Things to Do in Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village spills down a hillside in a riot of colors just outside Busan. The village, nicknamed “Santorini on the South Sea” and “the Machu Picchu of Busan,” was once an enclave for refugee members of the Taegeukdo religious movement. Today, the neighborhood attracts visitors with its steep cubicle houses, galleries, and cafés.
Visitors come from all over to sample the fresh seafood at Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan. The largest seafood market in the country, Jagalchi is unique in that it’s run largely by women—a tradition dating back to the Korean War, when many of the men were off fighting and their wives took over the family businesses.
Busan’s proximity to the sea is one of its charms, and Haeundae Beach is perhaps the most famous beach in South Korea. Nearly a mile long (1.5 kilometers), this stretch of coastline is lined with some of Busan’s top international hotels, as well as an assortment of restaurants, shops, and the Sea Life Busan Aquarium.
The 35-acre (14-hectare) UN Memorial Cemetery is one of Busan’s most peaceful spots. Established in 1951, the quiet park and cemetery honors a total of 2,300 United Nations soldiers representing 16 countries who were killed during the Korean War. Manicured hedges and flower bushes add to the beautiful and somber sight.
The rocky seaside cliffs of Taejongdae Resort Park are situated on the southernmost tip of Yeongdo Island. The area, named after King Taejong of the Silla Dynasty, offers access to a rock beach, a lighthouse, a few temples, an observatory, and plenty of nature trails.
Located at a bend in the Nakdong River, Andong Hahoe Folk Village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by pine forests, sandy beaches, and dramatic cliffs and offers a glimpse of bygone Korea. Wander the village to learn about South Korean architecture and traditions that date back to the 10th century.
Founded in 802, UNESCO-listed Haeinsa Temple famously houses the Tripitaka Koreana, one of the world’s most complete collections of Buddhist texts and a Korean national treasure. These 81,000 sacred religious works were engraved on wooden blocks between 1237 and 1248.
The buildings designed to house the Tripitaka Koreana date back to the 15th century and are considered themselves a work of art, and the temple ranks among Korea’s most beautiful. Located within the forests of Gayasan National Park, the Haeinsa grounds harmonize with the natural surroundings to create a serene temple experience.
Like many of South Korea’s temples, Haeinsa Temple welcomes visitors to its stay program – a two-day, one-night glimpse into what life is like for monks at the temple. A typical itinerary includes meditation sessions, lectures on temple etiquette and a chance to chat with the monks over tea or while strolling the grounds.
Busan Tower stands 120 m tall from the center of the city’s Yongdusan Park. Built in 1973 and modelled on Bulguksa Temple’s Dabotap Pagoda, the tower is a popular visit day and night. Head to the viewing deck via high-speed elevator, and enjoy panoramic views of Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. Come at sunset to see the city lights start to twinkle under the night sky. On the lower deck of Busan Tower, there’s a souvenir shop and a cafe where you can while away the hours and enjoy the views of busy Busan port.
All loved up? Do as thousands of young Korean couples do, and tie a padlock with a note of your everlasting love to one of the fences by the tower. The mountain’s feng shui is said to bring you good luck.
Korean for Dragon Head Mountain because of its shape, Yongdusan Park hosts lots of lively cultural performances in summer and on weekends, and on Buddha’s Birthday, paper lamps shaped like tigers and dragons float throughout the park.
The cover star of just about every Busan tourism poster since it opened in 2003, Gwangan Bridge (Gwangandaegyo) is the city's answer to the Golden Gate Bridge. Particularly impressive at night when it's illuminated, the bridge is best viewed from Gwangalli Beach, where you can see the nightly light show.
During the 1950s, refugees of war-torn Korea began opening up small shops to try to earn a living. This modest collection of shops has transformed into what is now Gukje Market, Busan’s largest traditional market with vendors selling practically everything under the sun – items both new and secondhand.
While Gukje Market is very much a place where local Koreans still shop, travelers will find plenty of interest as well, besides the atmospheric street market atmosphere. It’s a great place to find hanbok, the traditional Korean formalwear, small souvenirs, T-shirts and favorite Korean street snacks, all at bargain prices. Whether you’re looking for bargain clothes, vintage glasses, some new electronics, or dried seaweed, prices are cheap and bargaining is totally accepted. Korean culture is based around dignity and respect for one another, so do bargain with a smile and always be polite.
This is a good place to stop for a bite to eat too. If you’ve never slurped noodles from a stall in the middle of a street, here’s your chance. A maze of a market, don’t worry if you get lost. Just ask anyone for Jagalchi subway station, and they’ll help you out.
More Things to Do in Busan
The SEA LIFE® Busan Aquarium is located in the Haeundae Beach area of Busan. With its variety of marine life and state-of-the-art facilities, it’s one of the top aquariums in the country, and a popular attraction among families. The aquarium is spread across three underground levels and also features an outdoor park, with a gift shop and several places to eat on its first level.
The SEA LIFE Busan Aquarium features more than 35,000 fish, algae, reptiles, and other marine animals. You can view the sea creatures in the building's main tank either through giant windows or from an 80-meter underwater tunnel – an incredibly popular area of the aquarium. Elsewhere, there are 40 exhibits to enjoy, featuring animals such as penguins, otters, and piranhas, plus there’s a touch tank for a close-up viewing of various species under the guidance of trained staff.
A trip to the SEA LIFE Busan Aquarium can be combined with visiting Busan’s other key attractions, including the Beomeosa Temple and Haeundae Beach. Most full-day tours will include lunch, entrance fees, and round-trip transportation.
Yongdusan Park, a mountainous park in the center of Busan, is one of the city’s most popular green spaces. Its name translates to “dragon’s head mountain,” as it’s thought to resemble a dragon poking its head above the surface of the sea. Highlights of the park include various monuments to battles and Korean heroes, Busan Tower, and the octagonal Palgakjeong pavilion.
Beomeosa Temple was founded in 678 BC by Buddhist monk Ui Sang. Perched on Geumjeongsan Mountain, the current temple complex was built in 1613 after the original was destroyed in the Imjin War with Japan. The complex includes a pagoda, several pavilions, three ornate gates, and 11 hermitages.
Home to more than 100 optical illusions, Trick Eye Museum Busan offers opportunities to take a collection of mind-bending selfies and photographs. Interact with all of the 3D-appearing artworks alongside staff who are on hand to ensure your entire group is featured in the photographs.
Andong Folk Museum is the perfect place to get acquainted with Andong’s ancient culture and traditions. Next door to Andong Folk Village, the museum contains over 3,700 artifacts. From traditional clothing to pottery dating back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392 - 1897), as you wander two floors of exhibits you’ll get to learn the traditions that Koreans go through from birth to childhood, in adulthood, and in death. From Korean child rearing to ancient cooking methods, wedding ceremonies to spiritual practices, there are lots of interesting facts to learn about. Did you know that, in the past, when pregnant Korean women wanted a boy they would pray to phallic rocks?
After seeing the indoor exhibits, head to the outdoor park to see the thatched-roof houses that were saved when nearby Andong Dam was erected in 1976. In the garden you’ll also get to see and learn about Korea’s giant totems, traditionally built with fierce faces to ward away evil spirits.
On the peak of Mount Geumjeong (Geumjung) in Busan, Geumjeongsanseong was once the largest fortress in Korea. Thought to have been originally built in the Three Kingdoms Period (57 BC - 668 AD), when the Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla dynasties were at war with each other, the fortress you’ll see today was actually built in 1703 as protection against further Japanese invasions.
Destroyed in many places during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 - 1945, restoration began in 1974. Today, the 2.5 miles that remains of the original fortress makes for a great half-day of hiking. Up high on the mountain, look out over South Korea’s second-biggest city as you step past little streams and ponds, rock caves and granite peaks.
A perfect escape from the city bustle, with lots of trails and routes to explore, one of the most popular ways to see Geumjeong Mt. Fortress (Geumjeongsanseong) and its ornate gates is to begin at Beomeosa Temple. From there, hike up to the South Gate of the fortress, then along the walls and watchtowers to the South Gate, before taking the cable car back down to street level in Geumgang Park, which has its own botanic garden.
This impressive temple offers travelers an up close look at traditional religious architecture amid the stuffing backdrop of mountains and shoreline. Built in 1376 by a famed Buddhist teacher, Yonggungsa Temple is a rare gem in the landscape of South Korea.
Travelers can wander the grounds and explore its structures—which include a sanctuary that was reconstructed in the 1970s. Brilliant colors and a three-story pagoda decorated with hand-carved lions are hallmarks of this traditional sanctum. A tower of 108 stairs and several stone lanterns guide visitors to remarkable views and the meditative sound of waves. Though a popular destination for travelers and locals most any time of year, Yonggungsa Temple attracts more visitors on New Year’s Day, when people gather at sunrise to make wishes for the coming year.
Dongbaek Island (Dongbaekseom), considered one of Busan’s most scenic places, isn’t really an island at all. The former island, now connected to the Korean mainland by a land bridge made up of accumulated sediment, gets its name from the abundant camellia (dongbaek in Korean) trees that grow throughout.
NampodongStreet, a neighborhood in Busan running from Jagalchi Station and BIFF Square to Nampo-don Station, serves as the city’s theater district. The whole area is dotted with theaters, some showing blockbusters and others specializing in art house cinema and other exotic film genres. During October, the district hosts the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), when directors, producers and celebrities fill the streets to attend screenings and other cinematic events.
Besides film, NampodongStreet is also a famous Busan shopping district with retailers catering to university students and 20-somethings. Trendy independent boutiques are the norm, with only a few national and international chains thrown in.
Two hours west of Busan near Changwon City lies 705 acres (285 hectares) of natural habitat known as Junam Wetlands Park. Bird watchers from around the globe visit the park, Korea’s largest migratory bird habitat, to witness the spectacle of anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 winter birds – white-naped crane, spoonbill, swans, geese and mallards among them – who fly into the park daily. In the summer some 5,000 migratory egrets, herons, orioles and warblers join the park’s permanent residents, including ducks, pheasants and skylarks.
Much of the park is accessible via a series of elevated wooden boardwalks with pullouts for scenic views and bird blinds where you can observe the birds more easily without startling them. While October to April is prime birdwatching season, there’s something to see no matter the season.
Built during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1376, historic Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is one of only a few Korean temples on the coast, and it honors Haesu Gwaneum Daebul, a Buddhist goddess believed to live in the ocean, where she rides atop a dragon. Legends aside, the east-facing temple offers a spectacular view of the rising sun.
Busan’s version of Oxford Street, Gwangbokdong Food Street is a true shopping mecca. Stretching from the foot of Yongdusan Park to Gukje Market, there are well over 100 shops selling everything from cutesy phone cases to folk crafts and high-end cosmetics.
Shopping in South Korea is a unique experience and prices are low, especially for high street fashions. Check out the stores selling tea dresses and pastel coats, and pick up a bargain at the outdoor street stalls while K-Pop blasts from storefront speakers and groups of stylish young women link arms as they wander down the avenue. Look out for any new stores opening, too -- they often hold welcome events where you can pick up some freebies. And at the Korean makeup stores, you’ll often get a ton of free samples even if you buy only one item.
On weekends, lively Gwangbokdong Food Street is open to pedestrians only. The fashion street also hosts cultural events throughout the year, including the Gwangbok-dong Street Cultural Festival and the annual Christmas Tree Festival.
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