The Ultimate Travel Guide to Busan, South Korea

After spending a few days in Seoul, South Korea, I took the train to Busan. Busan is the next largest city in South Korea after Seoul. This port city is a common side trip to take for visitors to Korea. Known for its nature, specifically its beaches, this city was a nice juxtapose to my South Korean adventure after Seoul. I was in Busan for two days, and this is my list of must-sees and must-dos for this city.

  1. Gamcheon Cultural Village

This was my favourite place in Busan. It’s an adorable little village with kitsch and reminiscent of Cinque Terre. Monikers that Gamcheon has been referred as include Santorini and Macchu Picchu of Korea – I have never been to either, but I respectfully disagree and call it the Cinque Terre of Korea. More specifically, the Manarola of Korea.

Supposedly, you can get a map and follow it to get stickers or points or something like that. I was more than content roaming the town by myself and getting lost in the little alleyways that cut through the clustered pastel houses.

Gamcheon is a photographer’s dream. Littered all over this village are street art of sculptures and murals, all created by the residents.There were ample space and alone time for me to take lots of photos along the way (without an audience). Residents are extremely friendly, and pay you no mind at all. Except for the few ahjummas who slowed down and smiled while I was having my solo photoshoot. But then would scurry away sheepishly when I asked them to join me for a photo.

Some viewpoints here would be the Stairs to See Stars no romantic connotation here; it was named so because the stairs were so steep that at the end of climbing it, you would get so dizzy from exhaustion that you’d see stars. The Little Prince and Fox statue is a famous photo location perched at the top of Gamcheon. Supposedly there’s always a line for a photo here, but I was lucky that I only had to wait a turn.

  1. Use the Tourist Bus 

Be like a local and take the Busan tourist buses. Although the bus service is meant for tourists,  evidently it’s catered more for the Korean tourists. The tour guide will wholly be in Korean though there are English language pamphlets. The drivers don’t speak English either, but you can get by with basics.

There are two companies that run the tourist buses,  Busan City Tour Bus (BUTI) and Jumbo Bus. Both the buses depart from the same stop at Busan station. The buses run different routes, so I used both services to get to the next attractions listed here.

Taking the tourist buses were the easiest and fastest way to get from one tourist attraction to the next. Although Busan is well-connected by metro and buses, some of the attractions are located at opposite ends and would require lots of planning. I only had a full day to visit all the places below, and the BUTI and Jumbo Bus combo did it for me.

  1. Haedong Yonggusa Temple 

Haedong Yonggusa Temple is one of the more unique temples I’ve visited because it was built right on the rocky cliffs by the sea. The temple overlooks the beautiful sea, and the view is the definite highlight here. This Buddhist temple was first built in 1376 by the great Buddhist teacher known as Naong during the Goryeo Dynasty.

I entered by the back, via the Fisheries Science Museum. If you enter by the supposed real entrance out front, you’ll walk through a street market of sorts. Statues of the 12 zodiacs will also greet you. It was extremely crowded when I visited. The temple was decorated with colourful lanterns and I believe it was in preparation for Buddha’s upcoming birthday.

  1. Haeundae Beach

This is the most famous beach in Busan. As expected, it was crowded. AF. While I was there, there was a sandcastle event going on. It was not summer when I visited, but the sun was shining bright and warm. I imagine the waters were still quite chilly though, I was comfortable in my leather jacket getup.

A friend highly recommended that I stay at Haeundae Beach, not just for the easy beach access, but also due to the dizzying array of food options in the area. Also because Haeundae is not dead at night. If it was summer, I’d probably stay at Haeundae Beach, I chose not to since it was much too chilly to do any swimming.

If you want a more peaceful and less crowded beach experience, hop on over to…

  1. Gwanggali Beach

Granted, I didn’t actually visit Gwanggali beach, but the bus went past this stretch of beach.

Save some joggers, the beach was empty. Gwanggali may not be as long as Haeundae beach, but I imagine the lack of people here makes for a more peaceful day in the sea.

  1. Taejongdae

Taejongdae is considered one of Busan’s natural monument.

Prior to arriving here, I kept reading blog after blog telling me to take the Danubi tram up. And nothing useful came up when I googled if I could just, well, walk up. FYI, you most definitely can. The hike up is perfectly doable hike, by the way, and extremely pleasant, past the sea and lots of trees.

It’s most famous for its rock beach, the Instagram shot, if you will. The rock beach unfortunately enough, was gated off at the time of my visit. I’m guessing it was due to weather; it was extremely windy when I visited. Like crazy windy. The needle-like structure in front of the Yeongdo Lighthouse is also another trademark of the park.

You’re suppose to be able to get down on the other side of the cliffs to some tented eateries, where local ladies will serve you the freshest seafood. I wasn’t able to, because the wind was so strong at one point I literally couldn’t move forward. Insane. For the sake of not falling over the steep stairs, I apologized to my tummy and backed the hell up where I came from. I saw the tented eateries from above though, so they were still open. Wondering how their tents were intact down there.

  1. Oryukdo Island

Like Taejongdae, Oryukdo Island is a monument of Busan.

There is a skywalk that is basically a glass-bottomed bridge hanging off the cliff. As this was my second last stop of the day by BUTI, I arrived about 6.00 pm, and missed walking here. It closes at 6pm.

Oryukdo Island is really a cluster of rock islands off the southern coast or Busan. Depending on the day and tide, you’re suppose to be able to see either five or six rock islands. Oryukdo is made up of Usakdo, Surido, Gonggotdo, Guido and Deungdaedo. Supposedly you can hike along the coastline as well. If you’re not hiking, you’re there to spot these five islands, and enjoy the view. And I suppose go on the Skywalk, which I didn’t feel like I missed out on since it’s literally a short glass-paned 5-minute walkway that lets you see directly to the sea below. Regardless, Oryukdo Islands was a beautiful location to bookmark on a trip to Busan.

  1. Nampodong / BIFF Square

Nampodong was my last stop on the BUTI bus. This is your vibrant shopping street – the Myeongdong of Busan. Nampodong is home to the BIFF (Busan International Film Festival) Square. Spot the many handprints and footprints of famous stars scattered all over the area.

This is where you also indulge in Korean street food. Try the Hotteok, a fried pancake stuffed with brown sugar and sunflower seeds. Simple, but ultra addictive. Fishcake is a specialty of Busan too, so grab a stick of Odeng at one of the many carts there with a side of Tteokbokki.

Fortune-telling seems like a huge thing here, as one whole section of the market were just rows of small tents of Korean fortune tellers and tarot card readers.

  1. Jagalchi Fish Market

I’m not a big fan of fish – also one of the reasons why the famous Noryanjing Fish Market was not part of my itinerary while in Seoul – but this was very close to Nampodong. I’ve never seen so many live octopus in a single place, so that was an experience. The indoors fish market didn’t smell fishy at all which I thouhgt fascinating. It smelled like the sea – testament to how fresh the seafood is there. A thing to do there is to purchase the fresh seafood, and have it at freshly cooked to your preference at the many restaurants there.


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