If cities were human beings: Seoul would be an assertive businessman, while Busan would be a boisterous sailor. Indeed, South Korea’s second-largest city is full of spirit and character, with miles of beaches, vibrant nightlife, and an unrivaled food scene.
Positioned at the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula, Busan (부산), also known as Pusan, is South Korea’s second-largest city. Its name means “Cauldron Mountain”, which came from the shape of the mountain at whose foot the city is situated. Though Busan had been designated as a trading post in the 15th century, the city only emerged from a provincial backwater in 1876. Since then, it has grown into one of the world’s sixth busiest seaport and one of South Korea’s commercial centres.
For a few days, it is nearly impossible to do everything this coastal city has to offer. But generally, the connection to the sea is most evident in these two areas: Haeundae and Jagalchi. While Haeundae is a mile-long beach sprinkled with edgy skyscrapers, Jagalchi is the largest and most popular seafood market in the country.
Measuring two kilometres in length and about 40 metres in width, Haeundae is by far the most famous beach in South Korea. Every summer, thousands of holidaymakers flock here, turning the area into some sort of bustling water park. The crescent of sand is lined with numerous upscale hotels and apartments, as well as a beautiful promenade. Though the heat (and the crowd) is reduced during winter, Haeundae is much alive with numerous pubs, bars, festivals, and concerts.
Busan Cinema Theatre
But Haeundae is not just the name of the beach. It is also associated with the renowned Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) which is held every October. Often dubbed as South Korea’s Oscar, this festival gathers the most prominent faces in the Korean film industry. And the main venue for this event is nowhere but the stylish Busan Cinema Theatre in the Haeundae neighbourhood. Completed in 2012, this avant-garde architecture features a “flying roof”, three indoor theatres, as well as an outdoor cinema known as Dureraum.
Busan Spa Land
Aside from the beaches, many people travelled to Busan for its natural hot springs. There is always a good reason to go to such places, whether it’s the health benefit, the bad weather or simply a relaxing moment after work. Most of these hot springs are located in either a hotel or a resort, with a few exceptions such as the popular Spa Land in Shinsegae Centum City.
Equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, Spa Land brings the concept of jjimjilbang (Korean public bathhouse) to a new level. Twenty-two spas fed by two different kinds of natural spring and thirteen distinctively themed saunas spread across two floors. From steaming-hot to icy cold, visitors can experience all kinds of traditional saunas from all over the world. There is also an expansive public area, where people can take a nap or chill with friends and family.
- Surprisingly, this luxury experience comes with an affordable price tag. For 15,000 ₩ you can freely spend four hours in Spa Land. If you want to spend extra time there, it costs only 3,000 ₩ per hour.
- Before going inside, the staff will hand you a key for your locker and a comfortable outfit. This key functions like a credit card and you can use it to pay for everything, from foods, drinks to massage.
- Similar to the onsen in Japan, the bath is sex-segregated and you have to take a shower before dipping in the water. If you don’t want to take a bath, you can go directly to the sauna area.
For an astonishing view of the ocean, head over to the Haedong Yonggunsa, just 20-25 minutes from Haeundae Beach. Ringed by cliffs on one side, with views out to the vast sea from the other, this 14th-century temple is undoubtedly one of South Korea’s most impressive worship places. Literally standing at the edge of the Korean peninsula, this temple is widely known for its architectural beauty, as well as the enigmatic phenomenon that occurred throughout its 600-year history.
Jagalchi Fish Market
Home to the country’s largest harbour, it is no difficult to understand why Busan’s food scene is so thriving. It is characterised by fresh ingredients; many of which just came directly from the ocean; and a wide array of products. From fresh king crabs to dried stingray, seafood fans can find nearly every species in the seven storeys of Jagalchi Fish Market – the largest of its kind in South Korea.
Outside the building along the road and the shore, you can see ajumma (middle-aged or married women) selling mackerels and squids on wooden boxes; just like 60 years ago when this market is established. Another reason why Jagalchi Fish Market is famous throughout the country is that it represents the people of Busan: boisterous, bold yet kind-hearted.
- Jagalchi Fish Market is not only a place for shopping. You can also go there for a meal. Just point to the tank and make a request to the chief. A dish of sashimi or steamed king crab will be served in no time.
- There is an observatory deck on the top floor. From there, visitors can enjoy a sweeping view of Busan’s old harbour and the surrounding mountains.
Gamcheon Cultural Village
An uphill hike from Jagalchi Fish Market will bring you to Gamcheon Cultural Village – a hillside labyrinth filled with boxy, colourful houses. This village has emerged from the dust of poverty to become one of Busan’s most unique attractions. Aside from the vivid buildings, there are numerous quirky murals and eccentric figures dotting around the area. They transform the former slum into a lively outdoor gallery.