10 things to do and eat in Busan, South Korea Travel Guide
Busan is a city in South Korea that has been made popular by the 2016 movie "Train to Busan". Busan's location placed it in close proximity with sea. Here, you can find beaches right beside the concrete jungle. There are many things to do in Busan and we are sharing some of them here in the blog post.
You can either visit Busan as a day trip from Seoul (4 hours via KTX with your Rail Pass) or stay over in one of the hotels overlooking the sea for a night. There are also several day tours you can join when in Busan.
Now, there's also JejuAir that flies you directly from Singapore to Busan! Why #TraintoBusan when you can simply #FlytoBusan? We took advantage of their opening sale fares and got ourselves to Busan direct for just $280. And because the train system in South Korea is so convenient such that you can pretty much get to anywhere quickly and for an affordable price, you may just want to consider Busan as your entrance into the beautiful city of South Korea.
Where to stay in Busan, South Korea?
On our first trip, we stayed at Ibis Ambassador Busan Haeundae which is located close to the Haeundae Beach as well as the Haeundae Market and Shopping Area. This area is great especially if you are travelling in the summer months as the close proximity to the beach grants you quick access.
A more central location in Busan is Nampo-dong. Here, it is one of the favourite area of Busan citizens and many flock to this area over the weekend to settle their week-long cravings for food or just to shop at the Jagalchi Fresh Seafood Market. There are also several markets in the area where locals go to so this makes a great place as your base! K-guesthouse Nampo-dong has basic rooms, some with great views of Busan.
Otherwise, you may wish to stay in another shopping area at Seomyeon, a bustling district filled with lots of shopping and food options.
We stayed at Lion Hotel on our second trip to Busan and found it to be slightly more convenient to get to the various locations as compared to at Haeundae Beach. Lion Hotel is more of a budget hotel, we got our rooms for about 60,000 won per night which includes an amazing jacuzzi tub.
Should you want a more luxurious stay, you may just wish to splurge on the new Lotte Hotel Busan.
Another vicinity you can consider is the Busan Station area. Should you be visiting Busan for just a night or if you intend to take day trips to the surrounding cities, it would definitely be more convenient to make your base here. Busan Station Popcorn Hotel is another affordable option that has pleasant rooms.
How to get around Busan, South Korea?
Public Transport - Buses and Subways
The public transportation in Busan is quite comprehensive and you can get to most of these sites by these options. When visiting South Korea, it is also useful to download the Naver Map App as some of the directions by public transport just do not appear on Google Maps. The best way to travel around is to purchase a T Money Card. It is a card preloaded with credits for you to take your buses and subways.
Taxis are another great way to get around Busan, South Korea. For those who do not want to spend that much, you may just want to pair your public transport travels with taxi rides for the difficult-to-reach regions. Once again, the Naver Map App is a helpful way to help you plan your travels as it offers the time taken to reach your destination plus gives a rough gauge how much your taxi fare would be. We've tried the taxis several times when in Busan and found that the Naver Map App estimated fares to be extremely accurate!
Since Busan is a much smaller city with many attractions located quite a distance away from each other, you may just want to drive yourselves around the city. Driving in South Korea is generally quite safe for beginner drivers as they have really strict speed limits. Although it does get quite crowded and hectic in the city area, driving in the outskirts can be quite a breeze! Plus, Busan's location near the waters create an extremely scenic drive. The best part? The drive through the Busan Harbour Bridge!
Private Car Tours
Alternatively, you could go on a private car tour. Especially for those who are short on time, a private car tour enables you to cover more in less time. Should you be travelling in a group of up to 7, a private car tour may even be more affordable than taking the public transport and shuttling from place to place.
What to do in Busan, South Korea?
1. Visit the Santorini of the East @ Gamcheon Culture Village
In Busan, you can also find the Gamcheon Culture Village which is known as the Santorini of the East. Here, like in Greece, the houses are built on the foothills of a mountain located near the coast in a staircase-fashion. Many of the facade of these houses are also filled with murals which make them beautiful instagram-worthy shots.
The colourful houses are still homes to many of the elderly in Busan so when you walk around in this area, do be mindful of that! To get around the Gamcheon Cultural Village, grab a map at the entrance of the village. The map also highlights the best viewing points in the village!
To get to Gamcheon Culture Village, you can either take a taxi or via public transport.
For public transport:
1. Take the subway line 1 to Toseong Station
2. Head to exit 6 for the bus station located in front of Pusan National University Hospital.
3. Take the market village bus to Gamcheon Culture Village
If you are tight on time, you could also join this Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan Skywalk, and Haedong Yonggungsa Day Tour.
Gamcheon Culture Village
203 Gamnae 2(i)-ro, Gamcheon-dong, Saha-gu, Busan, South Korea
At the Gamcheon Culture Village, you should also try Busan's famous ssiahotteok!
Hotteok, a popular street food in South Korea, is a Korean fried pancake with a variety of fillings. In Busan, the ssiahotteok is stuffed with sugar, honey, sunflower seeds and nuts. It is crispy on the outside and sweet and chewy on the inside. We tried several ssiahotteok in Busan and the best one we had so far was the one located in the Gamcheon Culture Village. It is a store located close to the entrance of the village, with banners displaying running man members enjoying the ssiahotteok.
2. Experience fresh seafood at the Busan Jagalchi Market
Being a port city, Busan is famed for its fresh seafood, especially the live octopus sashimi! At Jagalchi Market, you can marvel at the fresh seafood in the market at the ground floor (and outside the building of the market), or head up to the second floor to have the seafood! Do note, however, that prices are not exactly cheap at Jagalchi Market and restaurant owners tend to not be very upfront with their prices. On our recent trip, we've realised that prices are now a little more transparent where guides on rough prices are plastered all over the market. However, you should still ask carefully before you decide to eat in the restaurant!
Another interesting activity you could do at the market is to attend a cooking class! Hunt for the various ingredients at the market and whip up a delicious korean meal with your classmates and teachers in this Jagalchi Market and Korean Cooking Class Experience.
Insider tip: Head all the way to the top of the Jagalchi Market to get a bird's eye view of the surrounding area too! Here, you can see the Yeongdodaegyo Bridge!
Take Subway Line 1 to Jagalchi Station and follow the signs to the market!
52 Jagalchihaean-ro, Nampo-dong, Jung-gu, Busan, South Korea
3. Pretend to be among the stars at BIFF square
Located just across Jagalchi Market, BIFF square is the area where the Busan International Film Festivals were held. This 400 metre-long street boasts many interesting stores that you can roam around in.
Be sure to also keep your eyes peeled on the floor every now and then to spot handprints or footprints of famous celebrities and directors from all around the world!
There are also many street food vendors at the entrance of BIFF square. Try freshly made Korean fried dumplings with fresh cabbage and squid marinated in a spicy sauce!
We've also had one of our best Korean fried chicken tteobokki experience near the square! We chanced upon this while walking towards Nampo-dong and definitely didn't regret our choice! We paid 29,000 won for this fried chicken dish plus a beer and a glass of soft drink. The deep fried crispy chicken was placed atop a piping hot pan of tteobokki, fishcake, glass and udon noodles topped with lotsa of cheese. There was just so much food that we couldn't finish them!
However, this portion fills like the norm for the Busan people. Later on, several pairs of people came in and ordered the exact same dish!
Take Subway Line 1 to Jagalchi Station and follow the signs to BIFF square
58-1 Gudeok-ro, Nampodong 5(o)-ga, Jung-gu, Busan, South Korea
4. Visit Gukje Market
The Gukje market is one of the largest markets in South Korea. It stocks a variety of goods and you can find almost anything you want in the market. The Gukje market also connects to other markets such as Kkangtong Market, Bupyeong Market, and several other smaller markets. You can also find the wholesale market nearby where locals purchase almost anything, be in plastic bags, tapes, glassware, in bulk!
Take Subway Line 1 and exit at Jagalchi Station, exit 7
25 Gukjesijang 2-gil, Gwangbok-dong, Jung-gu, Busan, South Korea
5. Head up Busan Tower at Mt. Yongdusan Park!
The Busan Tower is located in Yongdusan Park. The tower stands at 120 metres tall, and is situated at 69 metres above sea level. The top of the tower is designed as a replica of the Baldaquin of Dabotap Pagoda in Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. It is the symbol of Busan which offers excellent views of the city from the observatory deck. Grab tickets for the Busan Tower online to skip the queues!
To get to Yongdusan Park, you will have to ride the escalator up to the top of the hill! You can find this escalator on Gwangbok-ro Street.
Subway Line 1 to Nampo Station, exit 7 and walk to Gwangbok-ro Street
37-30 Yongdusan-gil, Gwangbokdong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Busan, South Korea
6. Visit the Guinness World Record's largest departmental store @ Shinsegae Centum City
The exterior of Shinsegae Centum City is magnificent. We couldn't stop "wow-ing" in amazement when we were in the airport bus to head to our hotel. Besides the departmental store, there are also other buildings located in this area. You can easily spend the entire day shopping here and when you are bored of shopping, there is also a SPA and an ice-rink in the store!
Don't forget to check out the basement level where there is a huge food hall and grab some food there!
Insider tip! Head up to the top floor where you can have a bird's eye view of the surrounding area. There is also a nice 'garden' on the roof of the mall!
Shinsegae Centum City
Take Subway Line 2 to Busan Centum City Station
U-dong, Busan, South Korea
Visit a Luxurious Jimjilbang @ Spa Land
When you are at Shinsegae City, don't forget to make a trip to the luxurious jimjilbang @ Spa Land
Korea's bath houses are called jimjilbang. Jimjilbangs are often opened 24/7 and features entertainment rooms, gender-segregated pools, and saunas.
Spa Land is a luxurious and modern jimjilbang that is great for locals and tourists alike. Spa Land features sodium-bicarbonate pools and 22 themed saunas. Spa Land is great for travellers who wish to rest their feet after an entire day of shopping or even for the men who would relax in the pools and saunas while their partners shop to their hearts' content at Shinsegae.
Spa Land @ Shinsegae Centum City
Take Subway Line 2 to Busan Centum City Station
35 Centumnam-daero, U-dong, Haeundae, Busan, South Korea
7. Visit Busan's Beaches
There are a couple of beaches in Busan and it is definitely worth a visit. In the summer months when the weather's more comfortable, you can bask in the sun or take a dip in the clear blue waters. Nonetheless, if you're travelling in the winter months, Busan's beaches are still worth a visit as it is amazing how the beaches are situated literally beside tall buildings!
Some of the nearby beaches you can consider visiting include: Haeundae Beach, Songdo Beach and Gwangalli Beach.
Haeundae Beach is the most popular one of all the beaches in Busan and it is filled with lots of tourists and locals during the summer months. Colourful umbrellas would be set up, with various beach chairs placed on the beach for rental. When at Haeundae Beach, travellers with children may also want to consider visiting The Busan SEA LIFE Aquarium. It is not the biggest aquarium but is a great activity for families as you get up close with the various marine animals!
Right opposite Haeundae Beach on Gunam-ro, you'll find lots of interesting restaurants and the place becomes extremely lively at night! The Haeundae Traditional Market is located on of the little alleys and you can find many seafood stores selling all kinds of grilled seafood!
When you are there, or in Busan in general, you have to try Dwaeji Gukbap! Dwaeji Gukbap is a hearty pork-bone broth that is boiled for hours. Perfect for the cold winter months, it is also an extremely healthy meal! The soup is a light-tasting one where some may even feel that it tastes "bland", so it is best paired with the extremely flavourful banchan (or side dishes like kimchi).
Some Gukbap stores you could try at Haeundae include:
- MIRYANG SUNDAE DWAEJI GUKBAB Haeundae
- Haeundae Wonjo Halme Gukbap
Songdo Beach is the closest beach to Nampo-dong area and is a popular escape from the city every summer. Opened in 1913, Songdo is Korea's first official beach. The beach has undergone restoration and is now reopened with a Cloud Trail and the nearby Cable Car that takes you all the way to Amnam Park.
The Gwangalli Beach is popular among the young Koreans. It is known for its fine sand and pristine waters. Close to the beach there are also numerous romantic waterfront restaurants and cafes. From this beach, you'll get a clear view of the Gwangandaegyo Bridge and the view is especially splendid at night!
8. Marvel at the most beautiful temple in South Korea at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is not just a temple complex where devout Buddhists head to pay respects, but also an extremely scenic spot at the coast of South Korea.
Unlike the other temples in South Korea that are often situated in the mountains, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is located on the coast of the North-Eastern district of Busan. Due to where it is situated, the temple offers visitors the rare sea view from the temple along the shore line. The temple was first constructed in 1376 by Naong, a great Buddhist teacher, during the Goryeo Dynasty. The temple complex consists of a three-storey pagoda, the Daeungjeon Main Sanctuary, Yongwangdang Shrine, Gulbeop Buddhist Sanctum, and Haesu Gwaneum Daebul (the Seawater Great Goddess Buddha) looking out over the ocean.
There are quite a bit of stairs here, 108 steps down to the temple, so do put on a good pair of walking shoes! The sound of the waves and the serenity of the temple complex indeed makes it the most beautiful temple in South Korea! When timed well, you'll also get to enjoy a splendid view of the sunrise or sunset.
How to get to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple?
Getting to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple can be slightly tricky as the nearest metro is still quite a bit of a walk away.
For those looking to go to the temple on a budget, you can take the subway to Haeundae Station (Busan Subway Line 2) and then swap to Bus 181 at Exit 7. The Yonggungsa Temple stop still requires a bit of a walk before reaching the temple though. Alternatively, you could also grab a cab from Haeundae Station and it costs approximately 8,000 won.
If you have the Korail Rail Pass, you could also take the Donghae Line to Osiria Station. From there, it is about a 1 kilometre walk to the Yonggungsa Temple! The problem with this route is that unless you are comfortable with the walk, it may be better to head to Haeundae Station. There aren't many taxis that would want to take you to the temple from the station as their metre does not jump at all! We also tried to take this route when heading out from Yonggungsa but the taxis that were in the line sniggered at us and told us to walk out instead.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
86 Yonggung-gil, Gijang-eup, Gijang, Busan, South Korea
9. Go for a short hike at Taejongdae Park!
Taejongdae Park has been designated as a Busan monument as it represents Busan with its rock beaches. Its highest peak is at 250 metres and there are several forests of pine trees and 200 other varieties of trees. It is said that the park is named after the 29th King of the Silla Kingdom, King Taejong Mu-Yeol who enjoyed shooting arrows in the park.
There are several noteworthy attractions in the park and the only way to get around it is either by foot, or by the Danubi Train. It is quite an easy stroll albeit the slight incline and some of the highlights include the Yeongdo Lighthouse, the Sinseon Rock, and the Taejongsa Temple. The entire hike would take around an hour by foot so do bring along a good pair of walking shoes and be dressed appropriately!
How to get to Taejongdae Park in Busan, South Korea?
Taejongdae is located on an 'island' off Busan that is accessible via a connecting bridge. Though there are no metros or subways on this island, you can take a bus from Nampo-dong station. The buses are 8, 30, 88, and 88-A. The entire journey takes close to 40 minutes from Nampo-dong.
Alternatively, a taxi-ride from Nampo-dong costs about 10,000 won and takes 20 minutes.
10. Pamper yourselves with some Shopping in Busan!
Finally, all that getting around and eating may be tiring. For those who love shopping, you may just be in for a treat in Busan! Though the shopping streets are not as vibrant and crowded as in Seoul, you can still find great bargains!
Underground Shopping in Busan
The few underground shopping streets in Busan are located in Nampo-dong and in Seomyeon. Here, you can find a variety of men and women fashion apparel (although more for women), shoes, bags, and handphone accessories. Underground shopping streets are where you can snag good bargains with some stores perpetually having 10,000 won sales for their clothes and shoes.
Underground shopping streets also make perfect wet weather plans as you'll be shielded from the rain!
Street Shopping in Busan
Right atop the underground shopping streets you'll also find several boutiques selling all kinds of stuff. These are usually slighly more expensive than those found underground and you'll tend to find a lot more international brands here.
Shopping Malls in Busan
Apart from Shinsegae Shopping Centre, the other noteworthy malls in Busan are the Lotte World outlets. There is again one in Nampo-dong and another in Seomyeon. These are great places to find your international brands as well as bargains for the various Korean brands.
As mentioned previously, traditional markets are also another good place to shop for groceries as well as a variety of household products. The Gukje Market is one where the locals still frequent.
Outlet Shopping in Busan
There are two main outlet shopping centres in Busan. Both of which are opened by the two biggest Chaebols (family-owned conglomerates) in South Korea.
The Lotte Premium Outlets Dongbusan is actually located close to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple and can be completed before or after visiting the temple. Here, besides the Lotte Departmental store, you'll also find several international brands like Coach, Furla, Polo Ralph Lauren and various sporting brands like Adidas, Nike, and Puma. Mummies or mummies-to-be can also find lots of children-speciality stores.
The entire area is wide and clean, with a good mix of indoor and outdoor stores. There are also a bunch of food and beverage options, including Lotteria (a South Korea fast food chain). When you are there, head up to the rooftop where you'll find a lighthouse and restaurants with decor mimicking the white-washed buildings in Greece. The entire complex is huge and you'll definitely get lost in the various alleys for the entire day. Like most factory outlets internationally, you'll find lockers in which you can store your shopping should you not wish to lug them around.
Lotte Premium Outlet Dongbusan
147 Gijanghaean-ro, Gijang-eup, Gijang, Busan, South Korea
The other outlet mall in Busan is the Busan Premium Outlet or Shinsegae Premium Outlet. This premium outlet is opened by the Shinsegae Group, the people responsible for the Guinness World Record Centum City, together with luxury outlet Simon Malls. However, this outlet is quite far away from central Busan. Getting there takes roughly 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours by public transport (including transfers).
It is located somewhat in the mountains which make the travel worth it. The design of the area is also unlike the Lotte Premium Outlet, which really, looks more like just any Lotte Mall. The Busan Premium Outlet has a more European feel just like the Simon Outlets overseas. Yet, for many of the international brands, the discount isn't as significant if you were to shop in the usual Simon Factory Outlets elsewhere.
To get to Busan Premium Outlet, take the metro to Jangjeon Station and transfer to the Express Bus 1008. Alternatively, you can take Bus 37 from Busan Bus Terminal.
Busan Premium Outlet or Shinsegae Premium Outlet
1133 Jeonggwan-ro, Jangan-eup, Gijang, Busan, South Korea
With all that, Busan is indeed an interesting South Korean city that should not be missed! Since it is located close to the coast, it is also great as a base to visit nearby cities such as Jeju, Gyeongju, Daegu, and even Tsushima Island and Fukuoka in Japan!
Come 2021, Busan will also welcome a massive theme park, called the Lotte World Adventure Busan. This amusement park looks huge and it definitely means that we have to make plans to revisit Busan again (hopefully when tickets go on sale again!).