Busan: A Trip to the Dynamic Coastal City

Tiếng Việt

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.

Haeundae Beach

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.

Haeundae Beach

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 Cinema Centre – The official venue for the Busan International Film Festival
Outdoor cinema at Busan Cinema Theatre

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.

Practical Information

  • 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.

Haedong Yonggungsa

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.

Haedong Yonggungsa, the Dragon Palace Temple

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
The old harbour of Busan

Practical Information

  • 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.

Gamcheon Cultural Village

23 thoughts on “Busan: A Trip to the Dynamic Coastal City”

  1. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    This is probably one of the most appealing blog posts on Busan that I’ve ever stumbled upon. The beach, the seafood, and the ultramodern venue for the film festival are enough reason for me to go. That spoon worm sashimi does look a little off-putting, though. But I bet it tasted really good.

    1. Thank you for your compliment, Bama! 🙂 The worm is not very tasty, just succulent. Good for one or two Soju 🙂 But I would suggest trying something more ordinary, such as the crab or the shellfish. Seriously, I have to close my eyes when putting it in my mouth haha

      1. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
        Bama says:

        Ahh, I see. Thanks for the warning! 🙂

    1. I am glad that my post can inspire you! Aside from the scenery, the Korean culture is quite interesting. I think you will love it, especially the tasty grilled dishes 🙂

  2. Wow that’s a lot of good info and great photos of Busan! For some reason, glitzy Seoul and Korean foods are the only things that pop to my mind when I picture South Korea, never the sea. 🙂

    1. Well the beach in Korea is not as great as in other countries (the water is cold and it often doesn’t have the blue hue), but the coastal area is pretty amazing. Wait until the Jeju post and you will see 😉

    1. Many thanks! It’s indeed an extraodinary building in Busan. Especially at night when it turns into a piece of art 🙂

  3. Alison and Don – Occupation: being/living/experiencing/travelling In our sixties, (Don is now 77) with apparently no other authentic option, my husband Don and I sold our apartment and car, sold or gave away all our stuff and set off to discover the world. And ourselves. We started in Italy in 2011 and from there have travelled to Spain, India, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, South America, etc. - you can see the blog archive. We will continue travelling until it's time to stop - if that time ever comes. So far it suits us very well. We are interested in how the world works, how life works, how the creation of experience works, how the mind works. As we travel and both "choose" our course, and at the same time just let it unfold, we discover the "mechanics" of life, the astounding creativity of life, and a continual need to return to trust and presence. Opening the heart, and acceptance of what is, as it is, are keystones for us both. Interests: In no particular order: travel, figure skating (as a fan), acceptance, authenticity, walking/hiking, joy, creativity, being human, adventure, presence, NOW. Same for Don except replace figure skating with Formula One motor racing.
    Alison and Don says:

    I would love to explore this place. Your words and beautiful photos make it so enticing. I’ve not been to Korea, but it is pretty high on the list for when we can travel again. The spa, fish market, and castle would head my sightseeing list!

  4. I know relatively little about South Korea, and even less about Busan. Your post has piqued my interest. Between beach, culture, food, beautiful location it looks very appealing. Stunning photos as usual.

    1. Many thanks, Caroline 🙂 I guess Japan and China take all the hype when speaking about East Asia travelling. But South Korea is definitely worth a visit. Wedged between the two Asian powers, they can still develop their own culture and identity.

  5. fkasara – I'm Sara, a Northern Italian with experience in Italy's travel industry and hospitality sector. Other than the classic travel tips, in my blog I mainly share cultural and lifestyle aspects of the Belpaese, that often elude tourists, yet make our country unique. Be inspired, avoid cliches and let Italy spice up your life!
    Sara - My Dear Italia says:

    Very informative post! It’s very interesting for me to read about the Fish Market and the food scene in general. At first I was convinced Italians were the most obsessed with food, then, lately, I have started to learn about Koreans, lol. They seem very much into it!
    Great pictures as always! Ciao, Sara.

    1. No doubt! The Koreans are crazed about food. Do you know that they their beef is as great as the Kobe beef? But they don’t export it. Beef-nationalism 🙂

      Another thing I found interesting is the Korean diet. They consume a lot of fish and vegetable, even more than the Vietnamese. Nuts are often used for cooking as well.

      1. fkasara – I'm Sara, a Northern Italian with experience in Italy's travel industry and hospitality sector. Other than the classic travel tips, in my blog I mainly share cultural and lifestyle aspects of the Belpaese, that often elude tourists, yet make our country unique. Be inspired, avoid cliches and let Italy spice up your life!
        Sara - My Dear Italia says:

        Yes, I’ve heard about it! I’ve also heard they care about beef and meat in general, because once it was “food for rich people” and not available to everybody.

  6. Wow, those are some amazing photos! Sigh, I dream of visiting Busan, Seoul, and the Korean countryside What a beautiful post– thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply