There’s a reason why the city of Busan is one of South Korea’s top tourist destinations. This lively port city on the country’s southeastern coast is often referred to as “the Summer Capital of South Korea.” It’s not hard to see why, as this modern seaside paradise counts glorious beaches and tons of fun, outdoor activities among the things to see and do in Busan.
Busan’s stunning location just 120 miles from Kyushu and Honshu—two of Japan’s main islands—is only part of its appeal. The city is also home to breathtaking Buddhist temples, fascinating cultural landmarks, bustling street markets, and much more. It’s also extremely well-connected as South Korea’s second-largest city. Busan is only a four-hour bullet train ride from the capital of Seoul and is also easy to reach by plane or car.
With so much to offer, I highly recommend spending several days in Busan at the very least. The city is home to countless gems that are ripe for exploration. In this travel guide, I will share my personal favorites from the time I spent in Busan. These are the top 10 things to see and do in Busan, South Korea.
Gamcheon Culture Village
When most people see photos of Gamcheon Culture Village, they assume they’re looking at the famous favela neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro. However, you won’t find this colorful, artsy neighborhood in Brazil, but the heart of Busan. Its eclectic feel and look, which includes lots of blue roofs that bring to mind the island of Santorini, help make the village one of the best things to see and do in Busan.
The History of Gamcheon Culture Village
There are lots of theories as to how Gamcheon Culture Village came to be. Some say it’s where poor Korean residents relocated to in the 1920s and 1930s. Others say it began as an enclave for refugees escaping the horrors of the Korean War, while still others say it as founded by followers of a little-known faith called Taegukdo.
What isn’t disputed is the origins of its colorful facelift, which occurred in the late 2000s as part of a beautification project to revive the area’s arts scene. Today, Gamcheon Culture Village is a touristy but confusing labyrinth of narrow paths and steep staircases that wind their way between muralled walls and eclectic businesses. The layout makes it easy for tourists to get lost, but that’s part of the fun of exploring it!
Street Food and Views
It’s also a great spot to find some of Busan’s most unusual street foods. There are relatively tame items like bungeo-ppang, which is a crispy, fish-shaped waffle stuffed with sweet red bean paste. You’ll also find quite a few oddities like a deep-fried fish paste cake called a hot bar and a bizarre frozen beer. There are also some tasty orange gelatin balls with powdered peanuts. While I didn’t love the food there, give it a try anyway for the experience.
At several points during my exploration, my friend Sam and I stumbled upon lookout points that took our collective breath away. From specific vantage points, you can enjoy unparalleled views of the surrounding village, the nearby green mountains, and the distant ocean. These views make visiting Gamcheon Culture Village one of the best things to see and do in Busan, even if you’re not into the artsy scene or food.
There is perhaps no better place in Busan to enjoy the city’s fantastic weather than by taking a trip to Haeundae Beach. It’s South Korea’s longest beach and is also one of the country’s most popular beaches. The beach hosts several festivals annually, including the Polar Bear Club, where entrants bathe in freezing water in January. It also partly hosts the Busan International Film Festival.
I visited Haeundae Beach in late May of 2019. It was a pretty hot day, but there was also a gentle breeze that kept it from being too stifling. As soon as my travel buddy Sam and I got there, we spotted several huge, incredibly detailed sandcastles. One of them looked like King’s Landing from Game of Thrones!
Seeing southeastern Korea’s beautiful coastline is among the top things to see and do in Busan, and Haeundae Beach is a great place to view it. Bordering the beach is a massive boardwalk lined with towering skyscrapers. The modern surroundings and distance between the water and the boardwalk reminded me a lot of Miami Beach!
Though I didn’t have the time to go for a swim or sunbathe, it was clear to me that spending time at Haeundae Beach is one of the best things to see and do in Busan. It’s beautiful and relaxing despite its popularity!
Visit Jagalchi Fish Market
Located on the outskirts of Nampo Port in the Nampo-dong commercial and shopping area of Busan is Jagalchi Fish Market. While Korea is full of outstanding fish markets, Jagalchi is among the best things to see and do in Busan for several reasons. It’s the largest seafood market in all of Korea and boasts multiple levels you can explore. There are at least 900 stalls on the first level!
Fresh Seafood Stalls (First Level)
Jagalchi Fish Market is a feast for the senses. There is so much to see, and the aroma of the freshest seafood imaginable is enough to make any fish lover hungry! The treats from the sea there included king crab, mussels, lobsters, squid, snakefish, and much more. There were even lots of exotic sea creatures neither of us had ever seen before.
If you come to Jagalchi Fish Market looking for a specific type of seafood, chances are you’ll find it there. They have everything you can imagine and everything you can’t imagine!
Locals flock to the market to buy the freshest seafood imaginable. The vendors also provide seafood to many local restaurants. We found the vendors to be quite personable and watching them prepare fresh seafood for customers right before our eyes was a real treat.
Buying seafood here is one of the best things to see and do in Busan. We purchased a flounder from a friendly and generous man at Stall 7, who prepared it for us, sashimi-style, and sent it up to the kitchens and dining hall on the third level!
Chobap Feast (Third Level)
After we bought our flounder from the vendor, we headed up to the dining hall on the third level. There, you’ll find lots of non-traditional tables as well as more traditional ones that are low to the ground. I recommend eating at the traditional tables for the most authentic and immersive experience.
It wasn’t long before our fish feast arrived. While it looks almost identical to Japanese sushi, Korean raw fish is called chobap. Our chobap feast consisted of 24 pieces in total: eight pieces of three different types of fish. One thing that made it different from Japanese sushi is that the cook had placed some wasabi between the rice and the fish.
It was easily the freshest and most heavenly raw fish I’ve ever eaten in my life. The fish had a thicker cut than I was used to and was melt-in-your-mouth tender. They paired it with some phenomenal sticky rice. The combination of the fish and rice with the wasabi was unparalleled. We were given several sauces to try it with, including soy sauce, sriracha, and gochujang. I’m a soy sauce fanatic when it comes to raw fish, but you can’t beat the gochujang sauce in South Korea!
We were also served several banchan, or sides, with our chobap. They included a flavorless jelly, syrupy corn, ginger, carrots, and edamame. Our favorite side dish was a divine fish head soup that had a spicy, fishy broth and tender, succulent meat. All in all, this was one of my favorite meals in South Korea. It’s an experience like no other and is arguably the best thing to see and do in Busan.
Eat Street Food at BIFF Square
Every year, Busan hosts the Busan International Film Festival. In the immediate area is a fantastic market in BIFF Square that sells some of Busan’s tastiest street food. Trying Korean street food in Busan is a must! It was one of the highlights of my time there.
Located right across the street from Jagalchi Fish Market, the BIFF market is a bustling area with lots of vendors. Whether you want something savory or sweet, you’ll walk away from this market satisfied.
Korean Street Food on a Stick
My first order of business was the tteok-bokki, which quickly became my favorite Korean street food. The thick, chewy rice cakes and the spicy red sauce is an unbeatable combination! I also tried a tangy, spongy fish cake called odeng, which blew my mind because it had absorbed the flavors of the red sauce.
By the time I got to the sundae, or Korean blood sausage, I was ready to bathe in that sauce. It paired nicely with everything, especially the sausage, which had a rich, meaty flavor and contained lots of delicious rice. Just trying this sauce is one of the top things to see and do and Busan!
I also highly recommend the pan-fried dumplings known as mandu, which are crispy on the bottom and bursting with flavorful vegetables. They’re very different from the dumplings I had tried in Japan and China earlier that year, but are still incredibly tasty!
Hands down, the best fried chicken in the world is in Korea. The chicken in other parts of the world, including America, doesn’t even come close. While you’re at BIFF Square, you have to try the dakgangjeong, which is fried chicken with a sweet and spicy glaze. It’s double-fried, so it comes out super crispy and moist but not overly greasy. Having this chicken is the ultimate thin to see and do in Busan!
The best thing about dakgangjeong is that you can taste how fresh and organic the chicken is. After just one bite, you know this chicken has never been frozen or injected with hormones and steroids. It is the best fried chicken on the planet and is a gastronomical experience you must have!
I won’t beat around the bush here. Beondegi is a deep-fried silkworm larva that you can find at BIFF Square and other street markets around Korea. I tried a couple of them for the experience but ultimately couldn’t stomach it. They burst in my mouth when I bit down on them, which immediately triggered my gag reflex.
It honestly wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be, but still tasted like earth. I couldn’t wait to get the taste out of my mouth. That said, if you’re into adventurous eating, knock yourself out and order a cup!
With us just feet from Korea’s largest fish market, of course, incredible seafood is available at BIFF Square. My favorite was the garibi, which is a scallop that’s grilled in its shell and topped with corn, onion, a tasty sauce, and cheese. The vendor uses a blowtorch to melt the cheese. Be sure to take a few steps back when he does this; otherwise you might lose an eyebrow or melt your camera!
The contrast between the succulent, tender scallop and the corn, onion, sauce, and cheese was outstanding. There was also a smoky, charred taste that added an extra layer of flavor. It was unlike anything else I’d eaten in South Korea up to that point!
After lots of savory street foods, you might want to check out some dessert. I’m not really a sweets kind of guy, but I still managed to find a few sweet treats I’d recommend to anyone.
The first of the three is the stuffed and roasted Korean marshmallow. It’s a giant block of marshmallow served on a stick. When you bite into the crispy and fluffy exterior, you’ll also get some ice cream and chocolate sauce on the inside!
The second sweet is a crispy waffle ball stuffed with white bean curd. It has a soft, doughy center and costs 1,000 won (about $0.82 U.S.) for three. The third option I found was more of a traditional Belgian waffle with whipped cream in the center. It wasn’t my favorite, but is still a sweet and filling way to end a street food tour!
Visit Busan Tower
To get the best views of Busan possible, you’ll need to head to Busan Tower in the Jung-gu area in the south-central part of the city. Located in Yongdusan Park (more on that later), Busan Tower is a 120-meter structure built in 1973. Unlike other, similar towers, it doesn’t function as a TV- or radio tower.
There are some galleries and gift shops in the lower levels, but the main attraction is the observation deck at the top. It costs 8,000 won, or roughly $6.59 U.S., to visit the observation deck, but as always, it is worth it!
The circular observation deck features massive windows that allow you to see every inch of South Korea’s second-largest city sprawling beneath you. I’ve always felt that visiting a city’s observation deck is a great way to learn more about it.
From high above, you can see individual districts and neighborhoods, which gives you a sense of the city and its layout. It’s something you can’t see or feel from the ground. From atop Busan Tower, I could see skyscrapers, the port, boats out on the ocean, the nearby mountains, and so much more. It’s easily one of the top things to see and do in Busan!
Explore Taejongdae Resort Park
No trip to Busan is complete without spending a few hours exploring Taejongdae Resort Park. This beautiful, natural area located on Yeong-do, an island located off the coast of the downtown area. It’s a bit of a hidden gem in Busan, as it’s nestled within a thick, evergreen forest. Its relatively unknown status among tourists makes it one of the best things to see and do in Busan!
Taejongdae Clam Tents – Tent #5
As one of the largest port cities in the world, Busan is one of the best places to try fresh seafood on the planet. It’s hard to find fare fresher than the seafood sold at Tent 5 at the Taejongdae Clam Tents.
The feast sold there is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart, but it is a uniquely Korean experience I recommend to all foodies. This meal is entirely raw and consists of clams, oysters, and mussels, as well as seafood I couldn’t begin to identify. But the centerpiece is the freshly killed octopus, whose tentacles still writhe and squirm even after being chopped up.
All in all, it’s not my favorite meal. While the octopus was tasty, you have to fight with it a bit. It’s a bit unsettling when the suction cups latch onto your tongue and the inside of your cheek as you’re trying to eat it. And you have to chew it extremely well; otherwise it can get stuck in your throat.
The best parts of the meal were the clams and mussels (which came with a spicy, ketchup-like sauce) but overall, it was a one-and-done experience for me. Still, it’s a great thing to say you’ve done, so it’s still among the best things to see and do in Busan!
The Resort Park
The entrance to Taejongdae Resort Park is at the top of the hill you’ll descend to reach the clam tents. The path you’ll take to explore the park will take you in a loop that eventually doubles back to the park entrance. There are quite a few stunning sights to behold as you walk the circuit through this gorgeous, green area of Busan.
One such sight is a temple that was built to prevent people from taking their own lives. Peaceful music emanated from the temple, which had a Buddha statue out front along with an extensive collection of international flags.
Some of the best views in Busan can be found further along the path at South Port Viewing Point and the nearby observation deck. They overlook the Pacific Ocean and offers fantastic views of the nearby cliffs and the tiny Tea Kettle Island. It’s one of the most awe-inspiring views in Busan, hands down!
You can experience more stunning views at Yeongdo Lighthouse, which was built in 1906 and looks out over the pristine, blue waters. Further along is the beautiful Taejongsa Temple, which is toward the end of the loop near the park entrance.
I can’t say enough great things about Taejongdae Resort Park. Many people may not know about the park yet, but it can still be a bit touristy on weekends. For that reason, I recommend visiting on a weekday to beat the crowds. Either way, Taejongdae Resort Park is easily one of the top 10 things to see and do in Busan and is a must-visit!
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Shop at Shinsegae Centum City
If shopping is more your style, you can’t visit Busan and not visit Shinsegae Centum City, which happens to be the biggest shopping complex in the world! Sam and I visited on a dreary, stormy day so we could get out of the rain and wind and were pleasantly surprised by what we found.
We arrived at Shinsegae Centum City via an underground entrance in a nearby metro station. While neither of us is into shopping or malls, we couldn’t help but marvel at the scope and breadth of this massive retail complex. It has a whopping nine levels and offers countless stores, kiosks, and restaurants. It’s basically a small city!
Upon entering, one of the first things we saw were lots of stands selling never-ending varieties of unique-looking cakes. Elsewhere, you can find stores selling Korean cosmetics, as well as luxury clothing stores like Prada, more casual spots like The Gap, home goods stores, and an arcade. There’s even an ice-skating rink on the fourth floor!
Just know that if you’re traveling with a camera, the complex’s security guards may ask you to not film. While that’s a bummer for travel vloggers, visiting Shinsegae Centum City is still one of the best things to see and do in Busan!
Attend a Lotte Giants Baseball Game
Hands down, the most fun you will have in Busan is attending a Lotte Giants baseball game at Sajik Baseball Stadium. Even if you’re not a baseball or sports fan in general, the electric atmosphere and enthusiasm of the crowd is something everyone must experience!
When you arrive at Sajik Stadium, you might be tempted to try some of the street food sold outside. I can’t recommend it. I tried some dried squid cooked over a flame that was almost inedible. It was rubbery, and so hard, I nearly broke a tooth trying to bite through it. Even the tentacles, which are usually softer, were like trying to munch on a tire.
Inside the gift shop are lots of items with the Lotte Giants logo, including jerseys and hats. The jerseys will cost about $90 U.S., so I don’t recommend buying one unless you have to have it. The baseball caps are more reasonable at about $40 U.S. If you’re lucky, you’ll be given free jerseys as you head to your seats!
While watching a Lotte Giants game is undoubtedly exciting, it pales in comparison to the frenetic energy of the crowd. It was electric; the crowd sang, chanted, and cheered non-stop, and they got even louder when the home team was at-bat. The energy alone makes a Lotte Giants game one of the best things to see and do in Busan!
Food and Drink
Of course, you can’t attend a baseball game without having some snacks, and the concession at Sajik Stadium does not disappoint. Instead of the awful, overpriced food you get at American sporting events, we found some mouthwatering fried chicken and tteok-bokki. The tteok-bokki came with odeng and a creamy, spicy sauce. Both were fresh, tasty, and inexpensive. The tteok-bokki set us back 4,000 won/$3.29 U.S., while the cup of chicken was a bit pricier at 10,000 won/$8.23 U.S.
We also enjoyed several beers during the game (what’s a baseball game without beer, right?). A friendly guy sitting next to me even gave me some of his soju. And although Sam and I had to leave before the end of the game (the home team had given up a five-run lead by the seventh inning), it was a remarkable experience I will never forget!
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Visit Yongdusan Park
Another of the top things to see and do in Busan is take a trip up to Yongdusan Park, also known as Dragonhead Mountain. Yongdusan Park is a beautiful, 69,000-square-meter recreational area that’s home to over 70 species of trees. We took an escalator to the park entrance. It was the only place where trade between the Chosun Dynasty and Japan could take place until the 17th and 18th century!
The park’s main attraction is Busan Tower, but there are several other points of interest there as well. They include the Museum of World Folk Instruments, where various unique and bizarre instruments from around the world are on display. Visitors are even allowed to play them!
You can also check out the Exhibition Hall of World Model Boats, where visitors can view more than 80 beautiful models of boats. The boats range from yellow-hemp sailboats to turtle boats to warships!
Stay Overnight at a Buddhist Temple
The final, but most immersive thing to see and do in Busan is to stay overnight at a Buddhist temple. The best place to have this experience is Beomeosa Temple, which is Busan’s most famous temple and one of the most well-known in South Korea.
There is no better way to learn about Korean Buddhist culture than staying here. From the moment you arrive, you’re given a traditional, pajama-like uniform to wear during your stay. The monks there are very kind and friendly and will walk you through all of the temple’s rules and rituals.
I visited Beomeosa Temple with a large group of fellow travel vloggers and bloggers. We slept together in a communal area with a shared bathroom. It was like a big sleepover!
My time at Beomeosa Temple was one of the most beautiful and most peaceful experiences I’ve ever had while traveling. For me, it’s at the top of the list of things to see and do in Busan. I cannot recommend it more highly. If you only do one thing during your time in Busan, make it a temple stay at Beomeosa Temple.
To learn more about my Korean Buddhist temple stay, please check out my in-depth Beomeosa Temple Stay Guide!
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It’s no wonder Busan is one of South Korea’s most popular tourist destinations. Whether you’re a niche traveler or a jack-of-all-trades traveler who enjoys a bit of everything, Busan has something for you. This multi-faceted city surprised me again and again with everything it had to offer and was an absolute dream to explore. Book a trip to Busan today to experience it for yourself!
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