It’s been months since my quick trip to Busan, South Korea and I still can’t stop talking about it.
While I generally have the same sentiment towards places and dogs — I love all of them — Busan has earned a spot in my short list of places I would love to live in.
I arrived to Busan on an evening flight. It was my first time in the city and I was traveling alone, and yet there was something so familiar and comfortable about it.
Like clockwork, I collected my luggage, made my way to the train station, changed to the subway, went down my stop, went up at least five escalators to ground level, and rolled out into the dimly lit, wet streets of Suyeong district, my base for my entire stay in Busan. And that’s when it hit me: the smell of the sea. It was definitely love at first scent.
Note: You can see all future updates of this blog post here. For a downloadable PDF guide of a 3-day itinerary to Busan, click here.
The Overall Feel
I visited in the middle of May and the weather was very mild and perfect for strolling around the city.
I packed according to the weather forecast, which predicted temperatures of 18-20 C, but when I got there, it was more of 12-14 C with the occasional drizzle. While I managed to survive with my summer dresses, I could have prevented several bouts of cold-related depression had I brought a wooly sweater. But, the sea was always just a few minutes’ ride away so I never really succumbed to SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
As may be expected of a seaside city, the vibe in Busan was a lot more laidback compared to Seoul. Maybe it was because I was wandering around alone, but I was able to speak and interact with a lot more friendly locals, from restaurant and café owners to elderly aunts and uncles out for a stroll, and even foreign students studying at the Pusan National University.
The food is also amazing in Busan, especially if you love sea foods. I was always on the lookout for grilled abalones while I was there, as well as a variety of sea creatures cooked in various ways. The more adventurous you are, the more you can take advantage of the food scene, although I just stuck to animals I could identify.
And then there are the creature comforts that I’ve come to love about South Korea: super high-speed wifi, efficient public transportation, yummy fried chicken, and all the skin care products you can ever think of. Oh, and a Lotteria which is always just a few blocks away, in case you crave for a bulgogi burger in the middle of the night.
Just a tip though: as much as I love driving around South Korea, I wouldn’t recommend it in Busan (same as Seoul, and probably most major cities around the world). The public transportation is very efficient and simple. The two days that I did drive in Busan were mostly spent in traffic and finding a parking space. I’d suggest you get your rental car when you’re about to leave the city to go to other destinations.
Absolute favorite spot: Taejongdae
Let’s start with my most favorite place in Busan.
Imagine: endless views of the deep blue sea, stunning rocky cliffs, and a temple in the middle of the forest – which was just a little bit creepy, especially if you happen to be alone when you stumble upon it.
Actually you don’t have to imagine. Check these pictures out. I guess I was lucky Busan decided to have a clear day when I went there.
A sort-of train goes around the Taejongdae park but the entire trail around the park is very walkable. There are location posts every few hundred meters so it’s impossible to get lost as long as you stay on the road.
When you’re done checking out the lighthouse and taking dangerous cliff selfies, be sure to walk down the alley to the left as soon as you exit the park. It leads to a pebble beach with a row of beachside shacks, where I had the most amazing meal of my entire stay.
I think they pretty much serve the same things at the same price, so I just went with the lady who looked the friendliest. For a platter of seafood, which included the freshest abalones ever, the smallest size on the menu cost KRW 30,000. But seeing that I was by my lonesome, the kind owner offered me a smaller serving at KRW 20,000 — and I still had difficulty finishing it because the serving was huge.
The owner helped me grill the food for a while and showed me how best to eat it – and even gave out a fair warning when I tried to slide a shellfish boiling in butter into my greedy mouth! We also chatted for a bit in bits of Korean and English and mime, and she tried to guess which country I was from. It was funny – and a bit confusing? – that she came up with Canada. When I told her I’m from the Philippines though, she gave me this look like she finally understood how I can be wearing a thin piece of fabric for a dress when it was definitely a scarf and sweater weather that day.
Coupled with a bottle of soju, a gentle breeze, and views of the sea, it was the perfect, perfect cool summer day.
|Getting there: There are buses to the Taejongdae Cliff Bus Stop coming from Nampo Subway Station and Busan Station – look for bus numbers 8, 30, 88, or 101.
What I did was to get off at Busan station, take exit number 7, walk straight to the third bus stop, and take Bus 101. Travel time is about 45 minutes.
You can get back to Busan or Nampo station via the same buses (8, 30, 88, 101).
Art attack: Gamcheon Culture Village
This next spot is the kind you’d want to get lost in, especially for art and culture lovers.
The Gamcheon Culture Village is built on a hill and filled with maze-like alleys and views of the sea and the city below. The residents decorated their neighborhood with colorful murals and sculptures. Coupled with colorful houses, art shops at every turn, and cafés with fantastic views, it’s every artsy traveler’s dream come true.
I started my trip to Gamcheon with a leg-burning hike up the hill. From the Toseong Station, my map said that a straight line from the bus station to the village is just 800 meters, which my brain impulsively processed as: “I can walk that far!”
So with total disregard of the incline and the twisting and turning roads that the map did not take into account, I proceeded to hike up. Long story short: I wouldn’t recommend it; take the local bus instead.
However, if you love walking as much as I do, I would recommend that you walk back down to the subway station as the road to the village is nice and photogenic as well – it’s just difficult to appreciate it when your legs and lungs are killing you. Plus, walking down will allow you to pass through the “lower villages,” where you can find wet markets and get a glimpse of how the village looked like before the art explosion.
If you love collecting printed art works or sending artsy postcards, Gamcheon is the best place in Busan to pick these up.
|Getting there: From Toseong Station along Busan Subway Line 1, take Exit 6, then take the local bus Saha 1-1, Seogu 2, or Seogu 2-2 to Gamcheon Elementary School Bus Stop.
Alternatively, you can go to Goejeong Station also on Busan Subway Line 1, take Exit 6, and local bus Sakha 1 or Sakha 1-1 to Gamcheon Elemntary School Bus Stop.
Best place to chill: Haeundae Beach
I spent my last few hours in Busan chilling at Haeundae Beach and it was during these moments that I began to seriously consider living in this city. I even started Googling for “dermatology fellowships in Busan” and “dermatology training in Busan.” While most likely nothing will come out of this search, it made me realize how happy and contented I felt when I’m at the beach. It would definitely be amazing to live and work in a place where the beach is just a short drive away.
Haeundae Beach is a long stretch of fine white sand. Despite it being quite a popular public beach, it was really clean and well-maintained, and not very crowded when I was there. It’s definitely a great spot for people-watching and bumming, and despite the cool weather, a lot of people would run inside the water for a quick soak, me included.
While I definitely had no qualms about staying in the Suyeong District, I’ll probably be staying at the Haeundae District when I go back to Busan. Except if it’s at the peak of summer – I heard it gets really packed.
|Getting there: It’s a short walk (about 500 m) to the beach from the Haeundae Station along Busan Subway Line 2.|
End the day at Gwangalli Beach
Last on my list is Gwangalli Beach where I spent an entire afternoon and evening just sitting, walking around, sitting, and walking around some more.
While the sand isn’t as amazing as that in Haeundae, it does have an amazing view of the Gwangandaegyo Bridge which lights up colorfully at night. There’s also a long walking trail that brings you past the commercial area and through residential buildings and parks.
There’s all sorts of food and bars along the beach and it seems to get particularly more vibrant at night, if you’re into the night scene.
|Getting there: The beach is a short 5-minute walk from the Gwangan Station along Busan Subway Line 2.|
Getting there and around:
Where to stay in Busan:
Got only 3 days to explore Busan? No problem! Check out my suggested itinerary below and make the most of your trip:
There you have it – my top favorite spots in Busan.
If you love the combination of a rustic seaside and a vibrant city, I think you would definitely love Busan. I’ve been to Seoul, Jeju, and several smaller cities around South Korea and I have to say that Busan is my favorite city so far – but then I love the sea, so I’m definitely biased.
So what do you think? Do you feel like heading to Busan tomorrow? If you’ve been to Busan before, what other spots can you recommend? I’d love to hear your thoughts as I can definitely see myself going back to this place really soon.