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South Korea’s second city, Busan, is quickly gaining a reputation that rivals its big brother Seoul. Located at the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula, Busan is situated in one of the most beautiful parts of Asia. The city sees a stunning convergence of mountains that snake through the town and attractive beaches beneath the modern skyline. While the aesthetics are a big draw, the bustling culture that comes with being Korea’s largest port city makes Busan a must-see. Check out the coolest things to do in Busan.
Gamcheon Culture Village
One of the most colorful places in the whole country, Gamcheon Culture Village’s look is reminiscent of one of the many favelas built into the sides of mountains in South America. Judging by its nickname “Machu Picchu of Busan” we aren’t the only ones who think this. Since its government-sponsored revitalization, Gamcheon has become one of the most important spots for tourism in South Korea and is now also one of the most thriving artistic communities in the country.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
A rare example of a seaside Buddhist temple, Haedong Yonggungsa was originally built in 1376 and then rebuilt in 1930 after being destroyed during a Japanese invasion in the late 16th century. The pagodas, animal statues representing the zodiacs, and golden Buddha statues have all helped the temple become popular with tourists. The temple sees the most foot traffic around Buddha’s birthday celebration when the buildings are adorned with paper lanterns.
Jagalchi Fish Market
While Seoul’s culinary scene and street food get all the attention, Busan’s access to, and quality of, seafood is unrivaled in South Korea. This makes the Jagalchi Fish Market the lifeblood Busan’s gastronomy. Not as overwhelming as Tokyo’s equivalent, the Tsukiji Fish Market, Jagalchi can be tackled in a couple of hours. In addition to the wholesale vendors, there are also a number of small stalls selling fresh food for eating. Squeamish readers beware, the stench is strong and it’s not uncommon to see live eels decapitated before your eyes.
Potentially Korea’s most famous beach, Haeundae is nearly a mile of white sand and cool, refreshing water. Because of its fame and accessibility to downtown, Haeundae’s surroundings are some of the nicest and most expensive parts of Busan. Much of expat and tourist life centers around the beach too. Busan Station and the historic center (the other neighborhood most frequented by travelers), is only a 40-minute subway ride. Since Busan gets cold in the winter, summer is easily the busiest time for Haeundae. Although in winter they do hold the Polar Bear Club where daring swimmers plunge into the near-freezing waters in front of the Chosun Hotel.
Beomeosa more or less translates to “Temple of the Nirvana Fish”. This is because according to legend, the temple was built around a well that never dried up and was home to a golden fish that came from Nirvana. Nowadays, it’s frequently visited and enjoyed by tourists for its great views. When the temple’s 6,500 wisteria plants are in bloom, the buildings draped in lavender-colored flowers are a sight to see. Although outsiders do not often see them, Beomeosa is also home to fighting monks who practice Sunmudo. These monks have more than once successfully defended the city from foreign occupation with their martial arts.
Busan International Film Festival
The Busan International Film Festival is called “Asia’s Cannes”, and the name is well deserved, as the festival is massive. In 2019 the festival will show more than 300 films from 70 countries across 30 screens, and welcome 200,000 audience members. The opening and closing ceremonies are a full red carpet affair and has sold out 23 years in a row. Each year in October, the most famous celebrities from Korean music and film, as well as international stars, make an appearance in Busan. The events are split between the Busan Cinema Center and Haeundae Beach area.
Oryukdo is a group of small islands right off the coast of Busan. The Oryukdo Skywalk is on the mainland but has a view of some of these rocky promontories. The Skywalk is a glass platform that juts over the cliffs to reveal a vertical view of the waters below. It is one of the better photo ops in the whole city and the short hike to the walkway is seasonally decorated with colorful wildflowers.
Smaller and not as outwardly celebrated as Haeundae Beach, Gwangalli is preferred by many travelers because it’s not overcrowded. Lined with thatched tiki umbrellas and fine sand, Gwangalli is the ideal place to relax in Busan. The beach is also a short distance from Korea’s second largest bridge, the Gwangan Bridge. Each night the Gwangan Bridge is illuminated by a bold, entertaining light show. Grab a blanket, sit on the beach, and watch the show — it’s one of the best ways to spend an evening in the city. Gwangalli Beach is also backed up by an area of Busan that is great for nightlife, being home to tons of clubs, cafes, and restaurants.
Sea Life Busan Aquarium
The Busan Aquarium is one of the largest in Asia, boasting over 35,000 marine animals. The aquarium, like Gamcheon Village, was built with the hope of attracting visitors to Busan. A cool place to go as a family, kids and parents alike love the underwater viewing tunnel. The tunnel stretches 265 feet through the aquarium’s largest tank. The aquarium also hosts daily otter, shark, piranha, and ray feedings that can be viewed by guests. Not to mention, Sea Life Busan is one of the most technologically advanced aquariums in the world thanks to its virtual reality exhibit, where curious patrons can be transported underwater and come face-to-face with whales, dolphins, and sharks.