Header image courtesy of Cy Yambao
Busan (부산) may be widely known as the summer capital of South Korea (한국), but almost any other season is just as good a time to explore the country’s second-largest metropolis. While the densely populated port town is renowned for its coastal location and therefore draws tourists mainly for its picture-perfect beaches, Busan is overflowing with stories of history and culture, kept hidden deep in its forests and mountains. More importantly, the city is well-connected to the capital, so planning a day trip isn’t much of a hassle.
The most efficient mode of transport that directly connects Seoul (서울시) to Busan is the KTX high-speed rail system, with a one-way bullet train ride taking less than three hours—don’t worry, we promise you won’t be chased by zombies! Once there, we recommend getting around by bus, as its far-reaching routes cover parts of the city not serviced by subway lines. For an itinerary that’s not too tight, below are three of the must-visit sights in Busan that feel just right for a quick outdoor escape.
The picturesque Gamcheon Culture Village (감천문화마을), also known as Taeguekdo Village, has risen through the ranks as one of the most Instagrammable attractions in Busan. But perhaps unknown to many, the hillside neighbourhood wasn’t always as dreamlike as its nickname of being the Santorini of South Korea. In fact, Gamcheon used to be a slum area some decades ago, built primarily by refugees of the Korean War, and later occupied by followers of the Taeguekdo religion. It wasn’t until 2009 when the local government launched a funding project called ‘Dreaming of Machu Picchu in Busan,’ that the village was reinvented as a creative community through a collaborative partnership with local residents and artists.
Today, you will find no traces of the once shanty neighbourhood, as the steep slopes and narrow alleyways are now populated by pastel-coloured houses stacked like a staircase along a coastal mountain. Every step brings you closer to yet another vibrantly designed wall mural, and each unexpected turn in the seemingly giant labyrinth introduces you to all forms of art imaginable. While you can purchase a village map at the information centre (and complete a stamp tour for a special souvenir postcard!), part of the excitement is getting lost in the streets and not knowing where you’ll end up next. Maybe you’ll come across a quirky café, handicraft shop, art gallery, or mini-museum—who knows?
If you have limited time, we recommend heading straight to some of the village’s most iconic spots, starting off with the large fish wall mural by the entrance. Titled ‘Fish Swimming Through the Alley,’ this artwork by Jin Yeongseop is composed of stylised fish paintings on timbre planks that, as a whole, symbolise the liveliness of the village. Make your way next to the Little Prince and Fennec Fox statues, where you can take selfies while looking down onto the village and the distant sea. Keep walking until you stumble upon a mini library staircase, whose steps are designed to look like book spines, including one dedicated to the Harry Potter series.
Gamcheon Culture Village, 203, Gamnae 2-ro, Saha-gu, Busan, South Korea
Located on the southern end of Yeongdo (영도), the Taejongdae Resort Park (태종대 유원지) is a national geopark enveloped by dense forests and coastal cliffs. It is believed to have been named after King Taejong Muyeol, the 29th king of the Silla (신라) dynasty, who supposedly enjoyed practising archery amidst the surrounding natural landscapes. The seaside park, which is designated as a Busan monument, served as a military fortress during the Japanese occupation and wasn’t developed as a tourist attraction until decades later.
Taejongdae features a three-level observation deck offering panoramic ocean views, with the Tea Kettle Island (생도) and even Japan’s Tsushima Island (対馬) visible from a distance on clear days. Within the vicinity, you’ll also see a statue of a mother and her two children, built as a reminder of a mother’s unconditional love to hopefully discourage those seeking to end their lives from doing so.
Just a few minutes away by foot is the famous Yeongdo Lighthouse (영도 등대), one of the city’s most important historical landmarks, having contributed to Busan Port’s prosperity for more than a century. On your way down the wooden staircase, you will pass by the ‘Light Beyond Limitation’ installation, whose circular shape symbolises the harmonious relationship between people and nature. The silver bar that cuts through the overlapping circles represents the light from the lighthouse.
Past the lighthouse is another trail that leads to the Sinseon Rock (신선록), said to have been frequented by gods and goddesses looking to rest. In the middle of the flat rock formation, which is situated 250 metres above sea level, stands a human-shaped stone figure called Mangbuseok (망부석). Legends say a woman once stood by the rocks and eventually passed away while waiting for her captured husband to return.
A convenient way to explore Taejongdae, especially if you’re travelling with children and the elderly, is onboard the Danubi Train (다누비열차), which stops at the park’s key attractions mentioned above. Still, you may want to consider walking the forested paths instead, and along the way discover some sights not accessible by train. The intensity of the trails depends on your level of fitness, but it’s best to wear comfortable shoes and rely on the handrails for support throughout the hike.
Taejongdae Resort Park, 24, Jeonmang-ro, Yeongdo-gu, Busan, South Korea
As one of the most scenic beaches in Busan, the crescent-shaped Gwangalli Beach (광안리 해수욕장) is an increasingly popular hangout, especially among the youth. The beachfront boasts a 1.4-kilometre stretch of powdery white sand and well-maintained pristine waters, with the entire area having undergone an extensive water cleaning program. Despite being in the shadows of the more popular Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장), Gwangalli promises a quieter respite from the hustle and bustle, away from the maddening crowds.
Expect a different scenario as soon as the sun goes down, when Gwangalli Beach transforms into a lively promenade filled with romantic couples and groups of friends ready to experience a vibrant night-time atmosphere in the heart of the city. From anywhere on the shore, you get unobstructed views of the Gwangandaegyo or Diamond Bridge (광안대교), as the suspension bridge fully illuminates in a nightly LED light show accompanied by various music styles and sometimes even a spectacular fireworks display.
The beach is not only set against a breathtaking skyline but also surrounded by independent restaurants and open-terrace cafés, so make sure to get your fill while watching street performances and seasonal festivals. For a more authentic experience, make your way to Millak Raw Fish Town (민락회타운), a premier raw fish market at the northern end of Gwangalli Beach. Here you can choose any live seafood and have it served fresh with gochujang (고추장; red chilli paste) at one of the restaurants upstairs for a reasonable price.
Gwangalli Beach, 219, Gwanganhaebyeon-ro, Suyeong-gu, Busan, South Korea