If Seoul is the New York of South Korea, then Busan is its L.A. Teeming with beaches, temples, and the freshest seafood you will ever eat, Busan is a summer destination that cannot be missed.
Whether you are a hiker looking for some challenging trails, a beach bum searching for some sand and surf, or a Korean history aficionado wanting to explore the awe-inspiring temples hidden within the many surrounding mountains, this coastal metropolis has got you covered.
Here are 5 reasons why Korea’s “City of Tomorrow” deserves the number 1 spot on your travel itinerary for summer 2018.
1. Beaches, Beaches, and more… Beaches
Although Busan can’t quite boast world-class beachfront resorts or compete with the white-sanded beauty of other Southeast Asian countries, the intriguing combination of city and coastline is what makes the trip worthwhile. In the famous Haeundae area, you can rent an inner tube, soak up the sun, and toss a Frisbee within the shade of the visually-appealing Park Marina complex.
Just a few short subway stops away, Gwangalli beach has a laid-back atmosphere which makes it a favorite over bustling Haeundae. Here, you can catch some rays, eat at one of the many delicious restaurants on the main beach road, drink until the wee hours of the morning and stumble 10 feet back onto the sandy shore to shoot off fireworks while basking in the glow of the Diamond Bridge’s nightly LED light-show.
While an excellent daytime location, this place really comes alive after the sun goes down.
If you crave more seclusion, transit-accessible Dadaepo Beach and Songjeong Beach are equally desirable. The quieter locations are terrific choices for a more relaxed family or friends-only outing.
Regardless of whether you wish to lounge in the sun with 700,000 friends, head out for an afternoon of sunbathing and unexpectedly stay until the sunrise, or spend your time enjoying a quieter environment, Busan’s selection of excellent beaches definitely lives up to the hype.
2. Temples and Trails
Hikers and Buddhism-enthusiasts alike will find much to admire when adventuring up one of Busan’s numerous hiking trails. Many of the gorgeous temples in this city are tucked into, on top of, or at the bottom of one of the mountains dotting the landscape.
Venture up the strenuous trails of Mount Jangsan and not only will you be rewarded with spectacular views of the city, but also with relics from the Korean War (including landmine warnings, which are not so much relics as they are legitimate warnings).
Halfway up you will come across Seongbuk Temple, a small but beautifully ornate temple with a large golden Buddha that you will see peeking out of the forest long before you see the temple itself.
At the bottom of Mt. Jangsan is tourist-favourite Haedong Yonggungsa (the “Water Temple’), located right on the rugged coastline of the East Sea. This temple is one of the most serene and picturesque spots in Busan – this is no secret, so prepare for the crowds that flock here every weekend. Alternatively, Geumjeong Mountain boasts the most challenging trails in Busan and also houses the magnificent Beomeo-sa and Seokbul-sa temples.
If the idea of scaling a mountain seems more like work than pleasure, Igidae nature park offers lovely views at a more leisurely pace. Overall, the stunning mountaintop views paired with the beauty of various temples tucked into lush forests and gardens should be enough to goad any Seoulite into a weekend trip down south.
3. Gamcheon Culture Village
Once upon a time, Gamcheon was a hillside slum occupied by thousands of Korean War refugees living in makeshift homes made of rocks, wood, and scrap metals. Fast-forward to present times and this quirky community is now a haven for selfie-stick-wielding tourists.
Built upon the religious foundations of Taegukdo, each home is built so as to not block the view of another which gives Culture Village its nickname as the “Machu Picchu of Busan”. From 2009-2010, hundreds of students and artists worked together to transform the former eyesore into the colourful, artwork-filled masterpiece that it is today.
Make sure to set aside a couple of hours to explore this community, as you won’t want to miss the incredibly detailed alleyway murals or the various sculptures and art installations (The Little Prince is a favourite) that can be found everywhere you look. Wear comfortable walking shoes and, of course, don’t forget your camera.
4. Seafood: Busan’s Speciality
You have never had fresh seafood until you sit before a still-wiggling plate of octopus. Busan has made a name for itself as one of the seafood capitals of the world, and it is well deserved. A squid lover’s paradise, there is no shortage of seafood brought from the depths of the Pacific.
Octopus, squid, and an assortment of fish neatly portioned and on display at Jagalchi Market.
Peruse the vast array of sea creatures on display at popular Jagalchi Market, or enjoy fresh sushi at the well-rated Sushi Berry near Haeundae beach. You can also enjoy squid and octopus mixed into a traditional Korean green onion pancake pajeon at the famous Dongnae Halmae Pajeon. There are also dozens of street food stalls available for your picking at Seomyeon’s food street. If you have a taste for fresh, delicious seafood, then Busan is the place for you.
5. Lotte Giants Baseball Game
As this city is already bursting with beaches, culture, temples and hiking trails, a baseball game in Busan can’t be at the top of your list, right? Wrong. The experience of going to a baseball game to cheer on the Lotte Giants is an experience like no other. Pack a picnic and a half and prepare to spend a hot summer afternoon drinking beer (or soju, whichever tickles your fancy) amidst the thousands of screaming fans at Sajik Stadium.
The Giants have a huge fan base, continuously setting attendance records, and their fans are wild. Get ready to join in as game-goers dance in their seats, cheer on the big names, and participate in the classic wave. If you think that you have seen it all or done it all in Busan, make sure you get yourself to a baseball game. The cheap tickets and boisterous atmosphere make it extremely worth your while.
There are dozens of other physical and cultural landmarks that make Busan a terrific tourist destination all year-round, but summer is when this city really comes to life. There are museums, art galleries, and cafes on every corner.
One can go window-shopping at the grandiose Shinsegae Department Store, check out the famed BIFF Square (where the Busan International Film Festival is held every October), or stroll around the fashionable streets of Nampo-dong.
This dynamic, chic, effortlessly cool city is one that deserves to be visited at least once during your time in Korea. You will embrace the convivial atmosphere, the energetic beach scene, and down-to-earth residents.
We’ll see you soon.