Planning a Trip
Arriving & Departing
By Plane -- The city of Busan is served by Gimhae International Airport (PUS; tel. 051/964-3114; www.gimhaeairport.co.kr), which is located about 35 minutes outside of the city, across the Nakdong River. Busan is planning to build another international airport to handle the increasing demands, but there are no set dates yet.
Korean Airlines (www.koreanair.com) and Asiana Airlines (us.flyasiana.com) are the major national airlines that fly in and out of Gimhae. Flights from Seoul's Incheon Airport start from W55,000 ($59/£30) and go up from there. International flights are available via Japan Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, China Northwest Airlines, Air China, Philippine Airlines, Sakhalinsk Airlines, and Vladivostok Airlines. Note that when you leave the country from Busan there's a departure tax, currently W12,000 ($13/£7), which may or may not be included in your ticket price.
A standard cab to the city center costs about W15,000 ($16/£8) including tolls. Deluxe cabs, which are black, cost twice as much (W30,000/$32/£16), but the drivers all speak English, you can use a credit card and will get a receipt.
Airport buses (tel. 051/973-4201) cost W900 to W1,500 (95¢-$1.60/50p-80p) and run daily every 10 to 40 minutes, depending on which line you take. There is no direct line on the subway to the airport, but you can take bus no. 307 to and from Deokcheon Station on Line 2. Limousine buses (tel. 051/527-1004) cost W6,000 ($6.45/£3.20) and run daily every 30 minutes or so to most parts of the city, including the Lotte Hotel, the Haeundae Station, and the Westin Chosun Beach Hotel.
By Train -- When the Gyeongbu High Speed Rail line is completed in 2008, you will be able to take a train from Seoul to Busan in 1 hour and 56 minutes. Currently, you can take the KTX train from Seoul station, which takes 2 hours and 50 minutes, or the Saemaul train which takes 4 hours and 10 minutes. The standard KTX fare is W44,800 ($48/£24) while the first-class fare is W62,700 ($67/£34) and the Saemaul fare is W36,800 ($40/£20). Various discounts apply if you buy tickets in advance, and you'll get further discounts if you travel on a weekday. The Gupo Train Station (tel. 051/342-7788) is located in central Busan. From there, you can hop on the subway, take a bus, or catch a cab to your hotel or any other destination within the city.
To get to the train station from the city center on the subway, take line 1 to stop 13. Follow the signs to exit into the station plaza. The Gyeongbu Line travels north to Seoul and the Gyeongjeon Line goes west along the southern coast to Mokpo.
By Bus -- There are two main bus stations in Busan. The major one is the Busan Bus Complex, which is in the same building as the Busan Dongbu Gyongnam Intercity Bus Terminal (with buses that travel to the east) at Napodong. From there, you can pick up subway line 1 to get into the city. The other is Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal (which has buses to the west), which is on subway line 2, stop 227 (take exit 1). Buses run daily about every 15 minutes to and from major cities throughout South Korea.
Buses from the Seoul Express Bus Terminal to the Busan Bus Complex start running at 6am and run daily every 15 minutes until 10:40pm with ticket prices ranging from W20,100 to W29,900 ($22-$32; £11-£16). Daily buses departing from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal to the Busan Bus Complex start running at 6am and depart every 60 minutes until 6:40pm at a cost of W20,600 to W30,800 ($22-$33; £11-£17).
By Boat -- You can take a boat to Busan Port from cities in South Korea, China, and Japan (tel. 051/999-3000; www.busanferry.com or http://busanpa.com). The terminal is centrally located, so once you disembark, you'll find it very easy to get to your hotel. You can catch the subway, local buses, or a taxi from the port.
There is also a coastal pier (for domestic ferries) and an international pier. Both are located in Juang-dong. Ships from the domestic pier daily arrive from and depart to Jeju Island, Changsungpo, Goje Island, Okpo, Gohyun, Haegumgang, Hungmu, and Yeosu. You can also catch a tour boat to explore Jeju and the many islands of Hallyeo-sudo (Hallyeo Maritime National Park) along the southern coast. From the international pier, you can also catch ferries to Fukuoka (Hakata) and Shimonseki in Japan and Yodai in China. Keep in mind that whether or not the ships actually sail is completely dependent on the weather, so make sure to confirm your reservations in advance with Busan Information for Coastal Tours 16, 5-ga, Chungang-dong, Jung-gu (tel. 051/469-0116 or 051/469-0117). Japan doesn't require visas for short (less than 90 days) visits by citizens of the U.S., U.K., Canada, or Australia. China, however, requires visas even for travelers in transit.
The following ferry companies operate from Busan passenger port: Dongyang Express Ferry Co., Jeju (tel. 051/463-0605); Gukje Dae-ho Development Co., Jeju, (tel. 051/464-6601); Kukje Tongun Co., Jeju (tel. 051/464-2228); Semo Co., Changsungpo, Gohyun, Sungpo, Okpo, Chungmu, Yosu, Saryangdo, Samchunpo, and Namhae (tel. 051/469-3851); Sukyong-Haeun Co., Changsungpo City (tel. 051/469-5994); Shimonoseki Ferry Co., Shimonoseki, Japan (tel. 051/463-3161); Koryo Ferry Co., Fukuoka, Japan (tel. 051/466-7799); Hanguk Express Ferry Co., Fukuoka, Japan (tel. 051/465-6114); and Chinsung Co. Ltd., Yunae, China (tel. 051/441-888).
To get to the boat terminal on the subway, take line 1 to stop 12 (Joongang-dong station). It's one stop from the Busan train station. Bus nos. 8, 8-1, 11, 70, 88-1, 97, 101, 109, 135, 190, 309, and 507 all go to the port.
Good tourist information in English is available at the Gimhae Airport. The office on the first floor of the international terminal is open daily from 9am to 5pm (tel. 051/973-2800). The Busan Tourist Information Center office (tel. 051/973-4607; http://english.busan.go.kr) on the first floor of the domestic terminal is open daily from 9am-9pm.
There are also tourist information booths throughout the city. The easiest to find is the one at Busan Station (subway line 1, stop 13), located right next to the ticket counters inside the terminal. All booths (tel. 051/441-6565) are open Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 9pm, and Sunday and Monday 9am to 5pm. You'll also find visitor information on the first floor of the International Ferry Terminal (tel. 051/465-3471; daily 8am-5pm); on the first floor of Busan City Hall (tel. 051/888-3527; daily 9am-6pm); and in Haeundae Beach, Woo-1-dong, 629-3 Haeundae-gu (tel. 051/749-4335; daily 9am-6pm). Tourist information in English is also available by dialing tel. 1330. The city's official site is at http://english.busan.go.kr.
Busan is located in the Nakdong-gang valley, and mountains separate some of the city's districts. Mt. Geumjeong looms on the western side, with its wonderful hiking trails and views, and the famous temple Beomosa. The city's expansive beaches, the most popular being Haeundae, Gwangalli, and Songjeong, attract visitors year round, but are positively crawling with vacationers in the summertime. Its traditional markets and shopping districts are found in Nampo-dong and Seomyeon (what they call the "new downtown").
By Subway -- Busan's extensive subway system makes it possible to go just about anywhere within the city. There are three lines and announcements are made in both English and Korean. The trains start running daily at 5:10am and stop at 12:45am and a bird call (as well as a verbal announcement) is used to signal transfer stations. To use the subway, you can buy single tickets at automatic ticket machines or manned ticket booths. One-way fares are W1,100 ($1.20/60p) for travel in one "section" (up to a 10km/6 1/4-mile distance) and W1,300 ($1.40/70p) for two sections (distances over 10km/6 1/4 miles). Be sure to hold onto your ticket because you'll need it to exit the subway as well. If you plan on taking the subway or bus extensively, you should get either the Hanaro (tel. 051/868-7621) or Mybi card (tel. 051/1588-8990), which you can purchase for a minimum of W5,000 ($5.40/£2.70) and refill as needed. Both cards are sold at bus stops, subway ticket offices, or Pusan Bank (www.pusanbank.co.kr). Fares with either card are W990 ($1.05/55p) for travel in one section and W1,170 ($1.30/65p) for two sections. At the end of your trip, you can get a refund of any unused fares by showing your passport and returning the card at Pusan Bank.
By Taxi -- Busan has four types of taxis -- regular, call, deluxe, and TIP taxis. You can flag a regular taxi at a taxi stand or along any street. You'll know a taxi is available by the lighted sign on top or a red card on the right side of the dashboard. Call taxis can be called from hotels or other locations. Some drivers of call taxis speak English, although you shouldn't count on that as most do not. Deluxe taxis are black and charge more than twice the regular fare. Deluxe taxi drivers generally speak English, take credit cards, and provide in-car phones. They can be flagged down anywhere, but can be found easier at airports, hotels, tourists sites, and transportation terminals. The fares for regular taxis start at W1,800 ($1.95/95p) and go up in W100 (10¢/5p) increments, depending on distance and riding time. There is a 20% increase in fees at night. Deluxe taxis start at W4,200 ($4.50/£2.25) and go up in W200 (20¢/10p) increments. Their fares don't go up at night. TIP taxis (found mostly at airports, tourist hotels, and transportation terminals) have a picture of a seagull (the official bird of Busan) on them ("TIP" is the name of the bird, not a suggestion of what you should do with your money). They provide a variety of language services and the fare can be paid with a credit card.
By Bus -- There are three types of local buses in Busan: the regular (which are blue and white and make more stops), the express (which are red and white and make fewer stops), and the late-night bus. Local buses have destinations written in both English and Korean with recorded messages that announce the next stop. Look at the bus route and plan ahead, especially if the buses are crowded. Once you're on the bus, push the button to let the driver know you want to get off and always exit the buses through the back door. Bus drivers generally don't speak English.
Bus fares can be paid with cash (exact change required), tokens, bus passes, or a Hanaro or Mybi card (which can be used on both buses and subways). Cash fare for regular buses is W1,000 ($1.10/55p) or W950 ($1/50p) with a Hanaro card, Mybi card, or bus tour pass. For the express bus, fare is W1,500 ($1.60/80p) and W1,000 ($1.10/55p) respectively. The late-night buses are W1,800 ($1.95/95p) cash and W1,700 ($1.85/90p) with a card. All buses issue free transfers that can be used within the next half-hour. For more info, contact the Busan Bus Transportation Association (tel. 051/634-5221).
By Car -- Busan is easier to navigate by car than Seoul. You will still need an international driver's license (some rental places require you to show your national driver's license as well) and must be over 21. Renting a car in Busan is not cheap, but can be convenient if you plan to travel outside the city to areas where the subway or buses don't go. You can rent a car for as few as 6 hours or for several days. Prices start at W31,800 ($34/£17) for a small-size car (like a Hyundai Elantra) for 6 hours on a weekday (an additional W3,180/$3.50/£1.75 on weekends) or a larger car (like a Kia Potentia) for W145,300 ($156/£78) for one weekday (W1,450/$16/£8 more on weekends). There are dozens of car-rental agencies throughout the city, but only a handful operate from Gimhae Airport. They are Tongilro Rent Car (tel. 051/941-5400); Avis Rent a Car (tel. 051/941-7400); Gumho Rent Car (tel. 051/941-8000); Jeju Rent Car (tel. 051/972-4777); Samsung Rent Car (tel. 051/973-6611); Jangpung Rent Car (tel. 051/941-5200). You can reserve your car online before you arrive, or ask your hotel desk to help you with a rental if you want a car just for a short while during your stay.
On Foot -- Due to its size, Busan is not a city to explore solely on foot, but there are nice places to stroll once you get there by bus or subway. Areas around Gwangalli Beach and Yongdusan are especially nice for strolling. There are also wonderful hiking opportunities in the mountains and parks.