South Korea is one of my new favorite travel destinations. After discovering Seoul and delighting in Jeju Island, I flew to Busan. I planned to discover the city and then experience the fast train back to Seoul. When I arrived in Busan, I wasn’t sure I’d like it. But after a week, I discovered many new places I’d return to, and so many others I didn’t have the chance to visit.
Here are 11 things to do in Busan, South Korea.
1. Spa Land
The skincare and spa experience in South Korea is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I indulged in a lot of fun face masks every week. A spa seemed like a must-do experience. I went to Spa Land, located in Centrum City, with some friends and loved it. It’s a relaxing way to spend at least half a day.
Once there, I changed into a uniform of shorts and a t-shirt. When I stepped into the main spa area, I noticed most people had a towel wrapped on their head in a way that made them look like a version of Princess Leia. I asked someone for help folding my towel and soon wore one on my head too!
The spa offers about 20 rooms from salt, to meditation, to sound waves, and more. I loved trying each room. Some were pure bliss, others I didn’t like as much. After trying every room, we enjoyed lunch upstairs. You can also book a massage service if you’d like. We finished our day bathing in different temperature-heating pools.
Pro Tip: The heated pools are single sex and you’re required to be nude.
2. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
This was my absolute favorite activity in Busan. The temple is stunning and situated right next to the East Sea. The path to the temple contains statues of all the zodiac signs and everyone takes their photo next to the animal of their birth year. Walk down some steps and turn to the left and you’ll find a small temple and a walkway down to a golden buddha. Along that walkway, you’ll see shiny gold and red leaves with handwriting hung everywhere you look. They are wishes! Don’t miss your chance to write a wish and hang it from a tree overlooking the sea.
The main temple is on the other side and offers many meditation areas. I loved all the buddhas, including a rock covered in miniature ones in every post imaginable. It’s one of the happiest places I’ve ever been and I enjoyed a couple of hours exploring here.
Pro Tip: It’s a solid 1-hour bus ride from the center of Busan to get here.
3. Busan Tower
Busan Tower offers a combination of fun activities and 360-degree views of Busan. The main floor offers walkthrough art — the kind you participate in. There are lights, moving patterns on the floor as you walk, mirrored walls, and lots of colors. Take the elevator up to the top and enjoy the stunning view. Don’t miss the padded bench. Though I’m sure it’s not the intended purpose, we all climbed on top of it for another round of photos. Continue onwards and you can get a photo of yourself and see it animated on all the screens around you.
Pro Tip: The walk to the tower is quite steep. There is an escalator, but with Google Maps impossible to use in South Korea, make sure to ask your hotel how to get there.
4. Gyeongsang Province
While technically not in Busan — Gyeongsang is an hour-long bus ride away — this city is a worthwhile day trip from Busan and contains numerous UNESCO heritage sites. Especially if you want a break from the big city, Gyeongsang offers a village feel and lots of greenery. It’s also where you’ll find the royal tombs, which look like giant hills covered in grass. If you spend a day here, you can cover a lot of the UNESCO heritage sites such as Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond, Hwangryongsa Temple, museums, and more. There’s even a fancy Starbucks!
5. Oryukdo Skywalk
It’s not really daring, unless you’re scared of heights, in which case, you might want to avoid this one. The skywalk itself is on a glass bridge, jutting out over the rocks and sea beneath you. Before being allowed to walk on the bridge, you’re required to don some shoe covers so you don’t slip on the glass platform. The views around you are a treat and watching the waves slap the rocks beneath your feet is something you don’t see every day.
6. Gamcheon Culture Village
If you walk here, the closest subway station is fairly far, and it’s a somewhat steep uphill walk to get to the village. If you have any leg or knee issues, you’ll be best off in a taxi. Gamcheon Culture Village is a walk through winding streets filled with different art mediums and designs. The buildings are colorful, there’s a whale made from tiles, a wonderful street with huge painted books that will make you feel like you’re walking through an oversized library, and many more artistic creations. The most popular site is the Little Prince statue. There’s a line to get your photo taken next to it. You’ll have to judge for yourself whether it’s too long.
Pro Tips: Don’t come hungry. There was only one food stall and a few places to get coffee or orange juice. Once done, if you can walk down steep streets, you’ll find more fun art as you go. Not street art, but literally standing art. It’s quite fun to find unexpected treasures just walking through this neighborhood.
7. Texas Street
This is a very funny themed street in Busan. If you’re American, you’ll find it quite amusing to photograph all the Texan-inspired decorations, including a long-horned bull head on the side of a restaurant. It’s right across from the main train station.
8. Busan Museum
History was never a strong subject for me in school. While I was in Korea, I loved learning more about how the country came to be split into North and South. It literally made the history come alive for me. It also gave me a real perspective on today’s politics and crises. You can travel through much more of Korea’s history at the museum and end your visit with two fabulous activities.
There’s a tea ceremony where you’ll learn the proper way to brew, and serve, tea to your guests. (Green tea, of course.) Then, put on a hanbok and take a photo! This was my first hanbok and I loved it so much that I dressed up again in Seoul a week later.
9. UN Memorial Cemetery And Peace Park
A short walk from the museum, you’ll find the United Nations Memorial Cemetery and Peace Garden. While the cemetery is somewhat sobering, it’s also beautifully designed. It commemorates the United Nations Command casualties from the Korean War.
A short distance away, you’ll find the more uplifting statue commemorating world peace. It’s also devoted to the soldiers that lost their lives in the Korean War.
10. Biff Square
This is another area of Busan that feels happy. You’ll walk by many restaurants on a narrow street, spilling into a cinema walk where you can see the handprints of many famous actors. It’s reminiscent of the Hollywood walk in Los Angeles.
Busan is much bigger than I realized. Travel distances to certain places can be an hour or more by bus or subway. It’s so big that a week wasn’t enough to get to all the places I wanted. On the top of my list for my next visit are the Songdo Bay Station Cable Car, Songdo Yonggung Suspension Bridge, and Amnam Park. There’s so much to see, and with fierce preparations to become the 2030 World Expo host (they haven’t won yet, but if you go to Busan, you’d think they have), get there before it becomes an overly popular destination!