Did you know that Busan has the world’s largest department store? Seriously, Shinsegae Department Store in Centum City has a monstrous floor space of 126,612 square meters. Now, if looking for the tour information you need is starting to feel like a speed run through this mega-complex, it’s time to give your browser (and mind) a rest. Welcome to the ultimate Busan tourism guide.
From transport and food, to city etiquette and when to add a Busan tour guide to your plans, we’ve got you covered. By the end of the article, you’ll feel more confident about taking a night tour through Bupyeong Kkangtong Market, or what to do in a Jimjilbang (Korean sauna). Let’s go!
Busan: The Land Of Mountains By The Numbers
Tucked away along the south eastern coastline of the Korean Peninsula, Busan is the nation’s second largest city and its largest port. Home to 3.4 million people, and the origin city for BTS stars Jimin and Jungkook (there’s even a mural), Busan is a rapidly growing metro area.
So how many tourists visit Busan? Before the pandemic, 1.6 million tourists had touched down to see Busan’s famous sites, contributing to the overall 2.3 million visitors (2017). Much like the rest of the world, Busan was hit hard by the pandemic, with only 152,000 foreign visitors in 2021, but they’re bouncing back! By 2022, the city saw a 216% increase as 482,000 visitors made Busan their prime destination.
The World Loves Busan
Often overlooked for Seoul, Busan is not a smaller version of the Korean capital. It has its own culture, flair, and linguistic dialect. If Seoul is buzzing and shiny, Busan is laid back, hip and inventive, which explains its booming international popularity.
So how many foreigners are in Busan? There’s a thriving expat community, with around 49,434 foreigners living in Busan, but the city shines when it comes to visitors. Ready to see who visits Busan the most? Drumroll please…
- Japan- Before the pandemic (2017), South Korea’s neighbors took the top spot with 471,184 visitors!
- China- Coming in a close second,395,989 visitors from China made their way to the Land of Mountains.
- USA: In 3rd place, the United States contributed 192,944 visitors.
- Taiwan: In 4th place, the beautiful isle of Taiwan brought in 186,383 visitors
- Hong Kong: The melting pot of the East brought over 92,706 visitors in 2017.
Why We Love Busan: A City By The Sea
Okay, I can hear your question loud and clear. Why is Busan so popular? The variety! There’s a vibe for every type of traveler. Love films? The Busan International Film Festival never disappoints. Looking to learn about the city’s culture? Gamcheon Village is the best place to start. The options are endless. But since we have to start somewhere, from white sand beaches to cozy night markets, here are Busan’s grandest gems.
Busan's Top 5 Tourist Hotspots
- Gamcheon Culture Village- 1.75 million visitors flocked to Busan’s multicolored, multilayered labyrinth of narrow streets and stacked houses. Born from the refugee crisis during the Korean War, Gamcheon has blossomed from the ashes into a hip, stylish and historical hotspot.
- Busan National Science Museum- Celebrate the marvels of science! After all, 809,460 people flocked to Busan’s tribute to all things scientific in 2022. From interactive exhibitions for the kids, to starry-night displays, get lost in the wonders of the universe.
- SEA LIFE Busan Aquarium - You can't expect to touch down in Busan and not celebrate the sea that made them an economic powerhouse can you? Nearly 643,290 people spend their day a stone’s throw from Haeundae Beach.
- LetsRun Park - Ready for some horse riding, waterpark sliding and general theme park goodness? So did 597,720 people who spent their day petting cute animals and strolling beside green gardens.
- Nurimaru Apec House- Steeped in traditional Korean architecture, yet filled with modern amenities, this three story building attracted 578,130 people in 2022.
Besides these beautiful attractions, Busan has fully embraced the title of “port city” with the largest beach, Haeundae, in the district of the same name, and of course, the Jagalchi Fish Market, which holds the impressive title of the biggest seafood mart in South Korea.
Fancy baptism by fire, or should I say ice? Head to Busan in the winter for the annual Polar Bear Festival, where thousands brave the cold waters in nothing but their swimsuits.
Where To Go: The Busan Bucket List
Once you’ve had your fun at the popular sites, it’s time to dig into the spirit of Busan at these attractions.
- Cheongsapo Fishing Village- This rustic sea village is ideal for a lazy afternoon stroll. Just charter a boat and spend a few hours wading in Busan’s waters.
- Taejongdae Park - Expect steep cliffs, the smell of the sea, and naturally green lush trees in this urban-set park.
- Dalmaji gil Road- From the Johyun gallery to the brightly colored sky capsules at Haeundae Blueline Park, Dalmaji Gil is where Busan’s deeply traditional past meets its ultra modern future.
- Gwangalli Beach-Just west of the popular Haeundae beach lies this 1.4 kilometer stretch of white sand softness. Bring some coffee and Busan pastries for a day picnic.
- Oryukdo Skywalk- Ready to feel like you’re standing on the edge of the earth? Head to this picturesque lookout point and contemplate how stunning this world can truly be. Pro tip, head out at sunset.
- Huinnyeol Culture Village- Sitting along Yeongdo’s sloping cliff is this quaint and peaceful seaside village that seems made for quiet cafe-hopping days.
Travel Bonus : Is it better to visit Seoul or Busan? You don’t have to choose! You can visit both Seoul and Busan, as the bullet train ensures they are only 2.5 hours apart. Both in South Korea, Busan and Seoul are dramatically different, with Seoul offering popular K-Culture and Busan offering relaxation, laid back seaside living and deeply Korean roots.
What To Eat: Cafes, Street Eats & South Korean Comfort
Alright, all of this activity is bound to have your stomach rumbling at some point. So what food is Busan known for? Here are some classic Busan dishes to keep you satisfied.
- Dwaeji Gukbap- Warm, hearty and filled with savory pork and vegetables, this rice soup is a staple in Busan, and best enjoyed with a side of kimchi after a long walking tour. Served hot, it’s also great for an “after Polar Bear swim” snack.
- Milmyeon- Busan’s spin on the popular Korean dish naengmyeon is a cold noodle meal featuring wheat noodles soaked in bone or meat broth, and several toppings including radishes and boiled egg.
- Multteok- If Busan’s flag could be a street snack, it would be Multteok. This savory, pillowy rice cake submerged in fish soup is a must-taste whenever you get the chance.
- Nakji bokkeum- Unlike the rest of South Korea, Busan doesn’t stir fry their Nakji bokkeum, aka octopus. Instead, it is infused with a broth or soup. Expect the freshest octopus, seeing as you are in the nation’s seafood capital!
- Seed Hotteok- Beloved in Busan, these mildly sweet, nutty, warm textured pancakes are stuffed with nuts and seeds on top of the already beloved brown sugar and cinnamon filling. You really can’t have just one.
For The Foodies: Busan's Market List
- Haenyeo Chon Village: For raw fish (Hoe), fresh daily catches and grilled clams, head to Haenyeo Chon, the shining beacon of Busan seafood.
- Bupyeong Kkangtong Market: For late night cravings, check out this night market, or add a night market tour that features Korean, Japanese and Filipino eats to your itinerary.
- Haeundae Traditional Market: For those looking to savor Busan’s traditional food scene, be sure to try the traditional fried chicken, which is twice as crispy with double the seasoning.
Let's Get Real: What To Expect In The Port City
Alright, so Busan has its own vibe and soul, but what will day to day life look like for you in the Land Of Mountains? These quick tips should help clear things up.
Travel Q&A: Is English widely spoken in Busan? South Korea ranks 36th out of 111 tested regions and countries on the EF English proficiency index, and Busan ranks with a moderate level of proficiency of 544, which is close to Seoul’s 580. So while most people understand English, they’re reluctant to speak it with confidence.
Where To Go: Busan By The Seasons
Though Busan has four distinct seasons, it has the benefit of location. Thanks to the maritime climate, Busan enjoys several months of warm weather and even warmer waters. What is the best time to visit Busan? Generally, September to October is seen as the ideal travel time in terms of weather, but every season has its perks.
Travel Sweet Spot: September to October & April to June
Not too hot, not too wet, and not too cold, these seasons are ideal for indoor and outdoor activities in Busan. September’s averages of 23°C (73°F) remain ideal, with 6 average daily sunshine hours and only 11 days of predicted rainfall. April to June is ideal for flower lovers as the Nakdong Cherry Blossom Road comes alive.
For Heat Lovers: July to August
Bring your sunscreen and sunglasses, because Busan heats up right around July, with August carrying the highest average temperature of 26°C (79°F). Summer here is toasty, and sometimes wet with June, July and August having the highest rainfall averages of the year (220mm, 300mm and 290mm respectively). August is ideal for sea swimming as average temperatures wade around 26.3°C (79°F).
The Cold Shoulder: December to March
Unless you’re polar bear swimming, stay away from the water during this dry and chilly season, as February’s sea temperatures stay around 13°C (55°F). January presents the harshest temperatures with daily averages of 3°C (37°F). The trade off? Smaller crowds and plenty of time to indulge in Busan’s massive cozy cafe and coffee culture.
How To Get Around: Navigating Busan’s Terrain
Alright, let’s talk about transport. Busan’s transportation is both tricky and simple, depending on where you’re going and what you’re doing. Let’s weigh each option.
- The Subway - With four color coded lines zipping through the city at any given time, the subway is the fastest transportation method hands down. Signs are clear, and in English as well as Korean for easy access and announcements are made in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
- The Bus- Widely used for short distances, buses are a great way to connect your subway journey. The only downside is that they sometimes don’t reach popular destinations. To avoid this, you can use the tourist buses that stop only at sites, though this does limit your exploration.
- Private Cars - Great for getting up and down those hilly, steep roads, private cars are convenient when you've got a packed itinerary and no time to hop from one train to the next. It’s also comfortable.
- Taxis- Taxis in Busan run on a meter system, and they can be difficult to find during rush hour, but when you do get one, they’re a straightforward way to get to your destination.
Do's & Don'ts: The Busan Edition
Busan comes with its own customs, so these tips should help you navigate the sea city with ease.
Staying Safe: The Busan Edition
Busan, much like Seoul, is one of the safest cities in the world. With a low crime index of 23.06 and a safety index for walking around at night of 75.96, Busan is safer than Seoul. Busanites are laid back people with friendly demeanor, so expect hospitality and understanding.
Is Busan friendly to foreigners? Yes! Busan has cultivated a culture of friendliness and accommodation towards visitors and new residents alike. How about solo female travelers? Absolutely! While minor scams or pick-pocketing are still present, women are just as likely to face these issues as men, and public gender-based aggression or violence is more likely in Belgium, Germany and Australia than it is in Busan.
Okay, so you’re ready to take a Train To Busan (hopefully one without bloodthirsty zombies), but you’re stumped about fitting all of these fantastic things into your itinerary. Don’t worry, we’ve got that covered too.
Planning a tour through the Land of Mountains is just one click away. Get in touch with a Busan tour guide and create a schedule that fits your travel plans, keeping you, your loved ones, and your memories a top priority.
P.S. Looking to travel with companions? The more, the merrier. Share this post with your friends and get them as excited about touring Busan as you are!