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Brilliant Busan: Great Ideas for Enjoying Korea's Thriving Sea-Side City

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It is somewhat surprising that the thriving and culturally vibrant city of Busan does not spring to mind as readily as Seoul. Although the capital is the only Korean city to exceed it both in size and population, Busan abounds with enough spectacular attractions, calm beaches, delectable eateries and intriguing historical attractions to keep tourists of all stripes coming  back again and again.
Some 3.6 million people call Busan home. The climate is sub-tropical and rarely snows. Winters are mild and summers are hot and humid.  Busan is the largest port city in South Korea, and boasts some of the longest beaches in Korea (Haeundae District in particular is famed for its spacious sandy shores).

International guests who touch down at Busan’s Gimhae Airport have a mere one hour drive ahead of them before they reach the bustling heart of the city.    Once there, tourists can make their way to the Jagalchi Fish Market to enjoy some local delights, gawk at some natural aquatic wonders at Busan Aquarium (the biggest Aquarium in South Korea) take a stroll round Shinsegae Centum City (the largest department store on the planet: No doubt you’re becoming aware that the Busanians are fond of living large) or enjoy the quiet serenity of the Beomeosa Buddhist Temple.  The clear-waters that lap at Busan’s beaches, particulary along the Haeundae District, can be surfed.  Alternatively, the beach can be a pleasant place to relax in the sun with a good book. 

While guests now enjoy the soothing ocean-vista views of Busan, it would have been a very different story for the Busan inhabitance of the late 16th century who awoke to find a Japanese Armada, led by a fearsome assortment of Samurai war-lords, making for their shores. The Japanese Invasion of Korea – which was eventually thwarted by Korea’s greatest maritime hero: Yi Sun-sin – has left an indelible mark on Busan’s landscape. 

History enthusiasts are sure to find a great deal of fascinating relics and sites to while away the hours at.  Listed here are a few of the best things to do, see and eat at Busan.

Popular Tourist Sites at Busan

Taejongdae Lighthouse
This picturesque lighthouse offers some pleasant sea views as well as an assortment of stalls and eateries that sell the freshest seafood you will find in all Busan. The lighthouse, which is found at the end of a long observation deck, is just one part of Taejongdae Park which also contains some serene forests through which the visitor can walk through. The hill which has the Lighthouse at its summit will take around an hour to reach on foot. Should that not appeal, a tourist train can take you there from the entrance in around 40 minutes.  

On a clear day, guests should be able to view the Japanese island of Tsushima from the Light House observation platform.

Gukje, Gwangbok-dong and Nampo-dong Markets
These stylish intersecting shopping districts comprise some of Busan’s most popular local retail stores. The markets have a distinct old-world traditional charm about them in many ways, and sell both wholesale, retail new and old goods. Tourist are encouraged to haggle with the vendors.
One shop worth noting is the underground Lotte department store at Gwangbok-dong, the entrance of which is guarded by an array of Classical Greco-Roman statues.


Gamcheon Culture Village    
This colorful, off-beat and extremely art-centered village is perched high amidst the hills of Saha-gu.  The pastel houses that line the streets, the metallic flowers and leering sculptures that make up the Gamcheon Culture Village has not, however, been contrived  simply to attract tourists.

The village once housed the poorest inhabitance of Busan, many of whom fled to avoid the 1950’s Korean War.  The mural plastered walls and cow-hide festooned structures stand in stark contrast to this bleak period, giving the history a strange vibrancy and relevance.

Several treasure hunting events are, at times, held at Gamcheon Culture Village, and astounding views of the city and surrounding ocean can be enjoyed from the higher quarters.


Jeju Island
After a mere 50 minute plane journey from Busan, guests can encounter the natural wonders and outlandish museums of Jeju Island (sometimes referred to as the “Hawaii of Korea”).  Tourists can visit the astounding Manjanggul Lava-tube (the largest lava column in the world, reaching 23 meters into the air) scale the verdant Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff cone, or enjoy a trip to the picturesque Cheonjiyeon Waterfall.
Somewhat shocking, though perhaps in keeping with an island famed for its lava tubes and columnar formations, is Loveland: a sexually-themed outdoor sculpture park. Visitors must be at least 19 years old to enter.
Less carnal and more informative attractions include the Jeju Education Museum, the Teddy Bear museum and the Glass-Castle theme park.  Tourists can also enjoy submarine tours, night markets and some delectable local sea-food cuisine.


Haeundae Beach
Korea’s most popular beach, Haeundae is instantly recognizable for its innumerable parasols and inflatable yellow donuts. Visitors can recline with a cool drink and a good book, or else enjoy a rejuvenating dip in the ocean (though the area is frequently quite crowded).

A huge range of restaurants and shops fringe the beach, which is also a popular surfing and jet-skiing area. The coastline is often frequented by fishermen.


Dalmaji Hill
Overlooking the ocean, it is easy to see why Dalmaji Hill is a popular romance spot.  Waving cherry trees line the hill trail, and a there are plenty of upscale cafes and shops to enhance the mood.  Dalmaji Hill also boasts some impressive art galleries and a luxury spa. Over time, Dalmaji hill has garnered a reputation for being a thriving (though comparatively small) cultural hub and Korean celebrities are known to frequent the rooftop patios of some of the more up-market restaurants found there.


Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
This peaceful seaside temple is something of a rarity among Buddhist places of worship in Korea, as most are located in the mountains. First built in 1376 and meticulously rebuilt in the 1970’s (after it was destroyed during the Japanese occupation) Haedong Yonggungsa Temple has a three story pagoda which houses four stone lions, each one representing a human emotion. The stifled sound of crashing waves endows the temple with a solemn yet soothing ambience, and the amazing sunset sea views the temple offers makes it well worth the visit.


Popular Places to Eat At in Busan


Jagalchi Fish Market
A maelstrom of shouting vendors and haggling  customers, this colossal seafood market sells the freshest squid you will find in all Korea (sometimes so fresh that the tentacles are still wriggling when you eat them) as well as a delectable variety of fish. One particular aspect of the Jagalchi markets that has tourists returning again and again is the fact that you can watch the fishermen landing their fresh catches right onto the jetty, select what catch looks the tastiest, and then bring it straight to one of the second-floor restaurants where the fish will be cooked and prepared just the way you like it.

October, the month of the Jagalchi Cultural Tourism Festival, is when the markets truly come alive. Guests can enjoy the many colorful shop stalls, try some delicious local cuisine, and even meet some of the local ajumas (meaning ‘married women’, the ajumas are the female seafood vendors who have a reputation for being quite tough. The ajumas are accredited with making the Jagalchi Fish Market the famous Busan landmark it is today).


Semyun Meokjagolmok Food Alley    
An excellent place to nosh on some local cuisine, the dazzling Semyun Meokjagolmok Food Alley is famous for its Mandou (a kind of ravioli), Oden (a warm winter stew), Tteokbokki (a braised rice-cake and meat snack dish) and dumplings. Visitors should be warned that because the delicious food on offer is incredibly tasty, the alley can get quite crowded, especially at night.

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  Photo Credit: Korea Tourism Organization


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