Visiting Busan - What to See and Do
(Busan Gimhae International Airport PUS, Republic Of Korea)
South Korea's second-largest city is Busan, an amazing seaside metropolis at the southern tip on the peninsula. Compared to the capital Seoul
, it has a lot more going on. There are beautiful beaches and coastal attractions, a diverse population thanks to the thriving port, and some of the finest dining in the country.
Best of all, the people of Busan are shockingly friendly for such a big city. The atmosphere here is more small town than urban megacity. It has the ocean on one side, mountains on the other and natural hot springs scattered all around the hills. Visitors can indulge in the nature of Busan just as easily as shop, eat and party in its neighbourhoods.
The tourist centre is Haeundae, with its pretty beach and upscale hotels. Next door, Seomyeon is where people head for shopping and entertainment. To experience the old side of Busan, go north to the Dongnae district, where traditional hot spring bathhouses still keep the locals relaxed. This Korean city is great all year round, though July and August are particularly frenetic as Koreans pour into the city to enjoy the country's most popular beaches.
Ten things you must do in Busan
- Wiggle your toes in the golden grainy sand of Haeundae Beach, Korea's most popular seaside attraction. From June through August, this beach is packed with sunbathers, while during the rest of the year it is pleasantly empty. Walk its length to Dongbaek Island, attached by a land bridge, or enjoy a spot of windsurfing - this is one of the few spots in Korea where you can do this.
- Korea is famous for its hot spring spas and Busan is covered in them. The biggest and best in the city is Heosimcheong, a multi-level facility that has numerous soaking pools, steam rooms and dry saunas. There are many hot springs in the area, but this one is especially accessible to foreigners.
- The best views in the city are found at Yongdusan Park. It sits on a headland, providing panoramic views of the city and the coastline. A slick covered escalator ferries people up to the bluff, where the Busan Tower gives even loftier views from its observation deck. Summers bring free concerts to the park, which is home to restaurants and the city's aquarium.
- A beautiful example of Joseon dynasty architecture can be found at Beomeosa, a Buddhist temple originally built in 678 AD. Its series of halls are richly decorated in traditional Korean style temple design, providing an inspiring atmosphere for the three dozen or so monks who live here. Visitors are welcome to explore and even stay the night as part of its temple stay programme.
- If Haeundae Beach is too hectic, consider spending the day at neighbouring Gwangalli Beach. Famous for its silky sand, it is almost a mile long and has several water sports shops renting wind surfing gear, jet skis and water skis. The beach has an outdoor stage that hosts concerts and other events throughout the summer, especially during the popular Busan Ocean Festival.
- The Busan Museum is a decent venue where you can spend a few hours learning more about the heritage of Korea. It features in excess of 4,500 items in its collection, which covers the spectrum of cultural and historic relics spanning the great dynasties of Korea. Exhibits have English signs as a bonus.
- Local nightlife is among the best in the country. The balmy weather encourages patio seating at many bars, especially the ones lining up along Gwangalli Beach and Haeundae Beach. Most of them cater to Koreans, but there are plenty of foreigner-friendly bars in both of these lively tourist districts, as well as Seomyeon.
- South Korea's biggest fresh seafood market is Busan's Jagalchi Market. Though you probably won't actually buy any of the hundreds of raw fish on sale at this bustling attraction, it is a truly fascinating atmosphere to enjoy in the early hours, when the chefs of the city descend to see what the fishermen hauled in the night before.
- There is plenty of nature surrounding Busan, and the Eulsukdo Bird Sanctuary is one of the nicest and most accessible spots to spend an afternoon. Take a boat from the Myeongji-dong pier and marvel at the 150 species of birds that migrate here between October and March.
- Another of Busan's magical public parks is Taejongdae Park. Its location overlooking the craggy cliffs of the coastline is stunning, and the 200 or so pine trees create the right environment for thoughtful strolls. The Geumyeongsa Temple is here, along with the famous statue called the Rock of the Faithful Woman. There is plenty to see and do in this park, including a 19th-century lighthouse that affords views all the way to Japan.