• The Essential Busan City Guide

The Essential Busan City Guide

South Korea’s second city couldn’t be more different from its capital.

Located on the south coast, Busan boasts beaches and seafood galore, and has an altogether more chilled vibe. While cosmopolitan Seoul is an international city, Busan remains very much more ‘Korean’ – at least that’s how it feels to us. Visiting Seoul from our home in Tongyeong, we’re always a bit taken aback by the fluent English spoken, the huge choice of western food, and the sheer number of foreigners. In Busan, things are a little different: there are fewer foreigners; it’s not quite so easy to find a meal without kimchi; and we definitely get to practice our Korean more often.

In our three years in Korea, we’ve been to Busan a ton of times and explored all over this cool city. From hiking trails, temples and beaches, to shopping, nightlife and food, Busan has so much to offer.  We’ve put together our top picks and absolute favourites in this Essential Busan City Guide so you can make the most of your time in this vibrant and varied city.

With international flights to many Asian countries, ferry connections to Japan and the high speed rail linking Seoul and Busan in under 3 hours, it’s incredibly easy to make Busan part of your Korea travel plans. Read on and start planning your trip!

Busan City Guide: Sunset over the city from Ganbiosan BongsudaeOur favourite sunset spot in Busan

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SEE AND DO

The best things to see and do in Busan are spread out across the city, but all linked conveniently by an easy to use subway system.

Traditional Korea

In the south west Jagalchi Fish Market is one of the most famous fish markets in the country. It’s definitely worth a visit. Wander through and appreciate this thriving, bustling market. There’s great views across the water from the concourse outside and the nearby Nampo-dong shopping area is good for exploring too.

Busan City Guide: Octopus at Jagalchi Fish MarketOctopus for sale at Jagalchi Fish Market


Busan City Guide: Seaweed Vendor Jagalchi Fish Market A seaweed vendor at Jagalchi Fish Market


Busan City Guide: Outside at Jagalchi Fish MarketCoffee break at Jagalchi Fish Market


A little west of Jagalchi is Gamcheon Culture Village. Once a poor hillside neighbourhood, it was given a spectacularly colourful makeover by art students and local residents in 2009. Murals cover the walls of houses, quirky shops hide in alleyways and art installations appear out of nowhere. It’s a really cool spot and a great place to wander for a couple of hours. Buy the walking tour map at the info centre and you can even collect stamps and postcards at various locations around the village. It’s not on a subway line so it’s best to either take a taxi, or jump on the village bus number 2 or 2-2. Take the bus from in front of the hospital by exit 6 of Toseong Subway Station.

Busan City Guide: Colourful houses cascading down the hillside at Gamcheon Culture VillageColourful houses cascading down the hillside at Gamcheon


Busan City Guide: Colourful steps with book titles written on them Bookcase staircase at Gamcheon Culture Village


Busan City Guide: A young couple dressed up in school uniforms from the past in Gamcheon Culture Village These two are playing dress up in old fashioned school uniforms 


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Beaches

Busan’s two most popular beaches are Gwangalli and Haeundae. Gwangalli (pronounced Gwang-alli) has a real city beach vibe. Tall apartment blocks and hotels rise right behind, with cafes, restaurants and bars lining the beachfront. There’s a fantastic view looking right out to the impressive Gwangan Bridge. We especially like this area at night when the neon lights of the city and bridge are on full show.

Busan City Guide: Two women strolling the beach at sunset at Gwangalli BeachBlue hues at sunset on Gwangalli Beach

To the east, emerging from the subway onto the wide streets of Haeundae feels very different. Less ‘inner-city beach’ and more ‘Eh, are we in Manly, Sydney?’, this is a great place to relax, chill out on the beach and soak up the coastal views. Unless you’re here in Summer. Then it’s nuts. There’s a great coastal walk around the headland at the end of the beach. Just head past the big Westin Chosun Hotel and follow the Dongbaek Island trail.

Busan City Guide: A quiet day on Haeundae BeachMore seagulls than people – Haeundae Beach on a good day

Coastal Temple

Further up the coast is the beautifully situated Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Occupying a spot overlooking the ocean, with waves crashing on the rocks below, it’s a unique temple – well worth the trip out there. There’s no subway link so you can either take a taxi from Haeundae or bus 181 from outside exit 7 of Haeundae Station.

Busan City Guide: Haedong Yonggungsa Temple Gorgeous setting at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple


Busan City Guide: An underground shrine at Haedong Yonggunsa Temple Shafts of light illuminating an underground shrine at Yonggunsa Temple


Coastal Walks

If you want to see a bit more of the coast then you can walk back from the temple all the way to Haeundae, passing by the quieter surf beach of Songjeong. At the temple, head through the forest at the far side of the carpark and follow the path around the coast. It takes you through small fishing villages and Songjeong beach is a great place to stop for coffee, or just hang out on the beach.

Busan City Guide: Songjeong BeachFlying kites at Songjeong Beach on Lunar New Year’s Day


Busan City Guide: A fishing harbour on the coastal walk from Haedong Yonggunsa Temple to Songjeong BeachA fishing village on the coastal walk from Haedong Yonggunsa Temple to Songjeong Beach


Another fantastic coastal walk is at Igidae Park. It has awesome views over Gwangalli, Haeundae and beyond. The path hugs the coast, snaking through forest areas and over suspension bridges. You can walk along the rocks by the ocean for long stretches. Fishing off the rocks is popular and if you stick around for sunset the twilight skyline is pretty spectacular. The quickest and easiest way to get there is by taxi. Get dropped off at the furthest away point and walk back towards the start with the water on your right. The closest subway station is Namcheon Station. It’s about a 15 minute walk from exit 3 to the start of the trail. Walk west from the exit, take your first left then cross the street at McDonald’s. Go under the overpass and keep heading in the direction of the big green hill area.

Busan City Guide: Long exposure shot at Igidae Rocks looking over the water to Gwangalli and Haeundae The view over to Gwangalli and Haeundae from the Igidae Rocks coastal walk


Busan City Guide: Gwangan Brige at night as seen from Igidae ParkHang around at Igidae Rocks for this view of the Gwangan Bridge by night


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Hiking (South)

Hiking? In a city?! Of course! This is Korea, after all. A nation of hikers and hiking trails. There are a couple of great options we can recommend. 

The Biggie

First is Jangsan Peak (장산) behind Haeundae. If you only do one hike in Busan, make it this one. The views over the city from the peak are incredible and the fact that it’s accessible from Haeundae means it’s easy to add into your general sightseeing plan. It takes around 2 hours to reach the top.

Busan City Guide: At the peak of Jangsan Mountain, overlooking Busan city and the oceanEpic views from Jangsan peak 

The Shortie

If you’re short on time or a less keen hiker you can turn off the trail near the start and head to Ganbiosan Bongsudae (간비오산 봉수대), an old fire beacon. It’s only about 20-30 minutes one way and it still rewards you with an epic cityscape view. We like doing a sunset hike to this point, makgeolli or beer in hand, to hang out and watch the sun go down while the city lights come up. Just remember a torch for the way back down…

Busan City Guide: Sunset glow as the city lights turn on. View over Busan from Ganbiosan BongsudaeAn amazing sunset hike –  the Gwangan Bridge from Ganbiosan Bongsudae

Find the Trails

There are a few trails up Jangsan, but the route we’ve always taken starts just 5-10 mins walk from Haeundae Station or 3 minutes walk from Dongbaek Station. Take exit 4 out of Haeundae and head along the road, keeping the mountains on your right. Or take exit 2 out of Dongbaek and walk straight with the mountains on your left. In between the red and yellow petrol station with the winking face logo and 7th Street Pizza, turn up the narrow alley. Walk up the steps, over the new walking path and turn right at the brown sign, up on to the forest trail. After about 20 mins you’ll reach a clearing with an exercise gym. Walk a little beyond this and take the switchback trail on the right. 5 mins later you’ll be at Ganbiosan Bongsudae, the old fire beacon.

If you’re heading to Jangsan Peak just keep on going instead of taking the switchback path. You can also access the peak by taking the subway to Jangsan Station, come out exit 10 and walk straight to Daecheon Park (look for the big mountain). Follow trail signs for 장산 (Jangsan) or 정상 (peak). You could also go up one way and down the other, which is the way we hiked it.

Busan City Guide: The view from the street of the path leading up to BongsudaeThis is the path you’re looking for from the main road to start the hike up Ganbiosan Bongsudae/Jangsan. 7th Street Pizza on the left, gas station on the right.


Busan City Guide: Sign for Jangsan Peak and Ganbiosan Bongsudae HikesKeeps your eyes peeled for this sign just after you leave the main road


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The Essential Busan City Guide, South Korea. What to see, do, eat & drink. Where to stay, how to get around, plus an interactive map to help you find it all. Beaches, hiking, shopping, quirky sights, temples, amazing seafood and buzzing nightlife - find out the best of Busan travel | South Korea Travel | Korea Travel | Backpacking Korea | Korea Beach | Korean Food | Hiking Korea | Korean Temples | East Asia Travel | Travel Tips | Travel Guides | City Guides #SouthKorea #TravelTips #Busan #Asia

Hiking & Temples (North)

Seokbulsa Temple

A second great hike is in the north of the city and you can combine it with the impressive Seokbulsa Temple.  It has some amazing statues carved into the rock face, something we’ve never seen at other temples in Korea.

To find it, take line 1 to Oncheonjang Station and leave by exit 1. Head towards the mountain and Geumgang Park – it’s about 10-15 mins walk.  From the park, take the cable car up the mountain. At the top, hike to the South Gate (Nammun 남문), then follow the sign for Mandeokchon (만덕촌) and head down to Namman Village (남만 마을). Walk past the restaurants and volleyball courts and just keep heading downhill, following signs for Seokbulsa (석불사). When you reach the concrete road, turn right and walk up – it’s a steep hill but soon you’ll arrive at the temple.  From the temple you can walk back down the road, passing villages and eventually coming out near Mandeok Station on line 3.

Busan City Guide: Massive rock carvings at Seokbulsa TempleRock carvings at Seokbulsa Temple

The South Gate is part of the old fortress walls. Instead of hiking down to Seokbulsa you can actually continue on a route to the North Gate (Bukmun 북문) and one of Busan’s biggest temples, Beomeosa (범어사). The hike is just under 9km. We haven’t done this part of the hike but saw plenty of others doing it when we reached South Gate.

Busan City Guide: The South Gate on Mt. GeumjeongHikers taking a break by the South Gate on Mt. Geumjeong. Can you spot Del?

Beomeosa Temple

If you want to visit Beomeosa temple without hiking you can take the subway to Beomeosa Station, take exit 5, turn left up the street and catch local bus 90 outside Bi-Mart. It’s about 10 minutes on the bus. Taxis usually wait outside the subway exit and cost around ₩5000 to the temple. If you’re in Busan in Autumn then it’s well worth the journey up here – the temple is surrounded by incredibly colourful trees and has a 580 year old ginkgo tree in its grounds. The setting is really spectacular.

Busan City Guide: Colourful leaves on the hillside at Beomeosa TempleAutumn at Beomeosa Temple


Busan City Guide: A golden Gingko Tree at Beomeosa TempleA glorious Gingko Tree at Beomeosa Temple in Autumn


Shopping

For shopping Centum City is the place to go. The Shinsegae Department Store is massive and there are loads of Korean and international shops in the mall.

For less bling and more local shops, the underground shopping mall in Seomyeon area has some good finds, plus there are loads more quirky boutique shops, alongside well-known names like H&M, above ground.

Nampo-dong area is also good for local shopping and unique finds.

Korean Saunas

Spa Land

Located in Centum City, Spa Land is like a boutique designer version of a Korean spa, and an excellent introduction to getting your naked scrub on. There’s no kids allowed, which makes for a far more peaceful experience.

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After paying at the front desk, put your shoes in the locker by the entrance, put the key around your wrist and head to the changing rooms. Find your locker number matching the wrist key, get naked and enter the single sex bathing area. Make sure you shower first: either in the regular looking shower bit, or sit on one of the tiny plastic stools and hose yourself down with the shower head. Then you can choose a pool to dunk yourself in. There’s a couple of saunas and an outdoor pool, too.

One of the best bits though is getting a scrub down from the wifies that work there. Sign up for an allotted time on the board to the right of the exit. Then you can enjoy having cucumber mush slapped on your face and every inch of your body scrubbed clean. The prices are all on the board and you can just charge it to your wrist key. Del’s never gone for the scrub but I imagine it’s similar in the men’s section.

After the baths, head back to the changing rooms and stick on the shorts and top they gave you at the start. This is your attire for hanging out in the jjimjilbang, the mixed sex area where you’ll find umpteen theme rooms, more saunas, a cafe, massage chairs and chill out zones. Again, just charge things to your key and settle up on the way out.

Once you get over the sight of a woman blow-drying and grooming all the hair on her body (yeah, don’t use the communal hairbrushes), or the awkwardness of having some old man chat to you in the sauna while scratching his junk, we promise you’ll feel amazing.


Hurshimchung (허심청)

If you want to check out a more traditional spa, Hurshimchung (허심청) in the north of the city is one of the oldest in Busan. Get to the same subway station as you would for the Seokbulsa Temple hike; Oncheonjang Station, exit 1. It has an outdoor pool and great scrubs (no cucumber mush at this one though). It does allow kids, so expect a few inflatable toys and excited children in the baths with you (although according to Del, the men’s area was perfectly peaceful).

EAT

Seafood

Being a coastal city, Busan is all about the seafood. Getting it fresh at the Jagalchi Fish Market is a real treat. The live fish market is on the ground floor and upstairs there are loads of restaurants where you can feast on freshly prepared seafood. They all kind of merge into one so just look for the different chairs or table covers to distinguish where one ends and the other one starts. Most have a menu with pictures so it’s easy enough to order. We’ve tried a couple – Kidari Sashimi (키다리 횟집) is a good shout, with friendly owners and great food. As usual, you’ll get a bunch of sides included. Prices for sashimi start at about ₩40,000 for a small plate.

Busan City Guide: Inside Jagalchi Fish Market main buildingThe ground floor packed with live seafood vendors


Busan City Guide: Assorted grilled fish at Jagalchi Fish MarketDel getting stuck into some grilled fish and sides to accompany our sashimi


Busan City Guide: The eating area upstairs at Jagalchi Fish MarketThe eating area upstairs at Jagalchi 


The orange tarp covered seafood tents next to Haeundae beach are also a good spot for trying out some weird and wonderful dishes. Eating al fresco like this is a quintessential Korean experience and a fun thing to do.

Busan City Guide: The seafood tents at Haeundae BeachSeafood tents behind Haeundae Beach

Traditional Korean & Street Food

In Seomyeon there’s a thriving food stall street and a whole alley dedicated to dwaeji gukbap (돼지 국밥), a comforting and delicious pork and rice soup. Women stir enormous pots on the street and the whole alley seems to be stuck in a bygone era. We’ve been to Pohang Dwaeji Gukbap (포항돼지국밥) a few times and it never disappoints.

On the food stall street there’s a modern styled restaurant serving traditional kimchi and pork dishes that’s cheap and has a nice atmosphere – 정성식당 (Jeongseong Restaurant). 

Busan City Guide: Traditional korean restaurant, Jeonseong, in SeomyeonJeongseong Restaurant (closed on Sundays!)


Busan City Guide: Pork Rice Soup and street food street in SeomyeonDwaeji Gukbap street in Seomyeon – Pohang Dwaeji Gukbap is on the left 


Keep an eye out for Busan’s special take on the deliciously sweet street snack, hotteok. Seeds and nuts are piled into fried batter with gooey brown sugar and cinnamon goodness. There’s a great stall near the entrance in Gamcheon Culture Village and plenty of other places to try it around the city, especially in Winter.

Busan City Guide: Hotteok in a cup The King of Korean street food – hotteok

International Food

For a whole host of food options, both Korean and international, check out the Shinsegae Food Court at Centum City. This is no bog standard food court we might add. The quality is excellent and some well known restaurants have a spot here. We spent an afternoon hunting around Nampo-dong once looking for this Thai restaurant (Arun Thai) we’d read great reviews about, only to find it had closed down. We later discovered the owners had set up shop in the food court and the wait for that Pad Thai was worth it!

If you’re craving some Indian we really like Namaste in Haeundae. It’s downstairs so no view but the food is some of the best Indian we’ve had in Korea (their tandoori paneer is amazing!).

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DRINK

Our favourite areas for nightlife and drinking are Seomyeon and Gwangalli. KSU also has a ton of bars and clubs, mostly aimed at the student crowd living around here.

Gwangalli Beach

Gwangalli is especially beautiful at night when the bridge is lit up. You can stroll along the beach watching the neon lights flicker on the water. Our favourite place to enjoy the view is The Owl and the Pussycat, a taphouse with a curved second floor window looking straight out over the beach and bridge. Their food is good, it’s got a great atmosphere and you can sample craft beer from Korea and all over the world (including the occasional Scottish Brew Dog!). Another great craft beer spot is Galmegi Brewery, a native Busan brewing company. You can also find the Galmegi Taphouse in Haeundae, and they’ve opened new locations in Seomyeon and Nampo, too. If you’re looking to party the night away there’s loads of bars along the waterfront.

Busan City Guide: Beer flight at Galmegi Taphouse, Haeundae BeachTasting them all at Galmegi Taphouse, Haeundae


Busan City Guide: Interior of the Owl and the Pussycat Taphouse, GwangalliThe Owl and the Pussycat Taphouse, Gwangalli 


Seomyeon

In Seomyeon our go-to joint is The Savoy. It was a glorious night when we stumbled upon this British Pub-like establishment, complete with fish ‘n’ chips on the menu and ales on draft. They also have an extensive vinyl collection. Nearby is Jazz Bar 318, a good shout if you like dark little bars and jazz (obviously). You can find both bars easily by coming out of exit 4 of Seomyeon Station and turning right down the first alley. Follow the alley round to the right and you’ll see the jazz bar on the corner. Keep walking straight to the end of the alley. You’ll see The Savoy across the street to the right. There’s loads of other bars and late night food joints in this area, making Seomyeon a great spot for either a few quiet drinks or partying till the small hours.

Busan City Guide: Busy street at night in Seomyeon areaSeomyeon streets at night

SLEEP

Busan is a fairly spread out city so you’re probably going to be taking the subway to visit the various areas. For a base while visiting the city we recommend choosing an area depending on your overall plans.

Haeundae

If you’re going to be spending a lot of time at the beach, doing the coastal walks or hiking up Jangsan, then Haeundae Beach is a good choice. There are loads of motels clustered a few streets back from the beach and hostel, hotel and Airbnb options, too. It’s a short taxi ride to Gwangalli if you wanted to check out some other bars and the night view later on. We’ve stayed at V Motel on the main motel drag a couple of times and can recommend it. My parents got a cheap mid-week deal at MS Hotel and had an amazing view over the beach. Weekend/holiday prices are always higher.

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Nampo

If you’re keen to spend time exploring the shopping alleys of Nampo and checking out the Jagalchi fish market, Gamcheon mural village and Igidae Coastal Walk, then Nampo-dong is a good base.  It’s also close to Busan Station if you’re arriving/departing by train.

Seomyeon

If you want to be close to the nighttime action and/or be centrally located then Seomyeon is a great choice. It’s on subway lines 1 and 2 so it’s easy to access all the areas we’ve mentioned. There are lots of motels to choose from, but hands down our favourite is Zava.

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GET THERE

Busan is well connected to the rest of the country by bus, train and plane.

There are two main intercity bus stations, Central and Seobu (commonly referred to as Sasang), plus a couple of minor ones. The Central Bus Terminal is, well, not that central. It’s in the northeast of the city and has routes to the north and east of the country. Seobu station in the southwest is mostly for south, west and central destinations, although you can get a bus to Seoul here too. The best advice we can give is to call the travel helpline 1330 for the most up to date information on routes and times.

The main train station is near Nampo-dong in the southwest and has KTX (high speed rail) links to Seoul, as well as many other cities.

Gimhae International Airport is easily accessible by the light rail connection. The light rail takes you to Sasang Station in less than 10 minutes, where you can easily connect to the subway line or head to the Inter-city Seobu Bus Station.

If you’re flying from/to another destination in Asia then check flight options for Busan instead of Seoul as these may save you time backtracking to Seoul for your onward flight. You may be able to book two one-way tickets, or an open-jaw return (meaning you fly into one airport and out of a different one).

There are also international ferry/catamaran routes to Japan, with Fukuoka being the quickest city to get to.

You can search and book flights and ferry tickets via Rome2Rio.

GET AROUND

The Busan Metro system is extensive and easy to use, with signs and announcements in English.

If you’re coming from elsewhere in Korea you’ll no doubt already have a T-Money Card, but if not make sure you get one before making your first journey. You can pick one up at any convenience store for 3,000 Won; top it up with cash at the store, or at the recharge machines in subway stations. You benefit from discounted fares and can use it on the subway, local buses and in most taxis. Just tap the card at the subway turnstile, at the machine by the bus driver or hand it over to your taxi driver. If you’re changing lines or buses within 30 minutes make sure you tap off and you won’t have to pay for the second journey. You can get a refund on any unused money up to 20,000 Won at any convenience store, they’ll just take a fee of 500 Won.

Download the Kakao Metro App for Android or iOS to easily plan out your subway routes and times (in English!). We’d recommend using Kakao Maps  (Andoid or iOS ) while in Korea too. It’s much more detailed than Google Maps and thanks to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics it’s now available in English too! The app’s great for finding bus stops and you can easily live track buses from your phone. It’s also really good for finding bars and restaurants. And one of our favourite features, you can use it when you’re out hiking – it includes all the main hiking trails so there’s less chance of getting lost!

READY TO GO?

Busan is such a cool city with so much variety in terms of things to see and do. It makes a great introduction to the country and is a worthy addition to any Korea travel itinerary. Beaches, temples, mountains, food galore and more – there’s something to appeal to every traveller! We hope this Essential Busan City Guide has given you a taste for the city and helps get your plans locked down. Have a great trip!

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