I wasn’t expecting to fall so quickly in love with Busan. I traveled throughout South Korea as much as possible during my time there – I went to the beach in Sokcho, spent a long weekend in Jeju, ate Chinese street food in Incheon – the list goes on. Visiting each of these places was a great new experience, but only Busan had this rich feel of traditional Korean culture mixing easily with modern ways of life. After almost a year in Korea, I felt like I was experiencing it for the first time.
The city is big and I had only a weekend to explore it. I will highlight a few of my favorite spots, and anyone can feel free to add more in the comment section!
We arrived on a Friday night by train from Seoul. It was about 100,000 won per ticket, so if you have extra time, the bus is a more economical way to go. As it turns out, we didn’t necessarily choose the best place to stay. We chose a cheap Airbnb that looked central and was near the Dongnae stop on lines 1 and 4.
There was nothing interesting about the area and it didn’t end up being close to the places we wanted to go. So you don’t make the same mistake, the map below contains my highlights, as well as the two main beaches (Haeundae Beach and Gwangalli Beach). The areas around each of these landmarks are busy and dynamic. Pick a place close to one or two of the sites you’re most excited to see and use Google Maps to figure out busses and trains for the rest!
The nothernmost points on the map above are Geumgang Park, and Seokbulsa Temple. If you go to only one place in all of Busan, let it be Seokbulsa Temple.
Once you enter Geumgang park, you have the option of taking a cable car up the mountain or hiking. If you’re looking for a full day of exercise, hike up! We took the cable car and had about 10 minutes of beautiful views to look at before we were at the top.
From the top, it will be about two or two and a half hours to hike to the temple. Signage is minimal and mostly in Hangul, so we found our way using Google Maps and asking people as we went. When we saw Seokbulsa emerging out of the forest, carved into the mountain, we forgot about the confusion of the journey and approached in awe.
We were the only people walking through the complex. We took off our shoes and wandered into a small room of worship where we sat in front of a Buddha statue with incense and candles burning. Outside, there were more altars in the open air. The calmness of the place feels like you will never see another person again, besides the giant stone carvings keeping watch.
The sun was shining its last golden rays for the day and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be. If I had made the trip from Seoul to Busan just to see this, it would have been worth it.
This seafood market is the largest in S. Korea, and is set along the largest port in S. Korea (and the fifth busiest container port in the world). It snakes along Nampo Port until it feeds into the huge indoor complex where you will find restaurants ready to prepare your catch of the day for you. The misty, chilly atmosphere of being on the water in the fresh fall air made being in this bustling and traditional market feel almost surreal.
As we approached, an octopus escaped his tub and made a run toward us before getting scooped up by his owner and put back.
This whole experience, of course, is at the expense of an incredible number of live sea creatures being held prisoner in tiny bins and tanks all day – king crabs are fighting, flounders are vomiting on each other – but I digress.
We walked through the indoor area of the market as well and checked out the restaurants upstairs. Our timing didn’t work out to have a meal there, but if you can, it would be a great, albeit pricey, experience to eat at this market. Once you select your seafood from the sellers, you can have it prepared in a number of ways by a restaurant. The fun is in the live stuff. For sashimi, the seller might prepare it instantly for you, killing and cutting the fish and placing it on a platter for you to eat in a restaurant. If you choose a king crab or an octopus, it will be placed alive in a bag with some water for you to carry to the restaurant. Seafood markets like this are a great place to try the famous “live” octopus, or sannakji, which is octopus sashimi that’s so fresh, all the little pieces are still wriggling around. It’s nearly impossible to chew through, especially since it’s suctioning to your teeth and tongue, but it’s fun and strange if you aren’t too squeamish.
Regardless of your hunger level or your desire to eat live animals, this market is worth visiting for the experience alone.
Gamcheon Culture Village
Once you’ve taken in the breathtaking view from above, traverse the ins and outs and ups and downs, the allies and hills and rooftops of this magical little village.
These buildings were painted bright colors by tenants who may have abandoned them years ago, or who may still be living in this wonderland that has art creeping in to every crack and crevice. As you walk aimlessly through the maze, you’ll see sculpture and installation that has been popping up since artists and art students were welcomed in 2009. Read more about the history here, and click here for public transportation directions. If you’re short on time, take a cab – just don’t miss it.
Those are my greatest hits. I haven’t mentioned our gorgeous hike along the cliffs of Taejongdae Park, the street food in BIFF square, or the long list of places we didn’t make it to. If you have a favorite place in Busan that I haven’t mentioned, please add it in the comments below!
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By Evy Bround