When people think of South Korea, most people are aware of its capital city, Seoul. Seoul is a thriving and bustling city combining both traditional Korean culture and modern sights. This city is often visited by Korean citizens and foreigners alike – as it should be – but what about other cities in Korea? There is much more to this beautiful country than the capital city.
Busan is the second largest city in South Korea, but it has been overlooked in the past by those visiting South Korea. This city is absolutely beautiful and deserves to be seen and appreciated by all. Personally, I prefer Busan over Seoul because I believe Busan has more to offer. There is a lot to see and do in Busan. It is very easy to lose time there; however, you may not have all the time in the world when traveling. So what do you do if you only have a day to explore? Here is my recommendation for a great 24-hour trip to Busan.
1. Sunrise by the Sea
Haedong Yonggungsa is a Buddhist temple by the sea. It has been nicknamed the “Most Beautiful Temple in Korea,” and after you visit, it’ll be easy for you to understand why. The temple itself is gorgeous and definitely deserves to be awed and appreciated. Pair this with the amazing view of the East Sea, and you’ve got a unique landscape that cannot be seen anywhere else.
The temple opens at 05:00 every morning, and I recommend visiting early enough to see the sunrise. First of all, you really will get the best views – and the best pictures – when the sun begins to creep over the ocean. The beauty of the sunrise in conjunction with the beauty of the temple is absolutely breathtaking. The first time I saw it, I had to take a second to take it in and admire it. I truly could not believe the wonder I was seeing. Trust me when I say you will not regret losing sleep for this view. (You can always go back to sleep at your lodging if you really want to.) You also will appreciate taking pictures of the scenery with less people in the shot! This temple is THE best place to see in all of Busan.
2. Take a Morning Stroll
After your visit to the temple, head towards Haeundae and take a walk on the beach. Haeundae Beach is the most well-known Korean beach – and for good reason. At about 1.5km long, it is the biggest beach in South Korea. The bay is very shallow which makes it the perfect depth and temperature for swimming. There is also an amazing view of the Haeundae (Busan) skyline from this location, which provides perfect pics worthy of glowing Instagram posts.
Early morning is the best time to visit this beach for two reasons: pictures and heat. Busan is known for its nightlife. Most people in Busan will either be going to bed or still in bed (depending on what they did the night before) by the early morning. You may still see a few people continuing the party from the night before, but you will get the least amount of people in your pictures if you take them earlier in the day. In the summer, this is also the best time to go to beat the heat. South Korea has very humid summers, so it can start to get hot early in the day. You won’t want to take a load of pictures when you are busy worrying about the heat.
(The first two items can be switched for your preference.)
3. Experience Two Malls at Once
From Haeundae, take a 20-minute subway ride to the Centum City stop. At this stop, you can see two department stores at the same time: Shinsegae and LOTTE. Both these department stores are well-known chains in South Korea, but each of these locations has its own unique personality.
Shinsegae is actually the Largest Department Store in the world; they even have a Guinness sign on the outside of the building to declare it. It has 16 floors in total, including the two basement floors. This place is huge, and it has a lot to offer people of all ages and interests. There are luxury stores, kids’ areas, and a very large bookstore. The top four floors consist of the store’s own golf range. You could spend all day in this store, and you still wouldn’t be able to see everything here. It is that big.
Lotte is almost as big at Shinsegae. It has more floors with 17, and 7 of those are underground. This store offers plenty of shopping options just like Shinsegae, but it also contains a Cinema on the 8th and 9th floors (above ground) – which allows for optimal entertainment – as well as an event hall and park on the top floor. I recommend heading to the top floor for a spectacular view of the city.
The first time I visited these stores, I spent almost four hours roaming around, and I still didn’t get to see it all. It may take you a few days to experience everything these department stores have to offer; but in a single day, it’s a great idea to spend a few hours here for a little shopping, lunch, and entertainment before heading to your next destination.
4. Visit a Bustling Market
Hop back on the subway back to Haeundae. From the station, head back in the direction of the beach. It shouldn’t be hard to find Haeundae market. This traditional market is brimming with shops, each unique and owned by a local. You could find just about anything you want here and most, if not all, handmade: clothing, jewelry, home items, etc.
This market even has delicious street food. As a vegetarian, I haven’t actually been able to sample much of the street food – as a lot of it isn’t veg-friendly. However, my non-veg friends rave about the street food in South Korea all the time. If you are not a picky eater, I highly recommend grabbing a snack or two. A visit to the Haeundae market is never a bad idea.
5. Witness the Merriment
When you’re finished at the market, head back towards the beach. Haeundae Beach is a place that needs to be seen more than once throughout the day. Even though you took some beautiful pictures this morning, you must also see it in the evening to experience the joyous festivities.
Koreans really know how to throw a party, and on Haeundae beach, the party starts early – and almost never ends. Even in the hottest summers, there’s music, drinks, and dancing everywhere. So take a moment to truly encounter what this beach really has to offer.
6. Grab Some Nourishment
By this time, you have probably started thinking about putting some food in your system – and maybe grabbing a drink or two. Leave the beach and walk down the left side of the main street. Take the first street you see on the left. On the right side, you should see Galmegi Brewing Company and The Wolfhound.
Galmegi is my favorite pizza place in Busan. If you’re looking for western-style pizza, this is definitely the place to go. They have various options for you to choose from, and they are more than willing to accomodate any dietary needs you may have. (I recommend the Gorgonzola pizza!) The Wolfhound is an Irish Pub and a very well-known one. It is actually a chain throughout South Korea and is known for being a friendly place for foreigners. They have a unique drink menu; you can find several drink options here for anybody and everybody. If you like beer, I recommend you try the Sour! It is my favorite sour that I have ever had, and it is absolutely scrumptious. Eat and drink as much as you want (or can handle) until you’re ready to call it a day.
To fully experience all that South Korea has to offer, I recommend you spend at least two weeks on your visit. However, there are not many who can get this much time off for vacation. In these instances, day trips like this one may be necessary and will still allow you to see the variety that Korea has to offer. Hopefully, this itinerary will help in your planning.
Have you ever been to Busan? What would you add to this itinerary?