Busan is South Korea’s second largest city, and offers a more relaxed and local atmosphere compared to the busy and crowded capital city of Seoul. Busan is also Korea’s summer capital, with Haeundae Beach featuring on many a postcard from the southern city.
Still, Busan is a big city, meaning there are quite a few places to choose from when it comes to visiting Busan.
Furthermore, Busan is very spread out, with attractions all over and the public transport commute between neighbourhoods taking up to a good 30 to 45 minutes.
It’s therefore imperative to choose the best neighbourhood that works better for your plans, especially if you don’t have much time, or you’ll be losing a lot of time on the road.
This guide will cover the main neighbourhoods of tourist interest, namely Nampo-Dong, Seomyeon, Haeundae Beach, Centum City and alternatively, the area around Pusan National University (PNU).
The streets of Nampo are buzzing and lively, and is where you want to be if you’d like to be right in the heart of downtown Busan’s action.
You’ll find many cafes, restaurants, boutiques and stalls lining these streets, including a whole host of street food carts at BIFF Square.
Nampo is famous for the Jagalchi Market, which is right by the port and is a reflection of Busan’s prominent fishing industry.
On the ground floor, you can pick and choose your catch and have it cooked in the restaurants upstairs.
If you’d like to head to Busan Tower, this is where you can head off from too.
Stay in Nampo if…
You want to experience quintessential Busan and plan to get loads of shopping done in local stores and boutiques, or want to experience the street food scene of Busan.
If you’re arriving and / or leaving Busan by train, Busan Station isn’t far.
Located close to other popular attractions such as Gamcheon Cultural Village and boasts many streets to get lost in too, as well as ample shopping and food around.
Nampo is the easiest to get to and from Taejongdae Park.
The Lotte Department Store here boasts some properly stunning views from the rooftop.
If you want to see Haeundae Beach, it’s over an hour away by public transport.
It’s rather crowded, especially in the evenings, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Seomyeon is not unlike Nampo, except it isn’t by the port.
Like Nampo, Seomyon is lively and chock-a-block with people, streets and restaurants.
If you’ve heard anything about Korea’s cafe craze, chances are Busan’s best can be found here.
Handily, you can head to Jeonpo Cafe Street in the neighbourhood to find many beautiful cafes and plenty dining options.
Next to the small, local boutiques, you’ll also find plenty more upscale fashion stores, and the main roads feature wide tree-lined boulevards. Seomyeon is also a popular place for locals to hang out.
You don’t even have to leave the underground as the subway station is also home to a seemingly endless shopping mall below the surface.
Stay in Seomyeon if…
You want to be in on the action of downtown Busan and want to cover as much ground as possible. Seomyeon makes for a decent base as it is probably the most centrally-located. Well, as central as Busan can be anyway.
You get the local, downtown Busan atmosphere Nampo offers but is slightly more centrally located, with Busan Station and Nampo southwest of Seomyeon and northeast of Haeundae.
Plenty of beautiful cafes and dining options can be found in the area.
Busan Station isn’t too far either.
It’s just as busy and crowded as Nampo.
Home to Busan’s most famous beach, Haeundae is a lively area popular with foreigners and expats.
Come summer time, Haeundae Beach is covered by hundreds of beach umbrellas, and becomes packed with beachgoers.
The main shopping street brings La Rambla in Barcelona to mind, with the way the traffic runs in a single lane on opposite sides of a wide walking promenade, lined by rows of shops and restaurants flanking each side.
Haeundae is said to be a party district, though I never found it to be overbearing even on a Friday night.
You will easily find many bars here though.
Haeundae is also next door to Centum City and BEXCO, which reminds one of the poshness of Ginza in Tokyo.
If you’re in Haeundae, be sure not to miss out on Cafe Rooftop, or if you’re up for it, the very popular WaveOn Coffee which is even further up north along the coast away from Busan’s city centre.
Stay in Haeundae if…
You’d like to be by the beach for majority of your stay, otherwise it’s rather far from both the airport and train station, and heading into town can take up to an hour.
It’s lively, and very foreigner-friendly; meaning you can get by just on English a bit easier here.
The beach is handy to have at your doorstep, especially when the hot and humid Korean summer rolls around.
Of all the neighbourhoods listed, Haeundae is closest to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, an attraction you shouldn’t miss.
It feels the least local out of all the other neighbourhoods, especially on the streets closest to the beach.
It is the furthest point away from the airport and train station, making the commute incredibly long.
Of course, with how spread out Busan is, you can find plenty of other neighbourhoods, especially the area around PNU with it’s young and vibrant student population. However, the above few are the ones most travellers will be deciding between. Most other neighbourhoods are going to be a lot more residential with not much in the way of sights and attractions.
On this trip, I stayed in Haeundae which was nice enough but I’d opt for Nampo or Seomyeon in the future, if only for the atmosphere and inconvenience when it came to distance and travelling to other attractions in the city.