Busan. South Korea’s second largest city and most important seaport is located on the south-eastern tip of South Korea. Reknowned for its beaches, mountains, hot-springs, shopping malls and international events– like the Busan International Film Festival; the city has become a global meeting place for arts, trade and tourism. A step back from the busy city of Seoul, Busan intertwines the buzz of an urban metropolis and the laid back attitude of a beach resort.
I absolutely love Busan. During my 4-day visit to the city, I had a great time shopping at the huge malls and bustling shopping streets, lounging on the beaches, exploring the many temples and villages and enjoying the huge array of Korean fare. With so many beautiful places in Busan… it’s hard to narrow down all the attractions and sites into a list. However, if you only have a couple of days in Busan– here are my ‘Top 10’ places to visit:-
1) Haeundae (해운대)
The district of Haeundae in eastern Busan is a popular beachside location, and the famous Haeundae Beach gets extremely packed during the summer months. The 1.5km long beach is filled with thousands of people, and is divided into parts by different colored parasols — absolutely gorgeous when viewed from the top. Deck chairs, ring floats and surf boards are available for rent all along the beach.
Throughout the year, many cultural events and festivals are held on Haeundae Beach; I was lucky enough to be there during the Haeundae Sand Festival. Beautiful sand carvings by sand artists from all over the world were displayed on the beach… and it was stunning! Here’s a picture:-
And when in Haeundae, don’t forget to visit the Haeundae Market for a Korean food culture experience. The market sells fresh food– vegetables, meat, seafood; weird food– maggots, silk worms, eels; and Korean street food– deokbokki, dumplings, kimbap… and make sure you take a detour into the Gukbap Alley for a hot bowl of Dwaeji Gukbap, rice doused in pork broth. Oh so delicious!
2) Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사)
This beautiful temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy faces the open sea. It’s rare to find a temple along the shoreline, as most are built in the mountains. Haedong Yonggungsa was built in 1376, and rebuilt and reconstructed throughout the years. The temple is popular as it is believed that praying here will make wishes come true.
You’ll be greeted by the beautiful temple and the sound of waves crashing on the rocks as you walk down the 108 steps that lead to it. After visiting the temple, walk to the midway section of the staircase and step onto the rocky platform for sweeping views of the ocean and the entire temple. I welcomed the cool sea breeze from atop the platform, as I was there on a hot summer’s day.
3) Gamcheon Cultural Village (감천문화마을)
The Gamcheon Cultural Village, or Taegeukdo Village is a brightly colored old village on a steep hill overlooking Busan, a stark contrast to the tall modern buildings of the city. The village was founded in 1918 during the Korean War, when followers of the Taegukdo religion had to find refuge in the area. Recent developments however, have transformed the place into a cultural art space; thankfully though, they still managed to retain the beauty of this little ‘Lego’ village and its cubicle houses.
Buy the map and take part in the ‘stamp treasure hunt’. It takes you to important sites in the village, collecting stamps along the way. The prize at the end may just be a postcard; but what I loved was navigating the tight winding alleys, walking up and down the steep stairways, exploring some of the blue, pink, green and yellow tiny buildings, admiring the view from above and getting lost in this precious little village– that’s the real prize to me. People still live here, so be careful when you’re peeking into a window!
4) Beomeosa Temple (범어사)
Beomeosa Temple is one of Korea’s great historical temples, built on the edge of Mt. Geumjeongsan in 678 by the grand master monk UiSang during the Silla dynasty. Built and rebuilt throughout the centuries, the temple is still a pilgrimage site and Buddhist learning center, offering temple stays as well. Popular with worshipers and tourists, the temple is also visited by hikers– the trail beside the temple is a starting point for the popular hiking circuit up and around Mt. Geumjeongsan to see its long stone fortress and for sweeping views across the city.
I got to temple at opening time and took a leisurely stroll into the temple, passing gates, pavilions, arches and halls; each built in different dynasties and with a history of its own– take the Daewoongjeon Hall for example, it has been declared a national treasure. The place was relatively quiet during my visit (I heard it gets crowded later on in the day) and the temple was preparing for a religious ceremony or event. I took my time admiring the exquisite architecture, praying a little and soaking in the calm serene environment.
5) Taejongdae Park (태종대)
Taejongdae Park is on Yeongdo Island, located just off the coast on the Southern edge of central Busan. This natural park is famous for its rock beach; and provides a variety of tourist attractions like cruises, a lighthouse, an observation deck and the Danubi train that offers transport along the park trail. The queue for the train can get really long, so if you’re up for it, walk instead. It is a big area to cover, but you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the ocean.
My favorite part of my visit to Taejongdae was sitting on the rocky platform just below the lighthouse and enjoying the strong wind from the sea. It is a popular place for dates and picnics; or you can admire Sinseon Rock, the standalone rock next to the platform. Water erosion throughout the years had carved a small rock figure on top of it, and it is believed to be the figure of a woman who turned to stone while waiting for her husband to come home from Japan.
6) Jagalchi Fish Market (자갈치시장)
Located on the edge of Nampo Port, the Jagalchi Fish Market is the largest seafood market in Korea. It is also a popular tourist attraction; people come from all over to buy the fresh fish here, and savor it in one of the restaurants above the market. Walking into the market, middle-aged ladies (ahjumma in Korean) will shout at you, asking you to buy their seafood– anything from crabs, to fish, to shellfish, to squid and other weird looking sea creatures.
I had lunch at the market. I started out by choosing some clams, scallops and a big snow crab from the enthusiastic ahjumma from the first shop I came across. She then sent my selections to a restaurant above, which cooked my meal for me. My seafood meal was fresh and absolutely delicious; the snow crab was heavenly! I also ordered some fresh raw salmon that melted in my mouth. The prices at the market were reasonable, but don’t forget to haggle.
7) Yongdusan Park and Busan Tower (용두산공원 부산타워)
Yongdusan is located in downtown Busan, and is one of the three famous mountains in Busan. The mountain is shaped like a dragon head, and thus its name. On the mountain stands Korea’s forth tallest tower, Busan Tower; and there are escalators to bring you up the mountain to the foot of the tower. While up there, take a walk through Yongdusan Park and visit the commemorative monuments, statues, shrines and museums in the vicinity.
I like seeing a city from the top to get my bearings before exploring it, so I made a trip up the Busan Tower. The 360 degree view from up high was spectacular; but other than that, there’s not much to do in the tower itself. Honestly, you don’t really need to head all the way up the tower to see sweeping panoramas of the city– being on the mountain itself gives you the elevated view. It started drizzling as soon as I got down from the tower, so I bought a drink from the nearby convenience store, and sat at the outdoor verandah. The view is still pretty on a rainy day.
8) Gwangalli Beach/Gwangan Bridge (광안리해수욕장/광안대교)
The Gwangalli Beach stretches over 1.4km long in the shape of a half moon. Cafes, restaurants and pubs and line the street, and is popular among the young people in Busan. The area surrounding the beach is beautiful at night with bright colorful neon lights… and the illuminated Gwangan Bridge in the distance adds to the atmosphere, displaying artistic lights and showcasing its spectacular music light show.
It was refreshing to stroll along the beachfront at night… and looking at the crowd– families, tourists, couples holding hands; everyone had the same idea. I stopped by one of the outdoor cafes for a cuppa coffee to enjoy the 10-minute Gwangan Bridge music light show.
9) Shinsegae Centum City Department Store (신세계 센텀시티)
The Shinsegae Centum Department Store is the largest department store in the world; it’s even in the Guinness Book of Records. Located inside the gigantic mall are countless shops, luxury brand boutiques, restaurants, beauty parlors, clinics, banks and entertainment facilities– including a cinema, a hot-springs spa, an ice skating rink and a golf driving range… it seems like there is nothing this department store can’t fit.
I spent a whole afternoon here. It was fun wandering the many floors and the different sections of Shinsegae, as it led me to brand new discoveries and surprises. It’s a great place to play, eat, shop, enjoy and relax.
10) Seomyeon (서면)
Seomyeon is the commercial hub and busiest area of Busan, swarming with visitors all day long. It also has a thriving nightlife, with hops, clubs, entertainment spots and restaurants line the streets. The area is also a shopper’s paradise with underground shopping complexes, department stores and outdoor markets.
I visited Seomyeon at night. After some quick shopping and filling my tummy at the outdoor food tents, I strolled along Seomyeon 1 Beonga (First Street), also known as the Art Street. I had a great time at the arcade; having a go at the claw machine, and beating the football machine’s high score with my spinning kick. As a hangout spot for Busan’s young crowd, Seomyeon is the perfect place to have a fun night out.