With its glistening beaches, balmy subtropical climate and brightly coloured houses lining the hillside at Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan has been lovingly dubbed “the Santorini of South Korea”. At the south-eastern tip of the peninsula, the city is a two-and-a-half-hour bullet train ride from Seoul and three hours from Japan’s Fukuoka by ferry. Not sure where to begin? Discover the best things to do in Busan – plus where to eat and stay in South Korea’s second-largest city.
The best things to do in Busan
Trek to a temple
Take the one-and-a-half-hour hike from the station to Beomeosa, a 17th-century temple on Geumjeongsan Mountain, and you’ll be rewarded with expansive views of Busan’s cityscape and the sea beyond. Also on Geumjeongsan and accessible via cable car is Seokbulsa Temple, which features incredible 40-metre-high boulders etched with Buddhist images.
Explore Jagalchi Fish Market
Check out just-caught hauls of mackerel, red snapper and all manner of crustaceans at the lively Jagalchi Fish Market, the largest of its kind in the country. Don’t skip lunch; visitors can buy fish and have it sliced into sashimi or served in a stew at the stretch of restaurants above the main building.
Dive in at Haeundae Beach
South Korea’s most famous beach, Haeundae, attracts over 10 million visitors a year with its luxury hotels, aquarium, boardwalk casino, colourful umbrellas and hawkers selling fried chicken on the sand. Escape the crowds at Gwangalli Beach, which boasts stunning views of the Gwangan suspension bridge (aka the Diamond Bridge).
Soothe yourself at a spa
No trip to South Korea is complete without visiting a traditional bathhouse known as a jjimjilbang. Spa Land inside Centum City, the world’s largest shopping complex, offers a luxe version: 22 hot-spring baths, 13 themed saunas, outdoor pools, treatment rooms for a requisite scrub, a café and much more await.
See cherry blossoms up close
Cherry blossoms burst forth between late March and early April every year, turning Busan pink for just a few weeks. Oncheon Stream Park is a particularly photogenic spot, thanks to its canal-like waterway. Each spring, the hundreds of trees that line it create what’s known as “flower road”.
Where to eat in Busan
Start your culinary adventure at the Haeundae street food market, a bustling network of stalls behind the beach selling everything from eomuk (fish cakes) to hotteok (sweet filled pancakes). Korean barbecue is a must: try the short ribs and gamja-guksu (potato noodles) at Haeundae Somunnan Amso Galbijip.
For something more refined, head to Boksoondoga F1963, the restaurant outpost of a popular makgeolli (rice wine) brewery in Ulsan. The menu mixes modern Korean and classic European techniques, with the setting – an elegantly restored factory overlooking a bamboo terrace – providing a chic backdrop. Recent hits include beef ragu tteokbokki (simmered rice cakes) and black cod fritters seasoned with 20-year fermented soy sauce.
Where to stay in Busan
Floor-to-ceiling windows, plush king-sized beds, a calming palette of beige-toned timber: the Park Hyatt’s 338 rooms feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the city. To up the romance, book the Presidential Suite and luxuriate in the huge marble bathroom complete with spa tub, rain shower and epic ocean views over Gwangan Bridge.
Kids will go ga-ga for the foam pit in the under-10s’ play zone at Signiel Busan on Haeundae Beach. Grown-ups will love the gorgeous rooftop pool, Zen-like spa and champagne-and-caviar service at The Lounge, one of six on-site eateries.
SEE ALSO: 25 of the Best Things to Do in Seoul
Image credits: Korea Tourism Organization; Boksoondoga F1963; Park Hyatt