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5 Things to Do in Busan

January 13, 2014

South Korea’s second city is booming. Madeline Gressel checks out what makes Busan well worth a trip.

Published on Jan 13, 2014


The largest department store on Earth has Korea’s sleekest jjimjilbang, the 24-hour Spa Land (Shinsegae Centum City 1F-3F, 1495 Wu-dong, Haeundae-gu; +82 51 745 2900; Natural springs feed the hot, cold and salt baths; the outdoor rock pool is toasty, surrounded by winter snow. Don pajamas and take a footbath and then a dry-brick saunas, the cool down with an ice cream. Finish in the soft-leather recliners of the Relaxation Room.


Nampodong Street (open daily except the last Tuesday of every month, 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.; 37-1, Nampodong 4-ga, Jung-gu) is lined with food stalls. All the classic Korean snacks are here, like dumplings, sundae (blood sausage), pajeon (seafood pancake), and fried silkworm larvae for the brave. But the sweets are best. Try patbingsu (shaved ice and red bean) and heottok (pronounced “hot do”), a pancake stuffed with nuts and syrup. Around the corner is Korea’s largest fish market, Jagalchi, run by hard-boiled women known as jagalchi ajumas. A wander reveals oysters, blowfish, shark, sea urchin, monkfish, octopus and the slightly off-putting penis fish. Buy some and they’ll cook it for you right there.

Perched on the slope of Mount Geumjeongsan, Beomeosa Temple (open daily 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; free entry) is a magnificent example of traditional Korean architecture. This Buddhist temple of the “nirvana fish” was built by a monk in 678 AD, and destroyed in 1592 during a Japanese invasion. The painstaking reconstruction, erected in 1713, still stands. Explore the brightly painted teal-and-umber complex and then, weather permitting, have a picnic, while bathing your feet in the nearby forest stream.

Spring and summer transform Busan into Korea’s seaside playground. The two best beaches are Haeundae and Gwangalli. The former is Busan’s answer to Miami Beach; the latter is quieter, broader, lined with charming seafood restaurants and graced with an amazing panorama of the elegant Diamond Bridge. Both stretches boast fresh seafood in cafés and beach bars, and Gwangalli hosts the deservedly popular Busan Firework Festival (Millak Heo Center, 1 Millaksubyeon-ro, Suyeong-gu). At the end of Gwangalli sits the Millak Heo Center, a 10-story building devoted to fresh seafood restaurants, where you can try raw octopus.

The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) ( has become Asia’s largest, and arguably most important, film festival. The October festival is oriented towards exposing and rewarding new, talented global filmmakers. In 2012, the festival hosted 304 films from 75 countries, including a Hong Kong opener, a Bangladeshi closer, Michael Haneke’s Amour, American indie fave Beasts of the Southern Wild, and the much discussed Korean Pieta.


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