Essential Culture-filled Busan City Guide (What to do, Where to go, & Instagram-perfect)
Busan is the second most populous city in South Korea, but I made it my first stop when traveling to South Korea because of all of the great things I heard about it. After doing a ton of research before my trip, I ended up with a jam-packed, cultural and Instagram-worthy trip of the best things to do that I wished someone had put together for me. Here, I’ve done all of the hard work for you so that you can make the best of your trip to beautiful Busan.
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For one, Busan Metropolitan City is the economic, cultural, and educational centre of South Korea. Having the fifth largest port in the world, it's a huge hub for international imports and exports of goods and culture.
Busan is also the city of films and annual festivals including the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), the Busan International Rock Festival, the Busan Port Festival the Busan Fireworks Festival, the One Asia Festival (a global K-Pop music festival), and more.
It's safe to say, Busan is a lively city in South Korea that you don't want to skip over if you're looking for excitement and culture.
For myself, it was a for deeper connection as well. I wanted to visit my mother's city of birth and where she spent her younger years before moving to Seoul.
Best Time to Visit
South Korea goes through the four seasons of the year at the same times as that of Northeast America, where winter months are from December to February, spring is from March to May, summer is from June to August, and autumn is from September to November.
This also means the summer months in Busan can become very hot and humid much like a humid subtropical climate, reaching temperatures as high as 99°F (37°C).
On the other hand, the winters can drop to a frigid 29.3°F (-1.5°C). Ideally, you’ll want to travel in the more comfortable seasons.
Keep in mind that South Korea has a monsoon season, much like some other southeast Asian countries. The monsoon season brings torrential downpours of rain that cause serious, life threatening flooding in the country. It tends to occur in early July and last through late September.
I made sure to avoid the monsoon season.
With all of this in mind, the best time to travel to Busan is during the months of April, May, June, October, and November. Flights and hotels may be cheaper. While the tourist areas may be less congested.
If you don’t mind cooler temperatures, you may want to visit in March to watch the gorgeous cherry blossoms.
The month of May is probably the most lively time to visit Busan with the many annual festivals including the Sand Festival at Haeundae Beach, the Busan International Performing Arts Festival, and the Busan Lotus Lantern Festival.
Where To Stay
The itinerary I’ll be laying out for your amazing trip through Busan will mainly be in Jung-gu and Yeongdo-gu. There are numerous hotels to consider between these areas. So, how do you determine which hotel to choose?
I used websites such as TripAdvisor and Expedia to find the best prices, the best ratings, read reviews of others’ experiences, and find the best locations. Where did I end up staying?
Personally, I chose to stay in Jung-gu at the Crown Harbor Hotel since I planned to spend most of my time sightseeing in Jung-gu and Yeongdo-gu, which are close by. So that at least one day I didn’t have to travel too far to get to my destination.
The Crown Harbor Hotel had an excellent harbor view I opted for. You can choose between the city view or the ocean view so I chose the ocean view. I was so happy I did because from window, you have an unobscured view of the Busan Harbor Bridge.
The Crown Harbor Hotel was very accommodating as well. You could ask the concierge about the best route to get to certain sites. We arrived at the hotel in the morning and despite the check-in time of 3 o’clock in the afternoon, they allowed us to check in when we arrived. We were so grateful for not having to drag our luggage bags around Busan for another four hours.
Jung-gu is also next to the the town where the KTX Train station is located in Dong-gu. Since I always plan to have a full day, I wanted to make sure I took an early train from Seoul to Busan so that I could have a full day in Busan the moment I arrived.
It takes far too long to arrive at the KTX train station, then hike 30+ minutes to some fancy hotel inland, drop off your luggage, then travel back to the coast another 30+ minutes just to start your excursion.
The day I was leaving Busan, I also didn’t want to do that extra travel in reverse just to get from my hotel to the Busan KTX Station. So, my advice is for you to try to find a hotel near the KTX station if that's your means of transportation in and out of Busan.
How to Get to Busan from Seoul
KTX from Seoul
The Korean Train eXpress (popularly known as the KTX) is a high-speed rail that travels between all of the major cities of South Korea, traveling at a top speed of 305 km/hr (190 mph) although it was built to go even faster.
This amazing technology allows people to go from Seoul to Busan on day trips or even for daily work in approximately 2h and 30 minutes of travel time. And to top it, it’s very comfortable and scenic.
Make sure you bring something to occupy your time. Many passengers brought their breakfast on board and took naps on their 2.5 hour journey. The seats are organised much like an airplane, so I popped open my iPad and watched a movie while eating a breakfast sandwich I picked up at the train station.
Each adult economy seat ticket is priced at 59,800 won (approximately $50 USD or £39) when you book using the Korail website or when you go to the ticket booth at the train station. But there is a way to save some money here.
Money Saving Tip
One of my saving graces during my travel around South Korea was Klook. It has amazing features and deals that you can use in South Korea and in other neighbouring Asian countries.
If you use the Klook website to book the Korea Rail Pass (KR Pass) in advance for a specific date, round trip tickets will only cost £72 depending on which ticket you purchase.
There are restricted dates that the Klook deal cannot be used such as certain holidays, so be mindful of that when you check out their website.
Bring your printed Korea Rail Pass voucher and passport to board the train. Or you can reserve your seat online on the Korail website in advance.
Itinerary - A Day of Culture & Shopping
When I researched all of the places to see in Busan, there was so much ground I wanted to cover in a short amount of time.
Although the public transportation system is extremely well-built in South Korea, I knew the fastest way to get around would be via a car. But taking multiple taxi rides can get expensive and taking the bus requires some extra waiting time I didn't want to lose. So, I looked for alternatives.
That's when I came upon tour guides. I highly recommend booking a Small Group tour of Busan Highlights through TripAdvisor. They will pick you up from your hotel and take you from location to location in an air conditioned vehicle while explaining the history and significance of each place you visit.
It's the best way to make the most of your time in Busan.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
Originally built in 1376 during the Goryeo Dynasty, where the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple currently stands today wasn’t its original location. It is said that the royal consultant, Naong Hyegeun had a dream during a great drought and famine in Korea, where he was visited by a sea god who told him to build a temple on the Bongrae mountain and pray. Only then, the people would live in prosperity again.
So that's what happened. The temple was built in this beautiful, auspicious location overlooking both the sea and the mountains with ideal Feng Shui. And the drought was over.
The Haedong Yonggungsa Temple was unfortunately destroyed during the Japanese Invasions in the late 1590s, but was rebuilt in the 1930s and has been standing tall ever since.
Upon entry, you'll walk the 108 stairs representing the agonies of earthly desires of Buddhism - 36 steps representing the sins of the past life, 36 steps for the sins of the present life, and 36 steps for the sins of the future life.
When you're there, make sure you make a wish at the massive wishing well along a walking bridge.
You'll find some of the monks praying in the Temples. The practicing buddhists can have their names written on paper and hung in the lanterns along the ceiling.
After paying respects or praying at the Temples with the monks, you can take a walk along the bridge that's said if you walk it holding the hand of the one you love, your relationship will last forever.
If you’re looking for an aerial view of Busan, the Busan Tower is the place to go. Standing at 120 meters tall, you can go to the observation deck on the top floor and see Busan in a 180° view. What's so great about an aerial view of Busan though?
You’ll see when you go up to the observation deck of the Busan Tower. The rooftops of Busan's buildings are all matching with the same greenish-blue colour. It’s very pleasant to see this town in uniformity. There's a sense of unity within in the city instead of your typical feeling of individualism in urban areas.
The operating hours of the Busan Tower are 11:00-20:00 (last ticket sales 19:30).
The admission fee are as below:
Individuals - Adults (ages 13 and older) 8,000 won / Children (ages 3-12) 6,000 won Observatory for two people + Popcorn set: Adults 19,500 won / Children 15,500 won Observatory for one person + Burger set: Adults 14,900 won / Children 12,900 won
There's also a gift shop and cafe if you're needing gifts to bring home to your family and friends. I walked away with some rubber coasters of the fish mascot of Busan.
Traditional Korean Meal
On the way to your next destination, stop by the restaurant Keunjib (translated to Big House) where they serve you a traditional meal set of your choice.
When I mean traditional, I’m referring to the traditional silver spoon and chopsticks that the royals used, and a similar food menu and seating arrangement.
That's what sets this type of restaurant apart from just any other place. You can have an educational as well as a delicious meal here.
You can choose to have a private room and sit on the floor in the traditional manner, which I highly recommend you do especially if you have a large group like we did.