Busan is a beautiful, livable and very modern city.
Think of it as a cross between Tel Aviv and Seoul. It has maddeningly modern infrastructure with brand new overpasses, tunnels and public transport wherever you look. The city also gets less smog from China and the air seems fresh supported by the sea breeze. It’s also a bit cheaper than Seoul. Busan also has plenty of old Korean heritage and makes for a wonderful city exploring with green hills, beaches, temples and yummy food.
South Koreans (like their Japanese brethren) take some rules a little too serious. Traffic lights are considered religion here and jaywalking is not a good idea. In Korea you really need to go with the flow and try to follow all (seemingly ridiculous rules).
South Korea is a s safe as it gets – if you can actually get mugged in a Korean city – you will win a prize issued by the local police. Violent crime is NOT an issue in Korea.
South Korea gets Siberian weather so expect hot summers and freezing winters with short spring and fall seasons.
The biggest hurdle is probably the language barrier – it’s a god idea o be equipped with a data card (or T-Mobile free roaming) and GPS at all times. Don’t count on anyone speaking fluent English!
Where to stay in Busan
The top chain hotels in town are the brand new Park Hyatt Busan“>Park Hyatt Busan and Westin Chosun Busan – both in immediate vicinity of the trendy and touristy seaside neighborhood of Haeundae. It’s a good place to stay of you like to explore the Southern part of the city and enjoy the beach. On the other hand it’s also the most expensive and least original area in Busan.
Before we get started – take a look at my Foursquare Busan list to see some of the place I visited.
Table of Contents
Things to Do Busan – Sightseeing
I wasn’t sure what to expect by this temple. It’s on the northern end of the Orange metro line and I almost decided it would be too far off. But I’m glad I went since I felt this was one of the best tourist attractions I ever saw.
The temple is at the top of a small valley stretching from the metro station, with the same name, all the way into one of the green hills of Busan. I took a taxi up the hill from the metro station (just about $5). It’s pretty steep and given the rising mid-day temperatures I felt that was a good idea.
The temple itself has a hidden section to the right of the main temple wit a huge Buddha statue and a two separate prayer halls. To get there search for a parking lot all the way right (when coming from main temple looking up the hill). I had the whole area to myself for about 30 minutes and found it tranquil and beautiful.
After this amazing experience I walked into the major maelstrom of tourists exploring the main temple. This area is just ok – Seoul has probably better temples than this area. However it is extensive and extremely well maintained. You feel every inch is screened for trash several times a day.
The best part however was the way down. The nature trail that was built loops through a forest, along a creek. It’s an amazing nature walk constructed with Korean perfection for detail. It goes down about one mile before the city starts and you fell like in a magic wonderland – it’s that special! The closest I have seen to create a nature walk that good was at Chengdu Panda reservation (but it wasn’t as good or exciting).
All in all I spent about 3 hours at the Beomeosa Temple and loved every minute (probably also because I did not have to walk up 🙂
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
After my splendid experience at Beomeosa Temple I was curios to try Haedong Yonggungsa Temple as well. Most Korean temples are located in the hillside near population centers. This one however is located near the Eastern Shore of the Korean peninsula. It’s about 4 miles east of Haeundae.
The location is a bit remote but there is a bus from Haeundae station (181) or a $7 taxi will do the trick.
The temple is built into a steep cliff and looks out over the ocean towards Japan (You can’t see it from there of course). It’s a fascinating location and sight.
When I visited in the late afternoon the temple was still teeming with tourists and package groups. This took away a bit the serenity but I could have just waited a bit longer to see what happens.
Both temples have no entrance fee and if you go early or late in the day you will have the whole place to yourself. Sunrises at the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple should be magical with the early light illuminating the temple.
Make no mistake – this is a proper beach. It looks more like Rio de Janeiro than South Korea. The high rises behind you and a yellow white sand beach with a park- like promenade. It’s not very long though and crowds seem to storm the beach in July and August when the water warms up. While temperatures in may can be warm the water was still feezing.
If you go all the way across the beach a wonderful night skyline illuminates after sunset.
Immediately behind the beach are a huge number of restaurants, coffee shops and bars. This is Busan’s entertainment neighborhood and many locals come here to party for a night. However this is Korea and everything is a little bit tamed down. The closest comparison is Seouls HongDae district which is more trendy (but also more expensive).
I did not have the time to see the Busan Museum of Art during my visit but it comes highly rated and should be on your list.
Park Hyatt Hotel
The Park Hyatt is part of a completely new development just west of the Westin Busan. It’s shiny, new and shows off modern architecture. It’s great fund to stroll around.
This mall apparently has the worlds biggest department store. And yes big it is – I headed downstairs for the food court to feats on the Honeycomb ice cream.
Things to Do Busan Food and Drink
This Korean restaurant, which is open 24/7 (!) had become my favorite place to drop by and eat. All the meals I had very delicious and spicy. It’s rather cheap as well – highly addictive!
This awesome bakery bakes everything you would expect from a French bakery but also has awesome German style breads. It is close to the Westin and Hyatt so come here if you have no breakfast included.
Traditional Korean Porridge
About 100 meters north (on the main avenue) of the Pâtisserie OPS is this small little eatery which churns out Korean Porridge. It comes with the little appetizers we all love about Korean food.
Korean Ramen, Dongdaemun Metro
Too bad I lost track of this jewel of a lunch place – very close to the Dongdaemun Metro station. You basically use the East exit and see it on your right when walking out the little bridge over the canal.
The Ramen and the appetizers were delicious and the whole set of food came out to just 6,000 Won for lunch – I call this a win!
This is easily Busan’s best coffee! It is rather unimpressive from the street but it’s located in a Traditional house with a Bamboo Garden. This place is magical!
In conclusion Busan is quite a gem for laid back beach city – that is also hyper modern and developed. If you plan your next trip to South Korea – include this city.
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]