Busan's best: What to see and do in the buzzing metropolis
BUSAN — Step aside, Seoul, Busan may be Korea's next major destination. Located on the peninsula's southeastern coast, Busan is Korea’s biggest port city and one of the country's major metropolitan cities.
With its unique geography, there are many sightseeing spots to visit in Busan that differentiate it from other major cities like Seoul or Daegu. The Korea JoongAng Daily handpicked a few of the must-see attractions in Busan that will leave visitors’ mouths watering for a romantic, exciting and even tasty getaway to the far edge of Korea.
What would a port city be without its beaches? Haeundae Beach in Haeundae District and Gwangalli Beach in Suyeong District are just two of many beaches that contributed to Busan earning the nicknames “the Miami of the Far East” and “Santorini in Korea.”
Haeundae Beach is like the hip downtown Hongdae area in central Seoul, but placed alongside the ocean waters with a beach that spans 1.5 kilometers (1 mile). From cafes and restaurants to clothing stores, the area is perfect to enjoy nights out with a jaw-dropping night scenery of the luxurious five-star Westin Josun Busan hotel and Gwangan Bridge, Korea’s longest bridge that stretches over 7 kilometers and connects Haeundae District and Suyeong District. The bridge itself shines bright at night and is said to be able to emit over 100,000 different colors of lights.
Beware, however, the summer months, as Haeundae Beach is notorious during this time of year for having so many visitors that the sand is barely visible.
Near Haeundae Beach is Dalmaji Road, which translates to “greeting the moon,” as it offers a stunning night view of the moonlit cherry blossom trees overlooking the sea. The Haewoljeong pavilion on top of the hill is a good spot to see the moonrise over the sea. Legend has it that true love will come to couples who proclaim their love for each other on this pavilion under the moonlight.
Moving on to Gwangalli Beach, any coffee lover will easily be able to grab a cup of coffee while strolling down its sandy beach, as there is a street of ocean-view cafes aligned right in front of it.
This beach offers a wide upfront view of Gwangan Bridge. A drone light show is held every Saturday at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. from March to September, and at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. from October to February. Gwangalli Beach is also home to the annual Busan Fireworks Festival, this year set to take place on Nov. 5.
Of course, what would a vacation be without some trendy snaps for the Gram? The F1963 in Suyeong District is Busan’s most popular cultural complex that holds a library, bookstore, cafes, restaurants, exhibitions and even concert venues. It is also conveniently situated right next to a Costco.
What makes F1963 special is its aim to be an eco-friendly area. The building was originally a Kiswire factory that manufactured wire ropes — as thick as an adult’s arm — for 45 years until 2008. With the help of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, it was successfully transformed into a cultural complex in 2016 by just renovations: No buildings were torn down or rebuilt, and the original building remains today.
The "F" in its name is derived from “Factory,” and 1963 refers to when the factory first opened. F1963 made its grand opening in 2016 with the Busan Biennale, which at the time was praised by the public for its attempt to preserve the factory building as it is.
Since then, the area now houses offline secondhand bookstore Yes24’s biggest branch in Korea, Kukje Gallery’s Busan branch, Hyundai Motor Studio, which presents exhibitions on sustainability, and cafe Terarosa, which serves hand-drip coffee and freshly baked bread. Note that these stores have kept the machinery and equipment used in its factory days and turned them into interior decoration, giving the places a vintage, old-fashioned atmosphere.
Right outside the entrance is a bamboo forest, in front of which stands a sign that reads that bamboo resembles wires in that they are both “sturdy yet flexible” and are “firmly rooted.”
Some more traditional meccas to savor Busan’s culture would be the Gamcheon Culture Village in Saha District and Huinnyeoul Culture Village in Yeongdo District.
The city of Busan touts Gamcheon Culture Village as a “romantic” village “filled with memories” due to the fact that it goes back to the 1950s, as the area was used as homes for refugees of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Today, it is an estate of colorful homes, and local artists have created artworks for the village — one of the most famous ones being the statues depicting Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and the fox, made by artist Na In-ju. Taking a picture sitting between these two sculptures has become one of the city's best photo op spots that almost always has a line of people waiting for their turn.
While Gamcheon is on top of a mountain, the Huinnyeoul Culture Village — think a Korean version of Greece's Santorini cliffs — sits along a seashore cliff in the small island of Yeongdo, which is connected to the mainland by Yeongdo Bridge, also the first movable bridge in Busan. Head south of Huinnyeoul to visit Taejongdae, a coastal cliff with sea caves, temples and forested paths. Visitors are recommended to ride the cruise boats or go up the observatory.
Busan Cinema Center is iconic itself, as it is where the opening and closing ceremony of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) takes place. It’s hard to miss the building, with its enormous steel cantilever roof that flashes a rainbow of LED lights at night, and was recognized by the Guinness World Records for the longest cantilever roof.
On most days, visitors are able to watch the latest movies and even indie films at the venue, along with other events like the frequent plays, music and dance performances.
Movie tickets and snacks are also cheaper than other big-name cinemas, with tickets ranging from 5,000 won ($3.60) to 8,000 won.
Although traditional marketplaces are scattered all throughout Korea, Busan is particularly well known for its large-scale markets. Two must-sees are the Gukje Market and Jagalchi Market, both located in Jung District, about a 15-minute car ride from Busan Station.
Gukje Market, the same one that the 2014 film “Ode to My Father” is based on, has a long history, having opened in 1945 after Korea gained independence from Japan. With so many shops, it’s easy to lose one's sense of direction once inside. The traditional market sells practically anything: street delicacies like tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) and odaeng (fish cakes), hanbok (traditional Korean clothes), cigarettes, cosmetics, interior items and kitchen appliances, to name a few.
Heading south, Jagalchi Market is the largest fish and marine products market in Korea, with a signature fishy odor to boot. Owing to its proximity to the sea, the market has become a symbol of the port city.
The two markets are a walk-friendly distance apart from each other, and on the way there are alleys with distinctive themes to keep visitors busy, like a patbingsu (shaved ice dessert with red beans) street, an art street located in an underground shopping center in which artists' studios are lined up alongside each other, a handmade shoe store street, BIFF Plaza and Mount Yongdu Park.
Mount Yongdu Park includes the Diamond Tower observatory that provides an impressive view of Busan.
The Busan Tourism Organization offers city tours of numerous courses all over Busan via double-decker buses every day except for Mondays and Tuesdays. Fares range from 8,000 won to 20,000 won. For more information, visit the Busan City Tour website or call 051-464-9898.
BY SHIN MIN-HEE [email@example.com]