After Seoul, South Korea’s second largest city is the port city of Busan. Along the southeastern coast of South Korea, this city was a quick 1 hour flight for us from Jeju Island.
Busan is a sprawling city along the ocean, with its buildings filling every nook and cranny of the surrounding mountains. Multiple bridges connect the different parts of the city, giving Busan the feeling that it spreads on for miles.
Busan is the lively but laid back version of Seoul, with many similar attractions. The city is home to the largest department store in the world, multiple beaches for summer-goers, and some of our best street food experiences.
Santorini of Korea: Gamcheon
The Gamcheon Culture Village is known as the “Santorini of Korea” for its colourful houses and labyrinthine alleyways. I’d say it reminded us more of Valparaiso in Chile or Chefchahouen in Morocco with buildings built up into the hills and mural covered walls.
The village is quirky to say the least, with interesting little shops and works of art all around. We found everything from “poop shaped bread”, to slurpee beer, to cotton candy creations the size of my head:
Street Food Paradise
Every neighbourhood we explored in Busan seemed to have better street food than the last. We spent our evenings strolling markets and food stalls, trying all the various foods that caught our eye.
A number of markets were worth visiting. Our favourite was the Gukje Market and the nearby Jagalchi fish market. Gukje Market is huge, full of everything from house goods to meat & vegetables to clothing. There are a number of food stalls to keep you fuelled for exploring the never-ending streets, as this is one of Korea’s largest markets.
Some of our favorite street foods were mandu (Korean dumplings), hotteok (a pancake filled with cinnamon sugar and various nuts/seeds), dakkochi (skewered marinated chicken), and gimbap (sushi roll).
Unlike traditional fish markets we’re used to, Jagalchi is a modern building with well maintained stalls selling fish. You can buy your fish right on the spot and have it prepared fresh on the second floor for barbecue or sashimi.
Walking through these markets would take us late in the night. The streets were stimulating, filled with flashing lights and signs to lure you in every direction. It was amazing to watch the city come alive in the late evening hours.
Shooting Fireworks Encouraged
Being along the coast, Busan boasts a number of beaches. Perhaps the most popular is Haeundae Beach, which is overflowing with people in the summer months.
Our hotel was right across the street from the quieter Gwangali beach, which overlooks the iconic Gwangandaegyo bridge. Given that we are traveling in shoulder season, the beach was quiet at this time of year.
While it is warm enough for us Canadians to enjoy a beach day, the rain ended up keeping us away. Initially saddened, we quickly realized there was another way the locals like to enjoy the beach. Fireworks!
The convenience stores across the street from the beach all sell various fireworks to choose from. We bought a multi-pack and enjoyed a personal firework show on the beach, accompanied by several other families doing the same. With the bridge in front of us putting on a light show and neon-lit billboard signs lighting our backs, it was quite a special sight!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: BUSAN 3-DAY ITINERARY
One of the things we found most frustrating about Busan was getting around. The city sprawls over the coastline and travel depends on a number of bridges connecting outcroppings of land. We found traffic is often at a standstill. The metro is usually your best option, but given the limited number of routes, even this can be time consuming.
Therefore, we’d recommend planning your day around specific areas to limit the amount of time you spend traveling between sites.
Day 1: Conquer the West. Head to Gamcheon Culture Village and explore for the morning. Take a short bus or taxi ride down the hill to the Gukje Market where you can enjoy lunch at one of the various food stalls. Jagalchi fish market is a short walk away if you prefer fresh sashimi. Spend the evening exploring the BIFF square area for restaurants, night life and street food.
Day 2: Conquer the East. Head to the Haedong Yonggung Temple early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Spend the afternoon relaxing on Haeundae Beach, with various restaurants nearby for lunch. In the evening, shoot fireworks at Gwangali beach and enjoy dinner at one of the many spots in the area.
Day 3: Check out the world’s largest department store at Shinsegae. Take a break from shopping to have lunch in the food hall, with its numerous options for tasty Korean food. After shopping head over to Seomyeon Food Alley. Relax, people watch, and enjoy a coffee at one of the numerous cafes on coffee street. As the night sets in, stroll the lively streets of this area and have dinner at one of the numerous options available!