Words by Chris Tharp
Shot courtesy of the Busan Christmas Tree Festival
It’s December in Busan, which means winter is finally closing in. The beaches are empty and the crowds that descend upon the city in the summer and fall are nowhere to be seen. While things can get chilly, the temperatures are never anywhere nearly as frigid as in Seoul, so December is a great time to visit. The Christmas season is in full swing, so why not start off with a visit to Shinsegye Department Store, which is the world’s largest? This mammoth complex will satisfy all of your eating and shopping needs. You can even take a break to lace up some skates and hit the store’s indoor ice rink for a fun and romantic time. After that you can warm up by taking a soak and relaxing at Spaland, Busan’s premier sauna and jjimjilbang, which is also part of the Shinsegye’s sprawling compound.
Nampo-dong, Busan’s old harbor area, also offers a lot in the way of holiday cheer. Start out by exploring Jagalchi Fish Market, which is the city’s living heart and soul. Sit down for a lunch of seafood (cooked or raw) literally right off the boat, and warm your insides with the locals by washing it down with a bottle of soju. After lunch you can head up to the nearby Gamcheon Cultural Village—an old hillside neighborhood built by war refugees — now transformed into an enchanting folk art destination. Grab a coffee and take in the sculptures and vibrant murals as you stroll through the rabbit warren of tiny streets.
In the evening, head back down the hill to Gukje Market, where you can sample from the countless stalls of steaming street food and pick up trinkets, baubles, and that rarest of treasures: clothing in Western sizes. And finally, when the sun goes down, you can hold hands with your sweetheart and amble down Nampo’s famous pedestrian shopping street which, for the holiday season, is illuminated by a spectacular display of Christmas lights that will kindle the Yuletide spirit of even the biggest Scrooges among us.