South Korea is an enormously underestimated country. It has the makings of a perfect travel destination yet it goes unnoticed by the average traveller. Other than Seoul, most people couldn’t even name another city. This means there are plenty of hidden gems scattered across this beautiful nation. Nestled between misty mountain ranges and newly renovated coastline is South Korea’s second largest city and the newest international cultural centre. It’s the only city you truly couldn’t leave out of your South Korean itinerary, let me introduce you to Busan.
The city boasts extraordinary natural beauty, spectacular expressions of faith and the bountiful harvests from the sea. The urban sprawl of Busan has developed from humble beginnings to hosting international film festivals and stepping onto the world stage. Its a city you’d regret missing, so here’s the perfect itinerary to make the most of your time in Busan.
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The city is nestled between rolling mountain ranges and a pristine coastline, with a number of attractions scattered throughout the city’s different landscapes. Busan proudly represents the undeniable spirituality that resonates through the country with some spectacular temples in some of the most mind-blowing sceneries. Busan has also become an important cultural centre, being the home of the booming Korean film industry.
One day of your itinerary should be dedicated to visiting some of the incredible temples Busan has to offer. Most of them would even be considered the best in the country! They’re spread quite widely apart and can be a little hard to get to, but its well worth the effort!
Thought its one of the more secluded, and more difficult to find temples in Busan, its arguably one of the most incredible. Seokbulsa Temple is built into the rock faces of Geumjeongsan mountain and adorned with gorgeous carvings which are etched onto the mountain side. The internal caverns of the temples house some modest shrines bathed in the glow of flickering candlelight, creating a wonderful atmosphere.
There are a number of ways to arrive at the temple. One option is to take the Geumgang Park Cable Car to its peak before hiking the rest of the way, the second is to take a taxi directly to the temple.
To Next Stop:
Your first option is to take bus number 46 to Dongnae Station before hopping on a line 1 subway to Nopo dong Station or take bus number 50 to Nopo Samgeori. From either of these station, you must then walk to another station nearby (signs will point the way) and take bus number 90 to the temple entrance.
Your other option is to take bus number 148 before switching to bus number 90.
Nestled amongst the forest blanketed edge of Geumjeongsan Mountain is one of Busan ’s star attractions, and a vital addition to your itinerary. Beomeosa Temple was constructed in 678 by monk Ui Sang during the reign of King Munmu, the very king who’s tomb lays off the coast of Gyeongju. The temple has been a home to devoted monks since its restoration in 1613 after being destroyed during the Imjin War.
The central courtyard is surrounded by several halls, the finest of which is the Daeungjeon Hall, a fine example of Joseon Dynasty design. Beomeosa temple regularly host a loyal gathering of Buddhist and worshipping visitors alike who kneel and pray to the tune of Buddhist monks rhythmically tapping away.
It’s also possible to explore the wilderness that surrounds the temple via a guided pathway that leads through the surrounding forest. The woodland is home to an untold number of plant species to interest the botanists amongst you! The scene is so beautiful in-fact that the forests and valleys have been designated a natural monument.
To Next Stop:
All routes start by taking bus number 90 back to Beomeosa Temple Entrance Station. After that, your first option is to take bus number 1002 then number 1001 to Dongbusan Tourist Complex.
Your second option is to then take bus number 29 to Jangjeon-dong Children’s Playground Station then bus number 100 to Yonggungsa Temple National Fisheries Research & Development Institute.
The temple claims to be the “most beautiful temple in Korea”, and there’s little wonder why. Haedong Yonggungsa is located so close to the cliff’s edge that the waves almost crash against it. It was built in 1376 by the royal consultant Naong Hyegeun, the man who lay the foundations of Buddhism during the Joseon era (1392-1910).
The inspiration for this very temple came out of a dream. Naong was said to be at Bunhwangsa Temple in Gyeongju while the country was suffering a terrible drought. The hardship resulted in huge amounts of crop destruction and famine. As the people of Korea began losing faith in Buddhism, Naong dreamt of a sea god telling him to build a temple at the edge of Bongrae Mountain to solve the country’s problems. It has to be one of the most important stops on your Busan itinerary.
To Next Stop:
There are three options. First option, walk back to the station you were dropped off and take bus number 1001 to 해운대도시철도역 Station. Second, take bus number 139 to Haeundae Beach Entrance. Third, take bus number 100 to Haeundae-gu Office.
Stretching 1.5km along the coast, the white sands of Haeundae Beach are famous throughout the country. The beach has obviously become a prime holiday destination with a number luxury hotels, bars and restaurants popping up in the area. At sunset, the light glints off the sea surface and bathes the sky in all manner of colours above the city’s skyline. Thus, it’s the perfect place to end your long day!
The second day of your Busan itinerary will include a bit of everything. From beaches to market to cultural and natural highlights, Busan has all kinds of treats on offer. There are many stops left but thankfully much less distance to cover.
Gamcheon Culture Village
Gamcheon Culture Village is a quirky little detour which has become one of the city’s biggest highlights. Its certainly one of the best photo opportunities Busan has to offer and a vital inclusion on your itinerary. An extraordinary number of multicoloured buildings are stacked upon each other linked together by steep narrow walkways that lead down towards the coast. It has the unusual quality of being a former “slum” yet being visually fascinating. The views has earned the village the nickname of “Machu Picchu of Busan“.
The beautification of the hillside came from the efforts of students in 2009 which transformed and rejuvenated the area. The make-over gave almost every structure a bright colour and plastered artwork across buildings, roads and stairways. The results speak for themselves. The plastic surgery brought with it an influx of business in the form of galleries, cafes, nick-nack stores and everything else in-between that served to keep increasing the area’s economy.
To Next Stop:
Take bus number 87 or 134 to Nampo dong.
Another must on a Busan itinerary is something you’re able to smell before you see. Jagalchi Market hold the title of the biggest fish market in all of Korea. Originally the market sold a greater variety, though after the Korean war it was solidified as a purely fish orientated market and played a role in Busan’s booming development.
Within the building are three rows of aquariums separated between each vendor’s personal storefront. The aquatic life seemingly repeat themselves to infinity. Any and every fish, crustacean and everything else in the ocean can be found. Clams, monstrous crabs, lobsters, all manner of fish (some of which are enormous) and things that are a complete mystery.
The market even has a bonus upstairs. Not only do they sell the freshest seafood, but they’ll also cook whatever you buy! Just pick and pay for your preferred option from one of the hundreds of female vendors. Notice how most of the merchants are woman, who are known as “Jalgchi Ajumma”, translated harshly as Jagalchi middle-aged women. These lovely ladies then lead you upstairs before handing your pick to the chefs to prepare it in classic Korean fashion with all the trimmings.
To Next Stop:
Your next stop is within a comfortable walking distance and allows you to pass-by plenty along the way.
Once home to two humble cinemas, the area went through major renovation for the upcoming Busan International Film Festival. Today, its the heart of the Korean film industry and has gone a long way to put Busan on the map as an International cultural city.
The squares development has spread across the surrounding area, bringing a congregation of high-end stores and flash advertisements. The streets also host orderly lines of snack stalls of all variety, conveniently segregated by what they sell. The streets are also home to a mini “walk-of-fame“. Though most of the names belong to Korean stars, there are a few famous Westerners, such as Willem Dafoe and Oliver Stone.
To Next Stop:
Your next stop is also close by and within walking distance.
Standing at 120 meters tall, Busan Tower is noticeable from all over and is a talisman for the city. The colourfully illuminated tower has been designed to model a Pagoda at Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. It arguably looks even better at night, as the tower begins glowing in consecutive colours. Nearby you’ll also find several other unique pieces of architecture such as the Bell of the Citizens, a flower clock and a statue of the Great Admiral Yi Sun-sin.
To Next Stop:
Firstly, walk back to Nampo dong and take bus number 8or from 백산기념관.영화체험박물관 take bus number 186 to Taejongdae Station.
You can also go from Jagalchi Traditional Market on bus number 30 or from 부산항만공사 take bus number 101 to the same station.
Another worthy inclusion on your Busan itinerary is found on the little island of Yeongdo. Taejongdae park was named after King Taejong Mu-Yeol of the Silla Kingdom (604-661) who would choose this place as his favourite spot to practice his archery. You can follow the coast on well-maintained roads and regular wooden decks with some incredible views back to the city.
The park also holds a few individual attractions. Yeongdo lighthouse at the tip of the island is the best photo opportunity the park has to offer. Beneath the lighthouse is Sinseon Rock, named after the myth of gods and goddesses choosing here as a place to relax. There’s also a statue called Mangbuseok, which is 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.
To Next Stop:
You have a number of options. The most direct is going from the station you were dropped off and taking bus number 1006 to 시립박물관.부산문화회관 station.
Another option is taking bus number 101 to Munhyeon Intersection before transferring to bus number 138 to 유엔공원.부산문화회관 station.
Your third option is taking bus number 8 to Janjin Heavy Industries & Construction station and transferring to bus number 1011 to Tongmyong University Back Gate Station. After that transfer to bus number 68 to 유엔공원.부산문화회관 station.
UN Memorial Cemetery
The United Nations Memorial Cemetery is the only of its kind worldwide. This enormous site is dedicated to over 2000 members of the UN that died during the Korean war (1950-53). Flags of 16 nations flutter throughout the segregated grounds of the cemetery, representing the vast number of nations that were involved in the conflict. Each country fought under the banner of the UN, and included some unexpected nations, such as Thailand, New Zealand, Greece, Columbia and even Ethiopia.
Some nations have also dedicated monuments which command each nations groups of graves. They mostly belong to the countries with the highest number of casualties, such as Australia, Canada, USA and New Zealand. Surprisingly, one of the largest monuments is to the British victims of the war. Other than South Korea and the US, Britain received the highest number of casualties.
Along with the staggering number of graves, there’s also the Memorial Service Hall and Memorabilia Hall, providing some more history to why the fallen lay here. Other monuments include the Wall of Remembrance, which holds the name of every lost soul.
To Next Stop:
First, walk over to Daeyeon-dong Standard Chartered Bank Station and take bus number 41 to Seoho Hospital.
Otherwise you can go to Busan Museum and take bus number 51 to Geumnyeonsan Station.
Your last option is to go from the Human Resources Development Station on bus number 155 to 광안2동우편취급국 Station.
This beach is yet another example of pristine beachfront property. A major cleaning project, and the addition of several restaurants and branded stores has made this beach the choice spot for many young Koreans. It also provides the best possible view of Gwangan Bridge.
However, there’s no better time to arrive than 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. At night, hundreds of LEDs beam the bridge alight and radiates across the bay.
A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.