Tourists flock to the city from across the country and also from abroad to take advantage of its hot and humid sub-tropical climate, and pack the bars, restaurants and cafés that line its beach boardwalks.
While South Korea is a relative newcomer to the well-travelled South-East Asian tourist trail, it is fast making its mark on discerning tourists. As exotic as Malaysia, as vibrant as Thailand, as organised as Singapore and with shopping to rival Hong Kong, South Korea also has beaches, attractions and historic sights as beautiful as any of its neighbours.
Officially known as Busan – the Metropolitan City, this port is a fast-growing stopping-off point and a great introduction to South Korea. It’s the largest port in South Korea and the fifth largest in the world, as well as being the fifth busiest. As South Korea’s second city, with a population of some 3.6million people, Busan is a tourist destination that offers visitors a great combination of city and beach.
Busan is, in fact, a very striking city, caught between the mountains and the sea on the most southern tip of the Korean peninsula, with mountainous peaks separating its sprawling metropolitan boroughs. The city has been a trading port since the 15th century and it has long had an international flavour.
One of its historic visitor attractions is Guemjeongsanseong (the Guengieong Mountain Fortress), which dates back to the 17th century and was built after a series of invasions by the Japanese and Chinese. This impressive fort boasts walls that are 17km long and range in height from 1.3 to 3 metres high.
However, the biggest draw for visitors are its beaches, hot springs and nature reserves to where walkers, hikers and cyclists throng.
They are all taking advantage of Busan’s sub-tropical and humid climate. July and August can be extremely hot and there is a risk of typhoons. October and November are the most pleasant months in which to visit with temperatures averaging about 22˚C under clear skies. Winter generally brings high winds but it is still comparatively dry and Busan is much milder in the colder months than the rest of South Korea.
Visitors crowd to Busan’s lush beaches during the summer months to sunbathe, swim and flock to the many bars, restaurants and cafes that line the streets. The most popular is Haeundae Beach with its surfing, windsurfing and sailing action. The city’s aquarium is close by and the area around Haeundae also plays host to the renowned Pusan International Film Festival, which takes place every October.
Head to the Gwangalli beach at night to see the enormous Gwangan Grand Bridge that overlooks it illuminated. Or go to Hur Shim Chung Spa to indulge body and soul in its enormous hot spring complex that includes baths, saunas and pools, inside and out.
At Yongdusan Park in the centre of the city, you’ll find the Busan Tower, probably the one tourist trap in the entire city. The tower’s summit offers marvellous panoramic views of the city but even taking the hillside escalator up will give tourists a bird’s eye of Busan. Do take time to wander round the park’s 17 acres and see how many of the more than 70 different types of tree you can spot.
If you´re a bargain hunter you should not miss a trip to Spaland Centum City to visit Shinsegae, officially the world’s biggest department store, while there are traditional markets dotted around the city – fish lovers will be bowled by the selection at the Jagaichi fish market where you can choose your lunch while it’s still squirming, then eat it at the one of the restaurants on the first floor.
Busan’s main entertainment and shopping district can be found at Seomyeon where the city’s second biggest department store, Lotte, is an extraordinary shopping experience, from the fountains and statues in the basement to the tourist tat on sale on every floor. The Seomyeon district is also home to Bujeon, the city’s largest traditional market.
Eating out is relatively cheap in Busan and, as you’d expect, fish and seafood forms a major part of the menu. Busan is famous for its raw fish which locals eat topped with the traditional Korean pickled cabbage, kimchi ( I have to admit I am not much of a fan). And befitting its status as a major international port, visitors can sample fare from around the globe, from Japanese to Thai and Indian.
For more cultural pursuits, a visit to some of Busan’s famous temples may satisfy the soul. Beomeo-sa is one of Korean’s great five temples and is found high up in the mountains above the city. This temple dates back to 678 and while it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, it still has a spiritual presence that draws thousands of worshippers every day.
The Yonggun-sa Temple sits on top of a large rock overlooking the ocean, making it one of South-East Asia’s more unusual temples.
Busan – the Metropolitan City may be an unknown quantity outside of South-East Asia but this bustling, lively city is the perfect introduction to that part of the world.
And in the unlikely event you get bored with Busan, more adventurous tourists can take advantage of its proximity to Japan to travel across by jet or ordinary ferry and enjoy a day trip to another nation. Ferry routes to Japan details can be found at The Official Site of Korea Tourism
The beetle company does a fantastic jet ferry to and from South Korea’s Busan to Japan’s Fukuoka, the style and technology of the machine will knock your socks off. Try them at: www.jrbeetle.co.jp
-Adult 13,000 yen
-Child (2-11 years old) 6,500 yen
-Infant (1 year old) 1,300 yen
Round-Trip Discount Fares for children or infants are not available.
(Price per adult for ticket purchased in Japan)
-Round-Trip Fare 26,000 yen
(In case of no reservation at return trip)
-Round-Trip Discount Fare 24,000 yen
-Weekday Round-Trip Discount Fare 20,000 yen
There is also Korea Ferry for Busan-Fukuoka: Phone reservations only, individuals 3 months before departure; groups 6 months before departure. Required: departure date (for round trip, also need return date), English name on passport, telephone, room type.
* Please check-in no later than 90 minutes before departure time (Check-in time:19:00~19:40).
+82-2-775-2323 Language is English, Japanese
There is also Mirejet Busan-Fukuoka:
Reservations accepted up to 3 months before departure by phone, fax, or Internet (only in Japanese). Passport must include name in English.
Payment must be made in full no later than three days before date of departure.
Check-in must be completed no later than 1 hour before departure. +82-51-441-8200 (All communications are in Japanese only).
Extremely popular among South Korean vacationers Busan is certainly not as known among foreign visitors, perhaps unfortunately. The summer months can be the most interesting of the year, though beach crowds tend to be beyond anything you might have seen. Accommodation can be relatively affordable if you stay at a “ love hotel”, and the food is excellent by any standard. And let´s not forget that South Koreans are extremely helpful and welcoming, making your stay that much better. Do you need any more reasons to visit this fantastic city? I thought not!