrop of the sea and 2 level suspension bridge, Gwangan Bridge.