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!
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SEE AND DO
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.
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’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.
Blue 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.
More seagulls than people – Haeundae Beach on a good day
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Epic views from Jangsan peak
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…
An 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.
Hiking & Temples (North)
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.
Rock 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.
Hikers taking a break by the South Gate on Mt. Geumjeong. Can you spot Del?
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.
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.
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.