10 things to do in Busan
Whether you crave beautiful beaches, ancient temples or anchovy sushi, the city has it covered, writes Daniel Allen
Cultural road trip
A green jewel in Korea's tourist crown, the ancient city of Gyeongju is only 50 minutes by bus from Busan. Dating back more than 2,000 years, it was once capital of the Silla dynasty, the greatest of the Three Kingdoms of the Korean peninsula, and is still considered the region's cultural capital. Daereungwon is the largest tomb complex in Korea, with 23 grass-covered tumuli, and Seokguram Grotto and Bulguk Temple were both awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 1995.
Take a steam
Busan has long been famous in South Korea for its naturally hot waters. One hot spring in the Dongnae area is recorded in the Samguk Yusa, a book of legends, stories and historical accounts from the 13th century. The city's most famous hot spring is Heosimcheong Spa, one of the largest spa complexes in Asia. Attached to the Hotel Nongshim, it spans several floors and boasts hot, tepid, cold and strawberry milk-filled pools, as well as hot sand baths and saunas. A great way to relax after a day on your feet.
Busan has long been the seafood capital of Korea. The city's Jagalchi Market (East Asia's largest), run by an army of salty ajumma (literally aunties, but most often used to describe married women), offers a mind-boggling array of fresh aquatic produce supplied daily from around the country. The narrow walkways outside Jagalchi's two main buildings are where the action is most hectic. Open-air stalls offer dried flatfish, moray eels and cuttlefish, while tables groan under the weight of huge purple octopuses, buckets of sea squirts and spiny sea urchins. The market is easily reached by subway. Get off at either Jagalchi or Nampo stations on Line One and then ask for directions. It's five minutes from either station.
Fly (and make) a kite
If you're not a beach kind of a person, try Korean kiting. Korean kites have a long history and were once used for military communication. The most popular, a bangpaeyeon or shield kite, is very sturdy with a design that has changed little. Pick one up in a beachfront shop. The Busan International Kite Festival is usually held on the last weekend of March.
A short taxi ride from downtown Busan, the fishing village of Daebyeon thrives on the insatiable Korean demand for seafood. Before the 1950s it was just a strip of white sand and a row of weather-beaten fishing skiffs; now its well-protected harbour houses a flotilla of rust-streaked trawlers. Daebyeon's speciality is its huge anchovies, which are used to prepare a range of mouth-watering dishes. There are numerous raw fish restaurants run by local villagers in the area and menus are usually in English and Korean. Try the anchovy sushi.
Located in the middle of Haeundae beach and home to 250 species and 35,000 varieties of fish, algae, amphibians, birds and reptiles, this aquarium is the best in the country and one of the city's most popular family attractions. The sharks, rays and penguins are favourites. For those who want to get a little closer, the aquarium also hosts a shark diving class, which is open to everyone from complete novices to experienced divers.
From bulgogi to bibimbap, Korean cuisine is one of the world's greats. However, travelling junk food addicts are always going to crave a great burger from time to time. Expats generally agree that the best burgers in Busan can be had at Sharky's Bar and Grill which serves Tex-Mex and triple-decker burgers at three locations across the city. They also have darts, foosball, shuffleboard and live music, not to mention a great selection of cocktails and beers.
The most interesting part of Busan's seafood scene is the eating of hoe (pronounced hway). Similar to Japan's sashimi, hoe chefs consider a freshly killed fish with firm flesh as the pinnacle of haute cuisine. Most Busan diners enjoy their hoe with vegetables, garlic, gochujang (hot pepper paste) and soy sauce mixed with vinegar and hot pepper. Younger diners also go in for eye-watering dollops of wasabi. One of the best places to sample hoe in Busan is at Millak Hoe Centre located inside a large brown building at the northern end of Gwangalli Beach. Choose your fish in the market on the first floor before heading upstairs to a restaurant where it will be prepared. Wash it all down with a few glasses of soju, South Korea's national firewater.
With its ornate architecture and practising monks, Beomeo-sa is one of South Korea's most beautiful Buddhist temples. It is one of the oldest in the country too, having been founded in AD678, although it has been extensively rebuilt several times. Despite being situated in the city suburbs, the temple is incredibly tranquil, with picturesque Mount Geumjeong forming a bucolic backdrop. Temple highlights include the massive Cheonwang and Ilju Gates, and the main Daeungjeon Hall. For those who want to soak up the atmosphere over a period of days, it is part of South Korea's temple stay programme.
While Haeundae beach gets all the publicity, neighbouring Gwangalli beach is one of South Korea's hidden gems. With powdery sand, chic cafés and bustling nightlife, it lacks the crowds of Haeundae and is a great place to swim. Gwangalli Beach is set in a cove, spanned by the impressive Gwangan bridge. Imposing by day, at night the bridge is lit up by thousands of LEDs. Brief yet spectacular light shows are held nightly.