The second largest city in Korea and the point to where allied forces were driven back in the early, trying days of the Korean War, Busan is this nation’s metropolis by the sea. It boasts a much milder climate than its big brother, often staying well above freezing for a daytime high in the winter; as such, hardy species of palm trees and able to survive and grow here, giving the numerous beach areas a lofty appeal with native Koreans, who flock here in droves in the middle of the hot, humid summer months. Also boosting this cities’ appeal is its world famous international film festival, which has spurned a creative renaissance among the creative portion of the population in recent years.
Whether you are visiting to escape the cruel bite of winter that northern and inland sections suffer if you’re here as an expat, or if you just a tourist here to experience everything worthwhile that Korea has to offer, Busan should occupy a prime position on your “to-visit” list!
There are two Buddhist temples that you simply must see during your visit to Busan. The first one is called Beomeosa Temple, located up in the mountains towering above downtown. First constructed way back in 678 and rebuilt numerous times following invasions by foreign forces, Beomeosa Temple is a sanctuary of peace sitting well above the harried pace of life that flows on beneath these hallowed grounds. Homestays are available for those that wish to live the lifestyle of a monk for a short period of time, which includes meals that are in line with their religious practice. For a breathtaking experience, visit during the fall months, when the hillsides are ablaze in vivid reds, ornages, and yellows, adding to the appeal of the traditional Korean architecture found here.
Next, take the 181 bus outside of Haeundae subway station and ride it to its terminus at Yonggungsa Temple, an unforgettable place of Buddhist worship situated on the jagged limestone coast east of Busan. Here, many photographic opportunities open up to avid photographers, as mist will frequently roll off the sea in varying patterns, making for tonnes of potential prize-winning shots. Aside from the spectacular views is a spring where people attempt to toss won coins into a tiny area of the pool, in an attempt to gain some luck in their lives, and a gorgeous statue of Kwang Yin.
Those wishing to pay their respects to the brave men and women of the multinational UN backed fighting force that dug in at Busan, and held back the surging tide of the North Korean army can do so at the UN Memorial Cemetery. Before heading out to this sombre place (reached by taking the Busan Subway to Kyungsung University Stn), ensure that you are wearing long pants, shirts with sleeves and close-toed shoes, or guards will deny you entry at the gate.
Finally, film buffs looking to enjoy the finest in Korean and world cinema should time their visit to Busan for the first ten days of October, as this is when the Busan International Film Festival is held every year. This festival has become insanely popular among Koreans, so be sure to plan ahead, get your tickets early, and arrive to your show early, lest you get stuck at the end of a line that wraps around the block!
Busan has many modern attractions well worth seeing. Let’s start this day of touring by heading to Nampo-dong and paying 5,000 won to go up Busan Tower. Not only go you get a sweeping view of this inspiring harbour city, your ticket also comes with an admission to a museum featuring musical instruments around the world. Quite the random pairing, but also an interesting collection to peruse over in its own right.
After snapping panorama photos to your heart’s content, amble down to the waterfront, where the smell of seafood should herald your arrival to the Jagalchi Fish Market. In this expansive wet market, the fishers of the sea have brought every conceivable life form that is edible, from shellfish to groundfish to that famously fatal (rarely, but it can happen!) fish known as fugu, known as bogeo in Korean. If you wish to sample some of the aquatic life that you see on the ground floor on your dinner plate, enjoy one of the faster sea to stomach turnarounds on the third floor, where countless restaurateurs stand ready to feed your seafood habit.
If on your way to the famous beaches of Busan you realize that you need a few essentials for the beach, like a bathing suit (darn, forgot it at home!), swing by Shinsegae Centum City, the largest department store on Earth. Try not to get distracted by the myriad of attractions vying for your attention, such as a skating rink and probably one of the best jjimjilbangs (Korean spa) in all of Busan, while you search for what you need to hit the sands further down the coast.
The beach in question, as alluded to in the previous paragraph is none other than Haeundae Beach, hands down the most popular beach in all of Korea. As a result, those searching for solitude may be sorely disappointed here, as the sands of this public treasure are hemmed in completely by loungers, and the masses that use them during the day. However, this portion of the city is also home to the best nightlife and foreign restaurants in the entire city, so if you’re looking to get your hair down in Busan, this is the place you’ll want to be. Those looking to actually enjoy the beach without elbowing other people constantly will be better served at Seongjong Beach just east of the Busan city limits, and at Songdo Beach in Southwest Busan, as they have ample room to spread out and relax, without the hassle of getting lost in throngs of beachgoers.