BEST of BUSAN on a BUDGET with KIDS
Updated: Feb 17
South Korea isn't known to be a cheap getaway. The flight alone can be costly, and compared to places like South East Asia, it is not the most budget-friendly destination. Even though some things, like eating out, can be quite cheap compared to back home in Canada, the prices have gone up considerably since the last time we were here over a decade ago.
Luckily, there are enough things to do within Busan that will keep you busy for weeks without breaking the bank. If you can navigate through Busan's excellent transportation system, many sights are easily accessible, which cuts down on costs...and carbon emissions. Here are our favorite places we visited with the kids:
GAMCHEON CULTURAL VILLAGE 감천문화마을
Once the slums of Busan, it is now converted into a funky, pastel-washed village perched on a hillside. With lots of bright and colourful art, galleries, cafes, and yummy street food, it's no surprise it attracts a steady stream of tourists. The kids enjoyed the murals and sculptures, while exploring the steep, narrow residential streets. Although there is no entrance fee for this place, there are so many delicious things to eat, it is hard not to leave without trying a few treats. For Molly, the highlight was renting a hanbok for an hour.
HAEDONG YONGGUNGSA TEMPLE 해동 용궁사
There are lots of temples throughout Busan and they are free for anyone to visit. The beauty of this one is the location, right on the rocky cliffside overlooking the sea. The name translates to "The Dragon Palace Temple", and it is historically known to worship the Goddess of Mercy. Be warned, if you are expecting a serene, spiritual experience you may be dreadfully disappointed by the masses of people who come mainly for the perfect photo-ops. Here are some not-so-perfect but good enough photos we took before it got really busy:
JAGALCHI and GUKJE MARKET 자갈치시장 , 국제시장
These two markets are very close to each other. Jagalchi is the largest seafood market in Korea. If the sights and smells of fresh and live seafood make you squirm with fear, then this is not the place for you. For everyone else, kids included, this is a fascinating market to visit, even if you leave without buying or eating any seafood. (Tip: Make sure you have decent footwear...don't wear flip flops, open toe sandals, etc. The grounds are always wet as they are constantly washing the seafood to keep it moist and fresh.)
Gukje market is a busy, lively place where you buy everything from fresh produce to household items. Loads of fun if you are the kind who enjoys a chaotic, local market scene. Also a great place for eating cheap, delicious street/market food, which is what most tourists really come here for. For more on street food in Busan, click here.
HAEUNDAE BEACH 해운대해수욕장
There are several beaches in Busan, but Haeundae beach is the most popular and it happened to be 5 mins from our place, so we got to know it well. The wide, sandy beach feels huge and empty if you are not coming in peak season (July-August). There is a nice pedestrian boulevard on the main drag close to the beach. It's full of great restaurants, bars, a traditional market with street food, and it's always buzzing with music and entertainment in the evenings and weekends. (For more on Haeundae beach and where we stayed, click here)
If the beach isn't your scene or you want a place to cool off, this mountain is a lovely nature retreat for the day. You can hike all the way to the top (which takes about 2 hours to reach) or just walk to the waterfall along the river. There are lots of outdoor gym equipment, buddhist temples and a refreshing river. It probably gets busy in the summer months, but in September, it was rather peaceful and quiet with no big crowds in sight. In fact, we were the only ones wading in the water, as the Korean grandmas kept politely worrying the kids were "too cold" in the water! (It was 22 degrees celsius, by the way)
PARKS and PLAYGROUNDS
Busan Citizen's Park 부산시민공원 is a family-friendly place to go for a stroll and check out some amazing playgrounds. They have many species of trees and shrubs throughout the park that provide shady spots for people watching and picnics. They also have cafes, a community garden, a small "Pororo" themed kids' library, and a large water fountain. (see slideshow below)
Dongbaek Island 동백공원 is another great park to go for a walk. From the west end of Haeundae beach, it starts with lots of stairs (not stroller friendly) and a nice wide boardwalk by the sea. Then, it continues on further with some great view points and lots of rest spots.
On the very top floor of Shinsegae Centum City 신세계 센텀시티점 , the world's largest department store, there is an impressive play area called "ZOORAJI" with large dinosaur displays, a pirate ship and even a carousel which kids can ride for free with a receipt from any mall purchase. Lots of shopping malls, like Lotte, seem to have a rooftop playground.
As for playgrounds, we learned that they are not necessarily in city parks. Most are hidden in residential areas. Just look for a cluster of condos or apartment buildings and walk around the neighbourhood. You will find MANY. For example, there is this new condo development near the popular "Home Plus" supermarket in Haeundae, which had about 7 or 8 playgrounds within 5 mins or less from each other! (slideshow below)
After a month in Busan, we learned that accomodation, groceries, and admission prices for places can be expensive. However, public transit is easy and cheap, and sometimes eating out at the right places can be more affordable than eating in. Overall, it is very possible to travel in Busan or anywhere in South Korea on a budget, as it offers SO MUCH without necessarily needing to spend much. Having said that, as our time in Korea is nearing its end, we do look forward to traveling to cheaper destinations!