Busan is a coastal city, and has a number of beaches all with their own unique characteristics. The party area of Haeundae is South Korea’s most famous beach, and draws thousands of visitors from South Korea and abroad every year. Look out for the many free festivals that are held on the beaches, including arts performances, dance parties and cultural events. Weekend evenings normally see buskers appear, especially on the more popular beaches. Come summer, the water is thronged with swimmers.
One of the city’s biggest cultural attractions, Busan Museum of Art is free to enter. It houses five stories of contemporary art, including video installations and rotating special exhibitions, as well as a sculpture garden. There are also a number of smaller art galleries around the city, all of which are free of charge to visit.
For even more art, head to Gamcheon Culture Village. This once run-down neighbourhood is now one of Busan’s most popular destinations, thanks to its revival at the hands of community artists. Old-style Korean houses are painted with bright murals and sculptures, piling higgledy-piggledy down the hillside. Tiny art galleries, souvenir shops and cute cafés rub shoulders with one another. You don’t need to spend anything for a memorable day — just bring yourself, a camera, and comfortable shoes.
Shinsegae Centum City is the largest department store in the world, as registered in the Guinness Book of Records. You can find pretty much anything there, including a golf course and one of the biggest spa complexes in Busan. It’s fun to walk around even if you’re not planning on buying anything — it’s also close to the previously mentioned Busan Museum of Art, as well as to the BEXCO Exhibition Centre and Busan Cinema Centre.
Get in touch with nature by exploring some of the many hiking trails in and around Busan. Wander the gentle paths behind Busan Children’s Park, opt for something a little more wild on the rocky crags of Igidae Coastal Park, or head up Jangsan Mountain for views out over the whole city.
Yonggungsa Temple, just past Songjeong Beach, was built in the 14th century on Busan’s rocky shores. Although it’s just a short bus ride (25 minutes) from Haeundae Beach, it can feel worlds away from Haeundae’s hustle and bustle. It’s the city’s most beautiful temple, surrounded by ocean and hardy trees, and is especially lovely during cherry blossom season and the celebration of Buddha’s Birthday, when the temple grounds are lit with hundreds of lanterns.
Busan’s many markets are well worth a visit even if you don’t plan to buy anything — although you may be sorely tempted by the delicious aromas of street food such as chicken skewers, tteokbokki and sweet ssiat hotteok. Jagalchi Fish Market is South Korea’s largest marine market, and you can see an astonishing variety of marine life on display (much of it alive) on the market’s ground floor. Gukje Market in Nampo-dong, Bujeon Market in Seomyeon, and even the small but perfectly formed street that comprises Haeundae Market, are all excellent to browse through and get a feel for everyday life in Korea.