When I was planning my travels around Asia last year, South Korea wasn't actually a high priority on my list of places to visit— and within South Korea, Busan was an even lower priority compared to Seoul or the oft romanticized Jeju Island. What ended up getting me there was an AirAsia flash sale on flights between Seoul and Bangkok. At $200 round-trip, I booked my flights on a whim, and before doing any research on how much time to spend there. My trip ended up being too tight to fit in Jeju, so I swapped in a trip to Busan instead.

If you read my Best of 2018 post, you'll know that Busan ended up being a sleeper hit for me. It has the charm of a small town with the infrastructure of a big city, not to mention my personal travel trifecta of interesting architecture, stunning natural landscapes, and delicious food. It also helped that I had a detailed guide from my good friend Joanne (who wrote a post about The Algarve for us) in my pocket. Joanne clued me in to spots that I would never have found on my own, and contributed to some of the most memorable experiences of the trip. With her permission, I've reposted her guide here mixed in with some of my own recommendations and commentary.

"Busan is such a great city, and my favorite in all of South Korea. The people there are more laid back and the street food is simply amazing. I’d equate Busan to Honolulu because it’s both a metropolitan and beach-y city with great hiking and views. I think you can see a lot in one day but the best way to enjoy it is to just take your time and explore every nook and cranny. It’s got a much different, more country vibe than Seoul. It reminds me of when I went to Korea as a kid and it felt really different, in a good but confusing way." —Joanne

Getting There

While there are direct flights from other cities in Asian to Busan, it's probably safe to assume that if you're reading this you'll likely depart for the seaside city from the capital of Seoul— as you should, because it's only a 2 hour, 15 minute train ride on the KTX, Korea's high-speed rail line. Plus, why pass up the chance to make Train to Busan references all over social media as you document your journey?

Photos by The Innbox

​​Joanne's Tip:
First before you get on the KTX to get there, get yourself a ‘doshirak’ at seoul station. Doshirak are similar to bento boxes but with Korean food. Usually it’s rice, meat, side dishes, and a bowl of soup. You can also order beer on the train so enjoy your doshirak with an ice cold beer. It’s a great way to enjoy the train ride!

Where to Stay

Hotel 1   Starting at $77/Night

Photo by The Innbox

I previously named Hotel 1 as the best hotel I stayed at in 2018, so it's a no-brainer to recommend it as my top choice for where to stay in Busan. Hotel 1 has a variety of different room types at different price points to appease all types of travelers, it's perfectly located right on the quiet Gwangalli Beach (with a stunning view of nearby Haeundae), and it's marbled interiors feel unique, even for a minimalist-themed hotel. A few things to note; this is a shoes-off hotel (which I personally loved) so you'll need to store your shoes in a locker in the hotel lobby. Also, the staff doesn't speak English fluently as the hotel is catered towards Korean guests. However, if you're patient in your communication and not a jerk, you'll be able to get on just fine. Read the full review for more details and pictures.

If Hotel 1 doesn't sound like your jam, here are a few more options for where to stay in Busan:

Hotel Laon   Starting at $81/Night

Photos via Agoda

Hotel Laon boasts spacious rooms and suites with panoramic views, located on the smaller and quieter Songjeong beach. While it's farther away from sites like Jagalchi, Taejongdae, and Gamcheon it's quite close to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

Hotel Laon has elevators, facilities for guests with disabilities, and is wheelchair accessible.

Good Day Mate   Starting at $42/Night

Photos via Booking.com

A charming little guesthouse that offers affordable rooms with private bathrooms, and a shared kitchen and dining room. Rooms also included heated floors which is great for mornings and colder months. Centrally located walking distance to Haeundae Beach.

Please inquire directly with the host for more accessibility information.

Paradise Hotel Busan   Starting at $194/Night

Photos via Booking.com

This glamorous hotel and casino sits right on Haeundae Beach and is the perfect option for anyone who wants ample amenities. There's spacious dining rooms and outdoor decks galore. If you're not into gambling, spend your time instead checking out the outdoor spa and hot spring which overlooks the ocean.

Paradise Hotel has elevators, accesible parking, and facilities for guests with disabilities.

Getting Around

I would highly recommend downloading the Naver Maps app for navigating around Busan and the rest of South Korea. Google Maps doesn't really work well there and Naver is like their Google alternative. The app is mostly in Hangul but we were still able to use it to figure out the bus schedule in Busan, which is an extremely convenient and affordable way to get around. Thanks to the frequent and punctual bus system plus Naver maps, we never used Uber or any other ride-sharing app the entire time we were in Busan!

What To Do

BIFF Square

Photos via The Innbox

Joanne: This is where the best street food is. Try the hotteok, it’s at a stand that’s all red and has the longest line. It’s very hard to miss. Gotta try tteokbokgi as well. The rice cakes are thicker and I like the sauce better. Explore the area, there are a ton of shops but don’t spend too long. It’s kinda like Myeongdong [in Seoul] but not as obnoxious.

Sabrina: Can confirm! I loved the hotteok so much I had to go back twice in the same day to get more. It's nutty, warm, doughy, and sweet-but-not-too-sweet. So perfect.

Jagalchi Fish Market

Joanne: THE seafood market to go to when you’re in busan. It’s so fresh here that you’ll see octopus crawling around on the street, no joke. Inside the market, you can pick what you want to eat and bring it to the restaurants upstairs to have them cook it for you. It’s actually right across the street from BIFF square. I usually order ‘gwanguh hoe’ which is flat fish served sashimi style.


Photos via The Innbox

Joanne: Omg this is such a lovely place. It’s my favorite place in Busan. It’s a beach/coast with a lighthouse on top. The hike to the lighthouse is easy but you still get a nice workout. I recommend doing the hike instead of taking the tram because along the way, you’ll find these hidden beaches where you can just go in for a dip and chill. It’s really nice. You can also venture off a little and hang out by the cliffs. When you arrive, there’s actually a bunch of restaurants around the area where you can order ‘jo gae gui’ which is clams (variety) you can grill at your table. It’s super delicious and this area is known for it.

Photos via The Innbox

Sabrina: Taejongdae blew me away! We were blessed with good weather and clear skies, so the hike around the park was very pleasant and picturesque. It did get extremely windy when we got up to the lighthouse and closer to the edge of the water. We found the restaurants that Joanne mentioned, but instead of the clams we actually ended up getting the flat fish sashimi that she mentioned you can get at Jagalchi, along with a side of sea squirt. The sea squirt wasn't for me but the sashimi was delicious! Texturally, it's a bit different from the kind of sashimi you would find in Japan but eating fresh fish on a rock overlooking the sea it came from is probably one of my favorite food experiences I've had while traveling.

Photos via The Innbox

Haeundae Beach

Photos via The Innbox

Joanne: Def a must visit. It will not be too crowded since you’re going in April. There’s a boutique around here called ‘Interview Love’ (41-1 Jungdong 1-ro, Jung-dong, Haeundae, Busan) that I really like. Check it out if you have time! Also eat ‘milmyeon’ which is indigenous to Busan. They are cold wheat noodles in this super refreshing and cold broth. I freaking love that ish.

Photos via The Innbox

Sabrina: It was too cold when we visited Haeundae to go in the water but it was still a very relaxing spot to visit and we had the most amazing barbecue at a famous restaurant nearby the beach called Haeundae Sonumnam Amso Galbijip (해운대 소문난암소갈비집), pictured above. It's expensive but so worth it!

Gwangalli Beach

Photos via The Innbox

Joanne: I honestly like this beach better [than Haeundae] because it’s less crowded and it’s where the locals go. I like the food here better as well and there’s a ton of cool bars right along the beach. I think it has a better nightlife than Haeundae and this is where everyone goes to hang out anyway. I’d go here at night to party :) I used to go to a bar called ‘Fuzzy Navel’ around here lol, wonder if it’s still open.

Sabrina: Oh, it's still open.

Beomeosa Temple

Joanne: This was honestly one of my favorite temples and hikes that I’ve been on in Korea. The temple is huge and beautiful and the hike was rewarding and easy-to-moderate. Honestly, I don’t remember too much but I do remember I enjoyed myself so much that I was three hours late in picking up my friend at the nearby bus station :P This might be a little out of the way, though.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Joanne: This is a temple that’s located on the coast very close to Haeundae. I haven’t been here yet, which is honestly shocking to me, but everyone I know in Korea recommends it. It’s supposed to be really beautiful since it’s right on the sea.

Gamcheon Cultural Village

Photos via The Innbox

Sabrina: Gamcheon is an intriguing place. It used to be one of Busan's less fortunate neighborhoods until a project started in 2009 called "Dreaming of Machu Picchu in Busan". Artists were brought in to paint the houses and roofs of Gamcheon in a wash of blues, greens, and pinks and also installed various statues and art installations. Inspired by other hilly vistas like Machu Picchu and Santorini, the goal was to bring tourism income into Gamcheon and turn the neighborhood's prospects around. Luckily the project has succeeded because Gamcheon is such a quirky place to explore, especially if you love color and art. My favorite installation was the stairs painted as huge books. A local bus will take you up most of the steep streets to the top of the village, where there are many stepped alleyways that will lead you to photographic viewpoints, kitschy stores, and adorable cafes.

Photos via The Innbox

Additional Resources