The Ultimate Travel Guide: Busan
Nestled between the misty mountain ranges and the newly renovated beaches is South Korea’s second-largest city, one which boasts everything one would expect from a global cultural centre. Busan proudly displays both its extraordinary natural beauty as well as the resources it provides, with a bounty of each and every fish and crustacean on a side-street menu. The urban sprawl of Busan has developed from humble beginning to an international film festival for which an entire city square has been named, and brought the city into international contention.
South Korea’s second-largest city is firmly tucked up at the very bottom of the Yeongnam region against the southern coast from which the city has developed.
The city itself is spread along the coast with attractions found from one end to the other. The incredibly efficient public transportation makes travelling through the city a breeze although it could take a while.
Busan’s has a wide variety of attractions that range from its ancient past to its modern times with a fair share of beautiful nature thrown in between the mountains and the coast.
The temple which claims to be the “most beautiful temple in Korea” is located at the cliff edge on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. Haedong Yonggungsa was built back in 1376 by the royal consultant Naong Hyegeun, the man who lay the foundation for Buddhism during the Joseon era (1392-1910). This very temple was constructed out of nothing more than a dream.
Naong was said to be at Bunhwangsa Temple in Gyeongju while the country was suffering a terrible drought which resulted in crop destruction and famine. As the people of Korea began losing faith in Buddhism, Naong dreamt that a sea god told him he should build a temple at the edge of Bongrae Mountain to solve the problems the country was facing.
The temple itself was right up against the coast, with the waves essentially crashing against it. Statues of the Buddha and various halls were placed along with various points across the cliffs. The sound of crashing waves became the rhythmic beat to the chanting of prayers across the temples grounds.
Getting there: When taking the subway, take the Busan Subway Line 2 to Haeundae Station. Once you alight from Haeundae Station, go to Exit 7. From Exit 7, walk straight and find the nearest bus stop. Look for bus 181 which will take you to the temple.
Beomeosa Temple is nestled amongst the forest blanketed mountainside of Geumjeongsan Mountain, constructed by monk Ui Sang in 678 during King Munmu’s reign, the very king whose tomb lays off the coast of Gyeongju. The temple has been home to many devoted monks since its restoration in 1613 after being destroyed during the Imjin War, and sees a regular loyal gathering of Buddhist and worshipping visitors alike.
Behind several gates is the courtyard surrounded by several halls, including Daeungjeon Hall, a fine example of Joseon Dynasty design. Within these halls and all the way around them, you’ll be greeted with the sight of worshippers kneeling and praying to the tune of Buddhist monks tapping away. All of which is enclosed in the serene nature of the forest-covered mountainside of Geumjeongsan.
The temple-like others found in Korea offers a unique opportunity to experience your own enlightenment. Beomeosa partakes in the temple-stay program, which gives opportunity to visitors to experience Buddhist culture and daily life.
It’s also possible to explore the wilderness that surrounds the temple. A guided pathway leads through the surrounding forestry which holds an untold number of plant species. So beautiful in fact that the surrounding woodland and valleys have been designated a natural monument.
Getting there: Take the subway Line 1 to Beomeosa Station Exit 5 or 7. From here you should be able to spot a sign directing you to the bus stop. From there take bus number 90 to Beomeosa Ticket Office Bus Stop.
Open: 8:30am – 5:30pm
Price: Adult – 1,000 Won, Teenagers – 700 Won, Children – 500 Won
Gamcheon Culture Village
This really is an extraordinary sight to behold, a truly quirky yet oddly beautiful site. Gamcheon Culture Village has the unusual opposing views of clear “slum life” yet visually fascinating vibrant pastel colours bathing the entire mountainside downwards towards the coast. This has earned the village the nickname of “Machu Picchu of Busan“.
The beautification of the area came from the efforts of students in 2009 which turned this once mountainside slum into one of Busan’s biggest tourist destinations. The make-over resulted in practically every structure being given a non-conformable bright colour and artwork placed on building sides, roads and the stairways in-between. The results speak for themselves.
This is certainly one of the best photo opportunities that the area has to offer. With the plastic surgery came an influx of business in the form of galleries, cafe’s, nick-nack stores and everything welcomed to keep increasing the area’s economy.
Getting There: Take the subway (Line 1) to Toseong Station (Exit 6). From here go to the bus stop in front of the hospital and take a local bus (numbers Saha 1-1, Seogu 2 or Seogu 2-2) which will take you all the way (₩900). Look for buses with a sign on it (either on the front or the side) saying “Gamcheon Village”.
Remember, these are local mini-buses. For a man of my size, this is a problem when you’re unable to stand up straight in one. ALSO, South Korean bus drivers are fucking mental!
Yet another huge highlight Busan has to offer is one you can smell before you see. Jagalchi Market was solidified as a purely fish orientated market following the Korean war and has since held the title of the biggest fish market in all of Korea.
Busan’s booming development is down to the advantage of its coastal location and the harvest of the sea. The influence of the market has seeped into the surrounding streets with every merchant flogging their own display of sea life for your consumption.
Within the building, you’ll find three rows of endless aquariums separated between each individual’s personal storefront, where the vendors and aquatic life repeat themselves seemingly to infinity. Any and every fish, crustacean and everything in-between can be found, including completely unidentifiable things.
This market even has a bonus upstairs. Not only do they sell all kinds of aquatic life, but they’ll also cook whatever you buy! Just pick and pay for your preferred option from one of the hundreds of female vendors. You might notice that most of the merchants are woman, who is known as “Jalgchi Ajumma”, translated harshly as Jagalchi middle-aged women. These lovely women will then lead you upstairs while carrying your selection before handing them to the chefs upstairs to prepare it for you in classic Korean fashion with all the trimmings.
Getting there: Take the subway Line 1 to Jagalchi Station Exit 10. From there turn right onto Jagalchi 3(sam)-gil Street and walk for 5 minutes.
Open: 5 am-10 pm, every day except for the last Tuesday of every month.
UN Memorial Cemetery
The United Nations Memorial Cemetery is the only of its kind worldwide. This enormous site is dedicated to over 2000 fallen members of the UN during the Korean war (1950-53). Open fields are segregated into groups represented with different nations flag along with their victims’ graves and monuments.
Flags of 16 nations flutter throughout the grounds of the cemetery representing the vast number of nations involved in the conflict. Each country fought under the banner of the UN, which included some obscure nations such as Thailand, New Zealand, Greece, Columbia and even Ethiopia.
Some nations have also dedicated monuments that command each nations groups of graves, mostly from the countries with the highest number of casualties, such as Australia, Canada, USA, Turkey and New Zealand. One of the largest monuments belongs to the British victims of the war, who other than South Korea and the US, received the highest number of casualties.
Along with the staggering number of gravesites, within you’ll also find the Memorial Service Hall and Memorabilia Hall, providing some more history as to why the fallen lay here. Other monuments include the Wall of Remembrance, which holds the name of every lost soul.
Getting there: You have two options: 1) Take bus number 68 from Seomyeon bus station to the UN Park Bus Stop. 2) Take bus number 134 from Busan Bus Station to the same stop.
Open: May-Sep 9am-6pm; Oct-Apr 9am-5pm
Standing as a monument to the city, this is one of the biggest highlights Busan has to offer. Taejongdae Park is found on the southern tip of the little gem of an island; Yeongdo. It was named after King Taejong Mu-Yeol of the Silla Kingdom (604-661) who chose this place as his favourite spot to practise his archery. Here you have an incredibly picturesque trek along the coast on the well-maintained wooden decks which provide incredible views back across the coast.
The park holds many individual attractions, some of which hold their own myth. Yeongdo lighthouse at the tip of the island is the best photo opportunity in the park. Beneath the lighthouse is a rock named Sinseon Rock, named after the myth that this was gods and goddesses prime location for relaxation. At this rock is also a statue called Mangbuseok, dedicated to the story of a woman who would stand there waiting for her husband to return after being taken to Japan. Other treats include two temples on either side of the park; Gumyeongsa and Taejongsa Temple.
The walk can become tiring up the regular rise and falls, however, there is a relief for the lazy amongst you. There is a regular “train” driving in-between all the sites worth seeing. There is also a regular ritual of praying for rain during times of drought. Rain on the 10th day of the 5th lunar month is known as the “Taejong Rain”
Getting there: From Busan Bus Station there are many buses available towards Taejongdae Cliff Bus Station; number 8, 13,30, 88 or 101.
Open: Mar-Oct – 4am-12am, Nov-Feb – 5am-12am
Once home to two humble cinemas built following the nation’s liberation following Japanese rule, following a major renovation for the upcoming Busan International Film Festival transformed the area. Today it’s as substantially flash as the name would suggest. Not only has the make-over done wonders for the Korean film industry, but has also gone a long way to put Busan on the map as an international city.
Marking the advancements in the Korean film industry, BIFF square represents Busan’s status as an international cultural city. You’ll also find a mini walk-of-fame. Mostly representing names of major Korean stars, there are a few famous names with the likes of Willem Dafoe and Oliver Stone.
The squares renovations and advancements have spread across the surrounding area, bringing with it the congregation of high-class stores and flash advertisements. Along the streets, you’ll also find orderly lines of snack stalls of all variety, conveniently segregated into their own sections. One for the fish, snacks, and trinkets.
Getting there: Take the subway Line 1 to Jagalchi Station Exit 7.
Noticeable from all around Busan, it stands at 120 meters as a talisman for the city. The spectacularly illuminated tower has been designed to model a Pagoda at Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. The tower also offers an opportunity to mount its peak and observe the expanse of the city and the coast.
It will also provide an equally incredible site at night, glowing in consecutive colours. Along with the tower, you’ll find several other unique pieces of architecture such as the Bell of the Citizens and a flower clock. There are also a few monuments, none greater than the statue of the Great Admiral Yi Sun-sin.
As well as the tower itself, its surrounded by monuments such as a statue of the Great Admiral Yi Sun-sin, the bell of the Citizens and a monument to the independence activists Baeksan An Hee-je.
Getting there: There are a few options to get there. Firstly is by taking the subway on Line 1 to Nampo Station Exit 7. From here walk along Gwangbok-ro Street about 150 meters before you find an escalator taking you to the park. There are also multiple possible entry points surrounding the park if you happen to find yourself at the right spot.
Price: Free (for the park), Observation deck: Adults – 8,000 Won, Children – 6,000 Won
In a city exploring every avenue which they can develop into a bustling multi-functional city, this beach has become the pinnacle in beachfront property in the city. Undergoing a major cleaning program, and the addition of countless restaurants and branded stores has brought this beach into the forefront as the choice spot for many young Koreans.
Busan has a fair share of beaches (7 in fact) along its modernising shoreline, providing plenty of beach day opportunities. However, Gwangalli beach can claim to be one of the best, from here you’ll be provided with the best possible view of Gwangan Bridge.
The shoreline really comes to life when the sun goes down, as the light show begins. This incredible piece of architecture crossing the city’s coast has been a popular site for any tourist’s camera. It has been made even more of a fantastic view at night, with the addition of hundreds of LEDs which now beam the bridge alight.
Many will even wait until the sun goes down before visiting the beach. That’s when you get the absolute best spot to get the best view of Gwangandaegyo Bridge in all its glory.
Getting there: As the beach is a little outside the centre of the city, you can either take the bus or subway. By subway, take Line 2 to Geumryeon Station Exit 1 or 3 where you’ll then have a little walk to the beach. Your other option is to take the bus. You can take buses number 1, 38, 41, 62, 83, 83-1 or 108 to Gwangalli Beach Bus Stop.
Busan is a major metropolitan centre, coming with all the necessary transportation centres you’d expect. From Flights to trains and buses, the city has it all covered. With South Korea being somewhat of a compact country and very efficient road networks, travelling from one side of the country takes a matter of hours. Naturally as always, the bus is your cheapest option available.
Gimhae International Airport is just a short metro ride out of the city of Busan and links up to nations across Asia. Here are a random selection of surrounding capitals as an example (prices all based over an average 3 months in advance for one-way tickets):
Tokyo – £65 – 1hr 50mins
Hong Kong – £98 – 3hrs 25mins
Beijing – £122 – 2hrs 15mins
Bangkok – £166 – 5hrs 20mins
Much like all the other major cities in the country, Busan is well connected with the incredibly efficient and fast railway network which links the entire country.
Seoul – £15-45 – 2hrs 42mins
Daegu – £5-13 – 57mins
Gyeongju – £5-15 – 2hrs 2 mins
Busan also has an equally vast number of bus routes which links it to the rest of the country.
Seoul – £15-28 – 4hrs 15min
Daegu – £4-8 – 1hr 10mins
Gyeongju – £3-5 – 1hr
Ulsan – £7-8 – 1hr 18min
Luckily Busan has an incredibly reliable and extensive subway network that covers the entire city. Most of the attractions worth seeing can be travelled to via one of the subway lines. If not, then the equally efficient bus system will get you the rest of the way.
Busan also has an extensive public bus network that covers ranges further than the subway lines. Despite it always being a bit of a challenge trying to figure out which bus routes to take, most free travel maps and even hostel staff will know or be able to work out which numbers you need to take. Why not also check out the info found earlier on in this guide?
Being an enormous metropolitan city, there are plenty of accommodation options available through all price ranges. Prices for hostels start from £8 but start rising quickly. They are also clustered throughout the city in the most touristy areas.
There is an even more extensive selection of motels, guesthouses and hotels spread across the main areas of Busan, however can get pretty expensive.
Busan, much like most other regions throughout South Korea comes with its own local flavour and speciality food. Some of which include “Hoe”, a sample of fresh raw fish, Dwaeji Gukbap (pork soup), Milmyeon (cold noodles) and Ssiat Hotteok (sweet pancakes) for dessert.
You would miss an enormous opportunity if you left Busan without sampling the freshly caught local produce for which the city is famous. There are few better opportunities than those found at Jagalchi Market.