Your ultimate city guide to Busan, South Korea

Tips, tricks and recommendations to make the best of your time in Busan, South Korea. What to do, where to stay, where to eat and everything else to enjoy the second largest city in Korea.

So, you’re heading to Busan?  Amazing!  Get ready!  “Attache ta tuque” as we say in Québec, you are about to head to one of our favorite cities in Korea.

Situated in the South of Korea (yes, the South of South Korea) Busan, or Pusan, is the second most populated city in the country, after Seoul, of course.  It’s quite popular with tourists and locals alike as it’s a gorgeous beach city.  It’s modern, it’s clean and it’s a whole lot of fun!

How to get there

There are a ton of ways to get to Busan.  If you are in Seoul, you can get on a flight to reach the city in a jiffy.  Check local providers like Jeju Air, Air Busan and Korean Air, they will get you there in less than an hour.  You may even find the flight tickets are cheaper than taking the train.  A few little tips for you here – weekday flights are cheaper than on weekends, and sometimes, you can fly even cheaper to Ulsan and take the bus to Busan from there (about 30 min).

Your other option is taking the KTX, or Korean bullet train.  This is the fastest of the trains (but the most expensive too) and will take you about 3 hours to get there.  We didn’t take this option, but if it’s anything like the Shinkansen in Japan, it’s one hell of a ride!  It’s a great way to see the country too.  There are slower trains available, and they will take you 4 hours (ITX) or 5 hours (Mugunghwa train) and will only cost half of the KTX ticket.  Tickets for the trains are available online.

Finally, you have the bus.  This is actually what we took to get to Busan, but only because we weren’t in Seoul.  We had gone to see the Mask Festival in Andong first.  The bus was cheap, safe and efficient.  From Seoul, it should take about 4 hours, depending on traffic.  You can get your tickets online or at Seoul Gyeongbu bus terminal.

How to get around

Busan is a super organized city, and it’s quite easy to get around. And, you’re in luck, because this makes it easier to get to where you’re going.  It’s important to note that Google Maps doesn’t work in Korea – something about Koreans not wanting to share their grids with Google.  So if you need ground navigation, we recommend MapsMe or Naver.  The latter is what Koreans use to get around.  It’s all in Korean, but if you have the geographical location with old school Latitude and Longitude, or even the phone number of the place, you’ll get by just fine.

A great way to figure out how to get around is also checking the Visit Korea website.  They will often offer general direction on how to get to main places.  It’s a great site to get some background and directions all in one handy site!

A super easy and convenient way to get around is to take the Busan subway.  It’s clean, efficient and because instructions are available in English, it’s really easy to get from A to B.  The grid is pretty extensive so it’s really easy to get around.  Prices are fairly reasonable too.  You will only pay for the distance you will be covering.

Finally, there is the bus to take you around too.  Some places are more convenient and shorter to get to by bus, so make sure you give this a try too.  Either option is safe, clean, and efficient.  What more could you ask for!

What to do

Busan offers an awesome number of things to do.  One of our favorite things was just hanging out on the beach.  This is one of the few cities in Korea that offer such pristine beaches, so if you can, take the time and just chill!  But if you are in the party mood, you can do that too.  There’s something for everyone here!

Check out the beaches

There are 2 main beaches in Busan, each unique in their own way: Haeundae & Gwangilli.

Haeundae Beach

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A great way to relax in Busan is by chilling at Haeundae Beach

Haeundae Beach is the most famous beach in Busan and probably all of Korea. With beautiful white sand, clear and calm waters, it’s perfect for swimming and sunbathing.  It’s also famous for various cultural events and festivals that take place throughout the year, like the Busan International film festival.

The 1.5km long coastline is visited by both foreigners and locals, but the latter will be covered from head to toe, and barely put their toes in the water.  For most Asians, dark skin is a symbol of the working class who has to toil in the fields.  That is why most prefer to have pearly white skin.  You will notice that most of their beauty products even offer to whiten skin, something we can’t imagine in America, as tan skin is the ultimate goal!

The Haeundae Beach area is where we stayed during our time here, so we loved the beach.  Derek especially loved the 2 statues that were out on the water on the beach – made him feel like he was in a fantasy movie.  Yes! I know, I married a total nerd!

A little tip for you when you’re at Haeundae beach.  There is a great little market on the main walking street to get to the beach.  Grab some cheap and delicious food, and go enjoy it on the water.  Our favourites were the kimchi pancakes and the fried chicken.  Also, the Sea Life Aquarium and other tourist attractions are by this beach so you could spend a whole day here!

How to get here: Simply take the subway to Haeundae Station (Busan Subway Line 2), Exit 5, 7. and follow the warm call of the beach, straight ahead (about 500m away)

Gwangalli Beach

Gwangalli Beach is the second famous Busan beach.  It stretches 1.4km long, and is also reknowned for its fine sand.  In recent years, the whole area has undergone a water cleaning program, making its pristine waters even more inviting for tourists. But that’s not all, the whole Gwangalli area is lined with restaurants and cafes, as well as fashion and k-beauty stores.  Its your one-stop-shop for everything you could need.  It’s well worth a visit at night as well, when the Gwangandaegyo Bridge gets lit up.

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The view of Gwangandaegyo Bridge at night

How to get here:  Get off Geumryeon Station (Busan Subway Line 2), Exit 1 or 3. There will be stickers on the floor pointing you toward the beach, but essentially, make a u-turn and turn on the first street toward the beach.

Visit the temples

There are some beautiful and iconic temples in Busan that are worth a visit.  These are the main ones we saw

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Busan’s only temple on the coast, Haedong Yonggunsa Temple

The Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is one of the rare temples located on the coast of the north-east part of Busan.  Most of the temples in Korea are built on mountains, so this one really stands out.  This lovely temple was built back in 1376 and is an awesome place to watch the sunrise.  But the view comes at a price.  You will have to scale 108 steps to see the sunrise on the coast.

How to get here:  You have to get to Haeundae Station (Busan Subway Line 2), Exit 7.  From there, take Bus 181 and get off at Yonggungsa Temple Bus Stop.  You’ll have to walk a little to get to the entrance, about 5-10 minutes, but it’s quite straight-forward once you’re there.

Beomeosa Temple

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The entrance to Beomeosa temple

This was probably one of our favourite temples in Busan.  Mainly because we went expecting nothing and ended up having an amazing day there.  Beomeosa Temple is on the eastern edge of Geumjeongsan Mountain.  It was built in 678 by monk Ui Sang.  It’s one of the three most famous temples in the Yeongnam region, along with Haeinsa Temple and Tongdosa Temple.  At least we got to see one of the top 3 temples!  If you want to take your visit further, you can do a templestay at this temple and live with the monks to learn more about the Buddhist culture and discover yourself.

How to get here:  Get off Beomeosa Station (Busan Subway Line No.1), Exit 5 or 7.  Then, walk along the main road for about 5 minutes to arrive at Samsin Transportation Bus Stop, a stop just along the road there.  Take Bus No. 90 and get off at Beomeosa Ticket Office Bus Stop.

Geumjeoungsan hike

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Queen of the world, atop Geumjeongsan mountain

This is the main reason we loved Beomeosa Temple so much.  We climbed up Geumjeongsan mountain not thinking much about it.  In fact, we knew there was a 2-km hike around Beomeosa Temple and we knew we wanted to hike it.  That was pretty much it.  We were not ready for what was waiting for us.  But more on that here.

This hike was super impressive as you had to scale up the mountain alongside the old fortress walls that protected the city and the whole country way back when.  Geumjeongsanseong Fortress is the nation’s largest fortress and leads you to Godangbong Peak, rising a mere 801.5 meters above sea level.  Once you’re up there, you have an amazing view of the mountains, the cities around and you get to meet some awesome cats!

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We manage to make cat friends everywhere!

The hike starts at Beomeosa so just follow the signs there.  Note that this is not a 2-km hike up to the summit.  Bring snack and water.  We learned this the hard way!

Centum City mall for rainy days

Centrum City is something to behold.  We’re not big shoppers, but this was a fun place to discover on a rainy day.  The Shinsegae Centum City Department Store is registered in the Guinness World Records as the largest shopping complex in the world.  If you’re looking for something, from clothes, k-beauty, electronics, books, you’ll likely to find it here!  It also features some crazy entertainment facilities like a spa and an ice rink.

How to get here: Getting there is a cinch.  Just take the subway to Centum City Station (Busan Subway Line 2).  The station is directly below the mall.

Gamcheon cultural village

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Welcome to Gamcheon Cultural Village, Korea’s Santorini or Machu Picchu

This was probably one of our favourite outings in Busan.  The Gamcheon Culture Villiage is made up of cute colourful houses built in staircase-fashion on the foothills of a coastal mountain.  It’s no wonder they call this place the “Santorini” or “Machu Picchu” of Korea.  This village got a makeover way back in 2009 by local artists and students who worked together to brighten up the community that was made up of refugees from the Korean war.  The village is decorated with tons of sculptures, works of art, artist studios, coffee shops and small museums.

You can get a map at the information centre at the entrance of the village.  They will encourage you to collect stamps all around the village and will let you know where the works of art.  You can get this map to guide you, in case you get lost, but our best advice will be to get lost while you are there.  This village is so bright and beautiful that you will want to just wander the alleyways and streets and discover all the secret places.

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Carine and “Le Petit Prince” in Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan

It’s important to note that Gamcheon is actually home to residents, so be sure to respect their home and their privacy.

How to get there:  Take the subway to Toseong Station (Busan Subway Line 1), Exit 6.  From that exit, walk straight and turn right.  You’ll see a small bus station board in front of the Pusan National University Hospital building (Block C, Cancer Centre, aka the PNU Cancer Centre).  Hop on the local bus en route to Gamcheon Culture Village.

Go crazy at a karaoke bar

Did you actually think you were going to Korea and not going to a karaoke bar!?  Ha!  No.  So grab a drink or two before you head there (in case you need some liquid courage) and go have a blast.  There are tons of karaoke bars all around the city, mainly around the beach areas.  Grab some friends and head out to have a blast!

Where to stay

There are plenty of places to stay in and around Busan.  We stayed in the Haeundae Beach area because we’re Canadian and any reason to be close to the beach is a good one for us.

Where to eat

To tell you the truth, we found that the food was pretty awesome everywhere we ate in Busan.  The trick is to find a restaurant or a stall that has a lot of turnover.  That means they are popular and the food is fresh.

Busan Haeundae Traditional Market: You will find it all here.  Fresh fish, restaurants, pancakes, gimbap, bibimbap, dumplings, etc.  Whatever you are in the mood for, you will find it here.  We had our same 2-3 restaurants and stalls we would often go back to.  Why?  Being vegetarian, when you find a winning formula, you hold onto it.  You can’t really go wrong with much here.  Everything we had was delicious!

Punjab Indian Restaurant: Indian food is constantly our saviour when we travel to meat-heavy diet countries like Korea. Luckily, we found this place on our first night and went back a few times. The portions are well sized, and the food is tasty, although the prices are a little high. The paneer masala is delish, as are the samosas.

What to Eat

Korea was probably one of the hardest country to be vegetarian in.  Most of their food is meat or fish heavy.  They use animal by-products in their broths too, making the soups hard to eat as well.  We found a few vegetarian friendly dishes, so we stuck to those! If you are looking for other delicious things to eat, try:

Gimbap

A roll made of rice and various combinations of ham, crab, pickled radish, egg, spinach, cucumber, etc.  This is a great vegetarian meal to eat in a country short of options, though some places refused to make it without meat.

Bibimbap

The literal translation for which is mixed rice, this dish consists of a bowl with rice, sautéed and seasoned veggies, chilli pepper paste, soy sauce and either a fried egg, or sliced beef.  Obviously, we skipped the beef and loved it!

Kimchi

Did you actually go to Korea if you didn’t have kimchi?  No.  The answer is no!  Kimchi is usually made of fermented cabbage with tons of spicy pepper paste.  But in Korea, they ferment pretty much anything, so there is a wide variety of kimchi.  Be sure to try the crunchy cucumber kimchi.  It’s also delish!  Just be careful because sometimes they use fish extract for the fermenting.

Ddukbokki

A typical Korean meal, also spelled tteokbokki, is a mix of cylindrical rice cakes, triangular fish cake, vegetables, and sweet red chili sauce.  Derek loved having this sweet and spicy soup when it started getting a little colder.

Pajeon

This is the market pancake we were talking about!  Pajeon is cheap and delicious, coming in a variety of fillings.  It’s a pancake-like Korean dish made predominantly with green onions, egg batter, wheat flour, and rice flour.  Common fillings were kimchi, sweet potato, peppers and fish.


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The ultimate city guide to Busan, South Korea. Everything you need to know about having a great time in the city. Tips, tricks, what to do, where to eat and where to stay. www.wediditourway.com

 

Lights, camera, BIFF! The Busan International Film Festival took us by surprise

One of our favorite finds in Busan, South Korea, came almost by accident.  I say almost, because it is a big deal in Busan, but we had no clue it was going on when we were in town, despite the fact that we always check and see if there are any festivals going on before we visit a city.

Often, we even go so far as picking cities because a festival is going on.

So when we found out that BIFF, the 22nd annual Busan International Film Festival was going on from October 12th to the 21st, we were very excited!  We do love ourselves a good movie, after all.  I have a soft spot for old gangster movies, circa Goodfellas, Scarface and The Godfather, while Carine is a sucker for comedies and dramas, like the Matrix, Fight Club and The Incredibles (of course neither of which are comedies or dramas…).

Being from Montreal, we have our own film festival, but it pales in comparison to other International Film Festivals.  The closest comparison in our eyes would be the bigger Toronto Film Festival.

Well, we were in luck, because BIFF has films from all over the world, for all types of movie-goers.  This year, it boasted over 300 films from 75 different countries, 99 of which were world premieres.  On the judging panel, is the award winning writer and filmmaker, Oliver Stone.

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BIFF red carpet / © Asia One

We loved the vibe of Busan from the get-go.  We stayed in the vibrant tourist-friendly Haeundae beach area of Busan. Normally home to affordable food stalls, karaoke joints out the wazoo, and a vibrant nightlife, for 10 days in October, it is also the home of the BIFF headquarters.  It sees plenty of celebrity appearances, such as Jennifer Lawrence, who was in attendance to represent the movie Mother!.  We may (or may not) have spent our days during the festival hoping to run into her.

The venues for the showings were a few different movie theatres, and you had to go on the spot to get your tickets.  They also have night-time beach movie viewings that are free to the public.

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Pose for the camera! / © 高 远

Though we don’t normally go catch a movie while we are traveling, we made an exception for BIFF, ok we made 2 exceptions!

The first film we saw was called Mi Mundial, a Uruguayan movie about a kid wanting to make it big playing futbol (or soccer for us North Americans).  It was a touching story based on a popular book by Daniel Baldi.

It is the story of Tito, a young boy prodigy who is pushed harder and harder as he grows up to pursue his families only chance at getting out of the hardships they endure.  Titos’s family is poor, and they see from an early age that Tito is head and shoulders above the rest of the boys his age in football.

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Without spoiling the plot of the movie, Tito endures some hardships himself, and questions his passion for the sport that captivates billions of people around the world.

Being from Canada, this movie easily could have been made about a little Sydney Crosby.  It is a look into the pressure that comes with young boys or girls who give up their entire childhood in pursuit of achieving their dreams of becoming the best at their sport.

Far from a North American blockbuster movie, it hit close to the heart for both of us, and was one of the better movies we had seen in a long while.  Carine may have shed a tear or two… not that that is anything new!

At the conclusion of the movie, the credits rolled to a classic Spanish song by the name of Los Caminos de la Vida, which perfectly summed up the film.  Once the screen went to black, the movies director and producers, Carlos Andrés Morelli and Lucia Gaviglio Salkind took questions from the gallery for a good 45 minutes.

The next film we saw was called Equilibrio by Italian filmmaker Vincenzo Marra.  The story of father Giuseppe, a priest from Rome.  Tempted by a woman he is friends with, he moves from Rome to Campania, north west of Naples.  His congregation is troubled by toxic waste, with many illnesses befalling them.

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Father Giuseppe tries to get to the bottom of why all of this toxic waste is allowed to be dumped right in their backyard, only to find that the local mafia is responsible.  The local organized crime family is allowed to run rampant due to a seeming absence of police or governmental presence in the area.

This movie was a little slow-paced, but between the acting, and the realism the entire film embodies, it was nonetheless a good watch.  The portrayal of the mafia was not glorified the way it usually is in American films.

It was refreshing to see works that were put together by people we actually met, as opposed to big media companies, like most movies we watch are.  It gives the films a truer feel.  The lack of a big budget often leads to more emphasis being put on the writing and storytelling, which is a big plus in our books.

While it may not have been the Cannes Film Festival, BIFF was a unique experience for us on our trip and will be remembered fondly!


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Everything you need to know to hike Mount Geumjeongsan, Busan, South Korea

Everything you need to know about hiking up Mount Geumjeongsan in Busan, South Korea. Tips, tricks and recomendations to make the best of your hike.

Busan is a great city with so much to see and to do.  Temples, beaches, food markets, the list is endless.  One day, we decided two kill two birds with one stone and go on a hike that started at a temple, just on the outskirts of Busan.

It was a pretty simple journey to get there from our hotel in Haeundae.  You can take the subway to the Beomosa station on Busan subway line 1, and then jump onto bus number 90 and get off at the Beomeosa Ticket Office Bus Stop.  The trip took us a little over an hour.

Beomosa Temple is also known as the temple of the Nirvana fish, which is a pretty cool name if you ask me!  It was built in 678 and for a fee, you can stay here with the resident monks to get the full experience.  Also pretty cool!

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Beomesa temple

The temple itself was really nice, especially on a nice sunny day like we had.  All the colourful lanterns were gently rocking in the wind, and every so often, you could see the monks crossing the courtyard to get from one hall to the next.  We might have gotten a little too excited when we saw them doing this for the first time – we rushed to snap a pic (amateur tourist move, we know).

 

From Beomosa Temple, there is a nice hike up to Geumjeong Fortress.  The hike was supposed to take roughly an hour, so we said “why not give it a go” and see what this fortress is all about!  Another hiking adventure!

After taking in the sights at the temple, we set off on our hike up Geumjeongsan.  It was a beautifully lush forest, with a path that followed a small creek for most of its length.  It was so peaceful and quiet there that we picked some flat rocks, sat down, closed our eyes and mediated for a little while.  There’s something so humbling and calming about sitting in the forest.  You can just hear the sounds of the creak running, the birds chirping; being still for a few moments, feeling connected to everything around us.

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Taking a few minutes to soak it all in

The 2 km hike was quite an easy and pleasant climb.  The path is well-maintained, shaded and just like most hikes in Korea, you run into quite a few people. “Hello”, we say to the passersby, or should I say “annyeong haseyo”!

Once we reached the north gate of Geumjeong Fortress, a few things dawned on us.  The first was that this fortress was literally just a long wall that served as a naval base centuries ago.  It has 4 gates, one at each compass point.  Then we realized that we were nowhere near the peak of the mountain.  We thought to ourselves that we need to get to the top, pronto!

 

At this point, we were in no man’s land.  We didn’t know how long it would take to get up and back down.  We were starting to get hungry, and realized that we didn’t pack any snacks (lesson learned, now we always bring snacks with us).  That wasn’t going to stop us though.  The view we would get from the top would be worth pushing through our hunger!

Along the way we started to notice something out of the ordinary.  At first, we saw a stray cat and tried to lure it to us.  Being cat lovers, this always happens.  We miss our cat Jax, so any chance we have to get a little cat love in we take.  But as we kept climbing, we started to notice more cats.  And more cats.  Oh, and MORE cats. They were everywhere! Now, don’t think we are complaining, cause wait, did we mention that we love cats?  Well we do, and this was a nice little surprise that the hike had to offer.

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One of many cats we encountered on our way to the top

Once we got to the top, we were well-rewarded.  The views were breath-taking.  From the beginning of our trip, this wasn’t the highest mountain we gazed down from, after all, we were in the Canadian Rocky mountains just a few weeks earlier.  But this had a different feel to it.  For one, we climbed this mountain, our first real hike of the trip (but certainly not our last) instead of taking a gondola up.  Secondly, from the summit, we could see Busan, all the way to the sea.  No wonder they put this fortress up here, no one is sneaking up on them with this view point!

All in all, it probably took us about 3-4 hours to do the hike (counting the mediation and the cat-loving).  It’s not at all a hard or steep a hike.  It can easily be done if you are a beginner, the trail is well-maintained, groomed, and has a small incline, most of the time.  The end of the hike up the mountain has stairs, so if you take you’re time, you’ll get there easy-peazy!  On a nice sunny day, good old running shoes will do the trick.

But if we could recommend one thing for anyone who wants to do this, bring snacks.  And water.  Always bring water.  It’s probably not a long hike if you don’t stop, but there are so many great spots to just sit and take in all the beauty around, unless you get hangry and need to eat.

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I’m on top of the world!

Here is a short video we made that shows the whole route up to the top.


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Everything you need to know to hike Mount Geumjeonsan in Busan, South Korea. Tips and tricks to make sure you don't make the same mistakes as us! www.wediditourway.com