Gamcheon Culture Village is the epitome of beauty and chaos, all rolled into one. Nestled into the side of a mountain, the former slum is a mishmash of pastel-colored, Lego-like houses, painted in 2009 to lure visitors up steep slopes and through its tiny alleys. The neighborhood’s cozy galleries, gorgeous street art and quaint cafes only add to its appeal.
Despite the proliferation of squeaky-clean supermarkets and luxurious department stores, Busan’s traditional market culture continues to thrive. From Gukje Market, which was established in the 1950s as a place for Korean War refugees to sell second-hand items, to the bustling Jagalchi Market, which offers every kind of seafood imaginable, there’s a market for just about everything.
Busan offers some fantastic hiking, with accessible trails available for every fitness level. Jangsan Mountain, for example, offers spectacular ocean views and boasts silver grass fields that are particularly beautiful in the autumn. Geumnyeongsan Mountain, meanwhile, is a less crowded trail that makes for an easy and enjoyable morning trek.
With some 450 spas, the most of any metropolitan city on the Korean peninsula, Busan is a great place to ‘soak up’ the country’s jjimjilbang culture. Don’t miss Spa Land, the city’s biggest and most famous spa. With over 20 spas fed by all-natural spring water and a number of themed rooms that each offer unique healing properties, Spa Land is the spot to go to when in need of some rest and relaxation.
Changseon-dong’s Meokja Golmok, or “Let’s Eat Alley,” is one of the most atmospheric places to grab an affordable, simple bite in all of Busan. Pull up a plastic chair at this open-air market and sample Korean specialties such as chungmu kimbab (seaweed-wrapped rice), bibimbab (rice bowl with hot-pepper paste, vegetables, and ground beef), and pajeon (savory pancake), to name a few. For a sweet treat, head to BIFF Square for ssiat hotteok, a pancake stuffed with seeds, brown sugar, honey and peanuts.
A trip to Busan wouldn’t be complete without sampling dwaeji gukbap, a tasty, hearty soup. Its milky broth is made by boiling pork bone for hours; pork shank, soy sauce, miso, and sesame oil are then added to enhance the flavors. Despite the labor put into the dish, it’s incredibly cheap, at around ₩4,000 won ($3.50 USD) a bowl.
In contrast to the majority of Korea’s temples, which are situated in the mountains, Haedong Yonggungsa is perched on the coast, overlooking the Sea of Japan, or the East Sea, as it is known in Korea. Sometimes referred to as “The Water Temple” for the stunning coastal views it provides, Haedong Yonggungsa dates back to 1376. Of particular interest is its three-story pagoda, which is flanked by four lions that represent joy, anger, sadness, and happiness.
Canopied by vivid yellow and green fabric, the seemingly endless, four-foot-wide stretch of road that makes up Bosu-dong Book Alley is one of Busan’s most enchanting attractions. Here, bibliophiles can enjoy browsing the countless used book shops which each boast their own unique character and history.
One experience not to be missed in Busan is eating jogae gui at a seaside restaurant. The aromas of freshly caught shellfish being grilled slowly over an open flame will certainly get your appetite going. Once they are ready, mix the grilled shellfish into a sauce of melted butter and onions, and add a bit of soy sauce before tucking in. Mmm, mmmmm.
Busan is home to some of Korea’s most popular beaches. During the warmer months, Haeundae Beach comes to life, populated with families, couples and English teachers seeking a bit of sand and sun. The annual Haeundae Sand Festival, a display of impressive sand carvings created by sand artists from all corners of the globe, attracts tourists and locals alike. Songjeong Beach, meanwhile, is a bit more off the beaten path, providing uninterrupted peace and quiet.
With so many amazing beaches, it’s easy to find a spot to watch the sun set over the city. Head to Taejongdae Park, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by verdant foliage as you step off the main road to climb the rocky cliffs to this ancient viewpoint. Or, for something more lively, make your way to Gwangalli Beach, which is home to a number of atmospheric bars that offer the perfect setting for a cocktail at sunset.
Sometimes referred to as the Cannes of Asia, the annual Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) held every October is one of the most significant film festivals on the continent. Attracting the film industry’s leading talent from all over the world, it is truly a star-studded event.