When I planned this trip to Korea for the Labor Day holiday, I originally planned to stay in Seoul the whole time because, it’s Seoul!! (Also my holiday was only 4 days.) But my old flatmate in Spain who is from Busan couldn’t make it up to Seoul, so I came to her even with my short time frame. We packed as much as we could into 24 hours!
Stop 1: Korean BBQ
How can you go to Korea without some Korean BBQ? (Or in my case, walk by any Korean BBQ restaurant without some Korean BBQ?) Make sure you’re properly fueled for the long day ahead. Or re-fuel from not eating breakfast before your train ride. Order the bulgogi and pork belly and beef tenderloin, go nuts. Or just have your friend’s family order for you. And her dad can be the grill master.
Stop 2: Gamcheon Culture Village
You can reach Gamcheon via mini-bus 2, 2-2, or 1-1 from Toseong Station. (They will usually say Gamcheon Culture Village on the side window in English, so you know you’re good.) Don’t be afraid to pack in there, then hold on as you race up the hill, thrown hither and tither! Gamcheon was an old slum which was revitalized in 2009 as they painted the houses, added lots of cafes and more than a few art installations to bring in visitors. When we went on April 28, they were having a special festival, so it was extremely crowded.
Even though it is technically a local attraction bringing in Busan residents as well as tourists, remember that people do still live there, and you should be respectful of their homes. That means don’t wander down alleys that look private, don’t take pictures of people without asking, and get out of someone’s way if you stop to take a photo.
Stop 3: Gwangbokdong and Yongdusan Park
Hop back on the bus to come down from Gamcheon and settle into one of Busan’s main shopping districts. On one side, you can find the more traditional shops and markets, where vendors sell their wares right on the street. Continue on and you’ll come to modern shops with Korean and international brands. My friend Yuhuyen is pretty sure this area is where they filmed Black Panther (she was really excited when we went to see the movie and then suddenly they were in Busan), but she’s not exactly sure where. Apparently there is a statue somewhere? If shopping doesn’t interest you, take the gaudily-lit elevator tunnel up to Yongdusan Park, where you can also go up Busan Tower for 3,000 won.
Stop 4: Spa time!
After all the walking (also I had gone dancing the night before, whoops), you’ll definitely need a place to relax those sore feet. Korean spas are the best, because the first half you are completely naked and despite how body conscious and fat-shaming Korean culture can be, no one really seems to care how other people look in the spa. (The written rules at SpaLand, a big chain in Korea, explicitly state you can’t have tattoos but I have two and no one said anything to me, plus I saw a Korean girl with more tattoos than me and no one seemed to care either.)
Korean spas are different from what I thought of as a spa growing up; they are much more like European spas. The pool rooms, however, are gender segregated because everyone is completely naked. (This also happens in Europe sometimes, but not always.) So after relaxing in all the different pools or the Finnish dry sauna, you put on the spa shorts and shirt and go to the different public sauna rooms. Each room has a different theme, like the pyramid room where the walls make a pyramid and you’re supposed to lay down with your feet on the walls, or the Bone Room which is not where you bone but where you lay down on a hard marble countertop which supposedly conducts the music through your bones, or some other room with changing colored lights that was pretty cool.
There’s also a snack bar and even a restaurant. My friend bought us some hard-boiled eggs and a sweet rice ginger tea, which she says is what you traditionally eat when you go to the spa. She then tried to get me to crack the egg on my head but I wasn’t about to fall for that! I thought for a moment these would be like the Chinese century eggs (皮蛋), but they are just normal hard-boiled eggs, served with a bit of salt. I was feeling a bit woozy with all the sweating, so I would definitely recommend getting a snack.
Finally, most big spas have mats laid out in the common areas, and it’s not unusual to see people napping. In fact, it’s pretty popular for tourists to stay overnight at a 24-hour spa instead of renting a hotel. This only works for one night, obviously, the spa would probably kick you out if you stayed more than a day, and it would start getting more expensive than a hotel after more than 10 hours.
Stop 5: Gwangalli Beach
I’m not really one for beaches in enclosed harbors, because whachu think is in that water??? But at this point it is night time, and not only does Gwangalli Beach have an abundance of bars and restaurants, but the view of the Gwangan Bridge is much more spectacular at night!
Stop 6: Sleep!
Or don’t. If you still have energy, go bar hopping in Gwangalli Beach, I guess? I was super tired because I had stayed out very late the night before in Seoul. I literally fell asleep as my head hit the pillow and woke up 9 1/2 hours later.
Stop 7: Brunch at Jeonpo Cafe Street
Whether you’re hungover or just feeling mellow and refreshed after finally getting a full nine hours of sleep, brunch is just what you need. (Brunch is always what you need.) There are plenty of Western brunch cafes throughout Busan, but this street has lots of coffee-themed sculptures! How cute!
Stop 8: Busan Station
Cry as your friend gives you a bag of snacks for your train back to Seoul. Or maybe that’s just me?
Obviously there are many other things to do and places to see in Busan, but you can’t fit them all in one day! If your time is limited, make the most of it and see the huge range Busan has to offer.