I recently had the privilege of having my mother as a visitor here in Busan. It was an amazing opportunity to show someone around to all the things I love best about the city I’ve called home for the past 9 months. It was also a wonderful reminder of what makes this place so special. Until I moved here, I’d never heard of Busan – it’s not well known internationally compared to Seoul – but I completely fell in love with it once I arrived. If you ever get the chance to visit, there are so many things worth experiencing here. Here are my top recommendations for Busan, whether you have just a short time in the city or are staying for a while.
Haeundae Beach and Dongbaek Island coastal walk: The beach becomes crowded with umbrellas during the summer months but it’s beautiful at any time of year. The views from this beach are some of my favourite in Busan. The boardwalk is a lovely place for a stroll, and just past the Westin Chosun hotel it turns into a gorgeous coastal walk around Dongbaek island, where the APEC summit was held in 2005.
Gwangalli Beach: As lovely as Haeundae is, Gwangalli is my favourite of Busan’s 5 beaches. The Diamond suspension bridge is particularly beautiful at sunset. Gwangalli beach has a very vibrant beach strip of bars and restaurants running right along the beach road so it’s a fun place to spend time. Almost every café along the strip has views out onto the beach and the water.
Igidae Coastal Walk: Not far from Gwangalli is the beautiful scenic coastal hike at Igidae Park. It offers views back towards the Gwangan bridge, the shiny buildings of Marine City and Haeundae beach. It’s not a difficult hike, but the path hugs the cliffs and has wonderful vistas of the ocean all the way along to Oryukdo – two pretty islands set just offshore. You can easily take a cab back from Oryukdo once you’re finished hiking.
Shinsegae Department Store and Spaland: Busan is home to the biggest department store in the world, though it doesn’t feel like the biggest when you’re actually inside. Shinsegae is located in an expensive area of Busan, Centum City, and has a whole day’s worth of entertainment inside if you want it: countless stores, a huge international food court, a movie theatre, an ice skating rink, and of course Spaland. Spaland is a luxury version of a traditional Korean spa. On top of the classic baths area (note: this area is nude and gender-segregated), it also has a huge number of themed saunas, TV rooms, massage chairs, two restaurants and an oxygen-therapy clinic. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to feel pampered for only about $15.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple: There are countless temples in Busan, most of them in the mountains, but this coastal temple is one of the best. It does get touristy, but it’s absolutely stunning and definitely worth a visit. It’s set right into the coast with views out over the water.
Nampodong neighbourhood and Jagalchi Fish Market: This is such a fun neighbourhood. It’s chock-full of things to do with everything from vintage clothing stores, food from all over the world, international markets and a book alley. Not to mention the Jagalchi fish market, one of Busan’s biggest claims to fame. The market is crowded and very alive with every kind of seafood you can imagine. It’s such an interesting place to walk through. Nampo is also a great place to get hotteok ssiat, see below!
Lotte Giants baseball game: One of the most fun activities in Busan is a weekend late-afternoon baseball game at Sajik stadium. The open-air stadium is surrounded by mountains and is actually quite picturesque at sunset in the summertime! Add to that the fact that you can bring as much food and booze in from outside the game (and the prices for alcohol are identical to those outside the stadium anyways), and the hilarious cheers and dances of the fans and you can see why it’s a total blast.
Dalmaji hill and Vesta Spa: The second most famous spa in Busan lives on Dalmaji hill. One of the reasons it’s so popular is the views it offers of Haeundae and Gwangalli beaches from its rooftop. Dalmaji road is also a lovely place to walk or have a coffee, especially at cherry blossom season when the trees are in bloom.
Hike Mount Jangsan or Mount Geumyeonsan: Busan should really be famous for its abundance of nature alone. It has been so lovely to be so close to both the mountains and the sea for the first time in my life. Both of these mountains have beautiful hikes and are so close to and accessible from the heart of the city.
Dolsot bibimbap from any kimbap cheonguk: Bibimbap is a very traditional Korean dish of rice, vegetables and gochujang, a spicy paste. Dolsot means served in a hot stone bowl, so the rice on the bottom gets a bit crispy. A kimbap cheonguk is a bit like a Korean diner – they have bright orange signs and are everywhere. Look for “돌솥 비빔밥” on the menu.
Cheesy Kimchijeon from Tony’s: You can kimchijeon, a kind of savoury pancake, at a lot of Korean restaurants, but my favourite is from a little hole in the wall in the Kyungsung University area in Busan. It’s cheap and comes served with melted mozzarella on top. Plus Tony, the owner, is hilarious and so welcoming.
Dak galbi: A really delicious dish cooked right on your table by the waiters. It’s a type of stir fry, usually made with chicken or seafood, a really delicious sauce and plenty of vegetables. We always order cheese-filled tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes), cheese, and rice to go with it. This a type of restaurant, labelled with “닭 갈비”.
Shabu Maxim Gwangan: Shabu shabu is a really fun type of meal where you cook your food yourself in pots of hot broth on the table and then make spring rolls using rice papers, fresh veggies and plenty of different sauces. Shabu Maxim is my favourite because it looks out over Gwangalli beach and you get your own individual hot pot to cook everything yourself as opposed to cooking everything in one in the centre of the table.
Hotteok ssiat: Hotteok are a type of Korean street food – deep-fried pastries stuffed with cinnamon sugar. Hotteok ssiat is the typical Busan version which comes stuffed with cinnamon, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and peanuts. The best to be had are in Nampodong.
Busan is really a wonderful city. It’s considered a “second city” compared to the larger and more famous Seoul, but it’s beautiful and fascinating.
Have you ever wanted to visit South Korea? If you’ve been to Busan before, are there any other places you’d add to this list?