4 days is never enough to visit a city; to bask in its atmosphere or to understand its people and culture. However, 4 days was all I had to explore Busan, South Korea’s second largest city. Located near the seafront, the city is culturally rich and blessed with gorgeous landscapes. Temples on cliffs, villages on hillsides, colorful parasols on the beachfront, food vendors in alleys, city views from the mountains– there’s just so much beauty is this city.
Someone once told me, “Be a traveler, not a tourist”… so I wanted to experience and get to know Busan instead of cramming all the sights in the little days I had. With that in mind, I came up with an itinerary that allowed me to visit all the beautiful places, yet with enough free time to soak in my surroundings and really ‘see’ the city.
Busan is large and the attractions are relatively far from each other; but their public transport system is pretty reliable. Getting around is easy– I mainly used the subway; and occasionally, taxis and public buses. If you prefer, there is also the option of hop-on hop-off buses that ply several routes throughout the city.
Day 1: Bustling Haeundae
I arrived in Busan early in the morning. Walking into the Gimhae International Airport, I was greeted by billboards and posters of cosmetic medical treatments and plastic surgeries. South Korea is a hub for cosmetic surgeries, using the best and latest tools with top-notch professionals. It is believed that a large majority of South Koreans will go through at least one cosmetic procedure in their lifetime.
There was a row of cabs waiting for passengers outside the airport– so it wasn’t hard to grab one to make my way to my rented apartment in Haeundae, which I rented throught Airbnb. It’s important to read reviews about where to stay, and decide your accommodations according to what you want to do. I chose Haeundae because I wanted to be close to the beach, and it’s also a popular and bustling hangout during the summer months. The trip from the airport to Haeundae took 50 minutes (the city center is closer) and cost about 30,000 won (US$30)– the cabs here use the meter. You can also opt to take the airport light rail; its cheaper but requires a train transfer and a longer time.
After getting to know my host, who was gracious enough to let me leave my baggage at her place, I headed out to explore Haeundae. I wanted to visit the temple near Haeundae first, so I grabbed a cab to take me to:-
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사)
The temple is a couple of minutes drive from central Haeundae; and the nearest station is the Haeundae Station (Line 2). You can either take a cab or bus No.181 and get off at Yonggungsa Temple. Built in 1376, the most beautiful feature of the temple is its location along the shoreline. Visit the temple, and then enjoy the view of the ocean from its rocky platform. Entry is free.
Haeundae Damaji Road (해운대 달맞이길)
I didn’t take enough time to explore this walkway. The cabbie who was driving me back to Haeundae from the temple took a detour and stopped by the area to let me have a look. The Dalmaji road is lined with pine trees, and is said to be filled with beautiful cherry blossoms during the spring season. It’s a cooling and relaxing place to escape the hot summer sun, and I saw alot of the city’s elderly taking their afternoon walk along the pathway to the top of the hill. I heard the view from up there is gorgeous, and you can top it off with a cuppa coffee at the cafes.
Haeundae Market (해운대시장)
I had mixed feelings while exploring Haeundae Market– there were so many stalls selling fresh food, Korean snacks and weird stuff. I watched in horror as a stall owner skinned a couple of eels to feed the patrons inside his shop. An ahjumma (middle-aged lady) chopping a huge chunk of pork knuckle in her food stall caught my attention too. But I think the one thing that got my insides squirming was the creepy crawly silkworms on display! I was here for lunch though, and wanted to try Dwaeji Gukbap (rice doused in pork broth). The best stalls are at Gukbap Alley. I took my seat in the busiest stall and watched the old lady who runs the stall work her magic with her cleaver and her cauldron of soup.
Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장)
I was in Busan during the Haeundae Sand Festival, so the beach was streaming with families, youngsters and tourists… all wanting to catch a glimpse of the gorgeous sand sculptures on the beach. Finding a spot on the beach for myself wasn’t that difficult though, the beach was relatively empty further down; and there were beach chairs for rent under the many colorful parasols that decorate the beach. The entire beach is wifi connected.
Haeundae at Night (해운대)
Haeundae is bustling at night. Restaurants open till late into the night, street vendors are seen selling their food at the side walks to hordes of people, and there’s even a very popular roadside bar! I had one of my favorite South Korean dishes for dinner, Gamjatang— korean pork bone soup boiled over a portable stove. It was so delicious, I was gnawing on the bone. That didn’t stop my appetite though, on the way back to the apartment I bought some crispy Korean fried chicken and makgeolli (Korean rice wine) for supper.
Day 2: Downtown Busan
On the second day, I explored the city center of Busan; filled with shopping streets, restaurants and entertainment outlets. The main area of Nampodong is famous as the location of BIFF square, one of the main stages for the international renowned film festival, the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). Taking the train from Haeundae, where I was staying, to the Nampo Station (Line 1) in downtown Busan took me almost an hour. The station is near the largest fish market in South Korea, so it was time for some fresh seafood for brunch!
Jagalchi Fish Market (자갈치시장)
This huge fish market is a popular tourist spot. Other than marveling at the vast array of seafood sold here, visitors can choose their fresh seafood and have it cooked and served at the many restaurants on the first floor of the market. The market opens from morning till night, but come early to get your hands on the freshest catch. I got myself a Korean snow crab!
Yongdusan Park (용두산)
Yongdusan Park is a couple of minutes walk from the Jagalchi Market. The park is located on top of a hill in the middle of the city center, and there are escalators to bring you up. The park was a great place to walk off my seafood meal; and to admire the scenery and visit the many attractions in the area.
Busan Tower (부산타워)
Standing at 69m above sea level at a height of 120m, the Busan Tower is the pride of Busan and the fourth tallest tower in South Korea. Head to the top for stunning day and night views, but the view from the foot of the tower is equally just as stunning. Tickets to the tower’s observatory cost 4,000 won (US$4) for adults.
BIFF Square (BIFF 광장)
Coming down the hill from Yongdusan Park, I walked towards BIFF Square in the shopping and entertainment area of Nampo-dong. Lined with movie theaters, shops and entertainment facilities; the area was developed as a cultural tourist attraction for the Busan International Film Festival. During the film festival (usually held in October), the 428m long street comes to live with performances and other festivities; but at other times of the year, it is filled with young visitors and tourists… and is a great place to watch a movie, shop, eat and play. Look out for the plaques with hand prints of famous celebrities at the square.
Gukje Market (국제시장)
Nearby Gukje Market is large traditional market known for selling inexpensive retail and wholesale items. It’s a great place to shop for second-hand goods as well. My afternoon retail therapy session at BIFF Square and Gukje Market lifted my happy mood several notches higher.
Meokja Golmok (먹자골목)
While you’re in the area, look for the Changseon-dong Meokja Golmok (Eatery Alley) for a variety of Korean dishes. It’s a whole street of food stalls; so pick one, point to the dish you want, grab yourself a stool, sit next to the ladies as they prepare your food, and eat it right there. I ordered spicy bibimdangmyeon (mixed noodles), tteokbokki (Korean rice cake), pajeon (onion pancake) and kimbap (rice rolls) all for myself!
Gwangalli Beach/Gwangan Bridge (광안리해수욕장/광안대교)
This is a Busan night view you shouldn’t miss. On the way back via train to Haeundae from Nampo-dong, I stopped by the Gwangan Station (Line 2). This is the nearest station to Gwangalli Beach, and it’s about a 5-10 minute walk away. I ended the night on the beach with a spectacular music and light show from the Gwangan Bridge in the distance.
Day 3: South Busan
Time to head to the south of Busan, where the island park and the hill village lie. I started the day as early as I could, so I would have more time to explore the areas. It was almost an hours ride from Haeundae Station to the main Busan Station (Line 1); and another half hour or so via bus No.88/101 to reach my first destination of the day:-
Taejongdae Park (태종대)
Located on Yeongdo Island, Taejongdae Park is a popular tourist attraction, known for its sweeping views of the ocean and its rock beaches. There are several interesting spots in Taejongdae Park, namely the Observatory and the Yeongdo Lighthouse– all easily accessible via the Danubi Train.
Danubi Train (다누비열차)
The colorful Danubi train is a hit among the children; and a relief to adults who do not want to make the hike around the park trail. The train stops at several main points along the trail, so you can hop on and hop off anytime for a single circuit. The queue however, is extremely long… I was there just before opening time, but had to queue for almost an hour. Entrance to the park is free but the fare for the Danubi train is 2,000 won (US$2).
The observatory is in need of some renovations, but still offers beautiful views of the ocean. On a good day, you can see the small Tea Kettle Island in the distance– in the shape of… well, a tea kettle. While I was there, there was an exhibition of Choi Ji Woo, one of South Korea’s most famous actresses, and her pictures in Busan. There is a restaurant, a snack shop and a souvenir shop in the building.
The Yeongdo Lighthouse was built in 1906, but was replaced in 2004 along with some added facilities around it. Getting to the lighthouse requires going down a long flight of stairs, but the view of the lighthouse and the sea beyond makes it worthwhile. Explore the area– there is an art gallery, a natural history gallery, and several statues and structures… I especially loved getting on the rocky platform that sticks out from the edge of the island.
Gamcheon Village (감천문화마을)
Taking the bus back from Taejongdae Park, I was dropped off at the Busan Station. From there, I took the train to Toseong Station (Line 1), and bus No.2 all the way to Gamcheon Village. This colorful little cluster of cubicles houses sitting on a hill and dating way back to 1918, is my favourite place in Busan. It’s so pretty! Stop by for coffee at one of the cafes, navigate the many narrow winding lanes and take part in the ‘stamp’ treasure hunt by buying the village map. I explored the village till closing time, at about 6pm. There is no entrance fee.
Seomyeon is a great place to have dinner and spend a good night out. It was a convenient stop on my way back Haeundae; as I had to change stations at Seomyeon (Line 1 and 2). Youngsters hangout at this entertainment center, and ladies love this area– its filled with shopping streets and underground shopping malls.
Day 4: North Busan
North Busan is mountainous and less populated compared to the central and southern parts of Busan. It also has less tourist attractions, and therefore easily overlooked. However, if you are a hiking enthusiast, there is the popular Mt. Geumjeongsan to hike; if you want to rest and rejuvenate, there is the famous hot springs; and if you are religious and want to make a pilgrimage to one of Korea’s great historical temples, there is Beomeosa Temple. I was not up for hiking a mountain, but I definitely wanted to see the beautiful temple and soak in the hot springs. This is going to be a peaceful and relaxing day.
Beomeosa Temple (범어사)
The train journey from Haeundae Station to Beomeosa Station (Line 1), with a transfer at Seomyeon, took a little less than an hour. After arriving at the station, it was a short walk to the bus stop; and a ride on bus No.90 to the entrance of Beomeosa Temple. The temple houses monks and staying guests, and has prayers conducted throughout the day. I made sure to be quiet and respectful while exploring the gorgeous temple and admiring its intricate architecture. Entrance is free.
Hurshimchung Spa (허심청)
After spending some quiet time at Beomeosa Temple, I headed back to Beomeosa Station for a quick ride over to Oncheonjang Station (Line 1). This is the stop to pamper my body and relax after the many days of traveling. Hurshimchung Spa is said to be one of the largest hot springs spa in Asia; and has a variety of baths and saunas to choose from. It felt weird undressing in public, but the hot spring water helped soothe my awkwardness away. I couldn’t stay in the heat for very long though, my skin felt raw and I couldn’t breathe very well… so I spent more time in the lukewarm and cooler baths. Entry is about 8,000 won (US$8).
Shinsegae Centum City Department Store (신세계 센텀시티)
According to the Guinness Book of Records, this is the largest department store in the world. It is so large, you might get lost… well, I did. The department store is packed with people and has all the entertainment, eating and shopping facilities you need– therefore you could spend an entire day in here, and it will still not be enough. This is where I spent my entire afternoon on my last day in Busan.
Mynn’s Busan Favourites
While in Busan, I ate several times a day… there were so many things I wanted to try. These are a few of my favourite South Korean food, in addition to the delicious food and places to eat I’ve mentioned above. Make sure you try these too!
Korean Barbeque (고기구이)
Walking along the streets in Haeundae or Nampo-dong, you’ll see many restaurants with charcoal grills built into their tables; and patrons hovering over it, cooking their own food. This is the Korean way of enjoying their barbeque; with beef, pork, chicken, seafood and other kinds of meat. I had mine at An Ga, a restaurant located a little away from Haeundae.
Name: An Ga Restaurant
Where: 1276-1, Jung-dong, Haeundae.
This is Korean ginseng chicken soup and it’s absolutely delicious– but only if you like the taste of ginseng. A whole young chicken is stuffed with sweet rice and boiled to perfection. Samgyetang is a health dish and helps cool off the body during hot summer days.
Name: Nampo Samgyetang
Where: 16-1, Nampo-gil, Junggu.
Bibimbap is a simple rice bowl with a variety of vegetables and meat (either raw beef, or cooked meat), and topped off with some gochujang (hot pepper paste). Mix it all up and you’re ready to eat! This is one of my favourite on-the-go meals in Korea. I had my bowl of goodness at Shinsegae, so it was a little costly as compared to other places.
Name: Haneoul Restaurant
Where: 9th Floor, Shinsegae Department Store, Centum City.