The Busan Rundown
Busan is South Korea’s assertive, brash and impertinent seaport city. Wholly distinct from megalopolis capital Seoul and the ancient UNESCO World Heritage city of Gyeongju, the country’s summer capital is a fast on the rise conurbation with a population of 3.5 million people and wow-factor developments on the horizon.
Busan’s discernible ambitious plans include a 2020 Summer Olympic Games bid and mega-projects with Dubai and Shanghai-like chutzpah and scale, such as Lotte World Tower, Centum City and myriad multi-phase rapid transit upgrades.
Yet for all of Busan’s apparent construction mayhem and infrastructure facelifts, the city’s tourism sweet spot remains firmly yoked to venerable points of interest like temples, fish and seafood markets and restaurants and a few notable beach ‘burbs that pullulate with throngs of domestic tourists in August. Add a rowdy festival scene to the mix and Busan emerges as a winsome diamond in the rough.
Busan’s Top 10
10. Gwangalli Beach is a summer must in Busan.
5. Haeundae Beach is a dominant Busan pulse point, especially in summer.
9. Jagalchi Fish Market is one of the most vivid and visceral fish markets in Asia.
4. Stone Buddha Temple, or Seokbulsa, is a grand and gorgeous shrine delicately carved into the side of a mountain. Well worth the somewhat arduous trek.
8. Gyeongdong Market is one of the top herbal medicine markets in Asia.
3. Heosimcheong Spa is the biggest hot spring spa in Asia and, as such, welcomes upwards of 4 million visitors a year.
7. Busan Aquarium is a gigantic marine life museum that dazzles adults and kids alike.
2. Temple of the Nirvana Fish, or Beomeosa, as the headquarters of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in South Korea.
6. Taejong-dae is a scenic natural park on Yeong Island.
1. Geunjeong Mountain is a picturesque hike or cable car ride and the best park in Busan by far.
- Seokbulsa Temple – Truly a wonder, this hermitage was carved into rock with giant boulders stretching 40m with large Buddhists images inside.
- Beomeosa Temple – Wonderful Buddhist temple founded in 678 AD.
- UN Cemetery – Provides special appeal to history buffs and offers English-speaking guided tours.
- 40 Steps – An area of one of Busan’s districts has been restored to how it was during the 1960s after the Korean War.
- Busan Modern History Musuem – Offers hard-to-find details and information about the background, history and development of Busan.
- Busan Municipal Museum – Features a collection of photos and film footage from the Korean War.
- Vespa Spa and Jjimjilbang – Experience the culture of the public bath.
- Busan Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art – Created to raise awareness of art and culture and an environment for art activities.
- BEXCO Busan – Exhibition and convention centre with national and international conferences, events and exhibits.
- Gupo Market – A wide selection of clothing and typical Korean food makes for an incredible local experience.
- Lotte Department Store – The biggest one in the area, where you can get a taste of Korea’s department stores with floors full of salespeople and free food samples.
- Jagalchi Fish Market – The largest fish market in the country with warehouses on the waterfront and small shops and streetside vendors selling their wares.
- Hyundai Department Store – Another department store with lots to offer.
- Bujeon Market – The biggest traditional open-air shopping area in Busan.
- Banana Bar – A friendly place with low lights and dancing.
- Campus – A karaoke bar with drinks and snacks.
- Club One – Great place to hang out and fills up on the weekends.
- G-Man – A small, cosy place in Busan.
- Rock – A cocktail bar and great place to relax.
- Jagalchi – Enjoy a walk along the pier and take a boat tour of the harbour.
- Gwand-an – One of the best beaches and especially lovely at night with a light show that lights up the bridge.
- Hae-undae – This famous beach brings thousands of visitors during the summer months.
- Heosimcheong Spa – The biggest hot spa in Asia. It offers saunas and soaking tubs with a capacity for 2,000 people, and for an extra fee you can also get a massage.
- Taejongdae – A lovely area of Busan with a lighthouse that overlooks the ocean below.
- The Korean soccer league plays soccer in the Asiad Stadium.
- For great hiking, do not miss a trip to the Geumjeong Mountain.
- Catch a basketball game with the KTF Magicwings at the Geumjeong gymnasium.
- The Busan Gyeongnam Horse Racing Park holds thoroughbred racing every weekend.
- For local baseball games, check out the Sajik Stadium.
- Busan Museum of Modern Art
- Busan Museum
- Beomeosa Temple
- Fortress site of Jwasuyeong
- Pusan International Film Festival
- Lotte Giants Baseball
- Gwangalli Beach
- Busan Sea Festival
- Kimbap Cheonguk
- Hannyang Chokbal
- Gaemi Jip
- Beach Bikini
- Fuzzy Navel
- Janda Look
- Winter (December to February) -1-10°C
- Spring (March to May) 4-21°C
- Summer (June to September) 17-29°C
- Fall (October to November) 7-22°C
- Busan Tower – This 118m tower offers a view of the busy Busan harbour below.
Busan Art & Culture
Gay & Lesbian Busan
Busan is a busy metropolis of over 750 km<sup>2</sup> and with some 3.5 million people. The city is made up of 15 districts (gu), several of which emerge as more than worthwhile for prospective tourists.
Haeundae is a vital node and hive of activity in Busan. The affluent resort, residential and commercial precinct lures countless domestic tourists every summer.
Gwangalli is Haeundae’s near equal in tourism appeal and has a dynamic, neon-lit vibe. A de facto restaurant, café and nightlife district, Gwangalli has a definite youthful buzz. There is ample culture here too and plenty of festivals to enjoy throughout the year.
Songjeong is a popular beach area and potential alternative from Haeundae and Gwangalli. Though off the mainstream path, it offers memorable sunrise views.
Geumjeong, as the home of Beomeosa temple and Geumjeong Fortress, is a significant Busan district. Relatively lush, verdant, hilly and free from urban sprawl, the area is a perfect hike and picnic escape from the busy coastal and commercial districts.
Nampo-dong/Gwangbok-dong/Jung-du form a venerable trifecta of market precincts in Busan. From Jagalchi Market to Busan Herb Market, Busan International Film Festival Square to a buoyant theatre scene, a major area of note in the energetic city.
Yeong-do/Taejong-dae Busan harbour is cleaved in half by Yeong Island. Taejong-dae, on the island's southernmost tip, provides singular views of the Korea Strait. On sunny, fogless days you can see Japan.
Songdo still bustless with summer holiday crowds in July and August but much less so than other coastal areas in Busan. Pretty Amnan Park and a collection of stellar raw fish restaurants make the district a good draw.
Eulsuk-do/Dadaepo is home to a wonderful bird sanctuary, expansive beach and a number of popular attractions like a cultural centre and open-air concert hall.
Seomyeon is Busan’s new central business district of note and the home of numerous markets, underground arcades, malls, restaurants, bars. A major artery for college students and young professionals.
Dongnae is a thermal spa haven cum university district that serves as a formative, immersive introduction to both.
Busan Eat & Drink
Korean cuisine is more than just a mere arrangement of ingredients but a careful, reverential expression of ancient cultural practices, with myriad inherent social customs and protocols. Delve deeply into the country’s profound culinary landscape in Busan, where local cooks make efficient, wonderful use of the sea’s bounty.
Geumsu Bokguk (Haeundae) is a foremost intrepid epicure haunt as one of the best bok (blowfish) restaurants in South Korea.
Grandmother Lee’s Raw Fish House (Haeundae) needs no introduction for a place with “grandmother” and “raw fish” on the marquee.
Yangssi Sanghoe (1-1 Nampo-dong 4Ga, Jung-gu) is one of the best bets in Busan for no-nonsense sashimi.
Millak Town Raw Fish Centre (Gwangan Beach) is a down-and-dirty agglomeration of raw fish stalls. Food blog nirvana, in other words.
Halmae Jaecheopguk (Gwangan) is a wildly popular 24-hour comfort food joint close to Gwangan Beach.
Dolgorae (12-1 Sinchang-dong, Jung-gu) doles out hearty, toothsome bowls of soybean stew. Curt, smileless service is all part of the charm.
(Seomyeon) is a lovable dive where Korean classics get deft treatment.
Gaemi Jip (downtown Busan) is a mecca for the addictive hellbroth known as nakji bokkeum, or spicy baby octopus stew.
Pungmi Chueotang (Seomyeon) is where locals flock to for a Busan fave: fish and cabbage soup.
(downtown Busan) delivers a quality sushi and sashimi set menu.
Busan has a slew of traditional festivals and events and hosts countless international conferences and conventions throughout the year.
Busan International Film Festival is a bellwether event for cinephiles and a brilliant annual showcase for the vibrant Korean film industry. As a global festival, however, the fest regularly screens films from as many as 70 different nations, with total audience figures in the range of 200,000.
Busan International Rock Festival draws tens of thousands of people to the beach at Samnak Riverside Park for a weekend of sweaty, heavy, power rock music in early August.
Though Busan is not generally regarded as a temple of high art and culture by the cognoscenti, the Busan Biennale proves otherwise, at least for two months (late September to late November) every two years. The paramount showcase and symposium unfurls a host of events and exhibitions at the Busan Museum of Art, Busan Cultural Center and Busan City Hall.
Busan International Motor Show is one of the premier motor shows in Asia. The annual event, held over 11 days in April and May, lures more than 1,800 exhibitors to the colossal Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO) in Haeundae.
Busan International Travel Fair is another BEXCO staple event. Held in early September, the fair features exhibits from as many as 30 nations on different aspects of travel education and the industry as a whole. Some 60,000 people attend every year.
Busan Sea Festival takes place the first week of August at Haeundae Beach, Gwangalli Beach, Songdo Beach, Dadaepo Beach, Song jeong Beach and Ilgwang Beach.
Busan’s annual Cherry Blossom Tree Festival is a floral time to be in the city.
The Dalmaji Festival is arguably the most popular, venerable event in Busan. The annual celebration of the first full moon of the new year draws hundreds of thousands of people to Haeundae Beach.
The Busan International Fireworks Festival takes pyrotechnics to new heights every October at Gwangalli Beach and Gwangan Bridge.
Jagalchi Festival is one of the most famous seafood festivals in Asia, let alone South Korea. The annual bash in October makes boisterous Jagalchi Market look tame the rest of the year.
For a singular cultural experience in Busan, join the feverish home crowds at Sajik Baseball Stadium for a Lotte Giants game.
When To Go
Typhoon-prone Busan has a quantifiable red flag season. Indeed, late summer and early autumn can be a most inhospitable time to holiday in the southernmost corners of the Korean Peninsula. A peak humidity and precipitation period from June to September (annual rainfall in Busan is almost triple the yearly average for London) has inherent risks but is a popular time to escape to the coast. Temperatures rarely exceed 85°F (29°C) in July and August.
For anyone averse to rain, high humidity and cold winters then, the ideal weather window in Busan is narrow. Typically, the months of October and November offer the most agreeable conditions, with temperatures in the 46°F (8°C) to 72°F (22°C) range and trace amounts of the wet stuff.
While not entirely nasty, Busan winters do feature high winds and some snow, which inevitably shuts the city down. Temperatures run from 31°F (-1°C) to 51°F (11°C) between December and February.
What To Miss
South Korea is a good place to be if you have a curious, adventurous palate. With that, why waste a meal on food you can easily procure back home? Busan has a fair share of lousy fast food and Western-style establishments, especially downtown and in the beach areas. Avoid, avoid, avoid at all costs and stick to bona fide local spots with indecipherable menus.
The average urban grid and street system in South Korea is a source of cryptic bewilderment to most visitors and, quite honestly, to some locals as well. Busan is no exception. It pays ample dividends, then, to familiarise yourself with some aspects of Hangul, the native Korean alphabet in order to decipher signs and communicate with taxi drivers, merchants and the like. South Korea is famously, almost borderline defiantly, unilingual but visitors who make even token efforts to read and speak the language generally receive infectious smiles and boundless warmth in return.
Busan is not a city chockablock with tourist trap attractions but Busan Tower may qualify as one. Skip the conspicuous downtown landmark in Yongdusan Park altogether - enough gems lurk in and around the city not to waste your time on the sad observation deck. In the same vein, Busan’s coastline teems with throngs of locals and domestic tourists in July and August. If you like your beach on the quiet side, avoid the busy summer season, when you may just have to duke it out for a precious parcel of sand.
Gimhae International Airport is set for some major upgrades as Busan’s economic clout and allure as a target for global tourists advances. A new terminal did open, however, in 2007 and for now, the hub provides service to the likes of Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo-Narita, Osaka-Kansai and Seoul. The Busan-Gimhae Light Rail Transit network, newly-minted in July 2011, offers access from the airport to Busan’s subway system.
As a seaport, Busan also has requisite hydrofoil and ferry service to Jeju, Fukuoka, Shimonoseki and Osaka.
The most important passenger rail line in South Korea, the Gyeongbu Line, links Busan with Seoul, Suwon, Daejeon and Daegu. Likewise, Busan is easily accessible by coach bus from every major city in the country.
The Busan Metro is considerable and consists of 4 lines and more than 100 stations. By far the best and most affordable method of travel in the city, the rapid transit system is currently in major expansion mode. Taxis abound in the big city, naturally, but come at a cost.
A dynamic metropolis with a host of attractions in store, Busan has fast become one of the most important hubs in Asia, let alone South Korea. The vital port city trails only Seoul in the country, with a population just under 4 million people. The potential 2020 Summer Olympic Games host, Busan has a modern, cosmopolitan vibe and points of interest that run the gamut. For arts and culture, leisure and entertainment and perhaps most of all, recreation, Busan is superb.
Known as the summer capital of Korea, the city has a vast coastline to explore. From the boardwalk and beach at Haeundae to Gwangalli Beach and Geumjeong Mountain, Busan is a great place be outdoors. Superb attractions include the Busan Museum, Museum of Modern Art and Fortress site of Jwasuyeong. The Pusan International Film Festival and Busan Sea Festival are two of the most popular annual events in South Korea.
Attractions & Activities
Busan has a humid subtropical climate, with moderate temperatures throughout the year.
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