Busan, the second-largest city of South Korea is known for its laid-back atmosphere. The city boasts of mountains, beaches, natural hot springs, chic cafes and markets that are all delight to travellers. So if you are wondering about things to do in Busan, there is a lot to explore and experience in the city. I have initially known Busan through the famous International Busan Film Festival, one of the most important film festivals in Asia. No wonder, the city holds a lot of interest for a film buff like me.
About the blog: This blog is about all the best things to do in Busan when you visit it for the first time, described by Shannon. She is a travel and dessert blogger from the UK who shares detailed itineraries, travel stories and dessert recommendations on her blog: Dessert Highway. So if you are looking for a complete Busan Travel Guide along with things to do, how to reach and other important tips, dive into this and see what Shannon has to say about Busan.
Things to do in Busan – A Complete Travel Guide
I spent two weeks in Busan last year and completely fell in love with this vibrant city by the sea.
Busan has all the hustle and bustle you would expect in a major city, but it also has a rugged coastline, a sleepy fishing village and hiking routes that take you to secluded mountaintop temples. Whether you are a city lover or a nature lover, you are sure to find plenty of things to do in Busan and to keep you busy.
I also found that Busan was a very affordable city: getting around by public transport and eating out is cheap, there are lots of fruit and vegetable stalls if you are self-catering and many of the city’s main attractions are free.
Read on to find out all you need to know before you visit South Korea’s second city.
What is the best time to visit Busan?
I went to Busan in late June and although it was very hot, there was some relief thanks to the sea breeze and the humidity wasn’t as oppressive as it is in Seoul. Summer is the best time to visit if you want to spend time on Busan’s beaches, but if you prefer to avoid the hottest and busiest months, go between April and early June when temperatures are mild and there is little rainfall. Autumn also sees mild temperatures and is a particularly good time to visit if you’re interested in film as the Busan International Film Festival is usually held in October.
How to get to Busan?
Overland from Japan
I was in Japan before my trip to Busan and chose to travel overland from Hakata (on Kyushu island) using the high-speed JR Beetle jetfoil. The crossing takes about 3 hours and it cost me 10,000 yen plus taxes. There was no limit on how much luggage you could take and check-in was hassle-free. I get seasick quite easily, but the crossing was smooth and comfortable despite travelling on a rainy day.
You can fly direct to Gimhae international airport from many popular Asian cities such as Taipei, Hong Kong and Bangkok. To get to central Busan from the airport, take the bus or subway.
By train from Seoul
Trains between South Korea’s major cities are frequent, reliable and comfortable. There are two options for the train journey from Seoul to Busan: the fast KTX bullet train or the slower Korail Mugunghwa intercity train. The fastest bullet train journey gets you to Busan in as little as 2 hours and 15 minutes, while the intercity train can take up to 5 hours and 53 minutes. Fares for both options are reasonable, but the slower trains are about half the price of the bullet train.
How to Get around Busan?
The subway is the most convenient way to get around Busan as it is fast, cheap and easy to use. However, if you want to go hiking or visit places like Haedong Yonggungsa, you will need to use the buses as well. Buses are also cheap, but some only have announcements in Korean so make sure you know the name of where you want to go and take a screenshot of the Korean just in case. If you have pocket wifi, you can use Naver Map to track your journey.
Best things to do in Busan
There are a lot of things to do in Busan. Here I have curated some of the best things that you can do there to enjoy and experience the city to the fullest.
The laid-back afternoon I spent in Cheongsapo was the highlight of my time in Busan. Cheongsapo is a fishing village famous for its traditional seafood restaurants which serve everything from raw seafood to grilled clams. The waterfront is also home to some cute and trendy cafes: Cafe Rooftop is an Instagrammers paradise, while Swallow has enviable views of the colourful fishing boats in the harbour.
After relaxing in a cafe, you can take a leisurely stroll to Cheongsapo’s two lighthouses and along a disused railway track. There is also a 72.5-metre long observatory called Daritdol Skywalk which juts out into the sea and offers excellent views of the coastline, especially at sunset. If you’re scared of heights, you might want to avoid walking on the glass-floored section!
Cafe hopping in Seomyeon
Bustling Seomyeon, a popular shopping and entertainment district, is home to some of Busan’s best cafes. I stayed in Seomyeon and loved satisfying my sweet tooth in a different cafe every day.
For flaky pastries and light as air cakes, head to Land Mark 9, an elegant cafe with floor to ceiling windows and vintage furniture. Another cafe that is worth a visit is POTID, a magic-themed cafe that specialises in cookies and ice cream. There are cauldrons in the windows, broomsticks hanging from the ceiling and a toy train that chugs along above your head. Needless to say, this cafe is a must-visit for any Harry Potter fans!
My favourite cafe in Seomyeon was Knock Out, a fun and eclectic cafe that serves wine, beer and fresh watermelon juice alongside a tempting selection of cakes and pastries. Knock Out is open until the early hours so this is the perfect place for a few drinks or a late-night sweet treat.
Known as the most beautiful temple in South Korea, it’s no surprise that Haedong Yonggungsa is often extremely crowded, especially on weekends. I visited on a Saturday afternoon and had to contend with large groups of tourists and couples with selfie sticks, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this stunning temple and I was still able to find some quiet corners.
Most Korean temples are located in the mountains, but Haedong Yonggungsa is perched at the very edge of the coastline with spectacular sea views. Don’t forget your camera as you’ll want to capture this photogenic temple from every angle!
If you can, visit early or late on a weekday when the temple is relatively quiet. To get to Haedong Yonggungsa, take bus 181 from exit 7 of Haeundae subway station. Admission to the temple is free.
Igidae Coastal Walk
This hiking trail stretches 4.7km along the sea of Japan coastline and takes you through wooded paths, across bridges and to lookout points that give panoramic views of Busan’s skyline.
There are various access points along the trail so you can choose to walk a particular section if you don’t want to walk the entire course. The Igidae Coastal Walk isn’t too strenuous and should be suitable for most fitness levels. As such it is very popular with locals; from hiking groups to couples out for a romantic stroll to families teaching their children to fish.
I’m not always keen on this type of typical tourist attraction, but there is more to this tower than meets the eye. After taking in the breathtaking city views, I assumed the fun was over, but the route to the exit took me through a series of fun themed rooms which made for some great photo opportunities. If you time your visit well, you will also get to enjoy an impressive multimedia projection on the tower which plays three times a night. At 8,000 won a ticket, you definitely get your money’s worth!
I recommend visiting at night when the tower is quiet and the city is aglow with colourful neon lights. Busan Tower is located in Yongdusan park in the Nampo area. The park is at the top of a steep hill but there are a series of colourful escalators that take you to the top.
Seokbulsa is a peaceful mountaintop temple that is famous for its large stone carvings. Thanks to its location at the top of a steep winding path, you are likely to have much of the temple to yourself.
To get to the hiking trail that takes you to Seokbulsa, take the cable car from Geumgang Park and follow the signs for the South Gate (남문). When you get to the South Gate, take the road downhill to Namun Village, walk through the village and then turn right at the fence. This is where I got a bit lost, but thankfully this is a popular area for hiking and I was able to ask for directions. Again, take a screenshot of the temple name just in case.
Best Places to Eat in Busan
WaraWara in Seomyeon
This fun and affordable restaurant serves a mix of Korean and Western food such as Tteokbokki, deep-fried squid, fries and pizza. If possible, get a table in the window and enjoy the view looking down on one of Seomyeon’s busiest shopping streets. There is little English on the menu, but fortunately, there are plenty of pictures to make ordering easier.
Bareul Jeong (바를정) in Seomyeon
This unassuming restaurant serves simple hearty dishes like bulgogi and bibimbap. Each dish comes with an array of side dishes making the meal very filling and incredibly good value.
Sigppangssabu (식빵싸부) in Seomyeon
This bakery sells melt-in-the-mouth loaves of bread in unusual flavours such as chocolate, cinnamon and condensed milk. They are the perfect snack to take on a hike or for a picnic.
Tips for first-time visitors
- As Google Maps doesn’t work in South Korea, make sure you download Naver Map to help you get around. This app is fairly easy to use, but it’s sometimes difficult to find places when searching in English as they are spelt according to how they are pronounced in Korean. For example, Knock Out cafe in Seomyeon is spelt Neok Out on Naver Map.
- I managed without pocket WiFi while I was in Busan, but if you want to have internet access on the go, you can rent a pocket WiFi device from Gimhae airport or from the international passenger terminal at Busan harbour.
- The easiest way to pay for public transport while you’re in Busan is to buy a T-money card which is similar to an Oyster card in London or a Suica card in Japan. T-money cards cost between 2,500 and 4,000 won and can be bought from any convenience store with the T-money logo. You can use your card on the subway and on some buses and you can top up at the self-service machines in subway stations.
- It’s always helpful to try to learn a few phrases in the local language and even if you only learn kam-sa-ham-ni-da (thank you), you’ll find that it goes a long way.
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