Busan is the fourth major city I have visited since moving to the Republic of Korea on July 11th, 2018. It was definitely my favorite and I'm going to take an educated guess, one that will be hard to pass up as my favorite.
I've traveled to Busan from my home in Suncheon, just a quick 2:30 hour bus ride away a couple times now. If by chance you're in Suncheon and wanting to head to Busan, it'll cost you just ₩12,100 ($10.73) each way and there are 10 busses going from Suncheon to Busan-Sasang Bus Terminal (also referred to Busan West Bus Terminal and Busan Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal) each day.
Getting To Busan
More than likely when you travel to Korea you'll go to Seoul (the largest city) and Busan (the third largest city). This trip from the northwestern most part of Korea to the southeastern most part takes just over 4 hours. The cost depends on which bus terminal you leave from in Seoul and what type of bus you take. There are high end busses which have much more comfortable seating and lower end busses which cost less but the seating is a bit less comfortable. Prices range from anywhere between ₩20,000-₩40,000 ($17.74-$35.47).
Please pay close attention to what terminal you're leaving from as Seoul is such a large city that one terminal can be upwards of an hour away by metro from another.
Another option of travel (and the one I recommend if you go from Seoul to Busan or vice versa) between the two Korean metropolis' is the Korean Train Express which is locally known as the KTX. The KTX is Korea's fast train that travels at a whopping 305 km/h (190 MPH). The journey from Seoul to Busan via the KTX takes 2:50. It runs at least once an hour and sometimes every half hour. There are several train ticket packages you can buy that save you time and money but expect it to cost you ₩60,000 ($53.21) each way.
Book your tickets in advance as these trains can fill up well in advance and you'll be left having to buy a standing only ticket. ESPECIALLY (!!!) if it is during a Korean holiday like Chuseok (September).
Unlike Seoul, the vibe in Busan is much more laid back. After all it is a beach city situated on the East Sea, just 130 miles from Japan. During the summer, there are swimming and surfing at Busan's most famous beaches like Haeundae Beach and Gwangalli Beach. However, swimming is not allowed after mid-late August (beaches open up on the first day of June) due to no lifeguards being on duty after that time period. Please consult a Korean Tourism site for exact dates that the beaches are open to swimming.
Besides the beaches and sight-seeing, Busan offers plenty of restaurants, rowdy and social bars/clubs, as well as great shopping. In fact, Busan has the largest Department Store in the entire world.
When it comes to getting around the city, the taxi's can be a bit pricey as it is a tourist hotspot, so you're going to want to put in the extra effort to plan out your sightseeing and shopping by using the metro. Much like Seoul, the public transportation will get you where you need to go at a cheap price.
Staying in centrally located areas like Haeundae and Gwangalli Beach or even Seomyeon will help you avoid having to use the metro.
I've stayed at the conveniently located hostel called the Pobi Guesthouse in Haeundae Beach. I was able to rent a room that privately lodged all eight of my friends and I together without anyone else in the same room. If you're going with a group of friends and looking to stay in Haeundae Beach, I would recommend doing what we did. If you're a lone traveler you could still stay in Pobi Guesthouse with other guests.
Haeundae Beach is one of the tourist hotbeds of Busan and Haeundae Beach is a spot worth visiting and spending time. Below is the view from the beach itself.
Also what makes Haeundae Beach a great place to stay is this main strip that contains countless restaurants and bars for late night/early morning shenanigans.
Off to the right of this picture, a little further down the main drag the incredible Haeundae Market (see below) that has some of the best looking fish and seafood you'll see. Even if you're not going to purchase any of the seafood or other items being sold, it is a must to stroll down the market and gander at some of Koreas best seafood delicacies and other miscellaneous items.
All this being said, Haeundae Beach is regarded as a place for an older crowd. That's not exactly what I experienced as crowds in their 20's frequent the bars along the main drag throughout the night and early mornings.
Locals will tell you that the younger and more party centric crowds stay and gather at Gwangalli Beach. If that's the kind of stay you want to have in Busan, Gwangalli Beach is the place to stay and frequent while in Busan.
Whether you stay in Haeundae Beach or Gwangalli Beach, you're thoroughly going to enjoy your time in Busan.
One thing I missed while in Busan when staying in Haeundae Beach over Gwangalli Beach is this incredible night view of the Gwangandaegyo Bridge.
Besides Haeundae and Gwangalli Beaches, you choose to stay a little further north in the city in an area called Seomyeon. Seomyeon is a bustling area with plenty of restaurants and bars to frequent well into the morning. Seomyeon is definitely a younger crowd. Some of the restaurants and bars there are of a western variety so if you're craving a more western atmosphere, there are plenty of places to visit that offer an atmosphere closer to your comfort zone.
I've stayed at a hostel called, Blue Backpakcers Hostel in Seomyeon. It's a little bit off the beaten path in Seomyeon but if you're looking for the party atmosphere, you should at least consider staying at Blue Backpackers Hostel. The staff is friendly and the rooms are modern and clean. The beds aren't particularly comfortable but, you get what you pay for.
Must Do's While In Busan
United Nations Memorial Cemetery In Korea
The pictures you'll take of the United Nations Memorial Cemetery In Korea won't ever do it proper justice. This is the only UN Cemetery of it's kind found in the world. The 62 year old Cemetery is supported by 11 nations of the UN that lost soldiers in the Korean War from 25 June 1950 ~ 27 June 1953.
The 133,701 square meter cemetery somberly features the flags and unique memorials to all the nations of which soldiers are buried in the cemetery.
There are 2,300 UN soldiers from 11 nations buried at the UNMCK. Of the 2,300 soldiers buried at the UNMCK, 11 are listed as "Non-Belligerents" and four are, "Unknown."
The marquee areas of the cemetery are the Wall of Remembrance and the Unknown Soldiers Pathway (seen above). The names of all 40,896 UN soldiers who gave their lives in the war are inscribed on the wall of remembrance while a somber pathway featuring 11 fountains and 11 pine trees remembering the 11 countries who have servicemen and women buried at the cemetery make up the Unknown Soldiers Pathway.
The cemetery is a must visit and is an emotional reminder of what the world sacrificed to allow the Republic of Korea to become such an integral part of the modern world.
Haedong Younggungsa Temple
If you travel to Busan and you don't check out the Haedong Younggungsa Temple, you're doing yourself a grave injustice. I can't stress enough to encourage everyone that reads this to research when the sunset takes place while you're in Busan and head to the Temple with enough time to see the grounds before the sun sets and to hike off to the right of the Temple grounds (looking out at the East Sea) by the rock formations and take in the sunset over the Temple. It's a sight you won't soon forget or regret.
This Buddhist Temple was originally built in 1376. It was later destroyed during the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592-1598. It was rebuilt in 1930 and has since served has a major tourist attraction. When going to see this magnificent sight, expect plenty of crowds.
Taejongdae is a beautiful park situated at the very edge of Busan (and Korea for that matter!).The famous park and tourist hotspot features incredible views of the cliffs that are the final points of the Korean peninsula.
Mainland Japan is too far to spot even on a clear day, but, if you are lucky you will be able to spot Tsushima Island which is indeed a Japanese island.
Taejongdae has incredible views that will stick with you for the rest of your life, but, be warned to see these views it may require lots of walking. If you're feeling bold you can walk the whole park which is nearly a four mile walk. Taking your time and enjoying the views, will take you two hours.
If you're not up for the walking, you can take the Danubi Train that will transport you around the park. A ticket costs just ₩3,000. Doing so will also likely speed up the time in which you'll be in the park.
Make sure to check out the cliff views from the famous lighthouse. Once you are done taking in the amazing view, make sure to head down the staircase to Sinseon Rock. Here you will find people eating fresh (raw) seafood from a seafood stand down on the rock while taking in the breathtaking views.
Sinseon Rock also makes for a fantastic picture spot!
Make sure on your way around the path to check out Pebble Beach. It's a beach with wonderful views that has no sand is strictly pebbles.
Baesan Mountain Tombs
These ancient tombs were built in the 400's and 500's. Yes that's right...over 1,500 years ago!
To get to the tombs you'll need to head over to Yeonsan station on the Busan Metro. Yeonsan station can be accessed via Line 1 (orange) or Line 3 (light brown). If you're looking to head to the tombs by taxi, the tombs are located in the Yeonsan-Dong/Yeonje-Gu district of Busan.
Once you arrive at Baesan Mountain take some time to stroll along the walking paths around the tombs which are guaranteed to be frequented by locals enjoying (hopefully) a sunny day.
Once you're done at the tombs you can follow the paths all the way up the mountain for some stunning views of Busan's Gwangalli Beach featuring the always stunning Gwangan Bridge in the distance. The 3 mile hike takes 1:30 at a medium pace.
Jagalchi Market is Busan's most famous fish market. It is located in the famous Nampo-dong shopping district.
Taking a stroll down the main market area, you'll find fresh caught seafood of almost every variety that the waters around Korea offer. You're surely to be greeted by the boisterous calls of the stand owners offering you to come purchase their seafood delicacies.
In the surrounding Nampo-dong district you'll find large crowds coming and going out of the local restaurants and shops while others weave through the shopping stands of the surrounding alleyways looking for memorabilia and accessories of many different types.
This 414 year old sacred shrine (1605) is the final resting place of the spirits of those who bravely fought against the invading Japanese troops in the 1592 invasion.
This quaint, beautiful and peaceful shrine features a main museum hall that has incredible paintings depicting the intense battles the Koreans of Busanjin endured fending off the superior Japanese forces. Busan eventually fell to Japan but not without putting up a well respected fight.
The Japanese forces were far superior to the Koreans in Busanjin. However, the men and women took up arms with farming tools while the Japanese had early versions of the gun and armor. The Japanese forces lined up at the fortress (it no longer exists) and sent messages to the Koreans that they should stand down and allow the forces to march through Korea and into China (which was their ultimate goal). The Koreans responded saying they'll fight to the death!
Fight to the death they did! General Song Sang-hyeon and his army of the common man fought with such bravery that the Japanese General had the Japanese soldier who killed General Song Sang-hyeon executed at the conclusion of the battle in homage to his bravery and the sacrifice of his men and women.
Before being killed General Song Sang-hyeon wrote a letter to the king in Seoul wishing him luck against the Japanese invaders stating they tried their best to keep them back but they were too powerful.